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Pagans recognise that the material world we perceive with our five senses is only part of the whole. There are unseen Otherworlds overlapping our own, populated by gods and goddesses, nature spirits and elementals, the conscious embodiments of natural forces and energies responsible for the functioning of the universe. For the Pagan, everything has a soul or spiritual essence.

In our practice, we make use of Pagan mythology. Myths are stories that give us clues to the nature of life, temporal and spiritual, manuals to the whole experience of ourselves and others.  Used wisely, myths initiate the individual into the realities of his or her own psyche and become guides to spiritual enlightenment. Mythologies evolve and change, are absorbed and assimilated into other cultures. In the end, it must be remembered that we humans view the Gods anthropomorphically in order to identify with them more closely as concepts we can easily grasp, but in truth they are not limited by the forms we give them. As Joseph Campbell points out, they are ‘masks’ which serve as metaphors for an “inexpressible transcendence, the being beyond all being and the idea beyond all thought”.

We celebrate eight major festivals during the year – Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Midsummer, Lughnasa, Herfest, Samhain and Yule. The tides of the year weave a magical web which twines about us and binds the life cycles of humankind, animals and plants together. There is a balance of energy pouring into the land during the spring and draining away again in the autumn: a time to receive, a time to pay out. This is something not well understood nowadays, when darkness, death and winter are deemed to be evil and unwanted, rather than a necessary part of the whole.

We take a fourfold view of the universe recognised by shamans and mystics around the world: the four directions, the four elements, the four pastoral festivals, the four sun festivals and the four seasons. In our rituals we use four main magical tools – the sword (or athame), the wand, the cup and the pentacle. Most modern Pagans follow the Golden Dawn system in which swords correspond to air, wands to fire, cups to water and pentacles to earth.  These powerful symbols encompass a universe of meanings within them.

In modern Pagan magic we work with the elements of earth, air, fire and water. These are not elements as defined by the periodic table but four principles of energy. This idea comes not from Judeo-Christian magick, as many assume, but from ancient Pagan philosophy. The four elements as the basic building blocks of creation were first defined by Empedocles, a fifth century BCE philosopher from Sicily who was an initiate of several mystery traditions. His Tetrasomia or ‘Doctrine of the Four Elements’ influenced Western philosophy and magic in the succeeding millennia. He didn’t actually call these four principles ‘elements’ (stoikheia), but ‘roots’ (rhizai). For him, the elements were not just physical forms but manifested spiritual essences or even god energies since they were the fourfold roots of everything which had existed in fixed quantities since the beginning of the universe, not as isolated things, but part of the whole.

Paganism is a mystery religion. The word ‘mystery’ comes from the Greek musterion meaning a secret rite or doctrine. A follower of the mysteries in ancient Greece was a mystes  or ‘initiate’, a term originating in the word myein meaning ‘to close’ or ‘to shut’. In the ancient world, the mysteries were not open to everyone, but only to those who were properly trained and prepared, those who were mature and responsible enough to approach them with due reverence and ready for the profound inner changes they would create.

Initiations are a death and rebirth process, the candidate undergoing the same journey as their god or goddess resulting in the aspirant becoming one of the ‘twice-born’, not symbolically, but in a very real sense: the flawed old self must die so that the purified new self can emerge. The old self can never be reclaimed, and a new self emerges from the old shell. The process is traumatic: true initiation is a harrowing process, and one which may lead equally to enlightenment or madness. Initiation is an ongoing journey of the spirit which is a continuing succession of trials, revelations, back-sliding and progress.