I hate that this empowering phrase has been coopted by a sweatshop-operating shoe company, but I’m not going to let them have it, either.
This post is about getting your practice going, and keeping it going.
Paganism–including Atheopaganism–is something you do. It isn’t just about having a particular worldview, although worldviews are, of course, important.
No, Paganism asks that we act: build an altar (Focus), meditate, reflect on Big Questions, conduct rituals, celebrate the passing of the seasons in an intentional manner. It demands that we focus on what we find Sacred, and behave mindfully in a manner that speaks to that love, even if it is in simple ways. (Not every “Pagan ritual” is grand opera with ritual tools and chanting and incense and solemnly intoned Words). It is by adding this dimension of symbolic recognition and observance that we add a layer to our lives which can instill them with deeper joy, wisdom, and sense of belonging and purpose.
I think that getting started with practice can be hardest for atheists who are just starting to dabble in this Atheopaganism thing; Pagans who have come around to an atheistic perspective (or who are evolving their practices to better suit their beliefs) have, at least, somewhat of a prior basis to start from. For atheists arriving at an Atheopagan perspective, the whole formal-observances thing can be unfamiliar and alien. But pretty much everybody runs dry now and then, and needs a jumpstart: a return to ongoing practice. The below is for all of us: the Pagan now embracing Atheopaganism; the atheist just discovering ritual observances as a life-enhancing practice; and the experienced Atheopagan who ran out of gas awhile back and needs to get back into it.
First, and most importantly, do something, however small. Light a candle and whisper an intention. Build a Focus (altar), or rearrange an existing one so it reflects your current state and aspirations. Go out under the moon and sing. Get your hands into some dirt and plant something. Take an afternoon off for a hike. Just something. Something that is about your connection with yourself, your life and your world. Keep it up until it feels good. You can visit the Atheopagan Ritual Primer for ideas.
Trust the process. You know that voice in your head that says, “this is stupid and embarrassing”? To hell with that voice. Tell that voice to fuck right off. Do the Magical Things anyway. After awhile, it won’t feel embarrassing any more.
Leverage your friends and loved ones to keep your practice going, by telling them what you’re going to do. Tell them you’re going to take a hike to the spring and make an offering to the waters of the mountain, or that you’re lighting candles every night this week to remind yourself of the Sacred Charge you gave yourself at the new year, or that you’re baking bread to celebrate the time of the grain harvest. Even if most of you doesn’t believe you’re actually going to do it, you will probably act to meet the expectations of those you told about it.*
Leave reminders for yourself that you are living your practice: hang a symbol from your car mirror, put something on your desk at work, wear a pendant around your neck, or a ring, or a bracelet. Ritually imbue them with meaning, and keep them in view. Remember that your practice isn’t just doing some things sometimes: it’s your life. It’s a way of living so you can be more connected to nature (and perhaps, to community), more tuned-in and happier. Reminding yourself during the mundane day-to-day moments that you also have a magical, connected, meaningful spiritual practice is a way to better integrate your life, and to keep happiness flowing even in the parts of it that are dull or pedestrian or repetitive.
Lather, rinse, repeat. If there’s a particular kind of observance or ritual that really works for you, do that some more. Everyone is different; some will get a lot out of using the random symbol set of Tarot cards for insight into their lives, while others will appreciate meditating by candlelight and yet others will offer their hopes on paper to a sacred fire to carry them off into the Universe. There are many ways to work with our minds to align our deeper selves with our hopes and to celebrate our many blessings.
Share. Not all of us have friends who are of like mind, but if you do and they’re amenable, share your practices with your Pagan friends. It doesn’t matter if they don’t do it the way you do, or vice versa–there is confirmation and strength in bringing your personal observances out into the light of another’s viewing. Unless, of course, you feel secrecy adds to the power of what you’re trying to achieve…then, mum’s the word!
There is no failure. Most importantly, remember that every day is a new day. If you’ve let your practice go fallow for awhile, you can start it right back up again. There is no “standard” you have to meet. If all you do is celebrate a couple of Sabbaths a year and that fulfills your needs, that’s a perfectly legitimate practice. If you want more, add more. Personally, I like to do something every day, even if it’s very small like just lighting the candles on my Focus and speaking meaningful words to myself for a moment. I find that the more observances and mindful, Present moments I have in my life, the happier I am.
Go forth and celebrate!
*No kidding, this works: I leveraged my skeptical ass all the way to living in Europe by telling people I was going to do it, and didn’t believe it was going to happen for one second until I got off a plane in Amsterdam.