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The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees the right to religious freedom for all. But for people to respect each others' religions they must know the truth about them. This article answers some basic questions about the Old Religion, which includes Paganism, Tribal Religions, and Modern Witchcraft.
Where did the Old Religion come from?
The basic ideas of the Old Religion are found all over the world. Its modern traditions come from the original religions of native peoples. Native tribal religions in Africa and America have existed as long as the tribes. European and American groups are restoring the interrupted traditions of early Europe. There are also groups that combine tribal and other belief and practices. The word "Pagan" means the people of the countryside. "Heathen" means people of the heath-land. In the old days, people living in wilder areas were more likely to keep on practicing their native religions. A "Neo-Pagan" is someone who practices a restored native tradition.
What groups are part of the Old Religion?
In Africa the Old Religion includes tribal religions. European traditions include Wicca (Witchcraft, or the Religion of the Wise) and other native traditions. In South America there are Native American tribal religions and newer groups which may combine beliefs, such as Brujeria and Afro-American religions, (Voudou, Santeria, Macumba). North America has the Medicine Societies, Afro-American religions, European Neo-Pagan traditions such as Norse, Celtic or combined Native European traditions, and various traditions of Wicca. Compared to other world religions, the traditions of the Old Religion are probably closest to Hinduism and Shinto. Please note that Satanism is a Christian heresy, and not a tradition of the Old Religion.
Who belongs to the Old Religion?
Many people living in tribal communities still practice their original religion, sometimes in addition to Christianity or Buddhism. Many people in North and South America practice combined traditions. Native European traditions are being redeveloped in Europe and the United States.
Does the Old Religion believe in God?
YES.  Most traditions feel that everything was made by a Creator who is really neither male nor female, but may be spoken of as either. We honor the Earth as our mother and respect the spirits of the land in which we live. Followers of the traditions of the Old Religion believe that the created world is holy. They believe that there is spirit in everything- from stones to beings which are pure spirit. All created beings are one family. Since all things are sacred, no single form of deity can dominate. God is greater than any single human image or idea. To worship God completely we must honor all aspects, female as well as male. We worship the, One in the many- the Goddesses and the Gods.
Do members of the Old Religion worship the Devil?
NO.  Belief in the existence of Satan, or the Devil, is part of the Jewish and Christian religions. Worshipping the Devil is usually a reaction against Christianity. Sometimes people who are unhappy become Satanists because they don't know any other way to rebel. The ancient Greeks worshipped Pan, who had goat horns, and the Celts worshipped the Horned God, who had antlers. Both of these were Gods of fertility who helped humans and nature to survive. Early Christian missionaries thought all the Pagan Gods must be demons, especially those involved with sex, and began to picture their own Devil with horns.
What is the purpose of life?
We believe that the purpose of life is to live in harmony with nature and its other creatures, to become more like God (and Goddess), and to help others to do the same.
What happens after death?
We believe that the spirit is immortal. Birth and death are part of a cycle, and both are necessary, Traditions differ on what happens after the death of the body . Some believe that a person may live again in this world. Others think the spirit lives on in some kind of heaven. Some believe it becomes one with the spirit of nature as the body goes back to the earth. Some believe it joins the ancestors, who can give help and protection to the living. The souls of those who always chose pain and evil when they were alive may be trapped after death in a state of suffering because that is all they can understand.
What do you believe about Evil?
We believe that life is essentially good. Creation and destruction are part of the natural circle of life. Evil is what happens when natural actions or forces are unbalanced, or perverted in some way.
How can a person be saved?
Every person is responsible for his or her own salvation. Being saved depends on the positive decisions we make throughout our lifetimes. Things that happened to us earlier in this life or a previous life make a difference, but we have the free will to choose life and good at any time.
How do you live a good life?
People in different traditions describe their moral and ethical values in different ways. Most believe we should respect the holiness of all life, and love and trust our fellow believers. We should take responsibility for our own actions and respect the free will of others. We believe that what we do to others will come back to us one day. Believing that all life is related also means we should take care of the earth and protect endangered species.
