Fantastic and Perceptive Post by John C. Wright

…on what he admires about paganism and neopaganism–and where the fatal flaws are, particularly in the latter.

And that is the main difference between the neopagans and the pagans. The pagans are pre-Christian, men who, by force of imagination alone, attempt to plumb the depth of the mystery of the divine, and who, in addition to many vile and terrible practices and grotesque superstitions, from time to time also illume with striking clarity the sorrow of this world and the joyous and terrible weight of awe which reaches beyond the world.

You see, the neopagans are not pagans. Neopagans believe in the modern therapeutic view of the world, as if life’s problems are merely an illness which can be solved, perhaps with help from the divine nurses and physicians of the mystic Otherworld, by meditating or by dancing naked among the trees, either in this life or some hither cycle of reincarnation.  This is a modern and optimistic view, and deeply shallow.

There are no Vestal Virgins among the neopagans, and I would delight in the irony of seeing neopagans indulging in ancestor worship, paying divine honors to their Christian great-grandfathers and mothers.

The pagans, in contrast, think life tragic, and they preach resignation to what cannot be solved. Those who are shocked that I and other Christians list Buddhists among the pagans underestimate the resignation and self-abnegation and Stoic despair that pervades the thinking of the Enlightened One.  It is a profoundly pessimistic view.

Buddhism is not as pessimistic as materialism, however, which preaches that all human thought is matter in motion, which stops when the motion stops, and all human accomplishment ends in obliteration, and all worlds end in entropy. There is not even a re-absorption of an illusion of “self” back into the world-soul of Nirvana for the materialist.  For at least the Buddha hoped for freedom from the illusion of self with the extinction of selfhood. The materialist preaches that the illusion that you exist and have free will and think cannot be broken, cannot end save in death, which is perfect extinction. Atheism is subpagan, and even subneopagan.

Christianity is outrageously pessimistic about this world and this life, and outrageously optimistic about the next. Christians do not believe heaven on earth is possible, and that attempts to create it lead to hell on earth; but we believe in heaven in heaven is possible for those who are saved from hell in hell.

The main metaphysical difference between pagans and neopagans is that neopagans — at least the ones of my personal acquaintance, and I do not know if they are typical — think they get to choose their gods.

They think — at least if I understand them, which perhaps I do not — that the act of worship activates and awakens and shapes the god or his manifestations. The divine energy is like a river, and whatever pantheon you select is like the vessels of different shapes which the sacred fluid of divinity fills, so that the god will come in the shape you select.

For the modern witch, the only truth is that there is no truth, merely narratives, including a pagan narrative that you have selected for yourself on aesthetic or therapeutic grounds. You believe in Isis on Friday and Odin on Wednesday and Cernunnos the Horned Man on Monday because you want to and it helps you. And on the Sabbath you believe in a combination of Theosophy and Taoism and Tantric magic.

This view implies a metaphysical theory, and, as is typical and unique to modernity, this theory places the will of the observer as the paramount determiner of the nature of reality: you make your own life and you make your own reality. Why not make your own gods?

The belief that nothing exists except for the willpower of man to make what he wishes of the chaos of the cosmos is nihilism, the absence of belief in ultimate reality. I do not mean the word as an insult; I am using it in a technical sense, for no other word will do. It is the defining belief of postmodern and ultra-relativistic thought.

The neopagans are post-Christians who are attempting to baptize their postmodern and metaphysically nihilist world view in the sacred images and names of the Old Gods so as to leave them with the indulgent and avuncular gods who are more like Santa Claus than Odin, and goddesses who, unlike Vesta, never insist upon virginity.

The neopagans believe in “live and let live” not because any real pagans ever believed that, but because Christendom, believing in the unique worth of the individual and the voluntary nature of obedience to God, believe in a private conscience beyond the reach of secular power, and made that belief popular.

And now the the neopagans, raised in a large Christian society with Christian philosophical assumptions in their intellectual background, want the tasty pudding of the Christendom without eating the meat of the Church’s strictly rational  theology, the potatoes of her spiritual discipline of its contemplative life, and the vegetables of its strict morality.

Neopaganism is Christianity without the starch. It is lax Christianity for a relaxed generation.

