I don’t claim to know a lot about neopaganism, it’s many branches and related traditions. I’ve never practiced any form of paganism. All I know is what I’ve learned from books and friends and family who are, or were, pagans of some description. Those of you who are better versed than me are welcome to correct any misconceptions on my part.
Aspects of neopaganism which have struck a chord with me:
- Emphasis on the feminine face of divinity that equals or exceeds that placed on the masculine. This is the most obvious. Worshiping and/or identifying with only a masculine god has always felt incomplete to me.
- Conscious invocation of archetypes. Most religions involve some kind of archetypes. Few make them as central as paganism. Neopagans explicitly set out to “draw down” those idealized figures which seem to be embedded in the collective unconscious. That’s a practice which has a lot of resonance for me, because I see how, if nothing else, it can have a powerfully transformative effect on the psyche.
- Embracing the natural world. Few things have are as effective at putting me in a spiritual frame of mind as being out in the wild. I remember sitting in innumerable church services thinking I’d feel closer to god if I were off sitting in a meadow. Nature brings out my sense of wonder and puts me in a receptive mode. I can remember camping trips, long before I even knew much about paganism, feeling the thrill as we padded single-file through the woods and then out into the bonfire clearing, with the stars spread out overhead… I remember the way it tugged at something deep within me, and I wanted more. The pagan way of outdoor rituals piques a hunger in me that has never been satisfied.
- Explicit personal identification with diety. Certainly it’s not the only religion to feature this, but it’s the one I have the most exposure to. While Christianity and Judaism stop at seeing the divine workmanship in humans and in identifying service to man with service to god, paganism (some forms, at least) takes it to the point of saying, as in Stranger in a Strange Land, “Thou art god”. I like this (have I mentioned my humanist tendencies yet? 😉
- Sanctification of sex. Christianity and Judaism, even at their least dysfunctional, only concede that so long as it’s within marriage, sex is a good thing, a blessing from god. Paganism joins hinduism in elevating sex to the level of sacrament. This meshes with my own experience of sexuality, which, at it’s best, is a profoundly worshipful experience.
And now, the aspects which leave me cold:
- The focus on symbolic objects. Granted, I’m only working from what I’ve read here. Sprig of this, pinch of that, crystal of the other. For me, the power of ritual resides more in words and movement than in objects.
- Pantheism. Although, as I said above, the natural world engenders awe in me and opens me up to spiritual perception, it is rare that I feel I see the divine in it. I find many compelling symbols in nature, but when I want to see the face of god/dess, I find I have to look around for another human being.