e g r e g o r e s

"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

Paganism was not born yesterday

[This is another post in the series on What is Paganism? It is also to some extent inspired by and a response to Chas Clifton’s recent (and very interesting) Draft Paper In the Mists of Avalon.]

Religious Continuities and Discontinuities

Religious sects often exaggerate the length and nobility of their pedigrees and especially the seamless continuity of their sacred histories — while downplaying any recent innovations or embarrassing gaps. But even when wielded as a supposedly objective conceptual tool applied by scholars of religion, the phrase “continuous tradition” is inevitably applied very selectively, indeed, arbitrarily. What would happen if the “continuous tradition” idea was applied consistently to all religions?

Take Christianity, for example. The “founder” of that religion had no intention of “founding” a new religion at all. Jesus was an observant Jew as were all of his disciples. So right from the start there is a very clear and unbridgeable discontinuity between Christianity and Christ.

Another abrupt discontinuity came when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, a historical event that completely changed the fundamental nature of Christianity as it had existed for the previous two (plus) centuries. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was a theological free for all, characterized not so much by a great diversity of views as by an atmosphere of perpetual sectarian rancor among grouplets that had nothing but contempt for each other. None of the beliefs that are currently accepted by all of the main sects of Christianity today were agreed upon then, and at least one central Christian tenet, “original sin”, still had not yet even been dreamt up. Even the very nature of Jesus himself was up for grabs. Many ante-Nicene Christians held that Jesus was either just a man or that he was purely divine with no human nature at all. Holding either of those beliefs, or any other beliefs at odds with the Nicene creed, became a crime punishable by death in the year 381 under the Emperor Theodosius (although the creed itself had been first formulated in 325, the year after Constantine became sole Emperor).

Even if we focus only on “orthodox” Christianity there is a jarring discontinuity when it gained political power. Prior to Constantine, what came to be known as orthodox Christianity was just one of many competing sects, each of which had to rely solely on such things as the persuasive power of their arguments and the perceived validity of the religious experience that they offered. After gaining the power to do so, however, the Orthodox Christians became ruthless, indeed murderous, oppressors who gloried in the use of savage violence to impose their ideas on others — and they not only bragged about doing so, but they enshrined their use of violent coercion explicitly in their theology.

Another discontinuity in Christianity came with the so-called Protestant Reformation. Both Luther and Calvin renounced any historical continuity with the Catholic Church, which was seen by both “reformers” as a literally Satanic institution whose no conceivable relationship with genuine Christianity. But prior to the Reformation the Christian religion had been synonymous with “the Church” for over a thousand years! And yet who (seriously) insists that only adherents of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (and maybe Copts and Ethiopians …) are Christians, while Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. must be referred to, and must refer to themselves as “Neochristians”?

Ancient Pagan religious traditions also provide clear exceptions to the red herring of “continuous tradition”. An important example is the cult of Pan in Athens, which according to Herodotus was dormant at the time of the epiphany granted to the runner Pheidippides on the eve of the Battle of Marathon (an epiphany that began with Pan chiding Pheidippides and his fellow Athenians for neglecting him). In fact, a God like Pan is essentially impossible to honor within a rigidly institutionalized cult. One cannot even build Temples or any other permanent structures for Him. The only acceptable sacred spaces for Pan are natural caves, or other places provided by Nature herself with no assistance from human hands. And so after the Battle of Marathon the Athenians revived Pan’s cult and dedicated a natural cave in the side of the hill of the Acropolis to the Horned God.

Now it should be obvious that no self-respecting Pagan, ancient or modern, would ever simply “invent” a new Deity out of thin air, let alone worship such an “invented” or “new” Goddess or God. But as examples like that of the Athenian cult of Pan show, this still leaves plenty of room for innovations. The importation of “foreign” Gods is another important phenomenon. How much “continuity” is there between the ancient traditional Egyptian worship of Isis, and the cosmopolitan and even highly philosophized Hellenistic Mystery Religion of Isis that stretched as far north as Britain?

Indeed, ancient Pagans openly acknowledged the spread of cults from one place to another, but it was understood that when this happened, the fact that a cult was “newly arrived” did not indicate that either the Deity or the cult were really “new” at all. I don’t see how this point could be made any more clear than it is in Euripides’ Bakkhai, or, for that matter, in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, written a thousand years later. Dionysos was not only portrayed as a wandering, indeed “conquering”, God in works of literature, it is well known that wandering priests traveled about carrying “the good news” of “the son of God” far and wide.

