Toward A New Paganism

(This is only a draft; please read it as such, given its relative length and complexity. The following stems from several revelations I have had during this past summer, all of which concern critical issues that are becoming increasingly visible within contemporary Paganism.)

Paganism lacks a culture. Without such a culture, self-identifying Pagans will never succeed in developing a rich religious experience nor a spiritual tradition worth exploring. Indeed, this lack of culture is Paganism’s greatest and most fundamental failing.

So, what is a culture, and why must one develop among Pagans?

Culture is community writ large, and communities are groups founded on unitive stories. A unitive story is the animating force behind any group of people that moves that group in a unanimous direction, much like the instinct that allows a flock of sparrows or a school of fish to fly or swim as one. These unitive stories can take many forms, but the most easily detectable are those which issue forth from a recognized source of authority, such as (in the case of Abrahamic faiths) the founding prophets, texts, and laws. One might say that the unitive story of Islam, for example, might be the revelation of the Holy Qur’an to Muhammad and the injunction of that text for Muslims to surrender to Allah, who is One. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ the Logos, in conjunction with the force of the Sermon on the Mount, might serve as a simple rendering of Christianity’s unitive story. Of course, unitive stories wed to empire and states become troublesome; still, one cannot maintain a community–a culture–without a unitive story, even if that story is unnervingly simple: “We eat together,” for example.

A religious tradition can hardly exist, and certainly cannot flourish, without being rooted in a culture; that is, a religious tradition cannot flourish without a unitive story. This is the case because depth of spiritual experience occurs only in a context wherein the repercussions of a unitive story are played out, fought out, and delt with amongst co-culturalists. One individual cannot build a basilica by themselves, and the same is true of the architecture of deep spirituality. This is to say that, the religious endeavor, if it is to grow in complexity beyond the ability of an individual, requires that the endeavor be taken up by a community (a community of “builders,” so to speak, to continue the architectural analogy), all of whom work from a single blueprint (the unitive story).

Paganism is often described (and sometimes praised) as an “unorganized” religious tradition. In actuality, “Paganism” is something that does not exist as a tradition. “Paganism” is merely a term used to describe and collect a set of disparate movements (made up of groups, ideologies, practices, calendars, and aesthetics) that are generally thought of as being “earth-based” and  “pre-Christian” in nature, and these various movements must all be organized in their own way, or else they would not exist as such. Modern Wicca, for example, IS organized: There are the various branches of the “traditional” covens, the rather mercurial start-up covens, and the solitaries, all of whom interact with each other on one or more levels. Covens have a general shape and are organized with at least a nod toward Masonic lodge structure.

Wicca, then, has at least the beginnings of a culture, since such organization as that just described  largely on the existance of a unitive story. But Wicca is Wicca, not Paganism. Heathens are somewhat organized and there is a culture brewing. The same can be said of Druid groups. “Solitary” Pagans organize themselves along the lines designated by these organizations.

Nontheless, Pagans continue to identify as such. As Pagans. Why? Because there is strength in numbers: More people have heard of Pagans than have heard of Natib Qadesh or OBOD, and so it’s easier to get legal and friendly recognition as “Pagans”; also, it’s easier to have bigger parties at bigger festivals, and festivals themselves (those potential and neglected breeding grounds for unitive stories) cannot happen without reaching a certain critical mass of interested participants.

And so we come to a necessary decision: Either we, Pagans, decide to unite under a single unitive story and work towards the cultivation of a Pagan religious experience, or we, the various traditions currently identified under the umbrella of “Paganism”, go our separate ways and devote our time to developing our separate unitive stories. Otherwise, there is no hope of any of us experiencing a deep Pagan or “Pagan” spirituality within our lifetime nor within the lifetime of our children, I dare to say. I prefer the choice to unite under a single unitive story.

And here is how I would restructure—indeed, revolutionize—Paganism:

I would give Paganism a unitive story; actually, I would activate a story that Paganism already pays lip service to, but that is all but lost in fact.

