After the Parliament: Statement from Andras Corban-Arthen

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 14, 2009 — 122 Comments

Considering the fact that my initial entry last week about the language used to define (or not define) the various Paganisms at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne is edging near 200 comments, I think we can safely say it struck a few nerves. At the heart of the discussion was Ed Hubbard’s quotation from EarthSpirit founder and Parliament Board of Trustees member Andras Corban-Arthen that seemed to imply that some forms of Paganism were, well, not quite Pagan.

“Andras Corban-Arthen points out that Wicca, for example, cannot be seen as an indigenous Pagan faith practice and is instead a modern syncretic movement. Under this description Wicca therefore would not fall under the definition of Pagan, and would be squarely a New Religious Movement, while British Traditional Witchcraft could be considered a Pagan and Indigenous faith tradition.”

From the start of this discussion, I have urged my readers to await word from Corban-Arthen and the other trustees on this matter, before we jump to any conclusions.

“…there is always the chance that comments were misconstrued, or misunderstood. So we should await official word from the Pagan members of the Parliament Board of Trustees before we accuse anyone of trying to drive wedges between different Pagan groups. Context is king, and I don’t want to start any flame-wars for an off-the-cuff idea or mis-stated opinion.”

Now, we have some of that clarification. Andras Corban-Arthen has sent me a statement from Australia, clarifying his statements and positions. I am reprinting the statement in-full below.

On representing, defining & speaking for all pagans:

I am nobody to define “paganism” for all pagans, much less presume to speak for them. Neither is anybody else, for that matter. It would be absurd and laughable for anyone to seriously try to assume such a role. Paganism (however anyone defines that term) is far too wide and complex a topic to fit neatly within any one person’s definition. Whenever I talk publicly on the subject, particularly in front of non-pagan audiences, I start by mentioning that fact, and continue by saying that my views represent only myself, and, to whatever general degree, those in my immediate community who’ve given me permission to represent them. I said this at the Parliament prior to each of my presentations; so, for that matter, did my pagan co-presenters and colleagues on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees.

On the “redefinition” of paganism:

Not to split too fine a hair, but for there to be a “redefinition” of paganism, there would first need to be an accepted definition, and there simply isn’t one — there are many, and some of them substantially contradict each other. Some of the more alarmed comments from your readers seem to have been in reaction to the idea that someone would attempt to “redefine” paganism for all of them. This is not something that I or any of the other speakers at the Parliament ever proposed to do; in fact, I don’t believe that any one of us even used the word “redefinition” once. It was Ed Hubbard who started talking about “redefinition” in his blog, and while he’s certainly entitled to his opinion, his opinion does not accurately represent my own views nor, I daresay, the views of other speakers at the Parliament (more about this below).

On the definition of paganism in relation to “indigenous European spirituality”:

This is by no means a new definition of paganism — some of us have been using it for at least 25-30 years or longer, and it is fairly common among many pagan reconstructionist groups. If it is new to some pagans, then perhaps that is an indication that they’re not as well-informed as they could be regarding some important conversations and perspectives that have been developing in certain sectors of the pagan movement for quite some time, as well as an incentive to get better informed.

On the role of the Parliament:

Perhaps because in the U.S. we’re mostly used to hear the word “parliament” in reference to legislative bodies (e.g., the British or Australian Parliaments), there may be an incorrect and unrealistic weight being given to what happens in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The word “parliament,” in its basic sense, means “conversation,” and that’s precisely what the PWR is and does — an ongoing conversation (or series of interrelated conversations) on topics that have to do with religion or spirituality. It is not a governing body of any sort, nor an accrediting institution or bureau of standards. It is not about to try to define paganism for pagans, nor decide who’s a pagan and who is not…

On the distinction between “Indigenous Spirituality” and “New Religious Movements”:

In the interreligious community, there are several different categories under which various religions are grouped. This is done for the sake of understanding better the nature of & relationships among religions, the categories are not cast in stone, and there is often a lack of consensus as to which categories certain religions belong to. Indigenous traditions are generally those associated with a specific culture, ethnicity, and geographical region and which predate the arrival or development of a larger, more “organized” religion (examples are the Lakota, Yoruban, or Wurundjeri spiritual traditions among many others). New Religious Movements tend to be those formed since around the middle of the 19th century which have a character uniquely their own, or which derive, but are significantly distinct, from older and more established traditions. These are generally considered to include, for instance, the Bahá’ís, the Christian Scientists, the Mormons, the Brahma Kumaris, the Hare Krishnas, the Pentecostals, the Theosophists, the UUs, various New Age sects, etc. It is simply not true, as some have suggested, that the interfaith movement bestows more emphasis or credibility on the Indigenous over the NRMs. There are some interfaith leaders who (usually in private) dismiss indigenous groups as regressive, theologically unsophisticated, and lacking anything of value to offer the modern world (I strongly disagree, of course). On the other hand, the Bahá’ís, for example, are hugely respected among interfaith people, and Dadi Janki, the international head of the Brahma Kumaris, was one of the speakers at the Parliament’s closing plenary, a role which many covet as a status symbol. Modern pagan groups are typically categorized as NRMs, and rightly so, in my opinion. But I, for one, have long been arguing that *some* forms of paganism which still can be found today more properly qualify under the Indigenous category, and this year, for the first time, that argument was finally seriously considered and, to whatever degree, accepted. I would add that while this perspective may indeed help other religions to look at us differently and thereby gain us some added acceptance & credibility, that is not at all the main reason (or at least not mine) for proposing this categorization.

On the question of Wicca not being “pagan”:

This statement, made by Ed Hubbard on his blog (and not by me or any of my fellow panelists), seems to have aroused the most controversy. For the record, here are the definitions which I used in my “Introduction to Paganism” which was widely distributed at the Parliament:

“Paganism is a term that refers collectively to the Indigenous, pre-Christian cultures and spiritual traditions of Europe, some of which have survived into the present, while others are being reconstructed or revived in modern times.”

Beyond that, I proposed three main categories of pagan approaches:

“There are three main general categories through which paganism can be defined. Traditional paganism represents the survivals into modern times of Indigenous European beliefs and practices among, for instance, the Celts, the Balts, the Basques, the Slavs, and the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. What has survived of traditional paganism is typically found in small, isolated rural communities in regions of Europe which retain strong ethnic identities and in which the ancestral languages have not been lost. Reconstructionist paganism is a modern attempt to recreate traditional forms of paganism through the study of literary, historical, linguistic, and archaeological sources; it includes such practices as Ásatrú (Norse paganism), Celtic Reconstructionism, and Hellenic Ethnikoi. Neopaganism is a mostly urban and syncretic effort to develop modern forms of paganism within mainstream Western culture, including Wicca, Neodruidism, and Celtic Shamanism.”

I fully understand that this definition is narrower than what a lot of pagans would use, and that many pagans (including some of my co-panelists) might well disagree to one degree or another with various aspects of it, and that’s just fine with me. Such a definition is not meant to be the final, absolute statement of what paganism is (again, no one can really do that), but a brief, working statement to serve as a foundation for further discussion & clarification of who we are. I don’t even agree with all of it myself because there are gray areas between the categories that just can’t get addressed by its brevity (for example, some forms of Ásatrú really fall more properly under “Traditional” than “Reconstructionist”).

All of this is by way of clarifying that this “controversy” comes from a misrepresentation of the above in Ed Hubbard’s blog. Ed writes: “Andras Corban-Arthen points out that Wicca, for example, cannot be seen as an indigenous Pagan faith practice and is instead a modern syncretic movement.” So far, mostly correct, though what I actually said was that Wicca didn’t belong under “Traditional Paganism,” but under “Neopaganism.”

Ed goes on: “Under this description Wicca therefore would not fall under the definition of Pagan, and would be squarely a New Religious Movemen…) I said no such thing; if Ed had left the word “Traditional” before “Pagan” there’d be no argument (though there probably also wouldn’t be any controversy). Finally, he writes: “…while British Traditional Witchcraft could be considered a Pagan and Indigenous faith tradition.” Again, not only did I not say that, but the term “British Traditional Witchcraft” did not once cross my lips during the entire Parliament. It is entirely Ed’s extrapolation & misrepresentation of what I said & wrote.

I don’t know Ed Hubbard; as far as I am aware, I only just met him at this Parliament, where he introduced himself to me as a pagan journalist. Since I don’t know him, I’m not in a position to judge whether this was an honest misunderstanding and thus inaccurate reporting on his part, or a deliberate misrepresentation meant to generate controversy for ulterior motives. I’d like to think it’s the former, especially in the light of other statements Hubbard made in Melbourne which would indicate a tendency on his part to jump to hasty conclusions without fully understanding what’s involved. If that’s the case, it might be useful for all of us to reflect on how easily a tempest can be stirred in the pagan teapot by the omission of just one key word.

I hope this sheds a little more clarity on some of what we discussed at the Parliament. In case anyone’s interested, I will be posting more about all this, including the pagan participation at the Parliament’s Indigenous Assembly, on our EarthSpirit Voices blog .


Andras Corban Arthen

So there you have it. Problems and controversies solved? New ones created? Was this merely a tempest in a tea-cup? Feel free to respond to the statement in the comments section.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Haukur

    Well, he's still claiming that he belongs to a "traditional paganism" which can "qualify under the Indigenous category" while most of the rest of us belong to NRMs. I don't think that's a helpful division and I doubt there is much truth to it.

