Paganism – Past or Present

Paganism – Past or Present

Author: Crick

One often hears neo pagans talking about following the “old ways” and I stop and wonder why? There are even neo pagan groups who call themselves re-constructionists. Exactly what is it that they are trying to reconstruct and more importantly, why?

These particular groups use the title “Celtic” within their group descriptions but in all reality little is known about the ancient Celts. They were a people who believed in passing down their beliefs and customs orally and so there are very few written records. For the most part what we do have is the Christianized versions of the oral history of the Celts. And in all actuality, those who call themselves Celtic re-constructionists draw upon information from the Nordic, Hindu, Egyptian and so forth to form their particular Celtic neo pagan gathering.

But this article is really not about yet another neo pagan group seeking to establish what is pagan. It’s about neo pagans and their beliefs in general.

Why do neo pagans, as a religious/spiritual movement feel such a deep need to validate themselves by referring to the way things “used” to be done? Do you really think that the pagans who lived in 5000 BCE tried to emulate the pagans who lived in 7000 BCE? Did the pagans who lived in 500 CE try and emulate the pagans who lived in 1000 BCE? Was it even a concern?

I personally believe that prior to the recent neo pagan movement which began about the mid 1950’s, that pagans in general lived in accordance with the beliefs and customs of “their times”.
And so I have to wonder why is it so important that neo pagans forgo their own moment in history in an effort to emulate those who went before them. Theoretically society advances forward and does not (in theory anyway) regress backwards. And yet the neo pagan movement of today seems determined to do just that.

One would have to venture into an isolated section of a jungle in South America and perhaps parts of Africa to find a societal community, which has not evolved in accordance with the world growth pattern.

So why it is that neo pagans are so determined to buck the trend of thousands of years of paganism and try to revert back to what they think might have been at one time. In all reality, one cannot return to the womb. So what is it that scares the neo pagan movement so badly that a legacy of paganism as it applies “today” is avoided at all costs?

Could it be that subconsciously it’s known how superficial today’s society has become and with that superficiality there is a severe lack of spiritual will? A possible answer to such a lack of will l is to first acknowledge that such a problem exists and then be true to oneself and set a different example one neo pagan at a time.

Of course this sounds easier then it is because of the pervasive influence that the so called organized religions has had on the hearts and minds of folks. And such a cancer will take time and a sincere effort to heal.

Could it be that the concept of paganism relies on an interpretation of values and morals such as those found in many of the Lebor’s associated with Celtic paganism? This thought can be extended to other forms of paganism, but as an Irish witch I speak from my comfort zone. And yet again in today’s society such values and morals have become a memory of yesteryear.

In today’s society, many folks consider their individual selves to be far more important then Mother Nature and even their fellow travelers within this realm. Could it be that paganism, which was once akin to a massive island, is now no more than a tiny atoll just barely hanging on? With such a sad demise related to the erosion of spiritual values, and human morals?

Quite frankly, I personally believe that the Celtic pagan societies that existed prior to the Christian invasion from England were far superior to the society that we have today as far as morals and values go.

The Celtic pagans had a legal system called the Brehon Laws that was brilliant. It applied fairness in law, throughout Celtic pagan society regardless of ones wealth, social status, sex and so forth. These laws unfortunately were preempted by way of the invasion of the Christians into Celtic lands and beliefs.

As it is today, we have pimps in Washington D.C. who cater to special interest groups such as the Right Wing Christians, Oil companies, Lawyer groups and many others who offer their money, special favors and votes in return for certain laws favorable to their particular groups. And in place of a legal system that one could be proud of, we have the Patriot Act, which is a frightening affront to any imaginable concept of freedom within a free society. In short we have managed to regress as a society.

And what about the determination to associate with a particular pantheon of Deity, even though many neo pagans do not live in the areas that such Deity held sovereignty over? Does a particular pantheon only recognize and respond to those peoples found within their particular geographic areas of worship? Or do they respond to the hearts and minds of those folks who recognize those particular Deity regardless of where they reside?

Is Deity in fact the same throughout the world, albeit known by different names and aspects? Or are neo pagans inadvertently being irresponsible in their approach to Deity. For instance what of the Deity that Native Americans recognize and worship?

