Starting Fresh: Imagining a New Paganism

What if we were starting today? If, here, 18 years into the 21st century CE, we were to invent a new, Earth-loving, progressive, reality-based religion?

Imagine a practice, a cosmology, a set of values rooted in what we now know about the Cosmos, about Nature, about ourselves. If we were starting just today.

What would it look like?

What would draw people in, make them want to be a part of it?

Well, I have some ideas.

To begin with, I’d think we would start with a cosmology that doesn’t fly in the face of what we’ve learned through science over the past few hundred years. Our sources would not be Agrippa and Paracelsus and Gardner, but rather Newton, Einstein, Feynman, Curie, Sagan. Our myth, the Great Story of cosmic and biological and technological evolution. We would overflow with love for the green and generous Earth, for the powerful and life-giving Sun, such that our joy would be infectious.

We would not ask people to sustain belief in that which strains credulity, and we would encourage critical thinking and critical inquiry.

We would start, as a foundation, with being sensible and realistic and connected to our Earth, the demonstrable reality of our existence.

We would be beautiful. Our religion would be filled with the aesthetics and symbolis m and imagery of magnificent Nature: of leaves and trees and animals and mountains and stars. It would root us in the reality of our interdependence with Earth and Sun.

We would be embodied. We would celebrate, rather than shun, our animal natures, understanding eating and food production, sexuality and childrearing and aging and death as natural and sacred processes.

We would honor ancestry not simply in the form of recent cultures of origin, but all the way back to the first organisms, to the pre-human ancestors that first innovated with art, with cooking, with toolmaking.

We’d stand for sterling values. For a better, kinder, more just and more sustainable world. For integrity, and truthfulness, and wonder and reason and love. Our politics would be that of generosity and inclusion and humble service to the Earth. We would seek and value wisdom and compassion.

And we’d offer experiences that were rich with meaning and personal growth: heartfelt, ecstatic experiences, in community with good-hearted people. Because that is what people—particularly young people—are gravitating towards now. It’s why they flock to all-night dance events and music festivals and Burning Man. They want the ecstatic, and they want to be connected, to feel like part of a tribe.

So we would draw on all that has been learned about ritual and transformation of consciousness, about psychology and the human heart. About poetry, and music, and rhythm and dance and art.

We would look around, and gather all the things that help people not just to survive, but to thrive. We would draw our knowledge and technology forward to help us.

And we wouldn’t need for our practices to have antiquity. We would understand that the tenacity of ideas has nothing to do with their worthiness. We’d know that while we drew forward old and beloved traditions, we were creating something new, vital, rich with all humanity has learned.

Our religion would be firmly grounded in reality, and cast its love and wonder to surrounding humanity, Earth and Cosmos.

Without stretching credulity, or demanding belief in the unprovable. Rich with pleasures and textures and scents and joymaking. And love.

It wouldn’t be steeped in a fantasy of some idyllic long-ago-and-far-away place that never existed. It wouldn’t need fairies and elves and dragons and unicorns, nor wizards and sorceresses and their occult lore.

Just this world, here, in all its utter, knockout magnificence, and beautiful people to celebrate it.

Imagine that.

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9 thoughts on “Starting Fresh: Imagining a New Paganism

  1. A very interesting approach! I like it. There’s a guy, a futurist/sci-fi writer named Zoltan Istvan, who talks about what he calls “baggage culture.” The essence of the notion is that even most of us who like to think of ourselves as “progressive and open-minded” still have a way of being stuck in past in terms of moral debates, “religion,” and spiritual concerns. Even when we reject many of the prevailing dogmas, and THINK we are free of them, in many cases we are still caught up in, trapped inside of, and/or reacting to some very old and probably obsolete concepts. Perhaps the way forward is look again at everything with fresh eyes – free of our own cultural/religious baggage?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly my point in writing this. I think Neo-Paganism carries quite a lot of baggage culture–from gender stereotyping to outmoded occultism and Abrahamic-style theism– that undermines it as a viable modern religious path. I see the community graying and not bringing in many young people, and I think that part of the reason for that is that newcomers have to deal with that baggage.

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  2. I’ve heard of pagans that believe in gods and pagans that don’t.
    I’ve heard of pagans that believe in magic and pagans that don’t.
    I’ve never heard of pagans that let go of astrology. Will you put astrology in the same group with dragons and elves? And if not, why not?

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    • Perhaps so, but there are those of us who are following that path. I don’t expect the community of Pagans writ large to follow suit, for the most part, but theism seems to be dying out (at least in the US and Europe), and I don’t see why that would be any different for Pagans as for other religions.

      Wither goeth the “Pagan community”? I don’t know. Perhaps simply withering on the vine as supernaturalism becomes less and less popular with the young. I’d like to believe that we’ll get it together and put our feet on the ground of reality to carry our values and vision for the world forward, but who knows?

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  3. Liberal Christianity tried this, getting rid of anything that did not conform to modernist ideology, (wrongly called “science”), getting rid of the supernatural and filling the voids with modernist hyper-rationalism and progressive politics, all of which was supposed to bring in younger people and save the church from dying. It failed, spectacularly. The young that did seek out Christianity went to Evangelical churches, because they were looking for something deeper and more meaningful that atheist rationalism and progressive politics with a bit of ritual.

    There is no reason to believe it will work for Paganism.

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    • That’s quite a surprise for those of us it is working terrifically for.

      The fact is that many–possibly most–Pagans have been “soft” theists since the rise of Neopaganism in the 1960s: meaning, they see gods and magic as metaphors and archetypes, not literal realities. It is only in the past 20 years or so that “having to Believe” in the literal existence of these things has been a visible element of the community. I believe that is because of a huge influx of former Christians in the 1990s, who brought their insistence on “faith” with them even as they rejected the Christian dogma.

      And btw: the young are fleeing evangelical churches en masse.

      If we were creating Paganism today, why would we fill it with unsupportable and unprovable assertions, when we don’t need them to have a vital and meaningful practice?

      I’m afraid I don’t see much to your argument here.

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