A Reading List for Atheopagans

Lately, it seems a lot of people in the Pagan community are publishing suggested book lists. To my eyes, these lists range widely in quality, but the idea is a good one. So here are some books I recommend:

The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. Of all the books on this list, if you’re only going to read one, make it this one. Abram’s work is a revelation and a joy. I won’t say more; just read it.

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. An overview of the state of cosmological physics at the time of writing. Dense, but completely worth it.

The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. The (thus-far) untestable principles of superstring theory may be the solution to the thornily irreconcilable Einsteinian physics of objects and the quantum mechanics of the very small. If you’re interested in answers to the question of Life, the Universe and everything*, this is for you.

The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins. As readers here know, I am not a fan of Dawkins. But in this, he sticks to his actual area of knowledge–evolutionary biology–and his book magnificently tells the story of evolution and the rise of biological diversity.

Complexity: the Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by Mitchell Waldrop. Why do complex forms arise out of simple ones? This may be the most fundamental scientific question there is. Read about the early seekers of discovery in this deep area of scientific inquiry.

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, by Carl Sagan. Like its author, by turns ebullient and deeply knowledgeable, this is an inspiring and fascinating read.

Chaos, by James Gleick. Why can’t we precisely predict the weather? Why do the features of our world appear as they do? Why do we see the same general patterns repeated over and over, at large scales and small, throughout the Universe? Read this, and find out.

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson. A fascinating true story of the power of an idea to override reason, and of the scientific method’s ability to break through the spell.

Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin (fiction). A magnificent vision of a future society where kind and sustainable values are sustained by ritual practices. Set in the Napa Valley, one mountain ridge to the east of where I live, so it’s a special favorite.

Earth Prayers: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. A lovely collection, and a great source for discovering new poets who revere the Earth.

Local Nature Guides. Can you identify the predominant trees in your region? Wildflowers? Medicinal plants? Geological formations? Birds? Animals? Butterflies? To be connected with the natural world, we must know it. It isn’t necessary to have an exhaustive knowledge, but the more familiarity we have with the ecological context within which we live, the more deeply and richly we can celebrate our love for the Earth.

Ethnographies and Anthropological Books. The rich and extraordinarily diverse details and processes of rituals throughout the world can serve as inspiration for our own ritual workings. I’ve particularly enjoyed books on the shamanic practices of Arctic peoples, on the death rites of the Masai, and on the sacred sings of the Dineh people, as well as about the folkways that are survivals of pre-Christianization of Europe. Broader works that seek to draw patterns between many cultures (Joseph Campbell, e.g.) don’t appeal to me as much because they are far more speculative, but some of them are lavishly illustrated with interesting art.

Got some favorites to recommend? Please leave them in the comments!

 

*Spoiler: the answer is 42.

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