Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology, by Glen Gordon: “Why I Am Not Pagan”

Glen Gordon lets go of the Pagan umbrella

When John asked me to revise my old blog post from PostPagan about why I do not identify as being Neopagan, I was intimidated by the idea. Fifteen years ago, I identified as a Neopagan and began to share a naturalist critique of it. (This is when there was no discourse about naturalism and Neopaganism.) I will admit this hostility is one reason I disassociated with the term, but not the single reason. Over the years, I’ve shared these evolving views. The last incarnation was my personal blog, PostPagan, and is the reason I began writing for HP. Because I am a bit of a hermit, both in person and online, I rarely post comments, but do regularly read the articles of my fellow writes both here and at No Unsacred Places. I also read the Neopagan columns and blogs at Patheos. I enjoy finding what naturalist-inclined Neopagans are discussing. Being a religious naturalist and religious humanist, I find I share some common ground with this exciting emerging form of Neopaganism; however, for a long time, I’ve no longer self-identified as “Pagan”.

Instead of sharing my critique of Neopaganism, which I have done extensively on a blog that only search bots seemed to read, I felt it more helpful to share the specific differences I find between myself and Neopaganism. Self-identification as Pagan is a recent phenomen beginning in the mid 1960’s1. Before I begin, I would like to state that I consider any modern religious or spiritual practice that identifies with paganism to be Neopagan. This is because the prefix neo- is specific to meaning modern or contemporary. I insist that Neopaganism is the most descriptive and succinct way to distinguish the modern phenomenon from ancient paganism.

From my observations, Neopagnism is a broad categorical term covering many specific religions nested within another grouping of religions which share common sources but are diverse in practice and thought, akin to terms like Abrahamic religion or Oriental religion. I find three distinct religious movements underneath the large umbrella of Neopaganism which are diverging further apart and deserve academic and cultural attention on their own. They are as follows:

Wiccinate spirituality: this is the most prevalent form of Neopaganism influenced by Gerald Gardner’s tradition, but includes adaptations by Alex Sanders, and variations of Robert Cochrane and Joseph Wilson’s visions of modern witchcraft2. This category also includes Neo-Wicca, an individualistic (often solitary) synchronism of Wiccan themes with the New-Age, Goddess worship, and Feminism, beginning with the once controversial writings of Scott Cunningham3.

Neo-Druidry: While Wiccinate spirituality became formalized in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Neo-Druidry’s originates with the 18th century writers exploring themes of the druids found within classical literature4. As an attempt to reclaim a Welsh national identity, Iolo Morganwg’s founded the Gorsedd of Bards in 1792, along with the writing the Barddas which he claimed he translated from older texts, but were in fact his own inventions5. Both events are pivotal in the emergence of Neo-Druidry. During the 1960’s, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) was founded and influenced by Morganwg’s Gorsedd and Barddas6. Meanwile, independent of OBOD, the Reform Druids of North America was formed by students at Carleton College in protest to the school’s requirement of church participation on Sundays7. In 1983, Isaac Bonewits founded Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), translated from Gaelic as “Our Own Druidry”8. Over time, these organizations have been influenced by each other, yet maintain strong distinctions between each other. And even though they have had some influence on Wiccinate spirituality, Neo-Druidry maintains its own philosophy and liturgy apart from other forms of Neopaganism.

Reconstructional polytheism: One some level, this movement owes a lot to Isaac Bonewits and ADF, as early examples of attempts in recreating pre-Christian religions from historic and archaeological evidence9. Where ADF casts a wide net around Indo-European religion, Reconstructional polytheism focuses upon specific historical cultures such as pre-Christian Celts, Romans, Hellenic, and Germanic tribes. Reconstructional Polytheism is experiencing substantial growth during the current decade with its emphasis on research and cultural context, and includes Celtic reconstructionism, the many traditions of Germanic Heathenism, Baltic Romuva, Greek Hellenism, and Latin Religio Romana to name a few.

This is not to say there isn’t overlap between the three. I mention the above distinctions because it is important to understand the variety and diversity within Neopaganism. In the 21st century, both naturalism and animism have become emerging forces within all three movements. In particular, Neo-Druidy has been quick to incorporate these views into its faith. If there where to be a minimal definition which ties these movements together it is that they each incorporate themes of pre-Christian religions of Europe and Mediterranean cultures, but diverge in religious philosophy and liturgy.

However, regardless of my education and training in all three movements, and despite their verity and diversity, I hold fundamental positions which have me feeling out of place during Neopagan ceremonies, and gatherings like PantheaCon. For many years, I no longer incorporate themes from ancient paganism. Furthermore, there are key points of my religious philosophy, spirituality, and practice which, to my knowledge, fall outside of expressions of Neopaganism:

  • My polytheism does not engage with deities from ancient cultural narratives from Europe and the Mediterranean. My deities are not engendered nor anthropmorphized. Instead, I blend process theology, transpersonal psychology, and deism into what I have called naturalistic polytheism, and now label process polydeism. This perspective doesn’t conform to the devotional, metaphorical, and pantheist forms of polytheism debated within Neopaganism10 11.
  • I have strict ethics about cultural appropriation that would make Reconstructional polytheists uncomfortable. These ethics extend beyond cultural context to ecological, geographic and temporal context.
  • I do not practice any form of the occult, including tarot, astrology, and magick. I acknowledge the occult is not prominent in every form of Neopaganism, but its influence is so widespread and noticeable that I felt it important to include in this list.
  • The structure of my practice is land-centered and directly influenced by the local ecology of the place I live. This results in ceremonies and costumes which are foreign to any Neopagan I have shared them with.

