The fundamental difference between theistic Pagans and Atheopagans is that the former propose that there exists an “Otherworld”: a parallel dimension of reality in which reside gods, spirits, fairies and other such beings. Atheopagans, having a naturalistic worldview, don’t subscribe to this idea.
As I look around the community, I think there are questions about this kind of belief that haven’t been asked, and really ought to be.
- Is such a belief useful? In other words what, exactly, is the point of supposed interaction with an Otherworld of gods, fairies and suchlike?
- In a time of cultural and environmental crisis, is prioritization of this theory healthy, both individual and globally?
I think John Halstead makes a persuasive argument in his response to the John Beckett article linked above: that dragons and fairies were never a part of Earth’s history, but rather, that they are a part of a nostalgic cultural myth about bygone Days of Magic and Wonder. And, he continues, to the degree we persist in chasing the dream of such “good old days” with their supernatural characters and creatures, we are not reenchanting the real world, this world, with an imbued sense of the sacred and the responsible ethic of stewardship that healthy human civilization will require.
But I would go farther. I would argue that whether or not an Otherworld exists, we conduct ourselves at our peril if we focus our practices on it, rather on this, material world.
I see a lot of people in our community who are, for want of a better term, excessively focused on what they believe are their interactions with the Otherworld. They are constantly on the lookout for signs and portents, making offerings and prayers and observances to what they believe are Beings resident therein. Such folk often conclude that their homes are haunted by spirits, and their first interpretation of an unusual event is typically not that it has ordinary causality or is a coincidence, but rather that it is Someone trying to Tell Them Something.
They are the sort of folks who, when in need of money, spend far more effort on “prosperity spells” than on trying to get a job.
I don’t write this to judge anyone. We all have ways we’re not healthy, ways we could improve, and things we do that may not make sense. But this preoccupation with the postulated Otherworld doesn’t seem to serve a lot of the people I see doing it. Their lives appear to be constant struggles. And that raises the questions above.
Meanwhile, we have bigger fish to fry here in so-called “mundane” reality. We have an ecology on the verge of collapse, and a civilization not far behind it. Accordingly, I suggest that pouring time and energy into attempts at trafficking with Beings who are so nebulous that we debate their very existence is a distraction, when we should be rolling up our sleeves and getting to work for the demonstrably real.
Now, some will argue that the two are not mutually exclusive, and may even be complementary, and I agree that can be true for Pagan activist theists…but it isn’t what I see in the broad community. Many voices in the Pagan sphere are so occupied with their devotionals and teachings and spells—and, dare I say, their Pagan merchandizing—that they don’t appear to devote much if any time to material-world efforts on behalf of a better future.
When I go lobbying at my state Capitol, I don’t run into other Pagans working the offices on behalf of the environment. I don’t meet fellow witchy travelers when working or volunteering for political campaigns. I live in an area with a far higher proportion of Pagans than any other I am aware of in the United States—the San Francisco Bay Area—but I don’t see the “people of the Earth” engaging with the women and men who are actually making the decisions that impact the Earth’s fate, nor that of its people.
So if nothing else, some rebalancing seems to be appropriate: more attention to this world, less to the Other. My critique here is not of theism per se; it is of the prioritization of the Otherworld relative to the material world in the practices and efforts of most of the Pagans I see around me.
We have heavy lifting to do. Speaking practically, we must turn to our own industry, our own resources, our own strengths if we hope for the story of humanity not to spiral into catastrophe. If we really love the Earth, I say let’s put our eye on the (beautiful, blue) ball, and our efforts and attention where we can be sure they count.
So please: consider your practice. Is there any aspect of it that seeks to improve the world in a “non-magical” way? Do you contact elected officials, volunteer for a nonprofit or a campaign, attend direct actions, support agencies that are doing good work? Are you educating people to see the wonder and importance of the natural world, or to eschew racism or homophobia or misogyny, or to be more effective leaders?
If so, good for you. Carry on, and thank you!
If not, please consider incorporating such efforts into your practices.
It’s all hands on deck now, folks. Rituals and observances are important, but please put some elbow grease into this world, too.