Paganism and the Conservative Mind

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It seems that The American Spectator hasn’t gotten the memo that modern Paganism and conservative politics have no trouble co-existing. How else to explain this time-warp of an essay from Australian writer Hal Colebatch? Colebatch decides to heap scorn on modern Paganism and Witchcraft by reviewing “Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality”, a scholarly tome from 1998 (he’s only 11 years behind the curve) that debunked many of the Pagan claims to a direct connection with their pre-Christian ancestors.

“The story that modern witchcraft cults are the descendants of something sometimes called “the old religion” (which has allegedly been slandered and driven underground by the oppressive forces of Christianity) is false and manufactured. In fact, this book shows that while these cults generally have the usual heritage of Gnosticism to be found in most Christian heresies, the ideas behind them were concocted by occultists largely men — mostly in the last couple of centuries. Those responsible included as unsavory a collection of disordered cranks, mountebanks, sexual predators and crooks as might be imagined.”

He wounds us to the quick! We are a modern invention! How will the modern Pagan religions ever recover? Our only chance is to meet Mr. Colebatch on equal ground, in the year 1998, and stare in horror at our own ignorance in hopes it will shake us awake from this pernicious fever-dream.

This is what Silver RavenWolf in 1998 relates about the Wicca culture: “Wicca, as you practice the religion today, is a new religion, barely fifty years old. The techniques you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced even thirty years ago. Of course, threads of ‘what was’ weave through the tapestry of ‘what is now.’ …in no way can we replicate to perfection the precise circumstances of environment, society, culture, religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand. Why would we want to? The idea is to go forward with the knowledge of the past, tempered by the tools of our own age.”

Wait, wait, Silver Ravenwolf? But she is widely regarded as ananthema to serious-minded Wiccans everywhere! Yes Virginia, Wiccans and Pagans were already well-aware of our (not terribly ancient) history even back then. In fact, only a year later, historian Ronald Hutton would publish the amazingly well-regarded “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft” that celebrated Wicca’s rich history and spiritual vibrancy without the aid of an ancient origin. Today there is a thriving body of Pagan studies that does not live in fear history, nor cower at the implication that most Pagan faiths are modern concoctions. As for Mr. Colebatch, he should be careful at the insults he throws about carelessly.

“This book provides additional evidence for the fact that people who adopt one crank belief tend not to let it go at that, but to gradually adopt the whole spectrum of them, whether they are compatible with one another or not. Fairly innocent, or at least naïve, sandal-wearers and vegetarian cultists could link up with practitioners of full-blown Satanism. The 19th-century occultist and neopagan movements from which modern goddess-worship sprang had links with the origins of both communism and Nazism.”

For the very same thing could very well be said about some of his conservative-minded Christian bretheren in Colebatch’s home-country of Australia.

“A former political running mate of Family First senator Steve Fielding says dark forces are casting spells on Federal Parliament. Catch the Fire Ministries pastor Daniel Nalliah has organised a “prayer offensive” to combat evil forces including witchcraft, homosexuality and abortion … “These days people don’t think the Devil is real but we have seen the bad effects of the spiritual being known as Satan and we believe there is a spiritual fight over the nation of Australia being fought in the heavens … Asked what evidence of Satan there was in Parliament, Mr Nalliah said: “The number of politicians who have serious marriage problems … “Me trying to explain it to you is like trying to teach a cricketer how to play soccer,” Mr Nalliah said.”

Ah, the sanity and calm that comes with the ancient traditions of Christianity and the soundness of conservative politics, it truly makes me regret the years I’ve wasted defending modern Paganism. I know now that conservative parties would never do anything so intemperate or stupid as to create a (Christian) Creationist litmus test for their leadership. Truly, Mr. Colebatch and The American Spectator has shown me the light!