    • OK, I'll bite. Why do you think it is not a helpful set of categories, and why do you think that it is likely to be contrafactual?

      • Haukur

        I don't think it's a helpful set of categories because I think it's divisive and likely to fan pointless conflicts. It is obvious that "traditional paganism" would be widely seen as more authentic and more legitimate than "NRM paganism". Almost no-one actually self-identifies as belonging to an NRM – the Bahá'í don't and the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) don't.

        I think it is likely to be contrafactual because I don't think there was any special indigenous "traditional paganism" in Scotland forty years ago for Andras Corban Arthen or anyone else to be adopted into. I think that whatever they had there back then was not qualitatively different from, say, what we had in my country (Iceland) forty years ago. Making a distinction between "indigenous/traditional paganism" and "NRM paganism" implies that one group represents an unbroken line of people identifying as pagan going back to pre-Christian paganism and that the other group represents something completely different. And I think that's wrong.

        • While there is much to what you say in the first point, I would ask then why you think that there is no value in making a distinction between a religious tradition elucidated and founded for the first time in, for instance, the 20th or 21st century and one which has no such historic basis? While it might be divisive, the categorical division may still be of use in thinking about such religions. (I will reiterate what I say below, however, which is that "paganism" is probably not a useful category in the first place – my preference is "polytheism").

          As for the second point, on what basis do you question Corban-Arthen's claims? Admittedly, I am not aware of what evidence he has put forward in favor of his claim, but you are making a claim against it. On what evidence do you base that claim?

          Additionally, you bring up the idea that what was in Iceland 40 years ago (so, the late 1960s) was somehow different than "paganism", and that you think that other European traditions, specifically those in Scotland, but by implication those elsewhere in Europe, are similarly not "paganism". Could you expand on that idea?

          • Haukur

            1. I don't mind scholars using NRM as a category – all I'm questioning is why a pagan would claim his own religion as indigenous and classify most other pagans under the NRM label.

            2. I question Corban-Arthen's claims because it is generally acknowledged that there are no direct, unbroken survivals of pre-Christian paganism in Western Europe. The burden of proof is on those who claim there is. And if that's not what he's claiming then I have no idea what he's trying to say.

            3. That's not what I mean at all. What I'm saying is that there was no special indigenous "traditional paganism" in Scotland forty years ago that was different from the paganism we had over here or elsewhere in Western Europe. Of course revived paganism is still paganism. I adhere to a pagan/heathen religion because I think it is a true religion, not because it is 'authentic' or 'indigenous' or whatever. But I know a lot of people who are very sensitive about this sort of thing and will feel slighted by being classified as an 'NRM' while a neighboring religion gets to be 'indigenous'. We should try to stick together, not pointlessly divide ourselves.

          • 1) Fair enough, and a good question. Mr. Corban-Arthen, if you are reading this, could you clarify this matter?

            2) I'm sorry, but it seems to me that your argument is "everyone knows it to be true", then claiming the special privilege to be assumed correct on that basis. I don't trust that argument, myself – not that I am saying his is automatically correct, either. It's not like I am asking you to prove that all pagan survivals are bunkum, only what evidence you have that his tradition is not a legitimate survival, which is a positive claim you have made, and which therefore demands evidence to support it. If your only evidence is "everyone knows that there aren't any pagan survivals in Europe", then that's a pretty flimsy case, considering the contrary evidence available (such as the apparent survivals in the Derbyshire Peaks and neighboring areas, as well as the Mari – though the latter don't accept the label "pagan"). His may be even flimsier, but that says nothing about the validity of your claim.

            3) I'm actually not sure where I was going with that anymore.

            Also, thank you for clarifying your comments. I appreciate it.

          • Haukur

            I completely acknowledge the survival of the Mari tradition and it seems to me that they would have a perfectly reasonable case for calling it an indigenous tradition if they'd want to do that. The point that I'm making is that there is nothing similar in Western Europe. I don't know anything about Derbyshire Peaks. When I Google that name along with 'paganism' I get stuff like this:

            What you saw today, explained ex dog-collared cleric Neil Atkin, a former minister of the Unitarian church, was an authentic hand-fasting ceremony which pre-dates Christianity and was practiced by the ancient Druids.

            If someone tells me that he has a live mammoth in his garage I'm going to assume that he is mistaken because it is generally acknowledged that mammoths died out a long time ago. But if he invites me over to his garage and I can see the mammoth with my own eyes, I will of course change my mind. I'm inclined to think that if there was an indigenous religion or survival of a pre-Christian religion like the one the Mari hold to in Derbyshire or in Scotland, it would be widely known and studied and I would have heard about it before. But if someone shows me good evidence for the idea I will of course change my mind.

            Thank you for clarifying what you were concerned about. I see now that my initial post was not as clear as it could have been.

          • The best information on the Derbyshire (and other) possible survivals is in Twilight of the Celtic Gods by Daivd Clarke and Andy Roberts, but Anne Ross made mention of the area (albeit anonymously) as a likely survival in The Pagan Celts. She also provided a foreword for the Clarke and Roberts book. The book draws, in part, on a BBC2 documentary called "Twilight of the English Celts", part of the Chronicle series, aired 27 October 1977, though I've not seen that program myself.

          • Let me correct myself here: it was actually in Pagan Celtic Britain that Dr. Ross made her assertions of survivals.

          • Thank you for asking questions rather than jumping to unwarranted conclusions, as some other people have done. I am still in AU, have very unreliable Internet access, am about to go to the desert for a few days, & can only offer a sketchy response that may raise more questions than clear anything up. I realized long ago that the practices my teachers passed to me (very different from modern paganism) seemed to be the survival of a culturally-specific pagan tradition originating in the Scottish Highlands, & over the past 35+ years I’ve tried to find people with similar practices. It's been very difficult, but I’ve personally been able to meet a number of them in both W. & E. Europe, & have been told of others. These are people who generally live in rural areas, still speak their ancestral languages, and are extremely private & wary of strangers (that’s how they’ve managed to survive); some of them who are aware of modern paganism consider it as much of a threat to them as Christianity or modernity. I'm not talking merely of random folkloric survivals, of which there are plenty, but of substantially congruent sets of practices. I talked about this in considerably greater detail at the Parliament, though obviously I can't do the same here.

          • (Continued @Whateley)
            Most of the survivals that I know of in W. Europe seem to be moribund, and may well disappear altogether over the next 50 years or so, whereas the ones found in E. Europe — such as those in Lithuania or Mari-El — are stronger and more open. That's why I arranged to bring Jonas Trinkunas of Romuva to Melbourne, so that we could have a dialogue not only about the survivals of ethnic forms of European paganism, but also about the different situations found in E. & W. Europe. His presence there opened a lot of eyes, in particular those of some pagans who had no idea that so much of Lithuanian paganism had survived. A lot of modern pagans (as witnessed by some of the comments here) seem to think that if they don't know of something, then it simply doesn't exist. Perhaps some of the discussions at this year's Parliament will open the doors to a greater awareness of surviving indigenous forms of European paganism.

          • Thank you for this information. I'd be interested to find out more about the traditions which you seem to have received. Sadly, I am like most other modern pagans in that I don't know all that much about the Eastern European survivals, but I am aware, at least, that they exist.

            As far as modern paganism being a threat to Western European survivals, I expect that is both true and not. True, in that those few holding a surviving tradition would likely be besieged by largely inconsiderate, if at least earnest, members of the public (a public composed mostly of speakers of alien tongues), who would probably interfere in their otherwise quiet lives, distort the traditions to suit dramatically different conditions, and so on. Not, in the sense that the traditions will die out, as you note, without new people to whom they are transmitted – which would still mean that they will be transformed as they are brought to expression in such alien environments. It's a conundrum.

  • Bellamy

    While it's all well and good to state that this whole storm is a result of a misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of what he said, doesn't it stand to reason that if such a misunderstanding occured in the mind of *one* person, it could credibly occur in the minds of many others? And that if that is the case, the resulting fallout would be that there would be divisions among traditions regarding the "legitimacy" of those outside of one's own tradition? Whether the feelings of superiority arise among indigenous traditions or among Neopagans, those feelings are *not* helpful or unifying.

    While I can understand why some people would need or desire the definitions outlined here, what useful or helpful purpose do they really serve? And what is useful or helpful about exposing those divisions between us to the outside world?

    While the concept of "parliament" is downplayed here, it *was* perceived as quite a big deal, and a truly important event within the pagan community. Once again, whether it was or whether it wasn't that "important", we often have to take responsibility for the perceptions.

    • Jake

      You're presupposing that there ever was a unity among Traditional/ Reconstructionist and Neopagan traditions (to use Andras' terms) where, in fact, many of the former have for sometime considered themselves separate from the latter.

      • Paganism is not "European". Never has been, never will be. Of course there are Pagan traditions that are European. But why is it that people pretend that there are not significant non-European elements in Paganism. Or are people really that profoundly ignorant of their own religious traditions?

        Of course Andras Corban-Arthen is absolutely right in saying that people have been assuming and trying to assert that Paganism is European for many decades. Ronald Hutton, Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick have assumed this in their writings. But something that is not true does not become true through repetition.

        There are "indigenous European traditions" that are Pagan. But Paganism is not "indigenous European spirituality." Hmmm. Maybe its a grammar and/or reading comprehension thing. Even so-called "reconstructionism" is not limited to "European" traditions. Neither Hellenic nor Roman religion were "European".

