What is Neo-Paganism?

“Earth-centered World” by Glynn Gorick

Neo-Paganism “is in its essence the worship of the powers of this world. Beautiful or terrible, but all in a circle under the turning sky above, which is One.”

— C.A. Burland, Echoes of Magic (1972)

Neo-Paganism is a general term for a variety of related religious movements which began in the United States in the 1960′s, with literary roots going back to the mid-19th century Europe, as attempts to revive what their founders thought were the best aspects of ancient pagan ways, blended with modern humanistic, pluralistic, and inclusionary ideals, while consciously striving to eliminate certain elements of traditional Western monotheism, including dualistic thinking and puritanism. The distinguishing characteristics of Neo-Paganism include a perception of divinity as immanent, a multiplicity of deities of all genders, a commitment to environmental responsibility, and a creative approach to ritual.

Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin gave the following description of Neo-Paganism in their 1987 survey of Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America:

“The unifying theme among the diverse [Neo-Pagan] traditions … is the ecology of one’s relation to nature and to the various parts of one’s self. As Neo-Pagans understand it, the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches that the human intellectual will is to have dominion over the world, and over the unruly lesser parts of the human psyche, as it, in turn, is to be subordinate to the One God and his will. The Neo-Pagans hold that, on the contrary, we must … cooperate with nature and its deep forces on a basis of reverence and exchange. Of the parts of man, the imagination should be first among equals, for man’s true glory is not in what he commands, but in what he sees. What wonders he sees of nature and of himself he leaves untouched, save to glorify and celebrate them.

“What Neo-Pagans seek is a new cosmic religion oriented to the tides not of history but of nature — the four directions, the seasons, the path of the sun — and of the timeless configurations of the psyche. They seek not that morality which comes from imposing the will on reluctant flesh, nor the mystical trance which is the fruit of asceticism, but the expansiveness of spirit which comes from allowing nature and rite to lower the gates confining the civilized imagination. For them, this is the spirit called up by the names ‘pagan’ and ‘polytheism.’ …

“[Neo-Pagans] seek to restore a proper balance between masculine and feminine symbolization of the sacred. They seek to recover a sense of wonder and respect as religious feelings toward nature in all its moods and toward the human body and psyche. Thus they want to find a new totality, perhaps in reaction to a schizophrenic culture. They look for it in a new cosmic religion that vehemently rejects the religious value of history, while it radically affirms the religious value of raising the level of consciousness through stimulation of the imagination by ritually creating a suggestive and sacred milieu.”

Neo-Paganism partially overlaps to varying degrees with several other movements, including the Goddess spirituality movement, feminist Witchcraft, eco-feminism, deep ecology, bioregionalism, the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, Neo-Shamanism, and the New Age Movement.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are Paganism and Neo-Paganism the same?
Are Neo-Pagans Wiccans?
What are Neo-Pagans like?
How many Pagans are there?
Where are all the Pagans?
Are Neo-Pagans Christian?
How are Pagans and Heathens different?
Are Neo-Pagans Satanists?
How has Neo-Paganism been defined by scholars?
Are there different Neo-Pagan paths?
Am I a Neo-Pagan, too?

External links:

“Defining Paganism” by Isaac Bonewits

Updated 8/16/14


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