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Paganism as a religious tradition

Working closely with the Church we will review the idea of Paganism from its origins as the "original" religious tradition through its modern revival. We will discuss how Pagan practices and beliefs relate to Unitarian Universalism, how Pagans think about ethics and justice, and how you can go about building your own Pagan religious tradition.


Paganism is both a new religious movement as well as a religion rooted in historical and current ethnic religious practices. In this course we will examine Western European Paganism through the lens of how it has evolved into its current state in the 21st century, with an emphasis on its relationship with the Unitarian Universalist tradition. We will talk about history, practice, principles, and what they mean for our lives as UUs and Pagans. The emphasis will be on understanding, knowing where we come from and where we are going, and how Pagan practice can integrate and inform our own theologies and daily spiritual practices.


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Paganism and the West:  An ancient tradition


In this course we will discuss the historical, theological, faith, and political roots of the modern neo-Pagan movement.  We will attempt to place this movement in context as one of many religious faith traditions that emerged out of the intersection of Western and Eastern religious traditions, as well as a reaction of Westerners, particularly Americans, to the rootless and ethnically ambiguous nature of modern society.  We will also place Paganism in the context of a living religion, and explore its relationship to Unitarian Universalism.  As Paganism is inherently an experiential religion, we will do some form of working each class to better understand the practice, as well as the principles, of Paganism.   

Classes 1 and 2:  European and modern neo-Paganism. 

These two classes will go together as a unit.  In them we will explore the meaning and definition of Paganism, from the earliest times up to the modern movement.  We’ll work with some theology, some history, and some descriptive information.  If any text matters for this section it is Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon, one of the best available histories of the neo-Pagan movement.   Class 1 will emphasize the basics of Paganism, as well as its ancient roots.  Class 1 will also cover the Witch trials and the Christian grimoire magical movements.  Class 2 will start with the 18th century Romantic revival of the Pagan aesthetic, then move on to discuss Paganism’s relationship to traditional Witchcraft, Cunning work, Crowley, and Eastern Religion.  Then we will move quickly on to Gardner, the Witchcraft revival in the 1950’s, the Goddess and Gaia movements in the 1960’s, and finally the diversity of views and values we find today in the modern neo-Pagan movement.

The goal is not a straight recitation of history, but rather to use the historical context to understand the various influences we see today in the neo-Pagan movement.  For example, the 18th century romanticists have given us much of our view of nature, and our relationship to it.  Likewise the American transcendentalists from the same period have influenced many of the views of deity that you find in neo-Paganism.  Hopefully these historical influences will give us a chance to think about our relationship to the broader concept of Paganism.

Class 3:  Seventh Principle and Sixth Source

In 1985 the UU fellowship adopted the Seventh Principle:  “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” and in 1995 the Sixth Source:  “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”  Adding Paganism to their theology, and fundamental principles, was a bold and inclusive step.   For this class we will invite one of the UU ministers into our group to have a wide-ranging discussion about UU, the Pagan path, and how neo-Pagan practices relate to UU.  

Class 4:  What Paganism means in our lives. 

In this class we will hear from experienced Pagan leaders about what the Pagan path has meant in their lives.  Paganism can be a very personal theology, and we will work together to explore the various personal theologies that are present in the room, and in the broader Pagan community.

Class 5:  Ritual Practice.

Ritual practice is an integral part of Pagan worship.  Depending on the interests of the class we will work toward designing an end of class ritual that will incorporate many of the various aspects of Paganism that we learned about in the previous classes.


Second Wednesday of the month, once a month for five months starting in September, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. We will most likely be in Room 16 at the Church, but check the board.