Sacred Texts  Index  Previous  Next 

sacred-texts |  Web | Powered by Google

Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

             Neo-Paganism:  An Old Religion for a New Age 
             by Otter G'ZellFounder, Church of All Worlds

               As founder and priest of a Neo-Pagan church, I have often been
asked to explain exactly what we mean by the term "Pagan".  We find
ourselves in the peculiar position of having a public image that was
created not by ourselves, but by our persecutors.  It is much as if the
Nazis had succeeded in eradicating Judaism to the extent that, genera-
tions later, the common opinion of what the Jewish faith was all about
was derived solely from the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Third Reich.

     In Europe alone, from tens of thousands to millions (the figures
are still in dispute) of Pagans were martyred by the Christian churches
during the Inquisition and Witch trials.  Those figures do not even
count the millions of other Pagan peoples in North and South America,
Africa, Polynesia, Melanesia and Asia who fell before the advancing
plague of Western Christendom.

   Today, the conception most people have of Paganism is the lurid one
drawn by the Christian church to justify its own reign of terror, and
bears about as much relation to reality as the similar propaganda
Christianity once fostered about Jews.  In the 13th century the Church
opened its long-drawn-out conflict with Paganism in Europe by declaring
Witchcraft to be a 'sect' and heretical.  It was not til the 14th
century that the two religions came to grips.

     All through the 16th and 17th centuries the battle raged.  The
Pagans fought a gallant, though losing, fight against a remorseless and
unscrupulous enemy; every inch of the field was disputed.  At first
victory occasionally inclined to the Pagans, but the Christian policy of
obtaining influence over the rulers and law-givers was irresistible. 
Vae victis was also the policy of the Christians, and we see the priests
of the Papacy gloating over the thousands whom they had consigned to the
flames while the ministers of the Reformed Churches hounded on the
administrators of the law to condemn the 'devil worshipers'.

     What can have been the feelings with which those unhappy victims
regarded the vaunted God of Love, the Prince of Peace, whose votaries
condemned them to torture and death?  What wonder that they clung to
their old faith, and died in agony unspeakable rather than deny their
God.  (Margaret Murray, The God of the Witches, 1931, Oxford GB 332, pp.

     'Pagan' does not mean "irreligious" or "barbarian".  It is the
correct anthropological term to describe indigenous folk religions,
being derived from the Latin paganus, "peasant," which derives in turn
from pagus, "village".  The Latin comes from the Greek pagos, "standing
stone," and paga, "sacred spring," representing, respectively, the male
and female generative powers.  Paganism is basically Nature worship. 
'Pagan' is a proper noun or adjective denoting the name of a religion,
and as such, is properly always capitalized, as is 'Jewish' or 'Hin-

     Religions can be roughly divided into two distinct categories:  the
naturally evolving, indigenous "folk" religions of particular regions
and peoples (the Pagan religions), and on the other hand the "revealed"
religions:  those religions owing their existence to a "revelation"
taught by some great "prophet" and formulated in various creeds and 

dogmas.  The latter category, of course, includes most of the "Great
Religions of Mankind:"  Judeo-Christian-Islamic, Buddhist, Confucian,
etc.  Though articulated by a great teacher, Lao-tsu, Taoism is
essentially Pagan in philosophy and attitude, while Hinduism and Shinto
are Pagan in origin and essence even though they have become institu-
tionalized as State religions.

     Pagan religions are characterized by being "natural," both in
origin and mode of expression, as opposed to the artificiality of
constructed revealed religions.  Paganism emerges out of the processes
of Life and Nature, and continues to evolve as a living, growing,
organic entity.

     Revealed religions are like buildings:  an architect (prophet) get
an inspiration (revelation) and lays down his vision in blueprints
(prophecy; scriptures).  Then contractors, carpenters, masons, etc.
(disciples and followers) build the structure more or less according to
his specifications.  It is made of non-living materials, and does not
grow naturally; it is assembled.  When it is finished, it cannot grow
further, and begins to deteriorate, until it is eventually so outmoded
and rundown it is demolished to make way for new buildings.  A world of
revealed religions is like unto a city, with all the problems (hunger,
war, hatreds, crime, pollution, dis-ease) of a city, and for much the
same reason:  alienation from the life-flow.

     A Pagan religion, on the other hand, is like a tree:  it emerges
alive from the Earth, grows, changes (both cyclically through the
seasons, and continually in upward and outward growth), bears flowers
and fruit, and shares its life with other living beings.  It is not made
or designed according to any blueprint other than genetic.  And when,
after many thousands of years, perhaps, it should come to the end of its
time, it does not pass from the world entirely, for its own progeny
have, in the interval, begun to spring up all around, again from the
Earth, and again, similar yet each unique.  A world of Pagan religions
is like a forest.

