Understanding Why Paganism Is Growing In America



Everyday, somewhere across the world, someone is killed for their religious beliefs.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Human beings are actually killing one another in the name of their unseen God.  What’s worse is that these killings are done with great zeal and fanfare; it’s almost as if the perpetrators enjoy the act of murder.  Yet, those murders and their horrific actions are in vain.  No major religion has ever been eradicated from the earth, regardless of the number killed.  Even the organized and well financed attempted genocide of the Jews during World War II was unsuccessful.

The United States has been shielded from much of this violence due to religious protections granted by the United States Constitution.  Yet in the last few decades, there’s been a growing pressure from more than one political party to take those protections away from businesses and individuals.  Additionally, large number of immigrants are entering the nation with drastically different lifestyles and religious beliefs.  They are demanding the same protections for their imported religions, but for practices which our founding fathers hadn’t planned for.  Some of these practices include child brides, caste systems, idol worship, honor killings, and multiple prayer times throughout the work day.  While the foreign presence in growing, the dominant American religion, Christianity, has been plagued with scandals; mostly sickening sexual crimes that targeted children.

What’s Wrong With Organized Religion

Christianity is broken down into many different sects, each with their own set of beliefs, rules, and practices.  One thing they all have in common is money.  The churches expect members to donate money to support church activities.  In one sect, the expectation is ten percent, a figure which has been shown to put unnecessary financial distress on many families.  There are also expectations that church members follow a voluminous rule book (Koran, Torah, Bible, etc.) .  In some cases the books control mundane aspects of their lives such as what they can eat, drink, or what activities they can participate in or who they can associate with.  Enforcement is managed through a combination of outright lies, such as telling a person they’ll go to an imaginary place called hell, where they are punished repeatedly forever.  Also there are the normal petty types of enforcement such as tattling, shunning, massive guilt trips, and in some cases corporal punishment or worse.  Many sects also demand members force their children to go out and knock on doors to spread their messages; sometimes going overseas for years and they have to pay for it with their own money.

Church services are very regimented and church leaders exercise tremendous control on their congregations; in some sects the Priests are considered to be the gateway between the parishioners and God.  This trick forces believers to play by the church rules or get cut off from their God.  Others spend hours driving messages into the minds of their members.  Topics such as false salvation or towing the line on church doctrine are favorites.  In some sects, members are expected to act like every day is a Sunday and they force members into church-like activities each day.  Children are often separated from their parents and indoctrinated in church teachings.  At the end of the day, an outsider can easily see that all organized religions are firmly anchored around money, power, and control, just as they have been since their beginnings.


Religion is Akin to Mind Control

In a nation of so many freedoms, a group or person attempting to exercise that level of control seems unprecedented.  Most people reject political candidates who wish to impose authoritarian rule, yet for some reason allow their religious leaders to do the very same thing; or at least they used to.  This conditioning leads to numerous problems down the road for many younger people.  Once they start researching the histories of their religions, they immediately see that they have been misled, and lied to outright.  They see that their holiday’s and customs were mostly stolen from religions that predate Christianity.  They can observe how the major religions copy a lot of their doctrines from one another.  And what’s worst of all is that their leaders change the rules as needed just to keep membership strong.

Betrayal is something that carries a lot of weight with today’s youth.  Luckily over the last decade, some people are starting to wake up to the hypocrites and control freaks that populate the leadership ranks of modern religious sects.  They are summarily rejecting both them and their doctrines.  Many become atheists or non-believers, but the lion’s share spend their time looking for something different.  They, like most human beings, have spiritual needs.  Many are feeling lost or rejected because they are different.  And so they begin to search for alternatives.  This is where paganism enters the conversation.  Paganism is all accepting and straight forward.  Participants choose the path they want to follow and which Gods or Goddesses they wish to honor.  No one takes attendance, nor are there penalties or guilt-trips and there is no collection plate.


What Exactly Is Paganism, I’m Not Quite Sure

But before we dig deeper into the appeal of paganism, it’s necessary to discuss what exactly paganism stands for and more importantly what it doesn’t represent.  To begin, paganism is an umbrella term which was actually coined and brought into use as a derogatory term by the Christian Church.  It was a way of denigrating anyone who didn’t belong to their church.  To summarize, paganism is every religion that came before Christianity.  No one is really certain how many ancient groups were demonized by that term, but it’s likely in the hundreds.  Since it’s beginnings, the Christian church was focused on converting any and all existing religious-practicing-groups from the ways of their ancestors to the ways of Christianity.  Anyone who didn’t convert or tried to retain the old ways, was branded as a pagan, which at the time meant they were either evil, in league with demons, practiced witchcraft, sacrificed humans, drank blood, or any other of a litany of horrific deeds and beliefs.  Of course, we now know that this was pure fiction and nothing but a strong arm tactic to force conversions.

