What Is Neopaganism?

The term Neopagan refers to various revivalist versions of the Ancient Pagan religions, including, among several other groups, Wicca, Druidry, and Asatru (Modern Nordic Neopaganism). Neopagan religions are known by different names, depending on which particular ancient religious traditions that a specific group has recreated. The term Neopagan, however, usually refers to the religious traditions originating in northern and western Europe before Christianity.

Neo-paganism is instead a descriptive term applied to any contemporary religious movement which attempts to re-establish the practices of the old religions, especially from Northern and Western Europe. Changing attitudes towards counterculture, as well as growing hostility toward Christianity, has allowed neo-paganism to spread, especially as it combines with other religious concepts. While drawing on inspirations from ancient history, Neopaganism typically assumes a worldview that is highly contemporary, if not postmodern. Sometimes associated with extreme nationalism, groups and sensibilities associated with Neopaganism were known in Europe prior to the Second World War, but modern Neopaganism is for the most part a product of the 1960s.

The modern popularization of the terms pagan and Neopagan, as currently understood, is traced in large part to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, a co-founder of the early Neo-Pagan All-Worlds Church, who, beginning in 1967 with an early publication, Green Egg, used both terms to refer to contemporary Paganism. Several scholars in Pagan studies, such as Ronald Hatton and Sabina Magliocco, have stressed the use of uppercase pagan in order to distinguish the contemporary movement from lowercase paganism, the term typically used for pre-Christian belief systems. Various Pagans active in Pagan studies, such as Michael Yorke and Prudence Jones, have stated that, because of similarities in their worldviews, contemporary Paganism may be considered to be part of the same global phenomenon as ancient pre-Christian religions, living indigenous religions, and world religions like Hinduism, Shinto, and Afro-American religions.

Modern Paganism borrows and adapts practices from Ancient pagan beliefs, as well as modern religious ideas. Neopagan religions are reconstructions of the abandoned ancient belief systems of the Pagans, including the Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Roman, and other traditions.

Neopaganism includes different forms of New Age beliefs, Wicca, versions of Greek and Roman polytheism, and Celtic Druidry. Modern Paganism, also known as modern Paganism and neopaganism, is the collective term for the religious movements that are influenced by, or derive from, the diverse historic Pagan beliefs of peoples before modern times. One contemporary perspective on paganism is that it is an ancestor religion for all humanity, and although an ancient religion, remains active in the contemporary world. The umbrella term neopaganism is a relatively recent term for describing religions or belief systems which include deities/goddesses, symbols, rituals, and other aspects of the ancient religion.

Other neo-pagans specifically describe themselves as followers of Asatru, a deity in the mythology of Ancient Norse (Scandinavia), or as Druids, another religion that draws upon the practices of Ancient Celtic peoples. Many of these movements adherents choose to be called merely Pagans, because they consider the term Neopagan pejorative. A further complication is that many of those involved in neo-pagan activities also claim belief in other religions, such as Christianity.

In addition, New Age movements have shown little interest in magic and witchcraft, which are, conversely, central interests in many pagan religions, such as Wicca. In fact, many Neopagans (including my own) are actively hostile to the faith and all related ideas about religious authority, divine revelation, and such. As we have in the Judeo/Christian West come to understand religion (an organized body of beliefs which connects supernatural phenomena to an authoritarian moral code through faith), neopaganism is actually, radically, anti-religious.

Typically, beliefs like Hinduism and Vodun are not considered to fall under the umbrella of a Neopagan community; rather, the term is generally understood to mean any kind of jumble of ideas derived mostly from European religious traditions prior to Christianity (although certain Neopagan movements, like Watsdin and Kemetism, are drawn primarily from ancient religions in Western Asia and Africa, respectively). Using the term religious above, but as you will see it is actually more than somewhat misleading, and I (like many other neopagans) use it only because no other word is available for the more general kind of thing of which the neopagan movement and what we generally think of as religion are special cases. Just like the terms Eastern Religions and Abrahamic Religions mean Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and possibly even Bahai Faith, neopagan, and Pagan, both of which are groups of distinct religions.

Although there is no single deity or pantheon of deities that neopagan groups all worship, the immanence of a divine presence that both permeates the natural world and transcends it is generally accepted within neopagan groups. Neo-paganism, for many, is a way of accepting a simpler, more natural lifestyle, one that does not rely on tools of modern technology, and one that respects the natural world.

At a time when industrialization, toxic consumerism, and ecological devastation appear to reach apocalyptic crescendo, Americans may also see neo-paganism as a kind of spiritual activism, drawing from a sacred ecology that aims to carry a sacred finding on Earth in practitioners lives. While reports tell us that organized religion is going extinct in America, the growth in neo-pagan spirituality suggests there may be more to the story about the role of religion in American life.

Doyle White writes that contemporary religions drawing on pre-Christian belief systems from other parts of the world, like sub-Saharan Africa or America, cannot be considered to fall under the rubric of contemporary paganism. Unfortunately, references to pagans and paganism in the Christian Bible are generally negative, often including references to human sacrifice and adoration of Satan. While a subgroup of Neopagans who practice The Craft, or Wicca, and identify as witch has received most of the attention from popular culture, it is important to realize that not all Neopagans identify as witches.

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