And yet to some extent the cult of Magna Mater in Rome, for example, could have been considered a “New Religious Movement” in the late third century BC. And no one would claim that this Roman cult was a simple and straightforward “continuation” of the Phrygian cult of Matar. Similarly, when the worship of the wandering God Bacchus came to Rome it was seen as new and foreign and, by many, quite unwelcome. And then over time the status of the worship of Bacchus went from “new, foreign and unwelcome cult”, to “banned cult”, to “tolerated but disliked cult”, to “established cult”. One last example is the strange career of Mercurius ter Maximus, aka Hermes Trismegistus, aka “Thoth the great, the great, the great” — that quintessentially cosmopolitan and ever-changing God whose bag of tricks and array of disguises allowed this Pagan God to walk openly down the boulevards, so to speak, of Medieval Europe.

It should be emphasized that the natural dynamics of ancient Paganism, long before Jesus came along, included both (1) the decline of cults into dormancy followed by their subsequent revival, and (2) the importation of cults from foreign lands, which would then take on forms quite different from that known in their “native” lands.

Here’s one more example of how problematic the insistence on “continuity” can be. Zen Buddhism traces it’s history back to the semi-legendary Indian teacher Bodhidharma, who traveled to China and founded the Ch’an sect of Buddhism. Of course Bodhidharma never said anything about founding a new sect of Buddhism, and no one called his teaching “Ch’an Buddhism” at the time. And it should also be unsurprising that Zen Buddhists naturally do not “stop” at Bodhidharma, but rather claim that the teachings and practice of Zen are traceable all the way back to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.

Bottom line: there is simply no well-defined, objective criterion that makes modern Paganism less rooted in the past than, say, Presbyterianism. Only by arbitrarily applying a criterion to Paganism that is not applied (or is not applied in the same way) to other religions, can it be claimed that modern Paganism is especially deficient in terms of our roots.

“… certain types of ancient religion …”
In a recent Draft Paper titled In the Mists of Avalon: How Contemporary Paganism Dodges the ‘Crisis of History’, noted Pagan scholar Chas Clifton (still …) claims that “Contemporary Pagan traditions … are rooted neither in a long-standing religious tradition nor in a relationship with the land.”

I will leave aside for now our “relationship with the land”, and focus on the claim that modern Pagans are not “rooted” in any “long-standing religious tradition”. This makes it sounds very much like Clifton still believes, as Ronald Hutton once proclaimed, that modern and ancient Paganism “have nothing in common other than the name”. The thing is, though, it turns out that Hutton subsequently discovered (surprise!) there were, in fact, “certain types of ancient religion which far more closely resembled [modern] Paganism , had certainly influenced it, and had certain linear connections with it.” [Witches, Druids and King Arthur p. 87]

And where had these obscure ancestors of modern Paganism been hiding? Certainly they must have been deep down in their warrens to have evaded the detection of Ronald Hutton (and apparently they are still evading Clifton). Well one of these Pagans was a famous Roman Emperor, and several others were among the most famous names in the history of ancient philosophy and classical literature. And what were the obscure “types of ancient religion” that they practiced? Why they worshipped the Olympian Gods and sacrificed at the ancient Pagan Temples of Athens, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, etc. But surely they must have based their bizarre avant-garde cults on esoteric proto-Etruscan poetry written on buried pot sherds in hieroglyphics that are indecipherable to this day even by experts? No? They quoted Homer, Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle – works freely and easily available in English translation to anyone with an internet connection? You don’t say!

And even if it were the case, as Hutton desperately argues in his Witches, Druids and King Arthur (Chapter Four: The New Old Paganism) that those “certain types or religion” from which modern Paganism is descended were either (1) “detached from the masses and usually disempowered” or (2) a “new kind of ancient paganism” that differed fundamentally from “traditional” ancient Paganism — it would not matter. Why wouldn’t it matter? Because Christianity was both socially marginalized and quite new to the scene at the time when Apuleius was a high ranking priest in Carthage and Ammonius Saccas was teaching Platonic philosophy in Alexanderia. And, therefore, it is not possible, without abandoning even a pretense of consistency, to claim that modern Paganism is any more of a “New Religious Movement” than Roman Catholicism is!

