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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Nov. 17, 2002   This Page Viewed: 15,843,425  

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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 

One Of The Most Important Aspects Of Paganism For Me Is The... Jan 15th. at 12:04:29 pm EST

Torin (Cape Carteret, North Carolina US) Age: 17 - Email

One of the most important aspects of Paganism for me is the lack of rigid, inflexible dogma from which many other religions suffer. Dogma is, by its very nature, irrational. Invariably, when one holds to a dogmatic belief, one has contradictory evidence thrown in his face. Personally, I feel that arguments about Wicca/Paganism's ancient roots are rife with dogma. The facts are readily available that we are not practicing an ancient religion. Why would we want to? Our spiritual ancestors sacrificed people to angry, petty deities for their appeasement. One of the more popular divinations in ancient Greece was to take a bird, slice it open, and "read" the entrails. That's not the path I wish to follow. The "organized" aspect of Paganism is new. At the oldest, perhaps 260 years. What's important, and undisputably ancient, is the love for the Natural Universe, in all Her wonder, beauty and power. The most ancient of deities were scratched into cave walls as a large, round Earth Mother Goddess, and a potent, strong, hunter Sky Father God. Respect for the natural, and by extension, respect for the Goddess and God, are the oldest ideas of human religion. Does it matter if nobody in Ancient Greece knew what a cauldron was, or if people in Celtic Ireland had never seen a pentacle? No. Remember, all organized religions started at a certain point in time and developed further. In an infinitely cyclical universe, we've got plenty of time for organized, ritualized NeoPaganism to grow and mature and develop into the ancient faith at its soul.

Blessed Be )O(

There Are Fashions In Academia As In Science, And Once A Fashion... Jan 15th. at 11:54:49 am EST

Sungarth (Orange, California US) Age: 55 - Email

There are fashions in Academia as in science, and once a fashion takes hold, further evidence to the contrary sometimes finds it hard to get a hearing. Scholarship is a career path, and once the academic establishment decides a theory is no good, finding further evidence for it is not the way to get grants and a fat university post somewhere. Such is the case with Margaret Murray's hypothesis that medieval and Renaissance withcraft was a survival of pre-Christian fertility religion. Certainly Murray skewed a lot of the evidence gleaned from witch trials, and overestimated the communal organization of witchcraft activity. But more recent evidence from the witch-trials in Sicily has not been allowed to modify the anti-Murray shibboleth. At these trials, no torture was employed, and the (mostly) old women questioned did not face execution. They were regarded as benighted, quaintly old-fashioned, and misled. The interesting thing is, the testimony they gave agrees in large part with that extracted under torture in other parts of Europe. Similarly, evidence of witchcraft from other outlying areas such as Romania, where persecution was always sporadic (Eliade) and never organized, shows a similarity between both witch-trial testimony and known shamanic practices current among the Sami of Lapland and their remote Siberian relatives. Finally, the jury will have to remain out on these and related questions until the overwhelming amount of information on Pagan survivals in Lithuania and Latvia becomes available here in the West. The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the indigenous ethnic religious revival movements of Romuva (Lith.) and Dievturiba (Latvia) to resume wide-scale activity. Since the mid-nineties, Baltic scholars have improved their knowledge of English and other West European languages to the point where the results of their researches are just now becoming more available to us. Check out for more information. The extensive folklore survivals in Baltic lands show there was a witch Goddess, Ragana, and her followers, who were both feared and respected. A Lithuanian folk tale of Velnias, the God of the dead who bears some resemblance to Cernunnos, relates how the first witch tricked the God into teaching her all of his witchcraft knowledge. Chronicles of the medieval period (Lithuania and Latvia were only officially 'converted' in the early Renaissance) indicate that people from as far away as Spain visited Baltic lands to consult with the many diviners and seers who lived there. As we learn more about the Baltic Pagan heritage, gaps in our knowledge of other European pre-Christian traditions will be filled and the role and place of the witch in Pagan society will become clarified. Additionally, we will see the old Baltic religions throw off their Christian accretions and re-emerge in something close to their original form and content. This should occur in the next generation, and when it does, we will have a standard with which we can sift the false from the authentic in modern Wicca, Asatru and other neo-Pagan faiths. Until then, the issue of neo-Pagan authenticity must hang in the balance.


