This is one of my older essays, written many years ago when I still had an active interest in Druidism. I was reminded of it as I started reading The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity by James C. Russell this evening…
In order to properly define Paganism, a proper understanding of the term’s origin is necessary. The term “Paganism” is derived from Latin paganus, which is a derivative of Latin pagus meaning “the country” i.e. rural areas. A paganus was a “country dweller”, a “rural inhabitant”. Of course, the sophisticated, urban Romans used the term just as we use the term “redneck”, with contempt, and this use of the term was continued by the equally sophisticated and urban Christians. This is why paganus came to mean the opposite of christianus.
Paganism therefore properly denotes the natural religious views of a rural population, as opposed to the largely unnatural religious views of an urban population. Cities have always been centers of confusion, contrivance and deception, and the religious views of urban people consequently tend to be confused, contrived and deceptive. On the other hand, the very essence of a natural life in rural areas is simplicity, virtue and honesty, and the religious views of rural people naturally tend to be simple, virtuous and honest. It is not hard to see that urban dwellers, with their sophisticated superiority complex, would despise the naturally simple, virtuous and honest religion of rural folks.
It is important to note that the institutional urban religions of Ancient Greece and Rome can’t properly be called pagan. Although the religions of the Greeks and Romans developed from originally rural and pagan religious backgrounds, the urban environment in which the Classical Greek and Roman civilizations flourished caused the degradation, corruption and perversion of the originally pagan Hellenic and Italic religions, thus largely eliminating the natural simplicity, honesty and virtue of the religions that the ancestors of the Greeks and Romans had once had, and producing the increasingly confused, contrived and artificial religions of Classical Greece and Rome. It is precisely because of the degenerate and meaningless nature of Classical Greek and Roman religion that foreign religions – such as Mithraism and Christianity – as well as mystery religions made such significant inroads in the Classical Greco-Roman world. Likewise, the mind-boggling proliferation of religious sects and cults in formerly-Christian parts of the modern world is a sure sign of the fundamentally degenerate and meaningless nature of modern urban Christianity.
Paganism has nothing to do with such typically-urban deviations as Hedonism and Libertinism. In fact, Hedonism and Libertinism are symptoms of decadent and perverse urban society. The erroneous views and unnatural behaviors of Hedonists and Libertines are destabilizing factors in any society, but while they are tolerated (if not accepted) by city dwellers as a logical consequence of urban existence (not to mention the fact that toleration is often enforced by law), they can never truly be anything but an unwelcome nuisance in rural environments. Modern pseudo-pagans of the New Age variety, such as Wiccans and Neo-Druids, hold a utopian fantasy view of Paganism as a tolerant and accepting religious spirituality. Such a view has nothing to do with genuine historical Paganism, and everything to do with the misguided and deluded egalitarian ideals of this thoroughly perverse modern world. Genuine Pagans did appreciate the different types of personality found in their communities, and they did their best to accommodate the different tastes and inclinations of their people, but they also maintained strict social and behavioral norms and enforced them with harsh penalties, and they certainly were not inclined to accept any behavior or belief that was squarely opposed to their understanding of Nature as represented in their customary laws. It is simply not possible for a true Pagan to tolerate ideas and activities that do not accord with the simple, honest and virtuous religion that guides and preserves the natural way of life of a rural society.
Many modern pseudo-pagans view Paganism as a kind of religious spirituality apart from cultural and ethnic identity. Although they may recognize the cultural and ethnic origin of a particular form of Paganism (e.g. the Celtic origin of Druidism), they fail to recognize that a particular form of Paganism naturally belongs in its own cultural and ethnic environment. In fact, modern pseudo-pagans generally espouse Paganism as a substitute for the cultural and ethnic identities that they lack, which is equally the case with Christians who choose to identify themselves with Christianity as if it was a replacement for cultural and ethnic identity (cf. Galatians 3:28). The New Age pseudo-pagans’ non-cultural and non-ethnic understanding of Paganism is not founded on the historical reality of genuine Paganism, the varieties of which were properly situated in their own cultural and ethnic environments, but derives from the globalizing ideal of the modern world. This globalizing ideal, espoused by the Imperial Romans and continued by the equally Imperial Christians, aims toward the eventual absorption of all distinct cultural and ethnic identities into some kind of melting pot (like the American melting pot). Ancient Pagans had respect for all other cultures and ethnic groups, and were not averse to intercultural dialogue and interethnic relations, but they would not tolerate the promiscuous cultural syncretism and wanton ethnic miscegenation that lead inevitably to cultural and ethnic dissolution, and they would hardly allow a steady infiltration of foreigners into their homelands without some opposition. A True Pagan would not “blend in with the crowd” like everyone else in this culturally and ethnically dissolute modern world, but would rather associate with the other members of his/her cultural and ethnic group among whom his/her variety of Paganism naturally belongs.
Due to its inherently rural nature, True Paganism can’t properly be dissociated from the forms of natural culture traditionally practiced by rural, tribal peoples. In fact, practicing True Paganism fully is effectively impossible in the context of an urban environment, and attempting to incorporate elements of urban culture into Paganism essentially produces something less than True Paganism. Genuine Pagan culture is based on such natural elements as: the land, the sky and the waters; the sun, the moon and the stars; the weather and the seasons; the plants and the animals; life and death; sowing and harvesting; weaving cloth and chopping wood; hunting and fishing… The more one is existentially removed from such natural elements of a rural reality, the less one is able to appreciate and experience the true meaning of what genuine Pagan culture truly is. Perhaps it is necessary to state the matter bluntly: it is categorically impossible for a member of modern urban civilization to truly be a Pagan in any genuine sense.
The essential difference between genuine Pagan culture and modern culture is exemplified in what we call “entertainment”. Although the stories, songs and rites of genuine Pagan culture have much entertainment value, the primary motive for all genuinely Pagan cultural expressions is not entertainment, but spiritual and moral edification. True Pagans learn about their Pagan way of life through their culture. On the other hand, if there is any edification through modern culture, it is typically relevant only to a modern, urban and non-Pagan way of life. That being said, much modern culture tends to lack any significantly edifying value whatsoever, the tendency being to place the emphasis largely (if not entirely) on the sheer entertainment value, so that much modern culture is essentially useless – even despite all of the bells and whistles. No one can learn much of value from someone like Lady Gaga…
Of course, modern urban-based civilization doesn’t rely primarily on entertainment to teach its children, although entertainment is used as a teaching method for young children. Children in modern urban-based civilization are taught primarily in educational institutions called schools. The principal purpose of these educational institutions, based on the factory model of production, is to produce properly-functioning citizens of modern urban society. To ensure that the minimum business standards and quotas of modern civilization are achieved, attendance in educational institutions is made compulsory up to a certain age. This imposed attendance requirement is certainly good for business, but its detrimental effect on children goes largely unnoticed in a society that has been thoroughly conditioned to accept unnatural impositions. This system of institutional education is fully incompatible with Paganism. As mentioned above, Pagans learn what they need to know through their culture. The children of Pagans are never compelled to receive an education, and they are never required to learn anything more than what is necessary to live a natural way of life.
True Paganism is a religion of natural moderation, of natural virtue, and of respect for all natural beings. The very essence of True Paganism is simply “natural common-sense”, and True Paganism requires a naturally sane environment. The true Pagan has no need whatsoever for the confused, contrived and deceptive religious views and beliefs of urban dwellers. The true Pagan understands that no knowledge is necessary apart from the evident ways of Natural Reality, and realizes that the speculations of Western Philosophy that have deviated from the ways of Natural Reality are essentially erroneous. Such deviant speculations include Humanism, which is founded on the typically-civilized belief that Humanity should determine things for itself even despite the ways of Natural Reality, and faith-based religions (such as Christianity) which effectively prohibit people from properly understanding the ways of Natural Reality by requiring them to suspend their ability to honestly investigate and to think rationally about the ways of Natural Reality, so that they may instead be made to blindly accept unnatural, contrived and deceptive religious doctrines through mindless faith.
The true Pagan honors Nature as the Teacher of All Truth. Thus, the true Pagan is able to realize that the Natural Reality of all things includes both the natural good and the natural bad, that there must be a proper balance of all natural opposites, and that any obsession with any value (either good or bad) against its opposite is unnaturally excessive and ultimately devastating. The true Pagan understands that only that which is naturally necessary is true, that everything which is not naturally necessary must be in error, and that defying the true law of natural necessity invariably leads to imbalance, corruption, perversion and decadence. The true Pagan knows that preventing anything which is naturally necessary is just as evil as encouraging anything which is naturally unnecessary, and can clearly see the nefarious consequences of both of these evils in the urban, civilized society of this modern world.