At this late stage of the game I find it hard to understand why anyone is still buying what Clifton is selling. Modern Paganism has roots going back to well before the reign of Constantine, back to a time when Christianity as we know it today had not yet come into being. And we have every reason to take pride in these roots: we have the staggering philosophical accomplishments of Ammonius, Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus; the intimate and magical religion of Apuleius of Madaurus and Apollonius of Tyana; the enduring prose of Longus and Heliodorus; the esoteric poetic extravagance of Statius and Valerius Flaccus, etc. We also have the principled calls for religious tolerance from Celsus and Julian, who spoke from positions of relative power with respect to the Christians, whose rights they defended. (Where are the similar voices from Christians in power calling for toleration? They did not even tolerate each other – they did not even pretend to.)

Pagans need to start learning the real history of our real ancestors — who already considered their sacred traditions incredibly ancient long before the Galileans came along. To put it as simply as possible: Paganism does have a real history, and this is a history we need neither “dodge” nor apologize for. Nor need we fear any “crisis” as a result of genuine scholarship. We are not end-time fundamentalists. Our religion does not require the acceptance of untruths, and it never has. At the same time Pagans are perfectly free to believe, and encourage others to believe, nonsense. But that is the price of freedom.

And as much as we all loved Mists of Avalon and Stranger in a Strange Land, the history of Paganism has far more to do with ancient religious traditions that long preceded Christianity, than it does with our favorite science fiction and fantasy novels!

We need to embrace those who practiced those “certain types of ancient religion” that even Ronald Hutton can no longer deny the reality of: they are our spiritual ancestors. Unless we understand our connection with our ancestors we cannot understand who we are. It really is just like the historian Howard Zinn once said:

If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody … can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.

31 responses to “Paganism was not born yesterday

  1. Apuleius Platonicus July 26, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I should probably do a post (at least!) just on the beautiful artwork created by Manship and Huttington. One of Huntington's spectacular Diana's is actually at a little museum just an hour away from me – the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, in Hagerstown Maryland.

  2. Erik July 26, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Ah, great – thank you! I love that Prometheus. Off to Google now!

  3. Apuleius Platonicus July 24, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Erik – you have excellent taste. That one is by a remarkable sculptor named Paul Manship – if you do a google search on "manship diana" you will find lots of pics of the Goddess.Manship also did the Prometheus sculpture/fountain in front of the Rockefeller Center in NYC.And if you like Manship's Diana you'll probably also like this:http://tinyurl.com/n9g4whThat one is by Anna Hyatt Huntington. If you google search her name and "diana" you'll find lots of that one, too!

  4. Erik July 24, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    On another note, where did you find that Artemis image? I've spent some time on Google image search and haven't been able to track it down… that statue conveys the sense of life and movement that is so much a part of Her, and so often lacking in statues of Her. Thanks!

  5. Al July 23, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Well, I could just be obstinate but I really don't see it, seriously. I see a philosophical tradition, clearly pagan in origin, meditated through texts but I don't consider that sort of thing a survival of paganism because it is such a limited channel. The amount of data in it is so limited and we're even missing much of the corpus of philosophical materials. I say this as a man that owns just about everything in print on Iamblichus, who has tried to work through Proclus, etc.

  6. Apuleius Platonicus July 23, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Al, you just seem to be in total denial about the "linear connections" that others (like Ronald Hutton) now accept between late antique Paganism and modern Paganism. What's up with that?

  7. Al July 22, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    I'm sure that the ancient pagans had direct transmission from mouth to ear, probably within families and society. The fact is that modern paganism has a broken continuity from that. They learned it from books, which was not a complete tradition, causing them to invent new ones (hence the "Neo" label).

  8. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Al sez:>>So I'll take that as a "They don't exist because there is no continuous tradition that survives to today."<<And I'll take that as an admission that the criteria you insist on for modern Paganism are not met by ancient Paganism. QED

  9. Al July 22, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    So I'll take that as a "They don't exist because there is no continuous tradition that survives to today."Thanks.

  10. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    "What is the name of the religious tradition that they established and where can I find its leaders today?"I will be glad to answer that question Al if you will answer this one: what was the name of the religious tradition followed by Herodotus and where could one, in his day, find it's leaders?Besides, when I asked The Leaders they said you weren't ready yet, Al.

