A Brand-New Paganism

I spend a lot of time thinking about the differences between the many different traditions and forms of Paganism. It’s a lot to think about!

You may think we're all the same, but we're really quite different, and some of us have fabulous headdresses...

One of the differences that keeps popping up in conversations, and causing some crossed wires and deep pondering, is Paganism that is completely new and invented. Now, that’s not a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong. What you practice is your own business. But it’s a very different strain of Paganism, and it’s a thread that walks to the beat of its own drum.

This encompasses a lot of different traditions, from non-theistic nature religion that breaks ties with the past and looks towards the future, to people who have altars dedicated to Tolkien’s Gandalf. These are people who either have no interest in the past, or who eschew the baggage of the ancestors and prefer to begin anew with clean hands and hearts.

I can understand the desire for a clean beginning. Who doesn’t have a bit of the past they’d love to leave behind? Some of us have left the past behind. We’ve left behind our hometowns. Left behind family that didn’t accept us. Left behind our childhood religion. Some of us have left behind our very birth names.

What I’m finding fascinating is that these new Paganisms, and those who consider themselves tightly bound to the past, use completely different languages. Though there is some superficial commonality, and some common terms and/or labels, these two strains of Paganism have very little in common with each other. They speak past each other, they spring from separate sources, and they are headed in very different directions.

I was watching How the Universe Works awhile back, and I found the idea that the galaxies are drifting away from each other fascinating. Although the Milky Way will crash into Andromeda in the future, such events will become increasingly rare as every galaxy drifts further and further apart. It’s curious to think about modern Paganism this way. Born out of a cultural reaction to an increasingly industrialized society, the various strains of Paganism have swirled closely together for decades, almost to the point that many cannot even see the divisions when they look at our overarching community. Yet, slowly and surely we are drifting apart.

The Heathens have been building a separate community for decades. Religio Romana has always prefferred to maintain its distance, and Hellenismos is not only very different from most of modern Paganism, but even is drawing lines of distinction between traditional Hellenismos and NeoPlatonism. Druids, although still very closely identified with the bulk of the modern Pagan community, are becoming more and more distinct, particularly in the expressions of the different traditions. Traditional Witchcraft has always had a tulmultuous relationship with Paganism-at-large, and some traditions have become so distinctly different from modern Paganism that it does both a disservice to conflate them. Kemeticists and Canaanite Recons have little to nothing in common with modern Paganism. TechMages, Discordians, Chaos Magicians, Ceremonial Magicians, Thelemites and Satanists are related to modern Paganism in the most tenuous way, even though influence has traveled in both directions between these communities.

I remember I began this blog with the notion that I could write it from a “generic Pagan” perspective. Very quickly I found that not only is there no such thing, but that trying to do so was dishonest and boring. Even so, I’m an advocate for inclusive “big picture” Paganism. At first I advocated a broader vision of Pagan identity because I felt that we were more visible and stronger when we banded together. However, as time passed I began to realize that the real advantage of identifying as a larger, umbrella movement is because we have the most to learn not from Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism, but from each other.

Recognizing this “new” Paganism and it’s different aims and language is critical if we are to learn from it. It’s not my path. I’m afraid I am too tied to the past, and too leery of idealism, or transcendentalism of any form, to practice that way. Yet I know I can learn from it things I do not yet know that I do not know, but to learn those things I have to make a place for this strain of Paganism at my table, listen to it and draw it into discussion.

One day we will have drifted so far apart that we will have as little to say to each other as a Coptic and Pentecostal. We need to learn from each other while we can. One of the new regular features for the Patheos Pagan Portal in 2012 will be a profile of different Pagans and different Paganisms. You could feature a different Pagan every week for a year and not run out of surprises.

Speaking of surprises, if you have a little money and time you can go on a cruise with Christopher Penczak and Raven and Stephanie Grimassi in January 2013! I cannot imagine any better vacation for a Witch than getting to nerd out over all things esoteric with these fine folks over a mai tai in the Caribbean. If you go on this trip be sure to let me know how it was and share pictures! I hope more Pagan authors and artists create specialty cruises in the future. Some of us just aren’t campers, and would prefer to drum around a pool while helpful staff keep our drinks topped off!

And on a final note, I am so happy Emerald Rose recorded Blue Mountain Rue. I’d heard them play it live for years and it’s really a fabulous song. I’ve listened to it several times this morning. It’s just really good stuff! I know they recorded it a couple of years ago, but it still feels new, and it makes me happy. So there!

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Melanie

    Great article.
    I would like to point out that all religions, even Paganism, was ” completely new and invented” by someone once.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      See, I don’t see that. It’s one of the biggest differences in Paganism today, as to whether or not religion is inspired or invented.

      • Lady GreenFlame

        ..and when it comes to spiritual matters, how does one define the difference between inspired or invented?

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

          I think the proof is in the pudding. One can invent a religion, placing all the spheres of heaven in their proper places, but cleverness and reason alone don’t inspire devotion.

          Besides, my soul tells me different. The Gods I reverence were not made by mortals. They are not mere servitors or helpful archetypes. They live and breathe and evolve.

