What makes a religion pagan?

I'm going to contend that paganisms are preeminently religions of land, lede, and lore.

Land. Paganism is local, intimately related to specific places. Pagans are by definition the People of the Place; when peoples change their place, they bring their mythologies with them, and those mythologies naturalize to the new place. While the term “nature religion” is problematic on numerous levels, the paganisms direct themselves largely to this-worldly concerns, and engage the environment and the non-human beings with whom we share that environment as a matter of primary spiritual course. There are no universal paganisms; or, rather, the paganisms are at their most universal insofar they are most specifically local.

Lede (< Old English léode, “tribe, people, nation”). Paganism is tribal. To be pagan implies profound spiritual association with a particular people. Human beings are an inherently social species, a fact with profound spiritual implications; without a people, we are spiritually incomplete. Nor is membership in a tribe of pagans limited to the living alone; it encompasses pagans past and pagans future as well, thus situating the individual in time. Even the lone and solitary small-town practitioner is a member of an ongoing people.


Lore. Paganism is grounded in the Received Tradition. The natural world is not self-interpreting. The collective corpus of lore that comes down to us from the ancestors shapes and informs our relationship with the world and its other inhabitants. It includes not only stories, myths, and songs, but also rituals, holidays, customs, art, language, even specific foods. And, importantly, the Received Tradition is an open canon, constantly being added to.

A fully-realized paganism thus engages us as entire beings, situating us environmentally (land), socially (lede), and experientially/intellectually (lore).

A central Old Craft symbol is the three-went, the place where three roads converge. I would contend that the paganisms dwell at the three-went of Land, Lede, and Lore.

For Gregory Elliott, who got the Wheel turning.