        • I prefer the usage "contemporary Paganism" to Neopaganism myself. And I find it interesting and thought provoking, as well as reflecting some of how complex we are as a religious community, to think about the fact that we contain elements of both the traditional and perhaps even indigenous, and of the syncretic and NRM. Some of our traditions lean one way; some another. The interesting idea, perhaps, is that Paganism cuts across the (to the Parliament, apparently) traditional distinction between indigenous and the NRM. That's us: blasting apart the cubbyholes, however well-constructed experts try to make them.

          As for the tempest in a teapot, that illustrates for me the importance not only of Pagan journalism, but of Pagan editing! And I hereby give my deepest thanks to everyone who has ever edited my work–amazing how even my most careful prose has needed that help.

          One challenge that New Media, and not just in the Pagan community, are going to have to face, is how to cope with the declining availability of good copy editing. Writing, it turns out, takes more than idealism and willingness to do well.

          That's not intended to discourage our amateur reporters or bloggers out there. But we will have to give thought, in the next few years, to how we can manage to not only gather accurate information, but to be sure that what we say is what we think we have said, and that what we hear is what was actually spoken. (I know the Pagan Newswire Collective is giving some attention to these questions; I think that's a very good thing.)

          • There is plenty of good editing available out there if people want to hire editors to do it. Sadly, not every editor of a news venue these days is as adept at copy editing as they used to be. But if they are aware of this weakness then then they need to either trust their writers more or augment their editorial staff appropriately.

            Once a few years ago I wrote a piece on a Gershwin musical revival and used the phrase "but it ain't necessarily so" (thereby quoting a rather famous Gershwin song title); the "editor" changed this to read "but it's not necessarily true." Yes, this person has no idea I was referring to a Gershwin song and actually just assumed I was sing lousy grammar. Sigh.

        • And why do you continually minimize the European aspect of Paganism? There are Pagan religions and cultures that are indigenous to Europe.

          • Khryseis_Astra

            He said it in the last sentence of his post: not *all* Pagan religions come from Europe! 🙂

            At any rate, I'm sick of all the labels & definitions (and already was years ago), and the arguments that break out about whether a particular path (or even the way someone practices a particular path!) is "authentic" enough. And I'm a Recon!

            For me, the only thing Pagan can dependably mean is a "non-Abrahamic religion." Beyond that, if someone needs more specifics I can explain my own particular corner of Paganism to them.

          • 'At any rate, I'm sick of all the labels & definitions (and already was years ago), and the arguments that break out about whether a particular path (or even the way someone practices a particular path!) is "authentic" enough. […] For me, the only thing Pagan can dependably mean is a "non-Abrahamic religion." Beyond that, if someone needs more specifics I can explain my own particular corner of Paganism to them.'

            This is my usual approach.

          • My criticism is directed at the exclusion and minimization of non-European elements. Of course there are European elements. But one cannot, at least not with any justification, identify the whole with a part.

            Why is there such eagerness to identify Paganism as "European"? No Pagan in their right mind would ever diminish the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, etc elements of modern Paganism, nor their importance for the history of Paganism.

            But then why is it considered unproblematic to rewrite history to remove the African and Asian elements in Paganism, both modern and ancient? Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is what is known as "ethnic cleansing".

          • Jake

            Modern paganism developed primarily in the U.S and U.K, the former being populated largely by European immigrants and the latter is a European country(ies). Both belong to the Western tradition. It is to be expected that paganism take a Euro-centric direction.

          • Doesn't Hellenism belong to the Western Tradition?

            Doesn't Alexandria belong to the Western Tradition?

            Doesn't the word "Euro-centric" make you uncomfortable? It makes my skin crawl.

          • Jake

            Of course Hellenism belong to the Western tradition; it was a major shaper of it. I would say Alexandria belongs to the Western tradition by virtue of belonging to the Hellenic tradition.

            Hellenism, though influenced by other cultures, is European.

          • Why should "Euro-centric" make anyone's skin crawl? Do you hate your own culture that much? I know that you're of European descent, Apuleius.

          • Ethnocentrism as a general rule is something that I find highly problematic, eurocentrism especially so. I am xenophilic by nature, and people who are overly "centrified" on "their own" culture make me nervous. The opposite of xenophilia is xenophobia. A preference for "ones own kind can be a harmless thing (simply a symptom of a lack of imagination and/or insecurity), but it can also very far from harmless.

            Cosmopolitanism was an important feature of ancient Pagan cultures. Racial thinking, on the other hand, was an important feature of 18th and 19th century European Christianity and, unfortunately, is still very much alive and well today. Racial thinking did spring forth, fully formed, from the malignant brain of Adolf Hitler. It was part of the cultural, indeed academic and intellectual, mainstream of western Christendom long before he came along.

            Ideas about race and ethnicity developed by the triumphant European Great Powers in the wake of their conquest of the world (in the name of the spread of Christianity) are not applicable to the various "peoples" of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East whose polytheistic religious traditions for the basis for modern Paganism.

          • oops – shoulda been "racial thinking did NOT spring forth …."

          • Jake

            Ethnocentrism and that modern paganism has a European focus are two different things. Ethnocentrism is "the belief in the inherent superiority of one's own ethnic group or culture" or the "tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one's own." (… That modern paganism is Euro-centric because it developed among Europeans and European-descendants from knowledge of their own history is not ethnocentrism as such.

          • Jake: "modern paganism is Euro-centric because it developed among Europeans and European-descendants from knowledge of their own history"

            In fact modern Paganism has always been strongly influenced by both ancient non-European religious traditions (such as the worship of Isis and Cybele) and also by contemporary Asian religious traditions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism.

            Gerald Gardner, for example, quotes from Apuleius in the opening sentences of his first public, non-fiction work on the subject of Witchcraft. Gardner also spent almost four decades in living in parts of Asia where he was constantly exposed to Buddhism and Hinduism. In addition to citing Apuleius, Gardner places a great deal of emphasis in his writings on Greco-Roman Paganism, especially the Mystery Religions, and especially Orphism.

            In fact Gardner goes so far as to state: "there is no reason to doubt that some witch practices may have come from … to Europe via Roman and Greek mysteries, which all seem to be derived from ancient Egypt." (p. 95 in the 50th anniversary edition). The point here is not whether or not Gerald was talking out of his arse when he wrote that, the point is that he did write that, and, therefore, at least Gerald Gardner did not see his Witchcraft as devoid of significant non-European elements and influences. Ronald Hutton, in his nice little essay at the end of the 50th anniversary edition also mentions that Gardner was keen to be inclusive of Greco-Roman Paganism and that Gardner "was claiming the whole inheritance of Pagan antiquity" for modern Paganism.

            Also there is Ellen Cannon Reed, who was a well known, and very effective, proponent of a style of modern Paganism that is primarily focused on Egyptian Deities. She was even more well known (and equally effective) in promoting the use of Qabalah by modern Pagans, and it is highly questionable to what degree Qabalah can be categorized as "European", although it is that, to some extent.

            The influence of Buddhism and Hinduism (and ideas and practices from contemporary Asian religions in general) in modern Paganism is undeniable and completely uncontroversial and unproblematic, except to people who wish to rewrite the history of modern Paganism in order to "purify" it of "foreign" elements. Precisely such perceived impurities are, in fact, one of the underlying motivations for much of the so-called "reconstructionist" movement.

          • Nick Ritter

            "Precisely such perceived impurities are, in fact, one of the underlying motivations for much of the so-called "reconstructionist" movement."

            Do you really think so? It seems to me that various reconstructionist movements (including my own) are not about trying to purge Paganism of non-European "impurities." Instead, reconstructionisms seem to be primarily about specificity, practicing one tradition and seeing it as a self-contained whole, whereas "Paganism" outside of any given reconstructionist movement is not a specific tradition, but a number and range of traditions.

            Just because someone might want to focus on a specific religious tradition does not mean that they have dastardly motives for doing so, right?

          • I don't assume dastardly motives, just outmoded historical and cultural paradigms.

            There was never a time when every small group of people had their own neatly separable religion. Reconstructionists tacitly recognize this by grouping ancient religions together as "Germanic", "Celtic", "Hellenic", etc. But they wrongly imagine that these broad and extremely varied (that is, internally) groupings were, as you put it, each "one tradition" and that each was a "self-contained whole". But they were not self-contained. They had lots of contacts with "others", including extensive religious contacts. Germans and Celts, for example, had extensive contacts with Romans and Hellenes, and everyone influenced everyone else.

            A good example of where I think the real problem with Reconstructionism lies is that Hellenic Reconstructionists tend to read Walter Burkert's "Greek Religion" but then ignore his "The Orientalizing Revolution" and also his "Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis". That's the problem in a nutshell.

          • Nick Ritter

            "Germans and Celts, for example, had extensive contacts with Romans and Hellenes, and everyone influenced everyone else."

            But to what extent? I can think of a few instances where Roman culture influenced Germanic religion: Roman style temples and inscriptions to Germanic deities (the Matres of different tribes, Mars Thingsus, Hercules Magusanus) *within* Roman provinces (although not, tellingly, outside of them in Germanic territory); and the adoption of the seven-day week, including the translation of Roman god-names into Germanic god names (except Saturn). The former only shows that Germanic gods are worshiped in Roman ways in Roman territory, where it may have been difficult to worship them in Germanic ways. The latter is, indeed, a cultural borrowing.