Turning The Proverbial Sacred Cow Into Hamburger Is Something Of Which I... Jan 15th. at 7:43:30 am EST

Trish Telesco (Western, New York US) Age: 40 - Email

Turning the proverbial Sacred Cow into hamburger is something of which I suspect our ancestors would approve (it is, afterall, practical!). When you break something down into it's component parts you see how it goes together too (and may even find a better way to rebuild it later in the process!). Neo paganism has been lingering beneath some ideas that have been shown as having foundations of clay or sand instead of the rock we need to build our future -- so I say let's move!

For years I've been harping about the need to relcaim our roots using balance and wisdom as a guide. Magickal ideas and practices existed in nearly every histo-cultural setting imaginable. Was this called "magick" or "wicca" or "paganism" in that setting - not usually. Each group had a word or description for the Shamans/Priest-esses/Healers/Visionaries. Nonetheless - these individuals and their methods are what we use as our foundation. But to call ourselves an "ancient" tradition is a huge misnomer. As an organized group we are still very young and paying our dues the hard way.

At least in our discovery of some flaws we have found them early in our growth process, not two thousand years later LOL. This is our chance to weed out and retill the soil of spirituality. Does this weeding decrease my faith or make what we have accomplished somehow "weaker" -- I think not. Every faith had to begin somewhere (even Christianity didn't just "appear" in a day or even several hundred years, and I'm willing to bet they had some problems at first too!).

The key here is being honest with ourselves and others. Separating what we know and can show by historical precidence, and what we believe based in faith and ideology. In the past, it has been religions needing to be totally "right" in everything that has caused hanious human error. Let's not fall into that trap by holding so tightly to our sacred cows that we burn with them on the grill.

My Sacred Cows Have Been Rocked By Myself Far Too Many Times... Jan 15th. at 7:05:21 am EST

Candle Ogham (Sacile, Italy) Age: 22 - Email

My sacred cows have been rocked by myself far too many times to allow them to be disturbed by an article or two. There's as much proof of Paganism as there is of Christianity. I am suspicious of "experts" who write books and articles, b/c it is human nature to be biased. When I first became Wiccan, or Wicca became me, whichever, I studied up on 101 information. When I was rereading the same info all over the place, I put them up on the shelves and started thinking for myself. Talking to people of other religions, intuition, and past experiences became my guides. These are unshakable and not likely to be swayed by someone shaking their finger and saying "tsk, tsk, this is why you're wrong.". I have respect for history, don't get me wrong, but history does not effect what is in my heart. I didn't become Wiccan b/c it is old. I couldn't give a flying fig if Wicca is ancient or 50 years old. That doesn't make it any less real. When my daughters were little, they thought that if they couldn't see it, it must not be real. Did that change my perspective? Nopers. I have never seen Germany, but I know that it is real, and nobody is going to convince me that it is not. You can't disprove a feeling, just like you can't tell someone, "now don't get upset" when they clearly are. Who cares what someone else says when you know that you are right, they are right, everybody is right, really. Arguing about it is futile.

Any Belief Systm Has To Be Taken With A Certain Grain Of... Jan 15th. at 6:41:32 am EST