          • Donna

            “The Gods I reverence were not made by mortals. They are not mere
            servitors or helpful archetypes. They live and breathe and evolve.”

            I think this is true, perhaps, of all Gods.  What I think is invented (over and over) are the systems humans put into place in order to relate to the Gods.  The God of Abraham did not build the Megachurch in the suburbs or Cathedral downtown, or the Mosque around the corner.   I think the Gods require different things from us at different times, and I think we require different things from each other at different times, and so new religions are invented or born, and old religions fade away. 

            The relationship and connection between the Gods and mankind is the soil of the garden and the religions that spring up are the (ever-changing) plants that grow in the garden soil. 

            I think what we’re doing within modern Paganism is re-organizing and re-doing religion.  People aren’t limited to communicating and organizing with the people in their immediate vicinity, and so many of us are  legally free to exercise the religion of our choice.  It’s inevitable that that combination of freedoms would lead to new ways of organizing and new ways of meeting the Gods. 

          • http://godisinthewind.com/ TerraSpiritus

            I absolutely agree. Especially with “What I think is invented (over and over) are the systems humans put into place in order to relate to the Gods. ”  I myself do not identify as Pagan, I ‘invented’ my own path, one that myself and a few others find work very well for us. As we have grown, our concepts and understanding of God/Divine/Gods etc has changed and as a result, the way we interact with deity, has evolved as well. My invention, I can assure you, was fully inspired by Divine intervention. 

    • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

      I would go the other direction and say that it is impossible to invent a completely new religion.  Every new religion is shaped by the possibilities and limitations of the religions in the milieu in which the new religion develops.  Siddhartha Gautama could never have founded Christianity in India, and Jesus could never have founded Buddhism in Judaea.  Culture evolves…and I suspect the punctuated equilibrium model describes cultural evolution as well as biological evolution.

      • http://godisinthewind.com/ TerraSpiritus

        “Every new religion is shaped by the possibilities and limitations of the religions in the milieu in which the new religion develops.  ” VERY well said.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the article. I “grew up” under the premise that all Pagans were my brothers and sister and we were to celebrate our diversity. But as you said that diversity is growing in many areas. This lends one much to think upon about the future of our religious and spiritual family of Pagans.

  • Zann Carter

    Will be looking forward to your future posts on this topic. We’ve just started a CUUPS chapter at my UU church, and taking a look at ‘…different Pagans and different Paganisms…’ seems particularly of interest to us.

  • Morgan Eckstein

    It reminds me of the differences that I am seeing between the “traditionalists” and the “recreationists” in the Golden Dawn (not my preferred terms for the two schools of thought) and the ever-widening gap between what the two schools think is important.

  • Chris Moore

    This is why I have been saying for a while that we, as Pagans, cannot base our collective alliance and unity and culture on belief.  We’ve seen what happens to religions that go down that path.  We must base our unity upon the culture and values that arise and accrue as time goes on.  Let me repeat: We will tear our loose federation apart if we start checking everyone’s creed at the door.  No one here has suggested this!  This is just a huge concern of mine.  I want my children to enjoy exposure to many Paganisms as they grow up in our community. 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I agree! My worry is that we have a tendency to assume everyone shares the same beliefs, values and goals, and then we alienate people we should be working with and learning from. I can’t think of anything worse than introducing the idea of orthodoxy or creedalism into Paganism, but I do think it’s important to reason out and discuss what we do believe.

  • LezlieKinyon

    Of course we are growing and there are (a lot) more people since the the days when the first books were written.   What we have to remember is that we are still a *tiny* minority and if – with that growth – we choose to splinter and focus on the differences, we will loose something really important and something that does set the overall Neo-Pagan movement apart from other spiritual traditions: we -collectively- have the ability to accept and celebrate our diversity, our individuality, and infinite creativity within the whole.  To set aside those differences and celebrate *together*.  Not just at the big festivals or when we do an ecumenical service, but all the time.   There will never (I sincerely hope) come a time when any of the traditions or paths become encampments glaring at one another over infinitesimal points of cosmology The vision I hope to engender with this posting is this: a dance of humans alternately disagreeing, agreeing, exploring, and celebrating one another.   We are stronger- and – a whole lot more *interesting* all together than we are  as individual groups. We need to keep singing together – all of our songs -

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Here’s the problem: “Setting aside differences” often means conforming to Wiccanate Paganism. If we don’t recognize our differences, then we don’t see how it’s inappropriate to expect a Heathen to participate in a ritual that goes against their values and beliefs. In reacquainting myself with Hellenic worship I found there are things I take for granted as a Wiccan that go completely against the grain of Hellenic values and practice.

      Too often, and I don’t mean to imply you are saying this, “setting aside differences and working together” can be taken as “shut up and conform.” There such a thing as tyranny of the masses, and eclectic inclusiveness can become a dogma of it’s own.