Very few non -Native Americans acknowledge and worship that particular pantheon. Is this a form of disrespect for a particular pantheon that has long been associated with a specific geographical area? Does the pantheon that was recognized by the original inhabitants of the US have precedence over Deity imported from other parts of the world?

At any rate if neo pagans want to be like the pagans that preceded them for thousands of years why not do as they have always done? And that is to actually exhibit a deep love and reverence for Mother Earth not just in words but also by substantive actions.

Neo pagans might also want to take a look at themselves and their current society. And apply pagan concepts and ideals in a way that works in “today’s” society. Pagans are indeed different in that we are as one with nature and not as some would have us believe, above or lords of nature. If one is to follow true pagan precepts then one should work to set the right example for others to possibly follow.

Paganism did not begin in 1954 CE. Trying to re-create the pagan wheel has done little but set the stage for would be elitists groups and to give a platform to egotists with massive insecurities. There are more pseudo “masters” today then there have been real masters over the last five thousand years.

At least there are thousands of years of pagan history for our ailing atoll to “reclaim” the values and morals that could once again restore us to the Grand Island that paganism once was. I use the analogy “island” because paganism is a diverse belief system and not one that can be contained or properly described under just one description or continent if you will.

At the end of the day when lay our heads down, it is in the current society that we sleep and not one from hundreds or thousands of years ago. So we can as pagans either work to improve the woes of our modern society or we can continue to try and emulate a pagan society long since gone…

A Brief History of Paganism in America

A Brief History of Paganism in America

Author:   CoyoteSkyWoman   

Author’s note: This essay was originally a submission to my American History class at Southern New Hampshire University. I felt that I should share it with the Pagan Community at large since it was apparently well received by my professor, who had no previous background or knowledge in Paganism. It is written in APA style, so the notations in the reference section are correct. The reference to Witchvox will probably give you a chuckle. – Deb J.

There is a religion in America today that has been slowly growing since the late 1960’s and has been gaining in popularity and acceptance throughout the years. Neo-Paganism, which includes such diverse branches as Wicca, Druidism, Asatru (a worship of Norse deities) , and many other reconstructionist and revivalist groups often based on the deeply researched practices of the ancients. Far from being the Hollywood vision of witches and witchdoctors, the “worldview of witchcraft is, above all, one that values life” (Starhawk 1979, p 32) , and is tied closer to the natural world than many world religions, save for other nature-oriented sects such as Buddhism and Shinto.

The roots of the modern Pagan movement in America can be traced back to the early 1950’s in England where a man by the name of Gerald B. Gardner first made public his beliefs in an older Goddess based religion called Wica (also known as Wicca, the Craft of the Wise, or simply, the Craft) that had persisted from ancient times. Aidan Kelley, founder of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn states that “it really makes no difference whether or not Gardner was initiated into an older coven. He invented a new religion, a ‘living system’ and modern covens have adopted a lot of it because it fulfills a need” (Adler 1979, p 80) . Gardner himself claimed that a lot of what he taught came directly from an ancient coven, and that he was initiated by an old neighbor woman by the name of Dorothy Clutterbuck. The veracity of this claim has never been firmly established, and although birth and death records for “Old Dorothy” have been uncovered, how much involvement she had in Gardner’s vision still remains a topic of hot debate.

It is the view of many Neo-Pagans including Kelley that Gardner has never properly “been given credit for creative genius. He had a vision of a reformed Craft. He pulled together pieces from magic and folklore; he assimilated the ‘matriarchal theology set forth in (Robert) Graves, (Charles) Leland, and Apuleius. With these elements, he created a system that grew” (Adler 1979, p 83) .

Whatever the true background of the first English branch of Wicca, by the early 1970’s “all of the main English branches of Pagan Witchcraft had arrived in the United States: and “the books of (Margaret) Murray, Graves, and Gardner found a wide readership” (Hutton 1999, p 341) . There is some evidence that there were indigenous branches of American Paganism on record as early as 1938 when “the very first self-conscious modern Pagan religion, the Church of Aphrodite, ” was ”established in Long Island”, (Hutton 1999, p 340) , however, none of these had the staying power of the English branches. By 1975, Paganism was becoming firmly entrenched on our soil.