            This doesn't show that either Greek or Roman religion had any sort of deeply penetrating effect on Germanic religion. If you have other evidence, though, I'd be interested in it.

            My point is this: you're right to say that different tribes or related groups of tribes did not erect hedges around their religions to defend them from foreign influence. This doesn't mean that everyone was borrowing everything from everyone else, all the time. That probably *was* the case in the highly urbanized, cosmopolitan, and literate cultural centers of the Hellenistic and Roman world. That has yet to be shown, I think, for areas outside of that cultural sphere.

          • William

            This is all well and good to know, but in a conversation like what is going on at the Parliament do you want to have to point that out EVERY TIME you talk about paganism? It's just a convenient classification, that's all, and I think it's reading a LOT into things to assume that there is some ethnocentrism or racial politics involved in the term. Do you object to Japanese religion (Shinto I'm referring to) being called Japanese, even though it has been influenced by other cultures and its practice has spread beyond Japan? Is the term "Afro-Carribean Religion" ethnocentric and tied to racial politics because none of the religions are "really" African nor Carribean?

            If you DO treat terms like "Asian Religion," "African Religion," "Afro-Carribean Religion," etc. the same that you treat the term "European Religion," then I appreciate your consistency even if I disagree. If not, then can you explain why there is no such thing as European Religion, but there is African, Asian, and Afro-Carribean Religion? Because that just seems like someone jumping to conclusions and overly-politicizing a TERM of simplification simply because they suffer from the Euro-phobia that seems common among so-called "liberal academics." I am a fan of your writings, but I don't quite understand your knee-jerk and rather extreme reaction to using the term "European" as a simplified classification for religions that originate from the geographic area that is now referred to as Europe.

          • William

            Please add a plural "s" to all instances of "religion" in the previous post.

          • You're not going to get a reply from him on this. He cherry picks his topics and responses.

          • Jake

            How does any of this refute my point that modern paganism developed among Europeans and their descendants, and that its core assumptions are derived from Indo-European (a better term to use) cultures? What your describing is merely syncretism, some foreign elements reconciled with a native culture. Also, Wicca is far from representing all of modern paganism.

            "Precisely such perceived impurities are, in fact, one of the underlying motivations for much of the so-called "reconstructionist" movement."

            Bullshit. There are plenty of legitimate syncretic reconstructionist groups in existence, ranging from Greco-Roman, Greco-Egyptian, Romano-British, Gallo-Roman, Norse-Gaelic, etc.

          • Jake

            Oh, and let's be responsible with the words we use. That (Neo)paganism is Euro-centric is a far cry from "ethnic cleansing," which is a form of violence and oppression.

          • Because most of the practitioners of African and Asian polytheistic/land-based/animistic religions do not self-identify as "Pagan," and because most of those who do so self-identify practice a tradition rooted in or inspired by European paganisms.

            Note the use of upper and lower case. Michael York, who goes to some pains to demonstrate the commonalities of the religions you are talking about with more Euro-centric Paganism uses a lower case letter to refer to paganism as a kind of classificatory system of religions that share a common approach to the world.

            I, on the other hand, use the upper case to refer to a more specific body of religious traditions revived or reconstructed or syncretized in the 19th–21st Centuries. My use–and the use of others like me–of the term "Pagan" is similar to what Chas Clifton refers to below as "contemporary Paganism" or others call "Neopaganism." It is analogous to the word "Christian," and is capitalized as a proper noun for a specific religious path. Michael York's use (and that of others who view paganism as a more inclusive body of religions with something important in common) is more akin to the use of the word "monotheism"–descriptive, but not a name for a specific, particular religious tradition, and thus, not a proper noun.

            No denigration or marginalization of African, Afro-diasporic, or Asian religions is implied by the focus on the more European-centered aspects of Paganism (with a capital "P") because thus far, the practitioners of those religions are not, overall, keen to join the family. I have no beef with their doing so, and in fact I'd welcome it–but while the practitioners themselves seem overwhelmingly not to feel that their practice is relevant to mine, or vice versa, I am willing to concede the point. Self-definition seems to me one of the few civilized ways to maintain such a blurry boundary.

            I tend to agree with York–and, perhaps, with you, if I understand your point, Apuleius, that the other "paganisms" of the world are linked also, and important ways. But I recognize that that point is in dispute.

          • I love Apuleius' writings to death, but he has this over-focus on the non-European aspects of European pagan cultures, so much to an extreme that he has said in other places that Greek and Roman Paganism was "not exclusively nor primarily European." An odd statement, to say the least; a statement, I think, born in an over-reaction to other trends to minimize the contribution of non-European Pagan cultures on Rome and Greece.

          • To claim that Roman Paganism was not primarily European is probably over-stretching it. It is not such a stretch for Greek Paganism. Even Greek colonies as far west as Sicily often looked back to their motherlands in Turkey or Africa for their cultural center.

          • Look at the Italian peninsula in the 6th century BC (a link to a blog post of mine with just such a map is at the bottom of this comment). It was a hodge-podge of Celts, Latins, Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Greeks, Etruscans, etc. This was the melting pot that Rome grew from. The Etruscans were, of course, non-Indo-Europeans, and the Phoenicians were, of course, Semites originally from Asia.

            The Romans themselves proudly claimed to be of mixed-race right from their legendary beginnings. One of the reasons for the popularity of the cult of Magna Mater is that she came from the same part of Asia Minor that Aeneas hailed from: Troy.

            The second and third largest cities in the Roman Empire (probably in the whole world) were the Asian metropolis of Antioch and the Egyptian port city of Alexandria. Were these cities not "really" Roman? Why? Because they weren't sufficiently European?

            The ancient world was exceedingly cosmopolitan, and had been so for thousands of years before the cities of Athens and Rome were ever founded. This cosmopolitanism was reflected in the Paganism of the Greco-Roman world, which is where the word comes from, after all.

            Here's that link:
            Paganism is not a European Religion<.a>

          • That's all just fine. The Roman Empire was certainly quite cosmopolitan.

            But in most cases, there was such a connection between Roman paganism and the city itself and the surrounding area that I cannot think of it as having, at least in the ancient world, an essential connection to Italy and the Latin peoples. For instance, very many Roman temples explicitly took their temple rules from the Temple of Diana in Rome itself.

            The places where this connection seems to be somewhat attenuated are for the most part in modern Western Europe, in the syncretisms of the gods of Rome with the gods of Gaul or Britain.

            To be clear, by "Roman paganism," I mean something like the traditional religion of Rome, as carried forward from the city's founding. I do not mean, necessarily, all pagan religion practiced in Rome. The cult of Cybele, for instance, was adopted by Rome, and her worship took on a Roman form there. But her worship was so far reaching throughout the ancient world already at that point that I do not know that I can think of her worship as uniquely and specifically Roman.

            Of course, it is only after the fact, with the establishment of the geopolitical entity of Europe, that we can identify Roman religion as anything like European–it is a classification that serves mainly to highlight the historical relationship between elements of the modern world and the ancient world. It would have been meaningless to the Romans themselves.

          • The "polis model" and also the idea that Romans at one time had a "pure" "original" religion uninfluenced by "others" are open to question.

            The worship of Cybele was adopted by the Romans on advice of their own ancient, sacred religious traditions, and this was fairly early on in Roman history, in fact. Also, Cybele's "home" happened to be the same part of Asia Minor that the legendary founders of Rome came from.

          • Of course, it was never "pure" and "uninfluenced by others." It is not the origin of the tradition that I am talking about, but how it developed and matured.

            And there were, of course, continuing non-European influences on Roman paganism. We've already talked about the introduction of Cybele to Roman religion. One could also note the switch from a Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, or the way the adoption of the Dii Consentes was likewise influenced by Greek religion.

            Nonetheless, I think one can identify Roman forms, values, and traditions which mark Roman paganism out from other forms of paganism, and which are primarily associated with the cultural ancestors of modern Europe. That is not to downplay the cosmopolitan aspects of Roman paganism, or of paganism as a whole, but to note that this particular tradition within paganism stands in a unique historical relationship with modern Europe.

          • THANK YOU Cat, you beat me to it. 🙂 My understanding as well is that practitioners of indigenous traditions from outside of Europe, as well as practitioners of the syncretic religions, do NOT consider themselves Pagan and may well feel insulted by being told that they are. I think "contemporary Paganism" is very much what is meant by the definitions that root it in European traditions.

            And like you said, that's not to say there aren't similarities; I love learning about/from Yoruba and Native American religions, for instance, and thinking about the parallels. But just as Pagans want to be called whatever it is we prefer to be called, practitioners of other non-Abrahamic religions do too.

            I wonder if this whole conversation is rooted in how difficult it is to keep everyone's self-definitions straight, while simultaneously looking at the "big picture" of religions around the world and trying to figure our the patterns they make.

          • I think that Apuleius is talking about North Africa and Asia Minor.

            The Greek culture originated in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor and expanded in all directions it could. Many of the Greek myths in turn link Greece to Egypt. Asia Minor's polytheisms are often considered paganisms. Ishtar, Anu, Ur, and the other Sumerian deities are commonly accepted in syncretic Neopagan traditions as well as the Sumerian recon communities.

