Neopaganism and Magic


Both neopaganism and New Age currents are framed in what is called New Religious Movements. Contrary to what is usually thought or noticed by society, these religious movements are not "destroyers of religion", far from it. Rather, they are a rethought form of it. In a world that tends to secularization, and where the predominance of great hierarchical religions compete within their own bosom with branches and sects, as well as with the ideas of community and individual, now framed in a global society infinitely different from those in which they were forged, these movements are for many the answer to the spirituality that they feel lost between politics, radicalism and a social evolution that cannot maintain these forms.

Among the New Religious Movements there are communities of all kinds and of all possible beliefs. There are sectarian movements, there are conservative and liberal movements, there are movements that are born and die with their charismatic leader, and they are repeated cases all over the world. It could be said, in a way, that these movements would be considered heretical by the majority religions. But focusing on the title, we must restrict the information to what happens mainly in the so-called Western World.

Neopaganism takes its name from neo- (Gr. New) and pagan- (lat. Paganus, villager). The term pagan was a pejorative expression to refer to the common people, later considered less educated, who, when Christianity rose as the majority religion, around the 4th century, continued with practices of their traditional religion. With this term, he ended up designating all the pre-Christian religions existing in the territory that Christianity would later gain, that is, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavic and Nordic cultures, even Egyptians... Currently, it is considered that the last existing European pagans are a small Finno-Ugric community from Mari El, which despite everything has largely managed to preserve their ancestral traditions and festivities with hardly any modifications; something more complex is the defense of Lithuanian paganism, since paganism there declined towards the 13th century and the conservation of traditional religious practices was associated more with the possibility of arguing certain Lithuanian sovereignties than with a general maintenance of the population. For this reason, scholars speak of "recovery" of traditions, and therefore of Neopaganism, that is, a "new" or "young" paganism.

When these cultures did not belong to the European territory, or even if they consider going beyond the pre-Christian religions, then they are usually given the name of Neoshamanism. Despite deserving an article just for this, it is worth mentioning that it has not been exempt from the influences of the New Age in terms of spirituality, nor from the various eastern and western esoteric branches. Its main characteristic could be defined, briefly, in the intention to achieve, mainly through trances, a communication with the divinity or the spirits in the same way that the ancestors of the cultures on which they are based would have.

Thus. All those movements that seek the recovery and revival of pre-Christian traditions are called neopaganism, and consequently, many of their acts are designated as magic, not only because they depart from a customary liturgy, and generally of a state nature, but because they contain a thought intrinsic magic. However, if we study about magic in ancient times, we discover that magic had very specific environments of performance. In Greece and Rome, magic occupied a marginal and criminally punished place in society, which does not mean that ordinary people could not believe or practice it, since they were also very superstitious societies -amulet and curses abound- but they were framed in what is external to the state religious cult. In the Nordic and Celtic world, magic was reserved for specific groups within the priesthood or religious community, such as the magical acts of the druids or the Scandinavian völvas: magical acts were not carried out openly nor did the general population boast of their knowledge about it . In Egypt, with its fascinating culture, it seems that magic would have been the order of the day, but this is not the case either, since despite the fact that Hekau, magic as a creative power, was very present in their religion, the knowledge and use legal status of the latter was also reserved for the priestly group. So why are neopaganisms plagued with so often exposed magical rituals?

This is due to three main issues: the first, that they belong to a group of New Religious Movements that are based on esoteric thought, regarding the conception of the human being as a being that can transcend through certain practices and knowledge of a Gnostic and/or hermetic nature. Among these movements are also the spiritualism of Allan Kardec (1804-1869), the theosophy of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) and even Mormons or Freemasons, without neglecting either Scientology or Chaos Magic (both movements of the S .XX). Neopaganism contemplates spirituality, generally, from a point of view of communion with Nature, of a sacred nature, where the human being fits. It is, therefore, a non-devotional spirituality, but a practical one, and this can only be carried out through rituals that require active participation, that is, within the conception of influence, power and control of magic. In addition, they focus on the return to what they consider a union between divinity and the human being, since in current religions, especially monotheistic religions, divinity is seen as distant, idle but neglected.

