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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 23,413,133  

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Question of the Week: 24 - 1/15/2001

What is Pagan History and What is Pagan Belief?

We have seen in recent times some scholarly 'attacks'-and many really excellently researched anthropological, archaeological and sociological works as well- which seem to refute the 'historical' basis for modern Pagan beliefs. Have these articles/books changed your perspective? Have you 'lost faith' or been discouraged at discovering that some Pagan 'sacred cows' may, in fact, be making very fine hamburger? Or have these findings actually caused you to become stronger in your beliefs, more likely to examine why you believe as you do or to become more resilient in some way? How are YOUR sacred cows holding up these days?

 Reponses:   There are 44 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

Years Ago, I Was Taught Almost A "fundamentalist Wicca". What Ever The... Jan 16th. at 1:39:18 pm EST

Celtic Woman (Georgetown, Delaware US) Age: 48

Years ago, I was taught almost a "fundamentalist Wicca". What ever the HHPs taught was the history, both of our coven and Wicca in general, was truth, as she was one of those initiated "back in the day" and knew. I was a wide-eyed neophyte and drank everything in and trusted in what I was taught. How disillusioned in those I respected I was when I realized there were so many holes in the stories. And as I read and researched on my own and came to my own conclusions that much being taught as fact or history just did not hold water. Even the history of our own coven was untrue. I was not disillusioned in the religion itself or in my own spirituality, but in the people, the elders, the human element that felt the need to try to prove itself valid through false history.

If we came face to face with one of our ancient cousins, they would probably find little in common in how we worship and honor the Divine. We have put such a different spin on things. Mixing pantheons and traditions. Honoring and cherishing the God/dess vs Appeasing. Loving/honoring nature vs fearing nature.
Understanding of abstact concepts and Universal laws.

Do not take these generalizations as pat, I am merely trying to make a point. Our neopaganism comes from a different vantage point than our ancestors, what ever they were.
We don't need to prove ourselves to anyone, so why do we not embrace ourselves as a new religion instead of trying to pass ourselves off as the old religion?

Like Some Reviewers Below, I Would Welcome A Truly Scholarly Analysis Of... Jan 16th. at 2:18:21 pm EST

SGIWizard (St. Louis, Missouri US) Age: 34 - Email

Like some reviewers below, I would welcome a truly scholarly analysis of Wicca's (and polytheism's) historical basis, where the researcher would be as objective as possible with no pro- or anti-Wiccan axes to grind. Unfortunately that's not what Allen offers in her article, which is based on her own personal opinion that Wicca was invented by loopy individuals who want a spiritual life without Christianity's challenges. If Allen would simply have left it at that, the article would probably have wound up in a Christian apologetics journal and sunk without a trace. But these days, making something look legitimate means making it look scientific, and that's exactly what Allen does: she attempts to give her belief-based opinion the fiat of scientific law by citing archaeological evidence.

At this point I can go down the defensive road and refute some of Allen's assertions: 1) Conservative Christianity doesn't offer challenges, just simplistic behavioral dictates handed down as law. 2) Ancient cultures DID celebrate solstices and equinoxes; my Iranian husband reminded me that the Persian New Year (No-Ruz) has been celebrated at the spring equinox from thousands of years ago to the present, in spite of the Islamic government's disapproval, and so has the fall festival of Mehregan, identical to the Pagan Mabon...

But maybe we Pagans should take a different tack. If Allen wishes to stake her claim in the realm of science, let's address it from that realm. First and foremost, her method is highly unscholarly and unscientific. She begins with an unquestioned assumption (Wicca is only legitimate if every historical claim made by its advocates is verifiably true), selectively appropriates evidence to support that assumption, and ignores or discounts evidence that contradicts that claim. In my experience as a laboratory research scientist, if Ms. Allen applied that method in an industry lab, she would be fired. Moreover, if she wishes to don the robe of scholar, she must apply her questions and analyses equally to all belief systems, not just Paganism.

Isn't it ironic that advocates of "mainstream" Christianity attack science when it threatens them, yet selectively use scientific evidence to attack competing religions? Those who advocate the teaching of Judeo-Christian sociopolitics labeled "creationism, " while ignoring the paleontological and archaeological data supporting the theory of biological evolution, will enthusiastically embrace similar data when another religion is the target.

