Building a Truly Pagan Culture

Building a Truly Pagan Culture July 16, 2023

I’m always amused when religious or political conservatives claim that the United States or the West or the whole world is “becoming Pagan again.” They show their ignorance about Paganism, both ancient and modern. What they usually mean is that their part of the world is becoming more tolerant and accepting, and that their version of Christianity is losing its cultural dominance.

I wish all the people who are leaving Christianity were becoming Pagan. They aren’t. They’re becoming “none of the above” – neither Christian nor Pagan nor atheist, but something highly individual and unaffiliated. So be it.

But what if they were right? What if we really were becoming a Pagan society?

I’m not talking about governments and policies. Those things are important, but here I’m talking about individuals and small groups: what we value, what we do, how we live. Conservatives like to say “politics is downstream from culture.” I think that’s right, even if they don’t practice what they preach.

So, what would a contemporary Pagan culture look like?

photo by John Beckett

A Pagan culture would honor our diversity

Politics may be downstream from culture, but culture is downstream from theology. That makes you wonder which God some conservatives are worshipping, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Pagans are, for the most part, polytheists. We acknowledge that there are many Gods, and we worship, work for, and work with Them in many different ways.

Downstream from the diversity of the Gods is the diversity of humans: many different people – both individuals and communities – who have many different ways of living and being. There is no room for prejudice and bigotry in a Pagan culture, because we understand that different people are simply different.

Unfortunately, we have a problem with prejudice and bigotry in the Pagan community – and it’s not just some of the Heathens. To say they aren’t really Pagan is a No True Scotsman fallacy. I can’t say they’re not Pagans – I can say they’re doing Paganism wrong.

Because a truly Pagan culture accepts, honors, and celebrates our diversity.

A Pagan culture would honor our interconnectedness

Some Pagans are pantheists who see the Divine in all things. Others are animists who see all things not as things but as persons. Some are both. We all understand that life on Earth evolved once – go back far enough and we all share a common ancestor. Go back further and we see how the universe was once compressed into an infinitely small point – all the stars and planets come from that point.

We all come from the same source. We are all connected.

And because we are all connected, we understand that what we do impacts everyone and everything else.

A Pagan culture understands we’re all in this together.

A Pagan culture would practice hospitality

There are many virtues. Perhaps the greatest virtue is hospitality: providing for the needs of others, especially travelers, especially those who are traveling because they can no longer remain where they were.

This was better understood in ancient times, when accommodations were few and far between. Turning a traveler away was tantamount to saying “I don’t care if you live or die.” Many cultures had elaborate rules for both hosts and guests. Odin and Zeus were known to disguise Themselves as lowly travelers, to test the hospitality of Their people.

In our time, we have outsourced hospitality. There’s a whole “hospitality industry” of hotels and restaurants. Caring for refugees has become the responsibility of governments, not individuals. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is another topic for another time. This post isn’t about political policy.

But there are always people – strangers and friends alike – who need help with this or that, and ways we can provide it. Not always without inconvenience, but in ways we can make a difference.

A truly Pagan culture would practice hospitality.

photo by John Beckett

A Pagan culture would practice reciprocity

If hospitality is Virtue 1, reciprocity is Virtue 1A. Reciprocity says “I give so that you may give so that I may give again.” The Gods bless us with the bounty of the Earth. We sacrifice some of that bounty to Them. They continue to bless us, and the cycle of giving continues.

Reciprocity says we accept help graciously, but in the long term we do not want to be in anyone’s debt. And so we look to return the favor. If we cannot, or if it would be unnecessary, we “pay it forward” and help someone else. We work to provide for ourselves and our families and a little more, so we have something to give – whether in hospitality or in reciprocity or both.

A Pagan culture would honor and promote heroism

Read the stories our ancestors told, stories of the Greek Herakles, the Irish Cú Chulainn, and many others. They all did great things for themselves and their people.

We tend to think of heroes as warriors, and warriors certainly can be heroes. But being a hero doesn’t have to involve fighting and violence. A hero is anyone who overcomes obstacles and challenges to do things that are necessary and helpful.

A culture that promotes heroism encourages everyone to learn and grow, to work and strive, to conqueror themselves and their circumstances, and mainly, to live as fully as they can.

A Pagan culture would honor and promote living simply

The stories of our ancestors also tell us that not everyone is called to be a hero. Or they’re called to be a hero one time, and then they have to figure out how to live the rest of their life without staying stuck in the past.

A truly Pagan culture would honor and promote living a simple and ordinary life. A life focused on good friends, good food and drink, and living in harmony with Nature is enough. A robust spiritual practice – especially one centered on honoring the Gods and ancestors – can help “enough” truly feel like enough.

A Pagan culture would respect and support the autonomy of all

Diversity and interconnectedness.

Hospitality and reciprocity.

Heroism and living an ordinary life.

In each case, a truly Pagan culture would recognize the value of and need for both.

And it would respect the right of each individual to choose the mixture that’s right for them.

From that basic principle would flow the recognition and acceptance of the right of everyone to live their lives as they feel called – or simply as they choose – in these areas and in every area.

A truly Pagan culture would tolerate everything except intolerance.

And we’re a long way from that.

Building a Pagan culture begins with each of us

I support political candidates and policies that promote these virtues and values. But if we wait for government to change the culture, we’ll be waiting a very long time.

I recognize and honor the multiplicity of the Divine, and so I recognize and honor the multiplicity of humans. I live my life so as to strengthen my connections with the rest of the world, and to do my best to help others, not harm them. I work to provide for me and mine, and to have enough to share with those who need it. I challenge myself to do the things that, if not exactly heroic (whether I’m living heroically is not for me to say) are meaningful and memorable, and I recognize the need to live a good life day-to-day as well.

And I support the right and the responsibility of everyone else to live the way they choose to live. I don’t have to agree with them, but if they aren’t harming me or anyone else, their choices are none of my business.

I can’t change the world, but I can change my life, and in doing so, change my little corner of the world. If enough of us live a truly Pagan life, we’ll build a truly Pagan culture.

And that would be a very good thing.

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