Definitions

Neopaganism

Neopaganism

[nee-oh-pey-guh-niz-uhm]
Neopaganism, polytheistic religious movement, practiced in small groups by partisans of pre-Christian religious traditions such as Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and Celtic. Neopagans fall into two broad categories, nature-oriented and magical groups, and often incorporate arcane and elaborate rituals. Two of the movement's most influential thinkers were Alphonse L. Constant (1810-75) and Gerard Encausse (1865-1916).

See M. Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (1981, rev. ed. 1986); T. M. Luhrman, Pervasions of the Witch's Craft (1989); J. G. Melton and I. Poggi, Magic, Witchcraft, and Paganism in America (1992).

Neopaganism or Neo-Paganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by historical pre-Christian European "pagan" religions.

Neo-Pagan religious movements are extremely diverse, with beliefs that range widely from polytheism to animism, to pantheism and other paradigms. Many Neopagans practice a spirituality that is entirely modern in origin, while others attempt to accurately reconstruct or revive indigenous, ethnic religions as found in historical and folkloric sources. (see also List of Neopagan movements)

Neopaganism is particularly strong in the United States, Britain, Latvia, Greece, Lithuania, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia. The largest Neopagan movement is Wicca.

Terminology and definition

The word "pagan" comes from the Latin paganus, originally meaning "rustic" or "from the country", and later also used for "civilian". The pejorative meaning, "uneducated non-Christian", emerges in Vulgar Latin from the 4th century. Since Christianity first spread to the cities, the rural Europeans were the last to convert to Christianty. The term neo-pagan was coined in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and Romanticist Hellenophile classical revivalism.

"Pagan" and "Neopagan", when capitalized, refer to religions, or members of a Pagan or Neopagan religion, "in the same way as one would describe a 'Christian' or a 'Jew'." This usage has been common since the Neopagan revival in the 1970s, and is now used by academics and adherents alike to identify new religious movements that emphasize pantheism or nature-worship, or that revive or reconstruct aspects of historical polytheism.

The term "Neopagan" provides a means of distinguishing between historical Pagans of ancient cultures and the adherents of modern religious movements. The category of religions known as "Neopagan" includes syncretic or eclectic approaches like Wicca or witchcraft, Neo-druidism, and Neoshamanism at one end of the spectrum, as well as culturally specific traditions, such as the many varieties of polytheistic reconstructionism, at the other. Some Reconstructionists reject the term "Neopagan" because they wish to set their historically oriented approach apart from generic "Neopagan" eclecticism.

"Pagan" as a self-designation of Neopagans appeared in 1964 and 1965, in the publications of the Witchcraft Research Association; at that time, the term was in use by "revivalist Witches" in the United States and the United Kingdom, but unconnected to the broader, counter-culture Neopagan movement. The modern popularization of the terms "Pagan" and "Neopagan", as they are currently understood, is largely traced to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, co-founder of "the 1st Neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds" who, beginning in 1967 with the early issues of Green Egg, used both terms for the growing movement.

Increasingly, however, scholarly writers prefer the term "contemporary Paganism" to cover all new polytheistic religious movements, a usage favored by The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, the leading peer-reviewed journal in the field.

"Heathen", "Heathenism" or "Heathenry" as a self-designation of adherents of Germanic neopaganism (Theodism in particular) appeared in the late 1990s.

History

Origins The roots of Neopaganism begin with the Renaissance, and the reintroduction of Classicism and the resurgence of interest in Graeco-Roman polytheism in the wake of works like the Theologia mythologica of 1532.