The story I propose is one that all “Pagans” have already heard, and one which appears on any of the innumerable web-pages that seek to answer, “What is Paganism?” These definitions of Paganism will always touch upon two points: an earth-centered spirituality and a pre-Christian orientation. All I ask for in a Pagan unitive story is that Pagans actually take these two points as cornerstones of their religiosity, since, in fact, much of “Paganism” today has very little to do with the earth, and an unnerving amount of “Paganism” is of a decidedly post-Christian nature. I want Paganism to be “Revivalism of extra-Christian, earth-oriented theology and praxis,” and for Pagans to mean that when they say it.

Obviously, this unitive story will not unify several ‘districts’ of present-day “Paganism.” Many people who might now identify as Pagan would, if the above became the animating force of a new Paganism, be forced to found their own unified communities, ones which would support their particular spiritual inclinations. This, of course, includes the Ceremonial Magicians and the Thelemites, the UFOlogists and (surprise!) the Wiccans, given that “The Craft” has very little to do with Witchcraft and quite a lot to do with post-Crowley occultism. I do not hope here to denigrate these traditions—but I do hope to call them what they are, and that is this: Not Pagan.

And so, after this “return to center,” who is left? Who are the New Pagans? To restate, these would be individuals who espouse an earth-centered, extra-Christian religious attitude. I suppose next I must define both what it means to be earth-centered as well as what it is to be extra-Christian.

Earth-centered spirituality does not mean a poorly defined veneration for “The Earth,” which is the norm among most Pagans today. Earth-centered spirituality is a spirituality that is fundamentally oriented toward both the ecological health of the actual, living planet—I mean grass and wheat and mountains and fjords and oceans and the biospheres living therein, not pop-psychology—and, importantly, those concepts that spring forth from a radically ecological worldview, namely communalism, hospitality, peace (read: anti-war), feminism, sensualism, and an appreciation for human sexuality and human bodies of any color, shape, age, or other variable. Pagans, being earth-centered, could not support war, they could not support the preservation of degrading gender expectations (“femininity” and “masculinity”), they could not maintain adherence to the whim of the capitalist monoculture, and they could not support the subjugation of any unprivileged group—plant, animal, or otherwise. Pagans would be forced to recognize humanity as one animal species among many living on and with planet Earth.

By extra-Christian, I mean that the New Pagans would practice and cultivate beliefs held by peoples predating the advent of hegemonic Christianity, or those practices which existed in Christian lands but which existed outside of the hegemonic sphere. Witchcraft, though as such defined I believe as a post-Christian phenomenon, would then be a fertile field for the cultivation of New Pagan theology and practice, given that Witchcraft was the child of pre-Christian elements which then syncretized with Christianity while maintaining a primarily extra-Christian theology. Since, though based on pre-Christian philosophy and practice, Ceremonial Magic adapted to and now requires a primarily Kabbalistic worldview (which is based on Judeo-Christian ideas involving a separation between the divine and the mundane world) could not be counted as extra-Christian. Of course, given the fundamentally syncretic nature of any religious tradition, and especially of Christianity given its nativity at the temporal and spacial crux of the world in the first century C.E., this is all a grey area open for productive debate.

Indeed, such debates are those same trials that give depth to any culture–that is, these debates expand one’s understanding of a unitive story, giving depth to a cultural and religious tradition. Similarly, one might instantly recognize that the two primary assertions of this New Paganism, eco-centrism and extra-Christianity, are themselves at odds in many ways. For example, I have asserted that an earth-orientation would necessitate Pagans’ discarding any philosophy centering on gender essentialism (the maintenance of an inherent gender dichotomy), while at the same time most pre-Christian traditions maintained the privilege of the male-gendered and prescribed certain practices and beliefs for males and for females. How New Pagans would cope with this and other differences remains to be seen. Still, I maintain that for Pagans to return to those ideals which run counter to an earth-centered philosophy will be doing themselves a disservice and, essentially, backpedaling in terms of social understanding. Cultivation of the inherent disparity between earth-centered and extra-Christian worldviews as I have described them is again that very struggle that will add theological depth and rigor to a new Pagan tradition.

