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              Neo-Paganism:  An Old Religion for a New Age 
              by Otter G'ZellFounder, Church of All Worlds
                As founder and priest of a Neo-Pagan church, I have often been
 asked to explain exactly what we mean by the term "Pagan".  We find
 ourselves in the peculiar position of having a public image that was
 created not by ourselves, but by our persecutors.  It is much as if the
 Nazis had succeeded in eradicating Judaism to the extent that, genera-
 tions later, the common opinion of what the Jewish faith was all about
 was derived solely from the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Third Reich.
      In Europe alone, from tens of thousands to millions (the figures
 are still in dispute) of Pagans were martyred by the Christian churches
 during the Inquisition and Witch trials.  Those figures do not even
 count the millions of other Pagan peoples in North and South America,
 Africa, Polynesia, Melanesia and Asia who fell before the advancing
 plague of Western Christendom.
    Today, the conception most people have of Paganism is the lurid one
 drawn by the Christian church to justify its own reign of terror, and
 bears about as much relation to reality as the similar propaganda
 Christianity once fostered about Jews.  In the 13th century the Church
 opened its long-drawn-out conflict with Paganism in Europe by declaring
 Witchcraft to be a 'sect' and heretical.  It was not til the 14th
 century that the two religions came to grips.
      All through the 16th and 17th centuries the battle raged.  The
 Pagans fought a gallant, though losing, fight against a remorseless and
 unscrupulous enemy; every inch of the field was disputed.  At first
 victory occasionally inclined to the Pagans, but the Christian policy of
 obtaining influence over the rulers and law-givers was irresistible. 
 Vae victis was also the policy of the Christians, and we see the priests
 of the Papacy gloating over the thousands whom they had consigned to the
 flames while the ministers of the Reformed Churches hounded on the
 administrators of the law to condemn the 'devil worshipers'.
      What can have been the feelings with which those unhappy victims
 regarded the vaunted God of Love, the Prince of Peace, whose votaries
 condemned them to torture and death?  What wonder that they clung to
 their old faith, and died in agony unspeakable rather than deny their
 God.  (Margaret Murray, The God of the Witches, 1931, Oxford GB 332, pp.
      'Pagan' does not mean "irreligious" or "barbarian".  It is the
 correct anthropological term to describe indigenous folk religions,
 being derived from the Latin paganus, "peasant," which derives in turn
 from pagus, "village".  The Latin comes from the Greek pagos, "standing
 stone," and paga, "sacred spring," representing, respectively, the male
 and female generative powers.  Paganism is basically Nature worship. 
 'Pagan' is a proper noun or adjective denoting the name of a religion,
 and as such, is properly always capitalized, as is 'Jewish' or 'Hin-
      Religions can be roughly divided into two distinct categories:  the
 naturally evolving, indigenous "folk" religions of particular regions
 and peoples (the Pagan religions), and on the other hand the "revealed"
 religions:  those religions owing their existence to a "revelation"
 taught by some great "prophet" and formulated in various creeds and 
 dogmas.  The latter category, of course, includes most of the "Great
 Religions of Mankind:"  Judeo-Christian-Islamic, Buddhist, Confucian,
 etc.  Though articulated by a great teacher, Lao-tsu, Taoism is
 essentially Pagan in philosophy and attitude, while Hinduism and Shinto
 are Pagan in origin and essence even though they have become institu-
 tionalized as State religions.
      Pagan religions are characterized by being "natural," both in
 origin and mode of expression, as opposed to the artificiality of
 constructed revealed religions.  Paganism emerges out of the processes
 of Life and Nature, and continues to evolve as a living, growing,
 organic entity.
      Revealed religions are like buildings:  an architect (prophet) get
 an inspiration (revelation) and lays down his vision in blueprints
 (prophecy; scriptures).  Then contractors, carpenters, masons, etc.
 (disciples and followers) build the structure more or less according to
 his specifications.  It is made of non-living materials, and does not
 grow naturally; it is assembled.  When it is finished, it cannot grow
 further, and begins to deteriorate, until it is eventually so outmoded
 and rundown it is demolished to make way for new buildings.  A world of
 revealed religions is like unto a city, with all the problems (hunger,
 war, hatreds, crime, pollution, dis-ease) of a city, and for much the
 same reason:  alienation from the life-flow.
      A Pagan religion, on the other hand, is like a tree:  it emerges
 alive from the Earth, grows, changes (both cyclically through the
 seasons, and continually in upward and outward growth), bears flowers
 and fruit, and shares its life with other living beings.  It is not made
 or designed according to any blueprint other than genetic.  And when,
 after many thousands of years, perhaps, it should come to the end of its
 time, it does not pass from the world entirely, for its own progeny
 have, in the interval, begun to spring up all around, again from the
 Earth, and again, similar yet each unique.  A world of Pagan religions
 is like a forest.