The Romantic movement of the 18th century led to the re-discovery of Old Gaelic and Old Norse literature and poetry. Neo-druidism can be taken to have its origins as early as 1717 with the foundation of The Druid Order. The 19th century saw a surge of interest in Germanic paganism with the Viking revival in the British Isles and Scandinavia. In Germany the Völkisch movement was in full swing. These Neopagan currents coincided with Romanticist interest in folklore and occultism, the widespread emergence of pagan themes in popular literature, and the rise of nationalism.Occultic Revival During this resurgence in the United Kingdom, Neo-druidism and various Western occult groups emerged, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis, who attempted to syncretize "exotic" elements like Egyptian cosmology and Kabbalah into their belief systems, although not necessarily for purely religious purposes. Influenced by the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, several prominent writers and artists were involved in these organizations, including William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Arthur Edward Waite, and Aleister Crowley. Along with these early occult organizations, there were other social phenomena such as the interest in mediumship, magic, and other supernatural beliefs which was at an all time high in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Another important influence during this period was the Romantic aesthetic movement, which venerated the natural world and frequently made reference to the deities of antiquity. The Romantic poets, essayists, artists and authors who employed these themes in their work were later associated with socially progressive attitudes towards sexuality, feminism, pacifism and similar issues. Witchcraft Revival In the 1920s Margaret Murray theorized that a Witchcraft religion existed underground and in secret, and had survived through the witchcraft prosecutions that had been enacted by the ecclesiastical and secular courts. Most historians now reject Murray's theory, as she based it partially upon the similarities of the accounts given by those accused of witchcraft; such similarity is now thought to actually derive from there having been a standard set of questions laid out in the witch-hunting manuals used by interrogators. Murray's ideas nevertheless exerted great influence on certain Neopagan currents; in the 1940s, Englishman Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a New Forest coven. Gardnerian Wicca is used to refer to the traditions of Neopaganism that adhere closely to Gardner's teachings, differentiating it from similar traditions, such as Alexandrian Wicca or more recent Wiccan offshoots.Germanic Mysticism In the meantime, Germanic mysticism in Germany and Switzerland had developed into baroque forms such as Guido von List's "Armanism", from the 1900s merging into antisemitic and national mysticist (völkisch) currents, notably with Lanz von Liebenfels' Guido von List Society and Ostara magazine, which with the rise of Nazism were partially absorbed into Nazi occultism. Other Germanic mysticist groups, such as the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft of Ludwig Fahrenkrog were disendorsed by the Nazi regime. Such distortions of Germanic mythology were denounced by J. R. R. Tolkien, e.g. in a 1941 letter where he speaks of Hitler's corruption of "...that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved and tried to present in its true light." Because of such connections with Nazism, interest in Neopaganism was virtually eclipsed for about two decades following World War II. Neopagan emergence The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence in Neodruidism as well as the rise of Germanic Neopaganism and Ásatrú in the USA and in Iceland. In the 1970s, Wicca was notably influenced by feminism, leading to the creation of an eclectic, Goddess-worshipping movement known as Dianic Wicca. The 1979 publication of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon and Starhawk's The Spiral Dance opened a new chapter in public awareness of Neopaganism.

With the growth and spread of large, Neopagan gatherings and festivals in the 1980s, public varieties of Neo-Wicca continued to further diversify into additional, eclectic sub-denominations, often heavily influenced by the New Age and counter-culture movements. These open, loosely-structured or unstructured traditions contrast with British Traditional Wicca, which emphasizes secrecy and initiatory lineage.

The 1980s and 1990s also saw an increasing interest in serious academic research and Reconstructionist Pagan traditions. The establishment and growth of the Internet in the 1990s brought rapid growth to these, and other Neopagan movements.

Historicity

Many Neopagans and Neopagan traditions attempt to incorporate elements of historical religions, cultures and mythologies into their beliefs and practices, often emphasizing the hoary age of their sources. Thus, Wicca in particular is sometimes referred to by its proponents as "The Old Religion", a term popularized by Margaret Murray in the 1920s, while Germanic Neopaganism is referred to in some of its varieties as (Forn Sed) ("Old Custom"). Such emphasis on the antiquity of religious tradition is not exclusive to Neopaganism, and is found in many other religions. For example the terms Purana, Sanatana Dharma, and the emphasis on the antiquity of the Ancient Egyptian sources of the Hellenistic Mystery religions. Some claims of continuity between Neopaganism and older forms of Paganism have been shown to be spurious, or outright false, as in the case of Iolo Morganwg's Druid's Prayer. Wiccan beliefs of an ancient monotheistic Goddess were inspired by Marija Gimbutas's description of Neolithic Europe. The factual historical validity of her theories have been disputed by many scholars, including historian Ronald Hutton.

While most Neopagans draw from old religious traditions, they also adapt them. The mythologies of the ancient traditions are not generally considered to be literally factual by Neopagans, in the sense that the Bible and other Abrahamic texts are often thought of by their followers. Eclectic Neopagans in particular are resistant to the concept of scripture or excessive structure, considering personal freedom to be one of the primary goals of their spirituality. In contrast, some Reconstructionist movements, like those who practice Theodism, take a stricter religious approach, and only recognize certain historical texts and sources as being relevant to their belief system, intentionally focusing on one culture to the exclusion of others, and having a general disdain for the eclectic mentality.

