February 3, 2015

The Mormon return to pagan culture: Introduction

Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in America, and one of the fastest growing in the world. Although still a small minority, its exponential growth means that in the coming decades and centuries, it will play a large role in American life. Explosive growth also reveals in which direction the mainstream is heading -- what appeals to them, and what does not?

In trying to distill what the Mormon explosion heralds for our society, the simplest way I can think of to put it is that Mormonism is a return to a pagan, pre-Christian worldview and orientation toward life. I don't mean that in a purely Romantic "noble savage" way, nor in a purely derogatory "godless heathen" way. It's "for better or worse".

It's not as though pre-Christian Europe was always and everywhere a den of iniquity.

Tacitus came away with a fairly sympathetic appraisal of Germanic moral codes and behavior, however backward he may have found their material culture. He himself came from a highly advanced civilization whose development did not depend on transcendent monotheism as found in the Israelite religion of the Second Temple period, or as in nascent Christianity. And the era in which he lived, the beginning of the reign of the Five Good Emperors, testified to the ability of Roman polytheism to support a society that enjoyed stability in its civic institutions and modesty in its everyday moral conduct.

It's crucial for moderns to remember, though, that both the Germanic tribes and the Roman Empire were thoroughly religious. When we think of alternatives to Christianity today, what comes to mind is either a lack of religious affiliation and participation, or outright atheism. So when I say that Mormons are returning to a pre-Christian pagan wordlview and orientation, I don't mean that they have dropped out of religion, that religion doesn't play a major role in their lives, or that their religion is empty.

I'm not suggesting that they are returning to paganism in every major aspect of belief and practice. Using magic for divination, for example, doesn't seem to play much of a role in their religion today, although it was to some degree during its initial phase of revelation. Their return is more "on the whole".

I'm also not suggesting that they are consciously restoring or reviving earlier features of specific pagan religions, or of pagan religion in the abstract. Rather, their religion has drawn and will continue to draw people whose gut intuitions make them uncomfortable with transcendent monotheism, who resonate with a religion that is more down-to-earth, corporeal, and polytheistic. From there, Mormonism will naturally evolve in a pagan direction without anyone having paganism per se on their mind.

This will be an ongoing series of posts, some about doctrine and beliefs, others about ritual and practices; some about their collective ethnic identity, and others about their individual personalities. These ideas are still inchoate, so I don't want to press any of the claims too hard, and part of posting them here is to refine my hunches and get feedback.

No substantial claims have been made in this post because the series will otherwise seem to come too far out of left field. There needs to be a basic tone-setting post before any claims are introduced and explored. No outline of the claims has been given because, as I said, these ideas are still coming together, and an outline right now would only include a few examples (although striking ones).

So let the basic proposal sink in, and I'll be adding to this series off and on over the next week or so, perhaps longer depending on how much there is to be uncovered.


  1. Historically, Mormons are heavily of Danish ancestry, the only religion I know of where that's the case. There was a major wave of immigration to Utah from Denmark, peaking around 1860. Here's an article I found on the topic:


  2. There's been a polytheistic reconstruction movement in recent years. They even built a new Norse temple in Iceland.

    "Isatruarfelagid, a neopagan organization, plans to start construction next month on the country's first Norse temple since Christianity arrived in the island nation roughly 1,000 years ago."


    In the 2000s, the science fiction show Battlestar Galactica envisioned a technologic, space-faring society that practiced pagan rites centered around Zodiac signs. Who knows...

  3. More like polytheistic LARPing. That's what I mean about the importance of studying Mormons -- they are *not* self-consciously reviving pagan beliefs and orientations. It's come about more organically. And of course they would dismiss the claim (as politely as possible) that they are pagan, non-Christian, pre-Axial Age, etc.

    The Mormons do believe to be reviving earlier Christian beliefs and practices, although they're wrong about that. They're unwittingly reviving a much older style of religion, something you might find back around 1000 BC.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."