Sources of Authority and (lack of) Scriptures

The main source of authority in Paganism is experience, personal and shared. The ultimate authority is yourself and your own experience of life, rather than a deity that demands obedience, a definitive holy book, a divinely appointed leader, or hierarchy of priests. In traditional religions most of the founders, leaders, and composers of texts tend to be male, so the prioritising of experience is particularly attractive to women and those whose views lean more towards equality of genders. Feminist writers have emphasised the importance of women’s experience, both individual and shared, as authoritative. Paganism thus generally reflects the assumptions of democracy and equality in contemporary thought, though of course not in all manifestations. Some Reconstructionist traditions, for example, have very specific views on gender roles.

Paganism is not a ‘religion of the book’ and there is no holy book. If revelation – as Harvey points out, not a central concept in Paganism – is said to occur, it is not in the form of sacred text revealed to prophets and messengers but insights granted from observing nature or interacting with deities, animals, plants, mountains and rivers. The word ‘inspiration’ is more commonly found, and Druid bards speak of accessing ‘awen’, the creative force flowing through all nature.

Nevertheless, some authority may be given to leaders and authors within particular traditions of Paganism who are respected because of their long experience and ability to teach and/or take leadership roles, and there are people recognised as High Priestesses and High Priests within Wicca, Archdruids within Druid orders, or priestesses within Goddess spirituality. Books and articles, as well as blogs and internet sites, or distance learning courses, authored by respected Pagans may also be said to have a certain authority.

Unlike some other forms of Paganism, there is relevant source material available for Heathen study drawn from historical texts and inscriptions, archaeology, linguistics, comparative religion and mythology, folklore researches and so on. From this, the following are commonly understood as important elements of the Heathen worldview:

  • World-accepting, rather than world-rejecting
  • Time perceived as cyclical, rather than linear
  • Family and community-centred, rather than individualistic
  • Deeds are crucial, rather than beliefs
  • Polytheistic, rather than monotheistic
  • Order carved out of primal chaos, rather than world created out of nothing
  • All things subject to wyrd (causality), rather than subject to the will of a creator
  • Humanity shares this world with others, rather than being the pinnacle of creation.

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