Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Defining Paganism

I've been working on my handouts for the Pagan Umbrella course that I'm teaching on Thursday. One of the challenges of talking about contemporary Paganism is defining it. I half-jokingly said in the class description, "Ask a dozen people and you’ll get at least a dozen answers," but this statement is true. We each have our own understanding of what Paganism is.

Here are some of the definitions and thoughts on Paganism that I've pulled out as a starting point for the course on Thursday:
  • Polytheistic nature religion, such as ancient Greek, Roman or Egyptian, or indigenous folk religions (Margot Adler in Drawing Down the Moon, 1979)
  • Polytheistic nature religions based on older or Paleopagan religions (Isaac Bonewitz quoted in Drawing Down the Moon, 1979)
  • A constantly-evolving philosophy that views humanity as a functional organism within the greater organism of all Life. (Oberon Zell quoted in Drawing Down the Moon, 1979)
  • Religion or spiritual practices that have widely-accepted associations with the country-side and the natural world based on the 19th century understanding of “pagan” meaning country-dweller or “rustic”. (Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon, 1999)
  • Followers of polytheistic religions, whether ancient or modern. (Chas Clifton in Her Hidden Children.)
  • An affirmation of interactive and polymorphic sacred relationship by the individual or community with the tangible, sentient, and/or non-empirical. (From Pagan Theology by Michael York, 2003)
  • Spirituality that is based upon personal experience as its ultimate standard of validity, and that is distinguished by the following five characteristics: pantheism or panentheism, animism, polytheism, the eternal present, lack of a concept of ultimate evil. (Gus DiZerega in Pagans and Christians, 2001)
  • A polytheistic nature religion in which reciprocal relationships between humans and all others are important, and which is recreating ways of relating to the earth and all its inhabitant, and has little or no dichotomy of sacred and profane, or differentiation between ordinary and religious activities. (Graham Harvey in Contemporary Paganism, 1997)
After these, we'll be briefly looking at some of the historical roots of contemporary Paganism before getting into the various paths and traditions that fall under the umbrella, or sit along its edges, not quite in under it or outside of it either.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I often say that Paganism is an umbrella term to describe animistic religions derived from the real or imagined practices of pre-Christian Europe.

This has the flaw that it excludes some people who might call themselves pagans -- most notably people practicing Afro-Caribbean traditions, but possibly also strict polytheist reconstructionists. But for me, it set off an interesting set of pagans to discuss.