One of the strangest things about neopaganism in comparison with ancient paganism is in the attitude to war and conflict. Because neopaganism received a major influx of new members from the counterculture movements of the 1960s, many Wiccans and other neopagans not only embrace a doctrine of philosophical pacifism, they specifically think of this as a defining pagan worldview.
What's odd about this is that the pagan religions of the ancient world were universally associated with heroic values and warrior societies. If you read the Iliad or the Eddas or the Cattle Raid of Cooley, you will see that our pagan ancestors glorified the warrior way of life and viewed heroism in battle as the highest good. There is no precedent in ancient paganism for a pacifist worldview.
Many neopagans have come to understand this, and identify to one degree or another with “the warrior path” or a warrior lifestyle. This often makes pacifist pagans extremely uncomfortable, with some even expressing the view that “pagan warrior” is a contradiction in terms- a statement that would have seemed strange indeed to Hercules or Cuchullain!
While philosophical pacifism can be reconciled with paganism, it's a bit of a stretch unless you accept the premise that neopaganism and ancient paganism really have nothing in common. If you believe that neopaganism should be connected somehow to the old pagan religions, then the warrior's path is an inescapable part of the tradition. The question is what that means for us in the modern world, which will be the subject of my blog next week.