Sometimes we forget where we’ve been. Sometimes we forget what led here, and sometimes we rewrite our histories. We selectively miss out stuff, and join up the dots to make what is actually a different picture.
With something as varied as Paganism you might say it’s almost unavoidable, but it can be a real loss. Now I don’t even consider myself to be that well informed, but even I can see through some of that stuff.
Historical Paganism came up with such cultural riches, from civilizations that were developed, literate, had science and art and included centres of urban life. So what do we go on about? Morris dancing and agriculture (for the record I prefer the white clad ones as they are usually sexier).
For all our emphasis on our being religions (and I’m happy to redefine that term to suit us), magic and occultism have had an enormous part to play in our modern development, and not all of it was Pagan, and not all of it was ancient.
We act like the furtherance of our communities will go forward the more religious we get, and the more seriously we are taken as religions. We can (sometimes) acknowledge the role played by the Renaissance and Romanticism in our development, but where would we be at all without the development of secular freedoms, critique of religion, and the counterculture of “The Enlightenment“?
We pretend that the Christians stole and appropriated from us across the board in every instance, but actually we probably appropriated from the Christians (and other monotheistic traditions), in quite a few instances – I always thought that was just cultural transmission either way in any case, but hey, what do I know?
While we like to present ourselves as squeaky clean, nature loving mystics who issued forth from the vulva of prehistory, we actually aren’t. Neither are we usually the natural inheritors of ancient Paganism. We look for those clothes, and we put them on consciously (after we’ve sown together the pieces with what we have at hand). Moreover, for all our protestations to the contrary, The Devil as a figure has probably carried a little more mystery and inspiration than we are willing to admit. Try as you might, you can’t deny the folk poetry involved.
Sometimes we pretend we are being true to something bigger than ourselves when we are actually fulfilling a kind of caprice. I’m all for fulfilling caprice within reasonable limits, but when it’s political, historical or ideological, it really does leave you with some questions. Collective caprice can also of course be a “herd mentality”.
The hippie movement really did bring a lot to neopaganism, I think that’s as fantastic as hippiedom itself was, no mistake about it. But anyone who remembers the 60s and 70s will also remember the number of nut jobs on a mission there were, and the capacity for folly taking itself very seriously. It’s good to remember that some of that stuff went mainstream, for both good and bad.
So lets hear it for awkward facts, and interesting pedigree :0)