The Good, The Bad, and The Pagan. Paganism and Neo-Paganism from a Neo-Pagan's point of view.
0 – Forewarned
It is a particularly difficult question to ask of anyone, “What is your religion, and why?”
The following is and can only be my opinion on the subject. Should you consult with any other practitioners of Paganism you may get an entirely different, maybe even contradictory story.
In preparing for this presentation I set up the usual “What, When, Where, How, and Why” list for begin my notes.
In order to present my personal view on Paganism, first I am going to try to explain a number of building blocks that I see important to the development of my point of view, and to modern Paganism. Then use them to extrapolate my position on Paganism, and Neo-Paganism.
That is I'm going to attempt to explain the term Paganism with all it's inherent problems, outline some of the history of neo-paganism as I understand it, give a brief outline of how I see the practice, and the purpose of paganism.
1 - The Legal Aspect.
In 2000 The Human Rights Act of 1998 came into full force, making it finally part of
Why is this important?
Particularly and specifically, article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights
“Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Though the European Convention on Human Rights has existed since the 1950's and Britain has been a signatory since then (Churchill being the British signatory to the document, here seen being initiated into Albion Lodge of the Ancient Order Of Druids at Blenheim Palace in 1908) The Human Rights Act of 1998 is particularly important to certain minority religious groups especially Pagans as it confirmed British acceptance of our right to practice religion the way we saw fit. Until this point (even though article nine of the convention existed) a lot of Pagans continued to practice in secret, many still do.
So be warned that any inappropriate giggling during this presentation will be considered a direct offence against my inalienable human rights.
2 - “Pagan” The Word.
There is much debate and disagreement as to the origins and interpretation of the word Pagan, even in it's modern usage. Unfortunately there is really no consensus for the proper usage and definition of the word.
Though at first it seems a fairly obvious to most people what the word Pagan means the definitions vary widely. I was quite amused to find that Religious Tolerance dot org (a Canadian website) managed fourteen different definitions. From the highly specific conservative (right wing American) christian use of the word meaning all none christians, including atheist, or even categorising Pagans as incorrectly Satanist. To the slightly less specific all none Abrahamic religions, i.e. any religion not claiming descent from Abraham, this would include the Buddhists, the Taoists, Jainist, Hindu, in fact anything not in three, Muslim, Christian, Jewish groups (four if you include the Rastafarians). If you consider pre-christian religions Pagan, you exclude a number of contemporary aboriginal practices, and a whole raft of contemporary folk practices.
To try and shed some light here are a couple of attempts at defining the word by dictionaries.
Oxford English Dictionary website:
• noun a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.
• adjective relating to pagans or their beliefs.
— DERIVATIVES paganism noun.
— ORIGIN Latin paganus ‘rustic’, later ‘civilian’ (i.e. a person who was not a ‘soldier’ in Christ’s army).”
It would be interesting to ask them what they consider the “ main world religions” are, and how they measure that. Considering recent figures suggest the Abrahamic religions (all three/four together) account for about two thirds of the world population (Christianity 33%).
“Main Entry: pa·gan
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin paganus, from Latin, civilian, country dweller, from pagus country district; akin to Latin pangere to fix — more at pact
Date: 14th century
1 : heathen 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient
2 : one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods : an irreligious or hedonistic person
3 : neo-pagan
— pagan adjective
— pa·gan·ish \-gə-nish\ adjective”
Generally the consensus amongst Practising Pagans, in my experience, is to take the line best laid out by the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia:
“Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "country dweller", "rustic") is a blanket term used to refer to various polytheistic, non Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Its exact definition may vary: It is primarily used in a historical context, referring to Greco-Roman polytheism as well as the polytheistic traditions of
So generally Paganism is derived from a Latin term used by the Romans to mean local (in a derogatory sense), non christian, or pre-christian religious practice. Corrupted (or adjusted) through usage to refer to civilian, non-christian practice.
Paganism in the context I am now going to use it tends to mean pre-christian, non Abrahamic, animistic, polytheistic, or monotheistic, and aboriginal religious practices, of the “This is a local religion, for local people” type definition.
3 - History, Continuity and Neo-Paganism.
Problems with historical context and validity.
Though there are groups that claim continuous connection to previous pre-christian pagan practices these statements prove hard to substantiate historically.
Firstly we have to deal with the “C” word.