The next phase of the assimilation of English Pagan beliefs was a large turning point for the blossoming American Pagans. The radical feminist movement, which was developing during the mid seventies, came into contact with these very Goddess-oriented, female affirming worshipers, and there was a great merging of beliefs. By the mid 1970’s the “view of witchcraft expressed being ‘female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal’ “ and this “became embedded firmly in American Radical Feminism” (Hutton 1999, p 341) . The problem was that the feminist view overtook the religious aspects and by the late seventies, witchcraft had decayed into a feminist-rallying cry, centered around the so-called Burning Times when men dehumanized women and supposedly burned them at the stake because they interfered with the newly created practice of the doctor.

Midwives and herbalists were claimed to be some of the targets of this attack, so naturally, feminists flocked to this banner of outrage, seeing it as proof of continued patriarchal persecution.

Not all of the Pagan feminists lost sight of the religious aspects, however. In 1971, a young woman by the name of Zsuzanna Budapest formed the Susan B Anthony coven in Hollywood, CA, and went on to become one of the most respected feminist Pagan writers of the period. While she was staunchly feminist, she also was very much a follower of Wiccan beliefs, and was one of the most influential writers those who were to follow in her footsteps. In 1980, she wrote The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries which went on to become an instant classic, and is one of the standards by which modern Pagans judge all other books in the genre.

Another feminist writer gained fame when she published her first book, The Spiral Dance, on Hallowe’en in 1979. The woman’s penname was Starhawk, and her book gained much praise, not so much for its religious material that was extensive, but also for its poetic prose. Starhawk was a Witch who had been “trained by Gardnerians, and then initiated into one of the homegrown American strains of Pagan Witchcraft which had also absorbed some material from Wicca, the Faery (or Feri) , taught by Victor Anderson” (Hutton 1999, p 345).

Starhawk described her vision of the Craft as “a joyous, life-affirming, tolerant path; a religion of poetry not theology, which yet demanded responsibility” (Hutton 1999, p 346). Starhawk is one of the most often quoted Pagan writers, and The Spiral Dance is considered to be one of the top five selling pagan books of all time. Starhawk’s vision of Wicca floats through the words on every page, and the words are lyric and insightful. The Spiral Dance does not so much instruct readers on how to follow Paganism, but more leads by telling stories and giving examples of what the Pagan life is like through the eyes of a Pagan. Starhawk’s following books, Dreaming the Dark and Truth or Dare delve more deeply into the history of religious movements and examine the dualism present in most religions. Although somewhat darker than The Spiral Dance in tenor, the books never the less contain important ideas that have helped to develop Paganism into the new millennium.

The 1980’s were a time of great change for the Pagan movement in terms of the spread of information and the pursuit of general acceptance. The word was out, either on the newly created Internet or in the increasing number of books available. By the end of the 1980’s there were thousands of established Pagan groups across the country, and festivals were being celebrated on the eight major holidays in the open. While there was still a lot of prejudice, especially in the Midwestern Bible-belt, in the North-East and West coast, there were more and more publicly announced rituals and events that were open to the public. New England’s own Earthspirit community was among the first to hold an annual Beltaine or Mayday event at Sheepfold Meadow in Medford, MA. Complete with Maypole, donated foods by participants, and drumming and dancing, these yearly events were no longer hidden and performed in seclusion, but were held out in the open for all to see.

Other events followed, becoming more widespread and more diverse. By the early nineties, what had once been a small celebration between invited guests in Salem, MA on Hallowe’en or Samhain had become a giant affair involving most of the local merchants and Pagan groups. Huge psychic fairs were held at the Olde Town Hall, and lines went out the door for attendees of such events.

Elsewhere in the country, other similar events were being held, and a website devoted to the progress of the Pagan community as a whole in the U.S. was formed. The Witches Voice or Witchvox as it was commonly known, was a place to meet local pagans, promote events, post informational articles, and advertise skills such as clergy and tarot readers. Most groups interested in promoting their events would post their information online for everyone to see, and from there, hold their events. As of the time of this writing, the Witches Voice community listings are still the most popular way of getting information on upcoming Pagan events.