The mythological sources of the various Neopagan traditions are similarly varied, including Celtic, Norse, Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Egyptian and others. Some groups focus solely on one cultural tradition, while others draw from several. For example, Doreen Valiente's text The Charge of the Goddess used materials from The Gospel of Aradia by Charles G. Leland (1899), as well as material from Aleister Crowley's writings.

Some Neopagans also draw inspiration from modern traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism and others, creating syncretisms like "Christian Witchcraft" or "Buddheo-Paganism". Since many Neopagan beliefs do not require exclusivity, some Neopagans practice other faiths in parallel.

Since eclectic Neopagans take a rather undogmatic religious stance, and sometimes see no one as having authority to deem a source "apocryphal", Neopaganism has been notably prone to fakelore, especially in recent years, as information and misinformation alike have been spread on the Internet and in print media. A number of Wiccan, Neopagan and even some "Traditionalist" or "Tribalist" groups have a history of spurious "Grandmother Stories" – usually involving initiation by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other elderly relative who is said to have instructed them in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors. As this "secret wisdom" has almost always been traced to recent sources, or been quite obviously concocted even more recently, most proponents of these stories have eventually admitted they made them up.

Concepts of the divine

Most Neopagan traditions are polytheistic, but interpretations of the nature of a deity may vary widely. In principle, there is the distinction of hard vs. soft (also, "strong" vs. "weak" or "radical" vs. "moderate") polytheism. Hard polytheism is the notion of the existence of gods and goddesses independent from the human mind and from one another, or as distinct entities but however part of a greater unity, such as The One of Neoplatonism and Panentheism. The mythology of antiquity reflects this kind of understanding of the gods' natures. Soft polytheism considers the plurality of gods as "aspects" of other notions of the divine, including Monism, Pantheism, Panentheism or Deism, Psychologism (Jungianism).

Historically polytheistic religious traditions in the west were not solely concerned with religious belief in gods, but focussed on ritual, tradition (ethos) and notions of virtue (arete, pietas). As Christianity became a rising force, Pagan thinkers such as Celsus and the Roman Emperor Julian wrote arguments against Christian ideas and in defense of the traditional religions, which give us insight into their contrasting beliefs. Hutton states that the historical Pagans did not see "All Goddesses as one Goddess; all Gods as one God", but some types of modern Neopagans believe that there is but a single divinity or life force of the universe, which is immanent in the world. The various manifestations and archetypes of this divinity are not viewed as wholly separate, but as different aspects of the divine which are ineffable.

In Wicca, (especially Dianic Wicca) the concept of an Earth or Mother Goddess similar to the Greek Gaia is emphasized. Male counterparts are usually also evoked, such as the Green Man and the Horned God (who is loosely based on the Celtic Cernunnos.) These Duotheistic philosophies tend to emphasize the God and Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being analogous to a concept similar to that of yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy; ie, two complementary opposites. Many Oriental philosophies equate weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity; this is not the prevailing attitude in Neopaganism and Wicca. Among many Neopagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine in their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women. Other Neopagans reject the concept of binary gender roles.

Worship and ritual

Many Neopagan traditions include occult or "magical" elements in their beliefs and practices. Wicca in particular emphasises the role of witchcraft and ritual. Other Neopagan traditions may include a belief in the supernatural, but place much less emphasis on the working of magic.

Most Neopagan religions celebrate the cycles and seasons of nature through a festival calendar that honours these changes. The timing of festivals, and the rites celebrated, may vary from climate to climate, and will also vary (sometimes widely) depending upon which particular Neopagan religion the adherent subscribes to.

Main currents and denominations

The term "Neopaganism" encompasses a very broad range of groups and beliefs. Syncretic or Eclectic approaches are often inspired by historical traditions, but not bound by any strict identification with a historical religion or culture. These are contrasted by a focus on historicity (reconstructionism), on folklore, or on occultist or national mysticist claims of continuity from racial memory.

Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, British Traditional Wicca, and variations such as Dianic Wicca are examples of eclectic traditions, as are Neo-druid groups like Ár nDraíocht Féin.

