Return of the Ancient Gods: The Resurgence of Paganism

Return of the Ancient Gods: The Resurgence of Paganism

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Over the past two centuries, Europe has become increasingly secular. Scholars in fact no longer talk of the Christian West when they speak of Modern Europe and North America, but of the Secular West. There is however evidence of a spiritual revival stirring on the continent where God is supposedly dead. For example, France and Eastern Europe appear to be in the midst of a Christian revival as the Catholic church seems to be re-emerging as a cultural and political force in France and some eastern European countries, particularly Hungary and Croatia. This is also true of the native Protestant churches in those countries. The Eastern Orthodox Churches are enjoying the same resurgence in countries like Russia and Georgia. Christianity is however not the only spiritual tradition experiencing a revival on the home soil of the Western, Slavic, and Byzantine civilizations.

Even older traditions pre-dating the appearance of the Jewish carpenter turned Messiah are beginning to re-emerge. Since the 19th century, there has been an increasing interest in ancient pre-Christian European religions such as ancient Greek, Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic paganism. This stems from an increasing interest in spirituality in Europe, specifically a spirituality in touch with European heritage and ethnic roots in a similar manner to indigenous religions of Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians.

Ancient and Modern Combine

Among modern Pagans, there are two approaches to reviving pagan practices. One is eclecticism or syncretism, in which elements of historical ethnic religions such as the ancient Norse religion are combined with modern movements such as Wicca, Theosophy or other New Age philosophies. This is largely based on romantic views of these ancient religions which emerged in the 19th century which may or may not be historically accurate.

A modern-day pagan celebration

A modern-day pagan celebration ( theweek.com)

Reconstructing the Past

The other approach is polytheistic reconstructionism which is an attempt to make an historically accurate reconstruction of these ancient religions based on historical sources, archaeological data, and perhaps ethnographic comparison. Reconstructionists avoid embellishing ancient pagan religions with modern movements and ideologies.

Germanic Paganism

One of the largest movements currently which can be either syncretic or reconstructionist is the revival of Germanic Paganism or “Heathenry.” Modern Germanic Pagans or Heathens, as they prefer to call themselves, worship the old Germanic gods, especially Thor and Odin as well as Germanic nature spirits such as Elves and Trolls. Germanic Heathens appear to have three different approaches to proselytizing and practicing their religion. Some Heathens emphasize simply the worship of the Germanic gods and believe that anyone regardless of their national, ethnic, or racial background can worship the Gods. These are the universalists.

Germanic Gods Wodan, Thor and Frijar

Germanic Gods Wodan, Thor and Frijar

There are other Heathens, however, who believe that Germanic cultural and spiritual values also need to be adopted in order to be true worshipers of the Germanic gods. Most of the latter group of Heathens also believe that worship of the Germanic gods is not limited to any particular ethnic or racial background simply that those individuals interested in worshiping them should learn something about and agree with some aspects of the culture from which they originated. Germanic Paganism is after all technically an ethnic religion. There are some Heathens however who call themselves Folkists or Folkish Heathens who believe that only those who are of White Northern European descent have any right to worship the Gods. These are the ones that tend to promote White supremacism and other explicitly racist agendas. Other Heathens, as a result, try to distance themselves from the Folkists, even those who would otherwise agree that Heathens who worship the Germanic gods should adopt Germanic values.

Slavic Paganism

Slavic Paganism or Heathenry is also enjoying a resurgence in Eastern Europe in countries with large Slavic populations. A movement known as Rodnovery or “Native Faith” is made up of communities which claim to continue the ancient Slavic religion which was mostly replaced by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This movement is especially strong in Poland despite the nation’s dominant Catholic identity. Many Rodnovery are self-described reconstructionists but others claim direct continuity with the ancient traditions claiming that their families continued the old religion in secret or in cloaked form alongside Christianity.

Revival of the Greek Gods

In Greece, a couple of organizations have emerged promoting a revival of the ancient Greek religion under the name “Hellenism.” The Hellenists also call themselves Dodekatheists or believers in twelve gods, namely the Olympian deities. Religious practices in Hellenism include public worship at temples or in outdoor open spaces of the major Greek gods, Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Hera, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Demeter, Hephaestus, Hermes, Hestia, Dionysus, Hades and Poseidon among others. There is also a large household worship component centered on domestic Greek deities such as Hestia, goddess of the hearth. Most Hellenists are politically inactive but some of them desire to create a national and ethnic identity for Greece not rooted in Eastern Orthodoxy. Some Hellenists have been vocally hostile towards the Greek Orthodox Church but many simply want to practice their religion amicably alongside Greek Christians.

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