American Pagans and the Pursuit of the Millennium

When Hilary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, quite a few people fell into deep despair. They simply could not understand why would someone vote for Trump for U.S. President. One group greatly affected by the outcome were the American Pagans. On social media and in various blogs, many warned of the coming tribulations that would occur. Moreover, some notable Pagans painted a troubling picture of how hellish life would be from now on.

One underlying thread in their expressions of melancholy is the assumption that the U.S. had been progressing towards a more ideal society. Known as “Millennialism,” the belief that the U.S. is “the Shining City on the Hill” permeates American culture in various forms. Usually associated with Fundamentalist Christians who long for the Second Coming of Christ, there is also a secular version of Millennialism as well. According to Secular Millennialism, America would evolve into a state of the just order of the good, where all oppressors of disenfranchised people are trounced.

Various aspects of Secular Millennialism is reflected in mainstream Paganism. One is that all people will be their own priests. Moreover, the ideal world would have no class distinctions. Furthermore on various blogs, Pagans are urged to embrace causes for social justice to ensure a better world. I doubt that many U.S. Pagans realize how much of this uniquely American belief is imprinted in their religion.

Starting with the First Great Awakening in the 1750s, Americans believed that the Holy Spirit would pour out and create Heaven on Earth. During the Revolution, Thomas Paine, a secularist, wrote, “We have it in our power to begin the world again.” By the middle of the 20th Century, U.S. Presidents were cast as either the Messiah or the Antichrist. American elections became efforts in rescuing society and saving America from her enemies.

The President as the Messiah reached fever pitch with Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Notable people ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Chris Matthew proclaimed Obama to be “the One.” He would usher in a New Age of peace and tolerance starting with all races being amicable to each other.

Hilary Clinton, as the first woman President, would then cement sexual and gender acceptance for all time. The New Age ushered in, by Obama, would continue unabated. Some feminist Pagans voiced the ideal of Clinton slaying in the patriarchy with her “terrible swift sword.” For many, the election became a metaphor for the Messiah (Clinton) crushing the Antichrist (Trump) under her heel.

When that did not happen, many Pagans found themselves in a dark world not of their choosing. In social media, they expressed horror and fear for themselves and loved ones. Echoing this sentiment was Christabel Pankhurst, a militant feminist, who wrote in the 1920s, “I had lived in an atmosphere of illusion, thinking that once certain obstacles were removed, especially the disenfranchisement of women, it would be full steam ahead for the ideal social and international order. But when, in 1918, I really faced facts, I saw that the war was not a war to end war, but was, despite our coming victory, a beginning of sorrows.” The First World War had shattered her optimism, and she became a stump speaker for the Second Coming of Christ for the rest of her life.

Since the election of Trump has been so traumatic, many U.S. Pagans have doubled in their efforts to bring about the New Millennium. They have called for the Electoral College to overthrow the results of the election. They have proclaimed that Trump is bringing about the “Age of the Shadow” (End Times), where no one is safe.

Religious scholars have pointed out that the author of the book of Revelation regarded themselves a victim of injustice. Since Revelation is the source for beliefs in the New Millennium, this is important to know. Scholars further add that the author was unsettled by political or social changes that their zealous “true beliefs” could not accommodate. I see aspects of this in Paganism as various postings on social media continue to demonize Trump and the people who voted for him.

I suspect that once Millennialism is acknowledged by American Pagans, they can see how these beliefs underpin their despair. Since the wall fell on me years ago, I realized that no one is ever truly safe, and that the world will always be imperfect. I have endeavored to live in the world as I have found it. During the election, I took the Roman response of “praying for the best leader, but working with the one you get.” I continue say my prayers to the Capitoline and Aventine Triads for good governance and for protection of the disenfranchised.

 

Books to read about Millennialism:

The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages by Norman Cohn

A History of the End of the World by Jonathan Kirsch

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