  11. Al July 22, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    And before you say that's silly, people in my Zen lineage can list their masters and successors for over a 1,000 years, person to person, by name. Catholic priests can do the same.

  12. Al July 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Also, can you point me to the preserved teachings of these individuals and the ones written by their followers developing them over the subsequent centuries? I don't mean indirect followers or successors?I mean person to person in a continuing tradition that we can verify. Who were the students of Plethon, and then who were there students, and so forth down to today in a direct lineage?

  13. Al July 22, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    What is the name of the religious tradition that they established and where can I find its leaders today?

  14. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Al sez:"The problem is that you can't point to any because the pagan cults, as far as anyone can actually cite evidence, all died out or were suppressed. People reading a book 500 years later and incorporating pagan philosophy and magic into their Christianity doesn't make them a survival of paganism."Well, actually, in the case of Byzantium there is the case of Hellenism surviving as an anti-Christian ideology, especially in the form of Platonism. We have a well documented continuous tradition from Michael Psellos to Plethon – and Plethon is directly connected to the Florentine Renaissance – which in turn flows into the (often murky) stream of Western Esotericism. Evidence for the Paganism of this particular current includes:1. The trial and conviction of John Italos in 1087 as a "Hellene" (the more historically accurate term for "Pagan" used in the Greek speaking world). Italos was Psellos' student and designated successor. Psellos was also accused of "forsaking Christ to follow Plato", as Kaldelllis discusses in his "The Argument of Psellos' Chronographia" (pp. 4-5).2. The posthumously discovered writings of Plethon (the last head of the school founded by Psellos) from 1453 unambiguously revealing that he was a polytheist who worshipped the traditional Goddesses and Gods of the Hellenes.3. Giovanni Corsi's description of Ficino as not only a "Pagan" in his personal beliefs, but as someone who used his philosophical writings to propagate "the Pagan religion".

  15. Al July 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    If you want to define paganism as "anyone who has ever identified as pagan whether part of living tradition" then, sure, paganism didn't necessarily ever die.

  16. Al July 22, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Self-identifying oneself as a Pagan (or a Christian) doesn't make one part of a continuing survival of paganism from earlier times except in spirit.If I found a Bible on a cave 2,000 years from now when there hadn't been Christians for 1,000 years, you would be fair to call me a "Neo-Christian" if I professed faith after reading the book and in saying that I was not a survival of historic Christianity.

  17. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Let's just take one example. You say:"You keep talking about various individuals and various revivals of Esotericism as if they were inherently pagan. I think that if a group of Christians practice Hermetic magic and invoke angels, they are still Christians, not pagans."A number of objections can be raised to this. First of all there is the question of why they cannot be both?Second of all there is the question of just what is the point of continuing to call something "Christianity" when it owes more to Pythagoras, Plato and Hermes Trismegistus than to Jesus, Paul or Augustine?Third of all what is the basis for calling them Christian in the first place – other than a profession of faith obtained under threat of death by torture? Do you believe that every person in the PRC who professes Marxism is a sincere Communist? How about a Communist Party member who owns a KFC Franchise, drives Land Rover, lives in a mansion, etc? Communist – or Capitalist?Actions speak louder than words – especially when the words are elicited under duress.

  18. Al July 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I'm not purposefully trying to be antagonistic here but I think that your argument is either deeply flawed or a bit disingenuous.

  19. Al July 22, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    You didn't really answer the question that I asked:"I'd love to see an example (as yet unnamed by you) of a modern pagan tradition that was passed person to person, as a living tradition by people, from antiquity, as opposed to revived by people reading books without contact with any surviving pagans."Calling someone "essentially" a pagan doesn't make them a pagan.You keep talking about various individuals and various revivals of Esotericism as if they were inherently pagan. I think that if a group of Christians practice Hermetic magic and invoke angels, they are still Christians, not pagans.I'm looking for any continuity, mouth to ear, in paganism as existed in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. The problem is that you can't point to any because the pagan cults, as far as anyone can actually cite evidence, all died out or were suppressed. People reading a book 500 years later and incorporating pagan philosophy and magic into their Christianity doesn't make them a survival of paganism. What pagan cult alive today is not the creation of some individual, probably within the last 200 years? Drudism in its various forms? No. Wicca? Obviously not. The fact that Thomas Taylor or John Dee read some Plato or incorporated magic ultimately derived from old grimoires doesn't make what they did the survival of a pagan cult. They are something else, a recreation and a blending. I'm talking about historical survivals. You claim there is no gap when there clearly is one.So, please answer my question instead of attempting to reframe the conversation.

