Introduction to Neopaganism
Introduction to Neopaganism
As an organization, ADF continues to expand at an amazing rate. Our membership numbers are greater than ever, we have a number of new groves throughout the world, and the different Guilds are progressing along very well.
With all this explosive growth; however, have come some growing pains. Some of our newer members online have written about what they feel is a lack of essential guidance for people who are completely new to Druidry, and especially those who are new to Neopaganism in general, coining the term 'drubies' (a combination of druids and newbies) to describe themselves.
It used to be the case that many who came to ADF did so after years of experience with other forms of Neopaganism such as Wicca, being drawn to ADF's special emphasis on scholastic foundations, true polytheism, and devotional excellence.
In the past few years, increased interest in Neopaganism and the easy access to information provided by the Internet have combined to allow anyone interested in Neopaganism or Druidry to find our web site, subscribe to some mailing lists, and send in their membership form all in the same day.
There are now quite a few new ADF members for whom ADF is their first experience with Neopaganism. Given some longstanding assumptions ADF has had about members' familiarity with Neopaganism, it's not surprising that some of our new folk are a little confused and overwhelmed.
It is for these reasons that I have chosen to write this article, for I truly believe in the great value and uniqueness of ADF as a religion and a community, and I feel that we ought to be able to welcome both old and new Neopagans with equally open arms.
Paganism, Then & Now
Why It's Called Neopaganism
The term 'Pagan' comes from the Latin paganus, which appears to have originally had meant "country dweller," "villager," or "hick.." The early Roman Christians used 'pagan' to refer to anyone who worshipped pre-Christian deities, and the word came to have strong derogatory connotations in the following centuries, though it has been reclaimed in part by Neopagans in the latter half of the 20th century.
At the present time, there are actually a few different kinds of paganism you might hear about, of which Neopaganism is only the most recently-developed.
Paleo-paganism refers to the original tribal faiths of Europe. Africa. Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Australia, when they were (or in some cases, Still are) practiced as intact belief systems. Of the so-called Great Religions of the World, Hinduism (prior to the influx of Islam into India), Taoism and Shinto, for example, fall under this category.
Meso-paganism is the word used for those religions founded as attempts to recreate) revive or continue what their founders thought of as the Paleo-pagan ways of their ancestors (or predecessors), but which were heavily influenced (accidentally, deliberately and/or involuntarily) by the monotheistic and dualistic worldviews of Judaism, Christianity and/or Islam. Examples of Meso-pagan belief systems would include Freemasonry) Rosicrucianism., the many Afro-Diasporatic faiths (such as Voudoun, Santeria, Macumba, etc.), several sects of Hinduism that have been influenced by Islam and Christianity, and early (1940s-1950s) Wicca.
Neopaganism refers to those religions created since 1960 or so which have attempted to blend what their founders perceived as the best aspects of different types of Paleo-paganism with modern 'Aquarian Age' ideals, while consciously striving to eliminate as much as possible of the traditional Western monotheism and dualism.
For example, most Wiccan traditions, Asatru, and ADF arc all Neopagan. The alt.pagan Internet newsgroup Frequently Asked Questions list describes Neopaganism quite well as "attempts of modern people to reconnect with nature, using imagery and forms from other types of pagans, but adjusting them to the needs of modern people."
A Brief History of Paganism & Neopaganism
If we interpret Paganism to refer to any form of polytheistic, pre-Christian religion, then Paganism stretches back to the beginning of history (c. 3000 BCE), and even further beyond that. The fates of such religions throughout the world differ widely, but by confining our focus to Europe it can be said that the rise of the 'peoples of the Book' (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) was generally unfavorable for Pagans) though it took a few hundred years after the coming of Christ .for the Romans to officially abandon their pagan gods and adopt Christianity as the official religion of the Empire (c. 300 CE).
