Elements of Neo-Paganism

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by Sam Brown

One common way to describe Neo-Paganism is to propose a list of elements, beliefs or characteristics of Neo-Pagans. Due to the amorphous and non-dogmatic nature of Neo-Paganism, such lists are problematic. It is inevitable that certain people who identify as Neo-Pagans will be inadvertently excluded, while others who do not identify as Neo-Pagan will be unintentionally included. Any such lists must be read with the understanding that no single element is a necessary condition of identification as a Neo-Pagan and that the list as a whole is not exhaustive. If we were to translate such lists into a pictorial representation, it would be better to think of them as scatter plots (which have no definite boundaries), rather than Venn diagrams (which do).

With all the above caveats, lists of elements of Neo-Paganism can still be useful.

According to professor of Religious Studies, Michael York, author of Pagan Theology and The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo‑pagan Movements, the elements of Neo-Paganism include:

  1. corpo-spirituality
  2. an appreciation of or worship of nature
  3. a this-worldly focus
  4. an understanding of enchantment
  5. a plurality of the divine or “deific pluralism”
  6. a humanistic grounding and
  7. hedonism or a sanctification of pleasure

To this list, York sometimes adds:

  1. an emphasis on individuality, freedom, self-determination, and personal responsibility
  2. a local focus
  3. a celebratory attitude
  4. a sense of the awesome and
  5. an ethical concern

The UK Pagan Federation lists the following elements of Paganism:

  1. Love for and kinship with Nature; reverence for the life force and its ever-renewing cycles of life and death.
  2. A positive morality, in which the individual is responsible for the discovery and development of their true nature in harmony with the outer world and community.
  3. Recognition of the Divine, which transcends genderacknowledging both the female and male aspect of Deity

Historian Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, writes that Neo-Pagans:

  1. accept the inherent divinity of the natural world and reject the notion of a transcendent creator
  2. embrace a simple ethic of freedom to satisfy individual needs and desires and pursue personal growth and happiness, while avoiding harm to others
  3. reject any notion of a divinely prescribed law and concepts of sin or salvation
  4. believe that divinity can be both male and female and that women may exercise religious power as effectively as men and
  5. turn for symbolism, kinship, and inspiration to the pre-Christian religions of Europe and the Near East

David Waldon, author of Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival, defines “Pagan consciousness” as a belief:

  1. that divinity is immanent
  2. that divinity manifests itself as masculine and feminine
  3. that we should live in concert with nature and
  4. that we should individually and together pursue personal growth and spiritual fulfillment

Related Pages:

What is Neo-Paganism?

Updated 5/28/14

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