Similarities in Christianity and Pagan(ism?) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 01:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm guessing Paganism is a word.......

I stumbled across something this morning that has left me truly....baffled. Apparently there is a really active pagan community in central FL (who knew? lol) I am not Pagan, FTR. But I was reading through the site, out of genuine curiosity and interest, and one of the things that REALLY interested me was the similarities between paganism and Christianity. How can this be?? And why are there so many similarities? Why are some of the Christian holidays so similar (Easter for instance...) to pagan ones? This was truly................enlightening, and a little confusing for me.
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#2 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 02:43 PM
 
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Heyla!

Yes, Paganism is a word. However, Paganism covers a lot of ground (check out the wikipedia page for a fairly quick overview)... like "christianity", "paganism" is an umbrella term that covers many different religious groups and some groups that share space under those umbrellas may be very different from each other. So while some pagan paths are similar to some christian paths, it is also possible to pull up examples of pagan and christian religions that have nothing in common with each other. Just trying to let you know that the response to your question can get complicated! (in fact, the blending of christian and pagan practice over time was a big part of my dissertation and the sort of topic that covers shelves at major university libraries )

The similarities... well... the very short answer is that christianity and paganism are both somewhat syncretic (this is wikipedia's take on synceticism, specifically within a christian framework). Meaning they draw from and adapt ideas found in their environments over time. Keep in mind that christianity spread rapidly through many cultures, so it's not too surprising that people incorporated their familiar/traditional practices with their new faith... and now modern paganism is also spreading quickly and through different cultural groups, each new pagan bringing some aspect of their personal religious history into the mix.

And there is also the fact that historically, many early christian scholars were raised within pagan faiths, or were at least very familiar with pagan philosophies and used terminology and examples familiar to their fellow (pagan) scholars. And many modern pagans were raised christian, and are very familiar with modern christian thought/philosophy and comfortable with a sort of "christian" holy calendar/type of celebration. So that is another aspect to explore in terms of "why the similarities".

You might want to search the Religious Studies forum for threads that discuss the history of specific christian (or pagan) holy days... it's a common discussion topic around each holiday! Or ask your local librarian for ideas... it's a very popular topic for books ranging from the "quick to read, not very well researched, flashy picture on cover" page turner to the "dense as lead, tiny font with massive footnotes, heavily researched" volumes required by Religious Studies programs worldwide. One of my favorites, which falls in between the two extremes, is called "Power of Raven, Wisdom of Serpent" by Noragh Jones. It looks at the way in which pre-christian pagan practice mingled with early (and then later) christian belief in the British Isles. Readable, with lots of poems and prayers, but also very well researched so you can branch off from the book easily.

Anyway, this is a topic I really enjoy discussing, but it's also a complicated subject with lots of different factors. So keep asking questions and digging around!

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#3 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 03:04 PM
 
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Everything wombat said, but to simplify and add a little: pretty much all of the early Christians in Europe were raised Pagan. Their parents, siblings and neighbors very likely still were. They kept their traditions, and adapted them to their new faith. Unfortunately, sometimes they converted out of fear or social pressure, and the change was less than sincere. And even more often, the king or local noble converted and decided that "his" people were now Christian too. This all lent itself to quietly blending old and new, and many priests (also born and raised pagans) simply changed the old traditions a little to make the new faith more palatable to the populace.
Look at how different Catholicism is in say.. Ireland and Mexico. The liturgy has been almost unchanged for a thousand years, but the TRADITIONS of the lay people are radically different, and more like those of the pre Christian natives!
OOO... thanks for the book suggestion WOmbat, looks like a goodie

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#4 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 04:01 PM
 
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Yup, lurve that book! It's such a nice exploration of how traditions mingle and change and how this really can happen gradually and without violence. We used the baptismal blessing in it for both dd1 and dd2 (we're pagan, extended family is catholic, the blessing "worked" for everyone).

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#5 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 05:11 PM - Thread Starter
 
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thank you Wombat, that is very very interesting. I didn't know that Pagans were around before Christians,and that that is how Christians came to be.... ???
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#6 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 05:16 PM
 
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I didn't know that Pagans were around before Christians,and that that is how Christians came to be.... ???
Yep. In fact, to many "Pagan" just meant-"not Christian", so that's the term when talking about people who hadn't converted to christianity. And that's a pretty big blanket term, if you think about it, and that's why it's so hard to define "paganism" now. There are so many traditions: from different holidays, to pantheons, to beliefs on everything from the afterlife to gods (if exist) to ways of worship.