I believe that those groups and individuals currently identified as “Reconstructionist Pagans” come the closest to what I am proposing, and that these Recons will constitute the foundation of this New Paganism. However, Reconstructionism as it exists today is highly fractious, and this quality would make for poor building materials if indeed those disparate communities were to become cornerstones. We cannot have the Hellenes and the Nova Roma and the Celts and the Norse Recons existing as separate entities; Instead, I propose that all of these groups unify under the New Paganism by shifting their efforts toward a living syncretic revivalism, not a dry and overly academic reconstruction, of pre-Christian practices and beliefs. This revivalism will acknowledge the fluidity of Ancient belief across Eurasia both in time and in space. Pagan Revivalism depends not upon the static re-doing of past practices, but the re-application of those fundamental religious concepts that gave rise to the Eurasian religious milieu of several millenia. That is, The New Pagan Revivalism will be syncretic and polytheistic, allowing for the changing and reinterpretation of ancient practices in a modern (though not necessarily capitalist and post-industrial) context while remaining in accordance with the general nature of pagan syncretism in the past. The polytheism emerging from this revivalism will be at once “soft” and “hard”. Individuals participating in this Revivalism will, like our Pagan ancestors, participate in a dynamic and physical religious continuum that, I believe, is entirely compatible with the Pagan unitive story proposed above.

These changes—this revolution—this congregation around a unitive story, one of eco-spirituality and revivalist polytheism, this would indeed constitute the creation of a Deep Paganism, which I have called the New Paganism. Revivalist polytheism would  constitute the exoteric thrust of this movement, while radical ecology would, I believe, form the core—the esoteric center—of a new Pagan mysticism.


About John Harness
John Harness is an artist and educator in Chicago. He is a member of Socialist Alternative and the Klingon Language Institute. He writes about political activism and roleplaying games.

29 Responses to Toward A New Paganism

  1. Low Key says:

    I agree with you in general that religion and culture are linked and that paganism lacks a culture. I also think that individual subgroups of pagans are too small to create a culture of their own. I disagree with the specific requirement that you outlined. Radical eco-centrism brings to mind eco terrorists with people spiking trees and such. Also many recon religions tend to be conservative. For instance, most Asatruar are not going to be anti-war (which is not anti-peace), feminist, or sensualist. The Asatru do not value those qualities. They value things like community, gender equality, honoring ones ancestors, ties to the past and honoring the spirits of the land. To unite paganism under a banner, you’re going to need a cause that most can agree with and support. As it stands now heathens tend not think of themselves as part of paganism because of many pagans open hostility to anything not a part of the liberal agenda.

    • cartweel says:

      1. Thanks for your comment! Your words have made me realize that, really, Heathens have done exactly what I’ve described when I talk about groups developing cultures. They’ve (I don’t quite want to say ‘broken away’,) distanced themselves from “Paganism” in such a way that they are able to give themselves room to unite around a story–ethics, rituals, etc.For individuals who aren’t necessarily on board with what I’m saying concerning a new Pagan worldview that weds eco-feminism with ancient beliefs, I definitely think that Heathenism could serve as a model.

      2. However, the fact that anyone could lump contemporary Paganism in with the “liberal agenda” speaks directly to what I am talking about: Pagans, despite a rhetoric of having already done so, have not removed ourselves from the capitalist overculture and, therefore, cannot have actually in any way approximated, revived, or reconstructed the ways of our ancient precursors, nor can we claim a goddess-revering thealogy. Why AREN’T Pagans going out to physically end the abuse of forests? Why AREN’T Pagans organizing anti-war rallies? WHEN will ANY of us dedicate our lives–our spiritual lives being primary–to the aid of the poor? If sleeping with “eco terrorists” would make this religious path too radical or too daunting for many of its current adherents, then I ask what exactly those individuals are doing identifying with it when ecological action seems to me to be a basic extrapolation from Paganism’s fundamental premises. In other words: step up or drop out.

      3. Finally, if Asatruar believe that peace can co-exist with war—if Asatruar believe that gender equality can be achieved without a feminist worldview—if Asatruar believe that people can achieve community, honor any ancestors, or revere land spirits without a body-conscious, ecologically radical, anti-colonialist theology—then Asatruar are wrong. It is a historical fact that, no, our Pagan ancestors did not have the greatest body politics, and that they did constantly war and didn’t spend too much time worrying about the health of the planet; but neither can we, as modern people who share a world with atom bombs and dying rain forests, and who have gained the philosophic acumen to acknowledge the glorious worth of the Other, allow our reverence for the Old Gods to dictate to us a “conservative” politics. This forces us to reevaluate the worth of many ancient beliefs and practices, which may seem to some as an undesirable departure from the past. Nonetheless, if our religious traditions cannot stand the pressure of change, perhaps they are not meant to be followed. Shower your prayers upon your Gods, surely, but do not forget your duties to the Planet and her people.