      • LezlieKinyon

        Definitely don’t agree with that  – either in practice nor in  the events I have – personally- been involved in planning.  Of course, I live in an area where  everyone has this cross-pollination- &-multiple affiliation-thing going (and, have has for many years now…)    In some large gathers, one year it’s NROOGD who takes the lead, the next it’s Reclaiming, and maybe CAW after that … and, now, there is a lovely SPARK community.   There *are* meeting places and points of agreement.  I’m just saying that we must (and always) at least try to celebrate one another.  
        I have lived int towns where this is not the case and – you notice – I don’t live there any longer.

        • http://www.facebook.com/eala.ban Éireann Lund Johnson

          Lezlie, I don’t view us as either individuals or one large mass but as separate groups with separate focal points, and I don’t think that means we have to be opposed to each other or unfriendly to each other, but I do think it means we would do best to respect our differences while maintaining friendly discourse.  Years ago I attended open pagan gatherings but I haven’t for a long time and have no interest in doing so any longer.  I prefer spending time with my own community and wish everyone else the best in theirs, or in the wider community, if that is where they are happiest.  Traditionally there wasn’t any such thing as ‘Pagans,’ there were separate tribal groups with their own traditions and gods and people, and I think it is more appropriate to view us today in the same light.  But I am all for being friendly from where I sit.  ‘Differences’ doesn’t have to mean ‘enemies.’ 

          • LezlieKinyon

            I believe that I said that.  We don’t have a disagreement here.   I am only saying that… well .. actually, Z. Budapest said it better than anyone to date when asked how the “Pagan Renaissance”  of the SF Bay Area happened, ” We went to each other’s parties.”   Later in the same interview she added, “The Witches got the reputation for throwing the best parties.” (She wasn’t just speaking of the Dianics at the time.)    (I have to add, Reclaiming’s annual Spiral Dance is one great party!)   (So as not to take up more space than reasonable, I blogged about this
            in response to your posting here: http://lezlie1.wordpress.com/spirituality-the-path-i-walk/.)

      • Guest

        “If we don’t recognize our differences, then we don’t see how it’s
        inappropriate to expect a Heathen to participate in a ritual that goes
        against their values and beliefs.”

        I have to admit this comment bothers me a little.  I was raised to always respect the religo/spiritual workings of others.  If invited to another’s ceremony or celebration you respected their ways and their gods in that rite.  This is our solidarity, the acceptance and open celebration of our differences.  I do not need to be a Heathen to respect and honor their ways when I am invited to their celebrations, and I would expect any other Pagan sister or brother to honor my ways when invited to my celebrations.

        What matters here is open dialog, plain and simple.  We honor each other and each others beliefs, if there is something in a ritual or ceremony that would be objectionable to someone then it is up to them to speak up, without fear of condemnation.

        So I guess what I am trying to say is that I do not feel it is inappropriate to invite a fellow Pagan (of a different path) to your ritual, that is an act of love and sharing.  It is up to your guest to decline the invitation if they feel they cannot participate, and up to both parties to accept this with no hard feelings.

        • http://godisinthewind.com/ TerraSpiritus

          Agreed. There is the Umbrella of Christianity, and amongst the different Christian traditions, there are many variances in worship. Some Christians don’t go to other Christian churches because it just doesn’t work for them. Same will be for Pagans/Wiccans . Ive gone to many large pagan events and one particular group might host it, in a manner that is completely not what I would normally do… different direction associations etc… and if one can not go through the event without feeling it is somehow going against their beliefs, then why be there? Skip the rit and show up for the party. As long as you aren’t being elitist about it, it’s not a big deal. Most people aren’t going to hold it against you.  Invite you you want, and if they arent comfy with your rit or feel the need to walk out, just let it roll of and be sure to smile and extend a hand of friendship when the rit is over.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    Diversity doesn’t bother me. But the one thing I hope doesn’t become the norm under the Pagan umbrella is the idea that the other guy is doing it “wrong.”

    I have seen mostly live-and-let-live at our eclectic Colorado gatherings, and there has been a lot of appreciation for paths that aren’t ours. I don’t think we are congenitally incapable of tolerance and mutual appreciation. It just takes a little work.

    I don’t begrudge the Evangelicals their mode of worship. It has little in common with anything I want to do, but that’s pretty much irrelevant.

    I don’t even begrudge the Evangelicals their civic activism. That can be a good thing, so long as it’s directed toward civic matters. If they want to pursue legislation to stop a major local polluter from trashing the aquifers the city uses, cool — I can stand with them. 

    It gets ugly when they start telling me — through law — what their God wants ME to do.

    I pick on the Evangelicals because they are one of the most egregious offenders of this stripe. Now if the Heathens started doing something similar, I’d be just as upset with the Heathens. Or the Gardnerian Wiccans. Or any of the other groups.

    Do you think that this divergence is going to necessarily lead to attempts at hostile takeovers of civic culture? Or do you thing we can diverge and evolve into different species of religion and form a healthy, viable, diverse ecosystem?

  • Goodgirl:)

    What a great blog! just came on it. I love this line “Some of us just aren’t campers, and would prefer to drum around a pool “! love it!!!