You will probably find the most info on Wicca, but keep in mind that many of us are completely different.

I'm interested to read that book, wombat....

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#7 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 05:29 PM
 
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I often find it useful to differentiate neo-paganism from historical paganism. Neopaganism is probably slightly easier to define, since historical paganism covers such disparate groups. Also, although lots of Neopagans draw from ancient religions, they generally have a faitly modern character.

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#8 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 05:59 PM
 
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Sometimes it can be hard to remember that in the really big scheme of things, christianity is a very young religion. You're looking at a religion that has only been around a few thousand years and one that grew fast and furious during that time. Different people are going to look at the "reasons" for this genesis/growth differently of course, but overall, christianity is still pretty new.

And like Bluegoat and Ambystoma explained, the umbrella that is "Paganism" is very broad. It stretches from classical and historical paganisms firmly rooted in a specific culture (the gods of Olympus, the gods of the British Isles, the Norse gods, the Egyptian pantheon) to modern "reconstruction" groups that do their best to recreate these historical religions (hellenistic recon, recon druidic groups, heathens) and groups that tend to a more "build your own" faith drawing from all these historical threads. It covers animistic and shamanistic traditions (ancient as well as modern, many cultural groups have simply continued their traditional practices into the present without a sense of "reconstruction"...for example, First Nation traditions or something like Shinto) as well as the very modern groups that have adopted some of these practices.

It's a huge umbrella. Of course, christianity is a big umbrella too! Over that relatively short 2000+ years christianity has given birth to many many different groups which have each grown and divided and split and reconstructed and died out and been re-discovered and so on. It's one reason I love religious studies... it's such a fascinating and complex field.

(and yeah, I talk too much about it... )

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#9 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 08:11 PM - Thread Starter
 
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It's ok Wombat! I did ask the question, afterall LOL

So, I'm assuming by 'neo-paganism' you mean more modern..like today...like, pagans today....and by 'historical paganism' you mean from way back, like before Christianity/when Christianity first emerged?

You mentioned that anything non-Christian was referred to as "pagan". Funny, if you think about it, amongst Christians, still today anything non-Christian is referred to as pagan (although some are referred to by title, such as Jewish, Buddhist, depending on who you're talking to!), so that obviously hasn't changed.

Very interesting... something I need to dig deeper on for sure. Thanks for the links! Going to check some out.

And while I do that, let me throw another question at you: Is there a difference between Wiccan and Pagan? From what I know, all Wiccans are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Wiccan--is that right?

Sorry, hit send:

The reason I ask is because......... I look at pictures like yours, Wombat, where you were celebrating MayDay festivities, and your children look so happy, and it looks 'clean' and 'cheerful'............and then I willl never forget the pictures I saw not long ago of some Wiccan group/coven in my area, and I hope this doesn't offend but it looked kinda scary, and not like anything I'd imagine taking kids to. Most were wearing black robes (I know black=power amongst Wiccans) and in this huge circle with fire, stirring a cauldron.....Just looked a little scary to me. And on their website he even talked about sexual symbolism with the may-pole, so of course that pic stood out to me w/your daughter... lol
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#10 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 08:31 PM
 
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And while I do that, let me throw another question at you: Is there a difference between Wiccan and Pagan? From what I know, all Wiccans are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Wiccan--is that right?

.......and then I willl never forget the pictures I saw not long ago of some Wiccan group/coven in my area, and I hope this doesn't offend but it looked kinda scary, and not like anything I'd imagine taking kids to. Most were wearing black robes (I know black=power amongst Wiccans) and in this huge circle with fire, stirring a cauldron.....Just looked a little scary to me. And on their website he even talked about sexual symbolism with the may-pole, so of course that pic stood out to me w/your daughter... lol
Yes-Wiccans are pagan, but I'm pagan and very far from Wiccan. Wicca is a very new branch of paganism (though very popular) created by Gardner. Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca
So, wiccans are pretty ritualistic, I liken them to how Catholics have a lot more rituals than your general methodist or something. They are very big into circles with their magic, and deal mainly with "high" magic I think. But, I'm not a big expert. Also, you have to remember that because it's so readily available nowadays, many "goth"-style teens get into it for a power trip.

