Pagan Fundamentalism

Apparently there’s a bit of a kerfluffle regarding a conference and certain people writing posts in response to that conference and other people taking that post out of context and using it as some fundamentalist creed (or calling the OP names) and it’s all a big mess.

This post isn’t going to be about that kerfluffle. Well, it is, kind of, but I’m not up to speed on it, so I’m not going to comment on it specifically. What I would like to talk about is this trend towards Pagan fundamentalism, and why I find it disturbing.

First, a brief history lesson. The term “fundamentalism” comes from a text published between 1910 and 1915 entitled “The Fundamentals” subtitled “A Testimony to The Truth” which was intended to lay out beliefs that were considered “fundamental” to orthodox Protestants. These fundamentals were later condensed into five easy-to-remember tenets:

1. The Trinity: God is one “What” and three “Whos” with each “Who” possessing all the attributes of Deity and personality.

2. The Person of Jesus Christ: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man for all eternity.

3. The Second Coming: Jesus Christ is coming bodily to earth to rule and judge.

4. Salvation: It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

5. The Scripture: It is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life.

Today, the term “fundamentalism” is defined as “strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline.” Oxford dictionaries also has a more religious definition, but it applies mostly to Christians and Muslims, and isn’t really applicable to Pagans, who have no scriptures. Another definition is “Strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology” which is much more inclusive of different faiths.

What these definitions have in common, then, is strict adherence to a set of beliefs (or practices) that are deemed to be “fundamental” to that belief system. Fundamentalism isn’t exclusive to a particular form of Protestant Christianity, it can be found in pretty much every tradition.

Okay, everyone, I’m just going to tell it to you like I see it, in plain language:

We don’t need this shit in our Paganisms.

Seriously, we don’t need this shit in our family of religions.

It doesn’t make us cool. It doesn’t give us “legitimate religion” cred.

It’s not helping.

Okay, so you want some reasons, that’s reasonable. Many people have written about this already, including this excellent piece by Lupa, but here’s my own reasoning behind why this is not a bandwagon I’m jumping on:

What are the “fundamentals” anyways?

Yes, this is a serious question. What are these fundamental beliefs that everyone must strictly adhere to? A belief in magic? How about polarity? Which holidays are absolute “must haves” and which can just be discarded? How much emphasis do we put on textual sources? Do I need to learn some sort of craft or trade? Do I need to have a particular political affiliation?

Seriously, individual traditions have their Witch Wars and recon vs. neo-Pagan bullshit. You know what? Forget about finding universal “Pagan” beliefs, because you won’t fucking find any. Now, as individual traditions, your task is a little easier, but….

Who decides what the fundamentals are?

Who gets to decide what these fundamental beliefs are, anyways? Is it whoever comes along and declares themselves “Witch Queen” or “Witch King”? National organizations? (Which one?) Are we going to suddenly see the rise of a Pagan/Polytheist Vatican City with offices for every major (and-not-so-major) Pagan faith that delivers standardized versions of every ritual to every grove, coven, temple, etc.? What happens if the Dianics and the BTWs don’t agree on the finer points of a ritual? My Lokean friends would probably be very upset to hear that their deity isn’t mentioned in any of the stuff for Asatru and related faiths.

Now this is getting kind of absurd (although it would make a cool plot for a novel) but really, who are we going to give this great burden to, if not the individual practitioner?

And then there are the “What ifs….”

What if someone decides that one of the fundamentals of their faith is that the Goddess doesn’t approve of LGBT+s (Mark Ventimiglia) or that trans women are really men trying to steal women’s mysteries for themselves (Z. Budapest)?

What if someone declares that only recons are legit and NeoPagans are just deluding themselves?

Now, wait a sec’, you say, aren’t you being a bit extreme? Okay, no, I don’t think it’s likely that persons like the ones mentioned above will ever be in any position of significant authority, however, every single one of those examples is real, I’m not making them up.

Seriously, not too long ago it was inferred that I was “disloyal” to my deities because I dared engage in the long and venerable practice of going outside my “acceptable” pantheon of deities to flirt with “foreign” ones. (Disloyal, my ass….)

Who’s going to enforce this shared creed, anyways?

Are we going to make an elite cadre of Pagan police who run around administering questionnaires to make sure every believer is on the same page? If somebody witnesses a violation of Standard Ritual Code, do they report it to the Pagan police, who arrest the person holding the ritual?