The amount of Pagan oriented books skyrocketed in the 1990’s. With the publication of books by SilverRavenWolf, Amber K, Edain MacCoy and countless others, the amount of information available at any local bookstore or online bookseller was staggering. Whether it was information on various Pagan holidays like Llewellyn’s Wheel of the Year by the Campanelli’s or on legal issues, like Dana Eiler’s Pagans and the Law, there was a reference out there for anything you could want.

That did not mean that the information was always solid, and there was a lot of repetitiveness, especially since the publishers at Llewellyn knew a good thing when they saw it, but by the mid-nineties, there was no longer a question of whether the Pagan movement would be dying out any time soon. Neo-Paganism was here to stay.
A testament to how deeply entrenched the alternative culture had penetrated the minds of America came from an unlikely source. On November 27, 1995, “an episode of the cult science fiction show, The X-files neatly had its ideological cake and ate it too…” While dealing with a cult-oriented murder case, “the heroine (Agent Scully) burst out that ‘Wiccans love all living things’ – and that settled the matter. Suddenly, the story was in the 1990’s” (Hutton 1999, p 386).

The X-files was not the first television show to portray pro-pagan sentiment. The most stunning “display of motifs taken ultimately from Wicca in the 1980’s and 1990’s” was the hit show broadcast first in the UK and then over here in America. Hosted by Showtime, the show “Robin of Sherwood” produced by HTV was a hit both in America and across the pond. With its stunning scenery and costuming, Robin of Sherwood starred both Michael Praed and, later, Jason Connery, as the title character. The show “portrayed Robin Hood as a pagan guided by the antlered god of the greenwood – here called Herne” (Hutton 1999, p 388) . This show would influence an entire generation of Neo-Pagans, and flavor their view of magic and mystery for years to come.

Now, in the new century, Paganism is alive and well. Annual Pagan Pride events that take place across the country serve as educational tools for both Pagans and non-Pagans alike. Books and movies continue to act as influential means of education, and Paganism continues to grow. As a positive, life-affirming religion, it has its heart in the right place, and as long as it remains so, with its goals intact, it will continue to prosper and spread its message of peace for many years to come.

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References

Adler, M. (1979) . Drawing down the moon. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hutton, R. (1999) . The triumph of the moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
Simos, M. (Starhawk) , (1979) . The spiral dance; a rebirth of the ancient religion of the great goddess. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

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Pagan Musings (A Wonderful Read for All Pagans)

Witchy Comments & Graphics
Pagan Musings

Tony Kelly of the Selene Community in Wales wrote these words in 1970. Modern Paganism still draws inspiration, unity, and peace from these words. Blessings upon you all…please read, and enjoy…

We’re of the old religion, sired of Time, and born of our beloved Earth Mother. For too long the people have trodden a stony path that goes only onward beneath a sky that goes only upwards. The Horned God plays in a lonely glade for the people are scattered in this barren age and the wind carries his plaintive notes over deserted heaths and reedy moors and into the lonely grasses. Who knows now the ancient tongue of the Moon? And who speaks still with the Goddess? The magic of the Land of Larine and the old Pagan God shave withered in the dragon’s breath; the old ways of magic have slipped into the wells of the past, and only the rocks now remember what the moon told us long ago, and what we learned from the trees, and the voices of grasses and the scents of flowers.

We’re Pagans and we worship the Pagan Gods, and among the people there are Witches yet who speak with the Moon and dance with the Horned One. But a Witch is a rare Pagan these days, deep and inscrutable, recognized only by her own kind, by the light in her eyes and the love in her breast, by the magic in her hands and the lilt of her tongue and by her knowledge of the real. But the Wiccan Way is one way. There are many; there are Pagans the world over who worship the Earth Mother and the Sky Father, the Rain God and the Rainbow Goddess, the Dark one and the Hag on the mountain, the Moon Goddess and the Little People in the mists on the other side of the veil. A Pagan is one who worships the Goddesses and Gods of Nature, whether by observation or study, whether by love or admiration, or whether in their sacred rites with the Moon, or the great festivals of the Sun.

