Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

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Why I am Not a Neo-Pagan

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Neo-Nazi. Neo-Confederate. Neo-Conservative.

Or, to choose some less loaded examples: Neo-Classical. Neo-Romantic. Neo-Primitive.

Whoever it was that decided to call people like us “neo-pagans” (there are several contenders for the dubious distinction), he was certainly no poet.

 

Poets care about words. Poets pay close attention to things like beauty, precision, and connotation.

Look again at the above examples. In non-scientific usage, neo- is not merely a synonym for new. Its implications are subtly but deeply different.

Neo- is a prefix of condescension. To dub something neo- is to define it as derivative, as less than, as not to be taken entirely seriously. To be neo-X is not to be a new X; it is, by definition, to be not really X. A Neo- is, by definition, a Wannabe.

And this we call ourselves?

Pagan is who we are. Pagan is who we've always been. Whenever people are left alone to suss things for themselves, they are, pretty much by definition, pagan. To be human is to be pagan. Pagan isn't something we have to be made into; pagan is what we already are. Pagans are born, not made, and we're all born pagan.

No, we're not the same pagans that the ancestors were, and there's no point in trying to be. They were the pagans for their time and place. Our responsibility, both to them and to ourselves, is to be the pagans for our own time and place, just like they were. It's the only kind of pagan we can be honestly be.

Like the ancestors, we new pagans live by three great truths: by the truth of our own experience, by the truth of the Received Tradition (the collective corpus of inherited ancestral lore), and by that ultimate source of authority in all pagan traditions, the truth of the world itself. Where's the neo- in any of that?

If one must needs distinguish, then by all means let us be the new pagans. Let us be modern pagans. Let us be contemporary pagans.

But for gods' sakes, let us lose the neo-.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Wednesday, 12 February 2014

    Good rant. I've never been a "Neo" anything either. "Neo-pagan" is just an insult.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Wednesday, 12 February 2014

    I've never preferred the term, but after reading your excellent points, I definitely think it doesn't suit me.

  • Neroli
    Neroli Wednesday, 12 February 2014

    I never thought of the idea of Neo Pagan. I'm Pagan . The end.

  • Chris B
    Chris B Wednesday, 12 February 2014

    I do not think we ought to be "neo-pagan", but I am afraid that most of us are in fact "neo-pagan".

    Neo does not only imply "new", its meaning is more nuanced than that. Neo means that something is reformed; removed from its original context; recreated in a similar spirit for new conditions. In this sense using the word "pagan" at all--by definition--makes us "neo-pagans". We are not iron-age peasant-class worshipers of nature religions. We are contemporary-cosmopolitan nature worshipers.

    I agree that what we ought to be is something like a natural religion that is novel to our history and geography. But so much of what paganism today is is reconstruction, which makes it inherently "reformed" (i.e. neo-). That doesn't make it bad, in fact there is a lot that is neat about "celtic-reconstructionism" and the like; however, most of what paganism is neo, so I think that whoever came up with the word was spot-on.

    Chris

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Thursday, 13 February 2014

    I like both the points that Steven made and the points that Chris made; each is right according to the orientation from whence his observations came. Being of a romantical poetic bent myself, I wish our society still cared about the subtleties of language valued by Steven. But I've lived long enough in this sad world to realize that it does not. Bottom line, I guess, is that each of us must find the designation that makes us most comfortable.

  • Lance Moore
    Lance Moore Thursday, 13 February 2014

    The phrase 'neo-pagan' originally came with pride. Back in the '80s when most of us were first finding we weren't alone, forming groups and the first festivals, 'neo-pagan' was how we acknowledged we were pagans *today.* It was a way of making ourselves real, of pointing out that we didn't belong just in history books. We were real people living our lives right there in the cities and on the farms like everyone else.

    It was also meant to be an acknowledgement that we weren't claiming to practice our spirituality(ies) in the same way as our far-far-far back ancestors. There's no way to do so (and even if there were, we live in today's techy society - hence the techno-pagan phrase, too).

    The phrase has mostly fallen out of usage, at least here on the west coast; people would look at me funny if I said that (and I'm a Feri, which is as neo as it gets :-D ). We no longer have to prove we exist (ok, that's not as true as I might wish ;-) ). Any how, what you're reading into the phrase is not at all how it was originally intended or used (doesn't mean some folks don't use it that way today).

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