For more than a thousand years, non-Christians were persecuted, tortured, imprisoned, stripped of wealth and title, and had their lands and families destroyed at the hands of church masters who were drunk with power.  The term carried a near death-sentence in the Middle Ages as the church reshaped the European continent, the New World, and across the globe.  The underlying message was always the same; the church was good and honorable while paganism (by their definitions) was wrong, evil, and a pathway to eternal damnation.  And as Christianity grew, the reinforcement grew with it as well as the numbers of people executed in horrible torture chambers or hilltop gallows.  And yet, throughout those hundreds of terrible years, some of the secrets of the ancient practices persevered quietly hiding in the shadows and archives of those without fear of church retribution.

Today, the term paganism has lost much of the gloss painted upon it by the church.  It no longer carries a death sentence and is considered a legitimate religious practice by most people.  Like Christianity, there are numerous sects and groups; the actual number is unknown but it includes Wicca, Occultists, Druidism, Witchcraft, Santeria, Native American beliefs, and many others.  There are two sides, light and dark (some prefer left hand or right hand) and every sect has some of both.  There are dramatically different methods and practices used by the different groups, but in the modern era, there is mutual respect and a unwritten code of honor between them.  It’s a practice that organized religion could benefit from as it leads to knowledge sharing, friendship, and a stronger community.


Witches Were Persecuted and Punished Relentlessly

Deemed the most evil of evil, witches were the most aggressively persecuted group, mainly because they challenged the church’s authority the most.  The challenge to the church was indirect, but strong enough to warrant the church heaping extra pain and suffering upon anyone accused of witchcraft.  Historians have identified many reasons why the church had such strong negative feelings toward witches, but the most obvious one was the fact that they were natural healers.  Using plants, herbs, and items from the forest, ancient witches could concoct a medicine (potion or spell) that would ease symptoms and cure health problems.  The church on the other hand insisted that prayer to their God was more effective.  The reality was that the witches potions worked and the prayer had little effect so in order to claim victory, the church had to first demonize and then eliminate the competition, which led to horrors beyond imagination.

Other ancient practices were treated horribly in addition to witches.  Celtic Druids, Odinists, North African earth religions, and many more were targeted for conversion or destruction.  Sadly, much was lost in the continual purge.  It almost seemed as if the old ways would be eradicated completely, that is until the church came face to face with a foe that could stand up to their bullying tactics.  It wasn’t another religion, per se, but instead a global movement toward modernization and technology that swept across the planet starting in the late 1800’s.  People turned their focus toward industry, capitalism, and invention as the century turned.  Some of them became wealthy and discovered social status had more meaning than religious status.  Religion lost their precious foothold in several important categories as big business and politics stepped in to become the heartbeat of the nation.  Modern medicine seemed to validate the craft of the witch while simultaneously made prayer healing obsolete.  Strangely enough, it didn’t totally disappear; some people still believe in it wholeheartedly.  Factory work limited church attendance and a global shift in population mixed people of all backgrounds together.

The Church Versus Modernization

With Jews, Catholics, Christians, and every other type of people living in fast-growing cities, there were disputes and violence tied to religion.  Yet unlike the constant battles in the Middle East and Great Britain, they did not amount to much in America.  People were trying to survive and stake their claim of the American Dream rather than worry about outdated religious rules.  As the 20th century progressed, America experienced upheaval with the Great Depression and several World Wars, which brought many people back into the hands of Christian leaders.  Tragedy and hardship are two of the church’s primary recruitment tools.  They preyed upon those down on their luck by bartering help for service and commitment to the church.  Yet, time after time, as things improved, people once again strayed from their clutches.  

This up and down went on for most of the century until the next major shift occurred.  The world knew it as the age of hippies, flower children, and peace lovers.  One popular term was the Age of Aquarius.  During the mid 1960’s a cultural revolution began with America’s youth.  They created their own culture by reverting to a natural life by living together in communes, getting high, engaging in open sexuality, and developing their own music styles and methods of expression.  During this time period, many people sought out alternatives to American religion; alternatives that were spiritual but not controlling.  Many sought to find the meaning of life while projecting positive vibrations and feelings of joy.  Money had very little influence and many traveled as nomads.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, and other “new age” spiritual experiences were part of the journey.  Many of them found solid footing with the freedom loving crowds of the 1960’s and 1970’s but really gained momentum in the 1980’s and have been growing ever since.  During this period, many occultists practices were explored; with a high degree of focus on the works of Aleister Crowley.  Also Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan started and began to flourish in many areas.  We could spend hours discussing each of the different belief systems, but won’t in this piece.  What the real “higher understanding” that we can get out of this period is that the teachings of Christianity were challenged from multiple directions.  People started to realize that they were in charge of their own spiritual health rather than to assign it to a religious person.  Once that became firmly established, everything was reset and people started to once again explore everything.

From New Age to Today

Since the Age of Enlightenment, all across America, communities of healers, spiritual helpers, pagans and metaphysical practitioners are popping up.  Some have been there for years; quietly serving the needs of their brethren, but are now finally able to come to the surface.  Some are focused on a single main culture or belief, such as Celtic, Satanism, or ancient Egyptian.   Others are a collection of all, loyal to none; from hedge witches to sun worshipers and everything in between.  Returning to the old ways no longer has a negative stigma attached to it, and being pagan is no longer associated with all things bad and evil, but instead a word celebrated and embraced by a rapidly growing community.

