In his study of Contemporary Paganism (1997), Graham Harvey observes that most Neo-Pagans rarely indulge in theology. “Most Pagan groups offer their world-view, not so much as ‘Truth’ or divine revelation to be assented to, but as ‘Beauty’ to be appreciated.” What Starhawk says in The Spiral Dance about Neo-Pagan Witchcraft can be said of Neo-Paganism too: it is “a religion of poetry, not theology.” Similarly what R. R. Marett said about primitive religion, that it “is not so much something thought out as danced out,” is true of Neo-Paganism as well.
In spite of these observations, there is a place for theological (or thealogical) reflection in Neo-Paganism. But for Neo-Pagans, theology must be grounded in experience. According to religious studies scholar, Mary Jo Weaver, “The formula ‘first the appearance, then the dance, then the story’ specifies the proper relationship among theophany, ritual and theology.” Rather than seeking to define the truth about divinity, Neo-Pagan theology can best be understood, like poetry, myth, and ritual, as yet another way to express and explore our relationship with the divine.
Neo-Pagan beliefs about divinity vary widely. There are theistic Neo-Pagans, non-theistic Neo-Pagans, and everything in between. Neo-Pagan beliefs differ from those of Abrahamic monotheists in many ways. Some Neo-Pagans are polytheists or henotheists*, and others are pantheists or panentheists. Some are duotheists, and others are monists. Some are animists, and some don’t believe in any deities or spirits.
While not all Neo-Pagans hold these beliefs, in general Neo-Pagan theology has five principal characteristics:
- Pantheism: Neo-Pagans view divinity as immanent and the material universe as a theophany, a manifestation of divinity. Neo-Pagans see the Earth, the body, and sexuality as sacred.
- Polytheism: Neo-Pagans recognize a plurality of deities or aspects of deity.
- Divine Feminine: Neo-Pagans recognize that divinity manifests as feminine and masculine, while also transcending gender.
- Process Theology: Neo-Pagans see divinity as changing or evolving, as part of a process that is itself divine, sometimes symbolized by a circle or spiral.
- Animism: Neo-Pagans experience the world as alive.
* Henotheism is the worship of a single god while not denying the existence of other deities.