So, what exactly is Paganism?
Modern Paganism, Paganism, or even Neo-Paganism (whatever term you want to use), is a general umbrella term that can encompass practitioners of many different traditions. However, Modern Paganism is unto itself, its own entity. That means yes, you can be Pagan and not adhere to any of the other spiritual or religious traditions that fall into the Pagan umbrella category.
For me, the core belief of Paganism lies in the understanding that the Natural World is the physical representation of the sacred. This means that all elements of the Universe around us are interconnected in their sacredness. All life – plant and animal – is sacred. Natural elements of air, fire, earth, stone, and metal* are all sacred. The heavenly bodies above are sacred. You are sacred.
Sacred literally means that something is connected to God (or the Gods); dedicated to a higher purpose; or deserving of veneration.
Some Pagans believe that a higher power – a God, Goddess, God & Goddess pair, or some other mystical entity – created and controlled the Universe.
Ancient Pagans often attributed different Gods & Goddesses to unexplained natural phenomenon that, today can be explained through modern science. Does that make the phenomenon any less sacred? Not really. It just changes our understanding of the phenomenon. Does it weaken the validity of Ancient Pagan deity associations? No, because that God or Goddess is still representative of that particular phenomenon.
Some Modern Pagans believe in the Science behind it all – We’re all made of star stuff, as Carl Sagan once said. This belief relies on the natural science behind creation; that unto itself, is the Sacred.
So, do you have to just stick to the science-y side of it to be a Pagan? Nope.
See, the thing is that you can believe in all the science you want. You can study it, understand down to the most basic principle of scientific theory how something works, and still believe that a higher power, something of this world but elevated, created that living thing, that energy, that matter, as well as the scientific process you study to understand it.
Are you with me so far? Pagans believe that everything in nature is Sacred. They may chose to believe in a higher power (and call it whatever they chose), or they may be more science-oriented. Both are legit.
How do you practice Modern Paganism?
Modern Paganism doesn’t have any written rules. However, if you look back at the approach of Ancient Pagans, you might deduce that you’ll need some high quality marble, a large flat piece of land on which to build a temple to your chosen deity, a really grand sculptor, some precious metals and gemstones, and amazing knowledge of astronomy. You would celebrate the natural cycle of the seasons and pay homage to your Gods and Goddesses (possibly including virgin sacrifices). That level of Pagan worship would so kick ass, by the way, but isn’t all that feasible or legal.
Realistically, most Modern Pagans don’t have the means to create such a grand representation of their spiritual connection to the Divine. Some Pagans don’t even have their own green space (City Pagans). So, what’s a Pagan to do? Start with the basics. Please note, this list isn’t exclusive; I’m only listing a few suggestions to get you started! (Also, if you don’t agree with my humor, that’s ok… pretend it’s not there and carry on!)
Any natural element can be honored.
That tree outside your apartment or office space? Touch it to feel the grounding energy it exudes. Thank it for the shade it provides and maybe share your water. The dandelion forcing its way through the concrete by the bookshop? Respect its persistence and yes, water it. The bumblebee that scared the shit out of you? Please don’t kill it. Respect it’s life and it’s purpose – without them, plants aren’t pollinated and as a result, humans will starve. Remove yourself from it’s presence if it freaks you out, but maybe leave out some sugar water (no dyes, please!) later for him. Open the window and release the trapped fly in your car, apartment, or office. Carefully relocate non-poisonous spiders to the outdoors (or charge it rent, either way). I could go on for days like this, but you get the drift, right? All life is Sacred, even the life of the creature that can kill you. (More on that later.)
Embrace the Seasons.