This national community of pagans are bringing back the old Gods and Goddesses.  They are networking and sharing any remaining scripts or texts from long ago.  No longer do they fear speaking the chants, rituals, and poems of their ancestors.  They are gathering in homes, forests, and backyards in small groups to share ideas.  Covens and groups are being formed and formalized; some even with their own websites and social media groups.  Stones, herbs, crystals, and all sorts of magickal objects are exchanged and put to use for more reasons than anyone could count or have ever believed.  Cloaks, wands, cups, and cards are no longer taboo nor are the metaphysical arts or alternative healing techniques.

And yet, there still remains some trepidation among many people.  I personally answer tons of questions about why I practice what I do and how it influences my life.  I can only give a short summary to say that I’m more in touch with myself and others around me.  I feel grounded and have a connection with the planet, the soil, and the elements.  I know how to forgive and more importantly , how to forget; in fact I’m able to nearly erase bad memories from my mind altogether by not feeding them energy.  I vibrate at a much higher level now and see things that were always there, but I never took time to notice them.  And, I’ve chosen to be a self-appointed pagan historian and I share what I know with my local community and on this website.  But, enough about me.  Read on and judge for yourself if paganism is something you might find interesting.

Why Paganism?

It’s my understanding that the following list contains many reasons why Paganism is rising in America.  It’s definitely not complete and subject to debate, but it does provide enough evidence to solidify my point.

  1.  There are no rule books to follow unless a person chooses to adopt one of their liking.  Even then, they are free to exclude parts they don’t care for.  As a pagan, you make your own rules, you create and maintain your own moral compass, and you decide how you will show or not show your choices.
  2. You don’t have a master, priest, lay leader, or other guide unless you wish to follow someone. You can practice all alone in any method you feel is right.  You do not need another human being to act as an intermediary to the higher power you seek.
  3. Money has no connection as their are no buildings to maintain, missions to fund, or leaders to pay.  It doesn’t cost anything to be spiritual or embrace something that you love.
  4. A pagan meeting or ritual can take place anywhere simply by casting a circle; all spaces on earth are sacred.  There are no official meeting places, times, or schedules.
  5. Many times there is a bonfire – now who doesn’t like a good gathering around a roaring fire?
  6. Paganism is the original environmentalism movement; we care more about the planet than you’d ever imagine.  Most pagans work with the energies of all living things and the planet itself – that’s something valuable and we take care of it.
  7. Everyone is not only welcomed, but they are included and embraced with open arms – many of us are so-called social outcasts or stigmatized in some way.  There are people of all types; some rich, some poor, some gay, some straight, and some still deciding.  Some are physically handicapped, recovering from substance abuse, had hard times, or have been ostracized from their own families for numerous reasons.
  8. Paganism is built around self-healing and spiritual cleansing – is empowering and helps people learn their own strengths and weaknesses, but more important it’s a support group with no cost.
  9. Healing of the body is done with plant medicine and other spiritual practices, not the dangerous things the medical community pushes.  There is a place for modern medicine, but it’s not at the beginning of the line.
  10. Yes, there are drugs, but most are recreational and for fun, not a lifetime dependency.  No one will push anyone to drink, smoke, or otherwise do anything that they don’t want to.  The status quo means very little.
  11. You can wear anything you want and dressing up in costumes is not only accepted, but encouraged.  Paganism allows you to free your inner pagan and if you want to wear a cloak, then do it.  If you want to paint your face or pierce your cheek, then it’s your call.
  12. Harm none is a generally accepted principle among pagans – we don’t like people telling us what to do and we in return don’t interfere with the lives of others.
  13. Some pagans occasionally do their rituals skyclad (in the nude) – it’s not required and it’s not voyeurism so don’t show up looking for a peep show.
  14. Paganism doesn’t mediate your sexual preferences, your personal habits, or who you choose to associate with – do what you want as long as it doesn’t cause harm to someone else.
  15. When we love, we love unconditionally, when we celebrate, we do it with zeal and gusto, and when we err, we make amends.  If you’re hungry, we will feed you (both your body and your mind).  If you need help, someone will have the expertise to give you guidance.  We get married, have families, and pay our taxes just like the rest of society, but instead of just existing….we LIVE LIFE TO IT’S FULLEST!


Since modern day paganism is such a broad topic, I wasn’t able to cover everything in detail.  There are many credible sources you can seek out for additional research on many of the topics I touched on in this article.  Be cautious of fake pagans (anyone who is in it solely for the money is usually one I would avoid) and please don’t jump into anything without doing your own research.  Paganism is about the individual, so make sure what you choose is good for you and not just a jump from one failed religion into another.  Hopefully you found something enlightening here at the Gypsy Thread – feel free to share it with your friends!  Blessed Be!

More From This Author

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