GUEST POST: When in Rome: My Road to Roman Atheopaganism

Today we offer a guest post by Daughter of Neptune, who is creating her own nontheist Pagan practice focused on the archetypes of Greek and Roman deities.

All roads lead to Rome and it was on my intellectual journey to Ancient Rome that I became an atheist pagan. I love learning the history, culture, and language of the Republic-cum-Empire and often wonder what it was like to live under the Caesars and to fight in the legions for the Glory of Rome.  Last year, in reading a biography of Caesar Augustus, I was struck by an image of him capite velato (with his head veiled) to perform religious rites as the Pontifex Maximus and thought it would be interesting to practice the Roman religion – without animal sacrifice, of course.  However, as a lifelong atheist, I couldn’t make myself believe the Greco-Roman deities to be anything other than personifications of abstract concepts and natural phenomena.

I began to wonder if one could be an atheist and an adherent of the Roman Cultus Deorum.  More specifically, I wondered if there was away that I could worship Poseidon and Neptune (my favorite gods) and still be an atheist.  In my research I read Tim Whitmarsh’s Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, a scholarly examination of prominent Greek and Roman nonbelievers.  Whitmarsh paraphrases Sextus Empiricus, a second century CE Roman skeptic, who found that “honoring the gods, in the sense of performing ritual activities, is not the same as believing that they exist.”  Satisfied that there is historical precedent for atheists to practice the Roman religion, I sought modern resources to inform my tradition and found Mark Green’s “Atheopaganism” and John Halstead’s “Humanistic Paganism” webpages.    

Drawing from Mark and John’s principles of atheist and humanist paganism and from various other sources, I drafted a document that I call “Five Articles of Reason” which codifies my beliefs, or lack thereof, as it were.  Succinctly, the Articles outline my commitment to agnostic atheism, philosophical naturalism, secular humanism, intellectual curiosity, and to joie de vivre.  Drawing from my military experience in naval applications of oceanography and meteorology and from my civilian experience in earthquake science, I crafted a secular understanding of Poseidon/Neptune, the god of the sea, storms at sea, and earthquakes.  For what it’s worth, I associate Greek civilization with basic science and intellectual pursuits so I think of Poseidon as the personification of oceanography, meteorology, and seismology; I associate Roman civilization with applied science and martial pursuits so I think of Neptune as the personification of environmental impacts on naval operations.     

With the tenets of my tradition established, the next step was to create my ritual.  Because I’ve never attended a pagan ritual, I modeled mine on the more familiar Protestant order of service.  It comprises 1) the illumination of the altar/Focus with a “sounds of the ocean” soundtrack playing in the background, 2) an invocation to both Poseidon and Neptune, 3) reading Homeric Hymn XXII to Poseidon and Orphic Hymn XVI to Neptune, 4) reading “scripture,” i.e. pertinent selections from the Iliad, Odyssey, or Aeneid, 5) a “sermon,” i.e. reading articles about earth science, the Greco-Roman world, or famous naval battles, 6) a benediction, and 7) delumination of the altar/Focus.  It is my intention to perform this formal ritual on the equinoxes, the solstices, and on Neptunalia, the two-day Roman festival in honor of Neptune. 

On a daily basis, I honor Poseidon and Neptune in an informal way by wearing a necklace with a dolphin, seashell, or trident pendant, a blue article of clothing to remind me of the ocean, or my favorite nail polish, a sea-green color named “Neptunalia.”  I recently learned that modern pagan women sometimes cover their hair as part of their practices.  Because I was – and still am – so captivated by the image of Augustus capite velato, I occasionally veil with a small, ocean-colored kerchief not only out of devotion to Poseidon and Neptune, but also out of reverence for Rome and its role in the foundation of Western Civilization.

All roads lead to Rome and it was through Rome that I became an atheist pagan. 


You, too, can submit material about your Atheopagan practice to the blog! Email to atheopagan (at) Deadline is the first of each month.

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