Do we really want to be lumped in with ignorant, misogynist, homophobic, anti-science types?


Now, I know what you’re going to say: “But, we’re Pagans! We don’t do the ignorance thing! We love science, and queer folks!” Seriously? Because when I first joined up with you, you told me you weren’t fundamentalist either. You’re a liar, Paganism, and I don’t want to date you anymore, because you’re a lying liar.

Okay, yes, it is kind of ironic that I’m asking if you really want to call yourself a fundamentalist when the word has such negative connotations while proudly declaring myself a Pagan, a word that also has negative connotations. But is there really any other way to define fundamentalist in a way that doesn’t suggest “one who has a stick up one’s ass”?

The Bottom Line

Paganisms are not about orthodoxy, but orthopraxy.

This is not Catholicism.

The Nine Noble Virtues are not the Nine Heathen Commandments.

The Havamal is not the Word of Odin Handed Down From Asgard.

If deities have a problem with how someone honours them, they will let that person know.

Successful Wiccans exist, successful soft polytheists exist.

There is no Asapope

….or Vanapope

….although, I would make a great Vanapope.

You are not the Pagan police. There are no Pagan police.

This is not an orthodoxy.

I repeat: this is not an orthodoxy.

Deities do not need you to protect them.

No, seriously, they don’t.

You are not the boss of me.

My relationship with my deities is my business, not yours.

If my deities have a problem with me, they can talk to me about it.

You can sit there ranting about how everyone’s doing it wrong…or you can actually do something about it.

…..I should follow my own advice.

….But I like ranting.




11 thoughts on “Pagan Fundamentalism

  1. What trend toward fundamentalism? I think the trend is in the opposite direction; toward a disregard of lore and Heathen history. And no kidding you are ranting. Who is leading this charge to fundamentalism? You sound like chicken little crying about the sky falling.

    1. Some reading:

      Article from The Wild Hunt on Pagan fundamentalism:
      Patheos article by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, which seems to have started the recent mess:
      Chas Clifton’s article on the same topic:
      Galina Krasskova’s response to the above article:
      Lupa weighs in: (pay special attention to the comment from P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, in which he says that some have taken his words waaaaaay out of context and interpreted them to mean that he endorses fundie thinking when he does not)

      Older than this debate, but Raven Kaldera’s essay “On Being a Neo-Pagan Fundamentalist” is useful:

      This one’s a bit older too, and I definitely don’t agree with most of what is said, but I’m including it for diversity’s sake:

      and I’m not even touching tumblr on this one.

        1. What I understood is that he wrote the Patheos article, people misinterpreted his words as “fundamentalist” and other people (hard polytheists) were also taking it as “fundamentalist” and jumping on that bandwagon, so now we have a bunch of hard polytheists and a bunch of soft polytheists and non-theists sniping at each other.

          My comments were just in general, though. I don’t think you can really say that Pagan (no qualifiers) fundamentalism really exists, because we’re just too diverse.

  2. I suppose, to sum up this post:

    Diversity = good
    Policing others = generally not a good idea

    Pointing out when other people are obviously acting like idiots = occasionally good, more often, it’s not worth your time

  3. This is one of the reasons I like TC’s definition so much – non-Abrahamic + self-definition. Although, that leaves out the Christo-Pagans…

    Are we going to make an elite cadre of Pagan police who run around administering questionnaires to make sure every believer is on the same page? If somebody witnesses a violation of Standard Ritual Code, do they report it to the Pagan police, who arrest the person holding the ritual?

    This made me think of the Monty Python sketch about the Bishop on the landing. “Call the Church!” “Call the Police!” “Call the Church Police!”

    1. 🙂 Though it would almost be worthwhile to be a Roman recon, so that when people say “All pagans follow an Earth-Centered Religion” you could reply “Actually, my practice is Jupiter-Centered”

  4. “Pagan Fundamentalism” is a value laden term with extreme negative connotations for common people. I have documented in the below linked article how results of existing Pagan scholarship are already being misrepresented on Christian blogs with a distinctively negative agenda towards Paganism. I am very concerned that the present discussions about Pagan Fundamentalism will be used against Pagans in the same manner. See my article on this important issue entitled:

    “Pagan Scholarship and anti-Pagan Propaganda” at a message…

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