I have long hesitated to write this, and it has a lot to do with the variety of ideas that Pagans believe in. One thing may be true to one particular sect of Pagandom, it may be offensive and the opposite to another sect. Honestly, it can be viewed as a mess. I will attempt to give a very succinct answer, as I will give a quick once around the world of the highlights I think is good to know now.
Many Pagans believe in two deities, a Goddess and a God. Some Pagans believe that there is one universal spirit, and humans gender identify this spirit with male and female attributes. The Gods that are worshiped can come from any pantheon from any society, ancient or modern. Popular deities come from the ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Hindu regions. Clearly this is not an exclusive list of the deities Pagans believe in, but it is often where new Pagans start before being attracted to one deity, or pantheon, or another.
A significant amount have focus has been given to worshiping, strengthening, and developing mythology around the Goddess. Of note, some Pagans believe that the Goddess is universal, but has many aspects to her. There are Goddesses who are nurturing, mothering, intelligent, warriors, city builders, protectors, hunters, key holders, and the list goes on. Their jobs range from being the Mother of All Creation, to the Destroyer of All Creation and anywhere in between. In many ways the Goddess can be viewed as a single dice, but with multiple sides. Many turn to certain aspects of the Goddess in order to beseech and request assistance from that facet of the Goddess. In many ways women have been attracted to this religion due to the primacy of the Goddess in it. They are not too happy with a patriarchy being the primary societal model, and long to find a tool to take back their power by having a strong tool on their side, a Goddess, that lends them credibility, authority, and power. Some early Pagan groups have taken this concept of returning power and authority back to women a little far. A few groups are exclusively female, and have strict guidelines for membership if you had not been born female. In recent years the broader Pagan community has taken exception to that, and has pointed out the reverse discrimination these groups are now practicing. Believing in the Goddess is not a prerequisite to being Pagan, but I have yet to meet a Pagan who does not profess at least a little bit to following one Goddess or another.
The Goddesses that initially come to mind are from the Greek and Egyptian pantheon. Isis, Hathor, Sekhmet, Diana, Demeter, Hera, Aphordite, Athena are some very popular deities. A few other Goddesses that are not main stream knowledge that are worshiped with similar popularity is Hecate (heck-ah-tae), and Morrigan. Some, but not all, Pagans have a tendency to classify Goddesses by their relative duties. Mothering Goddesses, warrior Goddesses, wise Goddesses, love Goddesses, etc. The one classification that is not apparent to outsiders is the dark Goddesses category. These Goddesses deal with deeper emotions and difficult life topics. Some deal directly with death, destruction, and depression. Some Pagans believe that these Goddesses are necessary for spiritual progression. To work with some of these Goddesses, or this facet of the single Goddess can be very freeing for the Pagan practitioner. It is psychologically healthy to explore your feelings to the utmost and accept them. Working with dark Goddesses gives a sense of purpose and expected outcome to those following her.
On a less focused note, not much effort has been given toward developing spiritual religious practice and dedication to the God. To clarify, the majority of Pagans do not believe this God is the same as the Christian God, however, there are a few Pagans who do worship this God as the Christian God. For clarification, I would suggest you do some searching for Christian Pagans. They are a real thing. Whatever the attribution, some Pagans believe in balance, and will worship the Goddess and the God equally. While there is some emphasis on the Goddess, the God has not been forgotten. There are some specific Gods that are popular for beginner Pagan practitioners. Odin, Thor, Zeus, Poseidon, Mercury, Horus, Oman-Ra, Jupiter, Cernnunous, Osirus are some very popular deities. Unfortunately there are no groups that have an exclusive desire to worship only a God, however, Odin and the Norse religion has come close. While there is a tendency to classify the Goddesses as described previously, there has been little interest in classifying the Gods in the same manner. Dark Gods are generally associated with their Goddess counterpart. Hades would be mentioned in the same breath as Persephone. Apollo with Diana or Artemis.
