We Are All Connected: On Atheopagan Counseling

We are all connected: to each other, biologically,
to the Earth, chemically,
to the rest of the Universe atomically.
—Neil deGrasse Tyson

So, I’ve written about our responsibility to the Earth. About how being who we are—Atheopagans—implies a necessary requirement that we stand up, in whatever great and small ways we can, for a better world.

And I’ve written about Atheopaganism as a path to greater happiness: an individual path of growth and wisdom. A way to open into the joy of the magnificent Universe, into celebrating the extraordinary beauty of noble, flawed, gorgeous humanity.

And those are true things.

But there is a point between the global and the individual: the social. The role of a person in a culture, in a society, in a community.

In a circle of friends.

You see, the Neil deGrasse Tyson quote above is a wonderful, inspiring statement, but it’s also insufficient. We are connected with the Earth ecologically, not just chemically. And we are connected with one another socially: as communal animals who need to belong and to feel loved and supported.

Which brings me to Terence Ward’s excellent post up at the Wild Hunt,”The Limits of Ministry”, about the question of Pagan counseling.

Is that a thing? Is it something our communities should expect from us? Or is that just an Abrahamic-religion hangover, leaving our only real responsibilities as our own ritual and activist work?

Waaaaaall…this is going to shock y’all, but: I have an opinion.

I believe that being an Atheopagan is about being the fullest, wisest, kindest, most complete, most empowered, most considered, most alive person you can be.

That includes fulfilling responsibilities, such as to the broader world…and to your friends and associates. Especially when—as will happen, inevitably—they are in extremis. When they are suffering.

Do we have an obligation to develop the basic skills to be a counselor, a confidante, an advisor?

I say yes: we do. Not because—as Ward’s article suggests—this is a part of the skill set of a “minister”—as we have no clergy—but because we are human. And this is something we should be able to offer to our loved ones and fellows, just because.

When, exactly, did we surrender the right and power to be counsel and support to our fellow humans to a professional and “ministerial” class?

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for professionals. There is. But psychological/ psychiatric professionals aren’t required for many of the challenging situations that just need a friend to have another friend’s back.

Often, all that is required is a willingness to listen. And kindness. And discernment; if someone has a serious psychological issue, it’s important to know when it’s time to encourage them to seek professional help.

Yes, Atheopagans. It’s a serious undertaking, being a complete human, here in the real world, under the cold, uncaring yet so-beautiful stars. It asks a lot of us, but the rewards are so rich.

So let us be kind with one another. Let us learn to support one another.

Beside the individual striving and the efforts at social change, we can make a better world, one interaction at a time.

It is a part of the Joyous Work to cultivate the skills of the listener, the compassion of the wise counsel. Let’s do it for our friends and loved ones, and again—always—to make the world a better place.


The Ritual Cycle of the Rain Baby: An Example

So, last year I wrote about a new tradition for Riverain, the Water Sabbath, which is how I celebrate the holiday that falls between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (High Spring). Riverain comes at the height of the wet season in California’s Mediterranean climate, when the hills are green and the creeks and rivers are running high.

Riverain is an example of my firm belief that the Sabbaths (holidays) we celebrate around the Wheel of the Year should be rooted in the actual climate, culture, growth cycles, and land where we live, rather than reflecting some other culture or place in the world. The traditional Pagan holiday at the time of Riverain, Imbolc, is a Celtic-named time the traditions of which include “casting seeds upon the snow”; this has no relevance to me in California (if it does for you, of course, that’s great–go ahead and celebrate it!)

So this new tradition—the weaving of a Rain Baby, a corn-husk doll that represents the cycle of water through the year—started last year but I am fleshing out how it plays out through the year now.

The Rain Baby is born (crafted) at Riverain, and kept on the household Focus.

The Baby is a child/toddler at High Spring (the vernal equinox), and presides over the childlike games and festivities of that Sabbath.

The Rain Baby becomes an adolescent at May Day, and is not involved in the celebration of that adult Sabbath. The Rain Baby may be kept on the May Day Focus, but should be shrouded in fabric so they cannot watch the adult, sexual aspects of May Day.

The Rain Baby emerges from this “cocoon” of social shielding as an adult on Midsummer, ready to do their work as the Bringer of the Harvest. The Rain Baby presides over the Focuses of Midsummer and Harvest. Also at Harvest, we gather the corn shucks which will be used to make the Rain Baby of the next cycle.

