Patheos Watermark

You are running a very outdated version of Internet Explorer. Patheos and most other websites will not display properly on this version. To better enjoy Patheos and your overall web experience, consider upgrading to the current version of Internet Explorer. Find more information HERE.

Religion Library: Paganism


Written by: Carl McColman

Nature religions also employ symbolism borrowed from other faith traditions. Wicca's links to ceremonial magic and occultism include, for at least some Wiccan lineages, a strong emphasis on Hermetic Qabalah (a non-specifically-Jewish permutation of the Kabbalah that emerged within the occult community between the 15th and 17th centuries); this means that the Tree of Life is significant to their spiritual practice. Pagans who practice divination use related symbols including the glyphs of astrology and the imagery from the Tarot. Meanwhile, the Daoist Yin-Yang symbol and the Christian Celtic Cross (particularly when drawn as an equal-armed cross) are used by some segments of the Pagan community as symbols of the cosmos as a whole. Often these images from other religions are re-interpreted within a Pagan context; for example, the Celtic Cross does not symbolize the death of Jesus for Pagans, but rather functions as a European variation on the medicine wheel: the circle symbolizing eternity and/or the goddess, the cross symbolizing the four directions and/or the god.

Some Pagans employ more abstract symbolism as well. For example, Wiccans often will use colors to signify the elements and deity: yellow is associated with air, red with fire, blue with water, green with earth, black with the goddess, and white with the god. The four suits of the Tarot deck have similar associations: swords signifying air, wands fire, cups water, and pentacles earth. Such associations may vary slightly from group to group; many groups prefer to associate wands with air and swords with fire, for example.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol of all within Paganism is so widespread and commonly held that it often goes unnoticed - the circle. The circle has a strong feminine association, linked to the vulva or the womb (in contrast to the more masculine/phallic symbolism of the straight line). Likewise, the circle has strong associations with nature: the earth is round, the earth moves in a circular orbit around the sun, the moon likewise progresses in a circular progression around the earth. Reincarnation suggests a circular movement of souls between death and life. Although not all Pagan traditions explicitly use the circle in rituals in the same way that Wiccans do with "circle casting," even culturally specific forms of Paganism often conduct ceremonies in a circle - subtly reinforcing the nearly universal Pagan rejection of hierarchy.

Study Questions:
     1.    How is symbolism used within Paganism?
     2.    What symbol is most often associated with Paganism? What does it represent?
     3.    Describe some symbols used by different Pagan traditions.
     4.    What are some abstract Pagan symbols? What do they represent?


Recommended Products