Many suns ago, as the pale dawn of reason crept across the Pagan sky, man grew out of believing in the Gods. He has yet to grow out of disbelieving in them. He who splits the Goddess on an existence-nonexistence dichotomy will earn himself only paradoxes, for the Gods are not so divided and nor the magic lands of the Brother of Time. Does a mind exist? Ask her and she will tell you yes, but seek her out and she’ll elude you. She is in every place, and in no place, and you’ll see her works in all places, but herself in none. Existence was the second-born from the Mothers womb and contains neither the first-born or the unborn. Show us your mind and we’ll show you the Gods! No matter that you can’t for we can’t show you the Gods. But come with us and the Goddess herself will be our love and the God will call the tune. But a brass penny be your reason!, for logic is a closed ring, and the child doesn’t validate the Mother, nor the dream the dreamer. And what matter the wars of opposites to she who has fallen in love with a whirlwind or to the lover of the arching rainbow.

But tell us of your Goddess as you love her, and the Gods that guide your works, and we’ll listen with wonder, for to do less would be arrogant. But we’ll do more, for the heart of man is aching for memories only half forgotten, and the Old Ones only half unseen. We’ll write the old myths as they were always written and we’ll read them on the rocks and in the caves and in the deep of the greenwood’s shade, and we’ll hear them in the rippling mountain streams and in the rustling of the leaves, and we’ll see them in the storm clouds, and in the evening mists. We’ve no wish to create a new religion of our; religion is as old as the hills and older, and we’ve no wish to bring difference together. Differences are like different flowers in a meadow, and we are all one in the Mother.

What need is there for a Pagan movement since our religion has no teachings and we hear it in the wind and feel it in the stones and the Moon will dance with us as she will? There is a need. For long the Divider has been among our people and the tribes of man are no more. The sons of the Sky Father have all but conquered nature, but they have poisoned Her breast and the Mother is sad for the butterflies are dying and the night draws on. A curse on the conquerers! But not of us, for they curse themselves for they are nature too. They have stolen our magic and sold it to the mindbenders and the mindbenders tramp a maze that has no outlet for they fear the real for the One who guards the path.

Where are the Pagan shrines? And where do the people gather? Where is the magic made? And where is the Goddess and the Old Ones? Our shrines are in the fields and mountains, in the stars and in the wind, deep in the greenwood and on the algal rocks where two streams meet. But the shrines are deserted, and if we gathered in the arms of the moon for our ancient rites to be with our Gods as we were of old, we would be stopped by the dead who now rule the Mother’s land and claim rights of ownership on the Mother’s breast, and make laws of division and frustration for us. We can no longer gather with our gods in a public place and the old rites of communion have been driven from the towns and cities ever deeper into the heath where barely a handful of heathens have remained to guard the old secrets and enact the old rites. There is magic in the heath far from the cold grey society, and there are islands of magic hidden in the entrails of the metropolis behind closed doors, but the people are few, and the barriers between us are formidable. The old religion has become a dark way, obscure, and hidden in the protective bosom of the night. Thin fingers turn the pages of a Book Of Shadows while the Sunshine seeks in vain his worshippers in his leafy glades.

Here, then, is the basic reason for a Pagan Movement; we must create a Pagan society wherein everyone shall be free to worship the Goddesses and Gods of Nature, and the relationship between the worshipper and her Gods shall be sacred and inviolable, provided only that in her love of her own gods, she doesn’t curse the names of the gods of others.

It’s not yet our business to press the lawmakers with undivided endeavor to unmake the laws of repression and, with the Mother’s love, it may never become our business for the stifling tides of dogmatism are at last already in ebb. Our first work, and our greatest wish, is to come together, to be with each other in our tribes for we haven’t yet grown from our Mother’s breast to the stature of the Gods. We’re of the Earth, and sibs to all the children of wild nature, born long ago in the warm mud of the ocean floor; we were together then, and we were together in the rain forests long before that dark day when, beguiled by the pride of the Sky Father, and forgetful of the Mothers’ love, we killed her earlier-born children and impoverished the old genetic pool. The Red Child lives yet in America; the Black Child has not forsaken the Gods; the old Australians are still with their Nature Gods; the Old Ones still live deep in the heart of Mother India, and the White Child still has a foot in the old Wiccan Way, but Neanderthal is no more and Her magic faded as the Lilt and Archon burst their banks and the ocean flowed in to divide the land of Erin from the land of the White Goddess.