Kevin B (Swansea, Massachusetts US) Age: 43 - Email

Any belief systm has to be taken with a certain grain of salt. Having grown-up as a Roman Catholic, and being educated through twelve years of Catholic education, I can tell you that what is taught as history and doctrine, and what really ocurred are sometimes very different. And, how history is interpreted by "professionals" and "scholas" also really depends on their ego being satisfied. Let me give you an example - probably a classic. For centuries scholas debated the existence of the city of Troy. They, "in their esteemed opinion" (sniff, sniff!) concluded that since they hadn't found it, the city, therefore couldn't possibly exist. A certain German archeologist felt though that Homer's story was too detailed: too many things matched-up and made sense. So he went lookng, and eventually found the fabled city. When the bishops of the early Christian church met to develop thir Creed, they had a falling out over the nature of the Holy Spirit. One group felt that the Holy Spirit had certain characteristics, other felt differently. the two groups split, and we had the birth of the eastern and western Catholic church - one centered in Rome, the other in Constantinople. At the core of both stories are that certain truths still exist. And, that is what people need to focus on. Not the issues that inflate one's ego (call it scholarly treatis, or writing church doctrine). The question is "Who is writing the article, and what is their viewpoint?". If they are trying to fit the pieces into a preconceived notion, then they will end-up saying what they had planned all along, no matter what the data supports. Take greenhouse emissions. Pagans and environmentalists will agree that greenhouse emissions are bad and should be decreased. Others, notably big business will come armed with thick binders full of "documentary evidence" suggesting that pollution is actually good! When your head is spinning, and your faith is challeneged remember one thing - consider the source.

To Me, A Search For A Pagan History Is Largely Meaningless. I... Jan 15th. at 5:39:49 am EST

Skye Cat (Edinburgh, Scotland UK) Age: 27 - Email

To me, a search for a pagan history is largely meaningless. I create most of my own rituals on the spot. I'm happy to learn from previous occultists and older practices, but at the end of the day, I create my beliefs as I live them.

I have to confess I don't understand the drive in some areas to find the "ancient link". One of the nicest things about paganism is that it's a living, breathing tradition, being created as we speak. I feel priviliged to be living in a time where this is happening. To me, history is only meaningful if you can take something from it.

Besides, , I like hamburger!

I Approached Neo-paganism Knowing That It Is, Well, 'neo,' That Most Of... Jan 15th. at 12:46:16 am EST

Steven Bragg (New Orleans, Louisiana US) Age: 24 - Email

I approached Neo-Paganism knowing that it is, well, 'Neo, ' that most of what is practiced is new invention based upon ancient, world-wide, nature-based spiritual belief.

But I believe one important point is being overlooked concerning Pagan history. Despite all the scholarly work that could ever be done on the history of Witchcraft and Paganism, there still remains the logical possibility that some pre-Christian beliefs and practices could have survived until the present day. Those who proclaim the opposite cannot do so and be totally correct. The only way to have an ultimate, definitive answer to this seemingly endless debate is to travel back in time, follow each and every single country, region, city, town, village, cottage, family, and individual in Europe to witness their practices, ask the meaning of those practices, whether or not they are of Pagan spirituality or Christian tradition, and do so until the present day. How else can there be a definite answer? But this obviously cannot be done, and records, books, and such, that the scholars' theses entirely rely upon, fall far from accomplishing this task. And for this same reason, authenticity of an ancient Pagan tradition practiced today cannot ultimately be proven, either. The proponents of the 'ancient lineage' and the scholars who oppose them need to realize this, moreso on the part of the scholars, who many times feel their title protects them from criticism from the 'common folk, ' which, of course, is rubbish. (I work within the scholastic and academic world, being a graduate student, and I've seen first-hand the mistakes that can be made by scholars due to lack of research, misinterpretation of research materials, invalid or unsound logical arguments, lack of effort because one feels that one's title carries more weight than one's actual work, and so on.)

So, although there is the slight, logical possiblity of an unbroken line of pre-Christian, European spiritual practices, no one can truly lay claim to them. If someone could do so to the satisfaction of everyone involved, it would end this entire debate, but, until then, all have no choice but be satisfied with this fact and continue to work in its shadow.

Besides, if there were a team of scholars who proposed a theory and supported the best they could that the origins of Christianity as we know them are wrong and found another origin that contradicts some of the present Christian beliefs, would it really affect the present Christian population to the point that they would discard their beliefs? I think not. I believe, more than archaeological and historical evidence of the history of Christ and the Bible, it's the message of Christianity that conitunes to keep the religion alive (though in what state of health remains to be seen.) And I believe the same to be true of Pagan and Neo-Pagan belief.

