Knowing what each Pagan tradition, path, faith or practice is can be overwhelming. Here we have tried to list the most common Pagan traditions and practices but we’d like your help in making this more relevant to modern Pagans in Scotland.
If you know of or follow another path or tradition that you feel should be included on this list, please get in touch.
Witchcraft or witchery broadly means the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary practitioners and groups. Witchcraft is a broad term that varies culturally and societally, and thus can be difficult to define with precision, and cross-cultural assumptions about the meaning or significance of the term should be applied with caution. Witchcraft often occupies a religious divinatory or medicinal role, and is often present within societies and groups whose cultural framework includes a magical world view.
Probably the most widely known characteristic of a witch was the ability to cast a spell, "spell" being the word used to signify the means employed to carry out a magical action. A spell could consist of a set of words, a formula or verse, or a ritual action, or any combination of these. Spells traditionally were cast by many methods, such as by the inscription of runes or sigils on an object to give it magical powers; by the immolation or binding of a wax or clay image (poppet) of a person to affect him or her magically; by the recitation of incantations; by the performance of physical rituals; by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; by gazing at mirrors, swords or other specula (scrying) for purposes of divination; and by many other means.
Wicca is an initiatory Pagan witchcraft tradition and also a form of Mystery religion. Although the term is commonly used to describe a very broad range of Pagan practices, it strictly refers only to the Gardnerian & Alexandrian initiatory traditions. These are bodies of collective experience and teachings developed and handed down over what is now many decades.
Wicca has a strong emphasis on Goddess worship but beyond that its theologies are fluid and diverse, being rooted in a primarily experiential relationship with the divine. Like all the modern Pagan traditions, the core of Wicca is personal experience of the sacred rather than interpretations of the written word.
The basic unit of Wicca is the coven, a small, very closely-knit, group of initiates who worship and work magic together. Joining or even finding a good coven can be a very slow process and that is as it should be. Wicca draws on an understanding of human beings as very much a part of Nature, of our all being intimately and inextricably woven within the web of life. Ritual practice revolves around both the now familiar Wheel of the Year - the Pagan Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh, the solstices and equinoxes, and the phases of moon.
There are many books and websites about Wicca, and some of these can be helpful in understanding aspects of it. However, Wicca itself cannot be learned by private study of any written sources, but only through initiation into, and practice within, a Wiccan coven over some years. In itself Wicca is neither better nor worse than any other Pagan tradition. Perhaps the most important thing to grasp about it is that it is a living tradition, much more complex and diverse than any single perspective could begin to adequately describe.
Sumerian Paganism is a modern religious and spiritual movement aimed at reconstructing the religious practices of the Ancient Near East (Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian). While being the oldest recorded pagan religion, it is also sometimes seen as the most forward thinking, given its embrace of technology and innovation. The Sumerians themselves formed the first civilization, their written word, myths and epics predating even the construction of Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt. They brought us out of the Bronze Age; they gave us the wheel, the water clock, the plough, and gave us the first writing system. They gave us the twelve-month calendar based on lunar cycles. They split time into 60-second minutes and 60-minute hours. They invented the arch, high rise buildings, designed the first sewage systems. They gave us mathematics, invented the sail boat, built reservoirs and dams. They gave birth to a highly complex society that is in many ways comparable to our own.
The modern Sumerian Pagan community reflects those values. While many other pagan paths see themselves as “nature-based” religions, Sumerian Paganism is more of a “civilization-based” religion, focusing on the virtues of civilization – from community building and empowerment, fostering unity, embracing diversity, working towards a better tomorrow, and bringing order to all things. Those who follow the Sumerian path also place great value in community and helping those who are less fortunate. This is where the idea of hospitality came from, and hospitality customs are the focus of a great many of our practices.
These attributes are also embodied in their Gods. The Sumerian Gods are Gods of civilization and order. Their main purpose is to bring that order to the universe, and civilization to society. The Sumerian Gods divert the power of chaos by virtue of their existence. They don't revel in its power, they harness it for the betterment of society. They don't fight chaos, they civilize it. They don't destroy nature, they tend and manage it. The gods are our gardeners; we, humanity, are their garden.
One of the most unique things about Sumerian Paganism is their wealth of literature. While other Pagan faith traditions have very little by way of surviving literature in which to reconstruct their ritual practices, there is more surviving Mesopotamian literature than Greek, Roman, and Egyptian literature combined. The survival of these texts is due to the Sumerians’ practice of composing their written works on virtually the most indestructible writing medium known to man: clay tablets. To date there are around two million cuneiform clay tablets that have been dug up so far, with far more still buried underground waiting to be discovered. Vast collections of Sumerian works that have survived to this day: epic myths, magical practices, devotional prayers, religious practices, all written by their own hand and seen through their own eyes.