Man looked with one eye on a two-faced God when he reached for the heavens and scorned the Earth which alone is our life and our provider and the bosom to which we have ever returned since the dawn of Time. He who looks only to reason to plumb the unfathomable is a fool, for logic is an echo already implicit in the question, and it has no voice of its own; but he is no greater fool than he who scorns logic or derides its impotence from afar, but fears to engage in fair combat when he stands on his opponents threshold. Don’t turn your back on Reason, for his thrust is deadly; but confound him and he’ll yeild for his code of combat is honorable. So here is more of the work of the Pagan Movement. Our lore has become encrusted over the ages with occult trivia and the empty vaporing’s of the lost. The occult arts are in a state of extreme decadence; astrology is in a state of disrepute and fears to confront the statisticians sword; alien creeds oust our native arts and, being as little understood as our own forgotten arts, are just as futile for their lack of understanding, and more so for their unfamiliarity. Misunderstanding is rife. Disbelief is black on every horizon, and vampires abound on the blood of the credulous. Our work is to reject the trivial, the irrelevant and the erroneous, and to bring the lost children of the Earth Mother again into the court of the Sky Father where reason alone will avail. Belief is the deceit of the credulous; it has no place in the heart of a Pagan.

But while we are sad for those who are bemused by Reason, we are deadened by those who see no further than his syllogisms as he turns the eternal wheel of the Great Tautology. We were not fashioned in the mathematician’s computations, and we were old when the first alchemist was a child. We have walked in the magic forest, bewitched in the old Green Thinks; we have seen the cauldron and the one become many and the many in the one; we know the Silver Maid of the moonlight and the sounds of the cloven feet. We have heard the pipes on the twilight ferns, and we’ve seen the spells of the Enchantress, and Time be stilled. We’ve been into eternal darkness where the Night Mare rides and rode her to the edge of the Abyss, and beyond, and we know the dark face of the Rising Sun. Spin a spell of words and make a magic knot; spin it on the magic loom and spin it with the Gods. Say it in the old chant and say it to the Goddess, and in her name. Say it to a dark well and breathe it on a stone. There are no signposts on the untrod way, but we’ll make our rituals together and bring them as our gifts to the Goddess and her God in the great rites. Here, then, is our work in the Pagan Movement; to make magic in the name of our gods, to share our magic where the gods would wish it, and to come together in our ancient festivals of birth, and life, of death and of change in the old rhythm. We’ll print the rituals that can be shared in the written word; we’ll do all in our power to bring the people together, to teach those who would learn, and to learn from those who can teach. We will initiate groups, bring people to groups, and groups to other groups in our common devotion to the Goddesses and Gods of Nature. We will not storm the secrets of any coven, nor profane the tools, the magic, and still less, the gods of another.

We’ll collect the myths of the ages, of our people and of the Pagans of other lands, and we’ll study the books of the wise and we’ll talk to the very young. And whatever the Pagan needs in her study, or her worship, then it is our concern, and the Movement’s business, to do everything possible to help each other in the worship of the gods we love.

We are committed with the lone Pagan on the seashore, with he who worships in the vastness of a mountain range or she who sings the old chant in a lost valley far from the metaled road. We are committed with the wanderer, and equally with the prisoner, disinherited from the Mother’s milk in the darkness of the industrial webs. We are committed too with the coven, with the circular dance in the light of the full moon, with the great festivals of the sun, and with the gatherings of the people. We are committed to build our temples in the towns and in the wilderness, to buy the lands and streams from the landowners and give them to the Goddess for her children’s use, and we’ll replant the greenwood as it was of old for the Dryad stillness, and for love of our children’s children.

When the streams flow clear and the winds blow pure, and the sun never more rises unrenowned nor the moon ride in the skies unloved; when the stones tell of the Horned God and the greenwood grows deep to call back her own ones, then our work will be ended and the Pagan Movement will return to the beloved womb of our old religion, to the nature goddesses and gods of Paganism.