      • Low Key says:

        How very Kristjan of you. Our way is the one true way and if your not following it your wrong. The one true way attitude is not a pagan attitude. This is something from Christianity that needs to be immediately discarded. There are many gods and many ways.

    • annyikha says:

      Sir, you’re thinking of radical feminism. A sociology professor of mine once said to me that anyone who thinks that women should be paid equally for the same job (women now make 75 cents for every $1 a man earns, even for jobs in the same field, FYI), receive the same civil rights, and be allowed to think/act for themselves is a feminist. People take this basic ideology to various extents, but then again, there are moderates and radicals within any community. To put it simply, as you value gender equality, you are actually a feminist whether you like the term or not.

      • Low Key says:

        Taking the moderate way does not require me to practice an -ism nor does it require me to be an -ist. Those are both exclusionary outlooks.

  2. Hrafnkell says:

    I read your article with interest (I was directed here by Makarios because he felt it was in line with my own recent post on Mythology on my blog, A Heathen’s Day).

    I read it with interest because I have written on this subject myself and it is something that is always very much on my mind. We are laying the foundations of the future of modern Paganism as we speak, every one of us who has returned to the customs and traditions of our ancestors. In a very Heathen sense, we are creating the starting point for the next generation of polytheists. Because I have a five-year-old son, this is very important to me.

    I agree with much of what you say. Some of it I have said myself in the past, and I have been a Heathen for 30 years this year.

    I am unclear about a couple of things you said. When you say “anti-war” are you saying “pacifist” and if you are saying “pacifist,” to what extent do you mean this? I don’t think that a willingness to fight wars equates to a “pro-war” stance or that accepting that wars sometimes need to be fought (and a concomitant willingness to fight them) equates to a war-monger stance, or to take it to an extreme, the accusation of being a “baby-killer”.

    I am a Heathen. I prefer this term (from ON heithinn) to Asatru only because it is an ancient and not a modern term. I cannot pretend to speak for all Heathens. Nobody could speak for all Heathens at any time in history, including all of pre-Christianity, but Heathens in general, I think it is safe to say, do not turn the other cheek. Even if you do not take it as a warrior ethos, Heathenism recognizes the necessity of struggle and the reality of war.

    I have previously argued for the necessity of some sort of central body to argue for Pagan rights in a largely monotheistic world, but I do not like the idea, suggested by you, of a “a living syncretic revivalism”. I believe that diversity is a strength, and not a weakness. This diversity demands different mythologies that speak to that particular religion, be it Roman or Greek or Norse or some other. The gods are all there, by virtue of our being polytheists, and as scholar Jan Assmann says, polytheism is a means of translation between cultures. We can each have our own culture; they naturally translate. There is no need for a Pagan mono-culture, if that is what you are arguing.

    I also have a problem with radical environmentalism (and with vegetarianism as well). As I recently told one of these people on my blog (and I’m in line with my ancestors here), I will thank the animal for dying for me, and I will apologize to the tree for cutting it down, but I will kill the animal and I will cut down the tree. Our ancestors were not as “green” as some modern Pagans like to imagine, but they respected the natural world far more than our predominantly monotheistic culture. I suspect if our ancestors had had a better understanding of environmental systems, they would have been more careful. But I don’t think they’d have ever advocated marching out to defend anything but a sacred forest or grove or mountain top. There are trees and there are trees, and there are mountain tops and there are mountain tops. Not every geological feature is sacred.

    So that’s just my two cents worth. As I said, it’s a well written and thoughtful post and I’m happy to have had a chance to read it. If you’ve no objections I’ll link it at my blog and invite some further feedback.

