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Paganism: Ancient and Modern
by P.E.I. Bonewits

  The term "Pagan" comes from the Latin paganus, which appears to have  originally meant "country dweller," "villager," or  "hick."  The  members  of  the  Roman army seem to have used  it  to  mean "civilian." When Christianity took over the Empire and  continued it under new management, the word took on the idea of "one who is not  a  soldier of Christ." Today,  the word means  "atheist"  or "devil worshiper" to many devout monotheists. But those who call themselves  Pagan use it differently;  as a general term for  native, natural and polytheistic religions, and their members.

  The  following definitions have been coined in recent years  in order to keep the various polytheological and historical distinc-
tions clear: "Paleopaganism" refers to the original tribal faiths of Europe,  Africa,  Asia,  the Americas,  Oceania and Australia,
where  and  when  they were (or are) still  practiced  as  intact belief systems.  Of the so-called "Great Religions of the World," Hinduism, Taoism and Shinto fall under this category.

  "Mesopaganism" is the word used for those religions founded  as attempts  to  recreate,  revive or continue what  their  founders thought  of  as the (usually European) Paleopagan ways  of  their ancestors  (or predecessors),  but which were heavily  influenced (accidentally, deliberately or involuntarily) by the monotheistic and/or  dualistic worldviews of Judaism,  Christianity and/or Islam.  Examples of  Mesopagan belief systems  would  include  the Masonic Druids,  Rosicrucianism, Spiritualism, Crowleyanity, and the many Afro-American faiths (Voudoun, Macumba, etc.).

  "Neopaganism"  refers to those religions created since 1940 or so  that have attempted to blend what their founders perceived as the best aspects of different types of Paleopaganism with  modern "Aquarian  Age" ideals,  while eliminating as much as possible of  the traditional western dualism. The title of this section should now make a great deal more sense.  So let's look at the state  of Paleopaganism in Europe prior to the arrival of Christianity.

  It's  important  to remember that a lot of history happened  in Europe before anyone got around to writing it down.  Around  4000 B.C.E.  ("Before  the  Common Era") the tribes that spoke  Proto-Indo-European began to migrate away from their original homeland, which  was probably the territory around the northwest shores  of  the  Black  Sea.  Some went southeast and founded  the  Armenian, Iranian  and Indic cultures.  Others went south to  Anatolia  and Palestine,  and  became known as Hittites and Mitanni.  Those who went southwest to the Balkans became Thracians and Greeks. Others who went west and north established the Celtic, Slavic, Germanic, and Baltic cultures.

  All  this migrating around took many centuries and  involved  a lot of bloodshed. Previous inhabitants of a given piece of terri-
tory  had  to be persuaded,  usually at swordpoint,  to  let  the newcomers  in -- and there went the neighborhood!  The  pre-Indo-European cultures in Europe (which were not necessarily "peaceful matriarchies")  were all still in the late Neolithic ("New  Stone Age") cultural era,  with only stone axes, spears and knives with which  to defend themselves.  The invaders had bronze weapons and armor with which to fight,  plus bronze axes with which to  clear the  great  forests that covered the continent,  bronze plows  to till the soil, etc.

  The  impact  of this superior technology can be judged  by  the fact that, by the time of the Roman Empire, nearly every language spoken  in  Europe (except Basque,  Lappish and  Finnish)  was  a member of the Western branch of Indo-European. Everything west of  the  Urals  was  pretty much dominated by a  loosely  interlinked
conglomeration of related cultures,  each of which was a  mixture of the PIE culture and that of the previous holders of its terri-
tory.  The  largest group of cultures north of the Roman  borders was that of the Celts, and the second largest that of the Germans (some  scholars  consider  the Germans to be so  closely  related culturally to the Celts as to be practically a subset,  at  least in archaeological terms).

