Sifting for Gold

It’s a soft, rainy spring day. I’m grateful for the rain—we need it—and for the lush green it has brought to the hills and meadows, the vineyards carpeted with bright mustard flowers.

These are such challenging times. The circumstances of my personal life are stressful and frightening; the broader culture is caught in the nightmare of Donald Trump’s willful smashing of all that is decent and righteous. Friends are struggling to make ends meet; my area is still grappling with the incomprehensible shock of last October’s wildfires.

As I said: challenging.

I find times like these—although, to be fair. there have never been times as extreme as these in my lifetime—to seriously challenge my Atheopagan practice and living. “What’s the point?” is an easy place to land. And in times when dystopian futures seem to dominate our fiction and our cultural media, the idea of a better future just seems steadily to be receding away from us.

More than ever, though, this is when the restorative power of Atheopagan practice is what we need.

Get out into nature. Breathe clean air and see some green, some beauty. Beauty is restorative for us humans. It helps us to carry on.

Listen to music that moves and inspires you.

Dust off that Focus (altar); clean it and rearrange it. Light a candle. Burn some incense. Put on that piece of ritual jewelry and wear it under your clothes, carrying the special secret of your spiritual life with you. Murmur magic words. Get your practice going again: just do it.

Watch something uplifting and hopeful. Read a book that makes you cry with happiness. Go to an art museum…or a natural history museum, and revel in the marvels of the works of humanity and of nature.

Spend time with those you love. Tell them so. Talk about things that are real.

Do something for the world. Volunteer for a nonprofit, or a political campaign. Spend an hour writing postcards to voters in another state: it’s easy, personal, and effective.

Help someone.

No gold pan ever contained nothing but gold. We must swish and sift and have patience. We must do the work of reminding ourselves how amazing, how precious it is that we have this life, and of the glittering jewels that populate it even when so much is gray.

What we can’t do is sit and do nothing as our mood and sense of wonder and joy in living slowly collapse.

Consider the recently departed Dr. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), a man who overcame tremendous physical challenges to live a life filled with wonder, curiosity, love, discovery and adventure. The outpouring of love and appreciation following his death make it clear that his was a life richly and completely lived.

If he could do it, we all can.

We are not the kinds of people who age into bitterness. We have tools and strategies to keep that fate away from us, if we choose to use them. We understand the technologies of happiness and meaning. We know how to make them; we must simply choose to do so.

There is gold to be sifted from our days—even these days. It’s on us to find ways to be happy and functional even when circumstances conspire to make it hard.

Go get the joy, friends. Rediscover what makes you happy and excited.

Be happy. It’s contagious.





Walking Our Talk: Modeling a Vision for the Future

As I have written before, Atheopaganism is a forward-looking religious path. We envision a time when humanity lives in balance with the natural systems of the biosphere and when all people are treated fairly and equally in human society.

Those are tall orders, but that’s what a vision is for, right?

Especially in these times, it is clear that we have far to go to approach these visionary goals. And so as we create our “microcosms” of human society in our Pagan circles, it is that much more important that we model for ourselves and others the world we hope to create.

In my experience, Pagans don’t do nearly so well in this regard as they tell themselves they are doing. Just look at the sheer mess left behind after a night of Pagan partying and you see the signs of people who aren’t considering their responsibility for their impact. Pantheacon takes place at a convention hotel that doesn’t even do recycling; I can’t speak to other conventions but imagine they may be similar.

Obviously, this is not an ideal world. Sometimes we would like for practices to be in place when they simply aren’t, and we can’t change this (as with the operation of a hotel). But here are some considerations/aspirations for Atheopagan gatherings so we can emulate to as great a degree as possible the world we are seeking to build.

1)  Anti-discrimination policies and conduct standards. Ensuring that all participants are safe and treated equally, and articulating in writing that bigotry or harassment of any kind are not acceptable at your event is a critically important thing to do. Consent culture is learned, not assumed.

Recently, I published the Atheopagan Event Organizing Guide. In it are sample policies that will set clear expectations for both attendees and organizers.

