Pagan Paths

The morning sun rising in the east calls to the Bright Youth in me, and the Bright Youth responds. The full moon calls to the Muse, and the waning and dark moon to the Dark Maiden who is a part of me. The earth I touch with my fingers calls to the Mother, in both her guises, Nurturing and Devouring. The bright green shoots rising from the earth and the green leaves on the trees on my street in the spring, these call to the Stag King, while the red leaves fallen to the earth in the autumn call to the Dying God. The spring storm that rises up suddenly in the west calls to the Storm King. The night sky, the dark space between the stars, calls to Mother Night, my death come to make peace. The gods-without call and the gods-within respond.

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Paganism’s Real Shadow Gods, Part 1

In my last post, I described how Neopagans have helped to reclaim part of the Shadow of Western civilization, which takes the form of a kind of "Shadow Trinity" of Great Mother Goddess, Horned God, and Holy Body. But, it is important to recognize that, while Pagans are consciously engaged in reclaiming the Christian Shadow, Paganism has its own Shadows. We should not make the mistake of thinking that, in reclaiming the divine feminine, the holy animal, and the sacred body from the collective unconscious, that we have eliminated our own Shadow. For every light that we cast onto the Shadow of Western civilization casts its own Shadow, both revealing and concealing.

I recall the first time I realized this, when I was attempting to work out the constituency of my own “secretly potent pantheon” (Joseph Campbell) of my psyche. I realized that all the gods I had acknowledged were ones with whom I was more or less comfortable. Absent were the gods who represented parts of myself about which I was still ashamed. Why would anyone want to worship those parts of themselves? No one really wants to acknowledge, much less worship, their shadow -- but that's the point. If we are to truly "make the darkness conscious" rather than "imaging figures of light" (CW 13, P 335), then we must find a time and place to honor those parts of ourselves that we do not readily acknowledge.

What are Paganism’s true Shadow gods then? I cannot pretend to be able to answer this question in full. But I propose three archetypes which might begin to outline the Shadow of contemporary Paganism.

Kore, the Victim

Pagans love Persephone. The story of her forcible descent into the underworld is one of the most important organizing myths for Paganism. Persephone is actually the name of the goddess after she is crowned queen of the underworld. The name can be interpreted as “she who brings death”. However, Persephone had another name before her kidnapping/rape. She was Kore, which means maiden. She is the victim of Hades’ lust and, as such, may serve as a mythological representation of the archetype of the eternal victim. Kore, the eternal victim, is one of the Shadows of contemporary Paganism.

In many ways, we Pagans have not moved beyond our victimhood. Some of our most important myths, the myth of matriarchal prehistory (followed by the invasion of the partiarchal Kurgans) and the myth of the Burning Times both locate the origins of contemporary Paganism in stories of victimhood. While it is important to recognize both the historical violence that has been perpetrated upon women and minorities, the victim archetype, when not recognized, can impede healing and growth. This archetype finds expression in one side of the recent debate over whether contemporary Pagans can legitimately include Christian motifs in their worship, and it prevents us from appreciating the good and the beautiful in other faiths. (See Sam Webster’s post “Why You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan”.)

The Terrible Mother

"To recognize death and mortality and to live fully with that awareness is to know the only true idea of the holy available to man in this or any other century."

-- John Vickery, The Literary impact of The Golden Bough

Pagans love Mother Earth. But the Mother Earth archetype has at least two aspects, one generative and nurturing, and the other destructive and terrible. [Or if you prefer a Triple Goddess, Jung describes the qualities thusly: “her cherishing and nourishing goodness, her orgiastic emotionality, and her Stygian depths.” (CW 9i, P 158)]. The Terrible Mother archetype is the mirror image of the generative and nurturing Mother Goddess archetype that is favored by many Pagans. This archetype finds expression in James Joyce’s sow that devours its farrow and the motif of the womb that is the tomb found in such diverse sources as Lucretius, Aeschylus, Aquinas, Goethe, Shakespeare, and Tennyson.

While Pagans recognize that the same Goddess which gives birth to life consumes it, much of Pagan writing still seems have an overly sanguine and saccharine, New-Agey emphasize on life, to the neglect of death. I wonder, for all of our talk about the positive side of death, how many of us Pagans have really come to terms with the fact that we are going to die. (Check out Peter Beckley’s recent post, “Coming to terms with my mortality” at A Winding Path.)

The Pagan reluctance to look death in the face finds expression in the Pagan symbol of the “Summerlands”, a place of post-mortem rest and repose which precedes each re-incarnation. It seems to me that a more adequate symbol would be the “Winterlands”, since Pagans associate winter and darkness, not summer and light, with death and rest. The “Summerlands” seems to me to be a vestige of Christian influence and a sign that we have not fully come to terms with the reality of death.

The widespread belief in reincarnation among Pagans may also be an indication of this reluctance to come to terms with death. Should not we Pagans pray together with that great proto-pagan Algernon Swineburne:

From too much love of living, From hope and fear set free, We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be That no life lives forever; That dead men rise up never; That even the weariest river Winds somewhere safe to sea.

-- "Garden of Proserpine", Algernon Swinburne

In my next post, I will discuss another Shadow god of contemporary Paganism: Odin/Dionysus.

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John Halstead also writes at (Patheos),,,,, and The Huffington Post. He was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” (, and the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. John is also a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community ( To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


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