Rise of the Mesopagans

Having recently given some thought to the rise of interest in African Diaspora traditions I’ve found myself wondering again about that old trouble maker Yeshua Ben Yosef  (Jesus to his greek speaking friends). Whatever one makes of claims regarding the historical accuracy of the New Testament record, one would be hard pressed to deny the mythic potency of the Jesus story and seismic impact that responses to it have had on world history. In the hands of monotheism, the myth of the dying and rising god has provided a decidedly “mixed bag” of outcomes as we humans have tried to make sense of the mystery of existence.

Probably  as a result of my own Christian past, the presupposition pool that I swim in is going to be one in which I remain sensitised to motifs within the pagan/magical community that echo Judeo-Christian themes. This seems inescapable both personally and culturally-however revolutionary our newly adopted world views, the software from the past 2000 years is still running and even the most thorough-going pagan reconstructionist seems to be responding to it at least unconsciously.

In seeking to escape the limitations of the sexism, homophobia and specisim that have often been perceived as going hand-in-hand with Christianity, it seems that many of us have fallen into some seemingly inevitable traps. Whether by idealising paganisms past or failing to see the genuinely helpful spiritual impulses of the Christic tradition, we can all be guilty of developing blind spots as we are temporarily dazzled by the shiny newness of neo-paganism. As someone who is both a Jungian and a guarded optimist, I believe that our struggle to find meaning and to balance the light and shadow of ourselves, will have their evolutionary expression through our art, science and religion whichever symbol set our cultures’ currently favour.

Jesus remains strong!

Jesus remains strong!

What I find really interesting as Neo-paganism enters its third or fourth generations, is the increasingly important role that is being played by those traditions (both new and old) that are making creative use of the meeting points that exist between apparently divergent currents. In the course of mulling over some of these ideas I was struck once again by Isaac Bonewits’ ideas regarding  “Mesopaganism”:

“The term MesoPagan was first put forth by Isaac Bonewits in an attempt to categorize modern Paganism. According to Bonewits, MesoPagan religions are those that developed from PaleoPagan or native Pagan religions that were influenced by Monotheistic, Dualistic or Nontheistic philosophies. These include all synchretic religions including Christo-Paganism, many Afro-Diasporic faiths, such as Voudun, Santeria and Candomble, and Sikhism as well as many occult traditions including Thelema, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy and Spiritualism and many modern Witchcraft traditions, including many Wiccan denominations. Also, some Satanic traditions could fall into this category.

The definition of MesoPaganism is nearly identical with that of syncretism, a word that enjoys common use in academic circles.”  http://www.witchipedia.com/mesopaganism

Although the term may have limited value in that almost all pagan religious expression seems to have syncretism as one of its defining traits, it does point toward a more transparent recognition of key component parts that are being held together. Practitioners laying claim to “traditional” witchcrafts or African diaspora lineages seem, in part, to be attracted to the dynamic frisson created when we attempt to hold together ideas and practices that fall outside neat categorization. Often we flounder as we attempt to compartmentalize ideas and to formulate our theologies whilst removed from the ritual chamber or circle. To me it feels that the organic symbiosis that exists in these traditions is profoundly praxiological. Yes read books, visit websites etc, but personally I learn more when I see the dissonant array of iconography on an altar space or experiment with technique with some intrepid chums.

On a personal level, the process of syncretism is part of my own journey towards integration. Beyond the labels and brand names of faiths and orders are my own struggles to make sense of the tension between the transcendent and the imminent, sense and nonsense. What does it mean to seek awakening within this world and in this bodymind? Perhaps the tension generated as we wrestle with the dialectic shakes us out of our slumber and takes us to a juncture at which new truths can be found.

If we journey to the crossroads in our attempt to rediscover our magic, we are inevitably entering a realm of liminal possibility. The crossroads is a meeting place of apparent opposites and seeming contradictions. The dynamic tension generated by the friction between these polarities makes it the place of initiation. Whether it’s Old Horny offering a contract, a one-eyed Buddha figure or Hecate with her baying hounds, the shit has just got very real and choices are going to be made either way.


4 thoughts on “Rise of the Mesopagans

  1. Rev. Nemu says:

    Great article, thanks…

    It is interesting to try to map out which bits of Christian imagery and myth derive from pagan traditions, and vice versa, as they criss-cross through history. It looks like the cross itself goes back at least as far as Exu-Elegba in West Africa, and first appears in Christian writing in 201AD, in the writings of Tertullian, who describes it as a good luck symbol Christians use. The idea of a crucifixion is first documented in the 5th century, whilst the word translated as cross in the Bible is “a stake”. What is amazing is that even without direct contact, at least in this dimension, the cross image appears in the stories of comparable underworld wandering mythical figures – including Quetzalcoatl.

    Plenty more on this subject here:


    • zenelf says:

      Thanks Rev, glad you enjoyed it-I’ll check out your link.

    • Jez says:

      There seem to be many origins for both the simple geometric glyph of the cross, and its role in different branches of Christianity. In Europe, for instance, the importance of the cross increased as Christianity spread north and west of the Alps, and doubly so with the growth of the Anglo-Saxon cult of the cross, exemplified in the OE poem, the Dream of the Rood.

  2. zenelf says:

    thanks Jez-I wasn’t familiar with that poem. Definitely interesting from a mythic perspective and the parallels between the gnostic/shamanic journeys of both Jesus and Odin-you are probably far more knowledgeable than I as to how this got played out in dual-observance contexts.

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