  20. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Al – the evidence is there. The Platonic school of philosophy in Byzantium was essentially an underground Pagan tradition. Anthony Kaldellis has written extensively on the survival of "Hellenism" as an anti-Christian ideology in Byzantium.We know with as much certainty as possible that Plethon was a Pagan, and Ficino, knowing that he was a Pagan, openly acknowledged Plethon as the inspiration for the Platonic Academy in Florence. A biography of Ficino written just seven years after his death explicitly identifies Ficino as a Pagan – at least until a supposed conversion experience at 42. I discussed this in an earlier post here:http://tinyurl.com/m6daoeThe Renaissance was a flowering of Paganism – but this Paganism had never died, although it had been mostly forced underground. Western Estotericism has a seamless continuity going back to the Renaissance and most modern Pagan sects, including especially Wicca, grew directly out of Esotericism. There is not "gap". Evolution and change? Yes. Gaps? No.The connection between Plethon and the Florentine Renaissance should not be thought of a single point of failure for the continuity of Paganism – it merely represents the most straightforward and well documented lineage.Also, Al, you are clearly assuming a rigid "either/or" dichotomy. For the better part of 1700 years people had no choice but to "profess" Christianity. This does not in any way mean that such professions were always sincere – in fact it means precisely the opposite. But even in the case of sincere Christians, there is really nothing preventing someone from praying to Jesus and Diana – in fact it is a certainty that many people did just that.Personally I believe that modern Pagans should completely renounce Christianity, and that anyone who does not do so (enthusiastically) is not much of a Pagan. But things were very different even 200 years ago, and I believe it was quite possible and perfectly acceptable for some people to be sincere Christians AND Pagans at the same time. Why on earth do you believe that this was impossible, Al???

  21. Al July 22, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I think that they didn't become Christians for over 1,000 years and somehow (magically?) stay pagans?It was a dead set of traditions that was revived by Christians later.You can set all the terms or conditions on this discussion that you want. It just looks kind of foolish. It certainly isn't scholastic.You obviously have a personal belief that paganism never died out. I'd love to see an example (as yet unnamed by you) of a modern pagan tradition that was passed person to person, as a living tradition by people, from antiquity, as opposed to revived by people reading books without contact with any surviving pagans.

  22. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry Al, I changed my mind. After re-reading your last post I now realize that you have committed yourself to a far more precise position.Unless you can state very clearly (1) who made up (2) what and (3) when they made it up AND (4) why this constitutes a complete break with past – your position is without merit.Point #4 is quite important considering the fluidity of Pagan religious traditions. Do you really think that ancient Pagans didn't innovate and experiment?

  23. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    If you could state even approximately when you claim the "Paganism gap" existed I would be more than happy to clear this up for you. Without at least approximate dates it really does just amount to hand waving and table thumping.That there is a "linear connection" from modern Paganism to late antique Paganism is something that Ronald Hutton conceded already in his 2002 Witches, Druids and King Arthur.

  24. Al July 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    "Inspiration from" in the form of someone's books is not the same as "instruction from" the people who wrote them.I'll give you a counter challenge. Name a form of paganism alive today that was transmitted person to person (not person to book to person) from ancient times as a religion. Someone in Italy reading Homer and Ficino (who was a Catholic priest) thousands of years after Homer lived, after growing up Christian, and inventing their own ceremonies or rites to worship Zeus is not the same as an actual survival of the worship of Zeus as a living religion. There is very clearly a Paganism Gap. This is one of the problems, for me personally, with modern Paganism. Since everyone, either now or decades ago, is just making it up from inspiration from books and their personal muses, no one person's inspiration is any better than another (and their realization and wisdom is not necessarily higher either). For most pagans that I've known, while spiritually meaningful for them, it was also a bit of an intellectual game and a hobby.