How do you contact God?
We believe that it is natural for human beings to be in contact with God/dess and the spiritual world. We do this by changing our state of consciousness through prayer or religious services. The physical and spiritual worlds are both equally "real". They are also connected- what we do in the one has effects in the other. People can pray or work with sacred symbols to change themselves or the world.
How do you worship?
Some traditions of the Old Religion have formal services or meetings. In some, worship is freely inspired. Some groups have both types of worship at different times. Rituals may include chanting, dancing, presenting sacred stories, prayer, or a sacred meal. Worship may be held in the wilderness, in a shrine or temple, or in the home. Individual communities or tribal groups worship in their own ways, but may join together for Festivals. As in any religion, some people understand only the basic beliefs and celebrate the major holidays, while others study for many years to develop spiritually.
What are some of your ceremonies?
Almost all traditions of the Old Religion celebrate major changes in people's lives. These services may include the blessing and naming of babies, coming-of-age ceremonies, marriage, ordaining priests and priestesses, and funeral or memorial services. Rituals may also be held for cleansing or blessing, or to pray for healing or help in disaster.
Do you practice black magic?
NO.  Many people are afraid because some traditions of the Old Religion call themselves Witches. They may refer to their religion as "Witchcraft" or "Wicca", the Religion of the Wise. "Witchcraft", like science, includes skills that can be used for good or bad purposes. Anybody who uses spiritual powers to bring evil on others is practicing black magic, no matter who they are praying to. In Europe, the early Church called many people who did not agree with it witches and accused them of using their powers for evil. People who simply wanted to keep the religion of their ancestors were given that name. Today, many people who follow the Native European religion call themselves Witches to honor their ancestors who were persecuted for their faith. What they practice is white, or positive magic, which works for good. A rule of Wicca is, "If you harm none, do what you will."
What are your major holidays?
Most traditions of the Old Religion celebrate at least some of the great seasonal festivals- Midsummer and Midwinter, the beginnings of Spring and Fall, and the cross-quarter days. (the beginnings of February, May, August, and November). People may also worship at the full or new moon. The purpose of these festivals is to restore harmony between humans, nature, and spirit, and to increase a feeling of community.
What religious symbols are sacred to the Old Religion?
Each tradition has its own favorite symbols. Some of the more common ones include the circle, the spiral, the equal-armed cross, the upright five-pointed star, the triple spiral, various forms of sun-symbol, and the crescent moon.
Does the Old Religion recruit converts?
Tribal religions are for the members of those tribes. Outsiders should not try to practice them unless they are invited to, although we can all learn from each other. Neo-Pagan and combined traditions welcome new members, but do not recruit. The Old Religion does not forbid its members to believe in other religions. Many members may follow more than one tradition, or practice one of the other major religions as well.
How can I find out more about the Old Religion?
The best way to find out about tribal religions is from members of those tribes. Some of the many useful works on Neo-Pagan and combined traditions include:

Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (Wicca and Neo-Paganism)

Caitlyn & John Matthews, The Western Way, Vol. 1: The Native Tradition (Native European)

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, First Steps in Ritual  (Neo-Paganism)

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (Feminist/Faery Wicca)

Edred Thorsson, Futhark  (Norse)

Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman  (Modern Shamanism)

Amber K., True Magick  (Basic Wicca)

Luisah Teish, Jambalaya  (Afro-American)

Migene Gonzalez-Wipper, Santeria  (Latin & Afro-American)

Sun Bear & Wabun, The Medicine Wheel  (Native American)

This article is dedicated to all who seek Truth by The Fellowship of the Spiral Path; a combined tradition of the Old Religion registered as a religious corporation under the laws of the state of California. The Fellowship sponsors workshops, and worship for women, men and mixed groups, and has a staff of clergy who perform rites of passage and other ministerial services.

For further information contact:

The Fellowship of the Spiral Path
PO Box 5521
Berkeley, CA 94705 USA

©1986 The Fellowship of the Spiral Path
Reproduction authorized for purposes of public education at cost of printing only.

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