Just as the term "Eastern religions" refers to Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc., the term "Neo-Pagan" refers to a collection of separate religions which share a few common themes. Most Neo-Pagan traditions have many of the following factors in common: their faith was almost or completely wiped out in the past and has since been reconstructed from ancient information sources.
a duotheistic or polytheistic belief system (they recognize a Goddess and God, and/or believe in many deities); many followers are solitary practitioners; others are involved in small groups, which various traditions call circles, covens, garths, groves, hearths, kindreds, etc.; they celebrate four main seasonal days of celebrations each year, associated with the equinoxes and solstices they also celebrate four additional days, each between a solstice and equinox they prefer to conduct their religious rituals outdoors where practical.
Many do not practice their religion publicly because of the danger of abuse from very devout but misinformed Christians who have associated them with an evil and non-existent form of Satanism.
They have a minimal or no hierarchical structure. They have a concern for the environment and a feeling of closeness to nature.
Many Wiccans and other Neopagans refer to themselves as "Pagans." Unfortunately, there is little consensus on the meaning of the term "Pagan" outside the Neopagan community. Four main, unrelated definitions have been identified.
Tara Miller writes...
The largest Neo-Pagan group are believed to be Wiccans. The following description of Neo-Paganism from a Wiccan perspective is generously contributed by Tara Miller, from "Druidry Knowledge of the Oak."
Paganism is based on the worship of nature. Modern Paganism, or Neo-Paganism, incorporates twenty-first century knowledge with the traditions of ancient indigenous cultures. 1 Pagans believe that no one belief system is correct and that each person should have the freedom to chose the path that is right for them.'2 Paganism is usually non-centralized, non-hierarchical, and doesn't posses a strict set of dogma. (The Odinist groups of northern European Pagan tradition are an exception in that they do have a hierarchy.)
The Pagan Federation statement 4 reflects the basic principles of Paganism:
Love for and Kinship with Nature: Rather than the more customary attitude of aggression and domination over Nature; reverence for the life force and its ever-renewing cycles of life and death.
The Pagan Ethic: "Do what thou wilt, but harm none". This is a positive morality, not a list of thou-shalt-nots. Each individual is responsible for discovering his or her own true nature and developing it fully, in harmony with the outer world.
The Concept of Goddess and God as expressions of the Divine reality: female and male, rather then the suppression of either the female or the male principles.
The main branches of Paganism in the U.K. and United States are Shamanism, Goddess Spirituality, Sacred Ecology and other various Magical Groups. 2 The two predominant and public of these is Wicca and Druidry.
"...Neo-Pagans...often make up their own forms of group ritual [and attempt to draw on] divine inspiration for these new ceremonies.' 6 Recently, Pagans have been holding more rites than just those associated with the eight season feasts. They have introduced rites of passages for births, deaths, marriages, along with self growth rituals for relinquishing conflict, depression, low self-esteem and many more."
Margo Adler writes:
"We are not evil. We don't harm or seduce people. We are not dangerous. We are ordinary people like you. We have families, jobs, hopes, and dreams. We are not a cult. This religion is not a joke. We are not what you think we are from looking at TV. We are real. We laugh, we cry. We are serious. We have a sense of humor. You don't have to be afraid of us. We don't want to convert you. And please don't try to convert us. Just give us the same right we give you -- to live in peace. We are much more similar to you than you think."
Tara Miller writes:
"As Americans continue the ancient quest for the meaning of life, Pagan and Mystical religions are experiencing a resurgence. According to Margot Adler, there are 50,000 to 100,000 self-identified Pagans in the United States. When polled, many people identify themselves with another religion, and so these religious polls are lower. These people are exploring the mystical aspects of 'mainstream religions' including Mystic and Druidic Christianity, Jewish Kabbalism and Islamic Sufism. Others are modern-day witches or Wiccans.
Why is there a resurgence of such religions? Charlotte Hardman says, 'The interest in Paganism today in the UK and USA may be interpreted as a response to an increased dissatisfaction with the way the world is going ecologically, spiritually and materially; people are disillusioned by mainstream religion and the realization that materialism leaves an internal emptiness.'"
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