Future of Paganism
Paganism and the Role of Interfaith Dialogue
During the late 60s and early 70s, mainstream American religions began confronting two relatively new issues within their communities: the status of women and the significance of the natural world. Two different Pagan traditions played central roles here. In doing research on this period I consistently read of women Jews and Christians being inspired by and reacting to Starhawk, Z Budapest, and other feminist Witches of that generation. Their influence went far beyond their tiny numbers.
Similarly, but often initially inspired by traditional Native Americans, the Sacredness of the natural world became an issue. The writings of Black Elk, John Fire Lame Deer and Rolling Thunder, opened this door for many. Later, at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, Michael Gorbachev gave an address emphasizing that one thing all assembled shared in common was "one planet." His words fell on fertile soil, and as many spiritual people looked about for models of integrating nature into spirituality, NeoPagans were able to offer guidance.
Since those years, these two major concerns -- the importance of Nature as being more than a simple storehouse of resources, and the spiritual equality between men and women (with the Feminine increasingly recognized as a dimension of the sacred that is just as important as the Masculine) -- have continued putting down ever deeper roots while seeding the wider religious landscape. Of course these currents of spiritual concern are not uniquely Pagan, but compared to more mainstream American religions, they are intrinsic to what most of us are. Pagans were well placed to get these issues on the wider religious agenda, and they did.
I believe these two streams within the wider American spiritual community are only going to grow. They evidence a different spiritual sensibility from more conservative Christian traditions, which is why so many of those leaders are undying in their hatred for us. I shall never forget how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed Pagans and feminists as part of the reasons for 9/11 or Robertson's equating feminism with witchcraft. Often these people see what is happening more clearly than we do.
But assuming sanity keeps at least a precarious foothold in our society, the growing role of women and recognition of the feminine, and increasing recognition of the value and sacredness of nature are likely to slowly transform our world. As it does so it will become progressively more friendly to most of us.
This does not mean that I expect we will become a numerically major mainstream practice. I think our impact will be different. As our particular spiritual concerns become more accepted by mainstream churches and synagogues in addition to their traditional concerns, edges will blur. Already books have appeared on Christopaganism. I think these trends will continue.
From a Pagan perspective such as my own, this is all to the good. Rather than being divided into strongly bounded communities, America's religious traditions will have increasingly fuzzy boundaries. From individual shamanism to Buddhist meditation to Wiccan covens to liberal Christians, what we will see is a kind of spiritual eco-system. The Sacred is far too great to be encompassed in any single mode of practice or worship. We will see instead a variety, interlocking, intermingling, creating a spiritually richer environment than has ever existed in the modern West. And we will, I think, have been one of the most important pinches of spiritual yeast to bring about this wonderful reality.
Gus diZerega is a Gardnerian Elder with over 25 years practice, including six years close study with a Brazilian shaman. He has been active in interfaith work off and on for most of those 25 years as well. He has conducted workshops and given presentations on healing, shamanism, ecology and politics at Pagan gatherings in the United States and Canada. He is the first Pagan blogger for Beliefnet. His first Pagan book Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience won the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from The Coalition of Visionary Resource. His second, Beyond the Burning Times, is a joint Pagan and Christian authored book discussing relations between the two religions. He is completing a new book: Faultlines: The Sixties the Culture Wars and the Divine Feminine. This will argue the US's current political and cultural struggles reflect a four-way division between "traditional" religion, liberal and "Baconian" secular modernity, and spiritual traditions that have gone beyond the modern paradigm.