By Mike Nichols
‘Old Guard Paganism’. The phrase started out as a joke, but then caught on. This tells us something. It tells us there is a NEED for such a term. It also implies its own antithesis, ‘New Guard Paganism’. And it indicates that there is some difference between the two — a ‘difference that makes a difference’ — and thus requires differentiating labels. (It should perhaps be noted that the word ‘Paganism’ is used in the present context — however inaccurately — to refer to modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, or Wicca. With grave misgivings, I have adopted this usage here.)
The first time I heard the phrase ‘Old Guard Pagan’ (used as a pejorative, as I remember) was during the organizing of the first Heartland Pagan Festival. It seems that the festival was being organized mainly by ‘New Guard Pagans’ who felt they were not getting the anticipated support from the ‘Old Guard’. Yet, even after such misunderstandings were cleared up, the phrase remained. Why? And what is the line of demarcation?
I remember a discussion I had at the time with a long-time High Priestess and friend, in which we laughingly concluded that an Old Guard Pagan was any ‘pre-Starhawk’ Pagan. ( Starhawk’s important book, ‘The Spiral Dance’ was first published in 1979.) Thus, an Old Guard Pagan is any pre- 1979 Pagan. And yet, seniority alone couldn’t BE the difference — although it might ACCOUNT for many differences. (It is interesting to note that Starhawk’s book is responsible for a massive influx of people into feminist traditions of Wicca, and this shift in focus may likewise account for key differences.)