  3. Low Key says:

    Your arguments in point three are not especially compelling. Not being a part of the anti-war movement does not mean people are pro-war. Not being part of the feminist movement does not mean people are anti feminism. You seem to be stuck in some sort of balck and white world where if you are not on one side you are on the other. We can certainly have gender equality without dealing with feminatzis. Conservatism is about the communites well being is more important than any one individual in the community. The conservatism I speak of has nothing to do with the republican party. You can’t have a tight knit community without a conservative outlook. Radical anything destroys communities. You cannot have a community of radicals even if they have a common cause. As soons as the cause no longer serves, then the radicals go their seperate ways. Communities are long term.

    Spiking trees and burning down devlopments does not serve the cause of enviromentalism. Radical environmentalists give bad name to enviromentalism and causes many people to think enviromentalists are all a bunch lunatics. If you want to have effective environmnetalism you have to overcome the christian outlook of the earth is just a resource to use up until the rapture comes. You have to make a cultural change to instills a respect for the earth in people. To do that there has to be a change in our government. Radicals cannot make that change to the government because the will of ther majority will not be with the radical.

  4. Kullervo says:

    While I think this is a well-written article, I also think you could not possibly be more wrong about what it means to be “earth-centered.” As is typical of far too many contemporary Pagans, you have let the utopian-Aquarian ideals of 1960’s counterculture distort–if not completely replace–your notions of what it means to be a part of the living earth.

    Nature is not peaceful. Nature is violent. Animals kill and eat each other, and not only for food: they compete for space and resources the same way humans do, even against members of their own species. They may not do it with the levels of organization and destructive ingenuity that human beings have mustered, but they do it nonetheless. How is it earth-centered to imagine that we are fundamentally unlike–or that we should behave in a way that is fundamentally unlike–every other species?

    Our teeth teach us that we are omnivores. Which is more earth-centered? Taking part in the cycle of life by killing and eating, or imagining that we should excuse ourselves from evolution for some imagined moral reason? Which does more honor to the earth? Taking part in the cycle, or denying it?

    Species go extinct, and they have gone extinct since the beginning of time. There is no cosmic species-based right to exist. Evolving and dying out is part of nature’s cycle on the most grand scale.

    Nature is absolutely not gender neutral. Look at animals (and even plants!): everywhere you look you see gender roles. There may be no universals, and thus nothing inherently masculine and feminine in a species-transcendent sense, but within each individual species (especially within mammals, which human beings are), there is basically always a clear division between the roles, behavior, and biology of males and females.

    Things like violence and meat-eating only dishonor the earth when they are done in a way that is out of balance. Vegetarianism doesn’t honor the earth, but neither do industrial slaugterhouses, supermarkets, wastefulness and overfishing. Pacifism does no honor to the earth, but neither does warfare on the immense, destructive scale that has characterized 20th-century conflict. Attempting to prevent any species from ever dying out is profoundly unnatural, but rapidly wiping them from the planet at an unprecedentedly accelerated rate is also decidedly out of harmony with the earth. Social gender neutrality is a gross distortion of nature, but rigid social hierarchies and inflexible conventions are also completely out of whack.

    The earth is honored not when we pretend that we are not a part of it. The recognition that we are one species among many has no inherent moral quality whatsoever. In fact, it tells us that we should act like it, which means taking part in the cycles of nature in a way that is stable, sustainable, and healthy.

    What you are suggesting is instead a kind of ecological exceptionism, where human beings give lip-service to the cycles of nature while imagining that they stand somehow outside of it. Your notions of ecology appear to be too distorted by modern social movements to come close to an actual recognition of what “being earth-centered” would look like.

    • Low Key says:

      Well said.

    • Ali says:

      I suppose this isn’t the best place to get into an argument about whether or not “nature is inherently violent” (especially since I spent an entire month writing about the topic over at my blog and don’t really want to bring the argument to Cartweel’s forum without permission)…

      But I totally disagree with almost everything Kullervo said in his comment (and not just because of his factual errors and exaggerations). His counter-argument to pacifism not only takes for granted a classic strawman view of violence and destruction as synonymous, but completely mistakes diversity and individuality (as expressed through biological differences such as sex, among other things) as evidence for a philosophy of “gender essentialism,” as Cartweel put it (as any Third Wave Feminist can explain, the words “sex” and “gender” are not synonymous either).

