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Modern Pagans Excerpt: Isaac Bonewitz

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R/S: Can you illuminate us on the differences between Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, and–

Isaac Bonewitz: Consider “Pagan” as the largest category, the umbrella. Within that you have the Paleopagans, the Mesopagans and the Neopagans. As a category Paganism is equivalent to Monotheism, so Neopaganism could be likened to Christianity. Within Christianity, you have Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, etc. Likewise, under the umbrella of Neopaganism you have Wiccans, Druids, Celtic Reconstructionists, and everybody else.

Thousands of Goddess worshippers who are part of the Feminist Spirituality movement may or may not consider themselves to be either Pagan or Wiccan. The problem is that “real” people don’t fit into nice, neat categories. Let’s say 80% of the Neopagans are Wiccans and 10% are Feminist Goddess worshippers from the women’s spirituality movement. Out of the remaining 10%, 5-6% of the remainder may be Druids, and the rest are people who are reconstructing or reviving Neopagan religions based on other ethnic traditions, and/or are created out of whole cloth like the Church of All Worlds. You’ve got Egyptian Neopagans, Norse Neopagans, Greco-Roman Neopagans, etc.

R/S: I don’t see any reference to Santeria–

IB: Santeria is mostly Mesopagan. It’s a blending of different varieties of Christianity with different varieties of Paleopaganism. All those related African-based religions like Santeria, Macumba, Condomble are what I call Mesopagan. By and large, the overwhelming majority of Santerians are NOT part of the Neopagan community, and most of them have probably never even heard of people like us. In fact, to most people in the Santeria-Macumba-etc. community, the word “Witch” is a bad word meaning “magic user suspected of being bad.” Nobody in history ever thought of Witchcraft being a good thing until Gerald Gardner.

Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon gives the absolute, final pounding of the nail into the coffin of fantasies about Wicca being a survival or revival of an underground faith from pre-Christian Britain. Hutton is a professional historian who spends 500 pages going through all the cultural, academic and historical sources of all the different ideas that Gardner blended together to create Wicca. He traces it back to the Romantic movement, the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, the nostalgia for the countryside–all these social currents that were happening in the 1700s and 1800s, that created an intellectual milieu. And Hutton shows how these different strands of culture got woven together by Gardner. This is the one book that apologists for the antiquity of the Craft are going to have the most trouble with.

We have, in the Pagan community, rabid fundamentalist Wiccans who absolutely insist that Witchcraft was a Pagan underground religion going back to the Stone Age, and disavow all scholarship to the contrary. In their own way, these Pagans are just as desperate as the fundamentalist Christian apologists are!

R/S: That reminds me–what’s the Pagan position on abortion?

IB: That’s one of many topics where if you ask a half-dozen Pagans, you’ll get twenty opinions. Paganism is still very much in a ferment, which is a good thing–it hasn’t fossilized yet! As for the topic of abortion, I have a very firm and clear-cut position, which I will explain the very next time I’m pregnant!

R/S: It’s a woman’s right to choose.

IB: Actually, I’m trying to go to one level beyond that: the opinions of men on the topic, whether they’re religious leaders or not, are irrelevant.

R/S: Let’s discuss sex. You seem to have a rational treatment of more-than-monogamous relationships on your Web site–

IB: Polyamory. It’s not for everybody, but for those for whom it is, it fits perfectly well with Pagan theology, or Polytheology as I call it. Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt’s The Ethical Slut and Deborah Anapol’s Love Without Limits are the classic polyamory texts–there have been so few texts that it doesn’t take much to be a classic! I think both books kind of tiptoed around the religion question. But since they were controversial enough, maybe they decided they didn’t want to add yet another layer of controversy.

R/S: The invention of terms like polyamory or Polytheology give the illusion that consciousness is progressing–

IB: They do. I’m a firm believer in mimetic engineering. A meme is a fundamental unit of concept (or word or image) in the same way that a gene is a fundamental unit of heredity. Mimetic engineering is the art of creating and combining memes in creative ways to cause fundamental changes in culture. And this is what all authors try to do–and all other artists, to a certain extent. But to those of us who coin a lot of vocabulary, it’s even more important.

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