Again, lots of different groups do different things, but for a comparison, I will tell you a little about my beliefs-so you can see the difference between Wicca and other pagans. I am very into nature-so herbalism is a big part of my life. I keep many herbs, and use them for healing, luck, prosperity, usually in teas-you could call them "potions" but I don't use a traditional cauldron. I do "low" magic-mainly kitchen and garden things. I worship nature and in nature-and I believe there are spirits/souls in everything (so I really don't struggle with eating meat any more than veggies since everything has a soul to me). I tend to lean toward more goddess worship than gods (and you see in Wicca that everything is balanced-including that they call the "Lord and Lady" to every ritual) and I lean toward the Celtic pantheon as an homage to my ancestors, though I mainly just refer to the "goddess". And I don't usually call a circle-I'm not really doing anything that high/ritualistic and I feel that my home is sanctuary enough. I do little things like have bells on my front door, toss salt after my husband as he leaves to go out of town, always stir clockwise, and meditate daily.

So, not to delve into my daily routine-but I LIVE my religion. I feel like I always am practicing-from waking in the morning, to cooking, to pruning my little garden, to drinking and eating, to having sex. It's all part of my worship. (I think that's a difference to Wicca also-because I'm not sure that they practice outside the circle).

DISCLAIMER: I have never practiced Wicca, so my knowledge is that from books and wiccans I have talked to-I did not mean to offend any practicing wiccans with anything I said.

Thanks for the interest in paganism. I love learning about different religions also-even different branches of paganism. I think everyone has a different path and it fascinates me to see who chose what path.

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#11 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 08:37 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Kara, what you described (about yourself) sounds more "New Age-y". Is that about right, or don't you identify w/New Ageism? (all the "ism's" I keep adding )
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Kara, what you described (about yourself) sounds more "New Age-y". Is that about right, or don't you identify w/New Ageism? (all the "ism's" I keep adding )
I do have some new age mysticism thrown in (tarot, etc). I identify as a "Cottage Witch". It's sort of a combo of a Green Witch and a Kitchen witch. There's a lot of bleed over between the 2 IMO, but I believe in goddesses and gods, and I do plenty of spellwork-just not the same as wiccans do, and tend to celebrate the sabbats and am in touch with the moon cycles.

Sometimes I think the New Agers are more "out there" than me!

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If it isn't too personal........is there any particular reason why you don't identify with Wiccans (but it sounds like you do a lot of the same stuff, minus the 'circles' and high ritualistic stuff?)
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#14 of 24 Old 05-09-2009, 09:14 PM
 
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If it isn't too personal........is there any particular reason why you don't identify with Wiccans (but it sounds like you do a lot of the same stuff, minus the 'circles' and high ritualistic stuff?)
Oh, sure. I love talking paganism-don't get to do it in real life too much.

Of course, since wicca is based in a British isles tradition, there will be some similarities. Personally, I have a hard time with the whole high priest/priestess in a religion that is so personal, and of course the ritualism is a big factor. But, my traditions are based on those from a great-grandmother from one side of my family who was a cottage witch who later converted to Christianity. She still practiced the same way, just with the judeo-christian god as her only god. (Which is becoming sort of common lately-christian witches). So my craft is old, and my craft could never be aligned with wicca.

But, my religion is so different from wicca-like I mentioned the "Lord and Lady" that are their god and goddess. I'm pretty sure they just believe in those 2 deities, and many facets of them-both need each other to be balanced. I follow a path that is more woman-centered (on the goddess, the earth, womanly aspects) and I am a polytheist. I don't believe the gods I worship have near the power as the mother goddess-who pretty much gave birth to everything else (including the gods). Not to mention Wicca is super-young, and I'm just not sure Gardner had everything as figured out as he thought he did. Just my opinion.

And, then wiccans have a pretty specific view of the afterlife-summerlands, etc. And I'm not so sure what I believe on that part-other than reincarnation.

I also don't follow the rede, but that's not to say I'm amoral! And I'm very solitary-I don't think I would like a coven. But I do meet with a few others every month or so for coffee.