They sit at the shining feast table of the Christian intellectual universe, and, ravenous with spiritual starvation, dare not eat the substance, lest their eyes be opened, and so they feast on scented shadows, echoes, and dim reflections.

The dude can write.  No wonder I’m a member of the Wright/Shea Mutual Admiration Society.

Fun in the comboxes too.

  • Rosemarie

    +J.M.J+

    >>>For the modern witch, the only truth is that there is no truth, merely narratives, including a pagan narrative that you have selected for yourself on aesthetic or therapeutic grounds. You believe in Isis on Friday and Odin on Wednesday and Cernunnos the Horned Man on Monday because you want to and it helps you.

    Well, sorta. Neo-paganism’s approach to the various pantheons of Paleo-paganism seems to be dictated by Dion Fortune’s aphorism: “All gods are one god. All goddesses are one goddess.”

    Wicca-influenced Neo-pagans believe in two main deities: the Great Goddess and her son and consort, the Horned God. They see all the goddesses (a term they define broadly to include female orishas like Oshun, bodhissatvas like Kuan Yin, maybe even Catholic saints like Mary) of the world as various “faces” of the Great Goddess. Similarly, all the gods of the world may be seen as “faces” of the Horned God, though Yahweh at least usually seems to be left out of that equation.

    Now, they typically invite the god and goddess (often referred to as the Lord and Lady) to their circle toward the beginning of a ritual. Many Neo-pagans, particularly “solitaries,” feel free to pick and choose whichever god and goddess they like from any pantheon to represent the Lord and Lady in their present ritual, since after all they’re all just manifestations of the one god and goddess. So yes, in this situation mixing and matching of various pantheons can go on.

    Also, they feel free to invoke any goddess for any situation, sometimes even modern made-up ones like Asphalta, the goddess who helps find parking spaces. (The prayer: “Goddess Asphalta, Full of Grace,
    Help me find a Parking space,” was blatantly ripped-off from a folk Catholic prayer to Mary for a parking space)

    Note, however, that not all Neo-pagans like this practice. Reconstructionists will stick to the pantheon of the Paleo-pagan religion that they are trying to reconstruct and be critical of the free-wheeling style of some other Neo-pagans. Even some syncretic Neo-pagans believe that the “pick and choose” approach can be disrespectful toward the Paleo-pagan traditions and that one should at least choose deities from the same pantheon for the same ritual.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      O.o
      Someone who gets it, and knows what’s actually going on. Did I wander into the wrong section of Patheos?

      • Rosemarie

        +J.M.J+

        Thanks. As a Catholic I disagree with many elements of Neo=paganism yet I have read up on it and try to understand it. One thing I’ve found is that it’s pretty diverse so generalizations are difficult.

        I think the Neo-paganism described in the quote above seems closest to solitary Wicca, which can be quite eclectic depending on the tastes of the individual practitioner. Dianic Wicca is also syncretic, though that tends to ignore the Horned God, practicing a kind of monotheaism. OTOH, Gardnarian and other initiatic forms of Wicca might not be so freewheeling, at least from what I gather.

        • http://www.sff.net/people/john-c-wright/ John C Wright

          Because of the diversity of pagan belief and neopagan belief, the writer (me) was careful to mention and to emphasize that I was only speaking of the Witches he knows personally, namely, a friend from lawschool I used to live with, whose coven I used to visit, at whose pagan marriage ceremony I was one of the grooms; and a pretty young girl who used to share a house with my family; and a charity case, her nonboyfriend and her cat I inviting to live in my basement rent free for several months. The claim that I don’t know what I am talking about is hard to support. At that point in my life, I knew more witches and more intimately than I knew Christians.

          Not to sound argumentative, but the narrative of the Great Mother and her son and consort the Horned Man or the Green Man is merely one of several narratives the witches of my acquaintance used. When I asked them about their metaphysical or theological belief, the answer I got was the one I reported.

          Now, if there is a difference between the analogy of a differently shaped vessel holding the same divine waters and the analogy of a different mask hiding the same multifaceted face, I cannot perceive it.