The second cause is that in Europe, and then in America, esotericism and later occultism have remained, continually changing, in many circles and societies throughout history, sometimes in conjunction with science and other times with theology itself, when it was not persecuted by. The fascination for the occult sciences took off from the 18th century without stopping. A greater number of occult orders were founded, which despite their search for originality could not avoid being linked to the legends of Europe, especially Celtic or Nordic, or with the Templars, or with the Rosicrucians, and of course, with magical practices. , which in Anglo-Saxon-speaking circles they call magick, with a k (in Spanish-speaking countries, the term Makgia does not end up taking hold in the same way), to distinguish it in some way from sleight of hand - although there are also theories about an initiated symbolic origin and perpetuated by Crowley himself.

The third, intentional heresy. The persecutions that took place by the Church and by Christian believers, first against pagans and then in witch hunts, is the starting point for many of the claims promoted by neopaganism. In this sense Wicca is the most striking example. In Wicca - whose etymology seems to be taken from the old Anglo-Saxon wicce, witch/or or sage/o -, initiated by Gerald Gardner (1844-1964) without the claims that are exposed, - he speaks of traditional witchcraft, and therefore Wicca it contains many esoteric elements recognizable by the vast majority of the population; many of its practitioners, tend to be the majority of women, manifest their social rivalry by appealing to the burning of witches and the oppression to which women have been subjected, sometimes carrying feminism as the banner and others even excluding men, what distances many from this new religion; but they are generally followers of a masculine-feminine duotheistic current, although with a predominance of a general Mother Nature. Likewise, there are many branches and they claim not to be closed, so it can be said that there is, as Cunningham (1956-1993) indicated, an individual Wicca.

The same occurs in neo-druidism and mystical bardism, which claim that there was an uninterrupted continuation of Celtic culture, often seen through medieval legends and therefore somewhat fantasized, until the twelfth century, where it was transformed and survived hidden of Christianity and hidden by it, until it could emerge again, as happened from the 18th century, thanks to John Toland, especially in the British Isles and later in other continental territories. The rituals, in their striking search, include many traditional esoteric elements associated with the Celtic and medieval world, also with a certain naturalistic link. This current is lucky that the futharks and the esoteric use of runes have maintained a certain continuity: however, their alphabet is often merged with the Norse, and much less attention is paid to the Celtic oghamic script, the authentic Celtic secret language, which due to its difficulty of knowledge has not lasted in the same way.

The völkish, which emerged in 19th century Germany, and related at that time to the ariosophical theories, sought in its day, linked to the nascent National Socialism, a cultural exaltation that also brought together many philosophers and occultists of the time: it is the time of the runes and power rites; At present, except for certain sectors that seek to maintain the ideas of Aryan superiority and resort to völkisch to attract attention when politics fails them, the Germanic neopagans share a lot with the Asatru people, (S.XX), Odinists and followers of tradition Norse-Viking religion, many of whom today call themselves "infidels" in response to the abandonment of the predominant religion, and use magic within natural conceptions and knowledge. The runes, for their part, as has been seen in various articles previously exposed, already had a mythical-magical origin, and their diffusion in the modern esoteric world makes them a very accessible and widespread magical tool. Regarding the predominance of gender, a majority of men are counted: however, it is more than likely that it is a fact that is partly falsified by the Viking aesthetic influence on masculinity and the publicity that has been given to it.

However, intermediate cases and cases in which neopaganism does not exercise magic must be taken into account, perhaps due to the rigorous study of recreated and felt religion, or due to the culturally inherited custom of monotheistic religions from which they tend to escape. This is the case of the Greco-Roman world: in Dodecateism and the Via Romana, the recovered Greek and Roman religions, with the exception of divination in certain contexts, and which in these cases cannot be considered magic because in the past they were not magic either. They do not use occult or esoteric arts. However, its use is apparently not condemned either.