The responses to Allen's article on the Atlantic Monthly message boards are even more illuminating. The recurring theme there isn't the need for scholarly research or Christian spirituality per se; it's conservative politics. This is evident in their repeated references to feminism, the 60s, aging ex-hippies, affirmative action, and even the Bill Clinton sex scandal. (?!) What really lights the fire under them isn't Wicca as an alternative religion, it's Wicca as an escape from modern Christianity as a vehicle for political and social control. These people are terrified of the vast social changes that have taken place in the second half of the 20th century. The true objective of journalists like Allen is to give that fear a new, more palatable voice cloaked in a scientific veneer.

Let's clear one thing up: being a Pagan and a scientist is not a contradiction in terms. In fact Paganism respects each person's judgment and integrity, does not require its practitioners to bend to unquestioned dogma, and challenges us to examine causes and motivations in today's world, with respect to society, the environment, and our own personal development. Although there are bound to be exceptions, Paganism tends to attract the creative freethinker rather than those desperately seeking an authority figure who will answer all the tough questions for them. For these reasons, which mesh well with my scientific training, I chose Paganism as my spiritual path. Comparatively speaking, whether one overarching Goddess cult existed in prehistory is irrelevant.

As a sidenote, I wish more Pagan, eclectic, and ecumenical scientists would come forward and do some of their own "debunking" of those critics who, "Dr. Laura"-style, hide their faith-based beliefs under a thin scientific cloak that never holds up under close scrutiny.

If One's Beliefs Are Based Solely On The Writings Of Murray, Gardner... Jan 17th. at 7:49:19 am EST

R. Merswin (Corinth, Vermont US) Age: 63

If one's beliefs are based solely on the writings of Murray, Gardner, Sanders, et al, then no doubt they ARE on shaky ground. If, however, one's beliefs are related to the Spirits of Earth, and Sky as are most Nature religions, both modern and ancient, then one is on firmer ground. If your beliefs are truly religious and you are not just playing at "magic" then you can still be firm in your beliefs.
This necessity for historical justification is a trap that too many fall into. Other religions have fallen into the same trap and constructed some pretty bizzare myths to uphold this historicity. Our personal relationship to the Divine, Cosmos, God, Goddess, MOther/Father or however one chooses to view the Life forces at work in our world does not have to depend on a construct which involves avatars, saviours, witches, warlocks or space aliens.
It is YOUR intimate feelings about our world and its inhabitants both physical and spiritual which makes your belief a religious one.
Commune with the Sprits of wood and stone, water and fire and be satisfied with their loving friendship. This is all that I need. I hope all of you can find the same in your world, and without someone else's approval, whether priest, scholar or historian.
Many Blessings,

The Central Or Core Belief In The Pagan Life Is That We... Jan 17th. at 2:09:06 pm EST

Amber Morgan (Bordentown , New Jersey US) Age: 32 - Email

The central or core belief in the pagan life is that we believe... not becuase we have proof or becuase we have some historical foundation to stand on simply that we believe!!!
I think that it is interesting to know the history of those that have traveled before us and instructional to reach back and to gain strength from their stories, but it is important that the spirit in us, guide us, not what we feel is the "real" history of who we as pagans are.

Frankly These Recent Attacks On The Ancient History Of Wicca Are Uncalled... Jan 18th. at 10:42:52 am EST