          • Rosemarie

            +J.M.J+

            Some Neo-pagans may simply see the various goddesses as different names of the one Goddess reflecting different aspects of her being or actions. Something not unlike how we call Blessed Mother by various titles: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, etc. They are different titles from different parts of the Christian world, with different iconography associated with each. Yet they all refer to the same person, Mary the Mother of Jesus.

            We sometimes even invoke her under these various titles for various purposes. For instance, when praying for pro-life matters we address her as Our Lady Guadalupe. When praying for healing we may call her Our Lady of Lourdes. When praying for safety while traveling by car, we say, “Our Lady of the Highways, pray for us.” For safety while traveling by plane: “Our Lady of Loreto, pray for us.” Praying for the USA: “Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States….” Yet we know we are not invoking different saints, but the one and only Holy Mary, Mother of God.

            Maybe some Neo-pagans see their practice the same way. Granted, one could argue that we remain within our own Catholic Faith while they draw willy-nilly from a variety of religions around the world, both living and dead, of which they are not adherents, and that they are interpreting the various goddesses in a way that these religions would most likely not recognize. Yet don’t you think there is a certain similarity here?

            • Rosemarie

              +J.M.J+

              As an example of what I’m talking about, I refer you to the Charge of the Goddess, a popular text used by Wiccans. It begins as follows:

              “Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Dana, Arianrhod, Isis, Bride, and by many other names….”

              Note that the one “Great Mother” is said to have been called by many names – which are in fact the names of different goddesses from various ancient pagan religions. Whether the ancient worshipers of these divinities would have agreed that they are really just different names of one being is debatable, yet that is apparently how Wiccans view it.

          • kenneth

            So having once known one Wiccan guy and his friends, you have everything you need to make a valid judgment about the personal beliefs and practices of many hundreds of thousands of people and to authoritatively proclaim that neopagnism “isn’t real.” That’s a hell of an accomplishment, given that the tapestry of neopagan religions has become so varied that our own movement is on the brink of chucking the “pagan” name even as a generic umbrella descriptor. What you’re doing – making sweeping conclusions from one anecdote, isn’t scholarship. Even American schools make their kids build some sort of a case with more than one piece of evidence. Based on your method, it would be fair game for me to pronounce Christianity a vapid spirituality because I once knew some who were “in name only” and attended Mass once a year to keep the grandparents happy. If you had once roomed with James Holmes, you could write a hell of a piece about how he is what white youth culture and higher education are all about! I mean, if you had a jaded view about those things to start with, one anecdotal piece of evidence is as good as another.

            If you think neopagan traditions have no concept of inevitability, of tragedy, of fate or pessimism, it is because you have chosen not to look for them, or simply discounted a lot of inconvenient evidence. The “white light and rainbows” versions of eclectic Wicca that sells 101 books to 15-year-old escapists is not, by far, the sum of what neopaganism is about. The Celtic, Germanic, Nordic and Hellenic mythologies which deeply inform many of us, are full to the brim of pessimism, stoicism and fate. For just one example, look up “wyrd” sometime. For many of us, our inspire us to take the lead in our own lives, yes. Initiative, cunning, boldness and will are part of that. A bigger part is learning to bear up under life’s setbacks, accept responsibility for the problems we bring on ourselves, and even to die well.

            Lastly, why should it be the least ironic for us to honor our Christian ancestors? They lived out this wonderful, terrible existence as best they knew how and as their minds and hearts called them to do. They are always honored in our rituals.

            • Ye Olde Statistician

              given that the tapestry of neopagan religions has become so varied that our own movement is on the brink of chucking the “pagan” name even as a generic umbrella descriptor.