From the fall of the Roman Empire onwards, Christianity and later Islam (c. 633 CE) spread rapidly, and both were fervently opposed to worshipping any but a One True God. Scholars speculate that by 1000 CE, most Pagans had gone underground or been destroyed, and by 1300 the Inquisition in Europe had turned the words pagan and witch to political ends in the hunting of many non-Christian enemies of the Church.
While occasional works concerning ceremonial magic occurred in the period between 1700 and 1900, it is only at the beginning of the 20th century that any form of Paganism. and now we might properly call it Neopaganism - is found written about or practiced. It was in the early 1950s that Gerald Gardner in England created the first (and still most popular) form of modern Neopaganism, doing so after the last British Witchcraft Act had been repealed in 1951.
Gardner pieced together many elements of folklore, then-current anthropological writing, and turn-of-the-century ceremonial magic to create the nature-oriented and duo-theistic Neopagan religion of modern Witchcraft or Wicca.
As a non-centralized., word-of-mouth religion, Wicca expanded and diversified slowly, prompting many others to look to pre-Christian polytheistic religions as inspiration for developing the modern religious beliefs and practices which we now collectively term Neopaganism.
Common Forms of Neopaganism
As mentioned in the previous section, the first and still most common form of Neopaganism is Wicca. There are a number of others, however, a partial list includes the many traditions or 'flavors' of Wicca (e.g., Celtic Wicca), Asatru (Norse Neopaganism), The Church of All Worlds, various women's spirituality and men's spirituality movements, neoshamanism, and neodruidism.
Common Neopagan Beliefs
Perhaps the most obvious way that Neopaganism differs from other religions is a strong belief in polytheism - literally, many gods. Precisely what this means differs depending on which Neopagan religion one looks at. In Wicca, for instance, most traditions are based on duotheism, two deities, namely some kind of god and some kind of goddess. The two are usually archetypal representatives, the god of male-ness and active force, and the goddess of female-ness and receptive force. Some Wiccans acknowledge both the god and goddess but choose to work with one only (e.g., Dianic Wiccans focus on the goddess exclusively).
Other Neopagan traditions may be duotheistic like Wicca, or fully polytheistic. Fully polytheistic Neopagan religions quite often draw on a particular time period of pre-Christian history for inspiration, and also often focus on one particular culture and its related pantheon (group of gods and goddesses) within that general time period.
Fully polytheistic Neopagan traditions and groups usually acknowledge the existence of many deities (that being part of polytheism), but choose to work with certain ones for certain specific reasons (such as season or time of year, requests to deities for assistance in certain areas, etc.). The concept of 'working with' gods and goddesses is in some ways an inherent part of the Neopagan belief in polytheism. It represents the fact that not only do Neopagans believe in many deities (however they explain such a belief), but that humans and deities are in a social relationship, and that when one gives honor to the other that bond is strengthened.
Reverence of Nature
Another very common aspect of Neopagamsm is respect and reverence for the Earth and her creatures. Many Wiccans, for example, worship the goddess as Mother Earth, and most other Neopagans have strong environmental concerns.
Of course, in some sense one might consider this pragmatic, as Neopagans tend to prefer to have their rituals and ceremonies out of doors and in natural settings- as the ancient Pagans did themselves in most cases. Clearly, if industrialism continues on its current course, there will be few such settings available soon.
This is not to say that Neopagans are in general opposed to technology, in fact there are quite a few who are very techno-proficient (sometimes called 'techno-Pagans'). However, those Neopagans who embrace technology usually do so with a definite concern for the impact of that technology on our earth.
Magic & Karma
A last belief almost all Neopagans hold is that of the ability all humans share, to one degree or another, to manipulate energies and cause changes in the world. Exactly which energies are used may vary - one Neopagan may work with the energies of the Earth, while another may use personal psychic energy, and yet another may use the classical four elements (earth, air, fire, and water).
The common aspect of all, though, is that such energies aren't normally perceived in everyday life, yet may be used by someone skilled to accomplish changes in one's own and others lives.
This usage is commonly termed magic or 'magick,' and is the basis for spells, or the structured use of energy to accomplish specific effects, such as healing, prosperity, and protection.
