What's the Deal with Modern Pagans?


#1

Recently an occult bookstore and shop has opened in our area. Lots of folks are upset by it, and some are quite fearful. The store advertises itself as a supply center and meeting place for all people and things occult and pagan. They do tarrot readings, sell magic supplies, have meetings, the whole nine yards. I’ve been to the store’s website and evidently there are quite a number of “pagans” who live in our area. These are not just kids either. Some of them are bona fide grown-ups (well, they’re over 21 anyway). I’ve read some of the postings on their site, and followed some of the links. It just seems silly to me. Like some make believe juvenile fantasy that they never outgrew. But the “pagans” take themselves quite seriously, and claim to be following various “ancient practices” like Celtic or Native American religions. Those claims sound like a load of manure to me.

So, here are my questions…

Are these people actually practicing some real religion(s), or do they just make this stuff up as they go along?

How many of these people are around anyhow?

Are they organized or independent?

Are they just going to sit around eating Twinkies, reading Harry Potter and playing D & D, or are they going to start killing our cats?

Someone give me the lowdown.


#2

I have a couple Wiccan friends. Good decent people. They care about the earth and the environment. They have three children they are raising in the Craft.

They are very involved in their coven. I have attended an “open circle” to see what’s the fuss…it was very beautiful in it’s own way…they had very similar symbols as I’ve seen in liturgical worship…a silver chalice with wine…a crescent shaped “cake”…really a honey nut cookie which they shared as a “common meal” at the end of the ritual.

They use mythical symbols and stories…that for them are as real as Bible stories are for some Christians. Their Gods and Goddesses are as real as the Trinity is for many Christians.

They are for the most part people of peace. They speak sofly and with courtesey to others…but they are very serious of their faith…no they don’t harm animals…that would be against the whole “kind to the earth” thing and “reverence life in all it’s forms.”

You will find kooks among them…but then you find kooks among those who call themselves “Christians”…

You will find some of them burning candles in front of statues to “work a spell” in much the same way as one of my Catholic friens burns candles and offers prayers for assistance to one of the saints.

The whole idea of “spell work” is more akin to prayer and visualization and meditation on the outcome one hopes for…it is really “active prayer”…it’s not waving one’s arms and repeating rhymes…it’s working with the devine to achieve a purpose.

It’s not for me…but it’s not to be feared…once it’s understood…much of the mystery goes away…it’s just…different.


#3

1: many are practing a real religion, others are just making stuff up (probably most high school kids are making it up as they go along)

2: I don’t know

3: I don’t know

4: don’t be silly. do you really believe all those old stereotypes?


#4

Neopaganism and Wicca is one of the fastest growing religious groups in the US from what I’ve read…they don’t do a lot of publishing their members names or their numbers…for good reasons…there is much to fear from many “Christians.”

When I lived in Nashville Tennessee about 25 years ago, I was acquainted with a neighbor lady who owned a “Pagan” bookstore in one fo the downtown river shops…it was in a trendy little rustic mall on the river…it was fire bombed after the Baptist had a rally and march to protest the “Satanists” on the riverfront…she re-opened near Vanderbilt Univ…with a much younger clientele so near the University…she lucked out…no one was hurt…


#5

Well, let me take a stab at it (the question, not your cat, if you promise you aren’t stealing Jewish and Protestant babies for secret Catholic cannibalistic rituals :D).

For context, I am a bona fide grownup (age 44) college educated Hellenic Neopagan Unitarian Universalist. I am also a happily married suburban homeschooling mom who doesn’t live in a fantasy world in my parents’ basement :). You are most likely to find me trying to get my lawn to grow (new subdivision), shuttling the kid to gymnastics or playdates, hitting the library or the grocery store, working on social justice projects (feeding hungry kids, promoting conservation of resources and sustainable living) or chatting with the other moms at the park. In other words, I’m pretty boring and normal. You would not look at me and automatically say “ooh, she’s a Pagan!” (as if Neopagans did not come in all ages, races, income and educational levels, walks of life, etc just like members of all other religions). Actually, many folks in my area assume I am a conservative Christian simply because I homeschool :smiley: .