Emerald (Fort Lauderdale, Florida US) Age: 19

Frankly these recent attacks on the ancient history of Wicca are uncalled for, without basis, and obviously the acts of anti-matriarchs who think that our religion isn't valid unless each and every thing we do and believe has a basis in ancient history. The manners in which we reverence the divine and practice magick may differ quite greatly today from five hundred years ago or fifteen hundred years ago, but of what religion is that not true? If I were to research the tenements of Christianity fifteen hundred years ago and compared them to Christianity today I could make an equally impressive case that modern Christianity has no historical basis and is clearly distinctly modern, although to be fair Christianity has changes less throughout its history, but that is not a virtue, that is caused by religious stagnancy, and a feeling that outside concepts are inherintly Satanic. The basic tenements of witchcraft are obviously quite ancient, I knew about the extensive ancient worship of the Mother Goddess and Gather God long before I ever had heard the word "Wicca", and the concept of reincarnation is as old as the concept of a permanent afterlife like the Christian Heaven, and is perhaps even older than such concepts, even Christians used to believe in reincarnation before the belief was outlawed in their religion. The particular rituals we practice today do differ quite greatly from witchcraft of past centuries, but again this is true of any and all religions, and our ability as witches to recognize practices and tenements that would be excellent to interweave into our religion is a virtue, if only Christians and Jews and Buddhists and other groups could be as universal in their respect for worldly knowledge as pagans are. The problem with all these attacks on paganism, despite the COLLOSSAL assumptions and misconceptions they produce, is that these attacks on paganism depend on the concept that we pagans have deluded ourselves into believing that what some God/Goddess worshipper did 25, 000 years ago in Indonesia matches perfectly with what we do today. We know that our methods of worship are not grounded in historical Wicca, but we don't care, just because how we practice our Craft varies slightly from how it was practiced thousands of years ago does not mean we don't have the right to consider ourselves a part of that same belief system, I mean, seeing as Christians, Jews, and Buddhists all associate themselves with Christians, Jews, and Buddhists of thousands of years ago (as if what Moses did in the desert 4000 years ago has any true relevance to the practices and beliefs of modern Judaism). So Wicca does have a historical basis, this we know, and we also know that most of our methods of magick and worship derive from ceremonial magick rather than historical Wicca, but to us this does not negate the historical basis for our religion, it just speaks to us of relativism, the idea that your method or worship must usually conform to whatever is most comfortable and convenient for your particular group. I know I've rambled a lot, but I get tired of hearing people say that just because we don't practice our religion exactly how it was practiced 2700 years ago means our religion has no historical basis, because no religion is stagnant to the point of being totally unchanging, all religions seem new when you separate two points in their history by hundreds and thousands of years. I am not disenchanted in the least by the non-historical basis for most of our practices, and frankly I just think it would be very sad for anyone to try to decide what the "holy cows" of paganism are, other religions do that, Christianity is a religion whose followers place all their faith in the religion on the so-called "canon" of that particular religion (even though that "canon" did not itself appear out of thin air and at one time was brand new just like most of the stuff we do). We pagans shouldn't really have "holy canons" and should not go around telling other pagans what they absolutely must believe to be true Wiccans, a true Wiccan is determined by their output, not input. I think we Wiccans are among the strongest religion in the world for having the courage to admit to ourselves that most of what we now believe and practice are modern concepts or concepts derived from sources other than paganism, and we are also strong for recognizing universal wisdom, that there is wisdom to be absorbed from all peoples in all walks of life. So let's not debate over the age of Wicca, let's let the "debunkers" try to disprove the basis of our religion, and we'll prove its basis by living it.

History Has Always Been A Very Interesting And Fluid Topic... While It's... Jan 18th. at 12:09:12 pm EST

Alexandra Bush (Hackensack, New Jersey US) Age: 21 - Email

History has always been a very interesting and fluid topic...

While it's true that our religion does not have a continuous tradition stretching from its earliest roots some 30, 000 years ago until the present day (due, in a large part, to some rather nasty persecution and _extremely_ bad press), there are enough thematic and conceptual similiarities to (what we can extrapolate were) the practices of our ancestors that I, as a scholar, can comfortably say: 'No, I do not practice the exact religion of the ancients, but I what I practice is its spiritual and religious heir'.

On a historical basis, yes, the need for proof is important... but as a basis of faith? I think it is enough to say 'This is what I believe, and it has given me a strong connection to the Divine'. It's more than many who are members of a mainstream religion by default (my parents were, so I guess I am too...) or out of apathy (I don't feel any connection to this, but I guess staying with it is easier than making a break) can say.

Anyway, if we wanted to say that a religion is only valid if it follows the practices it followed in its earliest years, then:
Christians would have to pray in Latin and not bathe much. Living or holding prayer services in catacombs to avoid getting tossed to the lions by the government would be a necessity. Failing that, self-flagellation is always an option for the truly devoted...
Jews would have to make three yearly pilgramages to Jerusalem, where they would sacrifice large numbers of domestic animals. Women would be segregated from the men during prayer and not allowed to participate in religious services except as observers (behind a screen), and only members of certain families would be allowed into the priesthood. This is, of course, assuming that everybody isn't wandering around the Arabian Peninsula lugging the Ark of the Tabernacle (and accompanying bits, distribution, again, being decided by family lineage).
No Muslim woman would be allowed on the street unless veiled from head to toe.
Maybe change in religious practices is good after all... Most modern members of these religions whom I know would be horrified if forced to return to these practices.

Refuting The History Of Paganism In The Modern Sense? There Is Plenty... Jan 18th. at 10:31:56 pm EST

Hermes Darkhawk (Carle Place, New York US) Age: 21 - Email

Refuting the history of Paganism in the modern sense? There is plenty of historical documentation stating Pagan beliefs, including polytheism. But is their a connection to todays Paganism? I have a better question...does it matter? Peoples beliefs and faith usually do not take historical facts into account. As long as one believes and keeps his faith, it does not matter what the "truth" is. Believe what you do, do not let others who are trying to put you down affect you in any way.

