Why I am a Neo-Pagan, or One thing I agree with Sam Webster about

There’s a blogging project started over at Patheos, “Why am I a …”, in which bloggers are supposed to respond in 200 words or less.  Several Pagan bloggers have responded and their responses are worth checking out.  I’ve written before about the things that I love about Paganism.  But when I asked myself why I am (Neo-)Pagan, the answer that came immediately to mind was the words of Theodore Roszak talking about the Sixties Counterculture (the same Counterculture out of which Neo-Paganism emerged):

I am at a loss to know where, besides [Neo-Paganism], the radical discontent and innovation can be found that might transform this disoriented civilization of ours into something a human being can identify as home. They are the matrix in which an alternative, but still excessively fragile future is taking shape. Granted that alternative comes dressed in a garish motley, its costume borrowed from many and exotic sources–from depth psychiatry, from the mellowed remnants of left-wing ideology, from the oriental religions, from Romantic ”Weltschmerz”, from anarchist social theory, from Dada and American Indian lore, and, I suppose, the perennial wisdom. Still it looks to me like all we have to hold against the final consolidation of a technocratic totalitarianism in which we shall find ourselves ingeniously adapted to an existence wholly estranged from everything that has ever made the life of man an interesting adventure.

That’s 147 words and they’re not mine, but I am borrowing them.  What Roszak hoped for the Counterculture, I hope for Paganism today.

Recently, Sam Webster has stirred up a ruckus in the blogosphere for insisting that Paganism and Christianity are incompatible.  And while I have issues with his fundamentalism, there is one thing that I do agree with Webster about: Paganism represents a potential source of transformation of Western secular society.  And this is Webster’s “Pagan Agenda”:

“We have the greatest capacity to change the Mind of the Human World to produce a sustainable future.  In fact, I warrant that we Pagan People have arisen now to do exactly this. We come from the Shadow of our culture. We are the Occult, the Hidden in this culture, the dark fertile bits that got left behind and forgotten in the drive for modernity. Don’t the Jungians say that it is from the Shadow that all real change comes? That in the shadow the resources to make profound change dwell? For this culture, we the Pagani, suppressed, repressed, and discarded, written out of history, forgotten and accursed, we the Pagani, are the Shadow.  And the repressed always returns.”

Webster calls this change the “Pagan Restoration”:

Pagans are the shadow of western civilization. We are the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture. Yet, while we are so burdened, this position also gives us a tremendous point of leverage to change our society, for as Jung taught, it is to the Shadow we must go when we are unable to find solutions in the face of challenge. Our human world is facing its greatest crisis yet. I believe this crisis is a necessary stage for humanity to achieve its adulthood, growing out of consuming everything around and soiling our bedding. The only solutions being presented perpetuate and do not solve the crisis. I believe that the Pagan way can contribute to a vision of a world that works, but only if we are taken seriously; and this requires Pagan Restoration.

Whether it is a “restoration” or, as the Pagan Layman suggests, a “renaissance”, the point is: Webster wants Paganism to save the the world.  And I feel the same.

How is this transformation of society to be accomplished?  It begins with a change of consciousness.  According to Roszak, “The building of a good society is not primarily a social, but a psychic task.”  The Counterculture went “beyond ideology to the level of consciousness, seeking to transform our deepest sense of the self, the other, and the environment.”  “The real meaning of revolution is not a change in management … but a change in man,” Roszak wrote.  “Change the prevailing mode of consciousness and you change the world.”  What is the change in consciousness I am talking about?  It is the experience of what Ludwig Feuerback described as “the unity of religion and politics, of spirit and nature, of god and man.”  It is the resacralization of nature, the re-enchantment of the world.

I have previously described Paganism as “a rich and complex tradition with the potential to transform consciousness and, dare I say, save the soul of the world.”  And that is why I am Pagan.

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  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com Soliwo

    I agree. I think that much of the heat in this discussion was not caused by the content of the message ‘You cannot worship Christ and be Pagan’. I think we reacted this strongly also because many of us do desire a Pagan renaissance/ revival/restoration. Sam Webster sells that idea very well. I think it is the indirect association of a Pagan Renaissance with the banishment of Jesus that rubs us the wrong way. As if we accept the first, we are trapped in accepting the second.

    You are right in pulling the two apart.

  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com Soliwo

    I agree. I think that much of the heat in this discussion was not caused by the content of the message ‘You cannot worship Christ and be Pagan’. I think we reacted this strongly also because many of us do desire a Pagan renaissance/ revival/restoration. Sam Webster sells that idea very well. I think it is the indirect association of a Pagan Renaissance with the banishment of Jesus that rubs us the wrong way. As if we accept the first, we are trapped in accepting the second.

