The Future of Paganism

Jason at the Wild Hunt has been kind enough to point the way to an academic discussion on what the future of paganism might bring.

From Jason’s discussion:

The Future of Pagan religions is even more fascinating because we’ve never conformed to the future laid out for us. We were saying we would remain a fringe, occult community and now one of the cast members of the most popular cartoon show for the past 20 years has become Wiccan. We were insistent about transmitting information orally or by handcopying and now the internet has made Paganism an open-source community. You can find our classics at your local library. We’re growing and diversifying yet the concept of our future is very hazy to most of us. There are people who have been active in the community for decades who have no idea just how diverse we have become or how much we have grown.

One of the things that is often missed when discussing modern neopaganism and its potential future is this simple fact: the neopagan movement is primarily political, and only secondarily religious. That is not to say that neopagans are not religiously devout, but simply that the identity of “pagan” is more of a political statement than a religious one. Whereas most new religious movements tend to seek acceptance into mainstream society, neopaganism as a whole relishes its “outsider” status, seeing itself as an alternative to mainstream culture, or even as a catalyst for changing that culture.

And that, to me, is a key element that must be considered when predicting the future of paganism. Because the indications are stronger and stronger that many neopagans are seeking paganism as a religious identity, not a political one, and that religious identity is currently a vague one. I see the future of paganism in codifying that religious identity and separating it from the political one.

The plurality, as well as the success, of many ancient religions was in their particularity, not in their universality. Cultic action was directed toward specific divinities, not “the divine” in general. Moving from a discourse that speaks in terms of “the divine” instead of in specific, personal, and individual terms about specific, personal and individual deities, will make these niche religious situations far more effective and relevant to individual communities. There are doctors and other medical professionals who can be reached in most communities at any time, and this is important to know; but it’s also important to have a relationship with an individual doctor who knows your health history and your own specific needs in order to get those needs met more fully. Calling “Doctor!” might get you some assistance in certain situations, but knowing the name and the number of a specific doctor will be more likely to turn up results. The same is true of the divine world. There has been too much emphasis on the unity of divinity, when there needs to be more emphasis on the plurality of divinities for future effective Pagan theologies to take root in niche religious contexts.

This is very true, and is a good starting point. But what is also true is that paganism has traditionally been more centered upon practice than belief — for the many myths accompanying the same gods, the basic rites were often the same. Why you offer a sacrifice was often not as important as how or when. The Christian conflation of religion with faith needs to be seriously re-examined.

Another issue at hand is that of community interaction. Religion in the ancient world was a means for communities to come together and address social and community issues. The primary concern was for the well-being and success of people in this world, and the well-being of the state on whatever level it existed. While larger scale political goals, such as environmentalism, are noble, they often neglect the more immediate community connections that ancient pagan religions fostered. One of the hallmarks of modern neopaganism has been the creation of subcultures and clique communities — the “pagan community” — in lieu of interacting with the community at large. I have noticed an increasing tendency among neopagans to want to become more involved in local communities, and I think that is also in the future of paganism.

In short, I think that the future of paganism will see it starting to mainstream. And I can also see that trend causing a major rift in the pagan community as those who with to maintain paganism as a political movement outside the mainstream resist this trend.

Of course, I may just be seeing this because my own inclinations are in that direction, but it’s worth considering …

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One response to “The Future of Paganism

  1. Pingback: On Being Pagan | Blacklight Metaphysics

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