Contemporary Paganism in the English-speaking world suffers from multiple contaminating ideas carried over from the overculture that suffuses that world. A part of our effort at liberating ourselves from these assumptions and paradigms through Atheopaganism must, therefore, lie in choosing and adopting different models for understanding ourselves in relation to our Universe and the very nature of religion itself.
Among the ideas we must transcend are:
• The assumption that it is normal and natural that a religion should be imported from far away, as opposed to rooted in local land and biome. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism all come from lands far distant from the Anglophone world. That’s not “normal”–it’s odd, when you think about it, and denotes the nature of these religious traditions as divorced from relationship with the land of the particular places on Earth where they originated.
Mainstream modern Paganism falls into this same error. The idea that our holidays should be based on climatic conditions in 20th-century England makes little sense for people living in widely varying climates and ecosystems of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or the United States.
Indigenous cultures never make such a leap: they are always entirely contextualized by the land and ecology of the place where the indigenous people live. Nothing else would make any sense.
In Atheopaganism, though we use the solstices, equinoxes and points between as our holidays, as in Wicca-style Paganism–because these are actual, physical events–we also encourage that practitioners adapt and create the meanings of those holidays to fit metaphorically with the climate and landscape of where the practitioner actually lives.
My sacred stories of the arc of the year are not yours. That’s a great thing–it’s about being rooted in where we live: the weather, the plant cycles, the animals. Our religion is about being connected: with the Earth, with the Cosmos, with the very land we stand on, and with one another. And the more finely we can attune with the character of the particular places on Earth where we live, the more connected we will be.
• The assumption of dualism. The overculture is informed by the Abrahamic belief that there is a difference between the personality/character/Self (the “soul”) and the body. Many flavors of modern Paganism repeat this error in their embrace of the idea of reincarnation or other afterlife scenarios.
Atheopaganism recognizes that consciousness is an emergent property of a complex neural net: a brain. No brain, no Self. The body IS the Self.
Our bodies are sacred, and that means that their functions are not “lower” or “base” as some other religions would tell us. Food is sacred. Sex is sacred. Even excretion is creating food for other creatures in the great fabric of Being–it, too, is sacred.
Understanding the body as sacred is a radical departure from the viewpoint of the overculture. But it is central and essential to a naturalistic religiosity: a religion of material reality.
• The assumption that religion requires subscription to the supernatural. This is a major one for Atheopagans, because it is a near-universal belief, yet simply isn’t the case. Just because religions like Christianity were founded in eras when people didn’t understand the Universe very well and therefore filled in the blanks with supernatural stories doesn’t mean that religion must, therefore, embrace the supernatural.
A religion is a combination of a cosmology, or description of the Universe; a set of values; and a practice of rituals, holidays, etc. In modern times, that cosmology can easily be that which science describes. It needs not contain gods, spirits, angels, devils, fairies, or spooky-action-at-a-distance “magic” in order to be a valid religious path.
Atheopaganism invites us to enter into a deep relationship with both ourselves and with the land, water and living things where we live, to embrace kind and forward-thinking values of integrity, and to practice rituals and observances that help us to tie these meaningful experiences together with our day-to-day lives and with one another. It is a radical departure from the paradigms of the overculture’s religions, and a significant departure from those of most varieties of modern Paganism, and as a result, we must cleanse ourselves of these assumptions by challenging them in ourselves.
Shown: Wildflower “superbloom” following heavy rain season in California; mostly California orange poppies.