In Kemetism or Egyptian paganism (kemet = black earth = Egypt), Western occultists fascinated by their culture, focused on their rites and divinities as ancient and powerful, influence more than the true Egyptian traditions recovered and practiced. One only has to look at the European occult orders and the elements that Aleister Crowley later linked to Thélema, her magic and her tarot, symbolisms of this culture that fascinated him, as well as having been in Cairo where he met Aiwass; admiration also leaves cases such as that orthodox Kemetism considers itself founded in the 80s by Tamara L. Suida, in Chicago, instead of having found a place in African territory, where they go only for specific events. This orthodox Kemetism is monolatrous, -as, in part, Egyptian religion was: many gods in a single unit-, but there are polytheistic, monotheistic Kemetisms, "followers" of Akhenaten's reform, pantheists, and followers of monistic philosophical currents . They also have their political side (like Ausar Auset, an Afrocentrist). Their rites are certainly impressive, but magic is not a main element: another thing is that, due to ignorance, many of their rituals can be taken as such, even among the practitioners themselves.

But "heresy" is not exclusive to the religious part, but also social: it is a revolution against a globalized world that forces us to lose identity, against a material world; against a society that, due to its religious cultural base, represses specific sectors of the population; against the destruction of the natural environment, since in many currents it is in nature where divinity manifests itself, and where the human being can, properly speaking, demonstrate his moral and spiritual superiority.

In neopagan communities, due to this totum revolutum of past and recent ideas, there are doubts among the faithful themselves, to the point of mixing magic and religion as a single act. Let's give an example: a seasonal ritual, with purification purposes, does not necessarily have to be magical, and yet, it can be considered as such by a practitioner, if he considers that he is taking an active and necessary role for the effectiveness of the ritual; but it may also not be considered magical, if it is believed that something is being offered to the divinity so that she is in charge of said purification. In the same way, a protection ritual, carried out by one person towards another, can be considered a religious act of request to the gods, or a magical act that, through the words and the different elements used, have effectiveness without some divine intervention, being born the magic of the individuals or of the ritual itself well carried out.

The latter may also be due to the fact that we find the existence of magical thought among its practitioners, that is, the belief in the existence and efficacy of magic, at a higher level. Sometimes due to the New Age influence, the ideas about the spiritual capacity of human beings, which is diminished or dormant, the rapid expansion of ideas about reincarnation or spiritualism itself, or without going any further, the myth , very widespread, that we only use a tiny percentage of our brain capacity: all these theories and beliefs are widespread in different fields and generations, and this promotes the ease of acceptance of a fact in which they could affect and influence, as is magical practice. This is the case of the psychological question, where Jung (1875-1961) plays a leading role, as a result of his studies on the unconscious, symbolism, the universality of myth, mysticism, dreams, or his theory of transference. Many scientific theories have been reread, rethought or recreated for such purposes, such as that energy is not created or destroyed, it is only transformed, understanding spirit as such energy, and resorting to theories of reincarnation or survival after death with this premise. . Quantum physics has also played an important role in this: mathematics, spatial dimensions, the theories of possibility and probability, and a long etcetera for which comparisons and parallels have been sought with religions such as Hinduism, or cabalistic practices. In any case, magical thinking, following the lines of anthropology and the history of religions, not only has the same confused limits with religion as those of the type expressed in the previous paragraph, but it has been common to humanity since the dawn.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Filoramo G. (ed.) Diccionario de las religiones. Akal, Madrid, 2001.

-Morris. B. Religión y antropología. Una introducción crítica. Akal, 2009, Madrid.

-Rodríguez Santidrián, P. Diccionario de las religiones. Alianza editorial, 2004, Madrid.

-Siegler, E. Nuevos movimientos religiosos, Akal, 2005 Madrid.

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