For a long period of time there was a general consensus that, for a few hundred years, between the beaker people and the expansion of
An opinion usually based on contemporary reports from such individuals as Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and such like imperialist expansionist individuals. Modern archaeology and advances in genetic research in the last thirty to forty years have caused doubt about the validity of these observations. Modern post imperialist reinterpretation of Caesar's writings has suggested that he may have been conveniently grouping large areas of unconnected cultures together for political means to suggest that some of his victories were slightly more significant than they really were.
Backed also by genetic research that has found no real connection between the disparate peoples previously labelled Celt, the great Celtic civilisation is looking less and less likely to have existed anywhere outside of Julius's ego.
Secondly many of the pre-christian civilisations looked to as Pagan were cultures of spoken tradition not written. Records passed down of many of their traditions were only documented well after the fact of their demise.
Anglesey was one of the last strongholds of the druids in
It was Paulinus that then led his army to victory over Boudicca, who used his absence to successfully sack Londinium. The Roman army occupied the island until the beginning of the fourth century CE, when their forces were withdrawn from
Some groups claim that at this point certain branches of Paganism went underground for a few thousand years only to resurface early last century. But for all documentary purposes the breaking of the Druids enclave and the christian conversion of Constantine I in Byzantine marks the break in the chain of Pagan practice.
A small note about what many Pagans call “the burning times” being the subjugation, and persecution of, the Pagans by christians in the years after the Roman conversion. There is little proof of the systematic and organised opposition to Paganism in early christianity. Possible local action may have taken place, but no early church organisation was focused on anything other than conversion rather than oppression. Interestingly early christianity pre
It's not until the publishing of the Theodosian Code issued in 438 CE that certain Pagan practice actually became illegal.
“Theodosian Code XVI.1.2
It is our desire that all the various nation which are subject to our clemency and moderation, should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one diety of the father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in out judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation an the second the punishment of out authority, in accordance with the will of heaven shall decide to inflict.”
Even medieval “witch hunts” of the sort exemplified in Monty Pythons “Holy Grail” seem to be exaggerated, very few witch trails having been undertaken in England particularly, and of the resultant half dozen or so, the few convictions tended to be hanged. The Spanish Inquisition tended to burn their heretics which may have led to the historical (hysterical) exaggeration.
Even the dissolution of the Knights Templar (at Philip the IV’s behest) and the accusation of their “head worship” and adoration of Baphomet seem to be more fabrication to back up the attempted seizing of their wealth than any true organised none christian Pagan religion.
The Templar Grand Master (Jacques de Molay) was tortured so badly that the bones of his feet fell through his skin before he confessed to the heresy he was accused of.
With the falling of
During the Renaissance we begin to have evidence of what may be considered explicitly religious paganism again. Alchemists, and other scientists, Astrologers, often overtly Christian but employing pagan symbolism and texts, were most common during the period. Many modern movements in the Kabbalah and Tarot originate in the Renaissance, the modern Rosicrucian’s Society trace their origin to this period, the three groups forming the backbone of modern pagan symbolism. The Renaissance also saw the obscure origins of a rebirth, in improved form, of Greek humanism, technically pagan because of its suppression by Christian Rome and its use of theistic symbols. Most practitioners tended to the Occult, for instance
Doctor John Dee's Enochian Magic, and Nostrudamus Prophecies, though christian in orientation contain many references to pre-christian symbolism. John Dee was also involved in psychic spying using magic ritual and scrying tools for the Elizabethan court.
The Ancient Order of Druids (also known as the Druid Order) claims to have been founded in 1781 by Henry Hurle. You'll notice that a lot of Druid orders are founded throughout this presentation.
It has to be admitted that the Victorians are responsible for the re-awaking of interest in Paganism, with their re-working of the greco-roman pantheon throughout art and literature (see particularly good examples of this in the work of the pre-Raphelites, in both their paintings and poetry), and even landscape gardening (how many Victorian great houses are not enhanced with a faux roman temple ruin?).
It is in 1910 that George Watson MacGregor Reid claimed The Druid Order, The British Circle of the Universal Bond, had a mythic origin through John Toland, an Irish philosopher leading back to 1717. Unfortunately this illustrious history has proved purely the fictitious imaginings on MacGregor Reid's part.