Such magical energy use can certainly be focused for less benevolent purposes, such as for harming or manipulating others. Most Neopagans, however, believe that the things one does- the actions one takes and the energies one sends out have a way of returning to their origin. Thus, if one performs magic to heal someone, one can expect some form of beneficial energy in return; similarly, if one performs magic to harm, one can expect the same. This effect is termed the law of karma} or the threefold law by Wiccans who maintain that the returns come back threefold.
One last note on the subjects of magic and karma} is that the effects are usually neither immediate nor spectacular. In fact, it is usually weeks until successful magic has its intended effects (sometimes longer for more difficult workings), and the effects usually appear 'coincidental.' Skeptics usually say that successful magic is exactly that, coincidence, but any Neopagan who has done magic successfully for years can say that such a huge stream of coincidences is both amazingly accurate and uncanny. The effects just seem to fall into place wholly and naturally, but exactly as intended.
Common Neopagan Practices
As a part of nature-oriented spirituality, the celebrations and rituals of Neopagan traditions tend to be intimately associated with the cycles of the natural world. One part of this is the wheel of the year, a solar cycle of the seasons. It seems clear that the Ancients held special regard for certain times of the year, especially those associated with planting and harvesting.
In particular, the times of the solstices and equinoxes, and points in between (to make eight) were of great importance. Some Common Neopagan Celtic-based terminology for the celebrations held on each of those occasions includes Yule (winter solstice), Imbolc, Ostara (spring equinox), Beltaine. Midsummer (summer solstice), Lughnasadh, Mabon (fall equinox), and Samhain:. Neopagans today usually have special rituals on each of these days as well Wiccans intertwine their God and Goddess with the cycles of nature -and the wheel of the year, with the Goddess represented as the earth and the God represented as the sun} her consort.
Another natural cycle commonly celebrated by Neopagans is that of monthly full moons. There is, of course, much lore concerning the moon. It has always been associated with the night, and hence hidden and more psychic, magical things. Wiccans identify their Goddess with the moon (and their God with the sun), and other Neopagans worship the moon as well (e.g. as Artemis of the Greek pantheon).
Whether or not they worship the moon directly. it is fairly common for Neopagan groups to meet for companionship or ritual during the time of the full moon. In part, it may be because it has long been part of magical tradition (especially Wiccan) that the kind and strength of one's spells should be correlated with the phase of the moon for maximum effectiveness, with the full moon being the peak time for active, change-making magic. It's' also difficult to be outside on a moonlit night and not feel a bit of magic as the moonlight streams down.
One last Neopagan practice, or rather a description of Neopagan practices as a whole, is that of a strong personal connection. While other religions may meet in groups more often (e.g., weekly), for Neopagans much of their religion is more personally-oriented, woven throughout their daily life and not requiring others to practice.
Many Neopagans maintain personal altars, for example, at which they meditate or offer daily. Neopagans may also perform small bits of magic or psychic work every day, and usually have similarly close relationships with any deities they worship. Indeed, to most Neopagans all things are divine in one way or another, and Neopagans are known to strive to accept difference and diversity, especially in areas of sexuality.
Wiccans have something called the Wiccan rede which states, "And it harm none, do what ye will," and most Neopagans have a similar attitude of acceptance concerning things which do not harm anyone (including the doer).
Such acceptance is often an attraction for people with 'alternative' sexual orientations and people who have generally had a variety of unsatisfactory experiences with other, more rigid religions.
- Why It's Called Neopaganism was based on Isaac Bonewits Defining Paganism: Paleo,- Meso-, and Neo-
- With additional material from the Alt.Pagan FAQ, Version 4.0 by Susan Harwood Kaczmarczik
- A Brief History OF Paganism and Neopaganism used factual material from Margot Adler's excellent survey of Neopaganism, Drawing Down the Moon, Penguin USA, 1997
- Common Forms of Neopaganism draws from the Alt.Pagan FAQ