Pagan Paths

Carl Jung's ideas have been influencing the development of Neo-Paganism from its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. But what if Jung's ideas have been misunderstood by many Pagans: literalized on the one hand and oversimplified on the other? What fresh insights can a Jungian Neo-Paganism contribute to Pagan discourse and practice today? And might Jungianism serve as a bridge between the earth-centered and deity-centered Pagan communities?

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The Three Centers of Paganism

The Three Centers of Paganism

I have found a useful tool for thinking about the Pagan community.  Most attempts to describe contemporary Paganism use lists of beliefs or practices.  Some of these lists attempt to be comprehensive, while others do not.  One problem with these lists is that they inevitably focus on those elements that the person making the list wants to emphasize.  Consequently, large portions of the Pagan community are excluded.

Another common way of understanding the Pagan community is as a metaphorical umbrella.  The problem with this metaphor is that the image of an umbrella suggest a single center.  And what the "center" is is a matter of perspective, usually the perspective of the person drawing the umbrella.  

Instead of a single circle with a single center, I would describe the Pagan community, as three overlapping circles.  Each circle has a different center, a different focus which transcends the individual.  The three circles of the contemporary Pagan community are: earth, Self, and deity.

Earth-centered Paganism

Earth-centered Paganism includes those Paganisms concerned primarily with religious ecology, "deep green religion", animism, and what is sometimes euphemistically called "dirt worship".  For earth-centered Pagans, their relationship to the earth is what defines their Paganism, and connecting to the "more-than-human" natural world is what characterizes their spiritual practice.  A sense of wonder or awe often characterizes the religious experience of earth-centered Pagans.  Of course, there are those whose spirituality may be described in these terms, but who do not identify with the Pagan community, including some earth-centered Christians.

Self-centric Paganism

"Self-centric" is used here, not in pejorative sense of ego-centrism, and for that reason I have capitalized the word “Self”.  "Self" here means that larger sense of "self" which transcends the ego and even the individual.  It is sometimes called the "Big Self" or "Deep Self".  Self-centric Paganism includes many forms of Neo-Wicca, Jungian Neo-Paganism, feminist witchcraft, and more ceremonial or esoteric forms of Paganism.  The goal of Self-centric Pagan practice is personal development, spiritually and/or psychologically, through connecting with the Deep Self.  This may be described in terms of psychological wholeness or ecstatic union with a divine “Oneness”.  Again, there are those whose spirituality may be described in these terms, but who do not identify with the Pagan community, including many New Age practitioners and ceremonial magicians.

Deity-centered Paganism

"Deity-centered" is a term which I adopted from Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone’s book, Progressive Witchcraft.  Deity-centered Paganism includes many forms of polytheistic worship, some reconstructionist or revivalist forms of Paganism, including those which are closer to Heathenry, and those which borrow techniques from African-diasporic religions.  Deity-centered Pagans identify primarily in terms of their dedication to one or more deities.  The goal of deity-centered Pagan practice is to develop a relationship with those deities.  A sense of passionate devotion is what most characterizes the religious experience of deity-centered Pagans.  As with the other two categories mentioned above, there are many people whose spirituality might be called “deity-centered”, but who do not identify as Pagan.  They would include some contemporary polytheists who have rejected the Pagan label, many traditional or indigenous (small-p) “pagan” religions, bhakti Hindus, and many Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheists as well, including but not limited to evangelical Christians and Catholic devotee's of Mary.

The 3 "centers" of PaganismThe 3 “centers” of Paganism

In the image above, the green shaded area represents Paganism.  No single one of the centers is privileged.  Individual Pagans and Pagan groups may identify with one, two, or even all three of the centers.  (Note, the overlapping area of the three centers is not intended to imply a central or “core” Paganism.) 

Drawing Boundaries

Because contemporary Paganism is so diverse, the more inclusive ways of describing Paganism tend to group individual Pagans together with others with whom they share little commonality.  This is one reason why there is so much conflict over the definition of "Pagan".  Individuals respond to this by either opting-out and rejecting the Pagan label, or by attempting to define the term in a way that excludes those they are uncomfortable with.  

One advantage of of the "3 centers" approach is that it recognizes both the similarities and the differences among contemporary Pagans.  On the one hand, individual Pagans can identify with one or two of the centers, without having to identify with all three centers.  On the other hand, the three centers approach also recognizes the overlap between these groups.  For example, some feminist Goddess worshippers might overlap with both earth-centered and Self-centric Paganisms.  Likewise, some forms of animism might overlap with both earth-centered and deity-centered Paganisms.

"Three Centers" Correspondences

The three centers described above correspond to three chapters in Graham Harvey’s book, What Pagans Believe, which describes Pagan practices in these terms: “Celebrating Nature”, “Working Magic”, and “Honoring Deities”. 

In addition, the three centers correspond roughly to three different Classical “paganisms” described by 19th century classicists and philologists: (1) the local cults of the country folk (which corresponds to earth-centric Paganism) (2) the mystery cults (which correspond to Self-centric Paganism), and (3) the poets and the city state cults (which corresponds to deity-centric Paganism).  Often contemporary Pagans will focus on one of these groups of ancient Pagans when invoking antiquity in support of their claim to the term "Pagan".

