Paganism returns to the Holy Land
Like many other soldiers who took part in the Gaza operation, Omer, 20, occasionally took a few moments to pray, but he did not pray to the Lord of Israel.
Omer considers himself pagan, and has sworn allegiance to three ancient gods. During combat, he says they appeared before him, giving him strength during the most arduous moments.
Omer is still in the army, and therefore refused to be interviewed for this story. Yet he did say he belongs to a religion whose goal is to revive worship of ancient gods.
In an online Hebrew-language paganism forum, Omer’s accounts of his Gaza experience are standard fare. Another user recalled how he prayed to Anat, the Canaanite god of war, while serving in an elite combat unit.
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The two soldiers are part of a tiny community of pagans that has developed in Israel. Influenced by movements in the United States and Europe, followers believe in multiple gods.
“Modern paganism is comprised of a wide variety of religions and faiths, most of which are based on ancient pagan rituals,” said Rinat Korbet, a Bar-Ilan University researcher who wrote her thesis on the pagan community in Israel based on its online presence.
“People seek to take the essence of ancient paganism and suit it to our time period. Many of the followers have home altars where they can express their belief in nature and the gods. All the people I interviewed also took part in ceremonies and community rituals, in environments conducive to the spirit of paganism.”
Several years ago, Kobets took an interest in Wicca, a neo-pagan religion founded 50 years ago in England. Wicca calls for worshiping nature and an ancient goddess. Korbets abandoned Wicca upon enlisting in the IDF, but enthusiastically re-embraced it after completing his army service.
Now he runs the Wicca Israel Web site, one of the local pagan community’s most widely visited and important sites. He estimates that there are 150 Israeli pagans.
Korbets says neo-paganism is a pluralistic religion, and every follower sets his own worship method. Nonetheless, the pagans interviewed for this article agreed their faith runs counter to Judaism, and added that they do not consider themselves Jewish.
Because the main sources of neo-paganist religions are England and the U.S., some Israeli worshipers pray to Nordic or Celtic gods. Others seek to revive the worship of ancient Canaanite gods who were fought by biblical prophets.
“As part of the interest in local traditions, there is a focus on Canaanite gods and traditions that existed here,” Korbets said. “People are interested in it, but from what I gather I don’t believe this is the dominant theme. I’ve seen more people who believe in Celtic Druidism, Shamanism and Indian religions.”
Korbet wrote her thesis in the department of information science at Bar-Ilan University, under the supervision of Dr. Dan Bouchnik. She analyzed Web sites and forums used by pagans, and their philosophy regarding the Internet.
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