2)  No disposables. Other than toilet paper, just don’t have them available. Require attendees to bring their own plate, bowl, cup, utensils, napkin and towel, and have some extras available in case someone forgets. Ask that food be brought in reusable containers.

3)  Minimal plastic. Try to minimize the usage of plastic, and certainly do not provide any kinds of trinkets, ID markers or keepsakes that aren’t naturally degradable (paper, wood, natural fiber textile, stone or ferrous metal).

4)  Recycling. Make recycling and minimization of waste a priority for your event, and explain clearly to attendees where they should put recyclables, compostables and landfill garbage. Explain to all attendees that the goal is to minimize landfill.

5)  Sustainable and responsible sourcing. When buying supplies and food, consider where they come from. What is the behavioral profile of that company? How far must the material be transported? Is there a local source?

6)  Carbon footprint. This is a tough one, because every gathering wants as much attendance as possible and particularly for leaders and presenters to come, even if from a far distance. But the truth is that fuel consumption for travel is a tremendous burden on our planet. We have arrived in a time when it is important for us to stay locally as much as possible, and consider alternatives to distance travel whenever feasible.

Here is language I am including in the invitation for an event this summer:

Carbon footprint and climate impact.  This event is intended to be conducted in accordance with sustainability principles to as great a degree as possible. We would love to see you. but if you are considering attending from more than ~100 miles away, please ask yourself, ‘How important is this to me really? Is there some other way I can get my need for this event met without the energy and pollution impact, such as by organizing my own local event or attending something closer by?’ If not, we encourage you to carpool or take transit to our event, and will arrange to pick you up if you do the latter. Just being conscious of the impacts of our actions is an important part of being an Atheopagan.”

7)  Another thing we can do at our events is to incorporate some kind of concrete political action as a part of the event itself. Taking a half-hour to write postcards to elected officials or swing-state voters feels good and can really make a difference.

No one can be “perfect”, and that’s not the point of considering such issues. But all of us can do what we can to minimize our impacts on the Earth, and to develop the habit of thinking about them. Baking this awareness into our culture is a step towards being more connected with our world and our impacts on it: the flip side, one might say, of the reenchantment of the world that Paganism is all about.

May we build our culture with our eyes wide both to the glories and the challenges before us. May our joy and pleasure be leavened by responsibility and right action. And may our communities grow as people who treat one another—and the Sacred Earth—with respect, kindness and consideration.

High Spring: Themes, Resources and Ideas

As the vernal equinox (which in my version of the Wheel of the Year I term High Spring) approaches, Pagans everywhere prepare to celebrate this important Sabbath.

As the “Spring festival” (whether you consider it the beginning of Spring or, as I do, the height of it), themes of High Spring include new life, youth. childhood, innocence. inspiration, new beginnings and the initiation of new projects and efforts, and balance (just as the equinox is the balance point between the primarily-dark and the primarily-light halves of the year). Here where I am, at least. the world is green and blooming with flowers, and hope is in the air.

Some common ritual activities for High Spring include dyeing eggs (a pre-Christian tradition going back thousands of years in Europe), planting seeds (I prefer wildflower mixes native to my region), cleaning one’s Focus (altar) and/or home, and playing childlike games. Ritual foodstuffs for this Sabbath often include “Easter” candy; I like to serve sparkling cider for the kids and sparkling wine for adults—preferably with a strawberry in each glass for festive color.

Gatherings for High Spring often focus on children and childlike games and activities. In past years, we have played Chutes and Ladders and Candyland at High Spring gatherings; for more active activities, playground games like “tag” can actually be a lot of fun for adults as well as children. And, of course, a hunt for dyed eggs for the kids is traditional and exciting (but please, avoid plastic eggs and toys to as great an extent as possible).

High Spring is a great time for contemplative practices, too. Meditation topics can include, “What am I hoping for now?”; “Where am I needing to seek balance in my life?”; and, “What am I planting for this year’s harvest?”, as examples.

High Spring is a happy time. It is a Sabbath for forgetting our lives’ burdens for a moment, and being in the moment in joy, knowing that renewal is possible, hope springs eternal, and light and warmth are growing for the year. I hope yours is wonderful.