Has Neo-Paganism Gone Back Into the Broom Closet?
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Article ID: 12666
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,952
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Author: Cathryn Platine
Posted: December 14th. 2008
Times Viewed: 3,330
Having been a practicing Pagan for most of a somewhat long life, I've noticed what appears to be a retreat lately from organized groups back to a solitary form of practice among modern Neo-Pagans. Thirty or so years ago we were blossoming as a religious movement, new groups forming on a daily basis and frequently cited as the fastest growing religious movement on the planet. What happened?
In many ways those very things that were our strengths at first seemed to have worked against us in the long run. We became a religious movement of mostly chiefs and few Indians. Our leaders didn't fail us, the idea that we all needed to be leaders did.
This isn't just a failing of Paganism. It seems to hold true with any marginalized group that has been forced into individualized closets. Thirty years ago while public awareness of Paganism was growing, we still had an era where many local police departments were still operating “Occult Squads” which were little more than modern extensions of the Burning Times.
The more timid did not openly wear symbols of their religion and did not openly belong to groups. Those who were bursting forth did so in independent open defiance of the status quo. All that was required to be a Pagan leader back then was a soapbox, a loud voice and a general willingness to be “out and proud”.
It was an exciting time to be Pagan but it also meant that there were a lot of turf wars over ideology and even legitimacy. These are remembered today as the Great Witch Wars and they did hurt us, but at the same time several of our best known Elders came out of this period.
Just as the Women's Movement, which came of age around the same time, the GLB movement and today the Transgender Movement, Neo-Paganism thrusts together highly individualistic and independently minded people under a common cause which at first is very exciting but then gets lost in the individual differences. We can do better than this; we must do better than this if we are to survive. It is possible for us to band together in celebrations that actually celebrate our unique qualities. It is necessary we gather in common to fight for our collective civil rights without turf wars. We need to learn that those whose practices are somewhat different from our own are still our sisters and brothers.
A strange thing happened our way towards revival...traditions that were originally spread by oral teachings, plays, storytelling, mentoring and other non-written forms became enslaved in the written word. This actually changes even the way you think and process what you learn from the emotional side to the logical one. An excellent (ironically enough) book on the subject is The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shlain, which I highly recommend as vital reading for all Neo-Pagans.
An argument can easily be made that the very revival of Goddess awareness resulted from a shift away from the written word to the visual in the form of movies and television that allowed a return to a more ancient mode of informational processing and yet the paradox of the Neo-Pagan religious movement was a rush towards an ever growing number of Pagan authors as it grew!
Over the years I've witnessed pagans group together in mutually exclusive groups based on different Occult bookstores in an area, the bookstore owners becoming the de facto local Pagan warlords. The Pagan authors have replaced local deities with completely predictable results. Those Pagan centres won at the cost of often great expense and work have trouble getting community support and frequently find themselves at odds with local governments over issues such as basic recognition of religious status.
We Cybelines find ourselves in that position right now, our property denied tax-exempt status locally despite both Federal and State recognition as a legitimate religious group doing charitable work. While we won the right to Pagan clergy in the Armed Forces back in the seventies, recently a major battle was required simply to get the Veterans Administration to acknowledge the Pentacle as a valid religious symbol. We are meekly allowing ourselves to be shoved back into the broom closet once again.
One of the frequently voiced justifications for less than full recognition of our legal status goes like this: Where are the Pagan hospitals, orphanages, and shelters? Those who voice this then point to Christianity, as somehow more worthy for having them but forgetting the Christians didn't invent charitable works, they learned them from ancient Pagans. There exists a smallish but growing groups of Pagans who are restoring ancient forms of living together in religious communities complete with the charitable works. Pagan Pride events now routinely do food drives as part and parcel of organizing their events.
We can do this. We can support each other and still respect our individual beliefs and practices. We can live together in supportive communities. We can and must do charitable outreach as part and parcel of our very spiritual nature.
Without taking anything away from Pagans who personify Deities, I have also witnessed a growth of those whose spiritual awareness has moved towards recognition of the Divine in all around us. Most of those with this viewpoint embrace the ancient Mother Goddess traditions, especially what was known in classical times as the Mystery Religions. Many solo practitioners today also embrace this point of view.
If you understand that everyone you encounter is as much part of the Goddess as you are, you don't need carrot and stick theology to understand that treating others decently is simply another form of worshiping the Divine. You don't require leaders to spoon-feed you the requirements of “loving” deity to give you your birthright, a personal connection with the Divine that is within you. All you need is those who help you locate the Divine within you and connect with it.
After a lifetime of study and research and soul searching I found this was the “Old Religion” that in the early days of the Neo-Pagan revival everyone claimed descent from. I found it was almost universal in the ancient world going back as far as is possible to go in history.
I saw it first revived in modern times in the “Women's Spirituality” movement but much of that became sidetracked, in my own opinion, in understandable feminist reaction to living in a world controlled by the patriarchy. I've been saddened to see some groups retreat into matriarchal thinking that seeks to replace patriarchy with a macho form of matriarchy. It is not so much the actual gender of the individual that is the problem with patriarchy, it's the dismissal an entire way of living and thinking embodied in Goddess traditions that seek to live in harmony with nature understanding we are all intimately connected and the ideals of nurturing rather than dominating. Replacing one form of domination with another is a zero sum game.
It's time that all of us who embrace a Pagan identity ask ourselves exactly what do we hold as core values and do we actually live those values? If your personal answers are similar to my own, how can you celebrate your connection to the Divine without making connections with others part of that?
Why aren't you seeking out groups that share your core beliefs? If you cannot find such a group, why aren't you forming them?
Don't retreat to the broom closets, don't seek answers from others outside yourself, join in celebrations and living with those who share your worldview. Rather than seeking leaders or worse, trying to become one, why not pursue a life of service to others in recognition that they are part of yourself?
Copyright: may be freely reproduced provided the author, Cathryn Platine is credited.
Location: Palenville, New York
Bio: About the author: Cathryn Platine is the founder of the Cybeline revival after a lifetime of practicing as a general Pagan and study of the history of Paganism in the ancient world. She lived in India as a child and traveled extensively throughout the Middle East at that time and was considered a Pagan elder in the mid 1970's in the Central Ohio area. Today she lives at the first Phrygianum of Magna Mater in 1600 years in the Catskill mountains of upstate New York where she is seeking to revive a pagan monastic worldview seeking to restore the values of the Divine Feminine to a world on the brink of self-destruction.
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