Blatvasky's theories of the theosophy, and the Aryan myth, and the Theosophy Societies interest in eastern philosophy's, bringing many previously unavailable texts into English translation and
Alastair Crowley's (and Magregor Mathers) breaking an accepted tradition in occult and masonic societies by widely publishing their work and many of their esoteric practices with the hermetic order of the Golden Dawn, and Crowley's own work in the field of practical magic afterwards.
I am now going to have to step into the realms of Indian Jones.
By the early to middle of the twentieth century The Theosophists and a number of other groups had made eastern philosophy, religious ideas, and texts, widely available in
The Thule Society was a German occultist and völkisch group in
The Thule Society was originally a "Germanic study group" headed by Walter Nauhaus, to be a cover-name for the
Anton Drexler, and the Thule Society's Karl Harrer, established the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP), or German Workers' Party. By the end of February 1920, the DAP had been reconstituted as the National Socialist German Workers' Party, generally known as the "Nazi Party". Adolf Hitler joined this party later in 1919. Early in 1920 Karl Harrer was forced out of the DAP as Hitler moved to sever the party's link with the Thule Society, which subsequently fell into decline and was dissolved about five years later, well before Hitler came to power.
I mention the
The Ahnenerbe was a Nazi German think tank that promoted itself as a "study society for Intellectual Ancient History." Founded by Heinrich Himmler, Herman Wirth, and Richard Walther Darré, the Ahnenerbe's goal was to research the anthropological and cultural history of the Aryan race, and later to experiment and launch voyages with the intent of proving that prehistoric and mythological Nordic populations had once ruled the world.
It's this group that is usually accused of undertaking occult and pagan rituals, and attempting to create a new Aryan religion, though their main function was one of historical investigation in an attempt to prove Aryan superiority, and mastership of certain regions of
It's a mixture of misrepresentation of both these groups that leads to their inclusion in the Indiana Jones films, and the likes of Dennis Wheatley's “They Used Dark Forces”. Otto Rahn who Indiana Jones is allegedly based upon actually joined the SS (encouraged by Himmler himself) to get funding for his search for the Holy Grail.
There are unproven stories of British witches, and or Alastair Crowley himself being involved in Magical rituals during the Battle of Britain in order to help the RAF win against such overwhelming odds.
There are other rumours that occult and secret society associations were used to put pressure on Hitler's (alleged) Astrologer Karl Ernst Krafft to feed Hitler adverse horoscopes to try to influence his decisions during the later parts of world war two..
Gardner and Wicca, the modern witch cult.
There is debate as to the origins of the modern Wiccan group. Gardner himself claiming he was initiated in 1939 by a subgroup of the Rosicrucian Fellowship of Crotona, in the
4 - Modern Neo-Paganism.
The sixties provided a blossoming of literature and new thinking on religion looking for alternatives to the accepted mainstream,
Modern Druidism, as it is practised by most Druids today, emerged out the 1960s. Virtually simultaneously, on both sides of the Atlantic, in 1963 on the Carleton College campus in the USA a group called The Reformed Druids of North America was created as a humorous protest against mandatory Sunday morning chapel attendance, while the following year in England a historian, Ross Nichols, rebelled against the election of a new Druid Chief, and established his own group, The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids.
Modern Paganism can be divided into the following paths (here I side with the Pagan Federations definition)
Druidry: Many Pagan Druid orders draw their inspiration from Celtic traditions, working with the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pagan past. Some work with whatever spirits are within and around the people they are working with.
Female Spirituality: Women's spirituality is one of the richest and most dynamic forces in modern Paganism. Women are respected in all Pagan traditions and have enriched Paganism with a powerful vision of the Goddess - the long-ignored feminine aspect of the Divine. In Paganism, women are Priestesses in their own right, strong and proud, with their own vision.
Heathenry: Norse, Northern, Odinism, Asatru, Vanatru. There are many Heathen groups. Heathenry is a term used to describe the religious practices of two main groups of people, one historical and one modern. The original Heathens were the pre-Christian North European peoples. Modern Heathen groups around the world are reviving these old practices and call their religion by various names including Asatru, The Northern Tradition, Odinism, Forn Sed, Germanic Pagan Reconstructionism or, simply, Heathenry.
Male Spirituality: The male mysteries have always had their place in the many expressions of the Pagan religion. For a Pagan, male spirituality is honoured as an expression of the God in his many forms. Pagan men seek inspiration from the Horned God and other aspects of the male Deity
Wiccan: Wicca is one of the most influential traditions of modern Paganism. Also known by the name Witchcraft, it began to emerge publicly in its modern form in the late 1940's. It is an initiatory path, a mystery tradition.
