Something ancient — paganism — is “struggling to be born” again. It’s slouching toward birth, like Yeats’s “rough beast,” laboring to arrive for its hour.
It’s emerging amid the rise of what exorcist Fr. Chad Ripperger ominously describes as the “sixth generation.”[i] According to Fr. Ripperger, specific “generational spirits” — demons — afflict different generations. For instance, the generational spirit for Generations X and Y is “a spirit of amorality or the absence of religiosity,” while Generation Z — which, in general, received “no moral formation at all” — is “beset by a spirit of depravity.”
But the “sixth generation” — those born from about 2008 on — will have a spirit unlike any of the previous generational spirits.
As Fr. Ripperger explains:
Exorcists know that the introduction into the occult is almost always accomplished through immorality, especially immorality in the areas of the sixth and ninth commandments[.] … The previous generation’s slow descent into the sexual depravity of the prior generation, fueled by a prolific pornography industry, has opened the door to the spirit of paganism.
“The trajectory of moral depravity and curiosity in occult matters will result in the next generation wanting or actually having open worship of other ‘gods,’” predicts the exorcist.
Other voices, too, are discerning the “return of paganism.” Ross Douthat limns its features:
[This worldview includes the belief] that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately part of nature rather than an external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent[.] … [I]t sees the purpose of religion and spirituality as more therapeutic, a means of seeking harmony with nature and happiness in the everyday[.]
As Douthat notes, there are signs of a resurgent “intellectual pantheism” and a “this-world-focused civil religion” — evident in, for instance, social justice theology. And there’s an attendant rise in the “popular supernaturalism” embodied by New Age practices; psychics and mediums; and “explicit neo-paganism, Wiccan and otherwise.”
It’s often noted, for instance, that there are now more witches than Presbyterians in the U.S.
Douthat says we’re just waiting for “the philosophers of pantheism and civil religion … to build a religious bridge to the New Agers and neo-pagans.” We’re just waiting for them to create “an actual way to worship, not just to appreciate, the pantheistic order they discern.”
“Perhaps a prophet of a new harmonized paganism is waiting in the wings,” he muses.
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Meanwhile, the Amazon synod has unveiled a brazenly “neo-pagan” working document — a text that eerily praises pagan rituals (n. 87) and “faith in the God Father–Mother Creator” (n. 121) and “dialogue with the spirits” (n. 75).
The document, as José Antonio Ureta shows, embraces the “deification of nature” extolled by U.N. environmental conferences and texts. Ureta points to a revealing concluding speech by a U.N. official at the 1992 Rio conference:
[P]ost-Rio man must also love the world[.] … Over and above the moral contract with God, over and above the social contract concluded with men, we must now conclude an ethical and political contract with nature[.] …
To the ancients, the Nile was a god to be venerated, as was the Rhine, an infinite source of European myths, or the Amazonian forest, the mother of forests. Throughout the world, nature was the abode of the divinities that gave the forest, the desert or the mountains a personality which commanded worship and respect. The Earth had a soul. To find that soul again, to give it new life, that is the essence of Rio.
As Ureta points out, the Amazon synod’s working document, citing a Bolivian text, likewise effuses that the jungle “is a being or various beings with whom to relate” (n. 23). It continues by idealizing native peoples who have “not yet [been] influenced by Western civilization” — peoples with untouched “beliefs and rites regarding the actions of spirits, of the many-named divinity acting with and in the territory” (n. 25).
As historian Roberto de Mattei remarks, these valorized peoples “have been liberated from monotheism and have restored animism and polytheism.” According to the document, the pantheistic “Creator Spirit who fills the universe” has “nurtured the spirituality of these peoples for centuries,” bearing great “fruit” (n. 120).
The Church, it appears, must not convert, but learn from such revelatory prophets. She must recognize “other avenues/pathways that seek to decipher the inexhaustible mystery of God” — shedding an “insincere openness” that “reserve[s] salvation exclusively for one’s own creed.” She must, in short, affirm that “love lived in any religion pleases God” (n. 39).
This “remarkable text,” as Peter Kwasniewski shows, “bluntly sets aside traditional views of evangelization, salvation, and sanctification.” Ultimately, it’s redolent of the Modernist notion that “every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true” (Pascendi). Perhaps that is why the working document’s main author is reported to have said, “I have not yet baptized an Indian, and I also will not do it.”
Ultimately, as Ureta explains:
In this intercultural dialogue, the Church must also enrich herself with clearly pagan and/or pantheistic elements of beliefs such as ‘faith in God the Father-Mother Creator,’ ‘relations with ancestors,’ ‘communion and harmony with the earth’ (n. 121) and connection with ‘the various spiritual forces’ (n. 13). Not even witchcraft is sidelined by this ‘enrichment.’ According to the document, ‘The richness of the flora and fauna of the forest contains real ‘living pharmacopoeias’ and unexplored genetic principles’ (n. 86). In this context, ‘Indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for integral health…They create harmony and balance between human beings and the cosmos. They protect life from the evils that can be caused by both humans and other living beings. They help to cure diseases that damage the environment, human life and other living beings’ (n. 87).
A new harmonized paganism, slouching to be born. Wanting or actually having open worship of other ‘gods’…
I can’t get those lines out of my mind as I read through a document that, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller charges, is guilty of a “pantheistic idolatry of nature,” a “purely immanentist notion of religion,” “apostasy,” heresy, and more.
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… a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again …
Are the same generational spirits haunting the outside world now also afflicting the Church? Is it a coincidence that after the family synods and Amoris Laetitia attacked the Sixth Commandment, the Amazon synod’s working document sank into the shadows of open neo-paganism?
As the sixth generation rises, just what will slink forward to be born?
[i] Ripperger, Chad. “The Sixth Generation,” Latin Mass Magazine, Summer 2012, pp. 34-38.
Julia Meloni writes from the Pacific Northwest. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale and a master’s degree in English from Harvard.