People come to Sumerian Paganism from all walks of life. Sumerian Paganism holds a unique place among other pagan paths, being the ancestral religion of the Abrahamic faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), from which many of its adherents directly come. This is reflected in their mythology, with the creation of man from clay, the tree that bore the fruit of eternal life, the Great Flood, and the birth of the “Goddess of the rib” in the Garden of Eden, which have all survived intact in their earlier pre-Biblical polytheistic forms.
There is also a large portion of queer, transgender and gender fluid individuals within the Sumerian community, many more, perhaps, than found in other pagan faith traditions. Many are drawn to the most prominent goddess of Sumerian Paganism, Inanna, whom they view as a patron goddess of LGBTQIA+ rights and recognition. Some of the most prominent members of the Sumerian community are Trans activists, run talks and workshops at Queer Pagan camps, and present LGBTQIA+ rituals at Pagan Pride.
Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary by Jeremy Black, Andrew Green (known affectionately as the “Green and Black book” by Sumerian Recons)
Before The Muses: An Anthology Of Akkadian Literature by Benjamin R. Foster
Walking the Sumerian Path: A Guide for the Modern Practitioner by Temple of Sumer
Descent of Inanna: Annotated and Illustrated by Ed Vanderjagt
Dingir: Adventures of the Gods (Graphic Novel) by Ed Vanderjagt
The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion by Thorkild Jacobsen
Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia by Jean Bottéro
The Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer
Inanna, Lady of the Largest Heart by Betty De Shong Meador.
Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna by Betty De Shong Meador.
Temple of Sumer
Druidry is not generally considered by its practitioners to be a religion in its own right, rather it comprises a set of metaphysical ideas which together provide an initiatory spiritual path, an inspirational philosophy, and an ethical way of living. Druidry tends to be free of doctrine and dogma, diversity is tolerated, there are no set religious texts.
A core belief is in a form of animism, in which all life is generally considered to be spiritual, equally worthy of respect, and interconnected in a ‘web’. Expressed as a reverence for the natural world – especially trees – often considered sacred, even divine. Druids do not tend to be anthropocentric. Druids often build personal, albeit highly developed, ethical codes, based on concepts of justice and the law of ‘harvest’ (similar to ‘karma’). Druids try not to cause harm; they are often involved in mediation, peace-keeping, and environmental activism.
In its modern form, Druidry was founded by Ross Nichols in the 1960s, who drew on the ‘Celtic’ cultures of Western Europe for inspiration. Influenced by Graves’ ‘The White Goddess’ (1961), Nichols developed an eightfold annual cycle of ritual observances (similar to Wicca).
Whilst continuing to develop, Druidry often makes reference to ‘Celtic’ traditions, drawing mainly on revivalist sources particularly Welsh and Irish mythologies. Although few adherents would claim an unbroken tradition dating back millennia, many Druids are interested in ancestry (often performing ceremonies at archaeological sites such as stone circles), story-telling, divination, natural healing (such as herbalism), and psychotherapy (such as guided meditations). Druidry’s ‘Celtic’ origins probably also influenced beliefs in the existence of Otherworld(s) and successive reincarnations in a process of rebirth.
Many Druids consider themselves to be Pagan, but not all, and Druidry has considerable overlap with other religions and other Pagan paths, particularly Wicca.
Spiritual Druidry, as described here, should be considered distinct from cultural Druidry (which has been practiced by some members of royalty, clergy, and parliament) and fraternal Druidry (which comprises historical mutual welfare societies).
Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with what they believe to be a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.
A shaman is someone who is regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing. The word "shaman" probably originates from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia. According to ethnolinguist Juha Janhunen, "the word is attested in all of the Tungusic idioms" such as Negidal, Lamut, Udehe/Orochi, Nanai, Ilcha, Orok, Manchu and Ulcha, and "nothing seems to contradict the assumption that the meaning 'shaman' also derives from Proto-Tungusic" and may have roots that extend back in time at least two millennia. The term was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the shamanistic Khanate of Kazan in 1552.
The term "shamanism" was first applied by Western anthropologists as outside observers of the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols, as well as those of the neighbouring Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking peoples. Upon observing more religious traditions across the world, some Western anthropologists began to also use the term in a very broad sense. The term was used to describe unrelated magico-religious practices found within the ethnic religions of other parts of Asia, Africa, Australasia and even completely unrelated parts of the Americas, as they believed these practices to be similar to one another.
Stregheria is an Italian witchcraft religion popularised in the 1980s by Raven Grimassi, who claims that it evolved within the ancient Etruscan religion of Italian peasants who worked under the Catholic upper classes.
Modern Stregheria closely resembles Charles Leland's controversial late-19th-century account of a surviving Italian religion of witchcraft, worshipping the Goddess Diana, her brother Dianus/Lucifer, and their daughter Aradia. Leland's witches do not see Lucifer as the evil Satan that Christians see, but a benevolent god of the Sun and Moon).
