Putting the "neo" in pagan
What is neopaganism? The neo is important. Even contemporary practitioners recognize that they are trying to recreate something old, for their own purposes, rather than carrying on an intact tradition from the past. For example, a group called Arn Draiocht Fein (a Gaelic phrase meaning "our own Druidism") describes itself as

a completely independent tradition of Neopagan Druidism. Like our sisters and brothers in other Neopagan movements, we're polytheistic Nature worshipers, attempting to revive the best aspects of the Paleopagan faiths of our ancestors within a modern scientific, artistic, ecological and wholistic context.

Neopaganism is an eclectic religion characterized by what works and is appealing now, not by faithfulness to an older tradition. As Starhawk, a well-known witch, observed in an interview in Gnosis magazine: "It's unimportant whether modern-day paganism is based on truth or myth. … It doesn't really make all that much difference in terms of our relationship with the Goddess today."

Although references to "the ancient ways" abound in neopaganism, and many old names are evoked, historical links evaporate when they are investigated closely. Historicity doesn't matter, neopagans say: what's important is to create rituals that express their experience of the sacred in the world and themselves. Imagined links with an ancient tradition seem to help validate these rituals.

For many centuries the word pagan has had a double connotation for Christians. Because it was long used to describe those who were not Christian, it has carried a taint of wickedness and idolatry. More subtly, in the European world the pagans were those who followed the old gods before their conversion, giving ...

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