              This eternal fractal-ing and portentous self-naming of sects reminds me a great deal of the fractal nature of self-proclaimed activist organizations back in the 60s, when one could behold the diversity represented by the SDS, the Weathermen, CPUSA, CAWVN, SLP, SWP, and all the rest. Although quite often the memberships of these various groups overlapped enough that when they joined hands they were often clapping their own hands together.
              This has nothing to do with sincerity of belief. If anything, the 60s activists had sincerity dripping from their pores, and they also had Marcusian-variant Marxian thought to guide them. (Of course, that was New Left, not Old Left; and there was at least one incident in Madison, Wisc., in which the local Old Lefty commies called up the cops to break up a demonstration by New Lefty socialists. But what the hey.) Nor does it mean there were no issues of importance on which they took impassioned stands on the right side of history.
              But there is something in the heart of men that delights in excruciating taxonomy and fine distinctions of nuance. It helps define who is “in the know.” But eventually the endless distinctions implode the Gnosis onto the self. Thus, Trots could be dismissive of mere Stalinists and Maoists would in turn dismiss the Trots (who later became the first neocons), and everyone was down on the DeLeonists as well as on running dog revisionist lackeys. Betimes, the distinctions between the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, and the Socialist Labor Party might be lost on the casual observer, but found existential importance to the practitioners of the beliefs. All this finds familiar echo in the taxonomy described above of modern hobby-paganism. Or for that matter in ordering coffee at a trendy bistro.

              • kenneth

                The ability to draw distinctions and acknowledge complexity is a sign that a writer has done some research and that their work might have something worth reading, engaging and responding to. Distinctions in neopaganism are real, and they are just as important as distinctions in Christianity, if one wants to say anything intelligent about them.

                Tarring all of modern paganism as Ecletic Wicca Lite is no different, at all, than declaring Westboro Baptist, the Legion of Christ or Catholics for Choice as emblematic of Christianity as a whole. Both are self-satisfying to those who want to write all-heat-and-no-light polemics, but they contribute nothing substantive to any debate and have no power to persuade anyone, even sympathetic audiences who evaluate arguments and evidence with reason.

                • Ye Olde Statistician

                  My goodness, the distinctions among radicals in the 60s were just as genuine – and convoluted – and objectively more important. Putting a Trot and a Stalinist in the same room was often problematical, to say the least, but the Movement actually accomplished a great deal — both for good and for ill — during the collapse of the Modern Ages.
                  The making of distinctions can be very useful. The world needs splitters and joiners. But it is more useful in matters objectively real than in ever-involuting spirals of self-distinction. A sodium atom really is different from a sodium ion, even though the difference is one measly little electron; and surrealism really is distinct from impressionism. Look at philosophy since Descartes, each new school starting with a critique of its predecessor; or for that matter, the decadence of the Schools in the Late Medieval period. Who, other than a specialist, can really distinguish between a late Scotist and late Thomist today? And yet the distinctions were of utmost moment to those who made them. It was often impossible for an outsider to distinguish one socialist from another Back in the Day even though the two socialists in question might regard each other as night regards the day. Sometimes the distinction rested on no more than the use of a single term. (The expression “politically correct” originated in this context, describing the usages approved by the central committee or its equivalent.)
                  Much of the turmoil and persecution in the ancient pagan world erupted when some foreign cult was actually conceived of as foreign rather than merely some funny-accented riff on the True Roman culti. The great witch hunts described by Livy are a case in point. The cultus of Bacchus had been in Rome for centuries; but at some point the Romans blinked and said, “Whoa, this really is NOT a foreigner version of Liber Pater! Then it was Nelly-bar-the-door as witches were crucified or fled the City.
                  Intriguingly, distinctions in Christianity are less vital. Roughly 67% of all Christians are either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic, and there is little practical difference between them.
                  Would you point to North Korea as an example of distinctions in democratic or republican governance? After all, they call themselves a “democratic republic.” If not, then why bother with Westboro “Baptist” “Church,” which in its love for homosexuals more nearly resembles the pagan Roman Republic. But that is all due to a quite different Late Modern mental disease: the notion that truth is merely a narrative each person makes up for himself, as our host has said. If you assume that there is no such real thing as a republic, then North Korea may call itself a republic and it is just as valid as the Icelandic republic or the Roman res publica or the Swiss Federation. If you assume that there is no such real thing as a Christian, then any sad group at odds with the culture and desirous of acting out its fantasies may call itself a “Christian Church” and it is just as valid as those going back for two millennia.

    • David French

      Sounds like Game of Thrones . . . Who’s the High Septon?

