Pagans and Lent

Spring is a time of new beginnings, and for many people, a season of sacrifice. Image by Matt Cardy/Getty News Images

Each spring, we here at About Pagan/Wiccan get numerous emails from Pagans who wonder if there's something special they need to do while their friends and family members are all getting ready to observe Lent.

A reader asks, "I'm trying to figure out what to give up for Lent. I'm a Pagan, so it's kind of hard for me to decide. Do you have any suggestions?"

Yes. If you're Pagan, a good suggestion would be to not even worry about Lent.

Here's the thing - it's a Christian holiday, and the notion of giving things up for it is unrelated to any Pagan spirituality. Lent is a forty-day period of preparation before Easter, and the whole "giving stuff up" bit is in honor of the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There's also an aspect of repenting that's included in some denominations of Christianity.

If you're not Christian, you're not obligated to observe this season at all. It's a bit like worrying about what color candles to put in your Passover display -- if it doesn't apply to your religion, it doesn't much matter.

If you want to give something up for forty days, have at it. There were a number of pre-Christian cults that embraced the notion of abstaining from something you like for a designated period of time, whether it's chocolate, sex, or endless reruns of Firefly. It would make more sense, though, if you don't refer to it as your Lenten sacrifice, because it's something else entirely.

What that something is, though, is a personal choice.

Several of our readers have had suggestions as well, and we've asked them to chime in.

Nikole says: I usually give up something for Lent. I was never Catholic, I was raised Baptist. Pagan now, and I still feel that giving up something for Lent is a good idea. More of a spiritual thing, like fasting for the soul. Sometimes it’s a certain food, like soda, or sometimes it’s trying to purge myself of something I shouldn’t be doing. It just gives me a set date, which makes it easier.

Stella sees it as a time of cleansing, and says: I’ve heard arguments that food-based restrictions, esp. on fat and sugar, were a good thing to do at the end of a long winter when there was little access to fresh greens. It was a way to cleanse the liver and the system in general. One of the first herbs to be available in spring is the dandelion, another cleansing herb good for the liver and digestion. So the common sense practice of cleansing gets ritualized as part of the height of the Christian ritual celebration. It actually makes a lot of sense.

Reader Cami looks at it as a time of spring cleaning: I use New Years resolution time and Lent time to reflect on ways to improve myself in the coming year. I will use that time to try and develop new good habits or discard bad habits. I figure forty days is a good time period to do so. I see it as “spring cleaning” for myself.

Wiccan reader Missi says: In our house Lent is an observation of self control and a chance to break a bad habit if needed, also an appreciation for the things that we love but don’t really need. All in all a celebration of humility to one’s self and it reminds us of our strength in spirit.


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