For me, Pagan history begins at the dawn of human spirituality, when humans began to attribute Divine personality to the natural phenomena around them, forming spiritual systems from this. However, Neo-Pagan history begins around the time when Murray and Gardner begin to publish their books, the early twentieth century. For me, Pagan history approaches its ending with the onslaught of the monotheistic religions invading and dominating the polytheistic, fertility-, harvest-, and hunting-centered spiritual cults of Europe and other places where this occured. Continents and countries where this did not occur, like India, enjoy a continuity of Pagan history.

For me, Pagan and Neo-Pagan belief centers around one's environment, which is seen as manifestations of the Divine along with one's self, and stiving to preserve this all-important natural balance of this environment, while integrating this balance into one's own personality and life. This includes, but is not limited to, observing natural cycles, large and small, and patterning these cycles into coherent systems, from which one can obtain spiritual and practical guidance.

Does Neo-Pagan belief have to be of ancient origin to be valid? Not for me! How can it be when one considers that the environment is constantly changing? Now, just as there are basic, continual physical 'laws, ' there are similar and parallel continual spiritual 'laws.' How one interprets the spiritual laws, though, depends on individual aspects when observing the environment and its cycles, and this interpretation determines the consequent spiritual belief and religious practice, sometimes resulting in a tradition (or religion.) Naturally, it is different for each individual, even if it is only slightly different. Therefore, no tradition is truly ancient. Basic beliefs may be similar, but no one can transfer a tradition exactly from one person to the next. Each person will have a different angle, and, therefore will form a slightly different tradition. To try to resist this natural evolution takes away from the effectiveness (and purpose) of the religious practice--just ask many of the Catholics whether or not they get 'chills' from listening to a translation of a 1500-year-old spiritual lecture at Mass (sure, some do, but many just wonder when it's going to end so they can go home.)

Consequently, I think that any 'sacred cow' will eventually stunt the spiritual growth of a people, regardless of religion or tradition, and will need to be discarded, or reinterpreted for as long as possible, then discarded. I try not to hold many 'sacred cows' because I am continually reminded how they eventually turn to hamburger. My interpretations of the spiritual 'laws' continually develop and evolve, even if only slightly. Many of them have held true for years, allowing me to continue to practice the rites derived from them. Sometimes, though, I need to alter the rites to be in accord with my new interpretations.

Hi, All!; What Is History And What Is Belief For Modern Paganism... Jan 14th. at 11:37:18 pm EST

Tarostar (Toronto, Ontario CA) Age: 58 - Email

Hi, All!;

What is History and what is belief for Modern Paganism?

Unlike many, this old traditionalist rather enjoyed the Atantic Monthly article.
I have a penchant for popping buttons off Pagan stuffed shirts and enjoy scholarship which punches holes in cherished myths; Judaeo-Xtian as well as Pagan.

I have seen responses to that article claiming bias and downright dishonesty.
However, I have to take issue with all modern Pagan agendas from political/social activism laid off on uncritical readers as "Pagan History"

If a writer claims "Herstory", or has difficulty about words which may contain an implication of a phallus, I dismiss that authoress as not being honest about real Pagan concernes. I have a serious problem with revisionism and outright slanting
of traditional academic scholarship, just because it does not uphold an agenda.

I know there is a difference between Apollonian and Dionysian modes of thinking, but many of the biased women's perspectives in Witchcraft authorship
make much too many and very stretched leaps of logic in their presentation of a view of History.

I always trashed the "Burning Times" estimates of supposed victims. It just appeared that someone was claiming that just because the Jews suffered 6 million losses to the Nazis, that female Witches needed to outdo them and claimed 9 Million abused women as victims of misguided xtian churchmen.

It was almost as if the feminist view was saying: "We sufferd more than you guys! Nya nya nya nya nya!"

So, any scholarship which sets things in correct perspective gets my stamp of approval. BB Tarostar

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