      • Jmac

        Technically, worship of the seven was still monotheistic, although pretty much everyone in the series was too busy killing each other to worry about the finer points of theology (except for Davos and Melisandre, I guess) [/nerd]

        Anyway, I thought everyone knew Tom Cruise was the High Septon?

    • http://www.SwanseaAcupuncture.net Dr. Eric

      Prior to the Nestorian mission to China during the Tang dynasty, Guan Yin was a male.

      • Rosemarie

        +J.M.J+

        True, but I think he was said to appear to his devotees in various forms, including female ones to female devotees. These feminine forms eventually became quite popular and are perhaps the most well-known in the West.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          In Greek the Holy Spirit or Hagia Sophia is feminine.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Did you guys hurt each other, patting yourselves on the back too hard for your ‘insightful’ deconstruction of neopagans, or do you just cackle madly at the silly liberal plebs who ‘play’ at reconstructing what Christianity has attempted to eradicate?

    • Ted Seeber

      It’s worse than that- we laugh at the silly liberal plebs who *FAIL* at reconstructing what Catholicism has attempted to *PRESERVE*. Everything good in paganism, exists in Catholicism. There is nothing worthwhile in paganism that does NOT exist in Catholicism.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        So because you took an apple and made a pie out of it, I can’t enjoy just an apple any more, I can only eat pie?
        Of course we fail at reconstruction. It took the Church nearly 400 years to get it’s own act together, and we’ve been at it less than 100. Kind of harsh, I should think.

        • Ted Seeber

          It’s more like: We took an apple, added cinamon, sugar, pie crust, and even made it ala mode for you, and are offering it to you for free, but instead you’re taking the rotten apple off the ground, grinding it up, making applesauce, passing it through the digestive system of a civet cat, charging $1000 for it, and calling it *better*.

          That’s a *FAIL* in my book. And the proof- well, when was the last time you met a pagan who hadn’t been divorced or didn’t have major relationship problems dealing with either the same or the opposite sex, due directly to their own libertine attitudes of what feels good and consequential-ism about what does harm?

          I also still think the Witch in Carman’s MTV-era Christian Music Video, which he named Isaac Horowitz, was a thinly veiled insult pointed at Isaac Bonewitz.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            It’s not our fault you can’t see the beauty in a fresh apple (or do you have an unnatural fear of apples, being devout Christian?). Also, we’re not the one charging anything: Pagans don’t tithe, that’s a Christian thing, although I gotta admit, it certainly looks to rake in the money.

            As to your highly spun and biased question…hm…every day when I look in the mirror? Last week meeting my good friend for dinner? Next month at the Tennessee gathering? Yes to all, you pompous twit.

            Hey, just a hint: NO ONE CARES ABOUT A VEILED INSULT TO BONEWITZ. DROP IT ALREADY. KTHXBYE.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Actually, it took the pagans nearly 400 years to stop trying to eradicate them.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            You mean it took 400 years to wipe out the dissenters and they could stop killing each other and focus on the pagans? It’s not like the early Christians were…ahem…angels about the whole thing either.

            • Rosemarie

              +J.M.J+

              No, the pagan Romans were killing Christians for the first 400 years of Christianity’s existence. Christians didn’t have the power or authority at that point to execute heretics. And no, the focus was not on killing pagans but making them disciples of Christ.

    • kenneth

      Mostly what they do is reveal a raging insecurity with their own faith. Many Christians have staked a claim for their religion which says it is the only valid and worthwhile one, and that it is self-evident to anyone of good will who has half a brain .

      A huge part of their proof of inherent superiority in their eyes is their assertion that Christianity completely and irrevocably superseded and vanquished pagan religion for all time. It’s revival/resurgence/redsicovery/recreation in any form, the merest possibility that people could be finding meaning and happiness in it, is an absolutely intolerable challenge to their position.

      This re-opening of what they have declared a settled matter for 15 centuries or so, any admission at all that modern paganism is in any way authentic, or that it can lead anyone to spiritual growth in any way, is more than an embarrassment to hardcore Christian apologists. It calls into question the validity of their entire enterprise, in their mind. It threatens the regime in a way unlike that of secular materialism or atheism or even the persistence of Buddhism or Hinduism. Wright can afford to throw a salute to the latter as “real” pagans because Christendom never claimed total victory over those religions in the way it did over Western paganism.

