Paganism as a religious, cultural and spiritual identity

Identifying as Pagan is an important step for many Pagans. It is not long since this would be a brave thing to do, and some Pagans may still be concerned about the reactions of other people. After all, it was only in 1951 that the anti-Witchcraft law was repealed. Also, the Satanic Ritual Abuse myths of the 1980s and 90s created a dangerous environment for people to disclose their Pagan beliefs as this could result in people losing their jobs, their homes and having their children removed by social services. Those myths were finally found to be without substance through a government commissioned investigation. In very recent times Paganism has become more accepted by the wider public, for example The Druid Network was accepted as a registered charity in 2010, and the Pagan Federation joined the Religious Education Council of England and Wales as a legitimate religious group in 2011. Both the Pagan Federation and the Druid Network were accepted as members of the Interfaith Network in 2015. Nevertheless, there is still something of a ‘countercultural’ feel about Pagan identity, and some Pagans may enjoy being a bit ‘alternative’, in spite of the presence of Pagans in many ‘respectable’ social positions. However, Pagans are generally fully engaged members of wider society.

Many Pagans talk about the sense of relief that came with discovering that others shared the beliefs and feelings they already had, and speak of ‘coming home’. Many women in particular have found a Pagan identity, whether as witch, Druid, or goddess devotee very empowering in contrast to patriarchal tendencies in more established religions. The same is true for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, who often do not feel welcome in longer established religions. Young people are often characterised as searching for an identity of their own, and teenage witches and other young Pagans have found strength in identifying as Pagan (see Cush, 2007). This particularly helps those who feel a bit ‘different’ from what passes as ‘normal’ as Paganism celebrates difference. You can be proud to be different rather than anxious, and this can be a protection against bullying.

The Pagan view of a human being tends towards a holistic one rather than a dualistic body/soul divide. The physical body should be celebrated. Humans are interdependent with each other and the rest of the natural world rather than being separate. For some Pagans, death means our body returning to the earth and the molecules becoming part of the ongoing natural cycle. For those who believe in reincarnation, or the realm of the ancestors in which the spirits of the dead reside, an element of dualism seems to be introduced into the concept of a human being, but there is still an interdependence between the living and the dead, human and nature, and one may be born again in a physical form. At the deepest level, for Pagans who are pantheist, all beings, including humans, are part of the one divine energy that lies behind the physical world. This resembles some forms of Hindu non-dual philosophy, except that the physical world is perhaps given a greater value in Paganism.

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