     Paganism includes Animism, Pantheism, Shamanism and Totemism. 
(Witchcraft is the survival or reconstruction of European Shamanism;
i.e., the magical arts of tribal peoples.)  Pagan are the native
religions of the American Indians, the Africans, the various Island
peoples, many peasants in the mountains of Asia, the Aborigines of
Australia, and, at one time, the Gauls, Teutons, Norse, Celts and
Faeries (as the invading Saxons called the pygmy neolithic race they
encountered in the British Isles). Long before they encountered
Christianity, the Faeries (known to archaeologists as Pretani, or Picts)
had been forced by the Saxons onto the inhospitable Heaths of Britain,
later to be called "Heathens" by the Church.  By 1500 CE, they had been
virtually exterminated, save for those who managed to intermarry or
exchange their infants for those of the invaders ("changelings"). 
Moreover, as it was later to do in the case of the Witches, who
inherited much of the Faery lore and religion, the Church began a
campaign to convince the world and future generations that these people
had never existed in the first place, but were merely imaginary! The old
Pagan religions were never "created".  They had no founding prophets and
no saviors.  They grew up with their people, and their origins are lost
in the mists at the dawn of humanity.  What little we can trace
indicates a descent from paleolithic and neolithic "fertility cults,"
hence the common symbols of the Earth Mother Goddess, the Green Man and

the Horned God.the fecund embodiments of living Nature.  We find them
therefore unanimous in their veneration of Nature and their sensual
celebration of life, birth, sex and death as expressed in the seasonal
Festivals of the Sacred Year. All these Great Festivals of Paganism,
wherever they may be found, correspond in common with the Solstices,
Equinoxes, and other natural annual cycles of life (animal mating and
birth seasons, planting, harvest).

     Most of these remain with us today in more-or-less disguised form
as the so-called "Christian" holidays of Christmas (Yule), Easter
(Ostara), May Day (Beltane), Thanksgiving (Mabon or Harvest Home),
Halloween (Samhain) and even Groundhog's Day (Oimelc).  In addition to
these six, there are two others, Litha (Midsummer) and Lughnasadh,
comprising a total of eight Festivals (or Sabbats, as they are known,
sometimes under different names, in Witchcraft).  Thus it is obvious
that the rich heritage of Paganism forms a solid foundation for the
spontaneous emergence of a Neo-Pagan revival today.  In the midst of our
current spiritual and ecological crisis, it is highly appropriate that
natural religions are once again finding a place among the children of

     Modern Neo-Paganism, however, is somewhat distinct from the Old
Religion, in that it is to a large measure a relatively new phenomenon. 
Neo-Pagan religions are many and diverse.  They range from the sublimely
artistic Paradisal vision and reconstruction of old Pagan Mysteries of
Feraferia to the astrological divination and ancient Egyptian religion
of the Church of the Eternal Source, and from the Wiccan-oriented myth
and ritual of the Pagan Way to the transpersonal psychology, science-
fiction mythology and deep ecology of the Church of All Worlds.       All of the dozens of Neo-Pagan religions now in existence, and most of
the countless sects of Witchcraft, however, do hold certain values in
common, and it is these values which relate them to Paganism in the
older sense.

     One of the key values of Neo-Paganism is its insistence on personal
responsibility.  The Church of All Worlds expresses this in the phrase,
"Thou art God/dess," implying total personal freedom and individual
responsibility on the part of every one of us.  Paganism has  no concept
of "original sin," and hence has no need of saviors.  Neo-Pagans do not
expect Divine retribution for breaking social taboos.  Rather, concepts
of "sin" and "atonement" are restated in the framework of ecological
awareness and karma.  If our actions are discordant and in opposition to
the evolutionary flow of Life, we suffer the ecological consequences, in
much the same way, and for exactly the same reason, as diseased cells in
the body are attacked by the antibodies and other natural defenses. 
Whatever energy we put out returns to us multiplied threefold.  Love
returns love; hate returns hate.  Robert Ingersoll observed:  "In Nature
there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences".  The
total responsibility (and hence the total freedom) rests in our