The ritual format of contemporary Stregheria is roughly similar to that of other Neopagan witchcraft religions such as Wicca. The pentagram is the most common symbol of religious identity. Most followers celebrate a series of eight festivals equivalent to the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, though others follow the ancient Roman festivals. An emphasis is placed on ancestor worship.
If you know of or follow another path or tradition that you feel should be included on this list, please let us know.
Hellenism, the Hellenic ethnic religion, also commonly known as Hellenismos, Hellenic Polytheism, Dodekatheism, or Olympianism, refers to various religious movements that revive or reconstruct ancient Greek religious practices, publicly, emerging since the 1990s.
The Hellenic religion is a traditional religion and way of life, revolving around the Greek Gods, primarily focused on the Twelve Olympians, and embracing ancient Hellenic values and virtues.
In 2017, Hellenism was legally recognized as a "known religion" in Greece. Among them, the members are called Ethnikoì (National).
Heathenry, also termed Heathenism, contemporary Germanic Paganism, or Germanic Neopaganism, is a modern Pagan religion. Scholars of religious studies classify Heathenry as a new religious movement. Its practitioners model it on the pre-Christian belief systems adhered to by the Germanic peoples of Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe. To reconstruct these past belief systems, Heathenry uses surviving historical, archaeological, and folkloric evidence as a basis, although approaches to this material vary considerably.
Heathenry does not have a unified theology but is typically polytheistic, centring on a pantheon of deities from pre-Christian Germanic Europe. It adopts cosmological views from these past societies, including an animistic view of the cosmos in which the natural world is imbued with spirits. The religion's deities and spirits are honoured in sacrificial rites known as blóts in which food and libations are offered to them. These are often accompanied by symbel, the act of ceremonially toasting the gods with an alcoholic beverage. Some practitioners also engage in rituals designed to induce an altered state of consciousness and visions, most notably seiðr and galdr, with the intent of gaining wisdom and advice from the deities. Although many solitary practitioners follow the religion by themselves, members of the Heathen community often assemble in small groups, usually known as kindreds or hearths, to perform their rites outdoors or in specially constructed buildings. Heathen ethical systems emphasize honour, personal integrity, and loyalty, while beliefs about an afterlife vary and are rarely emphasized.
The state religion of the Ancient Romans.
As the empire expanded around the Mediterranean then across Europe it absorbed local culture and religion, thus gods and practices from one end of the empire such as Egypt found their way to the other end (here in Britannia). A famous example of this is The Temple of Mithras in London. Mithras originally came from Persia.
The main family of gods - Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Mars, Venus, Apollo, Diana, Vulcan, Vesta, Mercury, Ceres are probably best known due to their correspondence with the Ancient Greek gods.
Ordinary daily life would see a family household worshipping the Lares (domestic spirits) at a Lararium (household shrine).
Mars, the god of war and mythological father of the Roman people, was also a divinity near and dear to a soldier's heart. Troops marching to war from Rome would proceed from the temple of Mars, Hercules, the demigod of strength and protection, was another honoured by soldiers.
There are hundreds of Roman gods, associated with all aspects of daily life 2000 years on, followers are still worshipping the ancient gods all over the world. Many are members of Nova Roma, a reconstructionist organisation.
New Roman temples have been built in suburban Rome, near Venice and a major new temple complex is being built in Ukraine.
The Roman Empire is also featured at archaeological parks in Wales, France and Germany and is also covered by re-enactment societies such as The Antonine Guard who can be found at events across Scotland and beyond.
The Antonine Guard http://www.theantonineguard.org.uk/
The Eighth Legion Society http://www.roman.org.uk/
Senhouse Roman Museum http://www.senhousemuseum.co.uk/
Segedunum Roman Fort https://segedunumromanfort.org.uk/
Nova Roma http://novaroma.org/nr/Main_Page
Park in the Past (Wrexham, Wales) http://www.parkinthepast.org.uk/
Traditional witchcraft is a term used to refer to a variety of contemporary forms of witchcraft. Pagan studies scholar Ethan Doyle White described it as "a broad movement of aligned magico-religious groups who reject any relation to Gardnerianism and the wider Wiccan movement, claiming older, more "traditional" roots. Although typically united by a shared aesthetic rooted in European folklore, the Traditional Craft contains within its ranks a rich and varied array of occult groups, from those who follow a contemporary Pagan path that is suspiciously similar to Wicca to those who adhere to Luciferianism".
According to British Traditional Witch Michael Howard, the term refers to "any non-Gardnerian, non-Alexandrian, non-Wiccan or pre-modern form of the Craft, especially if it has been inspired by historical forms of witchcraft and folk magic". Another definition was offered by Daniel A. Schulke, the current Magister of the Cultus Sabbati, when he proclaimed that traditional witchcraft "refers to a coterie of initiatory lineages of ritual magic, spellcraft and devotional mysticism". Some forms of traditional witchcraft are the Feri Tradition, Cochrane's Craft and the Sabbatic craft.