Neo-Pagans are often lumped together with the New Age movement (such as in national surveys). While the two movements do overlap somewhat, they are distinguishable. Neo-Pagans are typically critical of the New Age movement for its emphasis upon light, mind, spirit, and transcendence, to the detriment of darkness, body, matter, and immanence. Neo-Pagans reject the New Age quest for perfection and mastery, and seek rather an engagement with ambiguity and finitude.
Many New Agers believe there is a cosmic struggle between the forces of Light and Darkness, and human evolution depends on humanity thinking positively, embracing the “light” and spirit, and abandoning the darkness and earth. Neo-Paganism, on the other hand, rejects this gnostic denigration of matter and darkness, and celebrates the world as it is. New Agers seek to escape into an eternal existence of light. For Neo-Pagans, however, darkness is necessary. Life is born in the dark womb. Seeds germinate in the dark soil. It is in the dark night that we dream. And it is the Dark Goddess who is our original Mother. Neo-Pagans celebrate the beauty of nature and do not flinch from the fact that it is “red in tooth and claw.” In the eyes of Neo-Pagans, the dark is seen, not as evil, but a necessary part of our natural world and our spiritual being.
How Neo-Paganism and the New Age movement are similar:
- Both movements arose out of the Sixties Counterculture movement.
- Both draw upon the 19th century Romantic Movement.
- Both reject traditional Abrahamic religious practices.
- Both were strongly influenced by Jungian psychological theory.
- Both are concerned with experiencing a regeneration or renewal of life.
How Neo-Paganism and the New Age movement are different:
- Neo-Pagans are more overtly religious than New Agers.
- New Agers tend to eschew religious ritual, while Neo-Pagans embrace it.
- Neo-Pagans emphasize links with ancient pagan religions, ritual celebration of the cycles in nature, and polytheistic conceptions of divinity, while New Agers do none of this.
- Neo-Pagans give the Goddess a central role in their conceptions of divinity, whereas the many New Agers are more patriarchal.
- New Agers tend to dismiss this world as illusory, adopting a transcendental attitude, whereas Neo-Pagans embrace the world.
- New Agers tend to eschew psycho-spiritual darkness for light, whereas Neo-Pagans embrace darkness as part of the natural cycle.
- New Agers place greater emphasis on union with the ultimate divinity than do Neo-Pagans.
- New Agers conceptualize personal growth more in terms of ascent or transcendence, whereas Neo-Pagans conceptualize it as cyclical, involving a descent into the dark unconscious, followed by a return.
- Although both Neo-Pagans and New Agers encourage a journey to the inner self, Neo-Pagans also encourage a journey outside the self to commune with the Other, including other people and the natural world.
- Neo-Pagans place greater emphasis on one’s responsibility to other beings, human and non-human, and the environment, than do New Agers.