Pagan Terms and Definitions

Herbs and candles on altar

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Study and learn about Paganism long enough, and eventually you're going to see some unfamiliar words. Here are a dozen commonly used Pagan phrases and terms, along with definitions so you'll know exactly what they mean!

01
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Amulets & Talismans

Talisman

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An amulet is any natural object that is consecrated and used for good luck, protection, healing, or attraction. Examples of amulets would be a stone with a hole in it, a piece of wood, animal hair or bone, or plant material such as acorns or four-leaf clovers. Sometimes an amulet is called a charm or talisman.

02
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Athame & Boline

Athame with antler handle

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The athame is used in many Wiccan rituals as a tool for directing energy. Typically, the athame is a double-edged dagger, and can be purchased or hand-made. The athame is not used for actual, physical cutting. It is often used in the process of casting a circle, and can be used in place of a wand.

The boline is a knife that typically has a white handle and a curved blade, and is used more for cutting herbs, cords, and other magical items. This makes it somewhat different from the athame, which is generally used for symbolic or ritualized cutting only. Despite its practical applications, the boline is still considered a magical tool, and many practitioners choose to keep it wrapped up and out of the way when not in use. You may wish to consecrate your boline before you use it for the first time. Want to make your own boline? Follow the same tips found in Make Your Own Athame.

Keep in mind that not all traditions of Paganism use the athame or boline, and you are certainly not required to have them if your particular belief system does not call for its use.

Photo Credit: Paul Brooker/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

03
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Charge of the Goddess

Woman celebrating full moon

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In the early 1950s, Doreen Valiente was working with Gerald Gardner on the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. She created a poem known as the Charge of the Goddess, which has been the basis for many Wiccan rites and ceremonies.

04
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Circle

Holding hands in sacred circle

 

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The circle is a place of worship in Wicca and many other forms of Paganism. Unlike religions that have stationary buildings such as churches or temples, Pagans can celebrate their rites anywhere simply by consecrating the area and casting a circle. A consecrated circle keeps positive energy in, and negative energy out. Some Wiccans consider a circle to be a space between this world and the next.

05
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Covenstead

Tara Hill Group
Covens can be large or small, depending on the tradition. Image by Steve Ryan/Image Bank/Getty Images

Some Wiccan and Pagan groups meet at a place known as a covenstead. This is generally a designated sacred space and permanent location where the group can meet. A covenstead can be a room in someone's home, a rented space, or even an entire building - it all depends on the needs and resources of your group. Often, groups choose to ceremonially dedicate this area as sacred space. One of the benefits of having a permanent covenstead is that it provides the coven with a place to store ritual items, meet in private, and keep materials on hand -- this way, people don't have to tote ritual gear from one place to another for each month's meeting!

06
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Degree

A druid priestess at Castlerigg, Keswick, for summer solstice

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In some traditions of Wicca, a degree system is used to show the stages of learning. After a designated learning period (usually a year and a day at the minimum) a Wiccan may be initiated into the level of First Degree. A Wiccan who has reached the Third Degree may become a High Priest or High Priestess and form his or her own coven.

07
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Deosil & Widdershins

Making Circle of Energy During Ritual
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To move deosil is to move in a clockwise (or sunwise) direction. This archaic term is sometimes used in Wiccan ceremonies. The opposite of deosil is widdershins, which means counterclockwise, or in the direction opposite the sun's journey.

08
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Goddess Position

Meditation

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The Goddess position is traditionally one in which a practitioner stands with arms outstretched, palms towards the sky, and the face turned up to the heavens. Some traditions may have variations on this position. In some forms of Wicca, the position is used whenever a Goddess is invoked or addressed, such as in Drawing Down the Moon.

09
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Initiation

Initiation matters in some traditions, but not others. Image by Matt Cardy/Getty News Images

In many traditions of Paganism and Wicca, a new member must be initiated to truly be a member of a coven. Although the ceremony varies from group to group, it usually involves a pledge of dedication, an oath of secrecy, and a symbolic rebirth. Periods of study before initiation vary from one tradition to the next, but it's not uncommon to be asked to study for a year and a day prior to an initiation ceremony.

10
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Querent

Fortune teller reading tarot card
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In Tarot reading, the word "querent" is used to describe the person for whom the reading is being done. If Jill is reading cards for Jack, Jill is the reader and Jack is the querent. The term comes from the word "query", which means, of course, to ask.

11
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Sigil

Pagan / Witch Altar with crystals, crystal stand, pentacle altar tile, besom, bell and herbs
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A sigil is a magical symbol that represents a concept or tangible item like a person or place. You can inscribe a candle, talisman or amulet (or anything else) with a sigil that means health, prosperity, protection, love, etc. Sigils can be created by hand or obtained from other sources.

12
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Watchtowers

Old witch book with pentagram, black candles, crystals and ritual objects
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The four watchtowers are associated, in Wicca, with the four cardinal directions – North, East, South and West. They are symbolic structures called upon to guard over a circle during a ritual, and are dismissed when the ceremony is complete. Not every Wiccan tradition utilizes this concept, and most non-Wiccan Pagan groups do not include it in ritual.