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New Religious Movements: The Current Landscape (September 2013): Neopagan Traditions

By Stephen Bales

Neopagan Traditions

The term “neopagan” designates a variety of revivalist versions of ancient pagan religions including, among many other groups, Wicca, Druidism, and Asatru (modern Norse neopaganism).  The wide variety of neopaganisms can be confusing, but the groups often share similar viewpoints toward polytheism/pantheism, reverence toward nature, the ritual use of “magick,” and a relative lack of formal organizational structures and administrative apparatuses.  Barbara Jane Davy’s Introduction to Pagan Studies provides sympathetic overviews of several revivalist religions, covering the variety of neopagan beliefs, social organization, practices, and denominations.  Graham Harvey’s Contemporary Paganism, now in its second edition, is another basic but thorough introduction to these traditions.  In addition to covering the major aspects of individual traditions such as Druidism and Wicca, Harvey outlines topics that appear across neopagan traditions, such as “magick,” ecology, and rites of passage.  Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor covers the gamut of modern naturalist and radical environmentalist religions, incorporating detailed discussion of important individuals and organizations.  Lastly, one cannot go wrong with Brill’s religion handbooks; the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, edited by Murphy Pizza and James R. Lewis, collects the latest research concerning neopagans of all stripes.

Although many ethnographic examinations of neopagan religions have been published, until recently a dearth of “thealogical”/theological writing concerning the groups has been evident.  Michael York works to rectify this with Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, developing an understanding of neopaganism as a philosophically and theologically rich world religion.  In Goddess as Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy, Paul Reid-Bowen discusses the metaphysical and ethical implications of goddess worship.  Finally, a decade after publication of Ronald Hutton’s seminal study of Wicca, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, comes Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon, edited by Dave Evans and Dave Green.  Ten Years expands on Hutton’s work, which investigates a variety of neopaganisms from multiple academic perspectives.