  25. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Pagans during the last two centuries certainly did derive inspiration from Homer, Vergil, Apuleius, Plato, etc. And they also derived inspiration from Ficino, Agrippa, Eliphas Levi, Crowley, etc.You might want to try this as an exercise – name the data (to within 100 years or so) when modern Paganism "began", then name the date (to within 100 years) when ancient Paganism ended. No such dates can be provided – it's all merely hand waving and table pounding – there are no specifics. There is no "Paganism gap".

  26. Al July 22, 2009 at 11:03 am

    So you don't believe that individuals during the last two centuries, born Christian, Jewish (or otherwise not pagan) didn't read Homer, Plato, and other early pagans and reconstruct or recreated their own versions of paganism?If you do believe this, then I don't see how you can argue that Paganism wasn't "born yesterday." It's a relatively recent creation inspired by earlier material but not a survival from pagans.For all your criticisms of Catholicism, there is a direct and living, person to person, transmission of a tradition of practice over the years from the first Christians without a break in continuity. Pagans cannot claim the same (and they don't really need to do so for their religion to be spiritually valid but that doesn't make it a historical survival either).I always liked that author (I believe it was Gregory Shaw in a paper on the mass) that claimed that Catholicism and its mass were the last survivals of late pagan mystery cults and their theurgy.

  27. Apuleius Platonicus July 22, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Chas, in your "Mists of Avalon" paper you provide no sources to support your assertion that modern Paganism is not "rooted … in a long-standing religious tradition."For my part I actually did provide a source for my counter-claim that modern Paganism is, indeed, rooted in Pagan religious traditions that were alive and well at least 1800 years ago. You might have heard of my source: he is British historian named Ronald Hutton. To learn more see his "Witches, Druids and King Arthur", in particular Chapter Four, "The New Old Paganism".If you are in need of some summer reading then you might want to check out the sources in my earlier posts on the subject "What is Paganism?":1. "Hic Sunt Dracones": http://tinyurl.com/l2lye7That one assesses Hutton's claim that late-antique Paganism was fundamentally different from traditional Greco-Roman Paganism. The other posts have titles that are more self-explanatory.2. "Ancient Pagans and Theology":http://tinyurl.com/lm9tqe3. "Paganism has always been a magical religion":http://tinyurl.com/kn7yqc4. "Paganism is not a European religion":http://tinyurl.com/nkb8sv5. "Paganism B.C. (Before Christianization)":http://tinyurl.com/njawjz

  28. Chas S. Clifton July 21, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Your post invokes the word "history" frequently, but what is missing is the historian's main tool: sources.Sources may be textual, or they may take other forms–as with the work of the cliometrics school–but they have to be independent and verifiable.Telling stories of the gods moves us into the realm of theology.And theology is fine, although non-scriptural religions have to find different ways of doing theology than the "big five" religions do.But let's call things by their proper names. Good luck with your theological work.

  29. Apuleius Platonicus July 20, 2009 at 10:07 am

    We have far better idea of Iamblichus' Paganism than we do of Jesus' Judaism. Not that Pagans should ever set our bar so low — the comparison merely serves to point out how ludicrous the claim is that Pagans, alone, must place a "neo" in front of our religious designation.

  30. Apuleius Platonicus July 19, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I agree completely with Ronald Hutton that modern Paganism can be traced back 1800 years to late antiquity. But there are two significant points of disagreement: (1) Hutton insists on an outmoded and artificial distinction between "magic" and "religion" – according to which the continuity between modern and ancient Paganism is only with regard to "magic" but not "religion", and (2) Hutton claims that once you get back to late antiquity the trail stops, because (according to him) late antique Paganism was fundamentally different from "real" traditional Paganism.

  31. Al July 19, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I think the point being made by Clifton and Hutton is that there is no continuous history or actual lineage from the ancient paganisms to those today. Someone 100 or 200 years ago reading translations of Proclus, Iamblichus, Plato, etc. and re-creating a new paganism from that is not the same as having a paganism that never quite died out, whose rites and teachings survived. If the latter had occurred, I might still be a pagan today but, for the most part, it is a lot of make believe and wish fulfillment on the part of modern people with a few serious takes at creating something rooted (but ultimately still re-created) in ancient paganism.Hell, we've lost almost the entirely of Iamblichus' writings and those of his contemporaries. We don't even have a full copy of the Chaldean Oracles. It is hard to make a case for an identification of modern paganism with ancient.

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