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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Episode 2: Understanding the Stigma of Paganism

Journey to Self – Understanding the Stigma of Paganism (Episode 2) 

To help me better understand this new reality, I spoke with my father to get some information about our family history. A week before, I also spoke with my elder sister who has been a pillar to me since the beginning of this journey. She informed me about details of our ancestry that were new music to my ears.

On discovering my great-great-grandfather was a king in my village, it synchronized with the information from a diviner who said I am from a royal lineage. It was more shocking when I found out my grandfather was a traditional priest before converting to Christianity to secure a job opportunity. Conversion was the main criterion to join the workforce in his day. 

To my bewilderment, my father referred to the practices of my forefathers as pagan before the conversion of my grandfather to Christianity. The word kept ringing in my mind all day as I contemplated our conversation that Monday morning. Why did he not refer to it in any other term less derogatory? I asked myself over and over. To answer the question, of what is paganism, I had to do my research on it. 

Who is a Pagan?

What does it mean to be pagan? According to Oxford Languages, a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions is pagan. The keyword in that definition is “main world religions”, which led to the question, “What are the main religions of the world, and what makes them considered so? 

A search on Google shows that “Pew Research Center organizes the world’s religions into seven major categories, which includes five major religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism), one category that broadly includes all Folk/Traditional religions, and an unaffiliated category.” 

The image below shows the map of the world’s main religions. 

Paganism and religion

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pagan as a person who is not religious or whose religion is not Judaism, Islam, or especially Christianity. It goes on further to describe the historical definition of the term as a follower of a polytheistic religion. Polytheistic means a religion that believes in more than one God.

Who Our Fathers Worshipped?

Remarkable when you learn that the spirituality practiced by my forefathers was one that believed in one God (Chukwuokike – God the creator of all). And in reverence to deities who through the power of the most-high, designated roles to play for mankind.

In Latin, paganus originally meant “country dweller” or “civilian”. Later, it was used at the end of the Roman Empire as a name for those who practiced a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. This made early Christians use the term often when referring to non-Christians who worshiped multiple deities. The word pagan has been used to mean “an irreligious or hedonistic person” and heathen “uncivilized” or “strange,” but its original meanings are still in use. 

The contemporary idea of paganism comes from Europe’s pre-Christian religions. Greek mythology like Yoruba mythology is a form of paganism, although the actual word pagan only came into popular usage after the development of Christianity. Christians used the label to differentiate themselves from Abrahamic religions. From describing country dwellers, the word pagan became a pejorative term to describe other alternate faiths.

However, in modern times the neo-pagan movement is associated with Wicca, or pagan witchcraft invented by an English man in the mid-twentieth century. Wicca followers are said to believe the idea that witches are not followers of Satan (who is a non-existent entity in Igbo spirituality though and is popularly referred to as Ekwensu and is also seen as a wrong depiction by Igbo spirituality scholars). They are followers of the pre-Christian religion.

Who the Druids Were

Likewise, Druidism (another form of paganism) is on the rise. In pre-Christian Britain, Druids were priests of mostly Western European Celtic societies. Modern paganism, they are a group that identifies less as a religious movement and more as a spiritual one. 

The term “pagan” has been used in a derogative manner over centuries to shame and persecute “non-believers” around the world. How do I feel about being called a pagan now things are shaping differently in my life, and I have a higher calling to serve God in the ways of my ancestors? Sincerely, I feel nothing. Culture and heritage take full precedence over anything foreign to me knowing what I know now. It was shocking to discover in my mid-twenties that the name of the first slave-transporting ship from Africa is “Jesus”. Read more here.

Today, calling anyone a pagan could be termed alongside divisive words like racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc. However, being part of the minority, no movement has been formed to hear our victimized voices. Following the traditions and beliefs of our forefathers doesn’t make anyone anything other than who they are as humans. Why any religion believes they have a higher moral ground over other religions and beliefs is bigoted in my opinion. Respect for human choice and freedom goes out of the window when there’s less regard for any group because of cultural and societal ideologies.

The Igbo Traditionalists and Odinaala Worshippers

Like Igbo spiritualists or Odinaala practitioners, Wiccans and Druids revere nature. But they do not follow any sacred text or adhere to a strict set of beliefs. In recent years over 57,000 identify as pagans in the UK alone. Some estimate roughly 1.2 million pagans in the USA, other sources put the global amount at 3 million people. This is without considering practicing African traditionalists. 

As my journey to self continues, my dream is to live in a world with the liberty to practice the faiths we believe in without prejudice or judgment. For the time being, I identify as an Igbo Traditionalist for lack of a better term. If you refer to me as a pagan I will accept it with love and understanding. 


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