15 Distinctives of Neo-Paganism
The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
I had some trouble finding a single definition for Neo-Paganism. It's a term that covers a wide variety of groups. Finally I happened upon the following list, from a site called Religious Tolerance. I know nothing about the site, so I'm just taking this list on face value. I've edited it slightly, to combine different statements on the site, and to simplify the format.
Their faith was almost or completely wiped out in the past and has since been reconstructed from ancient information sources.
This would not attract me. I have a deep appreciation for ancient cultures of all types, but I see no reason to try to impose them on the modern world. "Pick and choose," is my motto.
A duotheistic or polytheistic belief system (they recognize a Goddess and God, and/or believe in many deities).
Again, I'm not attracted. I can't bring myself to recognize one god, let alone several—of course, it's entirely possible that they mean something quite different than I do by "god".
Many followers are solitary practitioners.
This is probably where the survey began to fit me in. I have a tendency to solitariness when it comes to my inner life. I sometimes share it with close friends, but not as a religious thing.
Others are involved in small groups, which various traditions call circles, covens, garths, groves, hearths, kindreds, etc.
I've ever found small groups helpful in the past, but I don't think we're talking the same thing, here. I'm on the edge with this one.
They celebrate four main seasonal days of celebrations each year, associated with the equinoxes and solstices.
Strange. I don't believe there's anything in the survey about this, but in fact we have been trying, off and on for years, to have parties on the equinoxes and soltices. It seems so natural, somehow, and so in tune with the seasons.
They also celebrate four additional days, each between a solstice and equinox.
We haven't gone that far, but it's a great suggestion—I'm always for a good, solid reason to party.
They prefer to conduct their religious rituals outdoors where practical.
We like to be outside when we can, but religious rituals? I'm not sure...
Many do not practice their religion publicly because of the danger of abuse from very devout but misinformed Christians who have associated them with an evil and non-existent form of Satanism.
Well, as regular readers know, I don't really have a religion to practice. But I can resonate with the second half of the sentence.
They have a minimal or no hierarchical structure.
Okay. Now we're getting somewhere.
They have a concern for the environment.
I'm for that, too.
They feel close to nature and its cycles.
And that. (See #5)
They follow a behavioral code that requires them to avoid hurting themselves or others.
I see why they ranked so high on my survey. I've always thought that the golden rule, and Augustine's "Love, and do as you will." are about all the guidelines humans need. I also think that the only reason we need those is that we've been taught so carefully that we need a bunch of rules to follow. If we were just left alone, almost all of us would treat others well almost all of the time. (And exceptions should be treated as exceptions, so as not to confuse everyone.)
They believe that no one belief system is correct and that each person should have the freedom to chose the path that is right for them.
I agree with both halves of this statement, though for different reasons.
- The first half could be understood as a kind of vague relativism—that whatever you or I believe, we're both equally right because there is no legitimate way to distinguish truth (small-t) from falsehood. I would reject that. Some beliefs are obviously more accurate than others, and can be demonstrated to be so. On the other hand, it is certainly true that there is always a gap between any belief system (the reality-as-described) and the mystery it tries to capture (the reality-as-it-is). No one belief system is completely correct, but some are more correct, on some points, than others.
- Each person should have the freedom to choose the path that is right for them, for other reasons. The chief of these is that coercion simply can't work in the realm of belief. The person who believes something because they been forced to (even if that only means that they've been taught that it's wrong not to) does not actually end up holding the same belief as the person who has come to that belief through experience. Real knowledge is acquired through experience, not coercion.
- Also, I just don't like coercion for any reason.
They practice love for and kinship with nature, rather than the more customary attitude of aggression and domination over nature—reverence for the life force and its ever-renewing cycles of life and death.
This just strikes me as wise. Work with nature (including human nature) rather than against it. On the other hand, I might take a stab at living forever, given the chance and a really good pension.
The Pagan Ethic is "Do what thou wilt, but harm none". This is a positive morality, not a list of thou-shalt-nots. Each individual is responsible for discovering his or her own true nature and developing it fully, in harmony with the outer world.
This is a repetition of #12 in different words, but I left it in because I like it, and because I like the added idea in the second sentence. A responsibility to discover his or her own true nature and develop it fully, in harmony with the outer world. Many people are miserable precisely because they neglect this responsibility.
I don't think I'd be likely to become a Neo-Pagan, if I did join a religion. I have a sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't be the god stuff that would get in the way the most, though. They seem to be heavily non-hierarchical, so I doubt their concept of divinity is rooted in the king-model. It would be interesting to find out exactly what that concept is.
The thing I think would stop me would be the theatrics. It might be fun at first to reconstruct an ancient religion—though I suspect those ancient religions were a lot more hierarchical than their modern incarnations—but I think I would get tired of the pretense, and particularly of any rituals.
Still, I'd love to have some Neo-Pagans for friends.