    You are right in pulling the two apart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kapple6364 Kenneth Apple

    I don’t think you have to reject Jesus, just the flavor of Christianity that has grown up around him over the last 2000 or so years. The problem is you can worship Jesus and what he said and not be acceptable to most flavors of Christianity. I don’t find a lot that draws me to the story of Jesus, but It’s not those stories and symbolisms I reject, but the organizational dogmas that have accreted to them like barnacles. So, like the man said, can you be both? Depends on your definitions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kapple6364 Kenneth Apple

    I don’t think you have to reject Jesus, just the flavor of Christianity that has grown up around him over the last 2000 or so years. The problem is you can worship Jesus and what he said and not be acceptable to most flavors of Christianity. I don’t find a lot that draws me to the story of Jesus, but It’s not those stories and symbolisms I reject, but the organizational dogmas that have accreted to them like barnacles. So, like the man said, can you be both? Depends on your definitions.

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    Hear hear. I came to Green politics long before I realized my religion could be Green too. But the purpose is the same: social transformation.

  • http://dreamsandbass.wordpress.com darakat

    I am not so sure this is so much a goal. Tansformational conscience may be more about transfoming ethics then effect.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      I don’t follow. Can you explain?

      • http://dreamsandbass.wordpress.com darakat

        Sure, but it will take a whole blog post or so to do, I will get to it as soon as I can. Unfortunately its currently morning here and toddler wants games.

      • http://dreamsandbass.wordpress.com darakat

        Its in reference to something a pagan friend said to me, its much bigger than 200 words but basically he posited that neopaganism, specifically the more modern versions are a continuing sign that ethics has gone from a simple archetypal and ontological good vs evil, sin vs saved, etc (one true path/one true god and so on) though to new ethical system in which a useful complex systems exists in place of a simple black and white. I suppose there is some argument this is both transformational conscience as well as transformation of ethics.

  • http://dreamsandbass.wordpress.com darakat

    I am not so sure this is so much a goal. Tansformational conscience may be more about transfoming ethics then effect.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      I don’t follow. Can you explain?

      • http://dreamsandbass.wordpress.com darakat

        Sure, but it will take a whole blog post or so to do, I will get to it as soon as I can. Unfortunately its currently morning here and toddler wants games.

      • http://dreamsandbass.wordpress.com darakat

        Its in reference to something a pagan friend said to me, its much bigger than 200 words but basically he posited that neopaganism, specifically the more modern versions are a continuing sign that ethics has gone from a simple archetypal and ontological good vs evil, sin vs saved, etc (one true path/one true god and so on) though to new ethical system in which a useful complex systems exists in place of a simple black and white. I suppose there is some argument this is both transformational conscience as well as transformation of ethics.

  • blackthorn

    I have to say that while I admire some of what Neo-Pagans aspire too, that their aspirations are often grounded in faulty thinking and conveniently forgetting and/or jettisoning that which is their own but which they cannot, mentally, own. When Webster says above: “Pagans are the shadow of western civilization. We are the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture,” I think what he is really stating is that people who feel that they are the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture, project their neo-pagan identity into this. Which, unfortunately, makes it just another fad, like the 60′s counterculture, which came and went. At one time, the early christians too were the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture, and Christ’s message appealed to them because of compassion. The neo-pagan agenda, however, is a frightening one: mankind is at fault and needs to be lectured and corrected by a pagan church militant, who has appointed itself the voice of mother nature. The earth is suffering, we are told, and only we neo-pagans can save it. Have you taken a good long look though, at how actual, real, historical (and not neo-) pagan cultures conduct themselves? In Africa people are still living in slavery to pagan priests; in India the lives of cows, monkeys, rats and insects have more value than the lives of millions of human beings. Which neo-pagan will step up and volunteer to live in poverty and slavery for the benefit of Mother Earth? I doubt we’ll see many takers. And the crux of the problem is this: christian culture’s were never fully christianized in the first place but remained largely pagan. The only moral compass therein, however, has been christianity. When christians violate their own ethics they are reverting to their pagan ways of dealing with life, not implementing christian values. If you don’t believe me, and are angry I understand, but first do the research and do the homework, because frankly, most neo-pagans I’ve met simply cannot face the historical truth that I am speaking.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      blackthorn:

      I appreciate your willingness to engage in conversation on this topic. I take it you are Christian. I, too, used to be Christian. I have done my “homework”. Unfortunately, “homework” does not settle issue or there would not be so much religious diversity. It’s a mistake to think that people just only disagree with you because they have thought about it enough or researched enough. I assure you, no matter how much you think about these matters or research them, there will always be someone who knows more than you and disagrees with you anyway. Also, you seem to assume a zero-sum position; I don’t think you have to be wrong in order for me to be right, especially in matters of religious preference.

      Now, turning to your specific points. You suggest that Christian nations have never been fully converted to Christianity. I think your argument assumes that “Christian” means your particular version of Christianity, which apparently no one else lives up to. I’m sure there are plenty of self-described Christians who would disagree.

      It is unfortunate that you find the Neo-Pagan agenda to be “frightening”. But what you describe as frightening seems to apply equally well to Christianity, if you just change a couple of words: “mankind is at fault and needs to be lectured and corrected by a [Christian] church militant, who has appointed itself the voice of [God].” In fact, since there is no Pagan “church” per se, and Pagans are hardly “militant” (if you mean it in the literal sense), I think your description of the Pagan agenda fits Christianity better than it does Paganism.

