Paganism and Wicca

The Salem Witch Trials were part of the tour in Salem. And the guide told us we could read more about the beliefs.

This is just for information in the context of the Salem Witch Trials.




The word “pagan” (from the Latin paganus, meaning “rural”, “rustic”, or “civilian”) was first used as a pejorative term by Christians in the 4th century Roman Empire to refer to people who practiced polytheism (the worship of more than one deity). This came about partly because those early Christians regarded themselves as milites Christi (soldiers of Christ), and likely because they thought that, since by that time Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, anyone still making offerings to Jupiter or Venus was some sort of behind-the-times, unschooled country bumpkin.


By the Middle Ages, “pagan” was used to describe anyone practicing a religion that wasn’t Abrahamic (Christianity, Judaism, or Muslim). The implication was that these people were worshipping false deities or even evil demons, and possibly engaging in all sorts of sordid practices. As Europeans rediscovered the writings of ancient Greek and Roman scholars , their moral stance on the ancients eventually changed from “What evil barbarians!” to “Well, Jesus hadn’t come yet, so they didn’t know any better, but their math, tragic plays, and engineering were first rate!” Nevertheless, until well into the 20th century, citizens of Western countries who didn’t want to be shunned, persecuted, tortured, or put to death were expected to toe the Abrahamic – primarily Christian – line.


However, what would become the modern Pagan movement began in the 18th and 19th centuries. Scholars such as Jacob Grimm (of fairytale fame) and Johann Gottfried Herder published studies on European folk culture and customs, which created a greater interest in such subjects, as well as an overall increase in individual cultural awareness. This was the Romantic era, when Old Gaelic and Old Norse literature and poetry were rediscovered, the Viking revival sparked increased interest in old Germanic paganism, and the Celtic revival did the same for Celtic culture. Fascination with the occult also intensified during this period. Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a speculative, comparative study of mythology and religion, first published in 1890, would have a tremendous influence on subsequent European literature and thought.


By the time the 20th century rolled around, Christianity had declined in many portions of Europe and North America, and freedom of religion increased. As the years progressed, so did the ability of seekers to explore alternate spiritual paths without persecution and/or prosecution. This gave rise to a diverse number of Pagan groups such as The Druid Order, Thelema, The Church of the Universal Bond, and Wicca, to name just a few.


Modern Paganism is not a single religion, but rather many different religions described by one umbrella term. Much as Abrahamism refers to religions that worship the deity of Abraham (from the Hebrew and Christian bibles, as well as the Quran), modern Paganism encompasses religions that draw their inspiration from pre-Christian, pre-Judaic, and pre-Islamic beliefs and practices from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Like their Abrahamic counterparts, Pagans have many different ways of expressing their beliefs. Some seek to reconstruct, as accurately as possible, a particular set of historical practices, such as those of Ancient Greece, while others are more eclectic in their approach. However, there are three beliefs that are common to most Pagans: polytheism, animism, and reverence for nature.



Polytheism is the belief in and reverence for multiple deities. These deities come from many different pantheons, and are any and all genders. Some pagans stick to one pantheon, while others mix and match. Some Pagans choose only one deity, but still believe that other deities exist. Pagans don’t tend to believe their deities are omniscient or omnipotent, but simply very wise and powerful. Some pagans believe that, rather than being real, their deities represent Jungian archetypes that live in the human psyche.



Animism is the belief that everything has a spirit. This means the humans are just one of many spirits. It is also possible to communicate with these spirits.


Reverence for nature

For pagans, nature is divine, and should be listened to, cared for, and afforded all the respect accorded to any other exceedingly powerful deity. Many pagans apply this view to the entire planet, referring to it as Gaia, after the Greek goddess of the Earth.


Pagans formally express their beliefs through solitary or group ritual. These rituals can take many forms, from lighting a candle inscribed with a particular intent to gathering for divination and a bonfire on the Winter Solstice. Their “holy days” and festivals tend to revolve around the lunar cycle and the agricultural year.




The largest and most visible of the Pagan groups are those that practice some form of Wicca. Wicca was founded by Gerald B. Gardner (1884-1964). A British civil servant, Gardner spent many years studying native peoples in the course of his travels. He was particularly fascinated by their magickal practices, and wrote about them extensively. His magickal studies also included the traditions of his own country, and he became very prominent in Western esoteric circles. Sometime in September 1939, Gardner made contact with and was initiated into the New Forest coven, a group that was likely inspired by combination of British folk magic and the theories of archeologist Margaret Murray, who had postulated the existence of a widespread pre-Christian matriarchal religion. Gardner’s experiences with New Forest, his previous years of research, and his subsequent years of study, all came together in High Magic’s Aid (1949) a fictional novel set in the 13th century, but which contained portions of the rituals that were performed by the coven he formed, the Bricket Wood coven. Once the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was finally repealed in 1951, Gardner was able to publish Witchcraft Today (1954), the book that introduced the idea of witchcraft as legitimate religion to the public.

Wiccans believe in and work with both female and male deities (although some covens only work with one gender), are animistic, and revere nature. They also practice magick for the benefit of their members, and sometimes for the larger community.


Wiccans celebrate the full moon each month, as well as the following festivals (dates are for the Northern Hemisphere):


Samhain – October 31. Final harvest (of animals); door opens between the worlds of the dead and living.

Yule (Winter Solstice) – December 20-23. Longest night of the year.

Imbolc – February 2. First stirrings of spring.

Ostara (Spring Equinox) – March 20-23. Equal length of day and night.

Beltane – May 1. The world is greening, and flowers are bursting forth; celebrates fertility.

Litha (Summer Solstice) – June 20-23. Longest day of the year.

Lughnasadh – August 2. First harvest.

Mabon (Fall Equinox) – September 20-23. Second harvest; equal length of day and night.


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