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How Useful Is Paganism?

By Nimue Brown

Paganism is a blanket term covering a broad array of beliefs, from ancient practices down to modern traditions. It comes to us from a Roman word for the rural, unsophisticated folk who still worshipped nature, rather than the Emperors. Paganism therefore covers, sometimes, witchcraft, druidry, heathenry, shamanism, Hellenic groups, Romano religio, and a great many others. However, not all folk in any of these traditions see themselves as pagan nature worshippers. Some Druids are Christian, many magical practitioners are not ‘religious’ in the same way. There are also folk who have no specific tradition within paganism and for whom ‘pagan’ is a useful term of self identification, and there are folk who do not want to be labelled.

When it comes to talking to the rest of the world, to government and official bodies, to interfaith gatherings and the media, ‘pagan’ has been a useful term. You might be the only priestess of Vesta for miles. You might be the only Alexandrian witch in the village, the only Kemeticist in the state, but the odds are good you aren’t the only pagan. As a lone practitioner, officialdom will see no reason to bother with you, but will blithely give you a hard time. As one of a body of voters, consumers, readers… you may have a voice. The trouble is in practice we don’t do a great job of speaking for each other. Even in groups where people make a point of trying to learn about other paths for the express purpose of good representation in the wider world, it’s very hard to represent something you don’t personally believe in.

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