The core values of neopaganism – as I understand them

Graffiti in downtown Minneapolis
This is a list post, mainly, but to me it’s an important list. When we talk about “pagan values” we often think of it in terms of ethics, morals, codes of conduct. Most definitely those hold a place in values discussions. But values themselves are not moral, or ethical, or even purple. Values are the fundamental concepts that spur the invention of all those moral and ethical codes. Most values are summed up in one word. For instance, I can generally see a person’s core values by walking into their home, and you can see to some extent mine. When I visit my friends who live closest, their house is a mess – but it’s filled with fine objects, beautiful fabrics and art. This tells me that their core value is beauty. When you come into my home, you find a place to hang your coat, a clean kitchen and despite cluttered bookshelves a lot of open space – this tells you that in my home, we place a value on order. I also value beauty, but I consider it a secondary value, after knowing where the hell I left my shoes.

Here is my summary of Pagan/Neopagan values as I’ve experienced them in fifteen years of practice:

  • Individualism/Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Creativity
  • Experience
  • Pleasure
  • The natural world
  • Home
  • Honor
  • Sovereignty/Consent
  • Knowledge (this is consciously low on the list: there are a lot of neopagans I’ve met who place a minimal value on this as is told by their actions.)
  • Intuition/natural instincts
  • Self-acceptance of bodily impulse

Most neopagan traditions do not seem to set out in and of themselves as a rebellious path. I rarely get the sense that the founders (for those where we can know the founder) started off the trad with a religion left behind in mind. It is simply an arrangement of these values that caused people to set forward with their own point of view. The rebels generally try to change a system by defying it; neopagan religious founders often just kind of did their own thing without stopping to relate to any previous path beyond “this was useful, I wonder how it applies to my current situation?”

My own values do celebrate this core, but I am one of the people that complicates it. Note that I did not put the usual comments about “nature-revering” or “looking to a past/future” time of improvement. Certainly I respect nature like I respect anything with the potential to kill me on a whim – and that’s nature for you – but then I confuse people looking for strict definitions by luxuriating in my urban lifestyle, which I consider much more simple than life in the agricultural spaces often celebrated by other pagans.

I bring this list up not just to point out commonalities and difference in concept between pagan religions, but also because, for the next step in my divorce series, I need to explain happiness. Placing a value on happiness flies in the face of contemporary mainstream culture. And its role in divorce is profound.

Comments

  1. Michelle

    I’m heathen and I do agree with several of your values; although I would reword “individualism” (maybe freedom works better? obviously, community is important to heathenism in particular…).

    It also seems to me that putting “nature revering” on the list might be redundant since “natural world” is already on the list of values. ;)

  2. Post
    Author
    di

    Hi Michelle –
    Welcome!

    Most heathens I know personally don’t identify as neopagan, and it’s pretty seriously academic. That said, the reason I put a slash between freedom/individualism is because of the various levels of personal community commitment.

    Also, I chose “natural world” over “nature revering” because quite a few Wiccans in particular confuse agriculture with nature. Most who say they are “nature revering” are in fact hoping for a wooded area next to a farm. Agriculture is not natural, and the way we use it in the US is often not environmentally friendly. This also allows for Wiccans like myself who value omnipresent nature, but who also value and find spirituality in urban life.

  3. Michelle

    Yeah, I don’t know about the “neo” part, but I identify as pagan just because I view “paganism” as a very large umbrella term that, quite frankly, heathenism falls under. I am probably not the average heathen though, because I quite dislike the strong academic bent some heathens have (not that an academic grounding isn’t important, but quite frankly! not everyone has time to learn old icelandic and read expensive, out of print texts!) and wish that more interest/focus was put on spirituality.

    It seems like there used to be quite a strong wish among many reconstructionist pagans of all stripes to be disassociated with the pagan community at large, which (in my experience? dunno) seems to have calmed down quite a bit in the last few years. If I’m talking to someone who knows about paganism & various pagan religions, I’ll say “heathen” or say “like Asatru” (I don’t really personally identify as Asatru, for several reasons), but if I’m talking to someone completely unknowledgable, I’ll say pagan. To me, pagan as a religious term is almost something like polytheist, except obviously more defined.

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