A Path of Revival and Relevance: Ancient Paganism in Modern Times

The journalistic approach to Pagan resurgence alternates between plain criticism and poking fun at those whose love of dancing in a circle and making merry is seen as an automatic indication of lunacy. This is the sort of writing that revels in broomsticks and pointed hats and reflects on what could be considered 'Rentawitch,' a limited group of self-advertisers who love the limelight and give an interview with a black cloak falling. Paganism is thereby regarded as an archaism in the materialistic twentieth century, and as an innocuous pursuit of a limited number of eccentric individuals.

Despite its common reputation as a wicked supernatural force or obscure and misunderstood unseen wild power or an insane fringe practice, Paganism retains an ever-increasing degree of support in its valid and varied manifestations, and a significant number of people obtain spiritual satisfaction, an evolving yet balanced lifestyle, sense of harmony and communion with nature and deeper meaningful fulfillment from those practices.

Before delving further into the topic, it is important to create a few simple meanings in order to form a frame of reference. The term 'occult' simply encompasses numerous practices and ideas that are not inherently religious in nature: astrology, fortune-telling, dowsing, mystical structures such as the Hebrew Kabbalah, many aspects of natural medicine, Theosophy, Anthroposophy and Witchcraft.

Paganism is derived from the Latin word pagani, which simply means 'country dwellers,' but it is commonly used as vague and broad term to denote all unbelievers and group them collectively. Many who profess Paganism, though, see themselves as adherents of a natural tradition that has never really vanished in Europe and Eurasia. Its resurgence owes a great deal to the destruction of old taboos in the 1960s and the increasing awareness of the possible ecological catastrophe that is dawning upon Humanity worldwide. Pagans believe that the world's younger and untested mainstream religions have failed to demonstrate a responsible approach towards the planet's natural capital, and that theirs is the only real 'green' conviction. The Pagan Federation, a poorly structured but still accountable organization uniting the separate religions in Britain, points out three concepts that every future member must first accept:

1. Joy and the relationship with Nature, rather than the more common mindset of violence and dominance over Nature. Reverence for the strength of creation and the constant rebirth of life and death.

2. Pagan Ethics, 'Do what you want, but don't hurt anybody.' It's a positive morality, not a list of you-nots. Each person is responsible for discovering his or her true nature and cultivating it in complete accordance with the world around them.

3. Acceptance of the polarity of the deity, the truth of Goddess and God. Active engagement in the cosmic dance of Goddess and Deity, man and female, rather than the repression of the male or female concept.

Perhaps only the most fanciful adherents of the Orthodox sects will see something harmful about these values.

The Pagan world of Britain includes a variety of strands, such as Druidism, Nordic religion, the adherents of North American Indian shamanism, Oriental mysticism, and the numerous divisions in which Wicca or Witchcraft is split. Both the Witches are Pagans, but not all of the Pagans are Witches. Paganism calls itself a faith without rigid dogma and split, like most others, into separate divisions or sects. In a recent statement on Contemporary Paganism, the authors note that 'Paganism seeks to provide a way to understand and reconcile itself with the manifold powers of Existence, which already exist within and beyond us, and which are crucial to our life, fulfillment and evolution. Through honoring seasons and being one with other living beings, Pagans are intimately synchronizing with the world, liberating their identities and magnifying their experiences and abilities in the interests of themselves, their classes and cultures, and the human race as a whole.

While there is some evidence that minor pockets of ancient Witchcraft have survived in Britain over the years, it is a common religion that has evolved from it. Creation or re-invention date back to the 1950s. In 1951, the last surviving Witchcraft laws were abolished and a man named Gerald Gardner published a book in which he revealed some of his own views on the subject. He moved on to join a coven and renamed his new movement Wicca. As he enjoyed such a high profile among the media, his theories became immediately attractive to many, and eventually spread around the globe. While Gardner laid the foundation for the rituals used, they were modified in several respects to fit personal needs. Today there are numerous versions of Wicca, many of which, however, have many fea tures in common.

It is important to bear in mind that neither Paganism nor Witchcraft has anything in common with Satanism or devil-worship. Pagans do not acknowledge the presence of the devil as a Christian aberration, and thus cannot worship him. The fact that certain people do this is an undeniable fact, but the Pagan world can not be blamed for it. In the same way, the much-quoted Black Mass is a Christian perversion. In principle, to celebrate it, you require a de-frocked Roman Catholic priest and the courage to hold back the Latin Mass while defecating Christian icons and books. It's hard to explain what this exercise is supposed to do, except maybe to give ex-Christians an opportunity to vent their splendor to the congregation.

Black magic is a very different kind of thing. Anyone who believes in the potential of magic and has the potential to do it has the option of black and white to operate. If, however, the person deliberately continues to do evil, he will run foul of the old universal law of threefold return, which says that evil will return with threefold force to the person who originated it.

The most persistent allegation made against Witches is their suspected role in child abuse. This baseless accusation came to light in 1988. A series of sensational stories in the newspapers have claimed that young girls are being used as brood-mares to make sexual offerings to babies; that children are being forced to witness horrific perversions; and that many people are being driven insane by witches. Behind this movement was an organisation known as Childwatch, a Conservative Member of Parliament, Geoffrey Dickens, and a number of clergymen.

