Neo-Paganism.org is now in the Beta testing phase

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working on a new site, called Neo-Paganism.org (mirror site: ProgressivePaganism.com), which is intended to serve as an introduction to Neo-Paganism.  There’s about a hundred pages of writing on Neo-Pagan identity, beliefs, practices, and history there.  You can check it out the site map here.

The site is in the Beta-testing phase.  The comments feature on each page on the site will be open for a fixed period of time (yet to be determined) in order to allow interested parties to give helpful suggestions for improving the site and the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the content.  I won’t be responding to comments, but I will read them all and take them into consideration.  (As always, I reserve the right to delete any comments that are of an inflammatory or harassing nature or otherwise do not contribute to a constructive debate.)

Neo-Paganism.org represents an attempt to outline a distinctly Neo-Paganism, which is distinct from both devotional and reconstructionist polytheisms and from traditional esoteric witchcraft.   I’ve been ambivalent about this project for a while, but I was spurred to bring it to (near-)completion by several factors.  The first was the growing consensus that the word “Pagan” is an “umbrella term” for a variety of related but distinct religious movements.  While I think this usage is a good thing, as it promotes solidarity among these diverse religious groups, it poses a problem for individuals like me who identify primarily as “Pagan”, i.e., individuals who identify first and foremost as “Pagan”, not as witches, Wiccans, druids, polytheists, or anything else.  As “Pagan” is used increasingly as an umbrella term, some of us are left without a name to call our own.  “Neo-Pagan” was the term originally used for us (coined by Oberon Zell), and like Phaedra BonewitsI would like to see the term reclaimed .

The second factor was a number of comments I have received on this blog from hard polytheists and others who perceive Neo-Paganism as spiritually shallow, or in the words of a recent commenter, “any feel-good groovy non-misogynist nature friendly New Age claptrap that anyone wants to label as ‘Pagan.’”  I am bothered by such dismissive characterizations of what to me is a rich and profound religious tradition.  I believe Neo-Paganism has its own depths and its own mysteries which go beyond the familiar rituals which are performed at public pan-Pagan events like Pagan Pride Day and CUUPS events.  Neo-Paganism is not generic Paganism or watered-down Wicca.  It is not an exoteric periphery to an esoteric witchcraft.  Neo-Paganism is its own thing.  It is a religious tradition in its own right, albeit one that is eclectic and evolving.

The third factor was the publication of John Sulak’s The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism this year, which helped to validate my understanding that Neo-Paganism has a history of its own.  This quote by Oberon Zell in particular caught my attention:

“… we stopped off in Philadelphia, where we met a couple who had just started up a Pagan Way group, based on liturgy created by Ed Fitch.  They wanted to create a Wiccan tradition that would be publicly accessible.  It would be sort of like an “outer court” for Witchcraft.  But it was an unfortunate choice of name.  People who joined the Pagan Way thought of themselves as generic Pagans, but what they were really being considered by the organization was proto-Witches.  If they continued on, they would eventually get initiated into Witchcraft.  So the idea became embedded in the community that Pagans were simply proto-Witches who hadn’t got initiated yet.  The notion that was promoted was that Witches were the clergy, and the Pagans were the laity.  Which was really annoying to Pagan groups, who had their own distinct traditions!  We still run into this unfortunate attitude among some Witches.

“We were really surprised to lean that these lovely folks didn’t include their kids in their religious practice.  It wasn’t a family thing for them, as it was for us in CAW [Church of All Worlds].  There were sending their children to Christian Sunday schools.  And when they would have their full-moon Esbat Circles, they would have their kids taken care of by a babysitter, and the kids would never know what they were doing.  We thought that was weird.  For us, Paganism was a religion which included everybody.  They were thinking of it more as a lodge or a secret society like the Masons.  We hadn’t assimilated that that’s where a lot of people were coming from until that trip, because we had developed all this stuff on our own over the years, with practically no real connection with Witches.

“Today many folks think that Witches founded the Pagan community, but it wasn’t that way at all–at least not in the United States.  Here the witches came into a Pagan community that had already existed for at least a decade.  What a lot of my work was engaged in at the time was weaving together some of these different threads.  I worked hard to do that by the publishing of Green Egg, which went out to all of these different groups.  THe Pagan community today has roots in what were at that time very separate communities.”

(emphasis added)

Neo-Paganism.org represents my attempt to outline the nature, beliefs, practices, and history of Neo-Paganism for the general public.  Considering how upset some people got at my previous post, “(Neo-)Paganism is Paradox”, I suspect that this endeavor will attract a lot of detractors.  I recognize that some people who identify as Neo-Pagan may feel that they are misrepresented by this site, and I invite them to share their comments so the site can be improved.  There will likely also be some people who are just opposed to any attempt to “define” Neo-Paganism.  Nevertheless, I continue to feel that there is value in both attempting to descibe (but not necessarily circumscribe) Neo-Paganism, and to distinguish it from related forms of Paganism, including the more esoteric forms of witchcraft and the more devotional and reconstructionist forms of polytheism.

Please come by and check it out.

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  • WitchWay

    I like your concept. I was particularly glad to see the definition as it were of the Neo-pagan, as related by Oberon. I practice and work within a Pagan community that has both kinds of groups, and ours is the one that is family oriented and that is the way we want to keep it. We will always give people the names of others in the Community if they want to go to an adult only type of group. I think it is important that we all have options.

