A Pagan Primer

If you are new to Paganism or magick, or if you are just interested in finding out about Paganism and magick, this page here to help provide basic information on modern Neo-Pagan religions and magick. The information here will give you a basic understanding of Paganism and help direct you to fairly easy to find good books for Pagan beginners and information seekers. We have tried to be sure that there are no fees (membership fees, etc.) to check out any of the information we link to from this page, but external sites are not under our control and can change their policies without notice.

What is Paganism?

One important thing to remember is that Paganism isn't a religion any more than Monotheism is a religion. Both Paganism and Monotheism are collective terms used to group very different religions that happen to share a few important classifying traits in common. For example, Monotheism includes the all the various forms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (and many minor faiths). The beliefs of the individual religions grouped under the term "Pagan" probably vary even more than (say) Reform Judaism differs from Shiite Islam. As Wicca is currently the most well-known modern Pagan religion, many people tend to assume that all modern Pagans share the specific beliefs of Wicca (e.g. belief in a God and Goddess, the eight festival "wheel of the year," the Wiccan Rede, etc.). That assumption is simply incorrect. People who make that assumption generally end up very confused when they encounter some of the many modern Pagan religions that are not based on Wicca.

You may have heard a number of definitions of Paganism mentioned in books, on TV, and in newspapers and magazines. Most of these definitions are far too narrow. For example, modern Pagan religions are often described as "earth-based" or "earth-centered." This is certainly true of Wicca and some other Pagan religions, but many Pagan religions are only "Earth-based" in the sense that their adherents live on the planet Earth. The common dictionary definition of Paganism is a religion that isn't Jewish, Christian, or Islamic. With a slight modification, that's actually the best definition of a Pagan religion the author has seen: A Pagan religion is a religion that is not Jewish, Christian, or Islamic and self-identifies as Pagan. "Heathen" is an alternative word for "Pagan" that some groups, especially those of Northern European origin, prefer to use. It is the same thing as someone calling a gift basket a hampers gift, they mean the same thing.

A Few Pagan Religions

When many people think of modern Pagan religions, they think of Wicca. While Wicca is probably the largest Pagan of the modern Pagan religions and certainly gets the most media attention, there are actually many Pagan religions. Listed here are a few of the religions that many consider to fall under the collective term "Pagan":

And sometimes individuals and sub-groups of the following religions self-identify as Pagan:

  • Candomble
  • Demonolatry
  • Santeria
  • Satanism (Theistic Satanists are the most likely to identify as Pagan)
  • Voudon

Not only are there other Pagan religions besides those listed here, but many of these religions have sub-divisions (denominations/sects/traditions) within them.

Answers to Basic Questions About Paganism

One of the members of our message board has written a short article with the answers to some of the most common questions we get from those new to Pagan religions. If you are new to Pagan religions or are just curious about them, you might want to read Common Questions About Paganism before going any further.

More Questions and Answers

For general information about Paganism, the best place to start our list of frequently asked questions (and their answers) about Paganism. Note that while this FAQ is called the Teens and Paganism FAQ because it was originally written with the possible concerns of teen Pagans in mind, the majority of the information on in this FAQ, especially the information on Pagan religions, is just as useful to adults as it is to Teens.

In addition, here are a couple of older Paganism FAQs from the world of usenet newsgroups. The answers these lists give may sound dogmatic and authoritative, they should only be taken as representative of the authors' personal experiences and personal beliefs about Paganism. Not every Pagan would agree with all of the answers provided.

Critical Reading for Pagans

There are a large number of books and thousands of web sites on various Neo-Pagan religions. Some provide excellent information, some provide good information, but many provide questionable or bad information. Most (including this site) provide a mixture. It can be hard to tell the good from the bad on a subject you aren't familiar with -- unless you read critically. Here's a link to an excellent article on reading Pagan material critically.

Here is a link to an article that explains, from a Neo-Pagan point of view, what a credible book is and ways to determine if a book should be considered credible.

This site also has over 225 reviews of books (and divination decks) which can help you decide if a given book is worth your reading time and/or your purchase money.

