Beginning the Pagan Restoration
Welcome to my new column, Pagan Restoration!
The world will be a better place if the ancient religious cultures of Europe, the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia are restored to their glory, suitably updated by what we have learned in the last two thousand years. This column is dedicated to achieving this end. We shall call this project Pagan Restoration.
To do so, the Pagan community must mature into a healthy, sustainable religious movement. This column will advocate for creating Pagan institutions that will outlive the current generation and examine the efforts currently underway, to laud or criticize as needed. One special focus will be on the training of Pagan leadership, in particular looking at the place of seminaries and what they have to offer the process. As a seminary graduate, I can represent an informed perspective on what they are and what they have to offer us. (I also write on more theological issues here.)
Another dimension of Pagan maturity goes with the name. I am an advocate for 'big-tent' Paganism. I see the current proliferation of types of Paganism in the manner of 'speciation.' Conditions are good for our kind to grow and diversify to fulfill many different spiritual and social needs. But how will we maintain the solidarity we have had in the past as we become more unlike each other? How will we deal with the dilution that comes with the rapid growth we have seen in the last decade or so? What will happen during the inevitable die-off of variety as the Pagan niche is filled? What kind of commonality will we be able to find so we don't devolve into a highly fragmented and short-lived religious phenomenon, dying off like an algae-bloom? We shall look for answers to these problems.
In part, the answers to these questions require that we reframe what we think of as religion. Arising as we have in a Christian context, many of us are focused on belief as a source of unity or distinction. This is simply not normal in the world outside of Christendom, or before it. But if a creed, explicit or implicit, is not going to unite us, what is?
Seeking Pagan Restoration, we will look for answers and solutions by challenging the dominant paradigm. After all, we will not solve our problems in the frame of mind that got us into them. Belief-based religion is but one paradigm to be liberated. We will also problematize our so-called 'nature worship' or 'earth-centered spirituality.' For thousands of years, humans have striven to free ourselves from the ravages of nature. What will our relationship to our environment be today? Likewise, is 'earth-centered' a broad enough perspective for a now-and-future religion?
Pagans often have a romantic view of the past. This column can be seen as an example of that attitude. But, as an apprentice historian (I'm working on my Ph.D.), I am aware that Christianity destroyed the ancient religiosity of Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, while Islam destroyed the Mesopotamian, the Persian, and many of the African branches. There is no historical continuity, but we do have books that inspired our rebirth in the Renaissance, and we have been growing and developing ever since. In fact, it is not respectful to call the ancient peoples 'Pagan,' lumping together the religious activities of vastly disparate peoples who never called themselves Pagan, nor saw themselves as a single religious tradition, however much they had in common. Religion wasn't even a separate cultural category until Christianity impacted the Romans. But the main point is that the old ways need to be rebuilt, but in a manner in accord with contemporary needs and knowledge. Paganism will be something new and different, rooted in the ancient and fulfilling the needs of today. This is Pagan Restoration.
Sam Webster is a Mage, Mason, Sorcerer, Seminarian, and Pagan Priest, restoring the way of the Gods.
Webster's column, "Pagan Restoration," is published the 3rd Wednesday every month on the Pagan Channel. It is now being offered in a new format! Don't forget to update your RSS links and e-mail subscriptions.