Categorized | Religion

On the ‘Neo-Pagans’ and Their Delusions

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.

Notes:

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

About William van Nostrand

William van Nostrand is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of RidingTheTiger.org. He holds a B.A. in Economics as well as a minor in cultural anthropology. His interests are highly varied and include late medieval European architecture, German romantic classical music, and travel.
  • Septimine

    I see the biggest problem in paganism as something absolutely different.  There’s no awe, no sense that what they are encountering is something beyond the normal.  If you read the religious encounters of pagans or jews, they are shocked and scared.  The first thing an angel says is “don’t be afraid”.  Modern religious encounters don’t have that (and it’s true in Christianity as well).  Modern encounters especially in Paganism seem almost causual.  I saw Dionysios last night.  Or Pan or maybe Zeus.  No fear, no sense of “I’m not worthy” no nothing.  The other place where this shows up is actually in pantheons and worship.  Pagans have no qualms about changing things, or assigning the diety a new role, or in some cases even in creating a new “son” for a god to rule over something. 

    Could you say that a Christians would say something similar to (http://www.adf.org/articles/philosophy/fictionr.html) in which the idea is that the reality of a god is not important?  It is because we define it, and really that’s the same as saying that they’re characters in your play.  Zeus doesn’t talk about himself or reveal something new — it’s arbitrary and assigned.  And that’s the next weakness — what happens when bad stuff happens?  You made up a whole religion, but you know you made it up.  What happens when you must use religion for comfort?  It won’t work if you know that it came out of your own head.  It’s never bigger than you. 

  • Joe

    I don’t like whoever wrote this. They’re encouraging religious intolerance and trying to make a battle out of spirituality. JESUS would not have wanted that, and it’s not even true. Many monotheists AND polytheists DO NOT want to see their philosophy as ultimately succeeding and dominating the planet. They CAN coexist together and they are. I’m an agnostic who grew up in a Roman-Catholic family and I have pagan friends online and we all learned to tolerate each other for their beliefs. Christianity has a beautiful mindset, but one of the major reasons why paganism died out is because many pagans were EXECUTED by Christian regimes, particularly among the Spanish Inquisition, and the Church was incredibly intolerant and corrupt during that time. If you study religions, you’ll find that many of them, polytheistic and monotheistic are agreeing with what their virtues. Maybe not what they believe, but on the moral grounds of things like honesty, loyalty, discipline, and an adherence to the Earth as well (Note: Jesus and the saints loved nature as much as many of the pagan shamans you consider naive). I did my research on that and I suggest you do the same before posting something for your fundamentalists to enjoy. No offense, but you sound no better than all the atheists who criticize Christianity, and this treatment on pagans is kinda helping them do that.

    • http://www.ridingthetiger.org/ William van Nostrand

      First, Spirituality is meant to be a battle. It is meant to be a battle to uphold the truth over lies. As Christ himself says in Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.” Furthermore, nowhere are Christians commanded anywhere within Scripture to “tolerate” denials of such central truths within the Church.

      Also, we do not deny that in ancient times, Paganism may have been a viable spiritual path. Indeed, there were both sinful and virtuous Pagans, and throughout history, there have been both sinful and virtuous Christians. From oral histories, we also know that the various traditions form the Greco-Roman, to the Celtic, to the Indo-Aryan and Persian civilizations had unique forms of spirituality.

      Nonetheless, the problem does not necessarily lie with those religions themselves, but rather in their modern incarnations. Neo-paganism has been reconstructed to fit modern times and is totally divorced from the reality of the higher principles that true, ancient Paganism, in its pure form advocated.

      The problem with the neo-pagans is that, with a few exceptions, they are interested in Paganism for all the wrong reasons, and because of their delusions, have build a belief system in their own image. In many cases, the interest in esoteric matters is minimal, having already set up a notion that “God is within,” so all that needs to be done is to “do what feels right”; in this way, neo-paganism already attracts people of a juvenile mindset and promises them teenage dreams of rebellion.

      We can observe that neo-paganism is a product of modernity and nothing else. The arts, philosophy, religion – all these topics are areas of culture that overlap, and it is only from a cultural wasteland that such “counterfeit” traditions arise.

      One minor point: Christians were violently persecuted by the Pagans during the Roman Empire over a period of about three centuries. Also, the Spanish Inquisition was mainly about removing the vestigial Moorish influence from the Iberian peninsula, and had little to do with “executing” pagans. You would do well to research this.

      • Spice

        But there is still an inherent flaw in your logic. I dont know what country you are from, but if you claim that neo-pagans have lost their nobility, you need to look at your own scriptures some more. Mega-churches and high religous people claiming to speak the word God while living in large houses and drivimg fancy cars while there are millions of people to feed.

        MODERN pagans guide themselves by basic rules and as a male wiccan, I can tell you that if treating avfemale as my equal is feminism, then I guess I’m a feminist. But equality is one of the rules, and that lack of awe when encountering the divine, is because our beliefs tell us that we are equal, not that we are their slave and should fear their hand.

        • http://www.ridingthetiger.org/ William van Nostrand

          We don’t believe in the current materialistic mindset of so-called American “Christians”. But I suppose everyone has their delusions notions.

          Let me guess. You’re a “libertarian conservative” who believes in preserving the status quo, right?

          • Spice

            Nope, im a moderate republican that believes in personal and public accountability. I believe in progress and that our destiny is in our hands. I belive in the power of personal action and the Divine as an inspiring force for both creation and distruction, that thy empower us to be great. I believe that we are the choices we make. My political views specifically are up for debate later. I am a Ecclectic Wiccan, which means I find wisdom and knowledge from many diffrent sources. This includes the fundimentals of the neo-pagan movement, but also from other faiths and personal understaning formimg a tradition that is my own. This includes wisdom from Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, and Abraham. I also gain wisdom from The Buddha, Neitchze, Maciavellie, and Sun Tzu.
            I find beauty in the world because I see the diversity in it. I see both the inherent nobility of the human condition and its brutality towards its kin.
            I dont have a fear of the divine because it exsists in ever act and breath in equal measure for aal things.
            It is those that choose to view the awe inspiring expanse that is the human condition through one lens of personal perseption will only find fault. This is the foundation of my faith.

          • http://www.fatallie.com/ Allison

            Your biggest “delusion” is the notion that your religion is, above all others, more valid than the next. The rest of your blog post is basic discrimination and religious intolerance. I, of course, know that your response will be fueled with hatred and self-imposing view points, but nevertheless; I want something to laugh at later on today.

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