The Three Major Approaches to Neo-Paganism
Most things in the universe happen in threes. Three is a universal number of great importance. In Heathenism we have the Heathen trinity of Odin, Thor, and Freyr, which I covered in another post.
This three-ness aspect to the universe is also seen in divisions that happen within major world religions. We see this for example in Christianity in there being Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox branches. In Buddhism this trinity is expressed with there being Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantric forms of the religion. In Hinduism we have Shivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism. In Islam there is Sunni, Shia, and Sufism. In Wicca, which is itself a tradition within Neo-Paganism, there is British-Traditional, Eclectic, and Dianic, branches. Even in Heathenism we have strict-reconstructionists, modernists, and tribalists.
In Neo-Paganism this three-fold aspect is seen with there being Archetypal-Paganism, Polytheistic-Paganism, and Humanistic-Paganism. Neo-Paganism is a newer major world religion and as such it is still undergoing the process of development as a major religion. Thus is is still going through the grow process that any new religion does.
The first form of Neo-Paganism to form was Archetypal-Paganism. Your stereotypical Wiccan (but not all Wiccans) is an Archetypal-Pagan. They see the gods and goddesses either as different (and interchangeable) expressions of one divine energy, or all gods and goddesses to them are the expression of one set of Great Goddess and Great God (Dualtheism). Archetypal-Paganism is based on the philosophical idea of syncretism. Wicca itself was a religion created through syncretism. Though most but not all Wiccans are Archtypal-Pagans, not all Archtypal-Pagans are Wiccans. Wiccans would be the biggest group that are Archtypal-Pagans.
The next expression of Neo-Paganism is Polytheistic-Paganism. Polytheistic-Pagans see the gods and goddess as all unique and distinct beings and not interchangeable for one another. Though some of them do acknowledge that some gods or goddesses may appear in more than one culture with nearly almost exact similar forms and traits but with different names. Generally Polytheistic-Pagans place a strong focus on devotional practices and worship of the particular gods and goddesses which they happen to focus on. Polytheistic-Pagans are almost always very focused on a particular cultural tradition. Some Polytheistic-Pagans are very focused on strict historical reconstruction of ancient Pagan traditions, while others try to focus on modern ways to relate to the gods/goddesses, but many are a mix between both these extremes. The stereotypical Heathen is Polytheistic-Pagan. Originally Heathenism was separate from the Neo-Pagan scene due to early on Wiccan viewpoints dominating the Neo-Pagan scene, but this has changed and more and more Heathen ideas have had an impact on Neo-Paganism. More Heathens, or even Pagans strongly influenced by Heathenism, are seen taking part in the Neo-Pagan scene these days. Just as not all Archtypal-Pagans are Wiccans, not all Polytheistic-Pagans are Heathens, though Heathenism does represent the biggest pool of Polytheistic-Pagans at this time. There has been a huge growth in non-Heathen forms of Polytheistic-Paganism in recent years.
The third and by far newest form of Neo-Paganism is the Humanistic-Pagan. They are a very recent development and as such there has been some growing pains for this form of Paganism in it being accepted into the Neo-Pagan scene. Other terms that seem to be currently used for Humanist-Pagans are Atheist-Pagans, and Naturalistic-Pagans. Generally Humanist-Pagans tend to not believe in or focus on the supernatural or divine aspect of things. They tend to see the gods/goddesses and mythologies in terms of archetypal expressions of psychological or philosophical concepts. In many ways the ideas established by Carl Jung likely are the roots of this form of Paganism. Humanistic-Pagans believe strongly in science and having a more tangible connection to things. Their approach to Paganism is more cultural. Many of them may not wish to see Neo-Paganism as a religion but more as a form of cultural identity. They put great focus on the values expressed within Neo-Paganism such as respect for the environment and a focus on self awareness. Omnia is an example of a music band that seems to represent the ideas within Humanistic-Paganism.
It is important as Pagans for us to understand and respect the views of all those who fall under the umbrella of the religion of Neo-Paganism. At the same time we need to acknowledge that there are these distinct forms and these differences can at times lead to issues of difficulty since each distinct style leads to a different viewpoint on what the reasons are for being Pagan. We must guard against trying to enforce the approach of our particular approach of Neo-Paganism on to people of the other forms. We must acknowledge that all ways are equally as valid and all people have the religious and spiritual and cultural freedom to pursue anything that is not harmful to others. All these forms of Paganism are helpful in their own ways to those who practice them. All these forms of Paganism help to enrich the lives of their devotes. As Neo-Pagans we need to stand unified at least on the legal and cultural front so as to make sure our rights are not stomped upon. On the spiritual front we must understand our differences and make room for us to divide into our particular more focused groups as needed.
I dedicate this post as an offering to the goddess Saga. Hail Saga!