I am more likely to be playing board games or checkers with my kid than D&D (tried it once–it was boring and I was awful) and would rather have good quality dark chocolate than Twinkies (revolting stuff–they and the cockroaches will be around long after any nuclear blast). I liked Harry Potter (which is no more a “how-to” or secret occult recruiting manual than Cinderella or the Wizard of Oz, despite what some Christian groups will claim), but would prefer a good mystery novel. :slight_smile:

I will be the first to tell you that there is a lot of dreck printed under the name of Neopaganism, just like there is under the name of Christianity. It must all be looked at with a discerning (and skeptical) eye.

Are these people actually practicing some real religion(s), or do they just make this stuff up as they go along?

Well, to answer that fully, I need to have more info on what you consider constitutes a “real religion.” I have met many more Catholics on this board than I had ever expected that are very vocal in saying that no religion other than Catholic Christianity is a real religion.

By mainstream standards, yes, the vast majority of Neopagans are practicing religions that are just as real as yours is, a Buddhist’s is, a Hindu’s is, a Jew’s is, etc. Note that I use “religions” as there is not one singular Neopagan religion. It is more of an umbrella term that in common usage encompasses a wide variety of religious traditions, some of which are as different from each other as Christianity and Buddhism, much less Catholic and Baptist. It has more in common with the term “Eastern religions” than with the idea of sects of a single religion. To get a feel for that variety, you might start with looking at religioustolerance.org/neo_paga.htm. A couple of books that you might find useful:
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism” (yes, I know, the title is amusing, but I have had many tell me it is a wonderful introduction) and also “Paganism: an introduction to Earth-centered religions” by Joyce and River Higginbotham. Both of these are readily available at places like Amazon, I got mine from a local chain bookstore. Neither is a “how-to” book, more of an overview of the fairly current Neopagan community in the US.

As to whether some want to “just make it up as they go along,” well, I have heard plenty of folks on this board accusing lots of other Christian groups (in some cases all) of doing just that. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong.

The same is true in the Neopagan community. Here’s an interesting post from someone following the Asatru (Norse) religion that addresses that issue from his perspective:
cauldronborn.blogspot.com/2007/03/demands-of-ancestral-religion.html

Finally, unfortunately, yes, there are some folks who will call themselves Neopagan just for shock value, but those don’t tend to stay around too long.

Are they organized or independent?

Depends on the religious tradition and sometimes on the sect within that tradition. Some have local, national or international organizations, but a great many are independent.

How many of these people are around anyhow?

Because of the above, coming up with precise numbers is difficult if not impossible. adherents.com/rel_USA.html might give you a starting point on that one for the US.

Are they just going to sit around eating Twinkies, reading Harry Potter and playing D & D, or are they going to start killing our cats?

Not unless they were planning on doing that even if they weren’t Neopagan. This is pretty much the equivalent of saying “well, a Catholic Church is moving into our area…are they going to just sit around worshipping their statues or are they going to start molesting our children?” Just as absurd and just as offensive. The local store is likely to have a similar impact on you and your neighbors as your Catholic church has on its neighbors–not much unless you choose to go inside.


#6

It’s real to them


#7

I plead the 5th. :wink:

Thank you for taking the time to respond in such detail and with personal stories. It’s always good to put a face on a concept, and get a slice of someone else’s experience. I guess ignorance and prejudice can cut both ways. I’ll spend some time following the links you provided, and I’ll share them with some of the people I know who are fearful. Maybe it will calm things down.

I suppose what I meant by “real religions” was exactly what you took it to mean. Is it a “real religion” in the way that Hinduism is an actual religion? Do the practicioners of say Wicca or Druidism or Celtic or Native American spirituality trace their lineage back the same way we Catholics trace our Bishops back to the Apostels or are the modern “neo” Pagan religions of a more recent (19th century) origin? I guess the meat of my question is do these religions have an authentic historical basis and are there authentic historical documents or traditions that go along with them?

