After reading “Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach” by John Beckett, I felt unsettled. His books and blog are well-received by Neo-Pagans. So why was I feeling empty after reading the book? I believe that was unsettling to me was that Beckett places the Neo-Pagan in the center of the Cosmos. I interpreted this to mean that they are separate from the ecosystem of the Cosmos, entering and exiting at will.
Beckett (Note) writes for these Neo-pagans on how to deepen what individual practice they may devise. He says, “All of us start with our foundations. Our experiences lead to belief as we try to interpret what happened to us. Our beliefs lead to practice as we try to implement our understanding and as well, we try to re-create our experiences. Practice leads to more experience. This becomes a virtuous circle that draws us into deeper understanding, deeper practice and stronger experiences.”
Tara Burton in her book, “Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World,” assesses Neo-Paganism of today. According to Burton, people of these new religions follow the Doctrine of Emotional Authenticity: What matters the most is the personal experience. She asserts that, “the world view of Paganism is the promise of personal and political empowerment through untraditional and literally unorthodox avenues.” Beckett, in his statements, exemplifies that.
Neo-Paganism began as intensely political acts of resisting the mainstream culture. Neo-Pagan “Resistance” meant rejecting Christianity and its institutions. They decried how Christianity re-enforces the patriarchy. However, Neo-paganism is tied to Christianity, since they define themselves in regard to that religion.
Neo-Pagans continue to “resist” Christianity, while remaining steeped in the political culture of Neo-Liberalism. They rebel against the status quo while fighting to preserve it. Beckett and others stress self-sovereignty which has a political and class bias. The idea of a person as “Captain of their fate,” is an upper-class Neo-Liberal idea. Self-sovereignty can devolve into self-indulgence since the person is the hub of the wheel. The corporate mainstream culture is embedded in the religion of Neo-Paganism. For example, they buy products that support their causes, which the corporations’ market to them.
Burton observes that the aim of the Neo-Pagans is, “the new world that will inevitably arise from the ashes of a patriarchal, racist, homophobic, repressive Christian society will be infinitely better, fairer, and more loving than what has come before. The Remixed faith in individual human potential, and in the potential of human beings to rewrite their relationships to one another and to their communities is here extended to the world at large.”
Through their magic and beliefs, Neo-Pagans believe that they can create the new world. However, modern secular society holds those values already. Human potential is the focus of the mainstream society, with an emphasis on self-help.
Burton notes, “But if these ideologies are to survive, they will need to take on a more formal shape. They need to become not merely religious sentiments or implicit theologies, but ironically institutions withstanding the weight of internal dissent and providing a unified from against more established spiritual rivals… provide a sufficiently strong narrative that offer a robust sense of not only meaning and purpose but also ritual and community.”
Note. Beckett identifies himself as a “Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist.”