      We, on the other hand, are a problem that cannot be allowed to persist. Without the state power to crush us as they once would have with Theodosius or Charlemagne or the Inquisition, they’re left with slander campaigns. They have to stay on message at all times that we are nothing but deluded hippies, nihilists, losers, libertines, because the alternative is unthinkable. If they truly believed there was no substance to neopaganism, if they believed in their heart of hearts any of the lies they tell about us, if they believed in the unassailable logic and self-evident superiority of their own faith they would not dedicate a thousandth of the effort they put into trying to discredit us. Nobody spends resources engaging an enemy they don’t take seriously.

      • Ted Seeber

        Catholicism doesn’t supersede REAL pagan religions- It absorbs them. Nostra Aetate explains the process.

        • kenneth

          The rise of Protestantism demonstrates an open question within Christianity itself of who absorbed who. That question is part of the central premise of Protestant Christianity, second only to the dispute over papal authority and ecclesiastic corruption at the time of its birth.

          • Jmac

            Not sure why you decided to bring that up, it’s obviously not an open question around here. As the old adage goes: “To be immersed in history is to cease to be protestant.”

      • Jared

        As Catholics, we talk about everything. (If Marc Barnes can write on the Theological value of Pokemon, there’s no topic that is irrelevant to the Church). This is done partially to educate Catholics, but also to bring the faith to neopagans.

        The last thing the original pagans did was ask to be baptized. The last the neopagans will do is ask for confession when they come home.

  • Dan C

    I disagree that Christianity is pessimistic. I think today’s more pious Christians are pessimistic but that is not necessarily the religion’s views.

    One can say this is a Puline-type “ways of this world” comment. Eh.

    What is needed is our profound optimism. St. Catherine has said “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Thaat is worth meditating upon. It is deeper and profound than is brevity suggests. Such a spiritual view is optimistic. One can just suppose this is due to the Presence of Christ and that all is is to be understood as the Buddha as transitory and a source of pain and loss and regret.

    Merton Has a reflection on how he is thrilled to be “like other men” which comes to him at a corner in Lousiville.

    The Liturgy of the Hours every morning has the reader praising and thanking God for the world.

    This is the world in which one reflexively responds to matters with a pessmism. The Christian Eeyore is an overdone role in today’s world. For those whose appeal needs to be authoritative, the papal call for New Evangelization has little room for a pessimism.

    The Christian finds joy and love (heaven) in his life on Earth.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      Yes, Wright does seem unduly pessimistic about the present life. More balanced. and I think more accurate, has been the view of Gerald Vann, O.P., in his book The Heart of Man (third chapter):
      “The young especially need to be told … that in order to open their eyes and hearts, God may lead them near to heartbreak; but they need to be told, too, of the deep abiding happiness and the moments of dazzling glory, of the joys that will come to them, not in the next world only when their troubles are over, but in this world too.”

  • David K. Monroe

    Mark, thank you for introducing me to John C. Wright through your posts about him here. I now read his blog every day and it’s one of the best of the best. And I find the conversation between you and him to be one of the most fascinating on the internet.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I’d never read that poem by Lewis before. Great stuff, and eminently learned. Same goes for Wright’s article.

    • kenneth

      “Eminently learned”? Lewis and Chesterton would weep if they saw the state of Catholic apologetics today. It’s gone off a cliff. As cloying as I sometimes find their all-too-pithy quotes, those guys actually did some research on their subject material before spouting off.

      The high water mark in the Patheos Catholic engagement of neopaganism has been circular logic based on personal bias. “I always knew neopaganism sucked. I once knew a neopagan who struck me as flaky and had marital problems. That proves neopaganism is all the same, and sucks. Booyah!”

      I should note that I’m not upset by this. If I could, I’d give Wright and others like him their own slot on prime time network television. I welcome people to take the true measure of this message, and of the scholarship behind it, and then weigh that, for themselves, against the full story of who we are and what we’re about.

      • Jared

        Kenneth, if you don’t mind my asking, what is it that you actually believe? And what is neopaganism as a whole?

