Neopaganism or Neo-Paganism is any of a heterogeneous group of new religious movements, particularly those influenced by ancient, primarily pre-Christian and sometimes pre-Judaic religions. Often these are Indo-European in origin, but with a growing component inspired by other religions indigenous to Europe, such as Finno-Ugric, as well as other parts of the world. As the name implies, these religions are Pagan in nature, though their exact relationship to older forms of Paganism is the source of much contention.
Neopagan beliefs and practices are extremely diverse, and the term itself is rather amorphous. Some Neopagans practice a syncretic melding of various religious practices, folk customs and ritual techniques deriving from an extremely wide array of disparate sources, while Reconstructionists attempt to remain historically authentic to varying degrees. Other Neopagans practice a spirituality that is entirely modern in origin.
In the USA, Wicca is the largest Neopagan belief, being an extremely diverse and inclusive religion. Many Wiccans endorse some precepts including a reverence for nature and active ecology, venerations of a Goddess and/or Horned God, usage of ancient mythologies, a belief in magick and sometimes the belief in reincarnation.
Since the term Pagan was coined from an Abrahamic viewpoint, summarizing non-Abrahamic religions, Neopaganism may be defined as "post-Christian" new religious movements (or, in the recent case of Judeo-Paganism, "post-Judaistic"), and is pronouncedly a modern phenomenon with its roots in early 19th century Romanticism. Polytheistic or animistic traditions that survived into modern times relatively untouched by Christianity and Islam, like Shinto or Hinduism are usually not considered pagan or neopagan. In some instances, notably in Icelandic Asatru, the revivalist movements incorporate surviving strains of pre-Christianization folklore. Other Neopagans stress a connectedness or lineage with older forms of Paganism in terms of an alleged "underground" continuity or tradition, but such claims are largely spurious.
During Christianization, Christianity absorbed some pagan elements, but it was not until the High Middle Ages that scholarly interest in the cultures and religions of Classical Antiquity began to thrive. Thomas Aquinas attempted to fuse concepts of Graeco-Roman philosophy and cosmology with Christianity. With the Renaissance, Graeco-Roman mythology became omnipresent in Europe, but it was still clad in a Christian interpretation. Neopaganism proper begins only with 18th century Romanticism, and the surge of interest in Germanic paganism with the Viking revival in the British Isles and Scandinavia. Neo-Druidism was established in the United Kingdom by Iolo Morganwg from 1792, and is considered by some to be the first Neopagan revival.
These trends of pagan revival reached Germany in the late 19th century Völkisch movement, which was to become one of the main roots of 20th century Neopaganism. The late 19th century also saw a renewal of interest in various forms of Western occultism, particularly in England. During this period several occult societies were formed such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis. Several prominent writers and artists were involved in these organizations, including William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Arthur Edward Waite, and Aleister Crowley. These groups attempted to syncretize the "exotic" pre-Christian beliefs of the Druids and Egyptians into their belief system, although not necessarily for purely religious purposes. Along with these early occult organizations, there were other social phenomena such as the interest in mediumship, and an interest in magic and other supernatural beliefs which were at an all time high in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Some evidence suggests that returning colonials and missionaries brought ideas from native traditions home to the United Kingdom. In particular the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough (1900) was influential.
The word "Neo pagan" first appears in an essay by F. Hugh O'Donnell, Irish MP in the British House of Commons, written in 1904. O'Donnell, writing about the theater of W. B. Yeats and Maud Gonne, criticized their work as an attempt to "marry Madame Blavatsky with Cuchulainn". Yeats and Gonne, he claimed, openly worked to create a reconstructionist Celtic religion which incorporated Gaelic legend with magic.
It might be well to consider the words of G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right (1821): "It is one thing to be a pagan, quite another to believe in a pagan religion".
In the 1920s Margaret Murray theorized that a witchcraft religion existed underground and in secret, and had survived through the religious persecutions and Inquisitions of the medieval Church. Most historians reject Murray's theory, as it was partially based on the similarities between the accounts given by those accused of witchcraft. However, this similarity is thought to actually derive from the standard set of questions that were used by interrogators, as laid out in the Malleus Maleficarum. Murray's theories generated interest, which were echoed in novels by Mitchison such as the The Corn King and the Spring Queen and covens emerged based upon the theories of Murray.
In the 1940s Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a New Forest coven led by a woman named "Dafo", whom some surmise was actually a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck - an ex-colonial woman returned from India. Gardner had already written about Malay native customs and wrote books about witchcraft. Gardnerian Wicca is used to refer to the traditions of Neopaganism that adhere closely to Gardner's teachings, differentiating it from simlar traditions, such as Alexandrian Wicca.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence in Neo-druidism as well as the rise of Germanic Neopaganism and Ásatrú in the USA and in Iceland.
Neopaganism Concepts of the divine
Most Neopagan traditions are polytheistic, but the interpretation of the concept of deity varies widely, including monist, pantheist, dualist, deist, animist, henotheist, psychological and mystical variations and interpretations.
Hutton states that the historical Pagans did not see "All Goddesses as one Goddess; all Gods as one God", but some modern Neopagans believe that there is but a single divinity or life force of the universe, which is immanent in the world. The various manifestations and archetypes of this divinity are not viewed as wholly separate, but as different aspects of the divine which are ineffable.
In Wicca, (especially Dianic Wicca) the concept of an Earth or Mother Goddess similar to the Greek Gaia is emphasized. Male counterparts are also evoked, such as the Green Man and the Horned God (who is loosely based on the Celtic Cernunnos.) These duo-theistic philosophies tend to emphasise the God and Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being analogous of a concept similar to that of the oriental yin and yang; ie, two complementary opposites. However, while many Oriental philosophies explicitly contrast weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity, this discrepancy is not present in Neopaganism and Wicca (for the most part). A common concept in Neopaganism is that "a religion without a Goddess is half way to atheism", can partially explain the commonly prevailing attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women (although the concept of binary gender roles are rejected by other Neopagans.)
Historical paganism, particularly in the Mediterranean, tended to regard beliefs as valid as long as they conformed to the traditions and customs, or cultural patrimony of the people. As Christian eschatology became a rising force, many pagan authors wrote arguments against Christian claims and in defense of the traditional religions which give us insight into their contrasting beliefs.