Pagan Religions You’ve Probably Never Heard of
Religion is a hot, sometimes tensely debated, topic. Few spiritual traditions face as much stigma as paganism. Paganism is often used as a synonym for polytheistic religions or witchcraft, but that's a misconception. Paganism is defined as any religion outside of the main world religions.
Some pagan religions incorporate elements of magic and belief in the occult, but the majority share a central theme: The belief that nature is sacred and that humans are a part of it along with everything else. Sin as a concept is generally removed from the equation, replaced with reverence for the natural cycle of life and ancient deities. Keep reading to learn about the most popular modern pagan religions and separate fact from fiction.
TLDR: No, being a pagan doesn't mean you worship the devil.
Hinduism isn't always considered a pagan religion, but if we're going by the definition that paganism includes any non-mainstream religions, especially those emphasizing the natural cycle of life, we'll count it. Hinduism has four denominations, but all share a few foundational ideas.
Hindus believe in one supreme being who creates and destroys life in cycles. They don't believe in hell or intrinsic evil, nor a singular method of achieving living righteously. Each individual is welcome to explore their own spiritual path through service to others, meditation, discipline or even yoga. Hinduism teaches the laws of karma, plus the three planes of existence: the physical plane, the astral plane and the spiritual plane. It also emphasizes that all people are divine. The Hindu reverence for life equates to the practice of non-violence and acceptance of other faiths.
Hellenism is probably more familiar to you than you realize. It's the formal term for ancient Greek religion, centering around the worship of the twelve Olympic deities found in Greek mythology. Some people believe in Greek gods and follow Hellenic ideals, while others worship the gods without adhering to the ideals.
Either way, the worship of Greek deities has been practiced continuously, albeit behind closed doors, for thousands of years. In addition to believing in Greek gods, like Zeus, Athena, Hades and Artemis, Hellenists believe in nature spirits called nymphs, underworld deities and human heroes. They strongly value their ancestors as well.
The term heathen has become synonymous with someone immoral, but that's not even close to the real definition. Heathenry is a label used to describe pre-Christian religion from the Germanic area of Europe. "Heathen" originally was a neutral term to describe someone who wasn't Christian or Jewish. It only took on a negative meaning when people began viewing it as a bad thing not to practice Christianity.
Heathenism can also be called Germanic paganism or Norse paganism, although each practitioner has a different preferred term. Neo-Heathenism was developed during the early 1900s, drawing from historical records and folklore to recreate ancient religions. It's polytheistic in nature, viewing the natural world as full of different spirits and deities that can be honored in ceremonial rites and rituals. Heathenism can be practiced alone or in small groups.
Heathen deities are seen as more human in character than traditional gods. Practitioners believe communicating with them is possible, and so is asking them for wisdom or even bargaining with them. Beliefs in the afterlife vary, but a strong emphasis is placed on honor, loyalty and integrity.
Kemetism is a lesser-known neopagan religion stemming from ancient Egyptian beliefs. It emerged in the 1970s and is comprised of several groups with slightly different theological structures. In Kemetism, ancient Egyptian spirits are known as Netjeru and they're usually referred to by their Egyptian name, not their English translation.
Ra, Amun, Isis, Osiris, Thoth and Bastet are a few of the most commonly worshiped deities, but there are several more. The religion rarely provides answers to the struggles of modern life. Instead, it focuses on the preservation of maat, a complex concept that centers around harmony, stability, balance and truth.
Rodnovery, also known as Slavic neopaganism, is a resurgence of the belief systems of the people of Central and Eastern Europe. Rodnover theology teaches the existence of one supreme god who created the universe, plus additional spirits of nature. Practitioners meet in groups, offering sacrifices to the gods followed by shared communal meals and libations.
Rodnovery moral structure focuses on acting for the good of society as a whole instead of prioritizing one's own desires. It's a patriarchal belief system with fairly traditional, conservative gender roles. Rodnovery is also strongly an ethnic religion, emphasizing Slavic heritage and cultural tradition.
Semitic neopaganism isn't just one religion, but a group of reconstructive religions drawn from ancient Semitic beliefs. Beit Asherah, also known as House of Asherah, is one of the better-known groups, starting in the early 1990s. The religion is a topic of debate among the Jewish community as not all of its beliefs align with those spelled out in the Torah.
Semitic neopaganism involves an element of goddess worship, ordaining Hebrew Priestesses and revamping a nature-centered, feministic brand of Judaism. The movement is popular among those who want a creative, egalitarian option to practice Jewish traditions.