But again, wicca is paganism, so there is overlap. Just like baptists and episcopalians believe a lot of the same things, but god forbid you tell them they're the same (personal experience )

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#15 of 24 Old 05-10-2009, 12:32 PM
 
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Like I said... I'm a non-stop talker and this is one of my fav topics so please, just wave a white flag or something when you've had too much!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Neo-pagan and historical pagan- you've hit on one of the divisions. "Historical pagan" or "classical pagan" generally refers to people practicing a non-christian religion in the past. However, neo-pagan is a bit harder to define. Some modern pagans practice what are called "reconstruction" or "recon" religions... members of these religions try to the best of their ability (lots of research, history, archaeology, etc) to practice their religion the way it would have been done thousands of years ago. So they learn the original language, do a lot of research, often adopt the traditions of the culture that supported the original religion, learn traditional crafts or practices of that culture, etc. Perhaps think of some of the Orthodox christian groups as a comparison? The religion and it's surrounding practices are preserved as "unchanged" as possible since the underlying belief is that the religion "has it right the way it is" and so to change it would be to lose or dilute something special/sacred.

Now, these "recon" groups are technically modern... and so might be considered "neo-pagan" but the people who practice these faiths would probably dispute that categorization. Just like someone in an orthodox christian group might dispute being placed in the same group as, say, a charismatic protestant group that has a more "recent" founding and "fluid" set of ritual practices. If that makes sense?

And some "modern" pagans are no more "neo" than "modern" chirstians. They are simply following the teachings and traditions of their people as they have evolved over time. So religions like those practiced by some First Nation groups, or in more isolated regions of the globe, or among communities that have simply carried their religions forward through the generations. The members of these religions are "modern" and their religion is "modern" but it's not a modern invention or recreation. Just like the christianity today is not the christianity of 2000 years ago but you wouldn't call the church on the corner a "neo-christian" church (well, you know what I mean )

Self identified neo-pagan individuals and groups tend to be more fluid... they are often more open to adopting beliefs, practices, or symbols from a wide variety of historical religions as well as placing importance on individual revelation. Meaning they can change quickly to accomodate current cultural trends and are more focused on individual/personal beliefs since they are knowingly creating something new instead of trying to rebuild something that existed before. Similar maybe to a home church with just a few families or one of those smaller charismatic christian churches that exists at the community level (instead of at a national/international level)? In smaller groups the specific needs and beliefs of the individual members can be addressed, and their "flavor" varies a lot depending on the members and the leader. A congregational christian community in town A may be very different from a congregational christian community in town B ten miles down the road and it's the same thing with many neo-pagan groups... each one is different and will have different beliefs, practices, and "style".

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
May Poles- yes... the original symbolism is, well, more or less just sexual. A fertility ritual for the land/community. It's one reason why a traditional May Pole was danced with a specific number of ribbons and with a specific boy/girl ratio (certainly not children, pregnant women, elders) and wasn't to be cut down during the year. But like so many other things, the May Pole has mostly passed from "ritual activity with specific sacred focus" to "folk tradition that looks good on tourist brochures" and in the process the meaning has changed. I have to admit I always get a giggle when I see people dancing a May Pole with no idea of the symbolic history, but like I said, I'm a religion geek and easily amused.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Children and ritual- It's hard to generalize since there is such a wide variety of practices and beliefs in the Pagan umbrella. Two very popular books about including children in pagan or nature based faiths are Circle Round (published by members of Reclaiming, so it's very strongly influenced by the specific beliefs and ritual practices of this group) and Celebrating the Great Mother (a more generic "good for any family interested in celebrating nature" sort of book, it's my personal favorite and is a good choice for families that aren't necessarily pagan but want to add more seasonal/natural activities).

But like anything, different pagan groups involve children to different degrees. Some groups are adult only, some are more focused on family participation, others arrange seperate activities for children while the adults have their own ritual. Same thing with many christian groups... some have nursery or RE for the children while the parents attend the service, others expect families to stay together, some offer a "children's church" service at a different time than the regular service.

And the reasons for the different styles are pretty similar... some groups feel that information should be presented at an age appropriate (or attention span appropriate) level. So the kiddos might enjoy a holy day celebration focused more on the "fun stuff" while the adults participate in a ritual or sermon that delves deeper into the symbolic meanings or responsibilities that come along with that holy day. Like a child's bible that tells a simpler version of stories, leaving out the deeper complexities until the child is better able to understand the context or the meaning behind the complete story.

