The Problem With Neo-Paganism

In my head, I’ve been flirting with the idea of starting some sort of Hindu group geared towards modern polytheists. As a polytheist who worships Hindu deities, I know that I’m not alone. I wish that there was a group that focused on Hinduism but open to (if not oriented to) Westerners.

I mean, there is already. It’s called ISKCON (best known as the Hare Krishna movement). Despite being linked with hippie counterculturalism, it’s actually very much in-line with traditional conservative Hinduism down to the sattvik diet (vegetarian with no onions or garlic), celibacy before marriage, and behavior/morality (no drinking, smoking, or drugs).

I want to see a Shakta (or Goddess-worshipping) version of that, though I’m unconvinced that I have the knowledge or skill to do so. Especially given that I am not an initiate of any Shakta tradition.

Recently, I had an e-mail exchange regarding Shakta Tantra and Paganism with Chandra Alexandre, the Hindu Tantric Western-born founder of Sharanya (a Kali temple based in California). She’s got a lot of experience in teaching traditional Kali Shakta Tantra to a Western audience. I first encountered her when I went to a Kali Puja that she ran at PantheaCon a few years back.


I asked her about the feasibility of my idea.

She said this:


“But the truth of the matter given my nearly 20 years of leading this work is that while powerful and potent, it is actually a path too difficult for most folks here to stay on. Too many Westerners want a quick fix, a way out, or a solution set that they can use when they feel like it. I know of all too many Pagans, for example, who simply adopt Kali when they want to do a clearing ritual or use Her to take on rage rather than deal with their own to fix social or personal ills. It’s deplorable and I get very upset when I hear about things like that. She’s a living goddess–and it seems that many folks really have no idea what that means. Also, She’s not particularly convenient and most modern people today want convenient. They want the God/dess without the context and therefore they appropriate, use, degrade, and otherwise disrespect the religion and culture of Hindu India. Give them more and they think it’s too confusing, too much work, too foreign, and so on. “


Totally not surprising at all.

Heartbreaking. But not surprising.


This is the Polytheist movement’s argument right here: all too often, many Pagans don’t believe in the reality of the gods. The deities are viewed casually. They are seen as a means to an end. There’s no desire to change one’s life in order to serve or know our Holy Powers.


It’s almost one thing, for me, when it’s part of an ancient religion that has been revived or reconstructed. But it’s another for me to see this living Goddess, who has been worshipped consecutively for hundreds and hundreds of years, be treated by white people like an accessory. She is treated as something to be used and then discarded. Almost like the way our society views the planet and its resources.


Theologically, I have little in common with monastics or the devoutly religious but I do have a deep respect for the way they live their lives around their worship and their God. It’s hard to do that in our society. Not only are we inundated with the voices of abrasive advertisements everywhere trying to get us to buy more things, internet opinions, but also with the toxic and materialistic idea among the greater society that our gods are not real.


Hell, even in our own Pagan communities, we are sometimes mocked or criticized for taking our religion seriously. For acting as if our gods are real (because they are).  As if this is a horrible thing…


At some point I hope to write a long piece about how our egos get in the way of devotion (either to be posted here or over at my Into the Mystic column over at Pagan Bloggers). It’s a problem in our greater society and an even greater problem in our Pagan religious communities. When it becomes all about what we want, what we choose, what we wish, it is no longer about the gods.


We’ll never be able to abolish the ego entirely, but we can orient ourselves away from it and towards the gods. This is where traditional religions are better than modern religions. They often emphasize regular prayer and/or meditation. Let’s go back to the image of the monastic in their cell. Their life is built around prayer (both communal and individual) and work. That may be an ideal that most of us can never reach, sure…but there are more worldly models. There is the oblate, a non-monastic who lives in the world but is associated with a monastic community. They take vows and have regularly scheduled prayer times, often in community.

We can do something like this.


When Neo-Paganism was first developed in the 1960s and 70s, it was often associated with the counterculture and often sought to get as far away from structure, discipline, and traditional values (or even traditional religious practices such as prayer) as possible…while celebrating hedonism and the self.  