Celebrate the seasons. Study up on them, on the plants and animals that thrive in each season. Take note of how you respond to each of the seasons. Do you find Springtime a beautiful time of rebirth and growth, or just a constant reminder to take Claritan? Is Summer your favorite time of year, with all the sunshine, warm weather and lengthy growth seasons… or does sunlight give you migraines and the heat cause you to melt into a puddle of nondescript goop? Is Fall all about the beautifully colored leaves, the physical representation of a completed life cycle, or is it all Pumpkin Spice and Halloween? Does Winter remind you that even during dormant periods, the Earth is beautiful or are you mostly depressed and always cold? Take note of how you respond to these seasons; try to embrace what each season represents and celebrate that. Don’t forget your sunscreen and your snow boots, though.
Create your own natural space.
Bringing some plants indoors may seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t think about it. Invest in some quality terracotta planters and potting soil. Plant yourself an herb garden (good luck, all of mine always die). You apparently have to do different things for different herbs, so abuse Google and pester the cute person working at your local greenhouse for more information on how to make things live. I suck at it, so I legit can’t offer any sage advice. (Ha, see that pun?!) But seriously, I do have a few plants that luckily only require water and sunlight so I do keep some greenery in the house. Apparently, you can’t kill Peace Lilies.
Get a pet.
WAIT. There are ground rules for this one.
- PETS ARE NOT THINGS YOU OWN. Pets are living creatures and should be respected and cared for as such.
- Pets are not for everyone, just like children, hot sauce, and pole dancing aren’t for everyone.
- Pets require a lot of work, like kids and cars and balancing checkbooks.
- Pets are a life long commitment; you are their provider for the duration of their life.
- Pets should get regular medical attention, and lots of love and affection.
- Pets should have a safe, clean space to call home.
- Pets should be respected members of your family and you should always think of them as such:
- Don’t physically or verbally abuse your pet.
- Don’t leave your pet in your car while you go do whatever stupid thing you’re doing.
- Don’t abandon your pet because your new zip code doesn’t allow pets.
- Don’t abandon your pet because you get lazy and tired of being a pet parent.
- Don’t abandon your pet because it gets old, sick, or severely injured.
- Don’t abandon your pet because your Significant Other is an ass that doesn’t like your pet (or has allergies – Bitch, take some Claritan.).
- If you do any of the above, I reserve the right to call you a jackass; just saying.
- Rehoming should only be done in extreme circumstances; Pets bond to humans and rehoming destroys trust and can weaken an animals ability to bond with humans in general.
Now, if you’re still with me and you understand all of the above, then yes, get a pet. I recommend fish for starter pet parents, and if you want a dog or a cat, please think about adopting one from a local shelter. Small mammals (rats, mice, hamsters, hedgehogs, ferrets), reptiles, big creepy spiders, and the other weird or odd critter works too, but do your homework first. Read up on your chosen pet and familiarize yourself with basic things like local laws on whether you can even have a specific pet in your area, vaccination, insurance, leash and fence requirements. Make sure you have the financial ability to provide quality vet care – vaccines, spay or neutering, flea, tick, and heart worm medications are not cheap!
Volunteer at a shelter or Vet’s office.
If you don’t want a full-time pet, or don’t think that’s the best route for you, you can still volunteer your time to care for animals. Many shelters and Vet’s offices use volunteers to care for animals – some volunteers bathe animals or play with them to help socialization. What better way to spend a few hours a week than cuddling some awesome puppies or getting your hands clawed off by ferocious kittens?
Still not your cup of tea? No problem. Stick to the plants, or virtual representations of plants and animals please. That’s cool too.
Set up an indoor Sacred Space.
Do you have a small desktop space, or the top of a low book case you can convert? What about a corner in your bedroom or living room? A spot on your mantel? If so, create some space for you. You can include live plants or fake ones if they work for you better. Include statues of your favorite animals or animals that call to you. Found a cool rock outside? Stick it up there, too. Add a candle. Sit still and enjoy it. Ground yourself. Meditate. Listen to some beautiful naturescape soundtracks or music.
Cultivate Your Outdoor Space.