      • ivan_the_mad

        ” Lewis and Chesterton would weep if they saw the state of Catholic apologetics today.”

        Kenneth, there are very few ways you could have said “I am utterly ignorant of and unable to grasp the thought of these two men” than that.

  • Julie

    “I would delight in the irony of seeing neopagans indulging in ancestor worship, paying divine honors to their Christian great-grandfathers and mothers.”

    An interesting comment from Wright as this is one of the main stumbling blocks I had when I was a neopagan (now about to enter RCIA as a Catholic.) I was not Wiccan but leaned much more towards a Heathen (of the Germanic sort) type of spirituality. Part and parcel of that world view is a deep veneration and honor of one’s ancestors. That’s what drew me to it initially. I wanted to be part of the religion of “my people.” But the plain fact is, for as far back as I can trace my family tree, all of my ancestors–my people–were Christian and most of those Catholic. It’s true I have roots in Europe and obviously at some point my ancestors were pagan but I don’t know who they are or where they really came from. And there are so many gaps in our knowledge that even reconstructionists, who are committed to worshiping in as authentic manner as they can, have to fill in those massive gaps with speculation and personal opinion.

    I thought I might be able to get away with honoring my Christian ancestors in a pagan way but realized quickly that this would be an insult to them and to their faith. This lead me to look more into what their faith was and I found the Truth there. It’s one of the reasons I converted.

    I agree also that modern neo-paganism is colored by a Christian world-view. Not all that surprising when you realize that Gerald Gardner’s Wicca was influenced (some would say quite heavily) by ceremonial magic and occultism of the Golden Dawn/Hermetic type (and by everyone’s favorite beast Alistair Crowley and his Thelema) which was built upon a Judeo-Christian framework. Some of the concepts used in Gardnerian Wiccan ritual come right from John Dee’s “Enochian” writings, which were absolutely Judeo-Christian in nature, though admittedly kooky. I would argue that modern neopaganism as we know it (particularly in the US and Britain) would not exist if not for Gardner and Wicca. So the influences continue to flow downward.

    And besides all that, the fact is that most of us in the West were raised in cultures steeped in Christian history and symbolism would not be able to escape it completely. It will seep in. Some are trying their best to remove such influences but it’s there regardless.

    “For the modern witch, the only truth is that there is no truth, merely narratives, including a pagan narrative that you have selected for yourself on aesthetic or therapeutic grounds. You believe in Isis on Friday and Odin on Wednesday and Cernunnos the Horned Man on Monday because you want to and it helps you. And on the Sabbath you believe in a combination of Theosophy and Taoism and Tantric magic.”

    I would however disagree with this. Though that attitude still prevails in some circles, there has been quite a backlash against it in the pagan community over the last decade or so. Not all modern neopagans have this pick-and-choose attitude towards divinity and will tell you that they worship very distinct, separate gods and give the side-eye to anyone who tries to mix pantheons or appropriate from other cultures. Reconstructionists in particular have tried hard to fight against the tide of “make it up as you go along” neopaganism. (One could argue, quite successfully I think, that they’re making a lot of up as THEY go along, too, but that’s a different fight.) It’s probably not much of a distinction to a Christian but it’s become quite a touchy subject among pagans.

    • Ted Seeber

      In another thread, when Mark was arguing with a pagan and noticed he had a very liberal, modernist attitude towards sexual liberty, I said “Oh, he’s a PROTESTANT Pagan”.

      What you seem to be describing I’d call a “FUNDAMENTALIST Pagan”- though it has *got* to be hard ever since the loss of the library of Alexandria (any given revision, near as I can tell it burnt three times and finally was tilted into the sea when the Nile Delta changed course). Perhaps the opening of the the Vatican Archives will give them more ammo, in a couple of centuries when the historians and archaeologists dig their way down to those records (last I heard, the official cataloging only went back to the 1200s or so).

      • Julie

        Heh, yeah, it’s kind of interesting to note the various “schisms” among pagan groups. It all looks so familiar, right down to the disunity and disorganization that occurs when everyone becomes their own high priest/ess, beholden to no one and nothing other than their own desires.