      Acknowledging our ability as self-conscious animals to choose the ways we relate to the world and others in it (to choose, for instance, not to kill for food even if our teeth give us permission, which is in any case debatable; to choose to appreciate individuality in every being without automatic reference to gender) is not contrary to nature or denying our place in it. To reject our self-consciousness, to pretend that we are not animals who have evolved the ability to engage creatively and consciously with the world, is to “play dumb” as an excuse to indulge in activities and attitudes to which our own natures have given us alternatives.

      I for one am not interested in participating in cycles merely for the sake of participating in cycles, simply because someone along the way determined that This Is What It Means To Be Pagan. As a human animal with a healthy intellectual life as well as an aesthetic and ethical sense, I need more than that. I would not, were I stuck in a trap, gnaw off my own leg merely because that’s what a fox would do. I would not jump off a ledge because that’s what a lemming would do (if you’ll forgive the use of a fable to make a point). I am not a fox, nor a lemming; I am a human animal, and for me, an earth-centered spirituality means not only engaging with the natural world, but engaging with what it means to be human in that world.

      • Low Key says:

        This is exactly why there’s is not going to be a pan-pagan united front because pagans are to diverse to be able to agree on common causes. I for one, find the idea of vegetarianism laughable. I would never participate in something where that would be a primary value. I find it arrogant that someone says, “I know best”, where the environment is concerned. We should be working with the environment, not trying to manage it. The environment will manage itself if given the chance. We do not have the intellectual capacity to manage a hugely complex system like the environment. I’m sure the local ravens think they have a healthy intellectual life as well.

      • Kullervo says:

        Careful, Ali; you’re putting words into my mouth.

        First, I never advocated anything even approaching “gender essentialism.” In fact, I specifically said that nature teaches us, if nothing else, that there is nothing universally masculine or feminine. Many species have gender roles, but those roles are not the same from species to species. Thus, while nature may tell us that men and women fill different roles (or, in any case, it tells us that they are not interchangeable), it does not tell us what those roles are. There may not be anything essential about “masculine” or “feminine,” at least nothing that transcends the human species, but I think that you can make a good argument that there is something universal about “gender difference.”

        Second, and more importantly, I’m not necessarily saying that pacifism, vegetarianism, and feminism are to be discounted in favor of a society of walking MANIMALS. But I am saying “you can’t get there from here.” To get to the conclusion that humans should eschew violence and live in a gender-neutral society, you have to go through moral values that nature just does not give us. You can get them from somewhere else (even if you just get them from “I like it better that way”), but there is nothing earth-centered about it. Nature may have given us reason and intellect, but nature has also given us no real clues about the right ways to use them. We may be self-conscious, but self-consciousness does not itself have any moral implications without reference to something else.

      • Ali says:

        I’m not sure in what way vegetarianism is “trying to manage the environment.” It is a personal choice made at each meal, not some enforced program of social or environmental control. I find it odd to think that anyone else would “know best” for me, insofar as they could claim that my vegetarianism is inherently unhealthy or wrong. As for your last remark, Low Key, it looks like an attempt to be merely insulting, but it belies an amusingly self-contradictory belief in human exceptionalism–for all you know, ravens do have a healthy intellectual life. Again, though, I’m not a raven. So I’m still lost as to your point….

        On the whole, though, we agree on a lot more than you seem to believe. And such debates, as Cartweel pointed out, are exactly what help to deepen a shared culture.

  5. Ali says:

    Fascinating stuff here! I’m especially intrigued by your mention of anti-war/pacifist views as an essential aspect of earth-centered spirituality. I wrote on this idea myself a few months ago and I’m currently working on an article on finding ways in which pacifism can be reconciled with and even supported by ancient Celtic mythology and iconography (inspired by Gandhi’s working with the Gita in developing his philosophy of nonviolence, satyagraha).

    I think I’m still not sure exactly what you mean, however, by “extra-Christian” as opposed to “post-Christian” or “pre-Christian.”