Hmmmm... this may be a polarizing example, but the christian All Saint's Day and the pagan Samhain celebrations come to mind. In some christian communities children are encouraged to attend church based Harvest Festivals where they can dress up, share sugary treats, and learn a bit about the beliefs of their faith surrounding death and the afterlife. The adults in these communities are probably not just dressing up and eating candy but are instead participating in more serious rituals honoring the dead, praying for salvation, and exploring the role of death/dying/renewal in their personal lives as well as in their wider spiritual community. Obviously the specific focus varies by christian community, but in general you might expect to find the children indulging in some sort of celebration with a little philosophy thrown in while the adults participate in a deeper spiritual event with some celebration on top. Same thing with Samhain (which is basically a celebration of the cycle of life-death-life and a time to honor the ancestors and remember the dead though again the specifics will vary by pagan group). The children might be dressing up and eating sugar with a few ritual activities mixed in while the adults focus more on the deeper meaning of death as part of life. A child might find a ritual devoted to death and dying more than they could handle emotionally, so the two rituals (the one for children and the one for adults) might be kept seperate. A "fun" ritual for the kiddos and a "deeper/scarier appearing" ritual for the adults.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Personally, I was raised in a very conservative and all-encompassing catholic community. Weekly fasts, daily mass, family bible reading and rosary before bed, the whole nine yards. So when I started exploring paganism and non-christian religions I also felt a lot of "wow" crossed with "scary". Sometimes when a thing is very similar the differences become more disturbing... in part because you expect one thing and get something different? And since pagan images were often placed in a negative light during the conversion process there is a lot of unconscious emotional baggage surrounding certain symbols now if you've been raised in a standard christian community.

After I left the christian umbrella I practiced in a recon faith for a while (it was a comfortable "stepping stone" since recon faiths are organized, have set beliefs and practices, there is a clergy, etc). Then I joined Reclaiming (the group mentioned above) and really enjoyed the natural/environmental/social revolution aspect of the group (Reclaiming focuses a lot of gender issues, social equality, peace efforts, conservation, etc). Plus while it has a fairly clear organization with ritual formats and specific traditions/songs/celebrations it's more fluid with more opportunity for self experession and determination. Eventually I moved away from Reclaiming and now describe myself as a Kitchen Witch with Reclaiming roots.

I'm in a blended family... DH is christian, I'm pagan. We attend a Unitarian Universalist church to provide a common family spiritual experience for our children and then practice a more specifically nature based religion at home. So far it works for us. DH and I share a lot of very similar beliefs (though we tend to describe them differently) and agree that there is "no one true way for everyone". Hopefully it'll keep on working out and our girls will have the experience, knowledge, love, and support they need to find their own paths as they grow!

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#16 of 24 Old 05-10-2009, 01:11 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wombat, thank you!

Re: the MayPole: It was explicit (the hyper-focus on sex, I mean.) That was apparently a local coven that was also a "skyclad" coven, so perhaps that's why??? I'm still amazed at the stuff I kept stumbling upon yesterday, and that was all in this area--who knew?!
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#17 of 24 Old 05-10-2009, 02:21 PM
 
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If this was a public website or publication then yes, I think he was being "creepy" or at least too graphic. The symbolism is the male and female generative organs, yes, and acknowledging that is pretty common within pagan groups (sex being a normal/natural part of life, to be respected and enjoyed). But again, different groups are going to approach things differently. A group that is "adult only" and perhaps more focused on physical celebrations may be a lot more "forward" in their discussions and terminology than a group that includes more families, or which has a more "intellectual" practice instead of a more "physical" one.

Skyclad can be one yardstick to how physical a group is, but not necessarily. The underlying idea is that it is easier to be honest/open when naked... there isn't anything getting in the way of the social and physical experience of the ritual, and it's a clear mark of being in "ritual space" instead of "normal space". So it's not necessarily a sexual thing... just like the people at a nudist/naturalist gathering are not necessarily more interested in sexual activities than any other person (and they might argue they are less sexual since they are avoiding the whole "forbidden fruit" issue).

That said, there are plenty of pagan groups that do make physical sensation and pleasure the focus of their ritual practices. And there are many rituals (especially in wicca, but also found in other branches of paganism) where previously physical rituals are now carried out in a more symbolic manner.