Also, the bookstore I’m refering to specifically uses the word “occult” and posts ads on “Luciferian” meet up sites. The store makes a real point of being a source for “all things occult.” I realize the word occult means hidden, but when Christians use the word “occult” we mean satanic. When Neopagans use the term “occult” what do they mean? Also are you familiar with this “Luciferian” business?

Thanks again for your time and insight.


#8

To go back to the old standard, Wicca, that particular neopagan religion originated with a man named Gerald Gardner, an early 20th century Brit who claimed it to have the sort of spiritual pedigree you’re talking about. Whether it actually does or not is highly debatable, but in my opinion being able to point to a chart going back oh-so-many years does nothing to enhance or diminish the validity of any religion. Remember that Christianity was 60 years old once :wink:

Some other neopagan religions are sort of continuations of old faiths ‘in spirit’, if you will – one example would be Asatru, which worships the old Norse gods such as Odin and Thor. While their adherents may not be descended from Vikings, and while they can’t exactly keep some of the ancient practices going in this day and age, the spirit’s there.

Also, the bookstore I’m refering to specifically uses the word “occult” and posts ads on “Luciferian” meet up sites. The store makes a real point of being a source for “all things occult.” I realize the word occult means hidden, but when Christians use the word “occult” we mean satanic. When Neopagans use the term “occult” what do they mean? Also are you familiar with this “Luciferian” business?

I haven’t heard of the Luciferians before. If you’re talking about the ‘Church of Lucifer’ (luciferian.org), they seem at first glance to be a splinter group of LaVeyan Satanists.

Satanism is not ‘devil worship’ – at least, not usually. While there are some people who do in fact worship the Christian devil, most people who call themselves Satanists are atheists and do not believe in any real god or devil. The name is more chosen for shock value than anything, and I’ll admit I have a hard time taking them seriously. It’s a philosophy that serves the self first and others only if one pleases – and the needs of others are placed after one’s own wants. It might be compared to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy with a layer of religious melodrama on top.

I could have the wrong CoL, though – keep in mind that just as ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’ when you’re not using the word in a specifically Christian God-vs-Satan context, ‘lucifer’ simply means ‘lightbringer’. The group at that bookstore may have nothing whatsoever to do with Lucifer as devil.


#9

** Do the practicioners of say Wicca or Druidism or Celtic or Native American spirituality trace their lineage back the same way we Catholics trace our Bishops back to the Apostles **

First, you do need to understand that there is a difference between Native American spirituality as practiced by actual Native American tribes which usually does have an unbroken lineage and the unfortunate modern penchant to promote some sort of romanticized, idealized pan-North American Native American spirituality that never existed by mixing traditions and stories from all over the place.

Most Neopagans who have any idea of the actual history of their religions will tell you that, no, there is not an unbroken lineage of practitioners from, say, pre-Christian Europe to today. Honestly, rather than 19th century, most Neopagan religions (note that I prefer to use the “Neo” part very deliberately to emphasize that I do know the difference :slight_smile: ) actually began in the early to mid-20th century. There were societal and philosophical trends that set the stage for them going back to the 19th century (and earlier), but the actual modern versions of the religions did not exist before the early 20th century.

A great book that details this for Wicca, the largest of the Neopagan religions, is called, “Triumph of the Moon,” by British historian Ronald Hutton. He spends the first part of the book examining the trends that set the stage in Britain for the origin of Wicca, then the second part is an extremely detailed examination of the way in which Wicca developed in Britain, how it crossed to the US to become intertwined with radical feminism and how it then went back to Britain and changed the face of Wicca there. A fascinating book for any student of religion.

You might also find this article on different potential meanings of the term “Pagan” especially as it pertains to modern religious movement. neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html

** I guess the meat of my question is do these religions have an authentic historical basis and are there authentic historical documents or traditions that go along with them?**

Not in the way in which I think you mean. Certainly there is an historical basis for most of the Gods and Goddesses being worshipped in the past (though there are notable exceptions, especially in Wicca), and we have written records of their stories and the stories of the people who worshipped them, to a greater or lesser extent. The Greeks and Romans, for instance, were very prolific, but the Druids left no written records.

