“A person has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it, and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.”
— D.H. Lawrence
Neo-Paganism is eclectic. Neo-Pagans consciously draw together different religious ideas, symbols, and practices, and combines them into new forms. Cultural anthropologist, Sabina Magliocco, explains in her essay, “Ritual Is My Chosen Art Form: The Creation of Ritual as Folk Art Among Contemporary Pagans,” that “Neo-Pagan ritual artists are adept at combining and adapting materials from widely divergent sources, cultures, historical periods, and media into a harmonious whole. They are by nature bricoleurs.”*
The term, “eclectic,” is often misunderstood or misapplied. While all religious movements mix and match traditional elements with new ideas and practices from other sources, not all religious movements are consciously eclectic. It is useful to think of eclecticism and traditionalism as existing along a continuum, rather than two distinct categories. So while Neo-Paganism is highly eclectic, there is still a core of Neo-Pagan beliefs and practices. The degree of conscious blending also varies from practitioner to practitioner.
Eclectics probably represent a majority among Pagans. According to sociologist, Helen Berger’s, census of Pagans, “Eclectic Paganism” was the most common self-descriptor (53%). In addition, nearly a quarter stated that they “are spiritual but dislike labels.” In contrast, only 38% identified as Wiccan.
In the past, there has been tension in the Pagan community between Eclectic Neo-Pagans and Wiccan traditionalists. According to religious studies scholar, Shelley Rabinovitch,
“Eclectics will often perceive the Gardnerian-derived groups as hidebound, hierarchical, and slavishly adhering to received material, while they in turn view eclectics as fundamentally missing the point of the entire practice, diluting the mystery tradition to the point of unrecognizability with ‘surface’ rituals.”
Today, a similar tension exists between eclectic Neo-Pagans on the one hand and reconstructionist Pagans and devotional polytheists on the other.
The growth of eclectic Neo-Paganism was initially a function of the scarcity of traditional resources in the 1960s and 1970s, combined with the increasing demand brought on by the Counterculture movement. The growth of eclectic practice is also tied to the growth of solitary practice (i.e., practice without a group) among Pagans. Scott Cunningham, author of Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (1988), is credited in large part with the spread of solitary practice. Increased access to the internet accelerated this growth. According to Helen Berger’s Pagan Census, there has been an increase in solitary practice from 51% in 2003 to 79% in 2010.
* A “bricoleur” is one who creates using whatever materials are available.