Contemporary Paganism, Modern Paganism or Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to refer to many traditions and spiritual systems which have resurrected ancient pagan religions. Neopaganism has no single set of beliefs, practices or texts. Neopaganism is described as individualized. The path of many Neopagans are quite different. Some Neopagans choose to follow closely to the more modern paths, while others choose to revive and practice ancient paths. The most common Neopagan holidays are those represented on the Wheel of the Year.
Terminology and definition
The term "neopagan" was formed in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and Romanticist Hellenophile classical revivalism.
"Pagan", as a self-designition appeared in 1964 and 1965, in the Publication of Witchcraft Research Association; at that time, the term was used by "revivalist Witches" in the United States and the United Kingdom, but unconnected to the broder, counter-culture Pagan movement. The modern poplularisation of the terms "pagan" and "neopagan", as they are currently understood, is largely traced to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, co-founder of "the 1st Neo-Pagan Church of All the Worlds" who, beginning in 1967 with the early issues of Green Egg, used both terms for the growing movement. This usage has been common since the pagan revival of the 1970s.
The term "neopagan" provides a means of distinguish between historical pagans of ancient cultures and the adherents of modern religious movements. This category of religions includes syncretic or ecletic approaches like Wicca, Neo-Druidism, and neoshamanism at one end of the spectrum, as well as culturally specific traditions, such as many varieties of polytheistic reconstructionsim, and the other. However, some reconstructionists reject the term "neopagan" because they wish to set their historically oriented approach apart from generic "neopagan" eclecticism. Scholarly writers often perfer the term "contempoarary paganism" to cover all polytheistic religious movements, a usage favored by The Pomegranate: The Internaional Journal of Pagan Studies, the leading peer-reviewed journal in the field.
"Heathen", "Heathenism" or "Heathenery" as a self-designation of adherents of Germanic neopaganism (theodism in particular) appeared in the late 1990s.
The American scholar of religious studies Michael F. Strmiska argued that the modern adaptaion of the term "Pagan" was "a deliberate act of defiance" against traditional, Christian-dominated society, comparing it to the adoption of the surname "X" amongs African-Americans or the term "queer" amongst LGBT people. However, the term "Neopagan" is often deemed offensive and not used by many contemporary Pagans, who claim that the inclusion of the term "neo" disconnects them from their ancient polytheistic ancestors.
Beliefs and practices vary widely among different Pagan groups, however tehre are a series of core principles common to most, if not all, forms of contemporary Paganism. The English academic Graham Harvery noted that Pagans "rarely indulge in theology".
One of the most important principles of the Pagan movement is polytheism, the belief in and veneration of mulitiple gods and/or goddesses. Polytheism was a trait common to the pre-Christian religions of Europe, and is also common to a variety of religions around the world, form which the contemporary Pagans drawn on.
One view in the Pagan community is the polytheistic deiteis are not viewed as literal deities, but as Jungian archetypes that exist in the human psyche. Many Pagans believe adoption of a polytheistc world-view would be beneficial for wester society -- replacing the dominant monotheism they see as innately repressive. In fact, any American Neopagans frist came to their adopted faiths because it allowed them greater freedom, diversity, and tolerance or worship amongst the community. This pluralistic prespective has helped varied factions or modern Pagans adopt an ethos of "union in diveristy" regarding their religious beliefs.
In Wicca, (especially Dianic Wicca) the concept of an Earth or Mother Goddess, similar to the Greek Gaia, is emphazied. Male counterparts, such as the Green Man or the Horned God, are usually also evoked. These duotheistic philosophies tend to emphasize the God and the Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being complementary opposites analogous of that to yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy. Many Oriental philosophies equate weakness with feminity and strength with masculinity; this is not the prevailing attitude in paganism and Wicca. Among many other pagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine into their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women. Other neopagans reject the concept of bianary gender roles.
Animism and pantheism
A key part of most Pagan worldviews is the holistic concept of a universe that is interconnected. This is connected with a belief in either pantheism or panetheism, in both beliefs divinity and the material and/or spiritual universe are one. For pagans, pantheism means that "divinity is inseperable from nature and that deity is immanent in nature."
Dennis D. Carpenter noted that the belief in a pantheistic or panetheistic deity has led to the idea of interconnectedness playing a key part in pagans' worldviews. The prominent Wiccan priestess Starhawk related that a core part of goddess-centered pagan witchcraft was the "understanding that all being is interrelated, that we are all linked to with the cosmos as parts of one living organism. What affects one of us, affects all of us."
Another pivotal belief in the contemporary Pagan movement is that of animism. This has been interpreted in two distinct ways among the Pagan community. First, it can refer to a belife that everything in the universe is imbued with a life force or spiritual energy. In constrast, some contemporary Pagans believe that there are specific spirits which inhabit various features of the natural world, and that these can be actively communicated with. Some Pagans have reported experiencing communication with spirits dwelling in rocks, plants, trees and animals, as well as power animals or animal spirits who can act as spiritual helpers or guides.
Animism was also a concept common to many pre-Christian European religions, and in adopting it, contemporary Pagans are attempting to "reenter the primeval worldview" and participate in a view of cosmology "that is not ressponsible for most Westerners after childhood."
Such views have also led many pagans to revere the planet Earth as a Mother Earth, who is often referred to as Gaia, after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth.