Elements of Neo-Paganism

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by Sam Brown

One common way to describe Neo-Paganism is to suggest a list of elements, beliefs or characteristics of Neo-Paganism. Due to the amorphous and non-dogmatic nature of Neo-Paganism, such lists are problematic. It is inevitable that certain people who identify as Neo-Pagan will be inadvertently excluded, while oth­ers who do not identify as Neo-Pagan will be unintentionally in­cluded. All such lists must be read with the understanding that no single element is a necessary condition of identification as a Neo-Pagan and that the list as a whole is not exhaustive. If we were to translate such lists into a pictorial representation, it would be better to think of them as scatter plots (which have no definite boundaries), rather than Venn diagrams (which do). With all the above caveats, lists of elements of Neo-Paganism can still be instruc­tive.

According to religious studies scholar, Michael York, author of Pagan Theology (2005) and The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and NeoPagan Movements (1999), the elements of Neo-Paganism include:

  • corpo-spirituality
  • an appreciation of or worship of nature
  • a this-worldly focus
  • an understanding of enchantment
  • a plurality of the divine or “deific pluralism”
  • a humanistic grounding
  • hedonism or a sanctification of pleasure

To this list, York sometimes adds:

  • an emphasis on individuality, freedom, self-determina­tion, and personal responsibility
  • a local focus
  • a celebratory attitude
  • a sense of the awesome
  • an ethical concern

The UK Pagan Federation lists the following elements of Neo-Paganism:

  • Love for and kinship with Nature, reverence for the life force and its ever-renewing cycles of life and death
  • A positive morality, in which the individual is responsi­ble for the discovery and development of their true na­ture in harmony with the outer world and community
  • Recognition of the Divine, which transcends gender, ac­knowledging both the feminine and masculine aspects of Deity

Historian Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon: A His­tory of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (1999), lists the following characteris­tics of Neo-Pagans:

  • They accept the inherent divinity of the natural world and re­ject the notion of a transcendent creator.
  • They embrace a simple ethic of freedom to satisfy individ­ual needs and desires and pursue personal growth and happiness, while avoiding harm to others.
  • They reject any notion of a divinely prescribed law and con­cepts of sin or salvation.
  • They believe that divinity can be both masculine and femi­nine and that women may exercise religious power as effectively as men.
  • They turn for symbolism, kinship, and inspiration to the pre-Christian religions of Europe and the Near East.

In The Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival (2008), historian, David Waldron, defines “Pagan consciousness” as a belief that:

  • Divinity is immanent.
  • Divinity manifests itself as masculine and feminine.
  • We should live in concert with nature.
  • We should individually and together pursue personal growth and spiritual fulfillment.

In general terms, Neo-Paganism may be described as:

  • A life-affirming religion
  • A nature/Earth religion
  • A feminist religion
  • An eclectic religion
  • A sacralization of psychology

Updated 2019

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