In addition to worshiping two deities, in whatever form, Pagans have in interesting tendency to give attributes to other unrelated things. There are some who believe that not only do herbs and plants have the physical property and capability to be used as medicine, but they also can have a spiritual energy that has specific properties. This belief extends to gemstones and semi-precious rocks and minerals. These two items are used to aid in spell work.
According to many Pagans, the use of spells will assist with accomplishing their goals. To put it simply, they believe that putting their intention out into the universe, with the aid of the energy properties of herbs, crystals, and other similar items, in a ritual, they will affect the laws of probability in their favor. As an atheist, it was a very difficult concept to grasp, and simplifying it down in this manner has helped me understand the idea of spell work better. Some Pagans who practice spell work can use a variety of means to send their intention and energy toward accomplishing this goal. Petitioning deities, using specific wording, creating a positive, clean, sacred space, using certain tools, and having a work space, choosing a specific time of year, day, night, or moon phase can be all a part of the creation and release of a spell. Does it work? In one of my a previous posts one spell did. Does it make us all rich? As someone I know put it, does it look like I would be here doing this if money spells made you win the lottery every time I wanted to? And if it did, why would I even let you know that I knew a spell that did? As stated before, affecting the laws of probability in their favor, and to be more specific, my personal belief that unless there is a lot of time and effort put in by a multitude of people, it may only be a minutia affect.
There are an abundance of covens, and an abundance of Pagan practitioners who are solitary in their practice. There are NO HARD AND FAST RULES REGARDING COVENS. I say this due to a coworker who was Druid mentioned that he knew that I had to wear white, and only have a specific role due to my lack of time in being a Pagan. I gave him a “whaa—?” look before he realized that he may have some different information that what I believe. Covens generally come together due to human nature’s need to work together and socialize as a group. Some Pagans stay solitary due to their personal journey of self discovery, disinterest in practicing with others, or a lack of agreement or friendship with other Pagans of similar practices and beliefs. Like any social club, you can find covens of all stripes. Typically there is a Priestess. Less common is a Priest. The purpose of the coven is either a universally recognized reason, because they are Pagan, Wiccan, Witches, or otherwise; or covens come together out of mutual interest and friendship. Their activities can range from mundane to spectacular.
Pagans can pray as a part of their practices. Others prefer to speak to their Gods only through ritual. Whatever the case may be, some Pagans point out that Christians who pray are doing the same as them, sending their intent out into the universe to affect a specific change. As you can imagine, this is not a wildly popular belief among the Christians.
Some Pagans believe they have supernatural abilities. My wish is that one day these beliefs will be validated as fact by the scientific community. As for myself, I have personally felt the Goddess, and I have witnessed some amazing coincidences that are often too regular too often. Divinatory systems are, at times, amazingly accurate. Some divination can seem to make absolutely no sense, yet after a while make perfect sense.
Pagans do have a code of ethics, with the addition of more by the practitioner. The first rule is if you are going to do something for someone, have permission by the person being affected. In many ways this prevents the receiver from accusing the practitioner from attacking them, if the outcome is not a desired one. Another rule is no recruiting. Pagans recognize when a person is a product of their environment, and not of a free choice situation. If a person is not right for the religion, they will make their own choice to believe (or practice) or not, and not be persuaded into it. While many of you may have immediately assumed one of the rules as “As you harm none, do as you will”, I have specifically avoided making this a Pagan ethic, as I do know those who do not follow this particular rule.
By no means am I an expert on all, or many of the Pagan religion. For me there is simply not enough time to explore to my heart’s content. Specific rules, ethics, doctrine (if any), dogma (if any), variety and differences in all of Pagandom just cannot be explored in any depth without making this a very long blog post (hopefully a book at some point). I encourage you to explore, ask your local Pagan, keeping in mind that their answer will always be from a personal experience and belief perspective, yet not a hard and fast rule for all Pagans. I have only touched on these topics that I have introduced, and I plan to explore them more fully in subsequent blog posts.