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Paganism today-Making sense of the alternative spiritual experience

July 2003 | by Jonathan Skinner

If the shelves of the nation’s bookshops are any reliable guide to its interests, we have problems, serious problems.

My local bookshop has replaced the label over the section called ‘Religion’. It is now called ‘Mysticism’ – and this is no mere window dressing.

Instead of Bibles, commentaries and volumes on Christian living, or even books on the world’s religions, these shelves are weighed down with the most peculiar fare.

Teenage witches

If you want the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, think about this reading material: Spells for teenage witches, White witching and Angel healing.

Another book on the market at the moment isThe real witches’ kitchen – spells, recipes, oils and potions from the witches’ hearth.

The blurb for this publication boasts that it ‘includes around 100 spells and recipes – many revealed for the first time – for eating, drinking and making your life merrier, along with plenty of practical advice on witchy subjects such as potions to improve your looks without ruining your bank balance, and brews and teas to heal the body and mind’.

Another book is on numerology – the flyleaf tells us that ‘Numerology is perhaps the easiest of the occult arts to understand and use’. It claims to help ‘determine the best time for major moves and activities in life’ as well as to ‘decide when to invest, when to marry, when to travel, when to change jobs, relocate and much more’.

Alongside this – at a level any child could reach – is Dreams – hidden meanings and secrets. This book supposes that it can help the reader ‘discover the secrets of your sleep’ as well as ‘find out what your dreams are trying to tell you. The answers lie within’.

Neo-paganism

And then there is The truth about Neo-Paganism – The magical world view. The introduction to this publication makes the following claim: ‘Rising from the ashes of 5,000 years of oppression and banishment to the religious underground, Neo-Paganism is now emerging as a viable body of transformative spirituality.

‘Rather than providing dogmatic answers, Neo-Paganism focuses on offering powerful techniques, such as ritual and meditation, through which you can search for your own answers.’

This book alleges that Neo-Paganism is the ‘world’s fastest growing religion’.

The magazine racks are no different; many mainline publications contain overtly pagan material. And there are even specifically pagan magazines.

One particularly successful publication is Know your destiny magazine, subtitled ‘Mystic Meg’s Magazine’. This is full of extreme alternative spiritual therapies such as palmistry, Feng Shui, reflexology, tarot cards, psychic counselling, magic spells, astrology, love rites, Zen, crystal balls, mediums and much, much more.

Lunatic fringe?

For couples experiencing difficulty in having children, the following advice is offered: ‘Placing an egg under your bed will increase your chances of conceiving’.

And if that doesn’t work, how about this: – ‘On the next Full Moon, hold an egg in your hands, while thinking about why you want a child. Then, draw on it a sun and moon; you may also want to pray to Brigit, the Mother Goddess’.

This is not the stuff of the lunatic fringe – a couple of years ago the editor, Elayne Delaurian, wrote: ‘Welcome to your award-winning magazine. We know how much you love Know your destiny – your letters keep pouring in, telling us.

‘Well, now you’ve proved it – by buying so many copies of the magazine that we scooped a silver award for launch of the year at the recent Circulation Press Awards.’

Changing landscape

And it’s not just the media. At a recent closing ceremony of the Bath International Music Festival finale, hymns of worship were offered to the sun and moon.

But if you think this massive ‘spiritual’ movement is only for the intellectually superficial, you would be wrong. Bath Spa University College offers a postgraduate degree in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology.

The prospectus tells us that this MA course includes studies in Astro-Methodology, Stellar Religion, New Age and Sacred Geography.

Over the last couple of years the popular religious landscape in Britain has changed in ways that would have been thought impossible a generation ago.

Through a myriad alternative therapies, counselling techniques, self-advancement programmes and business management models, pagan ideas have been subtly foisted on our society as acceptable and trendy.

These concepts are now not only embraced by a weird and alternative fringe of ex-hippies, but have entered mainline thought.

Age of Aquarius

Last century’s mammoth philosophical output – from Christians, agnostics and atheists slogging it out, through the rising tide of existentialists and nihilists trying to find some meaning for life, then followed by the flood of present day postmodernism – has breached our intellectual defences against paganism.

Paganism is fast becoming intellectually acceptable. Indeed, when understood, its case is not unconvincing to the 21st century British mind.

All this has prepared the way for what is now happening – uncloaked paganism is gaining popularity. Hardly a bookshop is without its user-friendly guidebooks on contacting spiritual forces and understanding things deep and dark that have been hidden for generations.

The term occult (hidden) is fast becoming an inappropriate label. Paganism is undergoing a very public rebirth as ‘Neo-Paganism’.

This harmonises with those who feel humanity is about to enter a ‘new phase of consciousness and development’ – The Age of Aquarius.

Those who look for this new period of human development, through the application of ‘new spirituality’ techniques, are often called ‘New Agers’.

Big ideas

Paganism appears to be a piecemeal assortment of diverse deities, contradictory techniques and strange dogmas. Drawn from ancient and modern cultures, and from the different continents of the globe, it seems to the casual observer to be a collection of unrelated beliefs.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. All these manifestations of paganism are connected and have certain controlling ideas in common.

So, what are these controlling ‘big’ ideas? Simply that around us and above us, – or alongside us – exists another dimension or ‘plane’. This ‘parallel universe’ is controlled by cosmic forces and inhabited by supernatural beings, which have been given a variety of labels and names throughout history and across different cultures.

Whether you consider Ancient Egypt, Greece, South America, Britain – or wherever – these forces and beings were seen to exist.

The aim of paganism is to ‘connect into’ this dimension in some way and harness the powers for the individual practitioner’s own purposes. It does not matter what particular technique is used, only that it works for the individual.

Real power

Hence paganism does not see different approaches, whether they be crystals, mediums, idols, meditation, or whatever,as contradictory in any way. Rather, they are viewed as complementary and alternative ways to tap into the resources of the spiritual dimension.

Paganism does have real supernatural powers. Remember that the Bible tells us that the slave girl in Philippi really could predict the future (Acts 16:16-18). And Pharaoh’s wise men really did turn their staffs into snakes and even imitate some of the plagues (Exodus 7:10-12, 22; 8:7).

How are we to respond to the rising tide of paganism? We could ignore it, of course. But there is a better and more biblical way, to oppose ‘every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

We will consider what it is next month.