  Thanks to the work of Georges Dumezil,  James Duran and others, we  are beginning to have a clear idea of the social,  political, magical and religious functions of the priestly "class" in  Indo-European Paleopaganism.  I use the word "class" deliberately, for the Western Indo-European cultures seem to have been built on the same  fundamental social pattern as that with which we are familiar in Vedic India:  clergy,  warriors,  and providers  (farmers, craftspeople, traders, herders, etc.). In fact, it appears that a close  to exact correspondence can be made between the religious, political  and social functions originally performed by  a  Latin flamen, a Celtic draoi, or a Vedic brahman.

  The Indo-European clergy basically included the entire intelligensia of their cultures:  poets, musicians, historians, astrono-
mers,  genealogists, judges, diviners, and of course, leaders and supervisors of religious rituals.  Officially,  they ranked imme-
diately  below the local tribal chieftains or "kings"  and  above the warriors.  However, since the kings were quasi-religious fig-
ures,  usually inaugurated by the clergy,  and often dominated by them,  it  was frequently a tossup as to who was in charge in any given  tribe.  The clergy were exempt from taxation and  military service,  and in some cultures are said to have spent decades  in specialized training.

  They  seem  to have been responsible for all  public  religious rituals  (private ones were run by the heads of each  household). Public ceremonies were most often held in fenced groves of sacred trees.  These were usually of birch,  yew,  and oak (or ash where oaks  were rare),  depending upon the subset of deities or ancestors being addressed,  as well as the specific occasion.  Various members  of  the priestly caste would be responsible  for  music, recitation  of prayers,  sacrificing of animals (or  occasionally human criminals or prisoners of war),  divination from the flames of the ritual fire or the entrails of the sacrificial victim, and other  minor ritual duties.  Senior members of the  caste  ("the" Druids, "the" brahmans or "the" flamens as such) would be responsible  for making sure that the rites were done exactly according to tradition.  Without such supervision, public rituals were generally impossible;  thus Caesar's comment that all public Gaulish sacrifices required a Druid to be present.

  There  are definite indications that the  Indo-European  clergy held  certain  polytheological and mystical opinions  in  common, although only the vaguest outlines are known at this point. There was  a belief in reincarnation (with time spent between lives  in an  Other World very similar to the Earthly one),  in the sacredness of particular trees,  in the continuing relationship between mortals,  ancestors  and deities,  and naturally in the  standard laws of magic (see Real Magic). There was an ascetic tradition of the sort that developed into the various types of yoga in  India, complete  with the Pagan equivalent of monasteries and  convents.  There was also,  I believe, a European "tantric" tradition of sex and drug magic,  although it's possible that this was mostly  the native shamanic traditions being absorbed and transmuted.

  Only  the  western Celtic clergy (the Druids) seem to have  had any sort of organized inter-tribal communications  network.  Most of the rest of the IE clergy seem to have kept to their own local tribes.  Among the Germanic peoples, the priestly class had weakened  by the early centuries of the Common Era to the point where the majority of ritual work was done by the heads of households.

  We don't know whether or not any but the highest ranking clergy were  full-time  priests and priestesses.  At the height  of  the Celtic cultures,  training for the clergy was said to take twenty years of hard work, which would not have left much time or energy for developing other careers. Among the Scandinavians, there seem to have been priests and priestesses (godar, gydjur) who lived in small  temples and occasionally toured the countryside with  statues of their patron/matron deities, whom they were considered to be "married" to.  In the rest of the Germanic,  Slavic and Baltic cultures,  however, many of the clergy may have worked part-time, a common custom in many tribal societies.

  It's  also common for such cultures to have full- or  part-time healers,  who may use herbs, hypnosis, psychology, massage, magic and other techniques. Frequently they will also have diviners and weather  predictors (or  controllers).  Midwives,  almost  always female,  are  also  standard and,  as mentioned above,  there  is usually  a priestess or priest working at least  part-time.  What causes confusion,  especially when dealing with extinct cultures, is  that  different tribes combine these offices  into  different people.

  At the opening of the Common Era,  European Paleopaganism  consisted  of three interwoven layers:  firstly,  the original  pre-Indo-European religions (which were of course also the results of several  millenia of religious evolution and cultural conquests); secondly,  the proto-Indo-European belief system held by the  PIE speakers  before they began their migrations;  and  thirdly,  the full  scale "high religions" of the developed Indo-European  cultures. Disentangling these various layers is going to take a very long time, if indeed it will ever be actually possible.

