Godward - A Pompeian Lady 1891

Neopaganism is a modern word that translates directly to "New Paganism." In a broad sense, Neopagan religions are new religious movements that seek to establish a 21st-century pagan community.

Etymology of "Neopagan" Edit

The root of "neopagan" is the Latin "paganus"[1], meaning "rustic" or "country dweller". Despite the somewhat romanticised notion held by many modern self-identified (Neo)Pagans that the term was initially applied to not-yet-Christianised polytheists because it was the people in the countryside "keeping the traditions alive", there is substantial evidence from antiquity that it was initially applied as a slur against polytheists. The On-Line Etymology Dictionary points out that Roman military slang used the term "paganus" in the pejorative to mean "civilian", and "incompetent soldier", and that this was continued on when the early Christian church adopted militaristic imagery and strategies to convert the masses.

The term neo-pagan, similarly, was coined in the 19th Century CE as a pejorative term against then-current "Hellenophiles" and Victorian Classicists, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron:

  • The very persons who would most writhe and wail at their surroundings if transported back into early Greece, would, I think, be the neo-pagans and Hellas worshippers of today. (W. James, letter of 5 April 1868, cited after OED)
  • The neopagan impulse of the classical revival. (J. A. Symonds, Renaissance in Italy 1877, iv. 193)
  • Pre-Raphaelitism [...] has got mixed up with æstheticism, neo-paganism, and other such fantasies. (J. McCarthy A history of our own times, 1880, iv. 542)

In spite of the terms "pagan" and "neo-pagan" (and variants) having histories as slurs, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries CE, the term has been used in self-identification as a reclaimed word, to the point that prominent (Neo)Pagan writers, such as Issac Bonewits[2], have re-defined and effectively whitewashed the meanings and histories of the terms. It should, though, be noted that linguistic drift is a common phenomenon of all living languages, and reclaiming terms is a valid act that needn't be ignorant of etymology.

Types of Neopaganism Edit

This section is to define "NeoPagan" paths under current use of the term "NeoPagan" as a reclaimed word that many (though not all) persons in the following religious paths at least occasionally use to self-identify. Not every religion associated with the term "Neopagan" is listed.

African diaspora religions Edit

In spite of the fact that Africa is a HUGE continent, with the most linguistically and religiously diverse population of any one continent on the planet --and the African diaspora is almost as HUGE and diverse-- African diaspora religions tend to all get lumped together because a lot of white people tend to think it's all the same thing.

Santeria and Hatian Voudou are probably the most popular African diaspora religions indigenous to the Americas. The Maria Lionza religion, which is largely based in and around the city of Caracas, Venezuela, is a syncretic religion blending indigenous Venezuelan, African, and Catholic imagery and beliefs; most of Her followers also identify as Catholic or Catholic syncretic.

Some who are a part of African diaspora religions, as with Hindus and Buddhists and indigenous Americans and Australians, do not consider their religions to be "pagan" or "neopagan" --but some do, which is why it's listed here.

Asatru Edit

Asatru is a Reconstructionist religion dedicated to reviving the worship of the Norse Gods. Asatru is sometimes referred to as either "Norse polytheism", "Germanic polytheism", or simply "Heathenism", with followers often referring to themselves as "Heathens" or "Asatruar". Other terms may be in use amongst the Asatru community. Related to Asatru is Vanatru; the main difference seems to be the part of the Norse / Germanic pantheons worshipped.

Many Asatruar are "tribal" and may worship only German, or only Scandinavian deities, as an example.

Celtic Polytheism Edit

Celtic polytheism is an umbrella term that refers to the polytheistic reconstruction of Gaulish, Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton polytheistic systems of tribes commonly referred to as "Celtic". Pictish polytheism is often included under the umbrella of Celtic reconstruction; though whether or not the Picts are technically Celtic is still debated, their inclusion is made because when a handful of Gaelic clans were banished from Ireland to Scotland, many clansmen intermarried with Picts and some cultural blending happened (additionally, there are a lot of Scottish surnames that are of Pictish origin).

Little survives of pre-Christian Celtic written languages, and as such, much of Celtic mythology did not get written down until Christian monks sought to preserve the narrative mythology as tales of heroes. It is also believed that some mythology became absorbed into stories of early Christian Saints.

The term "Celt", in referring to the aforementioned tribes is of Hellenic origin. Herodotus referred to the Gauls as Keltoi[3]. It is also noteworthy that among the Herakles mythos includes Herakles' consensual affair with a woman named Keltine who, after laying with Herakles, became the mother of the Keltoi[4].

Feri Edit

Feri is a witchcraft based religion that is often confused for being a form of Wicca.

Hellenic Polytheism Edit

Hellenic Polytheism is the modern worship of the Hellenic Gods. Hellenists use historical materials and modern innovation to make ancient practices relevant to a lifestyle in the 21st century, drawing from many different regions and historical periods during which the Hellenic Gods were worshipped in antiquity.