    It seems to me that it is basically untenable to subscribe to a “pre-Christian” spiritual tradition in any pure or literal sense. Christianity, for all its faults, has shaped the conversation of comparative religion and theology, as well as philosophy, art and culture as a whole, for two millennia now and some great thinkers and artists have been influenced one way or another by its presence. Would “pre-Christian” spirituality require us to turn an indifferent eye to the value and potential insight these philosophers and artists have to offer, simply because they were born too late for our tastes? Rather, I think it is vital to understand the role Christianity has played and recognize both what it has contributed as well as what it has robbed from the larger cultural conversation. Were we to do anything else, we would be restricting ourselves to a certain amount of ignorance with no real justification beyond our personal annoyance at being, for the moment, a minority. Because I value my ancestors and my heritage, I cannot imagine any legitimate reason for rejecting or ignoring any part of the long journey that has brought myself, my community and my culture to its present state. For me, there cannot be a “pre-Christian” spirituality in the present day–the idea borders on the nonsensical. There can only be a healthy “post-Christian” journey into a future that respects and preserves what is valuable in the past. One day Christianity might only be tumbled-down ruins worn away with time and covered over with moss, but still its effects on the cultural landscape cannot be entirely erased.

    • Low Key says:

      It’s not necessary to reject the whole of human thought since the advent of Christianity. There’s nothing to keep one from picking and choosing those things that don’t require a Christian outlook to incorporate into the fabric your life. I also agree that it is impossible to recreate a religion without its associated culture and world view. You can, however, revive the core of a past religion and bring it forward into our current culture which would also be changed by the inclusion of the revived religion. ie Discard the concept of sin and emphasize honor instead. One of the things we need to start doing in order accomplish this is start building myths and stories that can be used to create a common world view for the revived religion. I think it is important to reject the Christian world view. Without doing this, we will eventually become just another sect of Christianity.

  6. cartweel says:

    Thank you everyone for such long and well thought responses! Unfortunately, given that everyone has obviously put so much effort into their comments, it is difficult for me at this time to respond to each comment with as much detail as I would like. So, I am planning several subsequent posts which will, I hope, serve as my response.

    However, I would like now to respond to Ali’s insightful comments on what I had termed “extra-Christian” practice. As I pointed out at the top of my post, what I have written above is merely a working draft that I readily admit has many flaws. The biggest of these flaws, I think, is exactly that phrase, “extra-Christian.”

    I abhor negative definitions. I think that often we can spend too much time defining what we are not without ever spending any time to figure out what we -are-. Therefore, my phrasing is automatically problematic. The reason I chose to use this phrase was because, at the time, I could not come up with any other way of putting what I was trying to get at; nor have I yet to have come up with such a phrase. I agree with Ali that it is essentially impossible to divorce ourselves from our own history up to this point. I suppose the closest that I can come to positively defining what I mean is to say that a New Paganism, as I have envisioned it, would found itself upon a poetic polytheism. More to come once I’ve figured out exactly what THAT means..!

  7. Kullervo says:

    A major problem with this article is that the author started with an a priori determination as to what defines his New Paganism. And then, when applying the rubric to actual self-described Pagans, most of them get ruled out, and the only ones the author has left (pagan Reconstructionists) would for the most part disagree strongly with the author’s conclusions.

    Cartwheel has also made a classic error by looking for common characteristics among Pagans and then concluding that what is common (or weirdly uncommon, since his common characteristics wind up excluding Wiccans who are, I believe, the majority of self-described Pagans) must therefore be essential or fundamental. The result is prescriptive, not descriptive, and that kind of approach can’t help but be completely colored by the author’s personal biases (thus the a priori determination). Instead of trying to talk about what Pagans are, Cartwheel is prescribing what Pagans should be, and is espousing a view of Paganism that probably would, in the final analysis, be acceptable only to (some) Neo-Druids.

    Maybe Pagan Reconstructionists are earth-centered in a sense, but I suspect that most Reconstructionists would say that love and respect for the gods is far more important to them than “being earth-centered.” So Cartwheel is arrogantly presuming to tell Pagans what they should be believing, instead of talking about what they actually believe.

    There may simply be no common characteristic that describes all self-described “Pagans” in a way that tells us anything meaningful about their fundamental beliefs and practices.

    • Erik says:

      Maybe Pagan Reconstructionists are earth-centered in a sense, but I suspect that most Reconstructionists would say that love and respect for the gods is far more important to them than “being earth-centered.”