The Sunday Mirror of October 30, 1988 was a banner reading 'Babies Sold to Satan,' and underneath 'Mothers forced to witness the killing of innocents in black magic rites.' It emerged that these claims related to a case in North America, but the woman in charge of Childwatch believed that similar events were taking place in Britain. However, no hard and fast documentation of these crimes has ever been presented, and the violations that have been proven to have taken place have been the work of pedophiles. The fact that these perverts will dress up in robes testifies to the fact that they love sadistic videos; it does not make them sorcerers. Pagan parents contend that the Orthodox churches themselves are guilty of child neglect. There is there no uproar about the ritual mutilation of young boys who, when they were born into Muslim or Jewish households, have their foreskins physically cut because they are not old enough to give their consent freely?

The latest breakdown of the Rochdale, Orkney and Epping Forest ritual child abuse cases exposed the fact that the unfounded distrust of the supernatural and the Witches continues in Britain, fueled by parts of the newspapers, a few parliamentarians and fundamentalist Christian battalions. Misguided social workers came to the wrong conclusions, and as a result a lot of households were ripped apart. Yet a visit to every video hire shop would reveal that a wide range of semi-pornographic videos, dealing with sacrifices to the devil, robbed high priests and obscure sexually related ceremonies, are readily available on the shelves. Script authors plundered Dennis Wheatley's books for stimulation and merely rehashed the same old cocktail of perversion under the form of entertainment. If it's just so bad, why are people watching it?

Child abuse and violence, be it physical, emotional or behavioral, is nothing new. Previously, it was always thought of as the work of a 'wicked stranger,' but in more modern instances, the accused parties have been found to be members of the direct family of the child. Any exploitation of children is an abomination, but any effort to target a single segment of the group clouds the problem. The effort to show that witches are child traffickers began in the United States and later spread to Europe, where several branches of the Evangelical community enthusiastically welcomed them. A plethora of groups such as the Trust, Christian Reaction to the Paranormal, the Deo Gloria Trust and Childwatch have hopped into a well-funded bandwagon of shattering consequences for a vast number of children and their families. The lectures were held by alleged 'expert' lecturers and visited by social workers, instructors and officers of the police, who planted the idea of Satanic violence into untrue minds.

Around the same time, the media is bombarded with information that even journalists took at face value. The last straw came in April 1988 when Mr Geoffrey Dickens, a member of Parliament for Littleborough and Saddleworth, called for a vote in Parliament on the issue of witchcraft, which he believed should be outlawed.

The newly announced Decade of Evangelism declared open war on the supernatural, giving rise to concerns that a fresh era of violence would be unleashed against the Pagan culture. Every year in October, the press is bombarded with anti-Hallowe'en hysteria and dutifully prints it. Tabloid newspapers present their readers with accounts of Satanic rituals, orgies and nakedness, declaring those things to be cruel, but at the same time shamelessly titilling their readership.

Paradoxically, these same articles are still full of stories about troop leaders, choir masters and vicaries who have taken an indecent interest in their young charges. In 1990, eight Christian ministers were accused of sexual harassment of minors. As a consequence, no reasonable person can say that all Christian youth workers are pedophiles, so why is it believed that all witches are automatically evil? Ironically, press critique is typically counter-productive. In one of her novels, Doreen Valiente wrote: 'Any time there is a great exposition of the horrors of witchcraft' in the sensational News, it is followed by a sack of letters from people who want to know how to form a coven!'

Article 18 of the General Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United Nations, states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, faith and beliefs; this includes freedom to alter one's religion or belief, and freedom to manifest one's religion or belief in instruction, exercise, worship and observance, either alone or in group of others and in public or private.

It was in June 1989. Alex Rosenberger, a leading protester in the Stonehenge Liberation Movement for the Summer Solstice, was arrested at the entrance to the Salisbury Cathedral for reading the above-mentioned declaration.

Curiously, newspaper subscribers who are both surprised and intrigued by exposures to witchcraft's horrors hold an insatiable desire for bogus occultism. They will avidly read their 'stars' while at the same time declaring that astrology is a bunch of garbage; meet palmists at the fairgrounds; and keep a whole army of clairvoyants in business.

You can also get a so-called 'personal' Tarot reading by phone and buy a horoscope prepared by a computer program. Common superstition accepts that it is fortunate if a black cat crosses your path or if you encounter a four-leaf clover. There are two ways to look at these phenomena. Either the public is incredibly gullible or, as a nation, we are in the heart of Pagans who, after centuries of Christianity, have subconsciously clung to the Old Faith. After all, we mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Palestine, perhaps in the spring, with all the trappings of the Pagan Winter Solstice, including the mistletoe, the holly and the feast. Pagan folk are human beings, subject to all the fragilities and foibles that enrich society. I hope that this work will find out that they have something good to give and that they should not be considered a challenge to the values of the country. Although you may not necessarily accept their views or attitudes to life, the truth remains that there are quite a lot of them and their numbers have only been growing consistently over the last several decades.