The majority of Neopagans realize that we are not Iron Age Celts or Golden Age Greeks. We are modern citizens of the modern world. We seek inspiration from the stories of those who have previously worshipped our Gods, but our guide is primarily personal experience.

Take a look at a few of these to see if it helps give you a better idea of the worldview (and realize that you are, of necessity, getting my perspective on this, there are plenty in the Neopagan world who would disagree with just about anything :slight_smile: ):
adf.org/articles/identity/core-theology.html
and
neopagan.net/NeopagansBelieve.html

There was a very extensive thread on this forum in December in response to an article in This Rock on “Anti Neopagan Apologetics” that you might find interesting (once you get past the initial rants against the OP and the call for online exorcism :rolleyes: ) –http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=124238. This is actually what brought me to this forum in the first place. I have stayed around to add what insight I can to questions such as yours (and because I find theological discussion and debate lots of fun :smiley: ).

Also, the bookstore I’m refering to specifically uses the word “occult” and posts ads on “Luciferian” meet up sites. The store makes a real point of being a source for “all things occult.” I realize the word occult means hidden, but when Christians use the word “occult” we mean satanic. When Neopagans use the term “occult” what do they mean? Also are you familiar with this “Luciferian” business?

Is this the sole focus of the shop or is it part of the overall offerings? New Age-ish shops typically have a fairly slim profit margin and aim to catch as diverse a share of the alternative religious market as they can. It’s hard to tell from the description.

So, “occult” in this situation could mean either as I am reading it, though Satanism as a religion is fairly different than the ideas of the witchhunters of earlier Europe. Based on the websites I could find, it appears that there may be a number of different groups who refer to themselves as Luciferian, but may have widely varying beliefs.

You might find something in the following links. I am not personally acquainted with anyone who follows modern Satanism or any of the other associated paths, so I can be of limited assistance in this area.

faqs.org/faqs/religions/satanism/faqngp/
and
religioustolerance.org/satanism.htm


#10

KarenNC

Thank you very much for all the effort and research you’ve put into answering my questions. It really is appreciated. I’ll follow up on the links you have provided, and try to educate myself from this springboard.

By the way…


#11

Mirdath

Thanks for your help. As you can see I am (was) almost totally ignorant about the subject.


#12

**Recently an occult bookstore and shop has opened in our area. **

Good for you! You have a new source of information.

Lots of folks are upset by it, and some are quite fearful.

As usual, igniorance is the source of fear. Occultism has never been a source of real danger or trouble to society. It is simply another form of spiritual expression, no better or worse, objectively, than christianity, islam or hinduism.

the “pagans” take themselves quite seriously, and claim to be following various “ancient practices” like Celtic or Native American religions. Those claims sound like a load of manure to me.

Depends on just what claims are being made. Neopaganism uses research into the traditional practices of ancient and tribal religions to shape new practices that are suitable for modern westerners. Sometimes those practices closely resemble ancient ways, sometimes less so.

All religions have their less-than-scholarly members. Some Pagans probably do imagine that what we do is really what the ancients did. Most know that we’re doing something related, but new.

Are these people actually practicing some real religion(s), or do they just make this stuff up as they go along?

Neopagan religions are as real as any. The most widely-known, Wicca, was created in the 1940s and 50s. There are third-generation wiccans around, though, like most new religious movements, most members enter by conversion. Other forms of neopaganism are rather younger, most dating from the late 20th c, say 1975 - 90.

In practice, Pagan religion is as real as a devoted practitioner makes it. Pagan ways offer devotion, study, ethics and personal growth, for those who really do the work. Of course there will always be those drawn to religions for social or ego reasons, but that’s no more likely in Paganism than in Catholicism.

How many of these people are around anyhow?

Best recent estimates say about 1,000,000, worldwide, with probably at least half of those in the US. Those numbers may be low.

Are they organized or independent?

Both - have a look at www.cog.org , www.adf.org, and aquatabch.org for some of the organized end. Most US bigger cities have somewhat public Pagan organizing. Most new Pagans learn through the huge flow of books available everywhere. They come to self-identify quietly at home, and then decide whether and when to make themselves publically known, or join a group. Since a lot of people still wonder whether Pagans kill cats, etc, many new Pagans are reluctant to ‘come out’, and practice quietly at home.