          • Cole Gillette


            Firstly, notice that I used the word ‘traditionalist’ in addition to and before the word ‘reconstructionist’.
            Secondly, I have personally observed (on more occasions than I can count) practitioners of reconstructionist religions making exactly that claim, as illogical as it is due (as you pointed out) to the very definition of reconstructionism.

            Thirdly, nearly all practitioners of so-called “traditionalist” contemporary Paganism claim ancient lineage–hence the term traditionalist.

            I reject your assertion that “none [of the traditionalist or reconstructionist religions] do [claim ancient lineage].”

            Finally, I meant by the last point in my previous post that none of the (contemporary Pagan) religions I mentioned claim Abraham as their spiritual ancestor, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims do. One of the most common definitions of the word “Paganism” that anyone will encounter is that the word describes any spiritual practice not associated with the three religions that trace their lineage to Abraham, or sects and offshoots thereof.

            I hope I have clarified my position.

            Bright blessings,


          • No, "ethnic cleansing" is a term for genocide and it is rather trite to use it over a disagreement over history within paganism.

        • The last time I checked, Rome was in Europe, as was Athens.

        • Andras Corban Arthen

          For whatever it's worth, here's the entry on this topic from the "Introduction to Paganism" which I wrote and which was widely disseminated at the Parliament:

          "There is a popular definition of "pagan" that includes anyone who does not practice one of the Abrahamic religions. This definition is so extremely wide and general as to be fundamentally meaningless. We define paganism specifically in the context of European traditions for several reasons: The word “pagan” was originally coined by Europeans to define other Europeans. Almost all of the people who identify as “pagan” today are of European or European-derived cultures, and practice traditions rooted in Europe. Other non-Abrahamic religions throughout the world pointedly do not use the term “pagan” to identify themselves, so it would be insensitive and offensive to apply that label to them. Finally, it is useful to have a collective term to identify the Indigenous religions and cultures of Europe, just as, for instance, many Indigenous peoples of the Americas have come to use “American Indians” when referring collectively to themselves."

          • Gwendolyn Reece

            I do think that Andras is making an important point that we should consider when trying to build bridges with people in other traditions. We may consider some other people to be "pagan," but many of them might be gravely offended by having that label forced on them. Of course, we did run into problems with people being offended by us applying the term indigenous to ourselves. It is similar to the problem of applying the Tungus-derviate term "shaman" to practitioners of a particular type in various cultures. Some people are mightily offended by the label…but at some point we have to use *some* term to try to denote what we are talking about. All labels are fraught with difficulties. Regardless of final outcome, I think the attempt Andras was making to open dialogue is appropriate.

          • This definition of "Paganism", or even "Traditional Paganism", leaves out people who identify as Pagan, but who do not practice European-based Pagan religions. I am a Canaanite Pagan, and I know of other Near East, Middle East, and Mediterranean Pagans who are left out of this particular definition. We may be small in numbers, but we are out there.

        • I agree with you, Apuleius, in regards to the word "European". This leaves out any who would identify themselves as Egyptian Pagan, Sumerian Pagan, Canaanite Pagan, and more.

          Although the definition includes Europe as a whole, I feel that it distinctly leaves out Southern Europe, especially the Greeks and Romans, who had more in common with the Mediterranean world and the Near East than with Northern Europe.

          Since I am a Canaanite Pagan, practicing the reconstructionist Pagan religion of Natib Qadish, this issue is of great importance to me.

          Peace, wellbeing, and wisdom,

      • Ali

        I have to agree with Jake here, Bellamy – it seems a bit unfair to blame Corban-Arthen alone for the divisiveness and controversy over community- and self-identity among Pagans when this has been a defining characteristic of the Pagan community for quite a while. I distinctly remember, ten years ago when first exploring nature-based spirituality, being confused by people's use of terms. None of the Wiccans I knew in person self-identified as "Pagan," (but often preferred the word Witch) while Pagans I knew often held a disdain for Wiccans that seemed unjustified considering often what they practiced seemed, frankly, very similar.

        To their credit, the various incarnations of and communities within Paganism seem on the whole to be quite comfortable admitting to their relative newness, having gotten over the days of fabricating lineage and constantly referencing the Burning Times as a way of seeking religious authenticity and legitimacy. Obviously the topic still pushes buttons for some; plus, I suspect it will eventually just be inconvenient to keep referring to religious movements as "new" once they've been around in the public eye for several generations (then I suppose we'll have to add "post-NRM" to vocabulary that already includes postmodern and post-9/11). But to me, the issues of newness and legitimacy should take a backseat to the issue of what counts as "indigenous" and exactly how we continue to identify with particular local cultures (such as pre-Christian European cultures) in a world that is increasingly organized on a global scale. I'm not sure I even disagree that Paganism should or at least usually does refer to European-specific traditions… but I think the implications of such a definition warrant examination.

        On the one hand, I've never been one to feel the pressing need to include absolutely everyone under one umbrella term. So what if some people don't end up counting as "Pagan"? On the other hand, I think what should take primary importance is people's right to "choose their own name," so to speak, and self-identify with whatever religious term they think best suits. In order for people to do this in a way that is helpful and illuminating for others as well as for themselves, however, we have to keep having these kinds of conversations. I don't think we should expect such controversies to die down any time soon.

  • Classification of UUism as an NRM illustrates the shakiness of all these defintions. Unitarianism and Universalism go back to well before the 19th Century, as Christian heresies. Their institutions in the USA merged in 1961, and by the 1990s the Unitarian Universalist Association was roughly 50% Humanist and 20% Earth-Centered. That's certainly in contrast to most other churches, but how does an institution *become* a "New" Religious Movement?

    If one is going to define UU's "newness" as starting from the merger, then there are Lutheran denominations that would have to be classified as NMRs even though they are in direct line of Lutheran orthodoxy.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

    • "Pagan" scholars have been eager to promote the NRM paradigm because that is the easiest way to gain acceptance in academia. It's called "selling out".

      • I am glad he cleared up what he felt he was saying…it was still this disturbing trend in my opinion that the Parliaments official stance did not include Wicca or any Neo-Pagan faith definitions in it's official boards or any place that was easily accessible to the attending members. In fact, the only representation is this idea of Traditional/Indigenous Paganism. Thanks Jason for publishing this, because it makes the strong argument, that Andras and others do not want to see Wicca fall away from the Pagan label, that they do in fact, want to make distinctions between Wicca and other branches of Paganism.

        For this I would recommend downloading the Official display, and examine it: Page 21 fully describes this concept:

        For the main program book, I would ask them to examine it for the times Wicca was mentioned beyond a personal description of presenter:

        Thank You

        • Way to go, Ed! You did what any journalist wants to do- reported something and got a lot of people reading and talking. I'm glad you did. I don't see why the "Pagan" label is such a contention; anyone, in my way of seeing, who prays to Pagan Gods or Goddesses is a "Pagan". But that's just me, I guess.

          If you really believed that this "Parliament" of world religions is both a useful event for this world and a useful one for Pagans in this world, I hope that it does get its act together and represents (in the future) the wide scope of the Pagan world a bit better. As it is, a bunch of world religious leaders getting together and talking about peace, love, tolerance, and hairgrease doesn't seem to be useful to me. They can't make enforceable statements, nor is there very tolerant, peaceful approach to world religious coexistence likely to change the minds of even one person- but still, if you saw something there of use, I'll trust you and hope that the tradition continues on.

          • Gotta disagree with you on this one–anything that gets people who are very very different from each other to make friends with and/or better understand one another is a Very Good Thing, even if it does send us into a tizzy over appropriate uses of categories from time to time. 🙂 No they aren't going to enforce the hair grease (and is that one word or two? and does it count as an authentic indigenous practice? ;)) on the world, but hey, these things do have ripple effects.

          • To an extent, I agree with you. More friends is better than less friends.

          • I would imagine that, to alien visitors, this entire debate sounds like chimps barking at the moon.

          • Maybe, but there's been at least one non-PHA visitor who's cruised the site and been astonished to find out PHAs aren't just a bunch of crystal-wearing stoners like he thought. Score.

        • I meant to say "their" not "there".

      • The truth is that most "paganism" today *is* part of the New Religious Movements, being almost entirely modern religions.

        Time to remove the chip from your shoulder. It isn't selling out to call a spade a spade. But then again, you've stated before that you don't think paganism ever died out, even though you cannot provide evidence of such other than Christians reading Plato.

        • Hi Al, you might want to check out Wouter Hanegraaff's "New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought". But you have probably already read it, know the author personally, published papers citing it, etc.

          Nevertheless, as Hanegraaff argues in that book, modern Paganism is firmly rooted in western esotericism, which is hardly something new at all. Of course you know that already, and yet, somehow, you don't. Curious.

          • Not only have a I read it, I cited it in papers that I wrote for my Master's degree. I used to have those papers online on my blog but took them down a few years ago. I never published them and I've never met Dr. Hangegraaf in person though since he didn't come to the Western Esotericism conference at UC, Davis in 2006 and I didn't go to the one following it (or the European conference).

            I completely agree that modern paganism is rooted in Western Esotericism. Being rooted in something has no effect on the fact that the actual religions involved as wholly modern creations and institutions. His thoughts are not a refutation of them being, almost entirely, within the category of New Religious Movements. Wicca was started in the 1940s (we can quibble back to the 30s, in some senses maybe) and other pagan religions are almost entirely post-WWII. This is the same failed logic that says because some person reads a book of Plato's and one of Proclus' and then founds a esoteric philosophy club, he's practicing ancient paganism instead of the reality that what he's doing is completely contemporary.

