There are many types of paganism, and to a beginner, it can be really confusing to tell them apart. What makes each of them stand out and how do they differ?
In a nutshell, paganism refers to any spiritual tradition that predates Christianity and the other major religions. All pagan paths have the following characteristics:
- They’re based on beliefs that predate the major religions.
- They tend to be polytheistic and worship many gods and goddesses.
- Followers engage in rituals based on the seasons and earth.
- They often celebrate nature and see it as sacred.
- They focus on personal experience and freedom in how you choose to practice your faith.
These are the main characteristics of paganism, but as there’s no single document or text that outlines all this, our understanding is drawn from analyzing the various types of Pagan practices and beliefs across different traditions.
We can broadly classify paganism into five main categories. While all pagan paths fall into at least one of these categories, some can overlap and fall into 2, 3 or even more. This is because many of these pagan traditions have variations within themselves, and similarities with other types of paganism.
The five categories are Reconstructionist Paganism, Neopaganism, Nature and Earth-Centric Paths, Regional and Ethnic Traditions, and Shamanistic Traditions.
1. Reconstructionist Paganism
Reconstructionist Paganism is about bringing back the old religious beliefs and practices from ancient times. Basically, they’re trying to reconstruct ancient practices and force them into the 21st century.
Reconstructionist Pagans want to follow the ancient practices as closely and accurately as possible. They use historical texts, archaeological findings, and scholarly research to try to recreate ancient rituals and beliefs as closely as possible, and don’t want to mess around by changing anything.
Pretty much every ancient pagan tradition can fall into this category, because there will always be someone trying to reconstruct ancient types of paganism and follow them exactly so.
Here are some of the more popular pagan types that have been reconstructed in modern times.
- Hellenism focuses on the ancient Greek religion, worshipping gods of the Greek pantheon, like Zeus, Hera, and Athena. It celebrates Greek culture and the wisdom of the ancients.
- Kemetism highlights the ancient Egyptian religion, honoring gods like Isis, Rah, and Osiris. They use Egyptian rituals and magic and take inspiration from hieroglyphs and temples.
- Religio Romano is a reconstruction of the ancient Roman religion, with the Roman pantheon at the center. They follow Roman customs and festivals, incorporating ancient Roman values and philosophy into modern life.
- Norse and Germanic paganism can be divided into Heathenry and Asatru. Heathenry is broad and includes Anglo-Saxon and continental German traditions. Heathen communities often place a strong emphasis on kinship and living according to a set of ethical principles known as “the Nine Noble Virtues.”
- The Asatru, on the other hand, focuses specifically on the Norse pantheon, mainly the Aesir, which includes Odin, Thor, and Frigg. Both Heathenry and Asatru celebrate festivals based on the Norse calendar, revere gods and goddesses from Norse mythology, and draw spiritual insights from ancient Norse texts, like the Eddas and sagas.
- Celtic Pagans follow the ancient Celtic religions from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, worshipping gods and goddesses like Brigid and Cernunnos, celebrating Celtic festivals, like Samhain, Beltane, and Imbolc.
Witchcraft is one of the most prominent types of all the Neopagan movements. Witchcraft isn’t about witches with pointy hats riding on brooms, but rather about practicing rituals, casting spells, and connecting deeply with nature, using natural energies and elements to bring about change and personal empowerment. From the types of witchcraft, the fastest growing and most prominent is Wicca.
Wicca is a modern Pagan witchcraft religion founded in the mid-20th century. It’s known for its worship of a Goddess and a God, its celebration of seasonal festivals known as Sabbats, and its use of magic and ritual.
Wiccans often follow a moral code expressed in the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do what ye will,” emphasizing personal responsibility and harmlessness. Wicca values nature, sees the divine in all things, and often involves practices like casting spells, divination, and working with natural energies.
Wicca can be further divided into sub-categories. These differ based on the founder and the specific traditions, rituals, beliefs, and practices they emphasize.
- Gardnerian Wicca: Founded by Gerald Gardner, this tradition is initiatory and secretive, emphasizing structured rituals, coven practices, and a duotheistic worship of the God and Goddess.
- Alexandrian Wicca: Started by Alex Sanders, similar to Gardnerian Wicca but with more emphasis on ceremonial magic and a slightly more eclectic approach to ritual and practice.
- Dianic Wicca: Founded by Zsuzsanna Budapest, centers on the worship of the Goddess exclusively and often aligns with feminist principles, focusing on female empowerment and spirituality.
Other types of witchcraft include:
- Traditional Witchcraft, which is more localized, and follow pre-wiccan traditions.
- Hedge witchcraft, which focuses on solitary practice and is centered around nature and divination.
- Green witchcraft, which focuses on the use of plants and herbs.
- Eclectic Witchcraft, where you can basically mix and match and do whatever suits you.
There are many more types of witchcraft, but most of these are smaller in scope and localized.
Neo-druidism is a modern way of following the traditions of the ancient Druids, who were important leaders in Celtic societies. Main ideas of Neo-druidism include a big love for nature, celebrating changes in seasons, and learning from ancient Celtic myths and lore. It’s about living well, being creative, and taking care of the environment. Druids today focus on personal growth, being part of a community, and enjoying the world around them.
Because of the limited historical records about the original Druids, much of Neo-druidism is based on interpretation, reconstruction from available historical sources, and adaptation to modern contexts. Which is why we included them in this category and not the Reconstructionist category, as there’s not much known about Druids to reconstruct.
c) Eclectic Paganism
As the name suggests, this is a mix and match approach, where you can pick the beliefs and practices from pagan and non-pagan traditions to create your own religious path. Some people like this approach as it allows you to choose what works and discard what doesn’t.
d) Revivalist Paganism
This brings us to Revivalist Paganism, which is also a form of neopaganism. This approach is similar to Reconstructionist paganism because they both seek to bring ancient pagan practices into modern times. But they differ in how they approach this.
While Reconstructionists want to reconstruct the exact religion in the 21st century, Revivalists are simply trying to revive ancient pagan practices. They draw inspiration from ancient traditions but are more flexible in adapting and interpreting these practices to suit contemporary spiritual needs and contexts.
Wicca is the perfect example of revivalist paganism, as it is a flexible approach to ancient witchcraft with many modern elements. Again, most types of ancient paganism can fall into Revivalist Paganism.
3. Nature and Earth Centric Paths
Moving on to nature and earth centric paths, these emphasize reverence for the natural world and often view the Earth as sacred.
Pantheism sees God in everything, literally. They don’t see god as a distinct entity, instead, god is found in everything in the universe.
Animism is one of the oldest spiritual practices. Animists believe that everything has a soul or spirit and should be respected. They see a vibrant world where animals, plants, rivers, mountains, and even manmade objects like tools or houses, have an animated life force.
Central to shamanism is the figure of the shaman, a person who claims to communicate with the spirit world, often for purposes of healing, divination, and guiding the community.
Shamans enter trance states, achieved through rituals, drumming, dancing, or plant medicines, to journey into spiritual realms. Shamanistic practices are deeply connected to nature and often involve reverence for ancestral spirits and natural elements. Shamanism is found worldwide and is one of the oldest forms of spirituality.
b) Regional Beliefs
And finally, there are belief systems specific to certain geographical regions. These regional or ethnic traditions can vary, reflecting the unique landscapes and histories of the regions. Baltic, Slavic, and Finnish paganism are some popular types.
There are many more pagan paths, but the above is a list of the most well-known. Hopefully, this article helps to classify and clarify the complex topic that is pagan paths.