     As in the Old Religion, Neo-Pagans conceptualize Divinity as
manifest in the processes of Nature.  Indeed, in a very literal sense,
Mother Nature, Mother Earth, is "Goddess," and She has been recognized
as such since time immemorial.  Thus ecology is seen as the supreme
religious study:    "Nature is Divinity made manifest...It is creativit-
y, continuity, balance, beauty and truth of life.           "Everything we
encounter in the Biosphere is a part of Nature, and ecology reveals the

pattern of that is-ness, the natural relationships among all these
things and the Organic Unity of all of them as a Biospheric Whole.  Thus
ecology shows the pattern of man's proper and creative involvement with
Nature, that Nature which encompasses his own life and on proper
relation to which his survival and development depend:       Of all man's
secular studies, ecology comes closest to bringing him to the threshold
of religious relationship to his world.  Ecology not only confirms the
wonders of form and function that other secular studies have revealed,
but it brings these into organic union with each other as one dynamic,
living Whole; and it points out the conditions for the wellbeing of both
this overall Unity and the parts that comprise it.

     An intensive realization of these conditions, and of one's own
immediate role in their sustainment and development, brings one to the
threshold of religious awe.  To worship Nature, therefore, is to
venerate and commune with Divinity as the dynamically organic perfection
of the whole.  (Council of Themis, from Green Egg  #43)

     Neo-Paganism is a recent mutation of the Old Religion which had its
earliest emergence during the European Renaissance with the rediscovery
of the ancient Greek philosophers via Arabian texts brought by traveler-
s.  However, this was also the time of the Burnings, and the budding
Neo-Pagan emergence was suppressed until the late 1700's, when it found
expression in the Romantic Period of art, music and literature,
especially in Germany.

     This Romantic flowering of Neo-Paganism, especially the element
known as the Bavarian Illuminati (whose mottoes were "eternal flower
power" and "eternal serpent power"), greatly appealed to a visiting
American named Benjamin Franklin, and upon his return to the colonies,
it became a major spiritual force in the post-Revolutionary America of
the 1780s, where its influence continued to shape the new nation through
the presidencies of the Adams family.  It was Monroe and the War of 1812
that managed to suppress this movement for a time, but it re-emerged 60
years later in the form of the Transcendentalist Movement, exemplified
in the poetry and writings of Whitman, Thoreau and Emerson, and the
overnight mushrooming of the commune movement in the 1840's.  The Civil
War, Reconstruction, the conquest of the West and the Gold Rush drained
the Nature-oriented spiritual energy from the people of America for
another 60 years, but it blossomed again through the Art Nouveau
movement in the 1900's.  Then came the World Wars, the Depression,
McCarthyism...60 more years had to pass before the gathering impact of
Eastern religious philosophy, especially Zen, and Existentialism gave
birth to the "hip" "underground" counter-culture of the Beatniks, whose
experimentation with drugs, sexuality, music, poetry, communal living
and alternate lifestyles paved the way for the Hippie phenomenon of the
1960's (which spontaneously resurrected the old Illuminati motto of
"flower power").

     The seeds of Neo-Paganism which had again lain dormant for three
generations took root in such fertile soil, and emerged once more into
the light, to be joined in the '70s by the heirs of Wicca, the last
vestiges of the Old Religion of Europe. The New Religion is still very
much Paganism, for its inspiration and orientation today is based, as
was that of its predecessors, upon an understanding and relationship of
Humanity within the larger perspective of Life, Nature and the Universe. 
Fred Adams of Feraferia coined the term "eco-psychic" to describe the
type of awareness that permeates the New Religion.

     Revealed religions, especially of the monotheistic variety, tend to
see man as a special creation, exalted above all Nature, and the epitome
of God's handiwork.  Thus the Biblical injunction to Man to "have
dominion over all the Earth" is not seen by Judeo-Christians as
outrageously presumptuous; nor is God's destruction of all life on Earth
in the legend of the Deluge seen as insanely immoral ecocide.  Both God
and Man are considered to have a "divine right" to desecrate the Earth
at their pleasure.  This is in direct opposition to the view of
Paganism, which sees humanity's duty not to conquer Nature, but to live
in harmony and stewardship with Her.    Every revealed religion claims
to have its own direct pipeline to the Divinity, and its own essential
precepts from direct, unassailable revelation.  Neo-Pagans, on the other
hand, have outgrown egotistical and temperamental gods, and expect no
intervention from some Big Daddy in the Sky to solve the problems of our
times.  Instead, we look to Nature (through the clear glass of ecology)
for inspiration and direction, and to ourselves as the instrumentality
for all that needs to be done.  

                          Thou art God/dess! 
              Otter G'Zell, 1970 (revised Jan. 8, 1991) 

Next: Neo-Pagan Witchcraft vs. Satanism