In Defense of Neopaganism

It’s been said, I forget who by, that “a popular occult movement is a stupid occult movement”. I may substantially agree to this, but you could remove the word “occult” from the statement and it would hold just as strongly. Popular movements are almost always impelled by our lowest natures—natures which cannot, and should not, be denied, but also shouldn’t be given free reign either. This is as true in spirituality as it is in the hard sciences, politics, or anywhere else. But none of this is to say that the mainstream is inherently stupid.

As odd as it sounds, there is not just one “mainstream”; each culture, subculture, and even counterculture will have its own mainstream which defines the mean opinions, assumptions, ideals, fashions, and other trends within the grouping. Even the smallest of populations—say, your neighborhood coven of Witches—will have a mainstream, even if it has a rather weak current by which to pull dissenters along. A mainstream can be dangerous on a large scale, as it then has the torrent of a spring melt-flooded river which can crush the spirits and the bones of those who try to resist in unsubtle ways. The good of such a current, however, is that those who are unable to devote all of their personal time, energy, and resources to constant research and refinement will still have access to a sort of progress, so long as they are content with much of the research, refinement, and, most pointedly, interpretation and implementation being done for them. We all must do this to some degree in most areas of life; there is simply not enough time in the day to be constantly questioning every facet of culture, so we very often just have to give a lot of things a pass so that we can focus on whichever particular happens to be a priority. Harm can come of being too passive, of course, but there is also wisdom in focusing on what is within one’s own sphere of influence and trying to make that useful to others rather than trying to horn in on an area in which one has no expertise or power and trying to steer an unfamiliar ship in a storm.

Neopaganism serves as just such a mainstream for the occult world and, to a large extent, the world of alternative spirituality in general. Despite (sometimes alarmist, sometimes smug) reports to the contrary, Neopaganism appears to be fairly healthy as a movement, though you will see very different states of health (as with anything) depending on where you are and how you choose to look for it. Even the New Age, which still holds a central place in the marketplace of popular alternative spirituality, takes most of its cues from what it sees Neopaganism doing. Generally, there is a process of whitewashing over the aspects which are unsavory to a mindset still largely tinged with a liberalized form of Abrahamic moralism—just look at what they did to Yoga!—but the ideas and practices are generally still very recognizable for their roots in Witchcraft and Hermeticism. Moreover, had it not been for the popularization of Neopaganism, many of what are today considered to be classics of Western occult spirituality and magical practice would not be so readily available: the works of Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, Israel Regardie, William G. Gray, and numerous others would likely have fallen into the dustbin of the history of ideas, and those who wanted their books would be scrambling to afford out-of-print editions. Moreover, almost none of the greats of more recent years through to the present would be there! Scott Cunningham, Raymond Buckland, Paul Huson, Joseph H. Peterson, Lady Sheba, Doreen Valiente, John Michael Greer, Mark Stavish, and numerous others, would not have seen print, or at least not mass print, if not for the relative popularity of Neopaganism. Yes, even your favorite boutique Luciferian LHP Traditional Qlippothic Witchcraft publisher of 666 copy limited editions (Only For Serious Occultists, of course) would have no market to sell to if not for the Neopaganism which brought Llewellyn and Weiser to prominence by selling Cunningham, Buckland, Regardie, et al. So, dark-hooded Satanists, thank your local Wiccan coven and Druid grove for your ability to find Lord Beelzebub Cindersoul’s Grimoire of Dusk on Amazon for $12.49. (Don’t take any of this too personally; I own some great books from Theion Publishing and Scarlet Imprint and listen to more than my share of black metal.)

The same can be said of community: without Neopaganism, there would be no occult community. While it’s true that lodge organizations such as the Freemasons did traditionally serve such a function, and that magical groups like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn did predate the majority of Neopaganism’s history, it’s also true that HOGD imploded quickly and spectacularly while Freemasonry is in decline (and is not welcoming to women). These, and groups like them, certainly influenced the rise and dissemination of Neopaganism, but Neopaganism has largely absorbed a number of valuable lessons from them while rejecting what was not useful to its own communal life. While there are any number of private working groups of magicians, Witches, and Druids, solitary practitioners who mostly keep to themselves, and invitation-only salons, Neopaganism largely operates in the open. Covens advertise themselves on social media to let people know what’s going on in their area; shops and event spaces operate on the open market to draw in even the most casually curious of patrons; Pagan Pride Day celebrations happen in most major cities of the US; Druid groves offer public or semi-public rituals for major solar feast days in the same way that Hindu temples have public pujas celebrating a variety of holidays throughout the year. Such events are very often the first taste of ritual many people get, or at least their first taste of group ritual outside of the churches in which many grew up. They also present opportunities for meeting people who do things differently and learning from them, making contacts with other practitioners for later exchanges, and making friends who share similar interests and values. As with any forum, it is true that many people involved won’t be worth the trouble, but some will, and those few can make quite a difference for someone trying to learn, grow, and connect.

A final point to make concerns the common complaint that Neopaganism is for only “shallow” practitioners. This goes back somewhat to the idea of the mainstream, but is worth visiting in its own right. I’m far from the first to make the observation that not everyone in a given spiritual or religious movement is immediately interested in leadership or clergy roles, nor even the highest initiations and deepest practices. And, as hard as it for a lot of magicians and mystics to understand, that’s okay. There’s good reason why magicians and mystics have always been in a hard minority in almost every human society: they require specialized skill sets demanding a lot of time and effort. It just cannot be everyone’s priority. Just as with scientists and engineers, what magicians and mystics “bring back with them” can benefit anyone who wants it even if they would not have found it on their own. Consider the Nathas, Aghoris, and other sadhus in India as an ancient example: large groups of people may gather around them, attend their dhuni rituals, seek their blessings, request their magical aid, and go to them for spiritual guidance, and bring back what they can to their workaday lives without ever even considering becoming initiates themselves. Everyone contributes as they can, bringing offerings to the dhuni, giving food and other necessities to the sadhus, and shelter to pilgrims coming from afar to make the visit, and nobody is left feeling like they do not have a place in the spiritual life of the community. It can be the same among Witches, Druids, and Heathens.

Those of us who do spend most of our time going deeper into magical and mystical practice often have a tendency toward hermitage. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it definitely aids in our practice. But it also behooves us to occasionally come out to public events, or get to know our local metaphysical shopkeepers, teach classes and workshops, and otherwise make connections and spread what we’ve learned. Not only are we benefiting others, we are also making connections which can benefit ourselves. Community is a necessity, not a luxury; we are social beings, like it or not. “Society” may even constitute an ontological plane unto itself, just as worthy of the occultist’s attention as the realm of spirits and gods. And Neopaganism is not only the most accessible but also the broadest umbrella among alternative spiritual communities. Skepticism of community involvements is smart, but we shouldn’t let egotism and elitism get in the way of potential valuable experiences.

One thought on “In Defense of Neopaganism

  1. Pingback: In Praise of Wicca – Peace Profound

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