            So, I'm not sure how your comment actually refutes what I said.

  • Following a suggestion made by Graham Harvey (The Open University, UK), my co-editor on THE PAGANISM READER, the Pagan Studies group in the American Academy of Religion has more or less dropped the term "Neopaganism" in favor of "contemporary Paganism." (Is Wicca therefore still a "new religious movement? Yes, as is Asatru and many others.)

    The name change de-emphasizes the "neo-" in favor of "Paganism" as a way of being religious that has been around for a very long time.

    Best wishe,s


    • I am of the view that Neopaganism DOES need to split because I think that various theologically distinguishable groups are holding each other back from being able to mature as religious traditions–because we ARE new. Despite our throwback nature, we are not contiguous with the pre-Christian traditions of Europe or anywhere else, and to deny this (and, instead, to assert that we are representatives of the indigenous traditions) is not only lie to ourselves but also to blind ourselves from many theological and practical dilemmas we face. **Emphasizing the "Pagan" element in our name, I think, shrouds the fact that we are essentially 'picking up the pieces'. I prefer the term "Neopagan" because, while this term does point to our intellectual and spiritual ancestors, it also points out that we are approaching the traditions from new standpoints, with new goals, in new places, and in a new time.** As much as we would like to be, we are not representatives of the old faiths; rather, we are naive upstarts who haven't been able to shake off all of the decidedly un-pagan, un-polytheistic philosophic and theological elements of our contemporary society's dominant world views.

      And so (getting back to the broader point of dividing the Neopagan movement), I think it is absolutely necessary for us to make a real distinction between those traditions that can ever assume anything close to the polytheistic religious practices and views of our ancestors (these I would truly call the "Neopagan" movements), on the one hand, and those traditions whose theology is so fundamentally dependent on elements foreign and antithetical to the ancient "pagan" practices. In this second category (those whose theologies are decidedly un-Pagan, in my view) I would place Wicca (which is essentially a form of Abrahamic mysticism founded on the Hermetic Kabbalah) and other groups founded on the Kabbalah and psychology-driven healing ritual, among others.

      I wrote some other thoughts here:

      • And yet again, the entire point is quickly lost amid the shuffle of opinions, which is hardly surprising. Andras has often emphasized that he does not consider himself a spokesman or representative, nor a leader of any sort, for the pagan community, such as it may be. But, try as he may to define his role, nobody ever pays him any heed. Of course. When does anybody’s self-definition ever matter to others above their own preconceptions? (and yes, I am being very much ironic concerning pagans’ self-definitions).

        For the record, I’ve read a book which has a Spanish equivalent of “New Religious Movements” on its title and deals, among other things, with Mexican “concheros” and speculative revivals of native Mexican “shamanism”. A conchero recommended it to me. It is an anthropological treatise, quite good, and it’s offended no one. What’s the fuss about being part of a NRM? Yes, no matter what those who coined the term say, no matter what students of anthropology and sociology understand by it, some people do consider “new” as deprecatory, and “traditional” Those same folks are defending the word “pagan”, but that word is still a deprecatory term for many people. If we’re going to drop any terms which are misunderstood by some people, then we’ll run out of words.

        Bellamy does raise a basic question:

        “While I can understand why some people would need or desire the definitions outlined here, what useful or helpful purpose do they really serve? And what is useful or helpful about exposing those divisions between us to the outside world?”

        Well, they are useful, and very much so, for religious studies, for sociology, for analyzing and chronicling the development of paganism. Now, I’ll throw another question:

        Has anybody ever stopped to wonder whether the shamans of the Navajo, Lakota, Nahuatl, Mayan, Wixarrika or whatever culture you like, approve of being labeled “shamans”? Do they even know the word “shaman”? If they do, would they self-describe as shamans? More importantly, perhaps: do they even care?? Let me put it this way: if I had to explain a Mayan what a shaman is, I’d have to say, “originally, a shaman is a Siberian Ah’men”. A shaman, let us remember, is a practitioner of ecstatic methods from Siberia; it was some anthropologist who turned the word into a generic category. Now let’s turn it around: would you describe Don Juan Matus as a Mexican Yaqui Druid? Would you say that Pachita, the famous healer, was a Mexican Seidrkonna or Spaekonna? If we are honest, applying those labels to them is as legitimate as calling them shamans! It is academia that applies the category “shamanism” to members of all cultures, NOT the practitioners themselves!!! Just as it is academia, or quasi-academic studies, which have an use for labels such as New Religious Movements, European Indigenous beliefs, etc. Modern pagans have this strange penchant for self-Labeling, for studying and classifying themselves, something no ancient pagan cultures, no existing indigenous peoples, ever do. And it’s this anxiety over being able to say “I am this!” that causes so much grief.

        I really like Robin Artisson's summary definition of "pagans" as "those who worship pagan gods" -and I can't stop snickering over the fact that Andras is probably the only one in this blog who is left out by such a definition, non-theistic/agnostic as he is! 😛

        • Guest

          I have to bring up the point that the paradigm of the pagan god is very different from than the Christian concept of God; in many ways. You may say, and Andras himself may say, that he is non-theistic/agnostic, but this may be only by the usual Christian definition. If one is pantheistic or animistic and engages with "superior forces" is that person really without the gods of nature?

          • Good point. I know only what he says concerning not believing in antrophomorphic deities… but what in both mythological and (dare I say it) Neopagan terms we may call "gods", may as well be called sprites, beings, entities, forces… it's probably a matter of wording. (But I couldn't resist the irony!)

        • Actually the point is Andras Arthen is a representative adn a leader, He is a memebr of the Board of Trustees of teh Parliament of the World's Religions. Therefore his words have extensive weight and is in fact a leader representing us to the Interfaith World. Along with Angie Buchanan and Phyllis Curott, they are the face of Paganism to the Council of the Parliament of the World's Religions. So any statement to the contrary is a a bold attempt at deflection, Andras Arthen is a leader and a spokesman when he attends the trustee meetings.

          • I'll grant that as a public figure, Andras is a leader of opinion, which basically means that whatever he says is widely heard and/or considered a weighty opinion by those who a) know that he is an experienced crafter and community builder, or b) think that carrying a title or function automatically means that whatever he says is representative of what most pagans think. But then again, Ed, you are a leader of opinion yourself, as you are widely read, too, and those who follow your work will be influenced by it. 🙂

            Yes, Andras is a leader of opinion, and he is what some might call a "leading figure", more accurately a high-profile figure, and many non-pagans assume he is a leader of all pagans, used as they are to organized religions with their clergy and gurus and solid hierarchies. But is he a leader to pagans? Well, you've quite acknowledged him as your leader, all right! Me, I'll continue to acknowledge Andras' work, hold his opinions in high regard, strongly agree or disagree however it may be, and immensely enjoy these wild debates, but I'll skip any leaders, thank you very much.

        • "Now let’s turn it around: would you describe Don Juan Matus as a Mexican Yaqui Druid? Would you say that Pachita, the famous healer, was a Mexican Seidrkonna or Spaekonna? If we are honest, applying those labels to them is as legitimate as calling them shamans! "

          I've used this argument myself many a time. I find both "shaman" and "druid" problematic descriptors these days.

        • Gwendolyn

          Thank you, Luis.

          • My pleasure. The bagpiping mariachi strikes again! 🙂

  • Damn! Andras lost me in the last part. Asatru (my only concern in his bandying about of definitions) has gone from traditional to reconstructionist in his 2.0 version of "what Paganism really is"- though he does say that "some" forms of Asatru still fall under traditional rather than reconstructionist. I wonder if he'd ever say which Asatruar are considered (in his opinion) traditional as opposed to the recon, because as far as I can see, it's all traditional (or indigenous, if you will.)

    Andras is completely correct about there being no way he could redefine paganism, as it never really had an agreed upon definition before, anywhere. Good for him.

    • Many scholars of the history of religion routinely use the term "Paganism", and it is rarely, if ever, unclear what they are referring to.

      Wherever the term "Pagan" is used, it always refers to one of three things: (1) religions that predate any contact with Christianity (and/or possibly other forms of monotheism), (2) religions that actively resisted Christianization, (3) religions that reject Christianity after the process of Christianization has taken place (a process that has never been 100% successful/complete anywhere on earth), and seek to revert to, reconstruct, revive or possibly in some sense even "continue" the religions of (1) and (2). There is really nothing complex or even subtle about this usage of the word Pagan. It's just that people, for various reasons, wish to replace this well established usage with other meanings.

      In particular, certain folks prefer the NRM paradigm, while others prefer an "ethnic" paradigm. Both of these are fundamentally new "redefinitions" of Paganism, and both should be rejected.

      • Cat

        Here Here, nicely put

      • Your definition of Paganism is flawed, I think, in that it defines a religion in terms of what it is not (Christian) and in that it sees Christianity as the sole force eroding indigenous religions worldwide. In your earlier post you mentioned African paganism as important–and while Christianity is today a force eroding African traditional religion, long before Christianity was important anywhere beyond Ethiopia and Egypt, Islam was converting African animists at sword point.