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    Right on! It is time to put the Neo back in Neo-Paganism. Thank you for exercising some leadership here. I look forward to checking out the site.

  • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

    I was one of those who didn’t much like “(Neo-)Paganism is Paradox”, and I like most of what I see on the front page of the new site so far (I haven’t had time yet to delve deeper). I really like the look of it, as well. I think a few things could still use a “Many NeoPagans…” qualifier, particularly the reference to pantheism (not technically the same as believing in deity as immanent, which I could probably accept without qualifiers). Even in its current form, though, I would probably point people at it as a useful introduction to NeoPaganism. Looking forward to getting more time to explore it and to seeing how it develops!

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

      Thanks! That means a lot. I expect I will need to add many qualifiers as you suggest.

  • Ms. Cell Machine

    The problem here is that reconstructionist traditions are new like Wicca, Wiccanate, Feri, and some other religions out there are new. While I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the use of the word Pagan or Neopagan to describe my practices there are still many others who look to much older traditions in which the term is still important to them, some of whom were the first to start reconstructionist pagan/polytheist religious revivals of some cultures.

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

      I could be off base here, but at least some forms of traditional Wicca and Feri claim to be derivatives of much older traditions. I think what you may be thinking of is an eclectic Neo-Wicca which merged with Neo-Paganism early on so the two are now very hard to distinguish.

    • Geo

      I’ve read your comments on different other pages. Do you think that magic in reconstructionist traditions like Wicca is still authentic or it suffered a ”dilution”?

  • Kenneth Apple

    It looks great. I like the look and the navigation. There’s a ton of info there. I feel the need to point out you could just name it Halsteadian Neo-Paganism and then no one can really quibble with your definitions on the basis of semantics. I will look at it in more depth over the weekend.

  • Kenneth Apple

    So the more I read, the more I like this. Whatever else is going on here you’ve hit the place where I live right on the mark. It seems to me that what you have here is a great outline for a book. Fill it out with some of your personal experiences, which already exist on your blog, and you are 88% there. I already want to print this out because I relate better to the linear three dimensional book format when trying to internalize this much information. I want to highlight this and mark it with sticky notes.

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

      Thanks. Once I get some more feedback and make revisions, I’ll consider doing just that.

      • Kenneth Apple

        Let me know if you want a beta reader.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

        Yay! Write a book! I think many of the bloggers here have book material waiting to happen.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Not to be confused, of course, with http://www.neopagan.org.

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

      Yeah, that’s a problem. Not a huge one since there is no content on the other domain. I’d like to get both domains, but the other one is not affordable.

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

          And not to be confused with your site. I have a mirror site ProgressivePaganism.com in the event I decide there is too much confusion.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    “contemporary Neo-Paganism” is redundant, don’t you think? Graham Harvey suggested that we could now drop the “Neo-” prefix since we are fifty or sixty or even more years into this, depending how you count, and I agree with him.

    • Friday

      I think the Neo prefix tends to be superfluous/carry negative connotations. (Then again having a website with better information linking there might well be a great thing: it’s usually our detractors that tack on the ‘Neo’ bit, apart from certain academics wanting to use it anthopologically or as a Huttoney-over-apology for us existing while being modern people. :)

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

        I agree there is a concern about negative connotations. As Wouter Hanegraaff observes, the term is “regularly used as a general indication covering, among other things, certain politically suspect religious and philosophical developments in prewar Germany.” But as far as I can tell, this usage is limited to inconsistent use by academics and consistent use in Catholic polemics.

        Personally, I like emphasizing the newness of Neo-Paganism. In 1974, Raymond Buckland publishes *The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft* which described his tradition “Seax-Wicca” as the youngest tradition. Following Buckland, I think there is power in defying traditional strategies of religious legitimation. Arguable a Neo- religion is better suited to meet (post-)modern spiritual needs.

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

      Chas, “contemporary Neo-Paganism” is intended to distinguish what coalesced in the late 60′s from earlier neo-paganisms, including the German Volkisch movement, as well as the British Woodcraft movement, the “aesthetic paganism” of German and British Romantics, .

      I think Neo- prefix is important. For two reasons: First, as reconstructionist and devotional polytheisms are growing in popularity within (and without) the Pagan community, I think it is important to distinguish eclectic Neo-Paganism from these more “retro-”Paganisms, as well as indigenous religions (to the extent they identify as “pagan”).

      Second, following Sarah Pike, I date Neo-Paganism to 1967, which is coming up on 50 years. But considering that (small-p) paganism is millennia old, I think 50 years is still pretty young.

      • Chas S. Clifton

        Surely you would at least count from the public appearance of Wicca, which would be ca. 1950, as part of the opening of the Museum of Witchcraft by Gerald Gardner and Cecil Williamson?

      • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

        I like NeoPaganism, but I use Bonewits’ definitions: Paleo- = ancient, Meso- = Revivalist/Christian-influenced and often with a tendency to monotheism, Neo- = polytheistic and consciously independent of Christianity. By those definitions, reconstructionists and devotional Pagans are firmly in the Neo- camp, and indeed I consider myself to be all three of those things.


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