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American NeopaganismEdit

Find out more at AmericanNeopaganism.com and EclecticPaganism.com American Neopaganism or "Eclectic Paganism" is a 20th century religion, which draws upon ancient religious symbols from outside the traditions of the Abrahamic “Religions of the Book” (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) (but may include them as well), and employs these symbols in a new way for modern needs (hence the prefix "neo-"). It is usually polytheistic on some level (although it may recognize an underlying unity to divinity), usually including male and female symbols of divinity. It conceives of divinity as both inside of all of us and also external to us in nature. There are modern reconstructionist pagan traditions, which attempt to reconstruct the religions of ancient pagans from existing sources. Hoever, Neopaganism (especially in its American form) is an eclectic religion which draws freely on many traditions, both ancient and modern, without concern for historical authenticity. It is a non-exclusivist religion which makes no absolute truth claims and does not proselytize. Neopagans feel that people should believe and do whatever works for them, i.e., whatever helps them to live wisely and well. Neopaganism is what works for us.

"The unifying theme among the diverse [Neo-Pagan] traditions [...] is the ecology of one's relation to nature and to the various parts of one's self. As Neo-Pagans understand it, the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches that the human intellectual will is to have dominion over the world, and over the unruly lesser parts of the human psyche, as it, in turn, is to be subordinate to the One God and his will. The Neo-Pagans hold that, on the contrary, we must [...] cooperate with nature and its deep forces on a basis of reverence and exchange. Of the parts of man, the imagination should be first among equals, for man's true glory is not in what he commands, but in what he sees. What wonders he sees of nature and of himself he leaves untouched, save to glorify and celebrate them.
"What Neo-Pagans seek is a new cosmic religion oriented to the tides not of history but of nature -- the four directions, the seasons, the path of the sun -- and of the timeless configurations of the psyche. They seek not that morality which comes from imposing the will on reluctant flesh, nor the mystical trance which is the fruit of asceticism, but the expansiveness of spirit which comes from allowing nature and rite to lower the gates confining the civilized imagination. For them, this is the spirit called up by the names 'pagan' and 'polytheism.'"
-- Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America

The roots of American Neopaganism can be traced to Romanitic revival of the 19th century and, more recently, the “revival” of witchcraft (Wicca) in England by Gerald Gardner. Since then, however, American Neopaganism has become a historically and theologically distinct tradition from Wicca. The intellectual and spiritual grandfather of American Neopaganism is not Gerald Gardner, but Robert Graves, whose book, The White Goddess, was published in 1948 and describes an ancient cult of a Great Triple Goddess of birth, love, and death. According to Graves, the patriarchal gods of Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity were responsible for the decline of the worship of the Goddess and this is the source of many of the modern world's woes.

The White Goddess had only a minor influence on Gardnerian Wicca, but was the inspiration behind American forms of Neopaganism which arose more or less independently of Gardner's tradition, including Aidan Kelly’s NROOGD, Frederick Adams’ Feraferia, Morgan McFarland's gender-inclusive Dianic tradition, Zsuzsanna Budapest's feminist Dianic witchcraft, and Starhawk's Reclaiming tradition.

These and other American groups arose in the context of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s and integrated Graves’ mythology with feminist spirituality movement (or Goddess religion), religious ecology (or nature religion), and Jungian psychology. The term "American Neopaganism" is therefore intended to refer to that tradition which arose out of this particularly American milieu and show the influence of Graves’ mythology, feminist and environmental spirituality, and Jungian psychology.

In 1987, Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, in reviewing the Neopagan scene, observed a clear distinction between the British-influenced esoteric groups and the more nature-oriented American forms of Neopaganism:

"The Neo-Pagan movement breaks down into two broad categories: the magical groups, deeply influenced by the model of the Order of the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., and Crowley; and the nature oriented groups. The former are the more antiquarian; they love to discuss editions of old grimoires, and the complicated histories of groups an lineages. They delight in precise and fussy ritualism, though the object is the evocation of intense emotional power [...]
"The pagan nature-oriented groups are more purely romantic; they prefer woodsy setting to incense and they dance and plant trees. They are deeply influenced by Robert Graves, especially his White Goddess. They are less concerned with evocation than celebration of the goddesses they know are already there. The mood is spontaneous rather than precise, though the rite may be as beautiful and complex as a country dance. [...]
"Wicca itself is in the middle between magic and nature-oriented groups."

-- Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America The adjective “American” refers to the the nationality of the tradition, but not necessarily the adherents, who may be found in any part of the world. This modifier is intended to distinguish American Neopaganism from more nationalistic European forms of neopaganism, including the 19th century German volkisch movement, northern European heathenry, British druidry, and from traditional occultist British Wicca. The use of the prefix “Neo-“ is intended to distinguish American Neopaganism both from modern forms of paganism (which might include Hinduism, Vodun, and others) and from modern reconstructions of ancient paganisms (such as druidry, heathenry, and others). American Neopaganism is not reconstructionist, but eclectic. It draws on sources both ancient and modern without regard for historical accuracy. It is a modern religion intended to meet modern spiritual needs. [For a discussion of the Neo- prefix, see Isaac Bonewits' site [external link].

In contrast to British Wicca and reconstructionist paganism, the primary focus of American Neopaganism is not on historical authenticity to an ideal pagan past, but on creating a "Pagan consciousness", which David Waldron, in Sign of the Witch, defines as a belief (1) that divinity is immanent, (2) that divinity manifests itself as masculine and feminine, (3) that we should live in concert with nature and (4) that we should individually and together pursue personal growth and spiritual fulfillment.

HistoryEdit

Neopaganism began with the 18th century Romantic movement in Germany, which was accompanied by a surge in interest in Classical and Germanic paganism. The Romantic movement then spread to England. Ancient paganism was seen by these Romantics as "an ideological and aesthetic counter to the influence of Western modernity and industrialism." (Waldron, 2008) Examples included the poetry of Swinburne and Kenneth Graham's "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn". The term "neopaganism", however, was first used in the latter half of the 19th century, in a derogatory fashion, by critics of Romanticism.[http://www.americanneopaganism.com/gardner.htm ]

Gerald Gardner is generally considered the father of Neopagan witchcraft, or Wicca. But other forms of Neopaganism were emerging around the same time as Wicca, including modern or neo-druidry (the OBOD was organized in 1964) and Celtic reconstructionism (the Irish Celtic revival began around the turn of the 20th century). There had also been earlier revivals of Classical (Greek and Roman) religion. See Neopaganism Precursors.

In spite of the significance of Wicca for the spread of Neopaganism, the intellectual and spiritual grandfather of American Neopaganism is not Gerald Gardner, but Robert Graves, whose book, The White Goddess, was published in 1948. The White Goddess had only a minor influence on Gardnerian Wicca, but was the inspiration behind American forms of Neopaganism which arose more or less independently of Gardner's tradition, including Aidan Kelly’s NROOGD, Frederick Adams' Feraferia, and Starhawk's Reclaiming tradition, which combined the two with Z. Budapest's feminist Dianic tradition and "eco-theology". (Although NROOGD was a witchcraft tradition, Fritz Muntean claims that the members of NROOGD perceived themselves as "Druids", not witches, until the late 1960s. This seems dubious in light of other accounts of the origins of NROOGD.) It also includes Morgan McFarland's gender-inclusive Dianic tradition.

These and other American groups arose in the context of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, when sociologists were witnessing an unanticipated rise in new religious movements. According to Carole Cusack, students of the sociology of religion came to realize that the the decline of institutional religions was not the result of a simple process of increasing secularization. Instead, the proliferation of new religions was a consequence of the "uncoupling of religion and the sacred" and a shift from public religious observance to private spiritual practice.

The American form of Neopaganism which arose at this time integrated Graves’ mythology with feminist spirituality movement (or Goddess religion), religious ecology (or nature religion), and Jungian psychology. The term "American Neopaganism" is therefore intended to refer to those groups who arose out of this particularly American milieu and show the influence of Graves’ mythology, feminist and environmental spirituality, and Jungian psychology, such as those mentioned above.

As Ellie Cristal explains on her website [external link]:

"Modern Neo-Paganism has roots in 19th-century Romanticism and activities inspired by it, such as the British Order of Druids (which, however, claims an older lineage). Sometimes associated with extreme nationalism, Neo-Pagan groups and sentiments were known in Europe before World War II, but contemporary Neo-Paganism is for the most part a product of the 1960s. Influenced by the works of the psychiatrist Carl Jung and the writer Robert Graves, Neo-Paganists are more interested in nature and archetypal psychology than in nationalism."

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ed Fitch (an initiate of Gardnerian Wicca) and others began informally circulating the "Pagan Way" materials. These materials also showed the influence of Robert Graves. The Pagan Way tradition was open (i.e., required no initiation). It was also nature-oriented, emphasizing the celebration of nature over occultism and magic. Soon autonomous Pagan Way [eternal link] groves began to spread across the United States. The Pagan Way tradition has been called the “American Tradition” by James Lewis. In the UK, the movement became the Pagan Front in 1971, and was later renamed the Pagan Federation [external link]. The Pagan Way movement and the UK Pagan Federation are part a distinct Neopagan tradition, which, while born out of the Gardnerian revival of witchcraft, has increasingly purged itself of many of Wicca's occultist influences.

