Why would someone want to be a neo-pagan?

Christian apologetics requires us to not only understand other religions and spiritualities, but to understand their attraction. So what about neo-paganism in all its various forms? (There are about 300,000 people in the U.S. and about a million worldwide who describe themselves as “Pagans,” “Wiccans,” or “Druids,” although there are other groups that generally ascribe to a neo-pagan approach to life. There are, for example, thirty groups in the state of Wisconsin bearing such names as “Circle of the Silver Dragonfly Coven,” “Grove of the Laughing Oak Coven,” “The Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess International,” “Circle of Solitaires” and “Coven of the Unhewn Stone.”)

First, primal religions offer something new that is actually something old, something ancient. Some people are attracted to that. They like the idea of taking a giant leap out of the modern technological world, a world divided into several large but mutually exclusive religions, and back to the days of fertility rituals and astrological forces. Back to pre-civilization. Back to a time when spells were cast and people believed the earth itself is a spiritual entity.

Neo-pagan religions also are interested in the sub-rational and the ritualistic. It is pre-scientific, pre-philosophy, pre-Hinduism, pre-Buddhism, pre-Jewish, pre-Christian, pre-Muslim. Instead of heady philosophy, it is fleshy ritual.

Neo-pagan religions seek to promote a direct relationship with the earthy, the tangible. Everyone knows that part of living is figuring out how to survive in the environment. Neo-paganism says that this is the main issue in life.

For some people, being a neo-pagan in the modern world is a perfect way to have a countercultural identity. Though the number of neo-pagans is growing, earth religions are still very much out of the mainstream. And primal religions often promote personal autonomy. There is no hierarchy anyone is beholden to. There are rarely congregational responsibilities of members of covens. There is no dogma, not even a central rite to which adherents are bound. The closest thing Wiccans have to a central creed is the “Rede” (advice, counsel): “An it harm none, do what ye will.” In other words, you are entirely free to do what you want, as long as it doesn’t harm anybody else. (This is a kind of inverse, reactive version of the Golden Rule—which is “Do to others what you would have them to do to you”—stripped down to “Don’t do to others what will harm them.”) This lack of hierarchical authority is appealing to many followers of neo-pagan religions who are looking for empowerment.

[Adapted from I Want to Believe: Finding Your Way in an Age of May Faiths.]

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