Today’s Irish Snakes. Pagans in a Catholic World
When people think of what it means to be Irish, Catholicism is one of the first thing that comes up. I myself am an American that hails from a family of Irish, Catholic immigrants. My grandma prayed to St. Anthony whenever she lost something (which was a lot in her messy house!)
However, in recent decades, the Catholic Church in Ireland has faced a steady decline, which has introduced somewhat of a cultural crisis, according to Olivia Cosgrove, co-editor of Ireland’s New Religious Movements. So alternative spiritualities are becoming more widespread. And I shouldn’t even say “alternative” here, because what Irish people are doing is returning to their roots.
In the ethnographic study “Neo-Paganism in Ireland,” Jenny Butler writes that the spiritual movement encompasses a wide variety of beliefs and practices. Yet the connection to the energies of nature remains a common theme.
Yet in Ireland, 84% of the population still consider themselves Catholic. So non-Catholics living in Ireland inhabit a world where laws and social norms fall into Catholic conventions. However, a recent Irish survey shows that religion ranks as the least important thing in people’s lives. So even among practicing Catholics, religion is becoming less of a priority.
In an article in onbeing, a few people in Ireland describe how they feel about practicing a pre-christian tradition.
“In Ireland we’ve had all sorts of problems and scandals. So what Irish people are finding is that shamanism connects them directly to the source of their own divinity, and they don’t have to have it mediated through a priest or a rabbi or another person. They can go and find that out for themselves.” – Martin Duffy
“We do rituals on the land, because Shamanism and Druidism is an earth-based spirituality. Our cathedrals and our churches are the sky and the trees and nature.” – Martin Duffy
“Shamanism changed my life. It’s in my DNA, in the land here in Ireland, and it’s coming up through me.” – Ann Peard
The Snakes are Still in Ireland: Pagans, Shamans, and Modern Druids in a Catholic World (Onbeing)
Why Are So Many Pagans Wiccan?
A majority of Neo-pagans are Wiccans – at least a little over half. Now the term “pagan” itself is highly debatable. So in this article, when I use the term “pagan,” know that I’m discussing people who are reviving pre-christian spirituality after a period of decay. In this article, I’m not going to lump Hindus or Shintos into that category because they have an unbroken connection to their ancient, indigenous and ethnic spiritualities.
So when we are talking about practitioners of neo-pagan religion (mostly based on Celtic and Norse spiritual traditions), know that more than half are Wiccan. If you are interested in the numbers, check out the most recent religious survey from the census bureau. In fact, there are so many Wiccans in the Pagan community, that many non-Wiccans get called Wiccan by default. In past posts I’ve talked about the differences between a tradition like Wicca and Celtic Paganism. In this article, I don’t mean to insult Wiccans in any way. If anything, I’m applauding their success. I’m just trying to take a look at the question of why most Pagans are Wiccan.
Here are my theories as to why there are so many Pagan Wiccans.
- Wicca was one of the first major, public Neo-Pagan religious organizations.
Wicca was introduced to the public in 1954 by Gerald Gardner. Before Wicca came out of the broom closet as a public ideology, many “occult” practices were very secretive. You had to know the right people to get into a coven. If your mom’s, friend’s uncle wasn’t in a coven, you were out of luck. Magic and the occult were shrouded in mystery, and those involved could face immense backlash for being public about their beliefs in what was a mainly Christian society. While some would like to make fun of the “fluffiness” of the “do no harm” Wiccans, it certainly took a lot of cojones for Gardner to go public with the idea of worshiping a Goddess and a horned God in the middle of the “Leave it To Beaver” 1950’s.
Other major Neo-Pagan ideologies such as OBOD, ADF and Asatru for example came later. As a result, Wicca has had more time to develop and disseminate its ideology.
- Wicca has the most literature for new comers
For anyone first getting into Neo-Paganism or the occult, Wicca is the area that has far more literature, websites, books and materials available to newcomers these days. When I first dabbled in Paganism at the age of 13, Wicca is what I got into. Why? Because it was there. There were plenty of books on Wicca at the local bookstore, and there were even a few at garage sales. There were far less books on subjects such as Asatru, Celtic Reconstructionism, Druidry, Modern Day Kemetic Paganism and so on.
- The Wiccan Cosmology is simple and universal
Many of the core beliefs of Wicca are pretty simple. There is a God and Goddess. There are four elements. Do as you will as long as it harms none. I certainly don’t mean to belittle some of the more complicated traditional Wiccan groups and covens. There are certainly complicated Wiccan Rituals out there. I’m basically just highlighting the fact that the core beliefs of Wicca are ideas that are pretty accessible to people from all walks of life. A person living in Brooklyn New York can just as easily become a Wiccan as someone living on a fjord in Norway.
Once you get deeper into the religion, there might be more complicated ideas to deal with. But as far as the initial stages of Wicca are concerned, the information is fairy wide spread, accessible and understandable.
- Wicca appeals to those seeking to escape Patriarchal Religions
Many of the people who flock to Neo-Paganism have done so because of a distate with Judeo-Christianity’s exclusively Male Deity. As a counter-reaction to what may have been a fairly oppressive religious experience, many people crave a more intimate experience with a nurturing, maternal figure. While Wiccans worship both a God and a Goddess, I’ve noticed that the Wiccan community and culture tends to emphasize the Feminine Divine just a tad more. The Male God is even frequently referred to as The Goddess’s “consort.”
Whereas traditions like Heathenry are a bit more masculine , with their focus on warrior Gods like Odin and Thor; and Druidry is more gender neutral, focusing more on Nature and Celtic Myth than a particular gender or god.
I hope this article has clarified some of the things that Wiccans have done over the years to be successful. This certainly does not mean to dismiss the success of non-wiccan pagans, but to address questions about the popularity of Wicca. Whether you are Wiccan or not, I encourage the success of your belief system and your ability to reach out to those who share these beliefs.