        • kenneth

          It’s a good thing Christianity never had any schisms or disunity, or spilled enough blood over such theological divisions to float Cromwell’s navy….

          • ivan_the_mad

            The sonic boom you heard was the point flying right over your head.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Cromwell — English. Irish — Irish. No further hypothesis is needed. As the old joke ran, “If the king of England woke up Hindu, the Irish would be facing Mecca by nightfall.” No one ever went over the top from the trenches crying “Transubstantiation and the Triune God!” Although they did do so crying “Hapsburg” or “Bourbon” or “Down with the King!”

            Fact is, once the State had reduced religion to lapdog “established churches” the whole matter simply became a surrogate for political loyalty.

  • JB

    So two pagans are stirring a big pot of boiling water with a clown in it, and the one pagan says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Actually, no, it isn’t.

      • Ted Seeber

        Boy, between Kenneth and Vision_From_So_Far_Away_I_Can’t_Even_See_My_Own_Brain, the utter lack of understanding just writes it’s own comedy, doesn’t it?

        • kenneth

          Boy, that’s a meaty point-by-point piece of argumentation if I ever heard one. Any neopagan who persists in their folly after this withering oratory and airtight logic is beyond hope. At least we can say we were whupped by the best…

          • Vision_From_Afar

            When was that, Ken?

        • Vision_From_Afar

          Boy-howdy, bucko! That’s the longest, least-efficient insult I’ve ever had done with my name. You really hurt my feelings there.
          Your immaturity does, however, seem to lend itself to a form of comedy not unlike skateboarders repeatedly crotch-planting on a pole, unable or unwilling to move on…

  • Ted Seeber

    I agree with everything John wrote on the Pagans. But I’m not at all sure I agree with him on the Pessimism of the Christians (or for that matter, even the Catholics). You see, there’s the problem of the Saints- those who seem to find Heaven on Earth in this life, who live such lives of shining virtue that even the pessimistic Church is forced to declare that by their virtue they were allowed to skip purgatory. Oh, there’s a virtual purgatory involved, especially in this age of the Pharisee, of a whole bunch of paperwork and research to do taking decades, sometimes even centuries. But that is after the fact and the Saint experiences none of it.

    It is perfectly possible to find Hell on Earth; it is equally possible to find Heaven on Earth, but most of us are still going to be muddling through Purgatory for a lot of time after our physical bodies are buried.

  • SouthCoast

    Gads! I would have thought it would be statisticallly impossible, but I’ve finally found a combox convocation in which every participant is profoundly wrong about every other participant.

  • Tom R

    >”But one way to tell whether my Protestant friends are right is to ask whether any of my witch friends have drawn a magic circle or raised a sacred athame and chanted to Diana for the salvation of my soul, or my reincarnation into higher-energy astral plane?”

    Interesting. Traditional Catholics are “Calvinists” because they are harsher towards non-practising homosexuals than Mark’s interpretation of the Catholic Tradition warrants. But the Marian cult cannot be “pagan” because it has some points of difference from Graeco-Roman polytheism.

    I have long given up trying to call Mark out on his use of differently-size yardsticks (“Abuses by Catholics do not invalidate the proper use, but abuses by non-Catholics reveal the inevitable evil inherent in the very DNA of Non-Catholicism”, etc), because apparently that’s “denominational point-scoring” (in a way that blogging numerous variations on “Public school teacher molests students, confirms Catholicism’s status as One True Church” is apparently not), but Mr Wright is only a recent convert to Rome and so still within the Dreher Window. Come out again, John C Wright, it’s not too late; your feet may be wet in the Tiber but your toes won’t have started to crinkle yet.

    • Mark Shea

      Hard to count all the non sequiturs and falsehoods here. Could you limit yourself to one at a time. Prescinding from the fact that the (obvious) point about public school teachers is not that their abuses confirm the truth of the Faith, but the stupidity of blaming abuse on celibacy, could you document where I say that abuses by non-Catholics reveal the inevitable evil inherent in the very DNA of Non-Catholicism?

      Or, alternatively could you refrain from these periodic rhetorical meltdowns on behalf of your need to shriek against the Church and rant incoherently?

      Thank you.


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