      Paganism includes Animism, Pantheism, Shamanism and Totemism. 
 (Witchcraft is the survival or reconstruction of European Shamanism;
 i.e., the magical arts of tribal peoples.)  Pagan are the native
 religions of the American Indians, the Africans, the various Island
 peoples, many peasants in the mountains of Asia, the Aborigines of
 Australia, and, at one time, the Gauls, Teutons, Norse, Celts and
 Faeries (as the invading Saxons called the pygmy neolithic race they
 encountered in the British Isles). Long before they encountered
 Christianity, the Faeries (known to archaeologists as Pretani, or Picts)
 had been forced by the Saxons onto the inhospitable Heaths of Britain,
 later to be called "Heathens" by the Church.  By 1500 CE, they had been
 virtually exterminated, save for those who managed to intermarry or
 exchange their infants for those of the invaders ("changelings"). 
 Moreover, as it was later to do in the case of the Witches, who
 inherited much of the Faery lore and religion, the Church began a
 campaign to convince the world and future generations that these people
 had never existed in the first place, but were merely imaginary! The old
 Pagan religions were never "created".  They had no founding prophets and
 no saviors.  They grew up with their people, and their origins are lost
 in the mists at the dawn of humanity.  What little we can trace
 indicates a descent from paleolithic and neolithic "fertility cults,"
 hence the common symbols of the Earth Mother Goddess, the Green Man and
 the Horned God.the fecund embodiments of living Nature.  We find them
 therefore unanimous in their veneration of Nature and their sensual
 celebration of life, birth, sex and death as expressed in the seasonal
 Festivals of the Sacred Year. All these Great Festivals of Paganism,
 wherever they may be found, correspond in common with the Solstices,
 Equinoxes, and other natural annual cycles of life (animal mating and
 birth seasons, planting, harvest).
      Most of these remain with us today in more-or-less disguised form
 as the so-called "Christian" holidays of Christmas (Yule), Easter
 (Ostara), May Day (Beltane), Thanksgiving (Mabon or Harvest Home),
 Halloween (Samhain) and even Groundhog's Day (Oimelc).  In addition to
 these six, there are two others, Litha (Midsummer) and Lughnasadh,
 comprising a total of eight Festivals (or Sabbats, as they are known,
 sometimes under different names, in Witchcraft).  Thus it is obvious
 that the rich heritage of Paganism forms a solid foundation for the
 spontaneous emergence of a Neo-Pagan revival today.  In the midst of our
 current spiritual and ecological crisis, it is highly appropriate that
 natural religions are once again finding a place among the children of
      Modern Neo-Paganism, however, is somewhat distinct from the Old
 Religion, in that it is to a large measure a relatively new phenomenon. 
 Neo-Pagan religions are many and diverse.  They range from the sublimely
 artistic Paradisal vision and reconstruction of old Pagan Mysteries of
 Feraferia to the astrological divination and ancient Egyptian religion
 of the Church of the Eternal Source, and from the Wiccan-oriented myth
 and ritual of the Pagan Way to the transpersonal psychology, science-
 fiction mythology and deep ecology of the Church of All Worlds.       All of the dozens of Neo-Pagan religions now in existence, and most of
 the countless sects of Witchcraft, however, do hold certain values in
 common, and it is these values which relate them to Paganism in the
 older sense.
      One of the key values of Neo-Paganism is its insistence on personal
 responsibility.  The Church of All Worlds expresses this in the phrase,
 "Thou art God/dess," implying total personal freedom and individual
 responsibility on the part of every one of us.  Paganism has  no concept
 of "original sin," and hence has no need of saviors.  Neo-Pagans do not
 expect Divine retribution for breaking social taboos.  Rather, concepts
 of "sin" and "atonement" are restated in the framework of ecological
 awareness and karma.  If our actions are discordant and in opposition to
 the evolutionary flow of Life, we suffer the ecological consequences, in
 much the same way, and for exactly the same reason, as diseased cells in
 the body are attacked by the antibodies and other natural defenses. 