        Defining anything in terms of what it is not tends to be an oversimplification. Read Michael York's Paganism as a World Religion, Apuleius! Not because it will "set you straight"–I think you'll find a lot to agree with in it–but because it may help you develop a more nuanced and complete view of the topic. Agree or disagree, but think your line of reasoning out a bit more clearly; it's actually a fairly complex subject.

        • Cat C-B: When Christians first coined the word Pagan as a religious designation they were labeling something that really does exist. This is what seems to evade you. You can't get past the Christian definition of Paganism, which is obviously couched in purely negative terms. But, as I always assumed all Pagans understood, that which Christians see as purely negative (Paganism) actually has a great deal that is positive! It is most certainly "not Christianity", but it is also much much more than that.

          As Rasmsay MacMullen has written in his "Paganism in the Roman Empire": "the thing so arrogantly called Paganism, being in fact all the religions of the Roman Empire save one, must really have shared certain widespread characteristics." [p. xii – he spends the rest of the book articulating his understanding of these widespread characteristics shared by "all the religions of the Roman Empire save one."]

          Many scholars over the last 250 years have also, like MacMullen, recognized that the different polytheistic religious traditions of the ancient, classical and late-antique world indeed "shared certain widespread characteristics." These scholars include (in addition to MacMullen) David Hume, Edward Gibbon, J.B. Bury, Raffaele Pettazzoni, Frank Trombley, James B. Rives and Jan Assmann, off the top of my head.

          Why not simply refer to this commonality using the label that has been consistently used for it for the last two millennia: Paganism.

          As far as the role of Islam in Africa, well, first of all, Islam simply took up where Christianity left off. North Africa was witness to some of the worst violence that the Christians meted out in the Roman World centuries before the Muslims came along (by which time there was not very much Paganism left to suppress, although there was some — these things don't happen over night). Here is how Peter Brown describes the scene in North Africa early in the fifth century: "the Bishops in Africa had provoked the destruction of the old ways. Public Paganism had been suppressed: the great temples were closed; the statues broken up, often by Christian mobs; the proud inscriptions … used to pave public highways." [Augustine of Hippo, p. 185]

          Second of all, Christianity and Islam are both examples of the religious phenomenon of monotheism (obviously). Of course Muslims, as good monotheists, have sought, and all too often have succeeded in the attempt, to suppress all other religions they have come into contact with. That is how they roll. This is a characteristic that Muslims share with Christians, but which is not shared by the vast majority of other religions, thank the Gods.

          Read JB Bury, Ramsay MacMullen and Jan Assmann. As long as we are making suggestions for further reading:

      • I just put up a blog post on whether I think contemporary Anglosphere Pagans are indigenous or not.

        Short version: no, except in the limited rhetorical use of connecting what we do now with pre-modern ancestors 1,000 years or more ago.

        The use of "indigenous" is usually connected to political claims, particularly over land rights.

        The nearest we come are the conflicts over archaeology—interesting and valid, but not quite the same thing.

        Best wishes,


        • "Indigenous" is defined simply as "originating in and characteristic of a particular region or country"- and it also means "inherent" or "innate". Asatru did originate in the Northern regions of Europe, and it is characteristic of what pre-Christian Europeans of those regions were doing.

          "Indigenous" does get tied up with politics, but that doesn't mean that we have to get tied up in the same manner. The term "indigenous", following this general definition that I cited, doesn't include a necessity for people to have been living in a certain land or practicing things native to that land in an unbroken lineage for a certain length of time; if that were the case, most Native Americans that were relocated would fail to be "indigenous" in description.

    • Yes, agreed. I actually employ the "Limited rhetorical use" when trying to explain Paganism to non-Pagans. I call it "Indian stuff for white people" and they get the gist of it.

      • True – I like your phrasing!

        That kind of thing has gotten me farther than throwing a wad of anthropology jargon. Saying, "I work from comparative UPG experiences with animal spirits" gets the Homer Simpson look. Saying "I work with animal spirits that are a bit like Native American totem animals", and the lightbulb goes off. Just saying "I'm a hedge witch" gets the ick reaction.

        That may make for some vague terms, but if someone's mind shuts off with a particular word, I say find one that at least makes them wonder WTF? and ask questions. That'll get you a better opportunity to explain more accurately than just hitting them with the word over and over.

    • Robin, though Ásatrú is not my path (and hence I don’t feel qualified to talk in depth or specifics about it), I have had numerous experiences and conversations with Ásatruar both in the U.S. and in Europe (including two members of the group that founded Icelandic Ásatrú) to have a sense that there are some important differences in how that path is mostly practiced in at least parts of one continent versus the other. For me, it boils down to the subtle but important distinction between revitalization and reconstruction: the latter implies a disconnect, a sense that something has been lost or broken and hence must be rebuilt; while the former implies a continuity, a significant survival of tradition which needs no rebuilding per se, but rather an infusion of new life to help it survive. The Icelandic Ásatruar made it clear to me that this is precisely what they intended Ásatrú to accomplish: to preserve and bring new life to traditional practices that had survived intact among the peasantry and which are deeply rooted in the geography, culture and language of that land. This is almost word for word how krivis Jonas Trinkunas of Lithuania has described to me the founding & mission of Romuva, and how my own teachers described their practices. Obviously, there is an awful lot that could be said and discussed about this which can’t very well be handled by brief comments in a blog, but in a nutshell, my sense is that continuous and substantial pagan survivals which are deeply rooted in an ancestral land & culture (including certain strands of Ásatrú) represent traditional (indigenous) forms of paganism, whereas strands that lack some of those qualities (such as some diasporic strands of Ásatrú) would more properly be classified as reconstructionist (e.g., I know many American Ásatruar, for instance, who have no working knowledge of their ancestral language, and who have never even visited their ancestral land and its sacred sites, let alone spent enough time there to be substantially assimilated into the culture).

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  • Yes, Jake. Hellenism is a pre-eminently European phenomenon, now and then.

    • Bollocks. The Neo-Platonists were all either from the Levant and the Near East or inspired by it. After Delphi, the most influential and popular oracles of Apollo were in Didyma and Claros–both in modern day Turkey. The oracle of Zeus Ammon in Egypt was consulted by Greeks for hundreds of years before Hellenism, and continued to be consulted after.

      And for hundreds of years the best and most insightful interpreters of Aristotle spoke Arabic or Farsi. It was people who spoke Arabic who preserved the bulk of Aristotle's extant writings. And for hundreds of years the only Plato anyone in Europe knew about was from Arabic translations.

      And what about the Bactrian Greek kingdoms next door to India?

      Indeed, one distinguishing characteristic of Europe is that until the Renaissance, hardly anyone in Europe could speak Greek or had access to the principal texts of Hellenism–not the Iliad, not the Odyssey, not Hesiod. Not Plato, nor Epictetus, nor Ptolemy or Galen. The resources of Hellenism were lost to Europe, and it made Europe what it was.

      The claim that Hellenism is "pre-eminently European" is impossible to support.

      • Jake

        For purposes of expediency, let's quote Wikipedia:

        "Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BC to about 146 BC (or arguably as late as 30 BC)…After the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout south-west Asia (the 'Near' and 'Middle East') and north-east Africa (mainly ancient Egypt). This resulted in _the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms, and moreover Greek colonists themselves._ Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures, adopting local practices where beneficial, necessary or convenient." (emphasis mine)

        Hellenic culture and civilization at its core is Greek, while its foreign influences are peripheral.

        • It is not my goal to claim that Hellenism was not primarily created by the spread of Greek culture. Rather, I would assert that Greek culture is not European.

          In the first place, it is anachronistic to call it European. Europe as a distinct geo-political entity emerged after Hellenism, not before, and its formation was marked by the rejection of Hellenism. In Western Europe, this was through the decline in the number of people who spoke Greek and therefore involve themselves in Hellenic thought and culture. In Eastern Europe, this was through the outright rejection, repudiation, and suppression of Hellenism by the Orthodox Church. It's true that Hellenism was reintroduced into Western Europe during the Renaissance, but to point this out is not to say that Hellenism is European. Rather, it is to point out the profound degree to which Europe was Hellenized.

          In the second place, Greek culture has never been limited to Europe. The first stirrings of Greek philosophy were in the city of Miletus, sixteen miles away from the oracle at Didyma. I mentioned the oracle at Claros, which was near Colophon. I mentioned Ephesus, as well. All of these were in Turkey. And the Greeks placed settlements wherever they could find them. The coasts and islands of Asia Minor and northern Africa were dotted by Greek settlements as much as the coasts of southern Europe–though expansion to the West, especially in Northern Africa, was limited by the Carthaginians. The pharaohs even allowed a Greek colony to exist right in the middle of Egypt. The spreading of Greek culture even further, seen to by Alexander, was a natural extension of this Greek tendency. And as it spread–and as your quotation recognizes–it was heavily influenced by non-European cultures. The Bactrian Greeks are an excellent example; they were the first ones to create statues of the Buddha in the style we usually associate with Japan, China, and India. Prior to the existence of Greco-Buddhism, there were no statues of Siddhartha Gautama.

          For these and other reasons it is profoundly ahistorical to see the Greeks as preeminently European in any sense.

          • Jake

            Hellenic culture was not limited to Europe, yes, but it first emerged among an Indo-European peoples. Again, the core of the culture was European in the sense of descending from an Indo-European people, and its foreign influences are peripheral.

            English culture spread across the world via the Empire; it influenced other cultures and was influenced by other cultures. However, English culture remained English and European.

