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Could neo-paganism be the new 'religion' of America?
Witchcraft and pagan spiritualities are on the rise in the United States — especially within mainstream youth culture.
- As Americans turn away from organized religion, pagan spiritualities gain popularity and visibility.
- Although it isn't a homogenized religion, groups identifying within neo-paganism share some uniting principles.
- Witchcraft, which is traditionally associated with women, finds strength and new life in feminist movements.
The witch is impossible to ignore. Pop into an Urban Outfitters and you're sure to find an array of tarot card packs, a beginner's guide to crystals, and a spell book or two. Over at Barnes and Noble, Arin Murphy-Hiscock's book, The Green Witch (2017) is among many "witchy" books being marketed to young women. On Instagram, a popular #witchesofinstagram hashtag is now widely used, and the account @thehoodwitch has a following on the platform of 434,000 followers.
Although neo-pagan, or contemporary pagan, beliefs have steadily gained popularity since their introduction in the 1960s, the past few years have seen neo-paganism and wiccan beliefs proliferate in mainstream American culture. While reports tell us that organized religion is going extinct in the United States, the rise in neo-pagan spiritualities suggest there might be more to the story of religion's role in American lives.
According to previous research, this probably isn't just a fleeting New Age aesthetic trend. Running three large, comprehensive religious surveys from 1990 to 2008, Connecticut's Trinity College found that the religion of Wicca grew a considerable amount over that period of time. Picking up the baton on this effort, the Pew Research Center found that 0.4 percent of Americans (around 1 to 1.5 million citizens) identify as neo-pagan.
As neo-paganism draws more attention and its associated symbols become marketable, there's a strong case to be made for recognizing the practice as a legitimate spirituality and understanding more than just its sensationalized aspects like spell casting, herbal charms, and divination techniques.
Tarot card decks are now often sold in popular retail chains.
Photo by Will & Deni McIntyre / Getty Images.
Neo-paganism has proved difficult to define as it is anything but a homogenous religion. Groups vary in size, structure, purpose, orientation, and ritual practices. Although the subgroup of neo-pagans that practice the Craft, or Wicca, and call themselves "witches" have attracted a majority of pop culture attention, it's important to understand that not all neo-pagans consider themselves witches. In addition to Wiccans, neo-paganism includes groups such as Druids, Goddess worshipers, Heathens, and Shamans. Although it's difficult to make generalized statements about neo-pagan practitioners given the lack of central leadership and dogma, there are a few uniting principals.
The central underpinning belief that unifies the varied groups is a deep reverence for nature. Often, neo-pagans adhere to animistic beliefs or the notion that inanimate objects such as trees, plants, animals, and natural phenomena are imbued with a living soul. Consistent with the view that all of the natural world is alive, neo-pagans revere the earth as a living being. Traditionally, neo-pagans follow a Wheel of the Year calendar with holy days, or "sabbats," that harmonize practitioners with seasonal cycles of the earth.
Additionally, neo-pagans also follow a cosmology that understands the universe as an interconnected whole. All beings are linked with all the cosmos as part of a unified living organism. Extending off of the neo-pagan theme of this interconnected universe is a magical worldview, which is most pronounced in Wiccan branches. In short, neo-pagans believe in a universe in which each part of the interconnected cosmos affects every other part. So many neo-pagans believe that magic can be used as an instrument to tap into and influence these links in the universe to bring about some shift in the physical world.
Although there is no single deity, or pantheon of deities, that neo-pagan groups all worship, the immanence of a divine presence that both permeates the natural world and transcends it is typically accepted within neo-pagan groups. While neo-pagans usually worship both a masculine and femine divine, according to Don Carpenter many practitioners put a special emphasis on the concept of the Goddess, or the divine femine, as a metaphor for the divine.
What's the draw to neo-paganism?
Given the intellectualization of the world and advances of modern science, it might seem a bit counterintuitive for magical and animistic spiritualities to suddenly draw in followers. If a sky god was beginning to seem a bit far-fetched, how is the sacred in the soil any more appealing?
Neo-paganism might well be a reaction against what Max Weber referred to as the "disenchantment of the world" whereby modern life and scientific advancement have drained a sense of the sacred from our lives. Neo-paganism's use of occult practices reveal sacred, even supernatural, interactions with others in nature, such as birds, rocks, trees, or possibly spirits. This might be something Americans, particularly young people, are craving. At a time when industrialization, toxic consumerism, and environmental destruction seem to be reaching an apocalyptic crescendo, Americans might also view neo-paganism as a sort of spiritual activism by drawing on a "sacred ecology" that seeks to bring a divine found in the earth itself into the lives of practitioners. Through a worldview that finds the sacred in the natural, material world, neo-pagan's notice, ritualize, and imagine magical interconnections between multispecies' lives.
Permaculture and the Sacred: A Conversation with Starhawk
There is also the tremendous power of the feminist movement. Its rejection of institutionalized, patriarchal religions might account for the specific cultural interest in the Wiccan branch of neo-paganism. By embracing and sacralizing a symbol of an evil, feminized "other" that we were warned of, scholar Howard Eiberg-Schwatz calls the tradition of American witchcraft in neo-paganism an aim at "debunking the otherness of others." According to the influential Wiccan priestess Starhawk, reclaiming the word "witch" is to reclaim a woman's right to be powerful and to celebrate aspects of the divine that have been traditionally associated with "the feminine," such as creativity, mystery, emotion, natural cycles, and regenerative powers. Rising from 17th century ashes and strutting into mainstream American culture, today's witch is an increasingly visible member of society who might be found sipping coffee out of a "witches brew" mug, flipping through a spell book and tending to an herbal garden.
What is deemed holy reflects the highest values of a society. Ultimately, the rising practice of American neo-pagan spiritualities asks us to consider what changes in cultural values occur when the sacred is found in the earth, symbolized by a great goddess.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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