 Whatever energy we put out returns to us multiplied threefold.  Love
 returns love; hate returns hate.  Robert Ingersoll observed:  "In Nature
 there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences".  The
 total responsibility (and hence the total freedom) rests in our
      As in the Old Religion, Neo-Pagans conceptualize Divinity as
 manifest in the processes of Nature.  Indeed, in a very literal sense,
 Mother Nature, Mother Earth, is "Goddess," and She has been recognized
 as such since time immemorial.  Thus ecology is seen as the supreme
 religious study:    "Nature is Divinity made manifest...It is creativit-
 y, continuity, balance, beauty and truth of life.           "Everything we
 encounter in the Biosphere is a part of Nature, and ecology reveals the
 pattern of that is-ness, the natural relationships among all these
 things and the Organic Unity of all of them as a Biospheric Whole.  Thus
 ecology shows the pattern of man's proper and creative involvement with
 Nature, that Nature which encompasses his own life and on proper
 relation to which his survival and development depend:       Of all man's
 secular studies, ecology comes closest to bringing him to the threshold
 of religious relationship to his world.  Ecology not only confirms the
 wonders of form and function that other secular studies have revealed,
 but it brings these into organic union with each other as one dynamic,
 living Whole; and it points out the conditions for the wellbeing of both
 this overall Unity and the parts that comprise it.
      An intensive realization of these conditions, and of one's own
 immediate role in their sustainment and development, brings one to the
 threshold of religious awe.  To worship Nature, therefore, is to
 venerate and commune with Divinity as the dynamically organic perfection
 of the whole.  (Council of Themis, from Green Egg  #43)
      Neo-Paganism is a recent mutation of the Old Religion which had its
 earliest emergence during the European Renaissance with the rediscovery
 of the ancient Greek philosophers via Arabian texts brought by traveler-
 s.  However, this was also the time of the Burnings, and the budding
 Neo-Pagan emergence was suppressed until the late 1700's, when it found
 expression in the Romantic Period of art, music and literature,
 especially in Germany.
      This Romantic flowering of Neo-Paganism, especially the element
 known as the Bavarian Illuminati (whose mottoes were "eternal flower
 power" and "eternal serpent power"), greatly appealed to a visiting
 American named Benjamin Franklin, and upon his return to the colonies,
 it became a major spiritual force in the post-Revolutionary America of
 the 1780s, where its influence continued to shape the new nation through
 the presidencies of the Adams family.  It was Monroe and the War of 1812
 that managed to suppress this movement for a time, but it re-emerged 60
 years later in the form of the Transcendentalist Movement, exemplified
 in the poetry and writings of Whitman, Thoreau and Emerson, and the
 overnight mushrooming of the commune movement in the 1840's.  The Civil
 War, Reconstruction, the conquest of the West and the Gold Rush drained
 the Nature-oriented spiritual energy from the people of America for
 another 60 years, but it blossomed again through the Art Nouveau
 movement in the 1900's.  Then came the World Wars, the Depression,
 McCarthyism...60 more years had to pass before the gathering impact of
 Eastern religious philosophy, especially Zen, and Existentialism gave
 birth to the "hip" "underground" counter-culture of the Beatniks, whose
 experimentation with drugs, sexuality, music, poetry, communal living
 and alternate lifestyles paved the way for the Hippie phenomenon of the
 1960's (which spontaneously resurrected the old Illuminati motto of
 "flower power").
      The seeds of Neo-Paganism which had again lain dormant for three
 generations took root in such fertile soil, and emerged once more into
 the light, to be joined in the '70s by the heirs of Wicca, the last
 vestiges of the Old Religion of Europe. The New Religion is still very
 much Paganism, for its inspiration and orientation today is based, as
 was that of its predecessors, upon an understanding and relationship of
 Humanity within the larger perspective of Life, Nature and the Universe. 
 Fred Adams of Feraferia coined the term "eco-psychic" to describe the
 type of awareness that permeates the New Religion.
      Revealed religions, especially of the monotheistic variety, tend to
 see man as a special creation, exalted above all Nature, and the epitome
 of God's handiwork.  Thus the Biblical injunction to Man to "have
 dominion over all the Earth" is not seen by Judeo-Christians as
 outrageously presumptuous; nor is God's destruction of all life on Earth
 in the legend of the Deluge seen as insanely immoral ecocide.  Both God
 and Man are considered to have a "divine right" to desecrate the Earth
 at their pleasure.  This is in direct opposition to the view of
 Paganism, which sees humanity's duty not to conquer Nature, but to live
 in harmony and stewardship with Her.    Every revealed religion claims
 to have its own direct pipeline to the Divinity, and its own essential
 precepts from direct, unassailable revelation.  Neo-Pagans, on the other
 hand, have outgrown egotistical and temperamental gods, and expect no
 intervention from some Big Daddy in the Sky to solve the problems of our
 times.  Instead, we look to Nature (through the clear glass of ecology)
 for inspiration and direction, and to ourselves as the instrumentality
 for all that needs to be done.  
                           Thou art God/dess! 
               Otter G'Zell, 1970 (revised Jan. 8, 1991) 

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