Neopaganism includes a wide variety of spiritual paths including but not limited to: Wicca, Druidry, Shamanism, Norse, Asatru, Fairy, and Goddess worship. Older continous traditions such as Hinduism and Shinto are called paleo-pagan religions. Some related traditions that may or may not consider themselves part of the movement are Native American Practitioners, Santeria and Voudoun. In her survey of the Neopagan community Margot Adler found six common reasons why people turn to Neopaganism: Beauty, Intellectual Satisfaction, Personal Growth, Feminism, Environmentalism, and Freedom.
People long for beauty. The need for beauty in our daily lives is a spiritual hunger. It is a hunger that gnaws at the soul if it is not fed. Neopaganism offers the opportunity to create beauty and meaning in all facets of life. Ritual calls upon all arts and creates the occasion for every celebrant to express their inner beauty. Neopaganism assures us that life itself is beautiful and encourages an appreciation of that beauty.
Most Neopagans are avid readers regardless of their education. Many come to Neopaganism in a search for a religion where they don't have to "leave their brains at the door".
Neopagans do not have to choose between science to faith. Science is the study of nature, which is divine. Where science conflicts with "doctrine", doctrine is assumed to be metaphorical rather than literal. The laws of the Gods are written in nature not in the books of men.
All religions offer the possibility for personal growth. The opportunity to grow toward a closer relationship with the divine spirit is the core of religious experience. Neopaganism is no exception. Like all religions the Neopagan path is a way for people to find meaning in their lives and find expression for their full potential.
Many people, both men and women, come to Neopaganism in a search for a feminine aspect of the divine. Many women feel excluded by Christianity's all male deity and turn to the Goddess for their spiritual needs. Many feminist argue that an all male deity is harmful to women's self-esteem, excluding women from identifying with the divine spirit. Christianity has a long history of the oppression of women and feminists have good reason to complain.
But men also feel the lack of the Goddess. Many men seek Neopaganism for the balance a feminine aspect of divinity brings to their lives.
The Neopagan movement is an Earth centered movement emphasizing reverence for the earth and harmony with nature. The Neopagan belief in the sanctity of the natural world creates an attitude of reverence in everyday activities.
The lack of official doctrine or dogma allows everyone the freedom to develop their own beliefs. The freedom to find out what their own beliefs are, the freedom to discuss the merit of beliefs and develop new solutions to moral dilemmas. At its heart it is the freedom to be oneself.
What about Witchcraft?
The word Witch is very contraversial. Even within the Neopagan movement the word Witch means different things to different people and has been claimed by several branches of the Neopagan movement.
The first group to revive the word Witch were the British traditionalist. Shortly after the repeal of the British Witchcraft laws a man named Gerald Gardener wrote several books about what he claimed was a survival of the pre-Christian religion of the British islands and which he called Witchcraft. Gardener's original notes are available in "A Witches Bible Compleat" by Janet and Stewart Farrar. People trained in his tradition of ritual practice call themselves Witches.
Since then others have come forward claiming to have access to old traditions and calling themselves Traditional Witches.
Feminist Goddess Worshipers.
Another group to use the word Witch is the Feminist Goddess Worshipers. This group holds itself separate from the rest of the Neopagan movement. While Neopaganism arose out the sixties search for alternative ways of knowing, Feminist Goddess Worship arose out of the fairly cloistered Radical Feminist movement.
Feminism went through a phase of rejecting all religion as exploitive of women because all mainstream religions are exploitive of women. Women have always outnumbered men in religious communities and yet there is no mainstream religion that honors Goddess as much as God or that does not demand that women be subservient to men. But the feminist rejection of all religion ignored the human need for religious experience and belief.
When a brief brush with the Neopagan movement opened up the possibility of Goddess worship it caught on quickly. The feminist movement has developed its own style of ritual and symbolism based on feminist theories with only limited contact with the rest of the Neopagan movement.
Feminist Goddess Worshipers call themselves Witches in remembrance of the thousands of women killed during the five hundred years of "the burning times". It is unlikely that the women killed during the Inquisition were practicing anything like what modern Witches practice. It is even unlikely that they considered themselves Witches. Most of the women tortured and burned at the stake died merely for the crime of being women, and it is fitting that they be remembered by women fighting for the rights of women.
The fastest growing sect of the Neopagan Movement is Wicca. Due in part to the popularity of such books as "The Spiral Dance" by Starhawk, and "To Ride a Silver Broomstick" by Silver RavenWolf. These books use symbols and rituals drawn from Gerald Gardener's work. The systems he described are simple to learn and easily reproduced in small groups which may partially explain why they are so popular. To a certain extent since Gardener claimed to be practicing Witchcraft anyone who's religious practice derives from Gardener can be said to be practicing Witchcraft, and so a Witch. Most Neopagans use some form derived from Gardener's work even if they don't call themselves Wiccans or Witches.
Druidry and general Celtic based traditions are second only to Wicca in popularity right now. But recently Norse based traditions such as Asatru have also been growing in popularity.
If you want to learn more:
"Drawing Down the Moon : Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today"
by Margot Adler
"The Spiral Dance : A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess"
The Ithaca Pagan Page
The Witches Voice
The Pagan Pride Project
© 1999 Sheherazahde
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