If you are new to the concept of a real, live Pagan/Wiccan/Druid/Witch, you probably have a set of pre-conceived notions. They could be extremely positive or extremely negative, depending on where you got them. The polar ends of this spectrum tend to be the off-grid, woad-painted environmental activist (drummer) on one end, and the black-clad, animal-sacrificing metal groupie (drug addict) on the other. Most real Pagans would find both of those examples funny, as well as a little depressing. So, let’s start with some basic definitions.
One of my favorite definitions of modern Paganism came from an educational collective called the Pagan Education Network (PEN). They said, “Pagan religions are characterized by a belief in the interconnection of all life, personal autonomy, and immanent divinities. Pagan religions are often nature-centered and supportive of gender equity.”
You may notice that there is a whole lot of room for diversity in this definition. This is deliberate. Paganism is considered an “umbrella term.” It is a very broad heading under which lots of different folks know they can look for reasonably like-minded peers. Different types of Pagans often further distinguish themselves through “traditions.” These are kind of like the “denominations” found within the larger category of Christianity. One of the larger traditions that many people have encountered is Wicca. In fact, Wicca has become so large, it has really morphed into another umbrella term. The same could be said of the term, “Witchcraft.” In other words, Wicca and Witchcraft practitioners tend to further differentiate themselves into more specific traditions, like “Reclaiming Witchcraft,” or “Dianic Wicca.”
I use the term Neo-pagan for my own beliefs. I do this because the constant innovation of religion is what makes it valid, for me. In other words, I’m not going to ascribe to a type of Paganism that was cool with sacrificing or enslaving humans or other animals. I also want my religion to be open to new scientific insights and cultural sensitivities. So you will always see me referring to myself as Neo-pagan.
Like many Neo-pagans, I consider myself eclectic. An eclectic practitioner is not “married” to any one tradition. We use independent study to develop our personal beliefs. Since we learn from more than one tradition, we are designated eclectic. I further designate myself as a Vegan Pagan. This is a tradition that I am trying to grow. Vegan Paganism is eclectic Neo-paganism with veganism as a core for ethics and practices. My blog at the Witches&Pagans site is called Ahimsa Grove, and is Vegan Pagan.
Since modern (neo) Paganism is extremely diverse, individuals are responsible for our own ethics. If we choose to affiliate with a group of the like-minded, then we may craft our ethics as a group. But the blessing and the curse of Neo-paganism is that you can’t assume anything about the beliefs or practices of an individual. Therefore, my practical advice if you are new to mixing with our kind is that you listen to the Pagan you have met before assuming he/she/they are either a Saint or a Psycho. In other words, treat them like people.
As a member of the Pagan Federation, I agree with that organization’s Core Principles. I find them reasonably in line with Vegan Pagan ideals, though this is because I choose to insert veganism into their interpretation. If you care to read a good example of eclectic Pagan ethics, I would check those principles out.
Meanwhile, my Neo-pagan writing tends to focus on women, non-human animals, social justice, veganism, and the like. If you are interested, keep an eye out for my frequently updated material through Ahimsa Grove and SageWoman Magazine.
Alas, Circle Sanctuary Magazine is no more. But their archives are still available. Circle Sanctuary is a ground-breaking Neo-pagan organization that has long advocated environmental protection and human rights. Their “rights watch” project helps Neo-pagans to be vigilant about protecting their civil rights. This organization led the charge in challenging President Bush’s determination that Paganism “isn’t a religion,” and subsequent ban on the pentacle on the markers of veterans killed in action. This ban, by the way, was happily overturned. Circle Sanctuary still runs a very important civil rights watch through their website (the Lady Liberty League), and does wonderful public service projects, like collecting Pagan goodies to mail to members of the faith who are serving overseas.
My article giving a basic introduction of vegan beliefs and dietary choices can be found in Issue 114/Home & Hearth, which can still be purchased online.
SageWoman Magazine is published by BBI Media, who also do Witches & Pagans. SageWoman is a journal of Goddess Spirituality, and encourages reader submissions. My column, “Child of Artemis,” is found in nearly every issue. Here is one example, issue #90, where my article “The Antlers of Sovereignty” discusses the old days, when women wore the horns in the family.