      You also seem to equate Christianity with having a moral compass (did I misread this?), and thus not being Christian as not having a moral compass. If so, you are effective condemning the better part of the world, which is not Christian, as being, ipso facto, immoral. I assume you are not so parochial as to make this claim.

      The one thing that I do agree with you about is that ancient and modern pagans were not necessarily good role models. On the other hand, I don’t think Christians have been any been (or worse) role models over the centuries. In any case, I identify as Neo-Pagan, which means I relate more to the 60′s counterculture than ancient or indigenous pagans anyway.

      Thank you for your interest. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • blackthorn

    I have to say that while I admire some of what Neo-Pagans aspire too, that their aspirations are often grounded in faulty thinking and conveniently forgetting and/or jettisoning that which is their own but which they cannot, mentally, own. When Webster says above: “Pagans are the shadow of western civilization. We are the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture,” I think what he is really stating is that people who feel that they are the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture, project their neo-pagan identity into this. Which, unfortunately, makes it just another fad, like the 60′s counterculture, which came and went. At one time, the early christians too were the rejected, the forgotten, and the repressed of our culture, and Christ’s message appealed to them because of compassion. The neo-pagan agenda, however, is a frightening one: mankind is at fault and needs to be lectured and corrected by a pagan church militant, who has appointed itself the voice of mother nature. The earth is suffering, we are told, and only we neo-pagans can save it. Have you taken a good long look though, at how actual, real, historical (and not neo-) pagan cultures conduct themselves? In Africa people are still living in slavery to pagan priests; in India the lives of cows, monkeys, rats and insects have more value than the lives of millions of human beings. Which neo-pagan will step up and volunteer to live in poverty and slavery for the benefit of Mother Earth? I doubt we’ll see many takers. And the crux of the problem is this: christian culture’s were never fully christianized in the first place but remained largely pagan. The only moral compass therein, however, has been christianity. When christians violate their own ethics they are reverting to their pagan ways of dealing with life, not implementing christian values. If you don’t believe me, and are angry I understand, but first do the research and do the homework, because frankly, most neo-pagans I’ve met simply cannot face the historical truth that I am speaking.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      blackthorn:

      I appreciate your willingness to engage in conversation on this topic. I take it you are Christian. I, too, used to be Christian. I have done my “homework”. Unfortunately, “homework” does not settle issue or there would not be so much religious diversity. It’s a mistake to think that people just only disagree with you because they have thought about it enough or researched enough. I assure you, no matter how much you think about these matters or research them, there will always be someone who knows more than you and disagrees with you anyway. Also, you seem to assume a zero-sum position; I don’t think you have to be wrong in order for me to be right, especially in matters of religious preference.

      Now, turning to your specific points. You suggest that Christian nations have never been fully converted to Christianity. I think your argument assumes that “Christian” means your particular version of Christianity, which apparently no one else lives up to. I’m sure there are plenty of self-described Christians who would disagree.

      It is unfortunate that you find the Neo-Pagan agenda to be “frightening”. But what you describe as frightening seems to apply equally well to Christianity, if you just change a couple of words: “mankind is at fault and needs to be lectured and corrected by a [Christian] church militant, who has appointed itself the voice of [God].” In fact, since there is no Pagan “church” per se, and Pagans are hardly “militant” (if you mean it in the literal sense), I think your description of the Pagan agenda fits Christianity better than it does Paganism.

      You also seem to equate Christianity with having a moral compass (did I misread this?), and thus not being Christian as not having a moral compass. If so, you are effective condemning the better part of the world, which is not Christian, as being, ipso facto, immoral. I assume you are not so parochial as to make this claim.

      The one thing that I do agree with you about is that ancient and modern pagans were not necessarily good role models. On the other hand, I don’t think Christians have been any been (or worse) role models over the centuries. In any case, I identify as Neo-Pagan, which means I relate more to the 60′s counterculture than ancient or indigenous pagans anyway.

      Thank you for your interest. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • Kevin

    Neo-paganism is not real paganism. You liberal hippies wouldn’t survive in the brutal Pagan Europe of 3000 years ago.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Neither would 99% of the people living in 1st world countries today: Christian, Neo-Pagan, or retro-pagan recon polytheist, regardless. Welcome to the 21st century.

      • Kevin

        The brutality was in many respects a result of Pagan belief. The human sacrifices, the blood-drinking rituals – all things anathema to our modern concept of civilization.
        We must give credit where it is due. Christianity helped tame Europe. The Germanic tribes especially, might conceivably still be living in huts and dressing in animal skin if it weren’t for the civilizing force of the Holy Roman Empire under Christianity. The white race would not have achieved the renaissance or the dominance of the new world without Christianity. And i say all this as a so-called atheist.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          Considering that the scientific revolution did not happen until almost a millennia and a half after Christianity established itself in the Roman empire, I think claiming all the benefits of civilization for Christianity is a bit of a reach. And you forget that cities, farming, writing, philosophy, and so much more was invented by pagans.


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