Wicca is likely the religion most people think of when they hear the word "pagan." It's the largest pagan religion, inspired by pre-Christian sects. Practitioners often call themselves witches and use a five-pointed star known as the pentagram for their rituals. The beliefs and rituals of Wiccans are widely misconstrued as being evil or promoting devil worship. Rituals do involve a belief in magic, but they're all about requesting a desired, positive change in the physical world, such as healing illness or relieving poverty.
The Wiccan ethical code states, “If it harm none, do what you will,” meaning that cursing people is heavily frowned upon. Belief in god or gods varies, as does belief in the afterlife. Most Wiccans, however, celebrate seasonal festivals that align with nature.
Druidry, also called Druidism, is the pagan religion most closely tied to the natural world. It's primarily about building respectful relationships with plants, animals and people, along with the spirits that live alongside them.
The divine essence of nature is a key point in Druidism. Nature is revered and viewed as the original source of wisdom and healing. Druidry aligns with holistic medicinal practices, appreciating the healing properties of native plant species. Druids believe in loving all creatures, so many elect to eat a vegetarian diet. Those who don't, usually promote sustainable and ethical farming practices. All Druids believe in doing no harm to others and were historically known for practicing non-violence and serving as mediators in times of war.
The Goddess Movement
The Goddess movement launched in the 1970s as a response to traditional Abrahamic religions that are primarily patriarchal in nature. The Goddess movement appreciates the concept of the divine feminine. There are no formal tenets of belief, with individuals choosing the details themselves. Some believe in specific female deities, while others believe in the divine essence and wisdom of women in general.
With so much flexibility, it's considered a diverse culture that's continuously evolving, with a single unifying theme: Empowering women and building peaceful relationships among diverse groups of humans, animals and the Earth itself.
Animism isn't a specific pagan religion, but rather a category of paganism. Animism is the philosophy that all things, sentient or not, are alive. This includes rivers, rocks, plants, animals and every other element of the natural world. Animism is commonly seen in Indigenous religions. Every culture has its own set of rituals and beliefs, but animism is the foundation of many supernatural beliefs.
Since animism is such an integral part of Indigenous spirituality, many Indigenous societies don't have their own word to describe it. It's built into their way of life. Animism also captures the idea of the soul, but it differs from mainstream religions since all things are thought to have one.
Pantheism is somewhat more complex than animism. It's the philosophical belief that everything in existence, including human life, the Earth and the universe as a whole, is one with the divine. Instead of god being a separate entity, the universe itself is considered a divine deity that encompasses all the minutia it's composed of – including us.
Pantheism doesn't believe in a singular, personal god. Instead, it plays with the relationship between tangible reality and the divine. It can be used to characterize more structured forms of paganism or regarded as a spiritual belief all on its own.
Shamanism is more of a way of life than an organized religion. It stems from Indigenous groups in northern Europe and Siberia. Practitioners believe that spiritual leaders called Shamans can connect to the spirit world. There, they're free to communicate with souls in the afterlife, ask benevolent spirits for guidance and blessings and heal the sick.
Techniques vary by culture, but shamans often use hypnosis-like practices to go on spiritual vision quests and interact with the supernatural. Spirit guides based on animal images are a common practice as well. When Shamans return from their quests, they come bearing messages to help guide their people. Shamanistic beliefs also promote living in harmony with nature.
Spiritual ecology is the newest pagan religion. It's exactly what it sounds like: The combination of science, academic research, conservationism and religion all in one. Spiritual ecologists believe that all aspects of environmentalism are also spiritual in nature. They encourage all contemporary religions to begin engaging with today's biggest ecological issues to help support humankind as a whole.
Essentially, spiritual ecologists believe that humans must examine our own beliefs and relationship with the planet and reconnect with our spiritual responsibilities to our home. In other words, battling climate change isn't just an environmental issue, but a cultural and spiritual one. According to their philosophy, once people realize the sacredness of nature, they will automatically honor it in their daily actions.
Eclectic paganism is like the catch-all, ultra-flexible form of paganism. It's also called universalist paganism or non-denominational paganism. In eclectic paganism, practitioners are welcome to mix pagan philosophies into other religious beliefs. Instead of reconstructing specific historical religions, Eclectic paganism allows people to pick and choose their own viewpoints from as many cultures as they choose.
Some look down on this practice, but it's extremely beneficial to those who are still in the process of exploring their own beliefs. Instead of choosing one set of beliefs right away, they're free to learn about multiple spiritual philosophies and practices before defining their beliefs for themselves.