The quest for religious freedom has always been a part of American culture. Catholics and Protestants alike fled persecution to emigrate to the new land. But their freedom to follow their own faiths depended on their willingness to tolerate all the others. Today, the religions struggling for acceptance are traditions such as Wicca and Asatru which have appeared during the last 50 years. Far from being a fringe movement, these faiths are the most recent additions to a religious category that includes native folk and tribal traditions, and accounts for approximately 6% of believers worldwide.
Paganism may not be the religion of our grandfathers, but the new versions are rooted in the beliefs of our pre-Christian ancestors. While practice and focus vary widely among the various Pagan denominations, they share a belief in goddesses as well as gods and honor the ancestors and spirits of nature. Pagans do not accept Christian concepts such as the Fall or the Devil, and seek to live in harmony with the earth rather than to be saved from it. This search for natural balance imposes its own code of ethics, and along with traditional lore and personal relationship with the divine, replaces the role played by scripture and religious hierarchy. Most believe in an Afterlife, but Pagans are less concerned with what we believe than with how we live. Deism, a philosophy that influenced many of the Founding Fathers, is closer to Paganism than it is to Christianity.
America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.
Diana L. Paxson led the ritual to invoke the Founding Fathers to protect religious freedom in Lafayette Park today. She is a Pagan Elder with experience in several traditions who has served as First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess and Steerswoman of the Troth, an international Asatru (Germanic Pagan) organization. She is also the author of 27 novels and 3 non-fiction books, including “Essential Asatru” and the forthcoming “Ravens of Avalon.”