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Religion Library: Paganism

Early Developments

Written by: Carl McColman

Like the gods and the myths, our knowledge of the ritual practices of the Proto-Indo-Europeans is sketchy. Scholars cannot identify words for "religion" or "temple" within Proto-European language, but words do exist for concepts such as prayer, holiness, cosmic order, consecration, sacred meals and libations, and sacred groves or enclosures. Meanwhile, archaeological evidence suggests ceremonial practices particularly associated with burial and with astronomical observances. For example, one of the most impressive of prehistoric ceremonial sites, Stonehenge, is built according to astronomical alignments. The evidence suggests that the ancient forebears of European Paganism had a clear understanding of gods and goddesses, generally aligned with aspects of the natural world, to whom they would offer sacrifices, pour libations, and conduct ceremonies, presumably to curry the favor of the gods.

It is out of this mysterious matrix of ancient, largely unknown religious practices that the classical Paganism of mythology emerges.

Study Questions:
     1.    What is involved in being a “Pagan type” of religion? What cultures have had these “types”?
     2.    Describe the relationship between Paganism and Proto-Indo-Europeans.
     3.    What are some of the various myths for the creation of the universe?


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