In 1987, Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, in reviewing the Neopagan scene, observed a clear distinction between the British-influenced esoteric groups and the more nature-oriented American forms of Neopaganism:

"The Neo-Pagan movement breaks down into two broad categories: the magical groups, deeply influenced by the model of the Order of the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., and Crowley; and the nature oriented groups. The former are the more antiquarian; they love to discuss editions of old grimoires, and the complicated histories of groups an lineages. They delight in precise and fussy ritualism, though the object is the evocation of intense emotional power [...]
"The pagan nature-oriented groups are more more purely romantic; the prefer woodsy setting to incense and they dance and plant trees. They are deeply influenced by Robert Graves, especially his White Goddess. They are less concerned with evocation than celebration of the goddesses they know are already there. The mood is spontaneous rather than precise, though the rite may be as beautiful and complex as a country dance. [...]
"Wicca itself is in the middle between magic and nature-oriented groups."
-- Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America

American Neopaganism is also deeply intertwined with the Goddess Spirituality movement. The search for uniquely feminist religious forms spiritual feminists led many away from the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Judaism and to Neopaganism and witchcraft. American feminist witchcraft distinguished itself from British Traditional witchcraft, not only by its separatism. American feminist witchcraft was different in (1) its emphasis on the Goddess over the God, (2) its non-hierarchical organization inherited from the consciousness-raising movement, (3) its eclecticism and its creativity and spontaneity, (4) its environmentalist theology and political activism, and (5) its incorporation of concepts from depth psychology. According to Cynthia Eller, “Gardnerian witchcraft was far too stodgy and authoritarian for most feminists seeking alternatives to established religions.”� Out this void arose Morgan McFarland's gender-inclusive Dianic tradition, Z. Budapest’s feminist Dianic witchcraft, and Starhawk’s Reclaiming tradition.

However, some women were still not willing to identify themselves as “witches”, and there arose a form of Goddess worship without any of the trappings of witchcraft. As Nevill Drury explains, “Although some Goddess-worshippers continued to refer to themselves as witches, others abandoned the term altogether, preferring to regard their neopagan practice as a universal feminist religion, drawing on mythologies from many different ancient cultures.”

This has been called “Goddess worship” and the “Goddess movement”. Goddess worshipers were more willing to search out the divine feminine in non-European cultures than British Traditional Wiccans. As Eller explains, “spiritual feminists’ voracious hunger for images and experiences of the divine feminine made the movement, from its inception, unabashedly syncretistic.”� The Goddess movement drew on, and reciprocally influenced, the broader American Neopagan movement. The principal distinction between the two is that the broader American Neopagan movement is equally inclusive of men and also gives a more significant role to the male son/consort of the Goddess in theology/mythology. The adjective “American” refers to the the nationality of the tradition, but not necessarily the adherents, who may in any part of the world. This modifier is intended to distinguish American Neopaganism from more nationalistic European forms of neopaganism, including the 19th century German volkisch movement, northern European heathenry, British druidry, and from traditional occultist British Wicca. The use of the prefix “Neo-“ is intended to distinguish American Neopaganism both from modern forms of paganism (which might include Hinduism, Vodun, and others) and from modern reconstructions of ancient paganisms (such as druidry, heathenry, and others). American Neopaganism is not reconstructionist, but eclectic. It draws on sources both ancient and modern without regard for historical accuracy. [For a discussion of the Neo- prefix, see Isaac Bonewits' site [external link]. It is a modern religion intended to meet modern spiritual needs. In contrast to British Traditional Wicca, for example, the primary focus of American Neopaganism is not on historical authenticity to an ideal pagan past, but on creating a "Pagan consciousness", which David Waldron defines as a belief (1) that divinity is immanent, (2) that divinity manifests itself as masculine and feminine, (3) that we should live in concert with nature and (4) that we should individually and together pursue personal growth and spiritual fulfillment.

SourcesEdit

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today (1979, 1986)

Cusack, Carole. "The Return of the Goddess", in Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, Murphy Pizza and James Lewis (eds.) (2009)

Davis, Philip. The Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality (2008)

Drury, Nevill. “The Modern Magical Revival”, in Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, Murphy Pizza and James Lewis (eds.) (2009)

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the lap of the Goddess: the feminist spirituality movement in America (1995)

Eller, Cynthia. “The Worship of the Goddess in Feminist Spirituality in the United States”, in Introduction to Alternative Religions in America, Vol. 3: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements, Eugene Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft (eds.) (2006)

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948)

Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan 'Witchcraft (1999)

Muntean, Fritz. quoted by Chas Clifton, "Earth Day and Afterwards, American Paganism's Appropriation of 'Nature Religion'", in Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, Murphy Pizza and James Lewis (eds.) (2009)

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess (1979, 1999)

Waldron, David. The Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival (2008)

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