At Hallows, after the harvests are all done, the Rain Baby is burned in the Hallows fire, to go back up into the sky and fall as rain for the next cycle.

The Rain Baby is a cycle of observances that adds another layer to the Wheel of the Year, lending meaning and tradition to my annual celebrations. I encourage each of you to think about how you can layer practices and meaningful traditions into your own annual cycle of celebrations. Have fun with it!

No Gods. No Masters. No Priesthood.

It’s a sadly familiar tale in the Pagan community: the coven or local organization that is run by a charismatic “high priestess” or “high priest” (or both), doling out “training” and “degrees of advancement” based on how well the subject toes the line, fawns over the “priest/ess”, and, in some particularly sad cases, provides them with sexual favors as a part of the “initiatory process”.

Or…the narcissistic Pagan “leader” who works to cultivate a young and pretty entourage of on-tap adorers as a part of imparting their “wisdom” to followers…and for whom those not so young or pretty never quite seem to make the grade for advancement.

Or…the dirty secret that eventually comes out about some bright and innocent aspiring newby who ends up being harassed until driven away by such a “leader”.

But wait…isn’t that essentially the sad and common story in pretty much every religious community?

I’ll cut to the chase: that entire model—of heirarchy in power, respect and even obedience in spiritual community—is rotten to its core. It is a guaranteed formula for abuse. It is the same as when bosses have power over employees, when teachers have power over students, and when adults have power over children. And while those power gradients may be inevitable, we don’t have to have them in religion.

We see it in the Christians, we see it in the Buddhists, we see it in the Pagans. Doesn’t matter the cosmology and practice. Having some people who are considered “more advanced and important” in a religious context just doesn’t keep people safe.

I don’t know how many times I have heard from bright, creative, interesting, wise people that they gave up on their local Pagan community because of some would-be guru abusing the trust that others placed in them: socially, financially, sexually.

I’ve seen it myself, close up.

And as far as I’m concerned, in Atheopaganism we ain’t doing that.

Yes, I’m the primary voice here at the blog (which reminds me: I welcome guest posts! Please send me your submissions!) And mine is the name most associated with this path, because I started it and I’m devoting a significant chunk of my life to helping to build and raise the visibility of its vision and practices.

But I am NOT the high priest of the Atheopagans. We have no clergy, no advancement levels. I’m just a guy with ideas who cares, devoting what skills and wisdom he has to making a path. Others seem to find it valuable, and that’s really gratifying to me: it makes me feel committed to this community, to feel love and inspiration that these ideas and practices are of value in the lives of others.

YOU, fellow Atheopagan reading this, are the “high priest/ess” of your life. You are the ultimate moral authority in relation to you. Given learning of ritual skills and a desire to do so, you can be the leader of a ritual just as well as anyone. And you have as much standing to contribute lore, philosophy, and suggested practices to Atheopaganism as anyone else.

If you find something in what I write objectionable, I hope you will say so, directly to me. Let’s talk about it. Maybe I got something wrong, or have a blind spot. Or maybe you just have a better idea for how to handle a particular situation or ritual technique. Bring it forth! We are collaborating in building this path together.

Some of the stories that have come forward in the wake of the abuse accusation against Isaac Bonewits on Facebook and in comment threads have nearly brought me to tears, because they are from good people who were driven out of Pagan community by the sheer dysfunction of those who claimed to be its leading exponents. I’ve seen it myself, in the Church of All Worlds, where grounded and sensible and functional people would come in, look around, and run screaming…but crazy and creepy settled in and stayed for years.

One of the truly wonderful things about creating a new tradition is that we can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us. And in Atheopaganism, I’m doing my best not to introduce any element that can be distorted or abused to enable the kinds of shenanigans described above.

There is an anarchist slogan: No gods. No masters. This has been adapted by some theistic Pagans to Many gods. No masters.

Well, I’m here to tell you, folks, if you have a priesthood standing at a level between you and your gods—if you really think that someone who calls themselves a “priestess of Goddess X” has a closer relationship with that aspect of the Sacred than you do—you’ve got masters, whether you want them or not. And some of them will inevitably betray you.

So I say No gods. No masters. No priests. No priestesses. 

Just we critters, equal and humble under the gaze of the Sun, working together to make our way.