Quaker Witness in Poland

What is Quaker Paganism?

    "Paganism" is a term used to refer to religions in the Mediterranean Basin and Europe other than Judaism and its Christian and Islamic offspring. Thus, it is a term including traditional Graeco-Roman religion, as well as Celtic, Germanic, Egyptian, Mesoptamian, and related religious traditions. It is occasionally also used in a broader sense to refer to other indigenous and world religions - this latter use does not concern us here. Sometimes "heathen" is used as a synonym of either of the above meanings, and it is preferred by the modern Germanic pagans for themselves.

    Some of these religions are being revived in a spectrum of movements often called "neo-paganism". This is of interest to Quakers because a number of neo-pagans have sought and received membership in various meetings of the Religious Society of Friends, especially in those affiliated with the Friends General Conference in the United States, and in Britain. Neopagans find the Society accepting and a good medium in which to pursue their own moral development and social action. In return, they bring a new dimension of earth-centred and Goddess-centred spirituality and enthusiasm into Quaker circles.

    The most common type of neo-pagan in Quaker meetings is the Wiccans or modern witches. These normally, but not always, follow a Celtic tradition of folk religion. Normally they believe in "the God" and "the Goddess", of whom the latter is more important. These may take the forms of various male and female deities of different pantheons, depending on the specific tradition, but  all gods are ultimately the God, all goddesses ultimately the Goddess. Some so-called "Dianic" traditions dispense with the God and are very feminist in orientation.

    Wiccans are themselves traditionally organised into covens of up to twelve persons, with a female leader. They may meet in the nude, which symbolises human dignity and freedom, not sexual licence. (Some early Friends also practised nudity for similar reasons.) They may practice magic, which as they see it, is the use of perfectly natural but little known human potentials. All magic must be used for good, not for harm to anyone.

    Paganism in the sense that the early Quakers knew it is primarily the paganism of the Graeco-Roman tradition, and there are also such neopagans in the Religious Society of Friends today. The basic principles of Graeco-Roman Paganism are three:

1. The Divine is present in the world in the form of a multitude of deities, each with his or her own personality and spheres of interest and competence. It is desirable to worship all or many of them in one's chosen pantheon in order to come to terms with the rich variety of the divine nature as it manifests to human beings.

2. All individual deities are ultimately aspects of one divine essence. Two great classical traditions discuss the theology of this. The Stoic tradition says that the Cosmic Zeus is the divine intelligence and power in all things, in human beings in the form of the Logos and our power of rational understanding, while all traditional gods and goddesses are personifications of individual functions of the divinity. Neoplatonic tradition, more mystical, considers that we all exist as part of the World Soul, which is the active manifestation in time of the eternal Nous (Mind or Spirit), which is itself an emanation of the One, pure Reality. The gods in this system of thought are seen as intermediary creative and preserving powers watching over the universe and able to lend assistance to those wishing to mystically return to conscious union with the One.

3. Gods in different culturally-determined pantheons are often equated to one another. Thus Zeus is seen to be the same as Jupiter, Thor and Yahweh. When a deity from another pantheon is seen as spiritually attractive, he or she is often adopted - for example, Isis from the Egyptians became highly popular in antiquity throughout the Roman world.

    Paganism is in general highly tolerant, believing that Truth and the Divine come in many different forms, any of which may have spiritual value and validity for given indiviuals and communities. Deities are worshipped through prayer and sacrifice. Just as most Jews adapted to a religion without blood sacrifice after the loss of the Temple, so too have neo-pagans mostly avoided the restoration of blood sacrifice, and today content themselves with purer sacrifices of incense, wine, and vegetable foodstuffs - a development which in fact began in antiquity. Ethically, paganism believes in the cultivation of the Four Virtues in the heart and will of the individual: Justice, Moderation (Self-control), Strengh (Courage), and Wisdom. Justice involves giving every person what is due to him or her from us, as well as working to further justice in general in the world.


    The early Quakers were strongly against "paganism", by which they meant virtually any deviation from or accretion to the purity and simplicity of the early Christian church. Thus the sun god, Sol or Helios, who gives his name to Sunday was replaced with "First Day", and similarly with the names of some of the months. At the same time, however, William Penn in a letter to his children once wrote of the Inner Light:
That blessed principle, the Eternal Word... is Pythagoras's real light and salt of ages; Anaxagoras's divine mind; Socrates's good spirit; Timaeus's unbegotten principle and author of all light; Hieron's God in man; Plato's eternal, ineffable and perfect principle of truth; Zeno's maker and father of all; and Plotin's root of the soul...

 Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Timaeus, Hieron, Plato, Zeno, and Plotinus are all more or less eminent pagan thinkers, and Penn is directly equating here the central Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light with various sorts of pagan theology.

    Early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay wrote in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity (6th Proposition) that "some of the old philosophers might have been saved" since they are among those who "have well improved the first and common grace" and not resisted it.

    Barclay also says elsewhere of pagans generally, whom he calls "heathens", in writing of the true church called out of the world by God:

Under this church ... are comprehended all, and as many, of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue or people they be, though outwardly strangers and remote from those who profess Christ and Christianity in words and have the benefit of the Scriptures, as become obedient to the holy light and testimony of God in their hearts... There may be members therefore of this Catholic church both among heathens, Turks, Jews and all the several sorts of Christians, men and women of integrity and simplicity of heart, who...are by the secret touches of this holy light in their souls enlivened and quickened, thereby secretly united to God, and there-through become true members of this Catholic church.

    In reality, therefore, Graeco-Roman pagans have already been recognised as congruent with Quaker principles from the earliest times of the movement. And pagans can easily recognise that although Friends do not practice ritual worship and do not acknowledge the specific names of recognised pagan divinities, they do in fact directly seek what pagans might term the Cosmic Zeus or the One, and they seek to discipline themselves in virtue, cultivate the Logos (a Stoic term before it was a Christian one) within them, and live in harmony with the dictates of Providence (another Stoic term adopted by Christianity).

    Quaker pagans in general are sometimes called "Quagans" and Quaker Wiccans in particular "Quiccans" or "Quitches". These are perhaps somewhat humorous coinages, but are not offensive.

          Bradius V. Maurus III     

Catherine Chapin-Bishop's Quagan Blog

This is a site from the Quaker/Wiccan Perspective, highly readable, sensitive and literate. The writer's husband, Peter,  is also a major contributor here.

Stasa Morgan-Appel's Quaker-Witch Blog

Another Quiccan blog by a Philadelphia Friend and Witch (interestingly, of Polish ancestry)