If there is a term which I feel can include these differences it is Bioregional Animism, which I have written about in length on my previous blog. However, Bioregional Animism is not as much a religious term as a broad world-view which can be applied equally to Neopaganism as it can to Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, et cetera. The other term I have used in the past is PostPagan, which was the title of my blog, a term that was intended to be more humorous then anything else. Through many years, my personal practice and reflection evolved into something meaningful to me, regardless what name I or anyone else give it.

  1. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler (1979) 
  2. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Ronald Hutton (1999) 
  3. Listening People, Speaking Earth: Contemporary Paganism by Graham Harvey (1997) 
  4. Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain by Ronald Hutton (2009) 
  5. The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis (1995) 
  6. The Book of Druidry by Ross Nichols (1975) 
  7. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton (2006) 
  8. The Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin by Issac Bonewits (1983) 
  9. Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism by Issac Bonewits (2006) 
  10. I See Gods Everywhere by Glen Gordon (2013) 
  11. Naturalism and the Gods by Glen Gordon (2012) 

Explain your answer in the comments below.

The Author

Glen Gordon was introduced to Paganism by friends while living overseas in Europe during the late 90′s. He underwent both Wiccan and Neodruidic training during his formative years, but had not self-identified as a Pagan when his path diverged into land-centered spiritual naturalism ten years ago. His focus has been on cultivating beneficial relationships with the natural living world surrounding him wherever he lives. During this time, he discovered Unitarian Universalism and has been active in his local congregations for many years. Since 2007, he has worked on varied projects regarding BioRegional Animism, including this 5 minute video, the words of which came from a short UU sermon he gave. He has spoken on the topic of ecology and the land on a few occasions for his local congregation and facilitated a now-disbanded group of UU Pagans and spiritual naturalists. In the past, he maintained the blog, Postpagan, and is excited to share some of that material at HumanisticPaganism. Currently, you can find Glen writing occasionally for No Unsacred Places and helping achieve Green sanctuary status for his beloved UU community, where he helps create and lead ecological aware earth- and land- focused ceremonies for the solstices and equinoxes.

See other Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology posts.

See Glen Gordon’s other posts.

12 Comments on “Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology, by Glen Gordon: “Why I Am Not Pagan”

  1. Thanks for this, Glen. Perhaps in the next post you could talk about your views on cultural appropriation?

      • I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles; I’d also like to hear more on your views regarding cultural appropriation, as it’s something I’ve been concerned about recently.

        • Since you and B.T. shown interested, and HP okays the topic (which I don’t see why not) I will approach the subject.

  2. Excellent article. Myself, I can’t stand the occult / New Age stuff in so much Paganism (which is why I’m on this site). So that’s a problem when it comes to self-identification. But terms like “pagan naturalist” or “religious naturalist” seem to fit me well enough. I take it that the “pagan” adjective means that I take my religious inspiration from the natural world. Still, the problem remains that I can’t usually refer to myself as Pagan, due to the occult / New Age insanity. On the other hand, perhaps we naturalists can do more to define the term in more positively naturalistic way.

    • Eric, you bring up a good point I neglected to address in my article. When I began paganism it was under the assumption as you put it “to take religious inspiration from the natural world” however, this is not universal amongst Neopaganism and their are religions and spiritual systems that do this whom are not apart of the Neopagan umbrella. These days the best definition is the one about inspiration for per-christian religions/mythologies (mainly of European or the Mediterranean regions.), which seems to be the most accepted brief definition of among Neopagans these days. By that definition, I feel It inappropriate for me to identify as Neopagan. Further more, there are forms of all three which are not focused on nature, for example some Wiccanate spirituality identify with the occult, and some druid gropes its philosophy, and reconstructionists it is culture. John does a good job describing this in his article on Patheos, The Three centers of Paganism:

    • “Insanity” may be going a bit far. We generally try to keep from disparaging others’ beliefs on this site. 🙂

  3. Hello Glen. I’m writing about similar concerns at the moment, so found this interesting.

    As you may remember, my perspective is rather different from yours. My focus is also very much on respectful relations with the local natural world, but I’ve long practiced divination and astrology. As I see it, these non-rational (not irrational) modes of understanding have long been marginalised by the dominant (modernist) discourses of our culture. I’m going to be writing about astrology and animism soon, partly to illustrate how astrology is rooted in the fabric of the natural world.

    Personally, I’ve never wanted to be part of a religion that involved initiation, or grades, or chosen chiefs (etc) and have always had too many reservations about pagan subculture (in the U.K in my case) to feel comfortable identiying as pagan without qualifying the term.

    My previous reply was rejected for some reason, so I hope this hurried re-cap gets through!

    with all best wishes, Brian.

    • Brian,

      Would you be interested in writing something on your perspective on astrology for HP?

      Managing Editor

      • Thanks for the expression of interest John. I’m pretty busy at the moment, and also wonder whether we’re coming at this from different angles? As a confirmed pluralist I think we need dialogue between different perspectives, so that’s not a ‘no’.

        My first hasty thoughts are (i) I’m not sure an animist could identify as humanist? Hmmm. (ii) Though I’m very interested in some science, there’s a lot of what one of my PhD supervisors (a psychiatrist) used to call boll*cks science (and worse) out there! I feel fairly sore about being on the receiving end of scientism -the pretence that narrow scientific method will some day explain everything, and the associated prejudice against non-rational forms of knowing (such as astrology) -so would not identify as a scientific rationalist either.

        However, if you find what I write on astrology (in due course) at Animist Jottings of interest, perhaps as an example of dialogue with another viewpoint, you could re-blog it.

        kind regards


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