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Jul 14 2013

Rethinking paganism

I do not know much about paganism. Growing up I had the vague idea that it was used by Christians to denote believers of any belief system that was not related to Christianity in some way.

Here is an interesting article sent to me by reader Philip about Thor’s hammer and its symbolic relationship to paganism, and the difficulty that people had in getting the symbol approved by Department of Veteran Affairs as a gravestone marker.

According to another article, followers of paganism are determined to have their religion lose the negative public perception it currently has and become seen as simply one among many faith traditions.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Corvus illustris

    Growing up I had the vague idea that it [sc. pagan] was used by Christians to denote believers of any belief system that was not related to Christianity in some way.

    That’s certainly the way the Christians have used it for a while now. Etymologically, a pagus is a boondock and a paganus is a yokel, so a “pagan” is just an adherent of some rustic cult native to an area.* Using Donner’s hammer for everybody is kinda reductionist: you’d need oak-trees for some, lightning bolts for others like Perkunas (or Perkele!), etc. I suppose the modern western “pagans” take what recognition they can get.

    *IIRC they even abused adherents of classical philosophical theism with this term, although those people were hardly rustics.

  2. 2
    Reginald Selkirk

    According to another article, followers of paganism are determined to have their religion lose the negative public perception it currently has and become seen as simply one among many faith traditions.

    Which negative public perception? To the fundy Christians, it is seens as identical to Satanism, and evil incarnate. To the educated, it is seen as a silly form of cos-play by those who don’t realise it is fiction.

  3. 3
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Calling it a tradition may be stretching things, as modern neopagans have a tradition that stretches back about as far as Scientology (Although some flavors are a little older, none are as old as the Mormons).

  4. 4
    lanir

    Paganism is just another belief system. It’s lack of central organization and hoary old traditions that predate modern ideas about race, justice and equality of the sexes is if anything a major point in it’s favor compared to other religions. It’s a belief system I’d rather deal with over others because it’s generally harmless in it’s current incarnation. Wish I could say that about a lot of other religions.

  5. 5
    MNb

    To me the word paganism is close to meaningless. Vikings and Aztecs both were pagans; so are hindus. They hardly have/had anything in common qua religion.

  6. 6
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    When Christians use the term “pagan” they usually mean polytheists. For some reason monotheists believe monotheism is intellectually superior to polytheism.
    A friend became an Odinist pagan because, he said, if anything was running the universe the most likely candidates were a bunch of quarrelsome and incompetent drunks.

  7. 7
    Jared A

    To add on to what Corvus was saying, pagan’s traditional meaning as the religions of the rustics pretty well sums it up until even the 19th century. Family and friends that study and teach this kind of stuff explained to me that the christianization of Europe applied mostly to urban populations and the upper classes. The rustics took on a veneer of chrisitian terminology and practices but held on to their “pagan” beliefs and practices for centuries. So you know, they still have teh same ideas about witches, fairies, and the like, but you might use the sign of the cross to avert the evil eye instead of some other signal. You can see how this all played out in different ways by lookign at old folk tales and fairy tales. Looking at novelists who wrote about rural life also helps understand the curious way that christian and pagan practices intertwine, e.g. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

  8. 8
    Corvus illustris

    Much of this is lost to European-settler populations in the US–we’re in some sense deracinated, and these remnants of pre-Christian religion are among the torn-up roots. In my grandparents’ generation there were still traces of pre-Christian material: liberal use of holy water and the burning of blessed (at Candlemas, no less) candles during thunderstorms (hello, Mjolnir) seem more “superstition” than Catholicism.

    Apropos Mjolnir: one of Mrs C’s forebears was named Thorsten (Thor + Sten = hammer) and then there’s the Veblen of the same name …

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