Are all Naturalistic Pagans the same?


Though all share a generally naturalistic view, there are many different types.  This post surveys some of the most common.

2012.03.24 台北 by MaxChu

These types are purely descriptive; few if any identify by them.  If you want to know what to call a particular person, the best policy is to ask them.  If that's not possible, go with "Naturalistic Pagan."

There is plenty of overlap between these types; a person may fit one or all of them without contradiction.  There may also be others I've forgotten, so comments and critiques are welcome.

The Jungian

Trapeze ghost, by Elaine Clayton

Jungians understand deities as psychological archetypes.  For most of contemporary Pagan history, the largest naturalistic presence was Jungian, the influence of which was charted in last month's guest post series.  Jung touched such luminaries as Dion Fortune, Israel Regardie, Doreen Valiente, Starhawk, Margot Adler, Janet and Stewart Farrar, and Vivianne Crowley.

Today, Jungianism has lost favor, but remains significant.  The most vocal representative at present is the prolific John Halstead, who blogs at The Allergic Pagan, and has just joined Pagan Square with Dreaming the Myth Forward.  If John Ryan Haule is correct that Jungian psychology is currently experiencing a renaissance, Jungian Paganism could enjoy a resurgence.

Notably, the understanding of "archetypes" that has become popular among Pagans tends to diverge from Jung's actual concept.  In proper Jungian form, deities are not archetypes but purely cultural forms called archetypal images.  The archetype itself is an innate potentiality within the unconscious, which requires the stimulus of the archetypal image in order to express itself.  It is analogous to our innate capacity for language, which requires a local language in order to find expression.  This means the source of numinosity, for Jungians, lies not in culturally arbitrary expressions, but in the unconscious itself.  For more on this issue, see David Waldron's The Sign of the Witch.

The cognitive-evolutionary type

Neurotheology pentacle, by B. T. Newberg

Pagans of this type understand spiritual experience as emerging from the structure of the brain and its interaction with the environment.  They resemble Jungians in this psychological approach, but take their cue not from Jung but from cognitive science, evolutionary theory, neurotheology, embodied cognition, and similar fields.  Rhys Chisnall has explored the underpinnings of Pagan experience in neurotheology, Adrian Harris in embodied cognition, and B. T. Newberg in cognitive psychology and evolution.  IAO131 has taken a similarly scientific approach in his Naturalistic Occultism and Society of Scientific Illuminism.

The Pantheist

Haze Sunset Over Moya Village, Aomori, Japan, by B. T. Newberg

Pantheists see the divine as identical to the natural world.  Annika Garratt and NaturalPantheist are representatives.  The World Pantheist Movement is the largest organization of Pantheists, though they share no particular interest in Pagan myth or ritual.  The Universal Pantheist Society is another organization, a bit more inclined to Pagan interests.  Paul Harrison's Elements of Pantheism is an excellent resource.

The cosmic type

Stellar Quake

The cosmic type finds deep meaning and inspiration in the story of the cosmos, with or without invoking the divine.  Glenys Livingstone's PaGaian tradition attunes mythopoetically to the unfolding of the Cosmos through the metaphor of the Goddess, and B. T. Newberg has told the story of Big History from the perspective of the goddess Isis.  Meanwhile, Jon Cleland Host, who actually coined the term "Naturalistic Pagan" and created the yahoo group of the same name, celebrates the Wheel of the Year to honor natural cycles and ancestors, without necessarily mythologizing the cosmos.

Some folks of this type might answer to the nickname "Sagan's Pagans."

The cultural or philosophical type

Sunwheel, by Ryan Spellman

This type values Pagan community and traditions for their own sake, without necessarily adopting the various metaphysical beliefs available.  Such folk may participate in rituals and festivals in a manner similar to a cultural Jew.  Many, if not most, Pagan traditions are open to this stance.  Those that explicitly welcome it include the Druidic Order of Naturalists and Reformed Druids of Gaia, among others.

Some follow moral or aesthetic philosophies inspired by Pagan culture.  Brendan Myers articulates an existential ethics developed from ancient Pagan roots, while M. Jay Lee follows a humanistic path inspired by ancient Greek literature.  The Church of Modern Asatru nurtures a community devoted to virtue embodied in Norse traditions.  Finally, there are agnostics and atheists who follow the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

The environmental type

Alison Leigh Lily beside Angel Oak, a live oak tree in South Carolina and the oldest oak tree east of the Mississippi

The environmental type places special emphasis on ecology and environment.  Deities and myth may or may not play a part, depending on whether they choose to allegorize the natural world or not.  Rua Lupa's Ehoah is a path close to the earth with no anthropomorphism, while Eli Effinger-Weintraub's Restorying the Sacred project brings out the myth in the natural world.  No Unsacred Place hosts the writings of many such folk.

Other agnostics and atheists

Standing Out, by A.LwinDigital

Agnostics and atheist doubt the existence of deities.  Although this is true of most Naturalistic Pagans, some don't fit neatly into the types listed thus far.

Some occupy a gray area between naturalism and something else, doubting deity but otherwise believing in magic, mystical energies, or other supernatural phenomena.  Others doubt all these, but simply have a focus that doesn't fit the other categories.

This type should not be confused with those who are agnostic about the nature of deities, while emphatically affirming their existence.  This is a legitimate form of agnosticism, but is not a form of naturalism.  Rather, it is much closer to the status quo of Paganism generally.

Common Ground

This brief post gives some idea of the varieties of Naturalistic Paganism. There is a great deal of diversity.

At the same time, all share the common ground of naturalism.  And they can find common community in places such as the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group or the Pantheist Pagans or Naturalistic Pagans Facebook group.

Have I forgotten any types?  I look forward to hearing your suggestions.