Modern Paganism: A Folk Religion

As in ancient folklore and religious practices, modern Paganism is
built on the practices and styles of its writers, teachers, and
ritualists. Various forms of today’s Pagan religious revival are used
and adapted, and then reused in new ways. General practices, such as
the use of a contained fire for banishing, or the use of certain images
to represent deity, or a certain style of invocation, are all parts of
the evolution of modern Paganism as a folk religion.


Here in Los Angeles, there have
been many groups during the last twenty years. At the inception of each
was a highly motivated and creative personality. Unlike the east coast
of the United States, which has a heavy Gardnerian-Alexandrian
influence, Southern California Paganism was most influenced by the
charismatic Hungarian Zuzanna Budapest who began the Dianic Feminist
Wiccan tradition. Her first book, “The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries,”
and her teachings have made an impact all over the world.

When author Z. Budapest left the
Los Angeles area in the early 1980s, she left a legacy of Goddess-Women
identity in her branch of Paganism. There are no Gods in
Dianic-Feminist Wicca, and as a result, several Goddess-only oriented
groups that teach are still providing classes and rituals in Los

Additional male-female,
God-Goddess groups developed in Los Angeles and they too are teaching
and hosting seasonal rituals. Many of these are founded on the work of
the author Starhawk. Some have an east coast influence of
Gardnerian-Alexandrian Wicca. (The east coast had its
Garnerian-Alexandrian practices brought to it from the British Wicca of
the 1950s and 1960s).

In the 1980’s American writer and
teacher, Starhawk, founded the Reclaiming Tradition. Her teachings had
been influenced by Z Budapest, but include other traditional Pagan
influences. A highly creative and spiritual personality, Starhawk began
in Los Angeles but moved to the San Francisco area in the late 1970s
where there is now a large Reclaiming Tradition group. There is also a
Reclaiming group in Los Angeles at this time, that was founded on
Starhawk’s writings. Her first book, “The Spiral Dance,” is a classic
work, and the most influential of her many books.

In the mid 1980s, not wanting to
go the course of Goddess-only Paganism, I became very interested in
“The Spiral Dance.” Starhawk is a wonderful writer, and has placed
modern Paganism in its true historical perspective. My creative nature
had me writing songs, chants and rituals almost at once, and I began
studying and teaching in the second half of the 1980s. Eventually I
developed a new branch of Paganism, Demetrian Paganism, and my first
book was published in 1999, “Mysteries of Demeter.”

Each teacher makes his or her
mark in Paganism, adding a style, a philosophy, or a type of ritual.
Most rituals are based on the turning of the seasons and the themes
therein. But highly personal rituals have also been developed by the
Pagan culture: to banished things unwanted, or create something needed.
There are hundreds of books on the market on this subject; we take what
we have learned and then adapt and add it to our practice.

Whatever helps an individual link
up to the divine will naturally arise from the heart and mind and enter
into the practice. It may be a way of laying out an altar, or the
symbols used, or a change in the actions of a rite. Modern Paganism can
be a very personal experience if one is creative and free with

My personal view of our
polytheistic Paganism, is that I see the “many” are part of the
“formless one.” The one divine source that is without name and without
form. I am at home with a variety of cross-cultural deities. There are
of course a few, such as Demeter and Persephone, that I give very great
weight to. I see Demeter as the Great Mother Goddess, the Creatress of
all. My personal goal is to journey deeply into my faith with Demeter
at the helm. I seek the deepest mystical aspect of the divine, and try
to bring that magic into my daily life.

In the big picture, I and all of
us, are a part of the evolution of religion in a specific time and
place. We are a part of a specific folk culture, within our country and
our time period. We are a part of the evolution of world religions, and
we decorate it, feel it, embrace it, and are passionate about it, as if
it were our very own, and it is.

2001 Jennifer Reif.

Jennifer Reif is the author of Mysteries of Demeter, Rebirth of the Pagan Way and Morgan Le Fay’s Book of Spells and Wiccan Rites. Find out more about Jennifer at her site

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