  The  successful genocide campaigns waged against the Druids and their colleagues are complex enough to warrant a separate discussion.  Suffice it to say that by the time of the seventh  century C.E.,  Druidism  had  been either destroyed or driven  completely underground  throughout Europe.  In parts of Wales  and  Ireland, fragments  of Druidism seem to have survived in disguise  through the institutions of the Celtic Church and of the Bards and Poets.  Some  of these survivals,  along with a great deal of speculation and  a few outright forgeries,  combined to inspire  the  ("Meso-pagan")  Masonic/Rosicrucian  Druid fraternities of  the  1700's.  These  groups have perpetuated these fragments (and  speculations and  forgeries)  to this very day,  augmenting them with a  great deal of folkloric and other research.

  These  would seem to most Americans to be the only  sources  of  information about Paleopagan Druidism.  However, research done by Russian  and  Eastern European folklorists,  anthropologists  and musicologists among the Baltic peoples of Latvia,  Lithuania  and Estonia indicates that Paleopagan traditions may have survived in small  villages,  hidden in the woods and swamps,  even into  the current century! Some of these villages still had people dressing up  in  long  white robes and going out to sacred  groves  to  do ceremonies,  as  recently  as World War One!  Iron Curtain  social scientists interviewed the local clergy,  recorded the ceremonies and songs,  and otherwise made a thorough study of their  "quaint traditions"  preparatory to turning them all into good  Marxists.  Ironically  enough,  some  of the oldest "fossils"  of  preserved Indo-European  traditions  (along  with bits of  vocabulary  from Proto-German  and other early IE tongues) seem to have been  kept by  Finno-Ugric peoples such as the Cheremis.  Most of  this  re- search  has been published in a variety of Soviet academic  books
and  journals,  and has never been translated into English.  This material, when combined with the Vedic and Old Irish sources, may give us most of the missing links necessary to reconstruct Paleo- pagan European Druidism.

  The translation of this material,  along with some of the writings  of  Dumezil (and others) that are not yet  in  English,  is
going to be an important part of the research work of ADF for the first few years.  And we're going to see if we can get copies  of some of the films...

  But there are some definite "nonfacts" about the ancient Druids that  need  to be mentioned:  There are no real indications  that they  used stone altars (at Stonehenge or  anywhere  else);  that they  were better philosophers than the classical Greeks or Egyptians;  that they had anything to do with the mythical continents of Atlantis or Mu; or that they wore gold Masonic regalia or used Rosicrucian passwords. They were not the architects of (a) Stonehenge,  (b)  the  megalithic circles and  lines  of  Northwestern Europe, (c) the Pyramids of Egypt, (d) the Pyramids of the Americas, (e) the statues of Easter Island, or (f) anything other than wooden barns and stone houses. There is no proof that any of them were monotheists,  or "Prechristian Christians," that they understood  or  invented either Pythagorean or Gnostic or Cabalistic mysticism;  or  that  they all had long white beards  and  golden sickles.

  Separating  the sense from the nonsense,  and the probabilities from  the absurdities,  about the Paleopagan clergy of Europe  is going  to take a great deal of work.  But the results  should  be worth it,  since we will wind up with a much clearer image of the real  "Old  Religions"  than Neopagans have  ever  had  available before.  This  will have liturgical,  philosophical and political consequences,  some of which we'll be discussing in future issues of "The Druids' Progress".

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This  article  has  been reprinted from "The  Druids'  Progress",
issue #1, and is copyright 1984 by P. E. I. Bonewits. "DP" is the
irregular journal of a Neopagan Druid group called "Ar  nDraiocht
Fein",  founded  by Bonewits (author of "Real Magic").  For  more
data,  send an S.A.S.E.  to:  Box 9398,  Berkeley, CA, USA 94709.
Permission  to distribute via BBS's is hereby  granted,  provided
that the entire article, including this notice, is kept intact.
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