Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Contemporary Neo-Paganism

The multiple patterns of polytheism allow room to move meaningfully through a pluralistic universe. They free one to affirm the radical plurality of the self, an affirmation that one has seldombeen able to manage because of the guilt surrounding monotheism's insidious implication that we have to "get it together." (Miller, ix)

Within the much larger occult community there exists a smaller community of individuals whose particular beliefs clearly distinguish them from other occultists. These persons not only believe in "real" magic but practice it. They believe in a plurality of deities, the gods and goddesses of pre-Christian polytheism. They revere the earth and the forces of nature and attempt to attune themselves to them. (Melton, 5)From an historical perspective contemporary Neo-Paganism can trace its roots back to the early twentieth century works of Margaret Murray, Gerald B. Gardner and Aleister Crowley. Mythologically contemporary Pagans trace their roots through Murray, Gardner and Crowley through the Middle Ages and the Inquisition (the Burning Times) through the pre-Christian Europe to Paleolithic times (Adler, 46-70 and Melton, 5-8). Today's Pagans are creating a new religion out of myths, dreams and a small set of shared symbols. Because Pagans honor no single source for their religious beliefs and practices they areconstantly required to create or rediscover answer to the major religious questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Why am I here?
  3. Whathappens when I die?

This paper attempts to discover some of the ideas about of death and dying in the contemporary American Pagan community. It uses as its sources three types of materials: books written by contemporary Pagan thinkers and practitioners Circle Network News, a nature spirituality quarterly published by Circle and the Wiccan Church individual communications with participants of the Internet newsgroup alt.pagan and the Pagan on-line discussion group PAGAN@DRYCAS.

In addition to reviewing the material from the two Internet sources, a short, open-ended questionnaire was posted to these two groups. The questionnaire asked simply:

This purpose of this questionnaire was to do a quick survey of the views and practices of self-identified Pagans. When discussing Paganism this paper will use terms like "some," "many," and "usually" since there is no single position with which every Pagan agrees. Since there is not single Pagan source or theological tradition, Pagans freely pick and choose among ideas both within their own culture and traditions and from compatible foreign traditions. (For example, there is a strong theory of reincarnation that, while very different from its Hindu and Buddhist counterparts, was probably sparked by interaction with those systems.) Following the example of Margot Adler the words "Pagan" and "Neo-Pagan" are capitalized throughout this paper since they are used to describe the members of a religion. (Adler, 3-4, footnote) One of the definitive descriptions of contemporary Pagan groups is Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon .Originally published in 1979 and revisedin 1986 it chronicles the birth, growth and sometimes death of various Pagan groups. In it she postulates there are between 50,000 and 100,000 active self-identified Pagan or members of Wicca [1] (Adler 1) in the United States (Compared to about 180,000 Unitarians and 40,000 Quakers in America). (Adler 455) Although viewed by many as a cult phenomena or simply New Age faddism, contemporary Paganism is a significant religious movement. However, because Paganism in addition to being small has no central authority or source of demographic information, it is difficult to determine exactly who is included in this movement. In 1985 Adler distributed 450 copies of a questionnaire at three different Pagan festivals. Based on the 195 responses she discovered:

    [4] probably due to the ease with which students can get access.

next page
return to index