Are they just going to sit around eating Twinkies, reading Harry Potter and playing D & D, or are they going to start killing our cats?

Many are professionals and technicians, many are in school for such careers. If they get organized in your area, they’ll probably offer public ritual worship that, of course, won’t involve any illegal or distasteful activities. Neopaganism has, from its beginnings, rejected animal sacrifice. We know the ancients did it, and there was nothing wrong in it, but it’s never been seen as proper for our time.

Ian Corrigan


#13

rolls eyes That was an unnecessary comment borne out of ignorance and stereotyping.


#14

Also, the bookstore I’m refering to specifically uses the word “occult” and posts ads on “Luciferian” meet up sites. The store makes a real point of being a source for “all things occult.” I realize the word occult means hidden, but when Christians use the word “occult” we mean satanic. When Neopagans use the term “occult” what do they mean? Also are you familiar with this “Luciferian” business?

“The occult” is a dustbin category that has a variety of meanings, as you suggest. Originally, it refers to seeking the 'hidden" powers and abilities of things - a curiosity that helped fire science, as well as various heterodox spiritual traditions, and maybe a couple of orthodox ones.

The core heresy (from a christian perspective) inside ‘occult’ ideas is that human will and skill can, by itself, allow us to know the spiritual world and deal with it and in it as active agents. This felt, to the christians, much like the ‘pride’ that they considered the great sin of their mythic Lucifer. Combine that with early christian assertions that all non-christian deities were (are) ‘devils’, and you can see how occult and Pagan ideas came to be thought of as ‘satanic’.

Paganism never had anything to do with ‘satanic’ things. There was and is no ‘satan’ in Paganism. Traditional Pagan ways were a family of religions that honored the divine as they understood it, and sought to live well and do good. Neopagans are mainly the same. However, a thousand years or so of Christian mythologizing has embedded the idea of a ‘fallen angel’ into The popular imagination. We can, perhaps, blame Milton for casting Satan as a noble rejector of overweening authority and churchly grandeur, and that idea has always attracted a few westerners. Some of those have applied ‘luciferian’ mythic motifs to the practice of occultism.

There is almost no ‘Satanism’ in the traditional occult. There is not a single western book before the 20th c that gives instructions for Satanic worship, or prescribes human sacrifices, or sexual orgies, and even prescriptions for animal sacrifices are quite rare.

In the 20th c, some occultists, usually in a sort of reaction against ‘organized religion’, I think, have adopted the figure of ‘lucifer’ or even ‘satan’ as a symbol of total self-will and personal power. While traditional occultists seek will and personal power, there has always been a recognition that we all live in relationship, that the self must always depend on others, whether material beings, divine beings, or the many less-than-divine spirits. ‘Luciferian’ occultism is a small fad inside the occult world these days, but doesn’t have any real traction.

Ian


#15

Unless one believes Satan is at work deceiving people into believing in paganism


#16

I am not so concerned by ‘danger to society’ as ‘danger to self’ and in this case occultism is dangerous insofar as it draws people from God.

Oh, and one can objectively distinguish between Islam and Christianity by the sum evils committed in their name by people actually following their respective faiths.


#17

I follow a non Christian religion, so in many minds that automatically puts me into the catagory of “pagan”. I hang at some pagan forums, and in the local pagan community as well, and pretty much pagans run the gamut of behavior same as any other group.

Some are truly spiritual and practice an identifiable faith, others are in it for “social” reasons, some, well meaning make it up as they go, others sort of flakily bop from fad to fad.

Truly the parallels between how “pagans” relate to faith and religion and how “Christians” do are very strong. Some are very superstitious, others very rational, others very mytical. Some are high liturgy, others very informal. Some have lots of theology, others very little.

Pagan/occult shops usually cater to a wide variety of pagan types, as Christian bookstores cater to the spectrum of Christianity. I browse in both types of stores regularly.


#18

That’s you, not the pagans. Ian’s statement is perfectly correct. The only connection between neopaganism and satanic deception is in your beliefs about it.


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