Download from http://bit.ly/NeoPaganism
For an introduction to the series, go to Why Religion?
From the preface:
PaganISM is a modern construct, an oxymoron, since that “ISM” suffix suggests a single belief system, and true pagans had many beliefs and practices, rooted in the widely varying traditions of pre-religious magical rituals. Ironically, the idea that all such traditions were (and are?) part of a unified whole was given a spurious validity by Sir James Frazer‘s Golden Bough, since it was Frazer’s intention to show how such customs were part of a primitive mind-set, out of which modern belief systems had evolved. He believed that pagan magic was superseded by religion, superseded in its turn by science.
However, magic and religion and science coexisted for countless millennia (for instance, in Isaac Newton‘s obsession with alchemy), until the growth of capitalism and the forces of the so-called Enlightenment launched the gynocidal witch hunts of the 17th Century and after.
To speak of modern Paganism is a tautology, since the whole concept is modern.
It is a cliché of NeoPaganism that their worship is the continuation of a tradition stretching back into pre-Christian times. But there is virtually no evidence for the practices of contemporary “Pagans” before the 15th Century.
It would be truly surprising if after (supposedly) lying dormant for a millennium and a half, there should have been a recrudescence of the sort of folk customs one might identify as pagan. There are two possible explanations for this: the growing interest of antiquarians in what Shakespeare’s Hamlet derided as “country matters” (pun undoubtedly intended) and the gynocidal characterisation of village wise women (and some men) as witches, during the so-called Enlightenment.
Both these phenomena, the interest taken by dusty academics in the customs of the “folk” and the attacks upon all such customs by the powers that be, both sacred and secular, were two sides of the same coin; it was in the interest of the witch-hunters to portray their victims as part of a continent-wide conspiracy, while the antiquarians believed they were salvaging the last relics of the dying culture the establishment was consigning to the flames.