The definition of Paganism is often misconstrued as “nature-centric spirituality,” and correspondent to the term “Earth religion.” In truth, the concept of “nature worship” is by large recently-manufactured, being the product of the heavily Christian-entrenched Romantic period and the nature-centric movements which developed out of it; the same movements which also sprang out contemporary Druidism in the 19th century (Nicholas Roe 2010, 26), which, suffice to say, isn’t anything similar to the ancient Druids of Antiquity. This idea, which is so ingrained in contemporary conceptions of “nature worship,” had not existed in ancient Pagan religions, and is often perpetuated by typically the least academically-minded types of apparent “Pagans” whose practice is much more identifiable as New Age than anything. There are plenty of Pagan religions– including ones where there are divinities holding jurisdiction over the forces of nature– which aren’t concerned with the worship of nature, it often being seen as a hostile force as frequently as a beneficial one (Hrafnblod 2018, 23:56:58). Vulcanus may be a God of fire and its fertilizing aspects, but His cultus often centers around protecting the home from the ravages of flames (Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanes 47). To simply define Paganism as “nature-centric” is, ultimately, a misconception.
This isn’t to claim that Pagan traditions don’t have ceremonies or calendars which center around nature or natural cycles in some form. However, most religions do this to some extent. An agrarian society is going to have ceremonies centered around the fertility of the land; however, that doesn’t mean that they’re “earth-based,” no more so than any other religion is. While Kemeticists celebrate the flooding of the Nile River, for a long time Coptic Christianity celebrated this event as well (Febe Armanios 2015, 78). And while many Pagan religions observe holidays based around the cycles of the moon (e.g., Hellenism determining when to celebrate Hekate’s Deipnon), the religions of Islam, Judaism, and some sects of Christianity also do this to observe their holidays (James Shneer 2016, 4-5). Yet, these religions are undoubtedly not seen as Pagan religions.
Often this application of vague “nature-centric” spirituality to Paganism will lead people will assume that Pantheism, the belief that the divine is identical to the material universe (William Mander 2016), fits into the movement. This is problematic because the pantheistic conception of the divine is functionally identical to atheism, with the divine merely being “the passive manifestation of [material] reality” (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34) rather than an entity with a distinct agency (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34). This lack of agency obviously means it does nothing to inform any religious devotion, and because of that you cannot engage in do ut des with it. And while plenty of Pagan traditions do recognize the cosmos as something that’s divine in its essence, they also hold that other Gods and Greater Kinds exist seperately either externally from it or internally in it, thus aligning closer to Panentheism rather than Pantheism (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34) (John Culp 2017).
Pagans do not seek the mediation of the Gods to worship nature because nature is not the objective of Pagan traditions. The unmistakable focus of Paganism is the worship of Pagan Gods who hold a distinct agency. Because of this it’s wiser to categorize Paganism using Michael York’s book Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion: an umbrella term for many different contemporary religions that are either inspired by (e.g., Wicca or Druidism) or revivalisms of (as in reconstructionist polytheism, e.g., Heathenry, Kemeticism, Hellenism, etc) the ancient cultures in the European-Mediterranean-Near East cultural basin that were displaced by Abrahamic religions (Michael York 2005).
Defining contemporary Paganism this way serves a purpose of distinction, allowing Paganism to be separated from the largely Protestant imperialist use of the term and distance Pagans from the appropriative New Age movement, in preference for religious expression that is more logical and consistent.
(Special thanks to Hrafnblod for inspiring this article)
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Culp, John. “Panentheism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. June 03, 2017. Accessed March 06, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/.
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