The Image of Paganism in the Age of Reason: From Idolatry towards a Secular Concept of Polytheism
Keywords:Paganism, deism, Age of reason, polytheism, idolatry, Enlightenment, Neopaganism
AbstractThis article argues that the concept of “paganism,” though originally theological in nature, came to be used in the Enlightenment and its secular thought as a term for non-Abrahamic religions. Discussions on paganism were conducted in an environment where concerns about religious plurality had become central. As such, these discussions, and their subject—paganism, also served as a means to find solutions for concerns about religious plurality. This article will focus on three components of the discussion on paganism: (i) the origin of idolatry, (ii) the nature of gods, and (iii) the nature of pagan worship. This article argues that purportedly secular concerns regarding paganism expressed by Deist and Enlightenment scholars were in fact rooted in Christian theology. This article is divided into four sections. The first section gives a general account of relevant discussions taking place in the seventeenth century. The second section discusses the father of English deism, Herbert of Cherbury, and his notion of paganism. The third section discusses Herbert’s successors. The fourth section discusses David Hume and his work on paganism. The article argues that internal theological concerns in the seventeenth and eighteenth century gave rise to a specific conceptual language used in thinking about and discussing paganism. This language was later adopted by contemporary Pagans in the twentieth and twenty first century. As such, the article argues, in any study of the phenomenon referred to as “paganism” the present framework inevitably leads one to theological questions and answers. As a result, while the discussion on paganism continues to be a theological one, the phenomenon being studied remains inaccessible.
Carmichael, Alexander. Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations with Illustrative Notes on Words, Rites, and Customs, Dying and Obsolete. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Printed for the author by A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty, and Sold by Norman MacLeod, 1900.
Cooke, William. An Enquiry into the Patriarchal and Druidical Religion, Tempels, Etc. 2nd ed., with additions. London: Printed for Lockyer Davis at Lord Bacon’s Head near Salisbury court, 1755.
Davies, Edward. Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions & Language, of the Ancient Britons: With Some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society. London: Printed for the author, and sold by J. Booth, 1804.
——. The Mythology and Rites of British Druids, Ascertained by National Documents, and Compared with the General Traditions and Customs of Heathenism, as Illustrated by the Most Eminent Antiquaries of Our Age London: Printed For J. Booth, 1809.
Evans, Evan. Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh Bards. London: Printed for J. Dodsley in Pall-Mall., 1764.
Frazer, James George. Balder the Beautiful: The Fire Festivals of Europe and the Doctrine of the External Soul. Vol. 1. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. London: Macmillan, 1966.
Gravil, Richard. Wordsworth’s Bardic Vocation, 1787–1842. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230510333.
Gray, Thomas. The Bard. London: John Van Voorst, 1837.
Horsman, Reginald. “Origins of Racial Anglo-Saxonism in Great Britain before 1850.” Journal of the History of Ideas 37, no. 3 (July 1976): 387–410. https://doi. org/10.2307/2708805.
Hutton, Ronald. Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Jenkins, Geraint H., ed. A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg. Iolo Morganwg and the Romantic Tradition in Wales Series. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2005.
King, Edward. Munimenta Antiqua. London: Printed by W. Bulmer & co. for G. Nicol, 1799.
Knox, Robert. The Races of Men a Philosophical Enquiry Into the Influence of Race Over the Destinies of Nations. 2nd ed. London: Henry Renshaw, 1850.
Ledwich, Edward. “XXXII. A Dissertation on the Religion of the Druids. Addressed to Governor Pownall. By Edward Ledwich, LL. B. Vicar of Aghaboe, Queen’s County, Ireland; and Member of the Antiquary Societies of London, Dublin, and Edinburgh.” Archaeologia 7 (1785): 303–22. https://doi.org/10.1017/S02613409 00022517.
Macpherson, James. The Works of Ossian, the Son of Fingal, in Two Volumes, Translated from the Galic Language. Vol. 1. London: Printed for T. Becket and P. A. Dehondt, 1765.
Mason, William. Caractacus: A Dramatic Poem: Written on the Model of the Ancient Greek Tragedy. London: Printed for J. Knapton, 1759.
Ogilvie, John. The Fane of the Druids: A Poem. Book the Second; Comprehending an Account of the Origin, Progress, and Establishment of Society in North Britain. By the Author of the First Book. London: J. Murray 1789.
Pinkerton, John. A Dissertation on the Origin and Progress of the Scythians or Goths Being an Introduction to the Ancient and Modern History of Europe. London: Printed by J. Nichols for G. Nicol, 1787.
Rawes, Alan, and Gerard Carruthers. “Introduction: Romancing the Celt.” In English Romanticism and the Celtic World, 1–19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Reardon, Bernard M. G. Religion in the Age of Romanticism: Studies in Early Nineteenth Century Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. https://doi. org/10.1017/CBO9780511621475.
Smiles, Sam. The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Smith, John. Galic Antiquities: Consisting of a History of the Druids, Particularly of Those of Caledonia; a Dissertation on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian; and a Collection of Ancient Poems, Translated from the Galic of Ullin, Ossian, Orran, &c. Edinburgh: Printed [by Macfarquhar and Elliot] for T. Cadell, London; and C. Elliot, 1780.
Snyder, Edward Douglas. The Celtic Revival in English Literature, 1760–1800. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923. https://doi.org/10.4159/harvard.978 0674600010.
Stukeley, William. Stonehenge: A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids. 2 vols. London: Printed for W. Innys and R. Manby, 1740.
——. Abury, a Temple of the British Druids, with Some Others, Described. 2 vols. London, 1743.
Toland, John. Christianity Not Mysterious, or a Treatise Shewing, That There Is Nothing in the Gospel Contrary to Reason, Nor Above It: And That No Christian Doctrine Can Be Properly Call’d A Mystery. The Second Edition Enlarged. London: Printed for Sam. Buckley, 16.
——. “A Specimen of the Critical History of the Celtic Religion and Learning: Containing An Account of the Druids, or the Priests and Judges; of the Vaids, or the Diviners and Physicians; and of the Bards, or the Poets and Heralds of the Ancient Gauls, Britons, Irish and Scots. With the History of Abaris the Hyperborean, Priest of the Sun. In Three Letters to the Right Honourable the Lord Molesworth.” In Volume 1 of The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. John Toland, Now First Published from His Original Manuscripts : To the Whole Is Prefixed a Copious Account of Mr. Toland’s Life and Writings, 1–228. Vol. 1. London: Printed for J. Whiston, S. Baker, and J. Robinson, 1747.
Weinbrot, Howard D. Britannia’s Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. https://doi. org/10.1017/CBO9780511553554.
Wellek, René. Concepts of Criticism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.
Whale, John C., and Stephen Copley, eds. Beyond Romanticism: New Approaches to Texts and Contexts, 1780–1832. London: Routledge, 1992.
Williams, Edward. Barddas, Or, A Collection of Original Documents Illustrative of the Theology, Wisdom and Usages of the Bardo-Druidic System of the Isle of Britain. 2 vols. Edited by James ab Ithel Williams. London: D. J. Roderic, Longman & Co., 1862, 1874.
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.