I’m going to be working on Paganism 101 article for the group blog at the Slacktiverse. Along the way, I realized that Paganism actually has a fair amount of vocabulary that is not immediately understood by people who haven’t been exposed to it before. Whatever you call it, jargon, slang, cant, lingo, argot, patois, Paganism has language of its own.

Most of us who live in societies where Christianity, or at least monotheism, is the norm are by experience or necessity familiar with the basic vocabulary of the hegemonic religion around us. In turn, giving people who want to learn more about Paganism a brief introduction to Pagan terminology would also be an easy way to give them quite a bit of information about Pagan practices and ideas.

As a first step in the direction of potentially writing something like that, I’m going to start a list of Pagan terms that might be opaque to non-Pagans, and I’d love it if my readers would chime in. By dint of my personal experience, my list will be Wicca-centric, but I’d like to broaden it with your help!


  • esbat
  • Wheel of the Year
  • Sabbat (and the names of the Sabbats)
  • cowan
  • the Craft
  • aspects
  • archetypes
  • Casting a Circle
  • Calling the Quarters
  • Quarters and Elements
  • circle (used as a synechdoche for ritual)
  • deosil
  • widdershins
  • athame
  • bolline
  • besom
  • coven
  • Great Rite
  • Cakes and Ale
  • Wiccaning or saining
  • Crossing Over
  • ether, aether
  • pentacle
  • pentagram
  • familiar (noun)
  • tradition
  • Book of Shadows
  • Law of Return, Threefold Law
  • Rede
  • triple moon (symbol)
  • pantheon
  • matron, patron deities
  • Mighty Dead or “chosen ancestors” or heroes and heras
  • Summerlands
  • So Mote It Be
  • Blessed Be
  • polarity
  • immanence
  • pantheism
  • panentheism
  • polytheism, “soft” and “hard” varieties
  • Higher Self, Deep Self, Talking Self
  • chakra
  • astral projection
  • ground and center
  • Gardnerian
  • High Priest/ess
  • drawing down the moon/sun
  • invoking
  • banishing
  • handfasting
  • solitary
  • broom closet
  • skyclad
  • correspondences

Here I’m trying to focus on Paganism as a religion, and not on the practice of magic in particular. Magic includes its own vocabularies in a multitude of languages; mostly, I’m trying to think here of what I might use in conversation with someone I just met at an open ritual, without stopping to explain myself, without knowing very much about her background, plus some of the more theaological terms. There’s also proper names, like names of traditions, and things that aren’t necessarily part of Paganism but with which most Pagans are at least noddingly familiar, like runes, Tarot, dowsing, etc. I apologize, again, that I have basically no Heathen or Druid terms on there; I know more terms than that but am having trouble figuring out what is most important, so your help is critical!

12 thoughts on “Collecting Paganese

  1. Sounds interesting; I’ll look forward to reading it.

    Mighty Dead or “chosen ancestors” or heroes and heras
    This caught my eye because I’ve been reading Madison Smartt Bell’s novels about the Haitian Revolution, where I came across the wonderful voodoo term, “les morts et les mysteres.” The Dead and the Mysteries, always referred to together. Meaning (I think) the whole spectrum of non-physical beings from the ancestors in “Guinee-beneath-the-sea” to the great loa archetypes.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about the various contemporary interpretations of “the Mighty Dead.”

    1. Interesting! Laiima and I were just talking about how important Mysteries can be, even to those of us who find ourselves exploring them without labeling them as such to start out with. I’ll see what I can do in the more-developed version.

  2. Feedback from personal experience:

    You do an excellent job of explaining things Pagan.


    o hai, Teh Hindu infloo-uns, Wicca haz it.

    1. Thanks!

      I once saw English described as a language that doesn’t so much borrow from other languages as lead other languages into a dark alley, bash them over the head, and then go through their pockets looking for loose grammar. Paganism can be like that with stealing any theology or symbolism that isn’t nailed down. (If it is, Paganism may steal the nails as well.) At least it’s usually equally happy to have its pockets rifled in return. (Look! Christians using labyrinths! Woohoo!)

    2. Hey Raj, if you hadn’t pointed that out about the chakras, I would have.

  3. Hmmm. Well off the top of my head I just come up with related terms. Like, Beloved Dead vs. Mighty Dead, and you have Triple Moon on there but I didn’t see Triple Goddess. And then I think of theology terms, like I’m a (fairly) hard polytheist, but my impression is that many Wiccans are something slightly different? Like when deities are aspects of a One or Two, then isn’t that something else? That I can’t think of word for? But I have plenty of question marks?

    Orthpraxy vs. orthodoxy.

    Folklore vs. theology?

    If I were doing a glossary of Heathenese I’d have have blot and sumbel and faining and alfar, disir, wyrd, orlog, “wights,” especially…maybe I should do one or link to one for my post.

    1. Syncretism and aspects and so on….yup, that’ll be in the theaology cluster of concepts. Question marks are good, though.

      That looks like a great place to start with one for Heathenese – would you like to work on it together and make it its own concept cluster?

  4. I must admit, I’m not familiar with the term “cowan” except as a convention vendor’s last name. Also, I always spelled the name of the working knife with one “l.”

    Have you ever come across the phrase “British Traditional Wicca”? it refers to Gardnerian, Alexandrian and any trads derived from those two. Speaking of which, you might want to add “trad” as a standard contraction of “tradition.”

    1. I debated about including “cowan,” because I’ve never heard it used IRL and because it’s derogatory. I’ll probably remove it from the final version. Typo caught, thank you!

      Yup, BTW is up in the actual first draft. I should probably add “tradition, also trad” in and of itself. Thanks!

  5. From a (solitary) druid perspective, I’d add: Cross-Quarter Festivals (Fire Festivals), and probably Reconstructionist (as in ” (fill-in-the-blank) Reconstructionist Pagan”).

    1. I definitely want to get a druid perspective, so if you want to chime in more, please feel free. I included the Fire Festivals in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year explanation, but they would go differently in a druid setting.

      I should work on developing a section on names of different Pagan groups. Reconstructionist will definitely be in there. (Random: Fill in the blank Paganism just sounds fun somehow.)

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