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Religion Library: Paganism

Modern Age

Written by: Carl McColman

Meanwhile, other forms of new Pagan spirituality emerged, parallel to the growth of Wicca. Margot Adler traces the early origins of modern Paganism back to 1938, when a Russian immigrant to America, Gleb Botkin, founded a Church of Aphrodite in New York. In Germany, interest in Germanic Paganism grew in the early decades of the 20th century, while in Britain druid leaders like Ross Nichols began to incorporate more genuine Celtic Pagan elements into their rituals, which lead to the emergence of authentically Pagan forms of druidism in the second half of the century.

Other groups drew on Hellenic paganism, Egyptian religion, Native American spirituality, and even science fiction to shape their identity.In 1979, two American authors released books that coalesced the various strands of this new religious movement.Starhawk's The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Religion of the Great Goddess presented witchcraft as both a living form of ancient Paganism but also as a thoroughly contemporary spirituality grounded in environmental and feminist concerns. National Public Radio correspondent Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America examined the diversity within the larger Pagan community.

Numerous other authors contributed to this growing sensibility of Paganism-as-ecofeminist spirituality: Susun Weed, Diane Stein, Z. Budapest, Carol J. Adams, Carolyn Merchant, Carol Christ, Charlene Spretnak, and Vickie Noble were among the authors in the final decades of the 20th century who contributed to this new understanding of nature-centered spirituality. Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (1989) declared that individuals interested in Paganism and witchcraft did not need to study with others who were already practicing the religion, and could in fact alter their expression of spirituality to suit their own intuitive and personal needs. In essence, Cunningham celebrated Wicca (and, by extension, modern Paganism as a whole) as a "do-it-yourself" religion. Another American author, Silver Ravenwolf, pushed this trend further with a book specifically aimed at adolescents, Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation (Llewellyn, 1998).

But perhaps the most significant development with Paganism in the 1990s was the widespread accessibility to the internet. Pagans embraced the online world enthusiastically, and websites devoted to fostering community online soon became popular among them, particularly the Witches' Voice. Many Wiccan covens and other modern Pagan groups began their own online presence. Email lists and online forums on a variety of Pagan-related topics emerged. By the turn of the century, the internet had become a central tool for networking and communication within the Pagan community. As Paganism entered the 21st century, it remains, according to observers such as the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, one of the fastest growing new religions in the English-speaking world.

Study Questions:
     1.    When was the Pagan Renaissance? What came out of it?
     2.    Why is Gardner’s credibility an issue?
     3.    Describe three books that contributed to the growth of Paganism.
     4.    How has the internet fostered Pagan belief?


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