One big misconception outsiders hold concerning modern Paganism is that the faith flourishes as a rebellion against Judeo-Christian norms or as a result of secularism’s ills. But such an analysis is not only incomplete, but ignores our own history, and the present state of modern adherents across the globe. For example, British Traditional Wicca emerged in 1950s England, long before there were serious worries about “aggressive secularism” running rampant. While today, modern Pagan communities have sprung up in some seemingly unlikely places, like Greece and South Africa. Now, Haaretz reports that Paganism is alive and well in the state of Israel too.
“Like many other soldiers who took part in the Gaza operation, Omer, 20, occasionally took a few moments to pray, but he did not pray to the Lord of Israel. Omer considers himself pagan, and has sworn allegiance to three ancient gods. During combat, he says they appeared before him, giving him strength during the most arduous moments. Omer is still in the army, and therefore refused to be interviewed for this story. Yet he did say he belongs to a religion whose goal is to revive worship of ancient gods. In an online Hebrew-language paganism forum, Omer’s accounts of his Gaza experience are standard fare. Another user recalled how he prayed to Anat, the Canaanite god of war, while serving in an elite combat unit. The two soldiers are part of a tiny community of pagans that has developed in Israel. Influenced by movements in the United States and Europe, followers believe in multiple gods.”
Reporter Ofri Ilani talks with several Israeli Pagans both in and out of the “broom closet” including Alon Kobets founder of the Wicca Israel web site. Kobets estimates that there are around 150 Pagans in Israel, most of whom are living semi-closeted existences, aware of the pervasive religious tensions present. Meanwhile Dr. Marianna Ruah-Midbar, organizer of the First Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Spiritualities, believes modern Paganism could thrive in the holy land.
“At the moment paganism is not a large-scale practice here, but I believe it has very big potential,” she said. “Pagan religions are the fastest growing religions in the West, and it could succeed here too, because Hebrewism and Zionism could connect to paganism due to the emphasis on land and Hebrew holidays. Paganism is a close, unusual parallel of more common practices, like environmentalism or traveling to the East. In practice, it really is not very different.”
So even in places where a single (non-Pagan) religion dominates culturally and statistically (like Judaism in Israel or Orthodox Christianity in Greece), modern Paganism still emerges and grows. This can’t simply be blamed on creeping secularism or an overly tolerant culture. Perhaps, as some have argued, polytheism is a natural impulse. One that humanity constantly returns to, no matter how dominant monotheist (or atheist) impulses may be at a certain time or place. Could the Holy Land of the dominant monotheisms soon find itself, like the prophet Jeremiah, having to face those who would make offerings to the Queen of Heaven once more?