A Brand-New Paganism

A Brand-New Paganism December 26, 2011

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!

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