The definition of Pagan is as illusive as it is controversial. By some standards, pagan is simply any religion other than Christian, Muslim or Jewish. It is safe to say that this definition does not justify the unified culture that encapsulates pagan events and gatherings.
Others refer to pagans as polytheists; that also is not true of all pagans.
According to some sources, and the definition used by the Pagan and Earth -Based Spirituality Organization, paganism "refers to the worship of deities [and] the use of surviving symbols and practices of ancient religions." This definition seems to me to be most descriptive of what I have witnessed in pagan circles. For a very thorough analysis of the various definitions, try religioustolerance.org/paganism.htm.
Is Paganism the same as Wicca?
Wiccans are pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Paganism can be thought of as an umbrella term which encapsulates many traditions such as Wicca, Druidism, Ancient Native American beliefs, and some might even include Buddhism and Hinduism. Wicca is a specific religion which is acknowledged as an official religion by the United States government. It has its own doctrines which include "Do what ye will, but harm none", and the belief that all deeds, good or evil, return to you in three-fold. While these beliefs are not across the board for Pagans, many modern pagans have similar doctrines.
How and what do Pagans worship?
Pagans have a wide array of visions of the divine. Most recognize a balance between a feminine divinity and a masculine divinity. This is witnessed in such concepts as the Taoist Yin and Yang, the ancient earth mother and sky father, the many gods and goddesses, and even in the Hebrew Adam and Eve. Often it is seen that there is a place in which this masculine and feminine energy come together in unity and this is the ultimate source of power. Some pagans do not name their idea of divinity and merely refer to it as "The Divine", "Great Mother/ Great Father" or "Limitless Light". Others break their idea of divinity into specific attributes which are assigned to the various gods and goddesses. Some even have "patron deities", or deities in which they feel most empowered by or drawn to. Pagan worship is just as varied as any other religion in terms of worship. Prayer, ritual, fasting, meditation, drumming, singing, and dancing are often used to connect with the divine. Just as any religion, some pagans are very strict and rigid in their worship, while others are very lax.
Do Pagans sacrifice things in ritual?
Usually when one thinks of ritual sacrifice, they think about an animal (or small child!).( I, personally do NOT endorse or approve of such things, I am merely stating what is a commonly believed idea ). In reality, ritual sacrifice is usually much less dramatic. During ceremony, wine or milk is often poured on the ground, as well as bread being broken, as a offering to the goddess or to show appreciation for the harvest. Often, unproductive or bad habits are sacrificed to clear a path for new growth. There are still some groups that perform animal sacrifices during ritual, in which case the animal is blessed, sacrificed, and the eaten after ritual ( a far more humane and respectful way to kill an animal for food than the more common "slaughter-house method"). This practice is still relatively rare in modern pagan practice. Most Pagans tend to be very animal, plant and Earth friendly and some even refuse to eat meat at all.
How does one become Pagan?
One becomes pagan by learning a path which is considered pagan then developing a connection and love for it. You may be able to find local events in your area that draw a large Pagan crowd to develop a network of peers. I find that this is most rewarding and that being active in the Pagan community constantly reaffirms why you are so connected with your chosen path.
Where can I find a Pagan group?
Some areas are blessed with a strong pagan presence, while other area may require a bit of searching. Military areas tend to be good for the pagan presence as it draws people from all backgrounds and creates a "melting pot" effect. Look in the phone book for occult or magick supplies. Some times these stores have connections to local groups or may even host events themselves. You could always try the national pagan directory and information site at www.witchvox.com.