Pagan Puritanism

When the subject of Pagan Puritanism came up in a conversation recently with Robin Herne, I initially thought of it as a bit of a joke. As a bunch of people we’re far too fond of dancing, shagging and drinking to fit with any of the images in my head of Puritans. But of course those images I carry are innately Christian. Robin suggested that Pagan Puritanism is about obsessively low impact lifestyles and diet. That pulled me up, because if that’s the measure, I may well be one.

Generally as a culture, we fear extremism. We understand ‘extremist’ to be other – foreign, worshipping other gods, or worshipping familiar ones in unfamiliar ways, or irrationally fanatical about some other thing to the point of being willing to blow people up over it. I think it’s worth noticing that you can pollute the air, poison the rivers, destroy irreplaceable landscapes and slaughter people in droves with all of the above and not be considered any kind of extremist at all if you do it all in the name of profit and personal greed.

We don’t tend to generate much in the way of fundamentalism – having such a wealth of histories, cultures, pantheons and belief structures to draw on, it’s hard to get all ‘one true way’ as a Pagan. Not having any formal financial structures, the hassle of recruitment in the face of no material gain means we’ve not developed a conversion culture either. Or, being a touch less cynical, I might suggest we’re just respectful of other people’s beliefs. So apart from the odd over-zealous soul, we don’t really do fundamentalism, and if we did, we’re just not organised enough to agree enough for it to have much impact. I like this about us. Generally speaking, fundamentalism is a group activity where belonging to the group is key to its functioning. Again, these are things we are not so good at.

Puritanism can be viable as a much more personal project. In other religions it means a move to try and get back to the true meaning of the core text. As religious bodies get affluent, decadent and self important, counter movements evolve to go back to the imagined simpler, more authentic vision – except these probably never do take us back, and are just as capable of becoming decadent over time. I give you North America…

We don’t have a core book, and the stock Pagan answer is to say ‘nature is my book’. Arguably a Pagan Puritan who is going back to the book… is going back to nature in a really determined way. Zero waste, recycled knickers and no flying, bean sprouts (organic and home grown) for breakfast. Pagan Puritanism suggests fanatical devotion to trying to live in harmony with the planet. I can happily give fundamentalism a miss, not least because it tends to be so tedious, predictable and destructive, if other religions are anything to go by. I may be more inclined towards Pagan Puritanism than I might have previously assumed.

I’m a long way from being really hardcore though – I do still have my computer, I can’t spin, I don’t have the means to heat and cook directly from a fire – although I have done that in the past. I aim to reduce my impact all the time, it is a bit of an obsession. Fortunately, the dancing, singing and shagging are entirely compatible with this agenda, so as Puritanism goes, it should be fairly cheerful.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Pagan Puritanism

  • Robin

    The nature of any form of Puritanism is that it rapidly becomes joyless, sour and holier-than-thou. Witness the interminable rows (seldom do they remain discussions) on pagan message boards about whose diet is the most pagan/ethical, and increasingly about gender/sexual politics and “acceptable language”, or about ethnic purity within some reconstructionist traditions. Ferocious passion bereft of any sense of humour or willingness to allow other people to do something different. Puritans love to convert. I rather doubt you are puritan because you can still laugh.

  • stephencthomas

    I like that you separate puritanism and fundamentalism.

  • Cat lover

    This is more fundamentalism than Puritanism, I guess, but there’s a whole debate (at least here in the U.S.) about who can claim the label polytheist. Google “piety posse” and see the whole uproar.

    • Nimue Brown

      That sounds hideous! I may stay at a safe distance! I think as soon as we start trying to claim the right to tell other people what they can think and believe, we are in a whole heap of trouble.

  • locksley2010

    Pagan Puritanism? That’s a new one! I have come across a blog discussing about Pagan Fundamentalism, which, if I remember correctly, is about keeping Paganism ‘free’ from any Christian trappings, and that those who want to mingle the two faiths are classed as ‘Christian’ and are to be cast out as it tampers with ‘our’ – catch this, this is my favourite bit- “True Faith”!

    Fortunately I disagree with that bollocks as cultures are all about mingling and respecting other ideas and beliefs. And there is no such thing as a ‘pure pagan faith’ unless you go with the lyrics from The Levellers: “There’s only one way of life and that’s your own…..” peace!

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve always felt that as the Christians clearly borrowed heavily from Paganism, that borrowing back was only fair, and necessary, and that as you can’t always tell what comes from where, the only sensible thing to do is borrow the bits that you happen to like and find useful. Sadly it seems to be the principles of narrowminded dogma and exclusion that some people turn out to like and find useful.

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