After decades of that, we’re now getting older. We’re growing up. Some of us are looking for something deeper. We desire to know the gods. In order to do that, we need to develop a structure. We need to develop discipline. We need to have an active prayer life and a focus on morality in order to have a relationship with the Divine. All of the things that drove the hippies away from traditional religion.


We can still have the feminism, the focus on the environment, on LGBT rights, the values…but if we’re going to have a deep engagement with the Divine, we’re going to have to move away from being hedonists or materialists. We’re going to have to get away…even just for a bit…from our ego and its insatiable desires, its endless chattering, its fears, its worries, its distractions.
This is the Neo-Paganism that has developed over the years. When faced with an ancient goddess-worshipping religion with a focus on social justice and feminism, they have trouble accepting the reality of this Goddess, of Maa. It’s far easier to think of Her as an archetype, It’s far easier to go to a puja because you, “totally think Kali is, like, badass and empowering” and then go back to your regular everyday life and call yourself a devotee, than to be confronted with the idea that you are dealing with an actual ancient being with Her own desires that you cannot just summon or call upon when you need something.

We need to transform our lives and orient it around our Deity, rather than our egos.

I’m not initiated, so I cannot study Sri Vidya in a traditional manner but I’m thinking that perhaps I can start an oblate-like group devoted to the worship of Sri Lalita Devi.

~ by sacredblasphemies on 04/21/2017.

12 Responses to “The Problem With Neo-Paganism”

  1. Reblogged this on A Polytheist's Ramblings.


  2. I think in my experience the problem also stems from the heavily christian culture we live in… not to dump on christianity, but when I grew up going to catholic schooling we’re given this mindset “God” is a quick fix to our problems. And I think when people get away from that and enter into “pagan” beliefs, they apply that to the rest of the gods too… not realizing that polytheistic gods are serious shit.

    I’ve been there and I GET IT. I’m still learning and growing to be honest. I’m glad you made this post. At the end of the day it’s about them. not us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Of Gods Below and commented:
    pretty important and I suggest everyone read this.


  4. Great article. I recently wrote about the same sort of thing, from an Asatru perspective; modern people want nice, convenient, gods, and that’s just not what they are.


  5. Not surprisingly I’m sure, but I agree strongly with everything you’ve said here. Perhaps human beings have never been, en masse, all that prone to wanting to set aside their egos in search of the divine, but at the same time, our current culture certainly doesn’t encourage such an approach, and actively tries to distract at every turn. We must do what we can to fight that, individually and/or collectively.


  6. From my review of their website, I think Sharanya’s conception of what makes a “real” goddess may be different from your own. Outwardly, their rituals take the form of the worship of a discrete Indian goddess. But according to their website, Kali is an expression of the universal Goddess, the Divine Feminine, which emphasizes her “antinomian, relational, embodied, cyclical and chthonic” attributes, a Goddess who is manifest in the physical world and in our own bodies. (That’s the view I share, incidentally.)


  7. […] McGrath said The Problem With Neo-Paganism is a lack of discipline and devotion, particularly in regards to the reality of the Gods. I’m in […]


  8. I like the idea of a Hindu polytheist group for Westerners.

    But gods are ideas, and I can understand why people have different ideas about such things. Even though I do not agree with the whole using gods in the manner of which you pointed out.

    Much structure and devotion sounds too much like organized religion and that is something that doesn’t work for me. However, I can completely understand how that can be good for people who need that sort of thing.


  9. Thanks for this text! We really need to mature, and the way to that certainly begins with this kind of reflection. I would like to ask you permission to translate the text into portuguese, in order to post it on my blog, so I can bring the discussion also to the polytheistic speakers of my language. Of course, I will quote the source and the link to the original post. Do you allow? 🙂


  10. […] Texto escrito por R.M. McGrath e traduzido para o português com autorização do autor. Link para o post original: […]


  11. I Think the idea of European paganism isn’t to worship and serve but to understand and be at peace with.


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