Wicca

Wicca is the largest Neopagan religion in the USA. Wicca is a modern religion first publicized in 1954 by Gerald Gardner. Gardner claimed that the religion was a modern survival of an old witch cult, originating in the pre-Christian Paganism of Europe and existing in secret for centuries. Various forms of Wicca have since evolved or been adapted from Gardner's British Traditional Wicca or Gardnerian Wicca such as Alexandrian Wicca. Other forms loosely based on Gardner's teachings are Faery Wicca, Kemetic Wicca, Judeo-Paganism or "jewitchery", Dianic Wicca or "Feminist Wicca" - which emphasizes the divine feminine, often creating women-only or lesbian-only groups. The common denominator amongst all the variants of Wicca are a reverence for nature and active ecology, venerations of a Goddess with or without a consort, such as the Horned God, elements of a variety of ancient mythologies, a belief in and practice of magic and sometimes the belief in reincarnation and karma.

Neo-Druidism

Neo-Druidism forms the largest neopagan sub-denomination after Wicca, and like Wicca in turn shows significant heterogeneity. It draws several beliefs and inspirations from the Druids, the priest caste of the ancient Pagan Celts. With the first Druid Order founded as early as 1717, the history of Neo-Druidism reaches back to the earliest origins of Neopaganism. The Ancient Order of Druids founded in 1781 had many aspects of freemasonry, and practiced rituals at Stonehenge since 1905. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was established in 1964 and the British Druid Order in 1979. Neo-Druidism reached the United States together with Wicca, in the 1960s. The Reformed Druids of North America was established in 1963 and Ár nDraíocht Féin in 1983 by Isaac Bonewits.

New Age syncretism and nature worship

Neopaganism emerged as part of the counter-culture, New Age and Hippie movements in the 1960s to 1970s. Reconstructionism rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of Neopagans are not committed to a single defined tradition, but understand Paganism as encompassing a wide range of non-institutionalized spirituality, as promoted by the Church of All Worlds, the Feri Tradition and other movements. Notably, Wicca in the United States since the 1970s has largely moved away from its Gardnerian roots and diversified into eclectic variants.

Neopaganism generally emphasizes the sanctity of the Earth and Nature. Neopagans often feel a duty to protect the Earth through activism, and support causes such as rainforest protection, organic farming, permaculture, animal rights and so on. Some Neopagans are influenced by Animist traditions of the indigenous Native Americans and Africans and other indigenous or shamanic traditions.

Eco-Paganism and Eco-magic, which are off-shoots of direct action environmental groups, have a strong emphasis on fairy imagery and a belief in the possibility of intercession by the fae (fairies, pixies, gnomes, elves, and other spirits of nature and the Otherworlds).

Some Unitarian Universalists are eclectic Pagans. Unitarian Universalists look for spiritual inspiration in a wide variety of religious beliefs. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, or CUUPs, encourages their member chapters to "use practices familiar to members who attend for worship services but not to follow only one tradition of Paganism."

Occultism and ethnic mysticism

Historically the earliest self-identified revivalist pagans were inspired by Renaissance occultism. Notably in early 20th century Germany with Germanic mysticism, which branched into Ariosophy and related currents of Nazi occultism. Outside Germany, occultist Neopaganism was inspired by Crowleyan Thelema and Left-Hand Paths, a recent example being the "Dark Paganism" of John J. Coughlin.

In the United States, ethnic mysticist approaches are advocated in the form of anti-racist Asatru Folk Assembly founder Stephen McNallen's "metagenetics" and by David Lane's openly white supremacist Wotanism.

Occultist currents persist in neo-fascist and national mysticist Neopaganism, since the 1990s revived in the European Nouvelle Droite in the context of the "Integral Traditionalism" of Julius Evola and others (Alain de Benoist, Werkgroep Traditie; see Neopaganism and the New Right).

Reconstructionism

In contrast to the eclectic traditions, Reconstructionists are very culturally oriented and attempt to reconstruct historical forms of Paganism, in a modern context. Thus, Hellenic, Roman, Kemetic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic Reconstructionists aim for the revival of historical practices and beliefs of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, the Celts, the Germanic peoples, the Balts and the Slavs, respectively.

Folklorism

In the early 2000s, a "Traditionalist" or "Folklorist" current of Neopaganism emerged in Scandinavian Neopaganism, advocated by Jon Julius Filipusson (of Foreningen Forn Sed, Norway), Paul Jenssen (Denmark) and Keeron Ögren (Samfälligheten för Nordisk Sed, Sweden), which rejects Reconstructionism and syncretism alike, advocating a strict focus on regional folklore and folk religion.

Demographics

Adherents.com estimates that there are roughly one million Neopagans worldwide (as of 2000), including "Wicca, Magick, Druidism, Asatru, neo-Native American religion and others".