          • One does not become European simply by virtue of descending from the Indo-European peoples. By your logic, the people of India and Iran are also European; they, too, descended from IE speakers.

          • No, but they speak a language descended from the European branch of the Indo-European peoples. Meanwhile, the people of India speak a language descended from the Indo-Iranian branch.

      • Is American culture effectively European or something else? After all, we're not in Europe so, by your logic, ours is not a European based culture (which is obviously untrue).

      • Most of Hellenism wasn't even IN Europe.

        Where did Euclid write his Elements?
        Where did Eratosthenes calculate the circumference of the earth?
        Where did Ptolemy write his scientific treatises?
        Where did Callimachus write his Hymns?
        Where did Apollonius write his Argonautica?
        Where did Aristarchus produce his critical editions of Homer?

        Answer: not in Europe.

        • Jake

          And where did the culture that Euclid, Ptolemy, et. al. lived and wrote in come from? Ah, yes, the Greeks, who are an Indo-European people.

        • Defining Wicca as not Pagan would be like, well, the time someone came along and claimed Pluto is not a Planet. Might have some basis in fact, but all it did was upset people. Besides that, is it not best to let people define themselves? Is that not the polite thing to do? Some of this reminds me of the 'theist' 'deist' claptrap you see bandied about on the atheist blogs. I just hate it when people who don't hold my beliefs vest so much interest in defining me.

  • Cole Gillette

    The term “contemporary Pagan” (‘Pagan’ here meaning any religious practitioner whose faith doesn’t claim lineage from Abraham) is a superior identifier.

    Not only has it the potential to unite us in our efforts to thwart those who would persecute us and to secure our religious liberty, it also sidesteps the minefield of adjectives that so often prove to be the undoing of a Pagan community that could otherwise feasibly exist in solidarity and elevate mutual respect.

    No widely-known traditionalist or reconstructionist group in existence today can claim an entirely unbroken, unadultered succession of religious practice from ancient times. Period. Not (forgive my incorrect spelling; I’m using a BlackBerry that isn’t equipped for producing non-English characters) Asatruar, not Celtic Reconstructionists.

    It is my opinion that attempts by practitioners of reconstructionist religions to assert otherwise bespeak such practitioners’ spiritual insecurity, and represents unfortunate adherence to the “first-is-best-and-mine-was-first” doctrine.

    While frequently marginalized contemporary Pagan religions like Reclaiming or Wicca are clearly modern constructions, they are also very clearly and identifiably informed by the same folk-religious history that other Pagans draw upon, in addition to the various syncretisms and modern esoteric elements that, in part, form the practice of modern witchcraft.

    What do Celtic Reconstructionists, Wiccans, Hellenic Ethnikoi, Asatruar, and Baltic Traditionalists have in common?

    We’re Pagans, of course! (And when last I checked, we’re all alive today, making us contemporary Pagans.)

    Bright blessings,


    • Jake

      "No widely-known traditionalist or reconstructionist group in existence today can claim an entirely unbroken, unadultered succession of religious practice from ancient times."

      And none do. The very term "reconstructionist" implies that's obviously not true.

      "What do Celtic Reconstructionists, Wiccans, Hellenic Ethnikoi, Asatruar, and Baltic Traditionalists have in common? We're Pagans, of course!"

      And that means what, exactly?

    • I'm going to echo Jake here. To the best of my knowledge, no reconstructionists I'm aware of are claiming an unbroken, unadulterated tradition from before Christianity.

  • Traditional paganism represents the survivals into modern times of Indigenous European beliefs and practices among, for instance, the Celts, the Balts, the Basques, the Slavs, and the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. What has survived of traditional paganism is typically found in small, isolated rural communities in regions of Europe which retain strong ethnic identities and in which the ancestral languages have not been lost.

    Oh yeah? And we are the ones "not as well informed"? Is there ANY proof at all that this is true?

    • Nick Ritter

      Well, with regards to the Germanic and Scandinavian material, I can offer the observations of Jacob Grimm. He reported occurrences in the 19th century of a German farmer sacrificing oxen to "Thunder" (i.e. 'Donner', i.e. Donar, i.e Thor) for good crops, and Norwegian fishers offering thanks to "Njor" (i.e. Njörðr) for a good catch. Those are just a few examples. When you dig into the data for each tradition, you can certainly find survivals of this type.

      These survivals should not necessarily be understood as people practicing their native religion secretly in opposition to the church (although things I've heard about the Swedish "trollekyrka" seem to suggest exactly that). My impression is that these are things occurring in mixed-faith contexts; people who will sacrifice and pray to old gods, but who also go to church on Sundays, and think of themselves as "Christian."

      The interesting thing, to me, is that these survivals overlap by a few decades the interest on the part of more urban, educated people in reviving such religions. This isn't to claim a direct lineage between such survivals and the Germanen Glaubens Gemeinschaft or related organizations, but I think it likely that some of those early reconstructionist movements may have been able to observe such survivals first hand.

      • Nick Ritter

        I also recall a mention, from the early 20th c., of country-folks near Eleusis making offerings to a statue of "St. Demetria," in what seems to have been a continuation of a cult of Demeter with an extremely thin Christian veneer.

        • Similarly, there are the people in the Peaks District documented by David Clarke and Andy Roberts in Twilight of the Celtic Gods, whose practices were continuing, though declining, up to the time of publication of that book.

        • Sasha

          I understand a lot of Andras' thought process on defining Paganism (not saying I agree with everything, but I can see where he's coming from). But one little detail stuck out at me: Andras lists Mormonism and Pentecostalism as part of the NRM, when they are typically identified as Christian. Am I just missing something, or does the NRM group just a catch-all for anything less than a couple centuries old? And if so, what happens when they aren't necessarily "new" anymore? I'd rather not be part of a "Middle-Aged Religious Movement" ;]

          • Sasha, keep in mind that there are two main camps using the term NRM — scholars of comparative religion on one hand, and the interfaith movement on the other. While there is much overlap between the two camps, there is also disagreement on which groups should be labeled as NRMs and how the categorization process takes place. Having said that, an organization like Opus Dei, for instance, is not usually considered to be a NRM despite meeting some of the generally-accepted criteria, because it is fully sanctioned by, and functions within the scope of, the Roman Catholic Church. On the other hand, Mormonism & Pentecostalism, while obviously Christian in focus, are deemed to have a character unique enough that sets them apart from other, more mainstream forms of Christianity — hence their designation as NRMs. As for your last question, it is one which obviously begs to be asked — doubtlessly at some point in the future some group of scholars or religious leaders will propose a new and more suitable designation which will gain acceptance.

      • Yes, exactly my point. I have never seen any evidence of a "survival into modern times" of any ancient pagan religious system. That is not saying that there were not practices of native religion tied to folk ways that lived on. These are two separate things in my mind and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being inspired by and learning from surviving folk practices. That is a long way from claiming to being a part of a religious system that "survived into modern times".

        I am of Appalachian decent, and my grandmother used to do all kinds of strange and unusual things to chase away illness and predict the weather. She was also married to a baptist minister and never, ever considered what she was doing as a survival or paganism or witchcraft. In fact, I pity the person who might have attempted to tell her as much.

        • Elysia

          I agree. Even in modern Hungary today, there are folk customs that people adhere to that are obviously Pagan – for example, the emphasis at Easter on fertility, to the point that men still to this day douse women with water on Easter Monday (or the city equivalent, spraying them with perfume). This is actually done while chanting a poem that usually has something to do with her hair growing long. But I digress.

          Books I've read on folk traditions also strongly point toward Pagan origins, for example (with Easter again) doing different charms and divinations the whole week of Easter for this or that (find out who your future husband will be, keep your domestic animals healthy, make your face beautiful etc.). BUT I would never call this a survival of a Pagan religion – I would call it a survival of traces of Paganism through innocent folk customs and beliefs. Sure, we could dig it all up, put it on a platter and say "this is Hungarian Paganism" but that would be untrue, because so much of the faith of the original Magyars is lost to time.

          • Elysia

            (continued… said my post was too long!)

            Simply put, Christian people who continue their culture's folk practices do not constitute a "Pagan survival" to me. But that's just my view of it.

        • Good points Jamie (and Elysia)

          Cora Anderson – an Appalachian – though practicing "the Craft", also used "Bible Magic" no problem. That was part of the point of my post in "part 1". I wouldn't call what she passed to us "indigenous" Paganism.

          We do have remnants. We can revitalize. *And* we can learn from the land with which we live. Today.

  • dang – messed up the link. here it is again:

  • Well, as I have been saying for years now, the term "pagan" seems obsolete and less valuable with each passing year. For myself, I simply translate it as "polytheist" in my head, as being a clearer, less contentious label, though this occasionally creates dissonance when someone refers to one of the "pagan" monotheistic systems by the term – though at least many of those can be shoehorned into polytheism as henotheists.

  • For those who are interested, I just posted the They Call US Pagans: The Indigenous Traditions of Europe, which throws light on this.

    I would offer that between 13:30 and 14:15 of the Panel, Andras Arthen lays out his personal statement that Pagan represents solely a European Pagan Point of View.

    • Thank you. I don't see how it could be much clearer, or more wrong. But Thorn said it better and much more kindheartedly than I can: .

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  • Kuma

    An unecessary shitstorm imo, also, btw, according to the standard typology that defines "planet", no, Pluto is NOT a planet.

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