Finally, the three centers correspond to three different reactions to Christianity.  Earth-centered Pagans reject the “other-worldly” focus of Christian eschatology and the dualistic separation of matter and spirit, as well as its anthropocentrism.  Self-centric Pagans, challenge the Christian condemnation of the body, sex, and the feminine, and seek to reclaim these.  And deity-centered Pagans, reject monotheism and all it implies.

A Fourth Center?

In contrast to Paganism, Heathenry tends to be community-centered. In recent years there has been greater interaction between the Pagan and Heathen communities, which grew up alongside each other, but held different values. (For more on this, see "The Pentagram and the Hammer" by Devyn Gillette and Lewis Stead.) As the two communities begin to blend somewhat, a fourth center of Paganism may be discerned. Community-centered Pagans define their Pagan identity by belonging to the group which calls itself "Pagan". Pagan authenticity is defined in terms of conformity to communal norms and participation in group rituals. For community-centered Pagans, the community is that which transcends the individual. The relationship between community-centered Pagans and the community is ideally characterized by mutual fidelity. Like earth-centered Pagans, what community-centered Pagans get out of the relationship is a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.

Jungian Neo-Paganism

Jungian Neo-Paganism falls largely in the Self-centric portion of the diagram above.  However, there is some overlap with earth-centered Paganism, which is a subject I have explored here and here on this blog and elsewhere.  There are also some interesting similarities with deity-centered Paganism, although there are also important differences.  Exploring these similarities and differences is one of the purposes of this blog.

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John discovered Jungianism and Neo-Paganism at the same time through the writings of Vivianne Crowley, Margot Adler, and Starhawk, and the two have remained intertwined for him ever since.  John is the managing editor at HumanisticPaganism.com, a community blog for Naturalistic Pagans. He also writes about his spiritual quest on his blog The Allergic Pagan (www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/), where he explores his personal religious history, Paganism, UUism, and Jungianism.

Comments

  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys Saturday, 01 March 2014

    I find this a useful classification system. I'm personally a combination of Earth-centered and self-centric.

    A couple of observations:

    1) I've been mulling over in my head the distinction between pantheism, as often expressed by Earth-centered Pagans, and atheism (being without gods). I wonder whether saying that everything is divine renders the term "divine" meaningless, as it can no longer be distinguished from anything else. On the other hand, I revel in the sense of wonder that I experience in my connection to nature and the cosmos.

    2) I attended a panel discussion at PantheaCon led by a group of Heathens who spoke out forcefully against bigotry on the part of some who claimed to be Heathens. I wonder whether your identification of community may be relevant here. A focus on community itself can be positive or negative. It can enhance cooperation, strengthen bonds of friendship and loyalty and enable the community as a whole to achieve more than what any individual member can. On the other hand, an insular focus on community can lead to condemnation of "the other" - anything outside the community itself - as inferior or threatening. I suspect there are similar positive and negative potentials in each of the other three categories you mentioned.

  • Julian Greene
    Julian Greene Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    Stifyn, Instead of rendering the term "divine" meaningless, I tend to think of Pantheism as finding the divine in all, which is distinct from "saying that everything is divine." More like "namaste," I greet the god within you, or, as I've heard it -- the god in me greets the god in you. You could use that greeting whether greeting a person, a spirit, or a rock. It is a recognition that everyone and everything contains a spark of the sacred.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    I try to overcome that particle dilemma by saying that everything is always already "essentially" divine but not "existentially". We make it existentially through our experience of it, by "re-enchanting" the world (pansacramentalism).

  • Julian Greene
    Julian Greene Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    Thanks so much for that reminder of "re-enchanting." It is very much another part of why it needs to be about balance for me.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    The idea of positive and negative potentials of each is something I would like to explore. I wrote about the relationship of each to "faith" here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/12/23/the-role-of-faith-and-hubris-in-paganism/

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    Thanks for this column. I have recently been called as the Campus Pastor for a historically Christian Seminary in Berkley that is attracting a number of Witches and Pagans looking to get an Masters of Divinity degree. I myself am both an ordained Christian minister, and Reclaiming Witch and find myself doing a lot of translating around these issues among the students, faculty, and staff.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    My pleasure. I'm glad it helps.

  • Julian Greene
    Julian Greene Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    John, regarding the positive and negative potentials of each, I felt pleased when I had "arrived" at what I considered a middle place between the three, but I found myself more and more "infected" with the Self-centric. At first I thought it was the "ultimate" reality in spirituality, but then I began to suffer the vagaries of that, finding that if I didn't have at least an archetype to which to devote myself that I became very lazy, always thinking "why expend myself in ritual or devotion" when it's all just in my mind? Why can't I just think it?" In reality, I know very much why: because it's a kind of discipline if nothing else, of which every other aspect of my life is devoid. To be the best I can be, I need ritual--earth-centric, deity (or at least archetype) centric, and Self-centric.

  • Archer
    Archer Wednesday, 26 March 2014

    I found this very useful--in any Pagan group there's always a lot of translating to be done, and this model will facilitate that.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Thursday, 27 March 2014

    Thanks! I'm glad it will help.

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