Re-Thinking Neo-Pagan Practice

Wheel of the Year

Wheel of the Year (Photo credit: nearlywildlife)

This thought occurs to me whenever I take part in a public group ritual, or watch Youtube videos of modern pagan rituals. I find that there are a lot of declamations, gestures, and standing around in circles singing funny songs and chanting, this kind of thing doesn’t do anything for me, and these rituals have very little in common with historical paganism. In my opinion, they more resemble a church service than a pagan religious festival, with a shepherd leading the flock and focusing the group mind rather than actually honouring a deity. I’m guessing a lot of modern ritual structure comes from Christian influence in western religion in general, but also ceremonial magick, which influenced Wicca, which in turn influenced modern paganism as a whole. Even Hellenic Recon rituals I’ve seen videos of tend to have people standing around in circles chanting and narrating the purpose of the ritual with feeling like it’s a stage performance. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, but I would like to point out a few things.

First of all, the festivals of pagan antiquity weren’t so much like a church service in which people follow a leader in tedious ritualized actions that go on and on. Festivals were more like celebrations, with processions of the temple idols through public streets, kind of like a parade so that the common people could have a visual experience of the deity. There would also be public sacrifices and feasting, in which the community would take part in order to celebrate and propitiate the deity. It wasn’t so much about standing in circles chanting and making declamations, although maybe those arose as a substitute to blood sacrifices in the modern age. I don’t think animal sacrifices are necessary, as people could offer incense, grain, and fruit/vegetables, and even burn them in a large flame if they wanted to do a fire ritual. Also, ancient pagan rituals were about honouring a deity more than working towards a magical goal, so many elements of modern ceremonial magick-influenced neo-pagan ritual were not relevant.

The role of priests also differed among pagan antiquity, and while it varied by culture, generally the priests served the deities by working in temples, they weren’t really spiritual leaders for the general public. People maintained their own private shrines to the gods at home, where they gave offerings and made their personal prayers. The priestly intermediaries were not necessary. They did perform the big public sacrifices for the community to witness, but they weren’t really necessary to lead “rituals” or religious observances. Not like modern paganism, where you have High Priestess or High Druid so-and-so, ordained to lead and serve their community. Nonsense. Wise teachers are always good to have, but pagan priests aren’t like Christian ones who are shepherds for the flock. They serve the deity, not the people.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts on the matter. Take them or leave them.

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