Day 13, Canaanite Month of [Gapnu, the Vine]
|Tigris River by Mosul, Iraq|
Euphrates: Majority Pagans
The majority of the Pagan movement, whether they realize it or not, tend to support a neo-romanticist philosophy. Romanticism is “a movement in literature, philosophy, and art which developed in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th cc. Starting from the ideas and attitudes of Rousseau in France and from the Sturm und Drang movement in Germany, it held that classicism, dominant since 16th c., denied expression to [hu]man’s emotional nature and overlooked [her/]his profound inner forces. Romanticism is above all an exaltation of individual values and aspirations above those of society. […] Through its concern with the hidden forces in man, Romanticism exerted a profound influence on modern thought, and opened the way e.g. to psychoanalysis” (from New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language).
Neo-romanticism, of course, means “new Romanticist” and follows in the footsteps of its predecessor. Neo-romanticists often focus on self, self expression, individuality, self enrichment, imagination, rebellion against the establishment, and love/worship of nature. In addition, they adopt philosophies from such thinkers as Freud, Jung, James G. Frazer, and Joseph Campbell. Often theories, or ideas based upon those theories, are considered truisms to the majority Pagans.
I see this neo-romanticism is a natural reaction when people are fleeing the religion of their birth—usually Christianity, and sometimes Judaism—often a dogmatic monotheism. As refugees of one of these monotheistic religions, people have a natural desire to rebel against authority, to embrace nature since their previous religions may have shunned it, and to see deities as archetypes or facets of one overarching divine force. Instead of submitting to church authority, for the first time a Pagan has the opportunity to free expression and deciding what is spiritual to her or him.
Tigris: Historic-rooted Religions (Reconstructionists, Revivalists, Polytheists)
Reconstruction, revivalism, and polytheism often focus on deities and community and/or kinship, and their religious structure and beliefs have their foundations in history. People who practice a historic-rooted religion tend to see religion less as personal development or therapy for the individual, and more as being in the service of the deities and the community. Individual historic-rooted religions rely on historians and scholars prominent in their fields, instead of upon broad theories that envelop several disparate cultures in an effort to see similarities. They often challenge or simply do not accept the theories built upon Jung, Freud, Campbell, and Frazer. Because historic-rooted religions do not accept theories of romanticism as truisms, they often find themselves at odds with the majority Pagans over many seemingly separate issues, most of which actually find their basis in these two divergent approaches to religion.
Because historic-rooted religions tend to be methodical in their approach, and because they rely on historic precedent, these religions have structure, hierarchy, ethics and values. These structures may allow for personal experience and inspiration, but they are not as wide-open as the less-structured neo-romantic Paganism. Because majority Pagans often seek refuge from organized religions that have become dogmatic, some of them may see in the organization of historic-rooted religions a dogma or structure that they sought to abandon.
Silt along the Rivers
Majority Pagans and the historic-rooted religionists find themselves at odds because they often talk past one another, not realizing the deeper basis of their differences. Conflict comes from a misunderstanding of the core philosophy of the historic-rooted religions, a glossing over difference in search of common themes and similarities, a reframing of what is only superficial similarity, or a reframing of elements in terms of romanticized truisms. Some adherents of historic-rooted religions feel their religions, deities, holy days, and beliefs are press into ill-fitting neo-romantic categories when they converse with majority Pagans. Though several historic-rooted religionists make great efforts to educate majority Pagans about the historic-rooted religions, the effort is gargantuan and is impeded by this lack of understanding of the different core philosophies. This effort is like digging in sand only to find the dent you make is filled in behind you. This fundamental miscommunication is leading to the divergence of historic-based religions from the Pagan movement.
Although from an emic (insider’s) approach, many Pagans want their movement to encompass different religions and believe that it does, from an etic (outsider’s) view this isn’t happening: “Although there are overriding similarities among Neo-Pagans, there are also distinctions and differences within the religion.” p. xvi of the preface from Voices from the Pagan Census by Helen A. Berger, Evan A. Leach, and Leigh S. Shaffer, 2003. Note “religion” singular, not “religions” plural—the implication is that from an etic view, Paganism is one religion instead of several individual religions with different core philosophies. We can argue what Paganism “should” be ideally, and we can argue how the definitions of “pagan” should be more encompassing, but this isn’t de facto what’s going on at a core philosophical level.
Ebb and Flow
Although the Pagan movement and the historic-rooted religions seem to be diverging from one another, like the Euphrates and the Tigris, they flow parallel to one another, supporting one another and the landscape around them. Eventually both movements will grow an understanding and appreciation for one another, but perhaps a little distance between one another will aid in that process. And maybe, one day when the historic-rooted religions grow and develop, and when Paganism can open itself up to religions with different core philosophies, the two can meet on equal terms and flow together.
Photo Credits: Photo by Matthew Glennon, public domain, 2007