A - There are three distinct branches to Wicca, an inherited branch that claims descendance from the original Druids and that has been handed down from generation to generation.
B – There is a traditional that calims to be an ofshute of the inherited where the “craft” has been handed to an none family member.
C – The Gardenarian as mention above and before from Alxexander gardners reformation.
Shamanism: Modern Shamanism is perhaps the most diverse of all the forms of Pagan practice and is less clearly defined as a tradition than other Pagan paths. Shamanic practices are an underlying aspect of all expressions of Pagan religion and there are those who would describe themselves as Wiccan, Druidic or Women's Mystery Shamans.
5 – My Own Path.
Hopefully by now I have provided enough building blocks with which to create a foundation to attempt to explain my religious point of view.
As an inquisitive thirteen year old I not only decoded the runes around the map in Tolkien's “The Hobbit” I actually went down to my local library and investigated them further. Producing an extensive document on their origin and use. This was probably my first steps in any form of Paganism.
My religious development into Paganism is on the whole a very common one amongst practitioners. It may surprise some of you that I was a bit of an odd child. Very early on I perceived a need for some form of spirituality in my life. As a teenager I studied Yoga, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and even a little Sufism. At one point I even professed to be a born again christian for a while, I got better though. I was part of a small Zen meditation group at one point.
The further I studied the likes of Christmas Humphreys, and Alan Watts, the more I found myself having to assimilate the history and culture of
I must explain I first rejected the abrahamic religions because of a perceived imbalance towards the male, both in the spiritual aspect, God the Father, the son, and the holy ghost seemed to deny, or repress, any aspect of female spirituality, also the masonic hierachial misogynistic structure of the christian churches clergy again seemed to unbalance and deny the female involvement in religion. Buddhism and particularly Zen moved me away from a deity based religion, but this felt somewhat lacking in substance. I moved my focus to the roots of Zen, Chien Buddhism, and on into Taoism. Though I found a better balance in Taoism, being more comfortable with its acceptance of numerous deities, and it's more animistic inclinations. I still find it underpins a lot of my spirituality to this day. It's at this point I began to realise that I was looking back into history in Japan and China, trying to understand their culture and religions, looking back to an age when my ancestors were following similar animistic pre christian beliefs. I decided that it would probably be more relevant to use images and concepts from my own ancestry to build a spiritual system than to continue to try to understand what was essentially an alien culture and their symbols.
Let me be specific here. When I talk about male and female spirituality I am refering to the concept in a Taoist fashion. I don't consider that men are just male in their spirituality, or female just female. Both have aspects and balances of both male and female spirituality. This is why I believe the abrahamiic faiths are unbalanced, by venerating a male deity they are not addressing the female spirit within them. I know there are aspects of christianity that venerate the Virgin Mary, but the point is made quite clearly that she is not god, therefore inferior.
I would also like to point out that one of the major aspects of my Zen practice that I still retain, involves the concept that all of life is illusory. All of life is actually projected from within. In practical terms this means that your life is a product of what you think it should be. If you are of a scientific nature then you see life as the product of measurable cause and effect. If you are of a more artistic nature, like myself, you are likely to see life in different aspects driven by different forces. After all Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge.
The Blank Canvas.
I think what I am trying to do is explain the almost blank slate that I as a neo-pagan present myself.
1 There is little or no connection to original practicers of Paganism because:
a They were effectively removed by the Romans who then converted to christianity.
B As cultures of spoken tradition there are very few records, apart from the few concurrent observers, most of who where conquering the subjects that they were writing about at the time.
2 If all of life is illusory then whatever the individual believes must therefore be true for them.
3 I have a perceived (or real) need for a religious understanding in order to comprehend my position in the society/world/universe/multiverse that I believe I exist in.
4 As part of that understanding I regard it as important that this point of view have a balance across both the male and female principles.
In discussion with other Pagans I am amused to find that the general consensus of opinion is that your gods find you, you don't pick them.
In my personal pantheon I try to balance Gods and Goddesses but have a slight bias to the god side.
I will now present them in the fashion of a cheap beauty pageant.
