Often attributed to Oberon Zell, founder of the the 'Church of All Worlds', the term Neo-Pagan literally means 'New Pagan' and is generally applied in the United States to modern Paganism, including Wicca, other forms of Witchcraft and other Occult disciplines that adopt a reverence for the natural world and the mother earth.
Satanism, which falls outside this definition, is not generally considered a form of Neo-Paganism and there is much antagonism between the various 'branches' of Satanism and Neo-Paganism.
The term 'Neo-Pagan' is less commonly used in the British Isles, Europe or Australia. It reflects the view of the majority of practising Neo-Pagans, who now recognize that there has been a revival of the Craft (see WICCA), the so-called 'Old Religion', which while possessing no direct links with previous forms of Witchcraft has borrowed much from the pre-Christian tribal religions of the West.
Essentially, a Neo-Pagan religion is a modern faith which has been recently reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of an ancient religion. By way of example, the Druidic religion is based on the faith and practices of the ancient Celtic professional class; followers of Asatru adhere to the ancient, pre-Christian Norse religion (see NORSE PAGANISM); Wicca, although a relatively modern construct, can also trace its roots back to the pre-Celtic era in Europe. Other Neo-Pagans follow Roman, Greek, Egyptian or similar ancient Traditions.
Some traditionalists continue to recognize the principle of a survival of ancient ideas handed down through family inheritance from medieval times or earlier and some claim to be 'Hereditary' or even 'genetic' witches, though many of these claims are considered 'dubious' at best by most other Neo-Pagans.
Animism is an important pillar of the Neo-Pagan's world. As used by them, the word means that the "Life Force" is immanent within all creation: rocks and trees, deserts and streams, mountains and valleys, ponds and oceans, gardens and forests, fish and fowl; from amoeba to humans and all things in between. All is infused with and participates in the vital Life Force or energy, and therefore the entire earth is a living, breathing organism. All is sacred; all is to be cared for and revered. The earth is a (or the) manifestation of the Goddess (and god).
For many Neo-Pagans, the second pillar of their world - implicit in their version of Animism - is Pantheism. Not only is the Life Force pervasive throughout our world, but all the world is divine.
Divinity is inseparable from, and immanent in, nature and humanity. Since most Neo-Pagans teach that we are divine (or potentially so), it is clear why someone like Margot Adler, quotes a particular group's greeting to its female and male members respectively: "Thou art Goddess," "Thou art god." Most Neo-Pagan's hold that we, like nature, are essentially part of the divine.
As a consequence, more or less all practising Neo-Pagans subscribe to the idea that each person possesses some degree of Psychic powers. However, Psychic powers are thought to be developed to a greater degree among particular individuals - and one can increase one's Psychic ability through practice, discipline and 'exercise' of these powers.
The third pillar is polytheism. As defined by many Neo-Pagans, however, polytheism is not merely the belief in multiple deities - a Pantheon of gods and Goddesses - but also the belief that there are multiple levels of reality.
According to this view, there are an infinite (or at least incomprehensible) number of levels of meaning and explanations about our world. These allow not only a multitude of gods, Goddesses, and religions to exist simultaneously, but also views of reality that would otherwise appear to be mutually exclusive; all are true as far as they go. Hence, Neo-Pagans can align themselves with a particular Goddess and/or god, or group thereof, and still grant the validity of other "alternative" religions.
Many Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans refer to themselves simply as "Pagans". Unfortunately, the word has many different meanings - some quite negative - thus many prefer the term "Neo-Pagan" as they believe it to be less ambiguous.
see also: PAGANISM; PALEO-PAGANISM, MESO-PAGANISM, WICCA; NORSE PAGANISM.
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WICCA: A BIBLICAL CRITIQUE at Probe Ministries
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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