High estimates by Neopagan authors may reach several times that number. A precise number is impossible to establish, because of the largely uninstitutionalised nature of the religion and the secrecy observed by some traditions, - sometimes explained by fear of religious discrimination.

North America

In the United States, the ARIS 2001 study, based on a poll conducted by The Graduate Center at The City University of New York found that an estimated 140,000 people self-identified as Pagans; 134,000 self-identified as Wiccans; and 33,000 self-identified as Druids. This would bring the total of groups largely accepted under the modern popular western definition of Neopagan to 307,000. Other groups measured in the report, such as Native Americans, New Agers and a significant portion of Unitarian Universalists, could be categorized under this definition, but many of these adherents would not consider themselves Pagan, nor would the mainstream Pagan communities accept them as such.

The Covenant of the Goddess, "an international organization of cooperating, autonomous Wiccan congregations and solitary practitioners," conducted a poll of U.S. and Canadian "Wiccan/Pagan" respondents in 2005 and 2006. This poll was not scientific and represents a self selected subset of all Neopagans, but it does provide some interesting insights that confirm what many Neopagans have observed anecdotally:

  • 39% of respondents were between 26 and 39 years of age
  • 37% were between the ages of 40 and 49
  • 94% were registered to vote, a figure much higher than the national average
  • There were nearly three times as many women as men (74%)
  • 6% have served in the Armed Forces

Britain

A study by Ronald Hutton compared a number of different sources (including membership lists of major UK organizations, attendance at major events, subscriptions to magazines, etc.) and used standard models for extrapolating likely numbers. This estimate accounted for multiple membership overlaps as well as the number of adherents represented by each attendee of a Neopagan gathering. Hutton estimated that there are 250,000 Neopagan adherents in the United Kingdom, roughly equivalent to the national Hindu community.

A smaller number is suggested by the results of the 2001 Census, in which a question about religious affiliation was asked for the first time. Respondents were able to write in an affiliation not covered by the checklist of common religions, and a total of 42,262 people from England, Scotland and Wales declared themselves to be Pagans by this method. These figures were not released as a matter of course by the Office of National Statistics, but were released after an application by the Pagan Federation of Scotland. From a British population of 59 million this gives a rough proportion of 7 pagans per 100,000 population. This is more than many well known traditions such as Rastafarian, Bahá'í and Zoroastrian groups, but fewer than the 'Big Six' of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. It is also fewer than the adherents of the so-called Jedi religion, whose campaign made them the largest of the religions after the Big Six..

The UK Census figures do not allow an accurate breakdown of traditions within the Pagan heading, as a campaign by the Pagan Federation before the census encouraged Wiccans, Heathens, Druids and others all to use the same write-in term 'Pagan' in order to maximise the numbers reported.

Scandinavia

Neopaganism in Scandinavia is dominated by Ásatrú (Forn Sed, Folketro).

The Swedish AsatruSociety formed in 1994, and in Norway the Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost formed in 1996 and Foreningen Forn Sed formed in 1999. They have been recognized by the Norwegian government as a religious society, allowing them to perform "legally binding civil ceremonies" (i. e. marriages). In Denmark Forn Siðr also formed in 1999, recognized in 2003 and in Sweden Nätverket Gimle formed in 2001, as an informal community for individual heathens. Nätverket Forn Sed formed in 2004, and has a network consisting of local groups (blotlag) from all over the Sweden.

Continental Europe

In German-speaking Europe, Germanic and Celtic neopaganism co-exist with Wicca and Neoshamanism. Neopaganism in Latin Europe (France, Italy, Spain) focusses on Neo-Druidism and Esotericism based on megalith culture besides some Germanic neopagan groups in areas historically affected by Germanic migrations (Lombardy). Neopaganism in Eastern Europe and parts of Northern Europe is dominated by Baltic and Slavic movements, rising to visibility after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since the 1990s, there have been organized Hellenic groups practising in Greece.

See also

References

Further reading

  • Bonewits, Isaac (2003). Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach. ISBN 1-59405-501-7.
  • Bonewits, Isaac (2006) Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2.
  • Ronald, Hutton (2001). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. ISBN 0-19-285449-6.
  • Strmiska, Michael F. (2005). Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
  • Seznec, Jean (1953). The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art. ISBN 0-691-02988-1.
  • York, Michael (2003). Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0814797020.
  • Douglas E. Cowan, Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet, Routledge (2004), ISBN 0415969115.

External links


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