“A person has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it, and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.”
— D.H. Lawrence
Neo-Paganism is eclectic in that it consciously draws together different ideas, symbols, and practices and combines them into a new forms. Sabina Magliocco writes, “Neo-Pagan ritual artists are adept at combining and adapting materials from widely divergent sources, cultures, historical periods, and media into a harmonious whole. They are by nature bricoleurs.*”
(*”bricoleur”: one who creates using whatever materials are available)
The term “eclectic” can be misunderstood or misapplied. While all religious movements mix and match traditional elements with new ideas and practices from other sources, not all religious movements are consciously eclectic. It is useful to think of eclecticism and traditionalism as existing along a continuum, rather than two distinct categories. So while Neo-Paganism is very eclectic, there is still a core of beliefs and practices to Neo-Paganism. The degree of conscious blending also varies from practitioner to practitioner.
Eclectics may represent something like a majority among Pagans as a whole. According to Helen Berger’s Pagan Census, “Eclectic Paganism” was the most common self-descriptor used in 2010 (53%). In addition, nearly a quarter stated that they “are spiritual but dislike labels”. In contrast, only 38% identified as Wiccan.
In the past, there has been tension in the Pagan community between Eclectic Neo-Pagans and Garnerian-derived traditional Wiccans. According to the Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (2004),
“Eclectics will often perceive the Gardnerian-derived groups as hidebound, hierarchical, and slavishly adhering to received material, while they in turn view eclectics as fundamentally missing the point of the entire practice, diluting the mystery tradition to the point of unrecognizability with ‘surface’ rituals.”
Today, a similar conflict sometimes arises between eclectic Neo-Pagans on the one hand and reconstructionist and devotional polytheists on the other.
The growth of eclectic Neo-Paganism was initially a function of the scarcity of traditional resources in the 1960s and 1970s in America, combined with the increasing demand brought on by the Counterculture movement. In addition, the fact that most Americans descend from immigrants may make a reconstructionist religion less appealing to many Americans than an eclectic one. The growth of eclectic practice is also tied to the growth of solitary practice among Pagans. Scott Cunningham, author of Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (1988), is credited in large part with the spread of solitary practice. The growth of access to the Internet undoubtedly accelerated this growth. According to Helen Berger’s Pagan Census, there has been an increase in solitary practice from 51% in 2003 to 79% in 2010.