For example, the "Great Rite" was initially a physical act between a priest and priestess representing the way in which god/goddess, nature/spirit, male/female could merge into a single being. But now the "Great Rite" is generally celebrated using a blade or wand of some sort and a cup or bowl. The symbolic meaning is there but the more physical element has been removed.

Why? Well, in many ways the early neo-pagan groups were a product of their time (60s and 70s in the US). They were rejecting a lot of what they had been taught or told to expect. In some cases they went a bit too far and it took a few more decades to sort of balance things out. Are drugs always bad? No. But is a drug haze in a field always good? No. Is a religion entirely of the spirit to the rejection of the body always bad? No. But is a religion that glorifies the body to the exclusion of all else good? No. It's a question of balance and that can take time. Of course there are people and groups at both extremes... always have been, always will be (go back thousands of years and you'll find the Greeks and Romans debating the merits and problems with Dionysian "god of wine" vs Apollonian "god of mind" religions ). But most people and groups fall into the middle somewhere.

In the case you found, I'd imagine the group is primarily Wiccan, probably with a strong influence by Crowley or Gardner, possibly using some of the earlier rituals published by the Frosts. But that is totally based on what you've said and maybe it was just the case of their leader trying to shock people, or generate interest/debate and they're normally not as physical. It's hard to say, but my personal feeling is that if it feels creepy, it probably is.

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#18 of 24 Old 05-10-2009, 03:43 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wombat, here's where I read that: http://www.covenofthegoddessmoon.org/newsletterGM.htm Scroll down to "Returning Spirituality to the Craft"........and tell me what you think

(I hope this is ok to post the link?? I didn't quote the link, due to notification but this is where I found it.)
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#19 of 24 Old 05-10-2009, 09:33 PM
 
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Wombat, here's where I read that: http://www.covenofthegoddessmoon.org/newsletterGM.htm Scroll down to "Returning Spirituality to the Craft"........and tell me what you think

(I hope this is ok to post the link?? I didn't quote the link, due to notification but this is where I found it.)
um....WOW
That sounded like "Returning Sex to the Craft" rather than "Spirituality"...

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#20 of 24 Old 05-11-2009, 02:17 AM - Thread Starter
 
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um....WOW
That sounded like "Returning Sex to the Craft" rather than "Spirituality"...
OK, so it wasn't just me??
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#21 of 24 Old 05-11-2009, 07:45 AM
 
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Neo-pagan and historical pagan- you've hit on one of the divisions. "Historical pagan" or "classical pagan" generally refers to people practicing a non-christian religion in the past. However, neo-pagan is a bit harder to define. Some modern pagans practice what are called "reconstruction" or "recon" religions... members of these religions try to the best of their ability (lots of research, history, archaeology, etc) to practice their religion the way it would have been done thousands of years ago. So they learn the original language, do a lot of research, often adopt the traditions of the culture that supported the original religion, learn traditional crafts or practices of that culture, etc. Perhaps think of some of the Orthodox christian groups as a comparison? The religion and it's surrounding practices are preserved as "unchanged" as possible since the underlying belief is that the religion "has it right the way it is" and so to change it would be to lose or dilute something special/sacred.

Now, these "recon" groups are technically modern... and so might be considered "neo-pagan" but the people who practice these faiths would probably dispute that categorization. Just like someone in an orthodox christian group might dispute being placed in the same group as, say, a charismatic protestant group that has a more "recent" founding and "fluid" set of ritual practices. If that makes sense?
Yes, this is an interesting division. And I would certainly say that any continuing tradition (not a reconstructionist group) wasn't really a neo-pagan group.

But reconstruction groups... I don't know, for one thing, the idea of reconstructing an old religion is in itself such a modern idea. And even with great research, in many cases there are so many pieces missing that need to be filled in - It seems to me that it is so much more accurate to say that they are inspired by ancient religions. And in most cases, I have to say I find many of the sensibilities really modern.

I'm not sure I would compare them to the Orthodox church, since a) the OC is an unbroken tradition b0 although many practices haven't changed much, they are not all considered central to the faith or doctrine, they are traditions, not Tradition, and c) it is a living tradition, so it would not be true to say that there was no development of the tradition, or even Tradition. So they might be better compared to the kind of living tradition of paganism noted above.

Now, a really good comparison in Christianity would, I think, be attempt to reconstruct Celtic Christianity, which lost many of it's distinctive features a long time ago. Some people are trying to recapture that though, through self-consciously adopting their practices. But still, they aren't Celts, and it's easy to see that they are people who are creating their reconstruction based on modern values.

