Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
Why I am Not a Neo-Pagan
Neo-Nazi. Neo-Confederate. Neo-Conservative.
Or, to choose some less loaded examples: Neo-Classical. Neo-Romantic. Neo-Primitive.
Whoever it was that decided to call people like us “neo-pagans” (there are several contenders for the dubious distinction), he was certainly no poet.
Poets care about words. Poets pay close attention to things like beauty, precision, and connotation.
Look again at the above examples. In non-scientific usage, neo- is not merely a synonym for new. Its implications are subtly but deeply different.
Neo- is a prefix of condescension. To dub something neo- is to define it as derivative, as less than, as not to be taken entirely seriously. To be neo-X is not to be a new X; it is, by definition, to be not really X. A Neo- is, by definition, a Wannabe.
And this we call ourselves?
Pagan is who we are. Pagan is who we've always been. Whenever people are left alone to suss things for themselves, they are, pretty much by definition, pagan. To be human is to be pagan. Pagan isn't something we have to be made into; pagan is what we already are. Pagans are born, not made, and we're all born pagan.
No, we're not the same pagans that the ancestors were, and there's no point in trying to be. They were the pagans for their time and place. Our responsibility, both to them and to ourselves, is to be the pagans for our own time and place, just like they were. It's the only kind of pagan we can be honestly be.
Like the ancestors, we new pagans live by three great truths: by the truth of our own experience, by the truth of the Received Tradition (the collective corpus of inherited ancestral lore), and by that ultimate source of authority in all pagan traditions, the truth of the world itself. Where's the neo- in any of that?
If one must needs distinguish, then by all means let us be the new pagans. Let us be modern pagans. Let us be contemporary pagans.
But for gods' sakes, let us lose the neo-.
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