First, Let Me Say That I Was Less Than Impressed With Ms... Jan 19th. at 7:10:25 am EST

Daphne Inari (Des Moines, Iowa US) Age: 34 - Email

First, let me say that I was less than impressed with Ms. Allen's article "The Scholars and the Goddess." She obviously did not do much research into Wiccan or Pagan beliefs, and some of her "historical facts" were glaringly incorrect. What are her credentials anyway? She wrote a book? Big deal--so did Adolf Hitler.

Personally, since I started following the Wiccan path almost nine years ago, I've never thought in the terms of one "Goddess" or the dualistic "God & Goddess." Most Pagans I know tend to be more polytheistic (there are some exceptions). In many introductions to Wicca, there is an emphasis on "The God" and "The Goddess", but I always felt that was to ease the way into more polytheistic thinking--it's a tough conceptional jump, going from one God to many, especially with the Judeo/Christian/Islamic bias against polytheism.

Having read many of the wonderful posts already written on this question, I don't feel I have too much to add to what's already been said. It's irritating having to defend our religions against yet another malicious attack, but it is necessary. With a President in office who doesn't even regard Wicca as a "true religion", we must vigorously defend our beliefs.

Greetings Witches' Voice! Well Gee. Actually The New Scholarship Does Not Bother... Jan 19th. at 8:00:54 am EST

Feithlinne O'Wynne MacMuirpheidh (Joplin, Missouri US) Age: 29 - Email

Greetings Witches' Voice!

Well Gee. Actually the new scholarship does not bother me a bit, because after almost 17 years of "Craft" study, it only reaffirms what I had realized in the first place. I never did believe that the history of the Craft was literally true and got that idea from reading Uncle Gerald. He was a man of vision. It was all made of dreams.....but true none the less! It pointed to what the "Craft" could become.
But then, of course, I am not really a "neo-Pagan" so am afraid that we will leave it to you folks to wrangle with. We are Spiritists and our Witchcraft has always been based upon that area, not Pagan history.
So, the best to you all....and have fun with this "new" scholarship!!!
Nightstar of the Fireflies

This Article, And Others Of It's Kind, Are No More An Attacks... Jan 19th. at 2:52:55 pm EST

Leonard Farnsworth (Lafayette, Indiana US) Age: 28 - Email

This article, and others of it's kind, are no more an attacks on the Wiccan religion then evolution is an attack on Christianity. Wiccas supposedly ancient past may contribute to its appeal as an "occult mystery" but the real power of Wicca lies in how it effects our lives today. It doesn't matter if it was founded in the ancient mists of pre-history or by an naked, retired civil servant in the '50s. What matters that Wicca provides spiritual meaning and guidence to those who believe in it.

Well Being A Young'un, I'm Only 24, I Guess I Don't Have... Jan 19th. at 3:19:36 pm EST

herbwitch (Cambridge, Massachusetts US) Age: 24 - Email

well being a young'un, i'm only 24, i guess i don't have years of beliefs to be shattered by new research or knowledge. my personal perspective is one of youth and rebellion. i'm eclectic and solitary and prefer to avoid structure and dogma in most forms. i learn about all world religions, and then piece together my own knowledge, wisdom, truths and beliefs from a hodge-podge of other ancient and new philsophies, ways of life, and religions. but mostly, i believe in overturning, questioning and shaking up traditions, and sorting out the ones that have timelessness meaning and the ones that are just fads. i read a quote once that in order to preserve tradition, you have to break from it. that is why my current path is a mixture of my Catholic upbringing, Neo-pagan and Taoist ways.

My Sacred Cows Are Holding Up Just Fine And Moooing Merrily Along... Jan 19th. at 5:18:38 pm EST

Bal (Ferguson, Missouri US) Age: 40 - Email

My sacred cows are holding up just fine and moooing merrily along I might add. To anyone who would try to deny the "validity" of My religion(Wicca, for instance)as it's practiced today or was practiced in the past(I don't care if it wasn't called that in the past-I'm not that concerned with semantics), I say go debunk yourself and the shroud of Turin. I don't need you to prove anything to Me. I have common sense. You don't know what I know.

Keep on Keepin' On my Crafty sisters and brothers and remember---
ain't nothin' but a hate thing
Love and laughter

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