The notion of “paganism” is an interesting one, in that such notions of a pagan revival have achieved popular currency both among certain Traditionalist circles as well as in many progressive cliques. Their aims are even roughly congruent, even if the underlying reasoning may not be: the replacement of the monotheistic faiths, especially Christianity, with a supposedly more “ancient” tradition of Paganism.
I. Competing worldviews
At the heart of Paganism is the notion of Polytheism. It denies the existence of a single Creator, and in its place, posits a cabal of semi-omnipotent deities. The Protestant apologist, Norman L. Geisler points out three main flaws with this outlook. First, strict polytheism encapsulates the denial of ultimate unity, since any claim to know ultimate reality betrays a more basic commitment to a unity of thought that denies the polytheistic view1.
Secondly, polytheists fail to ask the “ultimate question”. In the monotheistic view, nature is separate from its creator. In other words, what is created is under the creation of the Creator, and deities are not mere personifications of physical entities such. C. S. Lewis remarks: “How does a play originate? Does it write itself? Do the actors make it up as they go along? Or is there someone — not on the stage, not like the people on stage — someone we don’t see — who invented it all and caused it to be? ” Lewis adds, “What makes and what is made must be two, not one. Thus the doctrine of Creation in one sense empties Nature of divinity”.
The final flaw of paganism, at least from the Monotheistic worldview is the failure to submit to the One God. This has been repeated throughout the monotheistic faiths. If the second point is accepted, and a plurality of deities is not possible, then worship would be reserved for God alone.
II. Paganism cannot replace monotheism
Thus we have the notion, which is also supported by history, that Paganism, with its pantheons and legends, are at odds with monotheism, and in the end one must triumph over the other. Modern neo-pagans, understandably would like for it to be their own worldview that is declared the victor. Some have gone as far as to declare a victory over Christianity, saying that one day, at least in the West, Paganism will make a resurgence and replace Christianity.
But, despite the best attempts and wishful thinking of such individuals, this is unlikely. Christianity, though perhaps on the way out, will not disappear for another few centuries at least. Even so, the Catholic Church at least, has endured for two millenia. It has survived confrontations with paganism, and weathered hundreds of years of wars, social upheavals, revolutions, schisms, etc. Even if the Catholic Church was not what it once was, it exists, and its members are billions strong. It is hard to believe that it will so quickly be extirpated, much less that a modern re-incarnation of cults that have long been dead will take its place. And, supposing that Christianity could be eliminated from the scene, Paganism would still have Islam, a religion of another one billion people to compete with.
III. The counterfeit nature of modern neo-paganism
On the one hand, there is ample evidence for Paganism having been practiced by the indigenous peoples of Europe, and indeed, by all indigenous peoples throughout the world. It is also true, that Christianity, brought by the Roman Empire, replaced the various belief systems that had existed in Europe. However, it is also true that there are marked contrasts between the majority of what passes for a revivalist “pagan” movement today is probably quite different from the original Pagan tradition. The former only exists as a result of a society in which so-called “freedom of the individual” now encourages the uprooted in Western lands to form what are in fact anti-traditional or in some cases (counter-traditional) associations in which they can propagate such ideas as being a “religion”.
The ancient attitude towards paganism, in marked contrast, was not necessarily about establishing an outward freedom of the individual, but in fact, emphasized an inward freedom and the “metaphysical perfection of the personality”. In marked nature to the plebeian and anarchic nature of modern, reconstructed paganism, the priesthoods represented the investiture of state power, and were held by a distinct priestly class. This could be observed even during the Roman Republic, when elected officials served as augurs and pontiffs. Even the triumphus, a rite that celebrated military victories, was representative of the victory of the benefic over the malefic. In the higher realms, the Mystery-Cults of the same time provided a refuge for those seeking a higher initiation, beyond that of the state or plebian religions. This pattern, too, was seen in the Far East, where the Japanese Emperor was considered the head of the Shinto religion, descended from divinity himself, and various schools of the Mikkyo served as the centers of initiation.
Returning to the West, and to the modern time, we can then understand the difference between ancient Paganism and today’s supposed revival. First, is the worship of a vague notion of “Nature,” or as Evola describes it, a “superstitious deification of natural phenomena”. Evola further says:
Next comes a rejection of the values of personality and freedom, and a condition of innocence that is merely that of the natural man, as yet unawakened to any truly supra-natural calling. Beyond this innocence there is only lack of inhibition, “sin,” and the pleasure of sinning. In other domains there is nothing but superstition, or a purely profane culture of materialism and fatalism.
On such grounds, alone, one might already be quite justified in saying that the various neo-pagan movements of today are counterfeit movements. With the exception of a few cases, very few of them aim to resurrect the a pre-Christian lifestyle (which would be unacceptable in the politically correct world), but rather, aim to impose a post-Christian one. Many of them, in fact, only rose up at a time when secularism became institutionalized at the higher levels of government, and then promoted as alternatives Christianity. To such adherents of neo-paganism, Christianity is authoritarian and male-dominated, whilst their paganism is libertine and puts one in touch with the “divine feminine”. But whatever methods they are using in their polemics, they are merely re-hashing the tired old cliches of the modern, post-French Revolution type.
It is well-understood, too, that there are intimate connections with certain strains of neo-paganism (in particular what is referred to as ‘Wicca’) to feminism. This is not to say that all pagans are feminists, or that all feminists are necessarily pagan. But these links are readily admitted by feminists. According to Margot Adler, a feminist and Wiccan, “Many feminist Witchcraft covens have….attracted women from all walks of life. But even there, most of these women have already been strengthened by the feminist movement…or by an important experience such as divorce, separation, or a homosexual encounter2“ Adler also admits that this sort of neopagan witchcraft appeals to feminists because it offers women a role as a “superior” sex in the guise of “priestesses”, and assigns worship to a female “goddess”.
These are in fact symptoms of the degenerative process at work. Ancient Paganism, though later considered blasphemous, was not devoid of worth. The qualities which it exhibited, were not terribly different from the monotheistic faiths which came later. Modern paganism is therefore a far cry, even from the ritualistic forms of the plebians. In stark contrast to the ancient Olympian-heroic worldview of pre-Christian antiquity, modern paganism is much more telluric, chthonic and materialistic.
IV. Concluding Remarks
Historically, it was the establishment of Christianity that freed man from the fatalistic and nature-bound beliefs which had already become prevalent in paganism. Christianity brought with it universal and upward ideals: in the works of the Church Fathers there are often signs of a higher understanding of the symbols, doctrines, and religions of preceding cultures. Thus, Christianity came to replace paganism, freeing man from being dominated by nature, and for the “Spirit” to triumph over the law of flesh, blood, and the false gods.
This, however does not mean that the best parts of the Pagan ideas are incapable of transcending certain aspects of Christianity. This, however is not the same as replacing Christianity with a lower tradition of nature-worship, but rather complementing it with aspects of an older tradition.
1. In Ancient Greece, Xenophanes developed a form of monotheistic thought to resolve such ideas. Later, Plato and Aristotle also developed monotheistic concepts.
2. From Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today