Reflections on Year One: Atheopaganism as Forward-Looking Religion

It is now about a year since I first made my essay, “How I Became an Atheopagan” widely available on the net, and since the Atheopaganism Facebook group became active.

It has been exciting and gratifying to see the amount of interest and growth in Atheopaganism over the past year. I created this path for myself and thought some of my friends might be interested; I had no idea that the core precepts and ritual approach of Atheopaganism would resonate for people across the globe.

In the past year, I’ve learned a lot about this religion I helped to midwife–among many lessons, that there are plenty of others who are also creating naturalistic/atheistic Pagan and ritual paths. It’s been my privilege to meet several of them in person over the past year and to read and participate in their online discussions. As I’ve devoted time and attention to this path, I’ve found that some of my early ideas were incomplete or inaccurate, and that others went deeper and had more validity even than I had originally thought.

I’ve also come to see, however, just how much traditional Neopaganism obsesses about the old: old traditions, old rituals, old practices, old crafts, old stories. And while I can certainly get excited about having religious traditions that touch into the folkways of people in the dim antiquity of my European ancestry, I see Atheopaganism as fundamentally different than most Neopaganism in this regard. Atheopaganism does not look back to so-called “ancient ways” with nostalgia: it looks forward with determination.

Like many Pagans, I find it meaningful to think of times when the wheel of the year’s themes were a product of sheerly physical and economic realities: the harvest festivals, the times of scarcity, the time for fertility and remembering those who have died. Times when people with very limited understanding of the physical nature of their world did what they could to survive, hoping to propitiate those processes they did not understand with rituals and worship.

But I don’t think we should want to go back to those days, seek to recreate their values, or pretend that they were a golden age. We live in a largely urbanized, globally connected, technological world now, with greater civil liberty and equality than at any time in recorded history, though we still have very far to go on that front. The challenges we face are determined far less by the turning of the seasons than by our own excess, ignorance and greed. I do not lionize a world of Stone Age mentality, nor technology. I can’t imagine living in such a world, where humans’ lives were, as Hobbes had it, mostly nasty, brutish and short…and I don’t want to.

Technology is here. It is with us, and will be, going into the future. It is likely that if we are able to solve or ameliorate the challenges that face us in relation to climate change, energy, clean water, food supply and biodiversity, it will be through technological innovation as well as curbing unsustainable abuses. Whatever humanity’s future, it will spring from humanity’s today–not from some idealized, imagined past.

This is germane to thinking about Atheopaganism because as we create this path, we don’t necessarily have to feel “loyal” to activities or beliefs from the past. It is why I include technology and handcrafts as themes for the Summer’s End Sabbath, at the beginning of August; certainly in the modern day, these are themes as critically important to our lives as are those of the old agricultural cycle.

There are some in the atheist community who subscribe to what is known as “trans-humanism”: the idea that humans will eventually change so much through our technology that we will become in effect a different species, and perhaps even transcend death itself. I don’t go that far, but in trends in process today, we can see that humans are becoming more “bionic” and living longer. Even such previously incurable maladies as a severed spine may now have hope for regenerative growth using modern experimental treatments.

It is natural to feel some fear about the speed with which technology is advancing, and to be somewhat suspicious of technological innovation when it is driven by profit motive. But the broad dismissal of what is new in favor of, for example, “alternatives” in medicine which is so common in the Pagan community is, in my estimation, a profound mistake.

I think it is better to grapple with the ethical details of such innovations than simply to reject them without even understanding them. If Atheopaganism has a core value when it comes to a vision of the future, it is that the Thirteen Principles will be implemented wholesale in our human societies, and in relation to caring for the Earth, this will almost certainly require more technology, not less of it.

Our work is not done “by ancient art”, but by modern heart. Even as we gather in circles as humans have since the dim recesses of time and open our hearts to the transformation of ritual, we are modern humans whose command of science, knowledge and tool-making informs our every day. We honor our ancestors, but do not emulate them.

As I mark what may be considered “Atheopaganism’s birthday”, I am deeply grateful to all of you who have come along on the ride, and who are helping to create this tradition with me. May the bright blessings of Spring bring you new joy!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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