The other reason, though, I like to differntiate them, has to do with my education, when I spent a lot of time studying ancient "pagan" philosophy. If I say pagan, I mean Plato, so to make it clear (to myself, if no one else) I tend to call modern groups neo-pagans, or by the name for their specific tradition if that is more applicable.


On another note - are most Wiccans that close to what Gardner produced/described? I find most of the ones I have met seem a lot... nicer and less dark.

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#22 of 24 Old 05-11-2009, 12:14 PM
 
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BlueGoat- I was trying to think of comparisons that would be familiar to people without a background in religious studies. So more "similarity in flavor" than "similarity in lineage". Plus, since most of my field work was with modern groups (hard to do the whole participant observation thing with people dead a few thousand years ) that rejected the term "neo-pagan" as being another section of the pagan umbrella and not one "they" shared, I tend to use modern vs classical when discussing the temporal divide and then "neo-pagan" as a further subdivision of modern paganism. But that's more of an "anthropologist" habit than a solid "academic" best practice.

But I agree that recon traditions have a lot of limitations in that those religions evolved to suit the needs and resources of specific times and cultures and without those cultures the religion itself is difficult to recreate or maintain properly. Plus, even when the intent is to accurately recreate X, modern sensibilities (not to mention legalities!) can get in the way. Celtic Christianity is a good modern example (though maybe not familiar to a wide audience) since it's also trying to recreate something without the cultural context... there's a large Celtic Christian community on the West Coast of the US (or there was a few years ago) and I had hoped to spend some time with them but it never panned out.

Wicca- there's a lot of variation. I've certainly seen groups that were pretty explicit in their "old school" Gardnerian practices, and groups that are equally "old school" in terms of following A. Crowley. But there are plenty of others that use a wiccan framework without any interest in the concepts put out by the "early teachers" like Gardner. For example, Dianic Wicca is certainly wiccan, but it's not something Gardner would have been happy with! And some traditions (like the Frosts and the Feri tradition) modified themselves as they experimented... some of their earlier rituals/practices are pretty fringe to modern sensibilities and realities (specifically the physical/sexual elements), but those practices shifted organically as the culture changed and today you probably wouldn't find a group that described itself as following the Frosts that used the earlier rituals.

My own experience (ymmv, especially since there are variations between countries with the US, Canada, and the UK all having different pagan cultures) has been that the "old school" groups tend to keep quiet and simply do their own thing... they're not generally open to the public or interested in "advertising". They don't generally join COG or set up flashy tents at things like PSG or Starwood. In part because they really are "mystery" religions where you need to study and be accepted and swear oaths in order to move through the religion and while plenty of people have broken those oaths and written about the details of their experiences, practitioners and believers aren't going to do that. Especially not on an open website!

Obviously there are exceptions but I think the "softer gentler" groups are the ones that are more in the public eye since many times they are intentionally trying to dispel negative perceptions of paganism. So they host the open rituals and produce the cds and offer classes and invite the public to watch.

Which creates it's own set of concerns with some groups feeling that they are "more" pagan than others. But that's a whole different thread.

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#23 of 24 Old 05-12-2009, 05:24 PM
 
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Wow, I'm glad to see the stereotype of a witch is alive and well...( wearing scary black costumes or skyclad with a black cauldron? LOL) Sure, people do those things but I think it's a lot like thinking all christians are bible thumping fundamentalists. ( Which is wrong, we all know christians come in all flavors..lol) Pagans come in all flavors too. The May Pole is just a pole with streamers that you dance around joyfully ( usually while fully clothed, unless you want to be "that guy" LOL) while holding the streamer, so that the streamer wraps around the pole.

Me and Dh and the kids are pagan with a leaning towards wicca. All of our rituals and celebrations are kid friendly, we even did the maypole at the kid's school last year ( Private school that celebrates all religions) during the May Day celebration. Celebrating fertility doesn't mean you have to get naked and be all sexual with each other. It could also mean celebrating the fertility of earth as the flowers bloom.

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#24 of 24 Old 05-12-2009, 05:27 PM
 
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Oh also, me and dh and our witchy friends are ANYTHING but dark and spooky. ( I don't even know if I own any black....)

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