The cluster of recently appeared religions known as Paganism have developed, over the past sixty years, a distinctive cycle of annual festivals, most of which draw on long historic roots but that are grouped together in a modern framework. No study has yet been made of the manner in which this cycle developed, and potentially rich rewards may be gained from doing so. Such a project is a rare opportunity to study a religious festive tradition in the process of evolution, and also to suggest features of the nature of tradition in modern societies, and the manner in which it is perceived by scholars in different disciplines.
During the past thirty years, scholars have gradually become aware of the existence, across the western world, of a rapidly growing complex of modern religions organised under the label of Paganism. [1  In conformity with practices now becoming established in the discipline of Religious Studies, I refer to modern Pagan religions with a capital letter, but keep the lower case, “pagan,” when referring to the pre-Christian religions of Europe and the Near East, and to subsequent reflections on them. For a discussion of the rationale behind this distinction, see Hutton (2003Hutton, Ronald. 2003. Witches, Druids and King Arthur: Studies in Paganism, Myth and Magic, London: Hambledon and London., xiii–xv).View all notes] Although they differ from each other in the nature of their deities, rites, and organisation, they have certain definitive features in common: most obviously, a veneration of the feminine principle of divinity as well as the masculine, a sense of an inherent sanctity in the natural world, an ethic of responsible individual self-expression that rejects concepts of sin and salvation, and an identification with the pre-Christian religions of Europe and the Near East. They are also more or less united by the observation of a common pattern of eight annual seasonal festivals. The study of festivity is currently a focus of considerable interest among scholars of religion, society, and culture, in several different disciplines: it is, indeed, a phenomenon encountered in all, or virtually all, human cultures. The most comprehensive and considered definition of a festival, by a social scientist, seems to have been that of Alessandro FalassiFalassi, Alessandro. 1987. “Festival: Definition and Morphology”. In Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival, Edited by: Falassi, Alessandro. 1–10. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.: “a periodically recurrent, social occasion in which, through a multiplicity of forms and a series of co-ordinated events, participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees, all members of a whole community, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds and sharing a worldview” (1987Falassi, Alessandro. 1987. “Festival: Definition and Morphology”. In Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival, Edited by: Falassi, Alessandro. 1–10. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press., 2).
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