As an individual who regularly writes and performs poetry live both here in
All my life I have had an incredible gift with plants, and a great deal of my childhood was spent walking the
Many examples of the Green man can be found in churches in
Bacchus the Roman god of Wine, associated with the Greek god Dionysus He is the patron deity of agriculture and the theater. He was also known as the Liberator (Eleutherios), freeing one from one's normal self, by madness, ecstasy or wine.
I have never really been a dog person, even though I grew up with many. I have always been a cat person. As such it is only logical that I venerate Bast the Egyptian goddess of cats. Bast later took on other duties to do with associations with lions and war, and later with protection for women, but was originally the cat headed woman, responsible for cats.
As an anarchist my final deity is, though originally a Greek goddess, and part of the Roman pantheon, Eris Discordia, has in recent times undergone a radical change and a resurgence of devotees. Many of you will be aware of the story of
Zeus was preparing a wedding banquet for Peleus and Thetis and did not want to invite Eris because of her reputation as a trouble maker. This made Eris angry, and so she fashioned an apple of pure gold and inscribed upon it KALLISTI ("To The Prettiest One") and on the day of the fete She rolled it into the banquet hall. There ensued an argument between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite as to who owned the apple. Only solved by stealing
From Wikipedia : Discordianism is (and is not) a religion centered on the idea that chaos is all that there is, and that disorder and order are both illusions that are imposed on chaos. These are referred to, respectively, as the "Eristic" and "Aneristic" illusions. It was founded circa 1958–1959 by Malaclypse the Younger with the publication of its principal text, the Principia Discordia. With the advent of the internet Discordianism has spread widely.
I also studied a number Irish traditions involving the Tuatha Dé Danann "peoples of the goddess Danu". When the stories were actually written down it is thought that what had originally been pre Christian deities were represented as mortal kings, queens, and warriors.
The Arthur cycle in it’s earliest forms including Merlins childhood is said to hold many allusions to pre-christian practice.
Practice and Devotion.
The eight fold wheel of the year.
It has to be admitted that a lot of Pagans accept this eightfold calendar for their festivals, but the inclusion of the solstices and the equinoxes are a modern wiccan practice.
A lot of Pagans will meet as groups on these dates, though there are many more “solitary” practitioners of every flavor.
I have also been involved in setting up Neo Pagan groups, for instance when I was at
Paganism Still Practiced.
The warrior god Tyrs Day, Woden the all fathers Day, Thor the god of thunders Day, and Freyjas Day the god of love, beauty, fertility, gold amongst other things, from the Anglo Saxon, days of the week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Apart from the roman Saturn, Sun, Moon, being Saturday, Sunday, Monday.Saturnalia originally celebrated for a day, on December 17, eventually growing to became a week long extravaganza, ending on the 23rd: Part of the Saturnalia involved the reversal of roles, the slaves becoming the masters, and the masters becoming the slaves, for one day, it is said the practice of wearing the paper crowns at dinner on Christmas day dates back to the saturnalia
May poles, an obvious one, simple phallic representation.
Christmas trees, in
Because English law is in perpetuity Mistletoe (druid symbol of fertility) is still not legal in churches.
Easter Eggs, The egg was a druid symbol of rebirth, and the ark, as the druids were an arkite religion (made reference to a great flood).
“Touch Wood” possible a throw back to the Druid Sacred Groves.
Most pagans term themselves neo pagans in recognition that there is little direct connection with their religious predecessors, and the religion is a modern developing religion. Paganism in it's modern form is the perfect postmodernist religion for a post modernist age.
Now of course I may be completely off with the fairies, but the way I have always seen things is this:
An individual of a scientific nature will look at a rainbow
and will see the diffraction of light through water.
Now I did physics to "A" level standard so I can appreciate that point of view.
But I also see:
Jehovah's promise to Noah "not to do that again."
Bifrost arching between Midgard and Asgard
I am almost off to see if I can't find the leprechaun and try to pinch his gold.
I regularly talk with Gods and Demons, Angels and Devils, my life is full of spirit and wonder, I walk with my gods every step.
I ask you which would you rather have the grey boring life of the scientist, or the wonder and lunacy of mine?
Ps two notes:
1: I pinched most of the images from the web, if they belong to you please either contact me so I can reference them properly or remove them if you so wish.
2: The Time line on the Thule Nazi bit may need looking at. Though Himmler, and Hess, where members, the society was probably too involved in anti-sematic activity to count as anything occult.