The Return of Paganism
As Christianity Declines, Superstitions Gain Force
LONDON, FEB. 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Like European politicians who continue
block any mention of Christianity in the draft of the continent's
Constitution, public officials around the globe increasingly are adopting
measures that favor a return to pre-Christian paganism.
Denmark has announced it will allow a group that worships Thor, Odin and
other Norse gods to conduct legally-valid marriages, the Associated Press
reported Nov. 5. "It would be wrong if the indigenous religion of this
country wasn't recognized," said Tove Fergo, the government Minister for
Ecclesiastic Affairs and a Lutheran priest.
The 240-member Forn Sidr sought recognition in 1999, said its president,
Tissel Jacobsen. About 1,000 people worship the ancient gods in Denmark,
Across the ocean, a U.S. federal judge in the state of Virginia ruled in
favor of a Wiccan who was barred from saying a prayer to open a
County board meeting. U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Dohnal said the
discriminated against Cyndi Simpson when it prohibited her from joining a
list of clergy who deliver the invocations, the Associated Press reported
Wiccans consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans, and say their
religion is based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the
seasons, according to the Associated Press. The American Civil Liberties
Union of Virginia and the Americans United for Separation of Church and
State filed the lawsuit on behalf of Simpson after she was turned down by
Wiccans are also active in Canada, where recently they celebrated the
solstice, the Vancouver Sun reported Dec. 22. Heather Botting, a pagan
chaplain at the University of Victoria, told the newspaper that the
solstice, marking the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere,
is a sacred day.
An ex-Jehovah's Witness, Botting was appointed five years ago by university
authorities. She is also authorized to perform marriages. At the university
interfaith chapel, members of the 30,000-strong student body were able to
mark the solstice with dances that paid to reverence to stag antlers as
symbols of the cycle of life. Revelers dipped a ceremonial knife into a
cast-iron cauldron of wine, to symbolize the unity of male and female
In the Greater Victoria area, population 280,000, more than 1,000 people
officially told Canadian census-takers they were pagans, the Vancouver Sun
said. Paganism is Canada's fastest-growing religion, according to
Canada. There are 21,080 declared pagans in Canada.
The census figures underestimate Wicca's spread, claims Inar Hansen, vice
president of the university's 150-member Thorn and Oak Student Pagan Club.
Hansen maintains that tens of thousands of residents on Canada's West Coast
Meanwhile, in the state of Victoria, Australia, a legal battle is being
played out between Olivia Watts, a self-proclaimed witch and transsexual,
and Rob Wilson, a Christian.
The conflict began last June when Wilson, a council member in the
Melbourne-area municipality of Casey, issued a statement warning against a
satanic cult that was allegedly planning to take over the area, the Age
newspaper reported Dec. 27. Watts, who was named in the statement by
took the matter to the Equal Opportunity Commission. The Victorian Civil
Administrative Tribunal will also look into Watts' case. Watts is getting
help from the Sydney-based Pagan Awareness Network.
Rebirth for the Blairs
On Jan. 26 and 27, the Guardian newspaper in Britain published ample
extracts from Francis Wheen's new book, "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the
World: A Short History of Modern Delusions." Wheen recounts the rise of
gurus, spiritualists and assorted pagan beliefs. One of the most successful
modern gurus is Deepak Chopra, who earns around $20 million a year. Since
his 1993 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey television show -- which led to
sales of 400,000 copies of his book within a week -- Chopra has authored 25
books. He heads the Chopra Center for Well-Being in La Jolla, California.
His admirers run a wide gamut, from Michael Jackson to Mikhail Gorbachev
Wheen also recounts that Cherie Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister,
is keen on alternative forms of spirituality. Her adventures include
inviting a feng-shui expert to rearrange the furniture at 10 Downing
and wearing a "magic pendant" known as the BioElectric Shield, which has "a
matrix of specially cut quartz crystals" that surround the wearer with "a
cocoon of energy" to ward off evil forces. Both Cherie and Tony Blair
underwent a Mayan rebirthing experience while on holidays in Mexico in
Also increasingly popular in England is Kabbalah, an ancient Hebrew
philosophy. At London's Kabbalah Center -- whose premises were reportedly
paid for by the singer Madonna for 3.5 million pounds ($6.3 million) --
followers can buy books, sign up for a 10-week course, or buy bottles of
Kabbalah water, the Financial Times reported Dec. 20.
According to recent figures, fewer than 3% of Londoners are now regular
churchgoers. At the same time, non-Christian practices such as Kabbalah,
Buddhism, Hinduism and crystal healing are flourishing, the newspaper
"For many westerners, particularly women, it has become the norm to master
Buddhist chanting in a meditation class, learn about ancient Hindu
philosophies during a yoga class, light an (aromatherapy) candle and say a
prayer (to a nameless God) back at home," commented the article. A further
sign of the triumph of alternative spiritualities came with the recent
appointment of a spirituality editor by the British womens magazine
While paganism gains legal protection, Christianity continues to be singled
out for exclusion. Last Christmas season, for example, the British Red
banned the mention of Jesus from its shops, the Sun newspaper reported Nov.
11. Also barred were Christmas cards with nativity scenes and Advent
calendars showing Mary and Joseph and the three wise men.
Meanwhile, the Christmas card sent out by the United Kingdom's culture
secretary, Tessa Jowell, featured Hindu dancers and drawings of mosques,
Telegraph reported Dec. 7. What the card failed to show was anything about
Jesus or Christmas.
And, in Australia, the Victorian state minister for transport, Peter
Batchelor, opted for a Christmas card with an Aboriginal dream scene,
without any Christian reference, the Age reported Dec. 19.
Scotland's Parliament also abolished any reference to Christianity in its
cards. That was too much, even for self-declared agnostic Jim Sillars, who
complained of the move in a commentary published by the Scotsman newspaper
on Dec. 3. "Such decisions aren't a matter of showing greater tolerance of
non-Christian religions," observed Sillars. "I have yet to meet the Jew,
Muslim, Hindu or Sikh who has ever objected to us having Christ as the
center of Christmas. Take Christ out and you have a pagan celebration."
Delving into the reason behind anti-Christian prejudices, Christine Odone,
deputy editor of the British magazine New Statesman, commented that the
"chattering classes" share a common prejudice against Christians. In an
extract of the annual Tyndale lecture given by Odone and published Oct. 28
in the Guardian, she noted that in an era that prizes individual freedom,
Christians believe in authority and have a clear sense that there is a
and a wrong.
"Moral certainty grates against the spirit of the age," she observed. And
this certainty "throws into relief the brittle edifice that houses the
secularist's morals." Re-Christianizing an increasingly pagan society will
not be easy.
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