Types of Hellenic Polytheism Edit

The idea that all ancient Hellenes worshipped the same deities in the same ways and had the same festivals is somewhat of a misnomer. When examining the ancient Hellenes, we discover not one tribe spread out amongst an entire peninsula, dozens of islands, and colonies, but instead over thirty tribes speaking dialects of a language that, while the same in structure and alphabet, was dissimilar enough that Hellenes who spoke only Attic, for example, would sometimes comment that the Aeolic dialects (spoken mainly in Boeotia, Thessaly, and Lesbos) sounded "barbaros" (like a foreign language). Despite this, unlike many Norse or Celtic polytheists, Hellenists seem less likely to practise tribal religions, but it is uncertain what the ratios of "tribal Hellenic" to "Pan-Hellenic" polytheists exactly are. Many who practise Panhellenic polytheism cite the Hellenistic era as bringing many of the Hellenic tribes together, to some extent or another, and feeling that the religion (if left unbroken by Christianity, as the reasoning goes) was headed in a direction similar to Hinduism, with many sects, deity cults, schools of philosophy, and so forth under an umbrella of "Hellenism".

Syncretic Hellenic Paths Edit

Hellenic syncretism is almost impossible to escape -- the concept of syncretism in Hellenic polytheism encompasses both Interpretatio graeca, interpreting deities of other tribal pantheons as said tribe's versions of Hellenic deities, and the "absorption" of deities from non-Hellenic tribes, such as Adonis or Kybele. While some Hellenic recons seem to find the mere idea of syncretism as somehow sullying the integrity of the ancient religion, others embrace it, pointing out that Kybele and Adonis were thoroughly "Hellenised" by the time of Hesiod (one of Hellenic polytheism's oldest primary sources) and that deities whom we as modern people know as Apollon, Zeus, and Athene (for example), were, at one point in Hellas' religious history referred to only by the "local epithets" used by those particular Hellenic tribes, and it wasn't until much later in antiquity that the Apollon of Thespiai, for example, was recognised as the same Apollon of Athens.

A number of recognised syncretic paths are practised today, including:

Kemetism Edit

Kemeticism is the most common term, amongst practitioners, for Egyptian polytheist / reconstructionist religion. The term is based on an approximation of the ancient indigenous term for "Egypt" or "Egyptian".

Religio Romana Edit

Religio Romana, closely related to Hellenic Polytheism, works to revive the Roman way. Several groups dedicated to this revival exist, the most prominent being Nova Roma[1].

Wicca Edit

Wicca is most commonly associated with the word "Neopagan". There are many different Wiccan traditions, but the most common are listed here.

  • Alexandrian
  • British Traditional / Gardnerian Wicca
  • Dianic
  • Eclectic (also sometimes referred to as "NeoWicca" or "Popular Wicca")

Wicca is misunderstood, and oddly it is very misunderstood by many people who profess to practise it. Popular / Eclectic Wicca is what most people in the Anglosphere think of when they think of the terms "Wicca" or "Neopagan". While, in theory, Popular Wicca is based on the "outer court" teachings that initiatory or Traditional Wicca offers to the public to form a bridge of understanding, a boom of books published in the 1980s and 1990s CE, often mass-marketed paperbacks that had little, if any, editorial fact-checking, created a "popular Wicca" that many Initiates of British Traditional or Alexandrian Wicca believe is very much unlike the Wicca they practise. Popular Wicca is most distinguishable from Traditional Wicca in that Traditional Wicca is an initiatory / mystery path that necessitates practising in covens; while some Popular Wicca covens form, it's typically practised by people who practise in a solitary manner, without a coven.

Dianic Wicca, and similar paths based off it, are completely different from most other Wicca-identified religions in that most other Wicca is duistic, worshipping a Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, typically in the forms of a Triple Goddess and a Horned God.  Dianic Wicca was created in the 1970s, based loosely on British Traditional "outer court" teachings, by second wave feminist Zsuzsanna Budapest and, for all practical purposes, only worships a Divine Feminine[5]. The majority of Dianic covens are female-only, and typically restricted to cisgender females.

Dissension Edit

While some polytheists have been working for a few decades to reclaim the term, some feel that "Pagan" and other terms derived from the same Latin root should be avoided just like other racial, religious, and ethnic slurs.

In recent years, it has become clear that the term Neopaganism is most associated with Wicca-derived practices, in the public eye. Thus, many non-Wiccans choose not to use this term in order to distinguish themselves from Wicca.

Is Hellenic Polytheism a "Pagan" Religion? Edit

Abrahamic religionists, or those who practice Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, frequently call those who do not practice one of their religions "pagan." In this sense, Hellenic Polytheism is definitely a pagan religion. Like Hindu practitioners, many Hellenists are reluctant to apply the term to their religion, instead calling themselves polytheists or reconstructionists; some may even take serious offence to the term. Alternatively, some Hellenists may use the term to avoid confusion when discussing their religion with outsiders, citing the experience that few people seem to be able to work out for themselves what "polytheist" might mean.

See Also Edit