Finding Other Pagans

One of our members, Jenett, has written a couple of good articles on this subject on her web site:

  • Finding Others: Where to Start Looking
    One question I hear a lot is "How can I find groups near me?" It can be a frustrating search, and some of the best resources aren't obvious to newcomers. While there are different ways to go about this, here's my suggested method....
  • Questions When Searching for a Group
    I'm a big fan of knowing what you're looking for when you start searching for something. The following list of questions is designed to help you figure out different aspects of what you might be looking for or want (and which things you don't want!)....

The Witches' Voice

The Witches' Voice is a large, excellent Wiccan site. While it is aimed mainly at Wicca (the largest religion within the umbrella of modern Paganism), there are a couple of features there useful to anyone seeking information on Paganism or Wicca. (The Witches' Voice can be a confusing site for those not already familiar with it, here's a link to article on finding things on WitchVox: "Using Witchvox – a walkthrough".)

  • Pagan Sites on the Web
    Thousands of links to Pagan sites, both Wiccan and non-Wiccan on the web.
  • Witches of the World
    If you are looking for other Pagans or groups of Pagans in your area, or if you want information on Pagan festivals around the world, this database is the first place to check. Many non-Wiccans list themselves here as well.

Other Beginner-oriented Articles at The Cauldron

Our web site contains a number of articles (most from a Wiccan point-of-view unfortunately) that are useful to the new Pagan. Just remember these articles do not contain "the truth," they only contain what the authors believed to be true at the time they wrote the article.

  • Reconstructionist Paganism
    An introduction to Reconstructionist Pagan religions, non-Wiccan Neopagan religions noted for their reliance on solid academic and historical sources regarding deities, worship and symbolism.
  • An Introduction to the Old Religion
    Eight lessons in outline form from an Introduction to the Old Religion course. Over 200K of text.
  • The Wheel of the Year
    A collection of articles on each of the eight major holidays of the Wiccan year.
  • Introduction to Ceremonial Magick
    Eleven lessons in the basics magick, with a somewhat ceremonial style.
  • So You Want To Join A Coven?
    An article on things one should carefully consider before deciding to join any Pagan group.
  • Secrecy and Wicca
    Just how much secrecy is really neccessary in Wicca, or any other Pagan religion?
  • Problems with the Rede
    The word "rede" means "advice." While the Wiccan Rede is excellent moral advice, this article shows that the Rede makes a bad moral law.
  • Basic Candle Magick
    A simple method for performing candle magick, including a candle color chart.
  • So You Want To Start A Coven?
    A good number of things to consider before you decide to start any Pagan group.
  • A Wiccan Glossary
    A glossary of basic Wiccan terms. While useful, you will, of course, find that other Pagans and even other Wiccans define some of these terms somewhat differently.


Are You New to Pagan Religions?

And Have Questions?

Our board has many very experienced Pagan members who can help you. Unfortunately, the types of discussions on our main message board can seem somewhat intimidating for some who are very new to Pagan religions. Therefore, we have set aside a special folder (Paganism For Beginners) where people new to the various Pagan religions can post their questions and concerns. You do not have to post in this folder, but if you choose to, our more experienced members will realize you are new and try to provide help accordingly.

Books for (Wiccan) Beginners

There are a large number of "beginner" books available, unfortunately, most are aimed squarely at the Wiccan religion, not at Pagan religions in general. These ten are among the best widely available such books. However, if you are not interested in becoming a Wiccan, Drawing Down the Moon is probably the only book in this list that is a must read -- although all three background books will help you understand the origins of modern Wicca and Wicca-like religions.

Background/History

The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft
by Ronald Hutton
[Our Review]

Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England
by T.M. Luhrmann

Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today
by Margot Adler
[Our Review]

Wiccan Religion

A Witch Alone: Thirteen Moons to Master Natural Magic
by Marian Green
[Our Review]

Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft
by Raymond Buckland
[Our Review]

A Witches' Bible
by Janet and Stewart Farrar
[Our Review]

The Witch's Circle: Rituals and Craft of the Cosmic Muse
by Maria Kay Simms
[Our Review]

Magick

Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens
by Paul Huson
[Our Review]

Positive Magic: Occult Self-Help
by Marion Weinstein
[Our Review]

Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts
by Donald M. Kraig
[Our Review]


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