Use It. Tend it. Plant things that speak to you – trees, shrubs, flowers, food. Don’t get chickens or a goat. Well, unless you want to, but OMG, please just make sure you’re ready for that barnyard fiasco. Live stream it if you can. Jokes aside, if you do have a natural space to use, turn it into your own personal space. Set up an altar if you want (more on that shortly), and leave offerings to the birds and bees (seed & sugar water). Add some solar lights and shiny things. Put yourself a bench out there, or just sit on the ground and feel the energy of the space. Enjoy it however you want, but respect it and take care of it.
Advocate a reduce, reuse, and recycle lifestyle.
Reuse or re-purpose things (safely; please don’t use the antifreeze jug for watering pets and plants…). Start recycling, if you can in your area, or at least try to reduce the one-time use items you use (plastic straws are a good example!). Donate or sell things you don’t use so someone else can get some use out of them! Donate to a trusted environmental charity. Donate your time to a local litter crew (Adopt A Mile, for instance).
Read and learn about the natural world around you.
This is probably one of the least accessed option at Modern Pagans’ fingertips. We literally have billions of words available to us via the Internet. We have thousands of books available in public libraries. Utilize these options! Find websites on trees local to your area and learn about them. Learn about a specific weird bug you saw today in the parking garage at work. Study about exotic locations and animals. Learn about the weather, different types of soils, crystals and basic rocks. Learn about threats to the natural water cycle or about erosion. Learn about the stars, planets, black holes, acid rain – whatever your interest, study it. Connect with it. Find the Sacred in that interest.
Re-Create the Natural World Around You.
Do you like to draw? Paint? Sculpt? Write? Reach out with your natural talents and create a representation of the Sacred in Nature. Make your own art or your own sculpture; write your own poem to a tree frog. It’s ok, and even if you think it sucks, remember that you’re creating something from your own creative self, your own soul. It is in the truest sense, Sacred.
Respect that which is Sacred in You.
Why is this the last thing on my list? Because if you’ve read this far, you’re paying attention to the theme and this broad concept might be easier to understand. If you truly want to live a Modern Pagan lifestyle and practice that belief system on a regular basis, one of the most important things you can do is to take care of you. Your body is a physical manifestation of something so Sacred that not even science can fully explain it. It is the home for your soul, your essence. You. Have you ever heard someone say, “Your body is a temple”? It touches on this concept. Temples are places that house spiritual energy; they are often well kept, cared for, and honored. Do the same for your body. Exercise if you can, chose healthy food options, and for Goddess’ sake, drink some plain water.
Aside from the physical care, be aware of your mental health. In today’s society, mental health is a flash point term that can trigger so many different conversations and reactions. Personal opinions aside on the matter, your mental health matters as much if not more than your physical health. Mental Health issues go undiagnosed because people don’t have adequate access to healthcare, mental health education, and don’t know how to talk about their mental health needs (if they can even verbalize them). Check your emotions – are you ok? Do you feel safe? Loved? Happy? Do you have physical pains or ailments that just don’t seem to match any actual illness or injury? Do you feel alone or disconnected? The questions could continue for days and you may answer no to all of them, and still not be 100% ok. Take time to take care of your mental health – however you center, regroup, recuperate. Meditate. Go for nature walks. Go to the beach. Play some video games. Whatever it takes, make sure you’re good.
If you need help, or if someone you love needs help, please reach out to someone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Mental Healthcare is important!
Modern Pagans recognize and respect the Sacred in all things. They see the interconnected nature of all creation through that recognition of the Sacred. Modern Pagans may worship differently named Deities, or none at all; some prefer a science based approach. Both ways are legitimate. You can practice this fundamental belief in a variety of ways – from creating a natural space in your home, office, or own backyard, to welcoming a pet into your life. You can volunteer time at local shelters or donate to environmental organizations. Express your respect for the Sacred by living a reduce, reuse, and recycle lifestyle. Express that respect and understanding in the form of artwork or poetry, song or music.
Recognize and respect the Sacred in you.