The above link will give you all the brief facts you might want to know about Imbolc, one of the four major pagan holidays of the year. Since it does such a fine job, I thought we would take a little time today and talk about Modern Paganism.
Pagan comes from the Latin "paganus" meaning "country dweller" ["heathen" by the way means basically the same thing]. It was a way for urbanized Roman Christians to refer to those people, primarily rural, who still followed old superstitions. A modern translation would be "redneck" or "hick."
Modern Pagans, however, have taken what was once a negative term and embraced it. Paganism today refers in general to any aspect of polytheistic religion. I will add to that by stipulating "Western" or "Indo-European" as there are obviously Asian faiths (notably Hinduism) that could be described as polytheistic; but I am open to the argument if someone wants to make it.
Issac Bonewits would describe those predominately Asian faiths as Paleopaganism, or Old Paganism. Meaning that they originate in antiquity and, although perhaps influenced by other cultures or developments overtime, retain their basic structures and tenants today.
Mesopaganism, or Middle Paganism, are those efforts to revive Pagan practice, many of which originate in the 1800s. These, he suggests, include Rosicrucians, Theosophists, practitioners of Voodoo and related faiths, 'orthodox' Wiccans and Druids, and several others.
Neopanaism, or New Pagainsm, refers to the mostly unorganized traditions that have arisen post World War Two, and mostly post-1960.
Bonewits gives the following as the basic tenants of Neopaganism:
• Neopagans believe that divinity is both immanent (internal) and transcendent (external), with immanence being far more important for people to pay attention to right now.
• Neopagans believe that children are born holy, since they have no barriers of consciousness between them and their indwelling deities.
• Neopagans believe that divinity is as likely to manifest in a female form as it is in a male form, and that the word “Goddess” makes just as much sense as “God.”
• Neopagans believe in a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, as well as “lesser” beings, many of Whom are worthy of respect, love and worship.
• Neopagans do not believe in, respect, or worship any divine or semidivine figure of ultimate Evil, leaving such concepts to the dualistic monotheists.
• Most Neopagans believe it is necessary to respect and love Nature as divine in Her own right, and to accept ourselves as part of Nature and not Her “rulers.” Many of us accept what has come to be known as “the Gaia hypothesis.” As first articulated by Neopagan
• Most Neopagans believe in accepting the positive aspects of Western science and technology but also in maintaining an attitude of wariness towards the supposed ethical neutrality of that science and technology.
• Neopagans believe that ethics and morality should be based upon joy, love, self-esteem, mutual respect, the avoidance of actual harm to ourselves and others — human or nonhuman — and the increase of public benefit. Most Neopagans believe in some variant or another of the principles of “karma,” and many Neopagans will affirm that the results of their actions will always return to them, sooner or later.
• Neopagans believe that human beings were meant to lead lives filled with joy, love, pleasure, beauty and humor.
• Many Neopagans consider sexual ecstacy as both a divine blessing and a major source of spiritual growth and enlightenment, though we vary widely in how, with whom, and under what circumstances they seek such ecstacy.
• Neopagans believe that with proper training, art, discipline and intent, human minds and hearts are fully capable of performing most of the magic and miracles they are ever likely to need.
• Most Neopagans believe that there is an art and/or a science to creating, preparing and performing magical and religious rituals.
• Neopagans believe in the importance of celebrating the solar, lunar and other cycles of their lives.
• Most Neopagans believe in some sort of afterlife, usually involving rest and recovery in an Otherworld before reincarnating.
• Most Neopagans believe that people have the ability to solve their current problems, both personal and public, and to create a better world.
• Neopagans believe that people can progress far towards achieving personal growth, evolution and balance through the carefully planned alteration of our “normal” (culturally defined and limited) states of consciousness.
• Most Neopagans believe that human interdependence implies community service.
• Most Neopagans believe that healthy religions should have a minimum amount of rigidity and a maximum amount of flexibility.
Just to be clear, Pagans do not worship evil demons. Pagans do not sacrifice infants. Pagans are just people.
And if you see a Pagan this week, wish him or her a happy belated Imbolc from me.