      Yup; I know quite a few Recons who reject the term “Pagan” (sometimes rather violently) precisely because they feel their religious life is not “earth-centered” in the way that the term is generally used in Pagan discourse.

  8. Low Key says:


    I was actually serious about the ravens. What I was trying to get across was that consciousness and self-awareness are not unique to humanity. It’s arrogance for people to believe that we are so much better than the rest of the animal kingdom.

    You conflated to different ideas within the post. My mention of vegetarianism had to do with pan-pagan front not managing the environment.

    For some reason hard returns are being removed from my posts and so paragraphs are not coming through.

  9. Low Key says:

    Vegetarianism also doesn’t make sense from an animistic point of view. If the earth is alive and aware, it makes little difference whether you eat an animal or a plant or even dirt. Plants could easily be conscious and self-aware but on a level that we can’t perceive. Shamans indicate that plants are just as conscious as animals.

    • annyikha says:

      Meat should be used sparingly because it’s more resource-effective to raise a crop of wheat or quinoa or tomatoes. It shouldn’t be based on the “plants have no nervous system” thing at all. If we had the infrastructure in Hellenismos, I wouldn’t eat non-sacrificial meat on most occasions … but as it stands now, most of us are not trained butchers, so I eat normal meat several times a week. Still, animal flesh should not be indulged in for every meal … there’s a reason why “being fond of sacrifice” was used to describe gluttons in addition to pious people! If everyone cut their meat consumption in half, we could free up more planetary resources.

  10. Ali says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about Cartweel’s overarching idea of a “New Paganism” with a unitive story; I admit, I got a little sidetracked by my enthusiasm for some of the particular ideas themselves that he brings up, and didn’t give very much consideration to the original premise. All things considered, though, it seems to me that unitive stories are largely organic in how they develop and one will come, or not, of its own accord, so to speak.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to declare that Pagans will never have a unitive story, though. As it goes, I haven’t seen any more disagreement here than there might be among a given group of Christians, or Buddhists, or Muslims, and yet these are all groups that share a basic unitive story. Besides, my dad taught me never to say never. 😉

  11. annyikha says:

    I think we should be allied with one another, but I wouldn’t want a unified foundation story. All of our adopted polytheistic cultures mean something special to us, and if we do decide to make a coalition, it shouldn’t require the members to be anything but polytheistic and diversity-affirming (meaning no organizations that advocate hate crimes against ethnicities/races they don’t like; sadly, this is something many of us have to worry about at least a tad). Maybe we should see how diverse Hindu sects work with one another as a group to address their needs.

  12. cartweel says:

    Hey Everybody!

    Wow. I go away for a few hours and BOOM! There are so many comments! I don’t even really know what to do… I’m glad that my writing has sparked such a debate, even if it seems that the debate has, in places, shifted a bit off topic. Anyway, as I said above, I will be posting a response to many of the thoughts and criticisms that have come up later this week, once I’ve had a little time to comb through the discussion so far. Anyway, fell free to keep up the discussion.

    Oh, and since someone asked: You ALWAYS have my permission to talk about nonviolence. ALWAYS.

  13. Pingback: On Professional Angel-Wrestling « Pagan Godspell

  14. Souris Optique says:

    Low Key, I’m curious as to how one can possibly be anti-(people who believe in and strive for gender equality) and say they believe in gender equality. You like the idea in theory but think that women should just shut up until men decide to give it to them?

    And forgive me, but it’s hard to believe “The conservatism I speak of has nothing to do with the republican party” when you’re throwing around straw-man terms coined by Rush Limbaugh.

    • Low Key says:

      Just because I choose not to be a part of some form of extremism does not make anti anything.

      I don’t need to give women anything, its there for them to take up themselves.

      None of my comments contained strawmen. In reply to the rushism comment. Please explain why you raped and killed that child in 1990.

      You are obviously ignorant of what conservative means, please use a dictionary before replying.

  15. alec says:

    I think those interested in a pagan, heathen, or otherwise spiritually Earth-centric culture, would find the writing, interviews, etc, of Martin Prechtel to be very interesting. His website, worth visiting but not the most voluminous, is

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