Vital Signs

The Neopagan No-Rule Book

Paganism?  You bet I remember paganism, as any man with white hair ought to.  The movies used to be full of it—Yul Brynner calling pharaonically on the gods of Egypt to bring back his son to life; Jay Robinson, as the emperor Caligula, turning Richard Burton (of all people) into a Christian martyr.  There was (and still is) paganism at the opera: helmeted gods passing over the magic bridge to Valhalla, immuring a rebellious daughter in a ring of flames.

None of which we premodernists took with the least seriousness.  Splendid, rousing hokum it might have been; hokum, nevertheless, was hokum.  There were no pre-Christian gods; there never had been any, save in pagan imaginations.

The pagan comeback in modern times is less a setback for old-time common-sense perceptions of paganism than a kind of window into the modern mind.  Maybe the former gods weren’t as gone as we thought they were.  Maybe, like the Old Ones in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, they’ve merely been hanging around on the doorstep, waiting to be beckoned back inside the world they once seemed ready to dominate.

Well, the door’s wide open, it seems.  We might be wary, at that, of what forms and shapes duly surge through.  Just out of general sight and notice, a kind of people’s paganism snorts, scratches, shakes its shaggy head, appearing to regard the contemporary...

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