We promise this is not an assassination ploy.
In my place-based, Naturalistic Paganism, I relate most often to nature powers. Humans around the world share the old, great powers: the abundance of the Earth, the strength and direction of the Wind, the Sun’s relentless fire. Other powers are younger and local: the bluebonnets that push up through the soil each spring, Central Texas’s many limestone creeks and springs, and even the water that flows through the tap of my own kitchen sink. I am always in relationship with these powers, whether I will it or not. My goal as a Pagan is to cultivate mindful relationships with these nature powers. I do not believe that the springs in any sense needed or wanted my offering, but I was different for having made it.
My experience of the divine is not grounded in some external personality or authority. But the values I came to hold in Pagan community and the energy states I experienced in Pagan practice thoroughly pervade my spiritual experiences. In their eclectic circle, I learned reverence for the earth, the interconnectedness of all beings, a deep love and for the wisdom and beauty of the life cycle—of birth, growth, death, and decay. In circle and in meditations guided by my mentor, I felt the warm peace and ecstasy that comes from the experience of union with the universe. I may have given up on finding the goddesses and gods. But I have reclaimed and rediscovered those values and experiences that I think most importantly capture the spirit of Paganism through a naturalistic, Earth-based practice.
Evolution gives my life incredible meaning and purpose. I marvel at my family tree, which goes back though innumerable life forms, through amazing stories of survival, hope, courage, and parental love. It includes the tiny mammal, surviving through the freezing, yearlong darkness after the asteroid impact by eating, and likely hiding in, a frozen dinosaur carcass. It includes the first mother to produce milk, and the first blurry view through a newly evolved eye. I’ve grown from a long line of survivors — noble creatures of every sort, who conquered deadly challenges billions of times over. What other origin could possibly give my life more meaning?
All of this is to say that I find the question of the gods being “real,” and indeed discussions of their ontological nature in general, somewhat silly. It doesn’t matter if they’re “real” if they’re meaningful. So, yes, I am an atheist because I don’t believe in the existence of a deity. I’m also, however, a Pagan, because I have a personal relationship to the same things that Pagans have relationships to. Once you get past the word games of ontology, being an atheist Pagan isn’t so silly after all.
If persons are patterns, then patterns repeat. Through their actions and interactions in life, people are like the butterfly that can affect the course of a hurricane. Our loved ones create causes and effects which ripple outward in uncountable and unimaginable ways that cannot be contained. Just one of those ways is in their impressions upon us, which recreate similar patterns in our minds through communication and our deep knowledge of them. Thus, it is true our loved ones are not in the grave. We, quite literally, carry a part of them within us, and so on to others. If that is so then, in many important ways they did not die.
There are three reasons why ritual is important, whether or not we believe in anything supernatural about it – it reminds us to stop and be aware of the world around us, it has an effect on us internally and it helps us to connect to something bigger than ourselves.
I don’t take many leaps of faith intellectually, everything is based in reason. In this way I am a naturalistic Pagan. Where I do take those leaps of faith is in the emotional sphere. By engaging in this spiritual practice, I open myself up to experiencing things beyond the mundane. In many ways, it is in exercise in allowing myself to feel without judgement. My spirituality is my way of allowing my pantheism a space in my life.
Carl Sagan, an agnostic who made a career of exploring – and marveling at – the wonders of the universe. His philosophy was that no concept of a creator or overseer could possibly match the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature itself. This is the way the Pagan atheist views the world, and the universe at large. It’s not some dry, clinical and bitter philosophy. It’s a vibrant, dynamic view of life and the environment that births and sustains it.
We’ve had the habit for many years of constantly making stock. We are always saving any bits of vegetables left after slicing and dicing — carrot tops, onion skins — as well as the occasional bone. We save these in the fridge and, every few days, we boil them in water to make a stock. The stock grows richer, and darker, and more flavorful, with each iteration. Making stock is a metaphor for what I’m doing right now. As I continue my quest for discovery and definition, I’ve been storing up bits and pieces, ideas and aspects. I want to pause, take stock, simmer in my own juices for a moment, see where I’m at so far.
As Neopagan discourse moves increasingly in the direction of radical polytheism, those Humanistic or Naturalistic Neopagans who find this position rationally untenable may find themselves (more) marginalized in the Neopagan community. The pendulum which previously swung to the humanistic extreme by reducing the gods to symbols is now swinging to the other extreme of transcendental theism, denying that the gods are part of the human psyche. Jung’s theory of archetypes offers us an opportunity to create a golden mean between these two extremes, one which may simultaneously satisfy the humanist or naturalist who sees the gods as products of the human psyche, while also satisfying the mystical longing for contact with a numimous Other which is greater than any creation of our conscious mind.
As I poured a libation of barley tea, read aloud the Hymn to Demeter, and called out to the Two Goddesses, Demeter and Persephone, a dull frustration was in the air. The words rang empty. Then, as my fingers dug into the dirt and deposited the pendant into the ground, a rush came over me. Through my mind flashed a voice: “Let them die.”
I see the gods – the names, images, stories – as the poetic encapsulation of our human experience, our relationship with the ineffable forces that shape human life. While this makes the gods no thing, it does not make them nothing. I see the gods as representing very real, powerful, even dangerous forces. I believe the gods are real. It doesn’t matter what we call them or don’t call them. They are real and dangerous, and we will contend with them.
Humanistic Paganism is a form of Religious or Spiritual Humanism. Religious Humanism includes any religion that takes a human-centered ethical perspective, as contrasted with a deity-centered ethical perspective. A humanistic ethic is one that begins with human beings and defines the good…
Many people find that philosophical naturalism, while intellectually compelling, is emotionally or psychologically unfulfilling, because it lacks the symbolic resources of theistic religions. Paganism is well-suited to fill that void. But, on the other hand, much of contemporary Paganism is…
“Humanistic Paganism” has come to be used more or less synonymously with “Naturalistic Paganism.” Naturalistic Paganism is a form of Religious or Spiritual Naturalism. A “naturalistic” religion or spirituality is one which seeks to explain the universe without resort to supernatural…