This is a guest post in answer to the question ‘what is Paganism?’, for the Irish Pagan School blog by Tuath member, Rev. Alan Wells.More from Alan at – https://www.revalanwells.ie/
Paganism in a modern context means different things to different people, and defining it can be complex. So rather than jump straight in to try and define what it is, I would like to look briefly at how I understand what it is not (and here I’m speaking within an Irish Paganism context).
What is Irish Paganism?
I feel that it is important to state straight away, lest there be any confusion, that Irish Paganism does not align with those for whom, “the issue of cultural heritage and authenticity becomes part of an exclusionary ideology where some [pagan] groups claim to be following the ‘true religion'”. It is merely a way of differentiating Irish Paganism from other forms of Celtic Paganism as they are certainly not interchangeable.
Unfortunately there are some elements in the Pagan community here in Ireland (and indeed globally) that have hijacked certain symbols and identities from our Irish ancestry for their right wing, neo-fascist ideologies, but pretty much all Irish Pagans that I know and interact with are actively anti-racist and anti-fascist.
Paganism is a very personal spiritual path, we can learn from those who have gone ahead of us, but ultimately, we must walk our own path. I am dedicated to the Irish God and Goddess, Lugh and Anú, under the umbrella of Irish Paganism.
Under this very broad umbrella I identify as a practitioner of indigenous Irish spirituality which in this sense, “is almost synonymous with the concept of ‘old religion’ as a type of spirituality”. This, of course, is not to claim that there is an unbroken living lineage of Pagan religion or spirituality in Ireland, but there are elements still very much present in our folklore and traditions.
My Pagan Path
I would tentatively say that I have been a Pagan since about the age of 10 or 11 (around 1978/79) but have consciously been on this path since the early 1990s via Druidry, a brief foray into Wicca and a very interesting time spent looking at how Hinduism might compare to our Irish spirituality, until my teacher told me to “go home” as many Eastern teachers tell Westerners.
For most westerners this means going back to the teachings of Jesus (albeit with, hopefully, a better understanding of themselves and a better way to look at the wisdom therein) but for me, it meant refocusing my practice in the Irish tradition, dedicating myself fully to the Irish Gods and discovering what Irish indigenous spirituality means to me.
Just to speak to this briefly, my personal spiritual framework is not really from the ‘reconstructionism’ perspective of some Pagans, but comes from a deep personal place of discovery which arose from a connection with the land, the sea and the sky and all that dwells within and upon these, both physically and spiritually, seen and unseen and informed by Irish lore. It is a spirituality of sensitivity to the natural world and to the Otherworld. It is a spirituality that does not seek to re-imagine how my ancestors worshipped the Gods but rather, it is a devotional way of recognising the divine within me and the natural world, all within the culture and the living traditions of Ireland.
What is Paganism?
So, to answer the original question of ‘What is Paganism?’, I’ll offer this brief attempt at a definition:
Paganism is about developing a connection with the natural world, from the mycelium to the tallest tree, from a grain of sand to the highest mountain, from the springs and wells to the sea, from the darkest storm clouds to the brightest blue skies. Developing a sense of the sacred in all things, paying attention to the solar and lunar cycles, paying attention to what is seen (and unseen) and honouring all of this.
I would add that if you feel drawn to a practicing within a particular tradition that is not the tradition of where you live, then learning from the native voices within that tradition is really important too.
- Jenny Butler, ‘Remembrance of the Ancestors in Contemporary Paganism: Lineage, Identity, and Cultural Belonging in the Irish Context’, The Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions 2, no. 1 (2015): 115.
- Are Celtic Paganism & Irish Paganism Interchangeable Terms? | Lora O’Brien | The Irish Pagan School, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPgdpczfC0o.
- Jenny Butler, ‘Entering the Magic: Irish Contemporary Paganism, Celticity and Indigeneity’, International Journal for the Study of New Religions 9, no. 2 (2018): 177-178. See also ‘11. Indigenous Spiritual Practices | Ontario Human Rights Commission’, accessed 10 March 2023, https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-preventing-discrimination-based-creed/11-indigenous-spiritual-practices.
- Often called ‘Celtic reconstructionism’ it is an attempt to reconstruct how our ancestors worshipped the Gods and their own ancestors.