Visions of the Crash

We are warned now that we may have only a dozen years before global climate change reaches the 2 degree C. tipping point that will render Earth’s climate so unstable as to create ongoing crises in health, agriculture and, fundamentally, human survival.

Our population continues to climb, ocean fisheries are crashing, extinction mounts worldwide.

Something is going to shift. It is shifting, and fast. The question is how quickly, and how it will happen.

To start with, let’s be clear: however big a tragic gouge we cause to be scraped from the biodiversity of Planet Earth, life will survive and go on to evolve for billions of additional years. The Earth has about 5 billion years left; it’s only 4.5 billion years old now. Plenty of time to evolve lots of new species.

So this is about us: about how—and whether—humanity will survive.

This question goes to the future vision of Atheopaganism. Our anticipated future.

Obviously, the worst-case scenario is that we blow on past that benchmark, and billions starve and die of heat stroke or freezing or drowning in extreme weather events.

And some fraction of that impact is unavoidable, sorry to say.

But I think that those who suggest that we will therefore either go extinct entirely—or who cheer for a reversion to pre-industrialization—severely underestimate the ingenuity, adaptability and sheer cussedness of humanity. We will continue to use electrical technology of various kinds, even if its powered by solar panels, generators (which can be kept in running order for centuries with knowledgeable maintenance, and can run on alcohol, the technology for creating which will NEVER be lost, knowing humans) and other non-grid power sources. We will continue to use communication technology, even if it’s just radio. We will smelt iron and make it into steel, and that means we will build machines.

Industry, at some scale, will continue. Not in the form of the rapacious global monster of modern industrial capitalism, presumably, but still.

And we will continue, as best we can, to practice agriculture. Because it is impossible to feed the number of people who will still be left through hunting and gathering, especially in the midst of an extinction event. That probably means more in the way of high-yield agricultural practices such as hydroponics.

Finally, the concepts of the value of the individual and of individual rights, a product of the Enlightenment and modernism, will continue. Once out of the box, such concepts cannot and will not be abandoned in favor of such oppressive models as the medieval “Great Chain of Being”, the “divinely-ordained” order of hierarchy setting peasant below nobility, or other such hidebound and inflexible definitions of some people as more deserving of liberty and rights than others.

Has modernity fulfilled that vision for every person? No, it has not. But its critics do not posit a credible alternative that would be likely to do better.

Particularly, the affluent of the world will not let their technological toys go willingly, and the rest will aspire towards affluence even though it drives us towards the brink. To the degree we can reduce the impacts of energy generation with greener technologies, we will reduce the eventual depth of the crisis, but it will come, one way or another.

So what, for Atheopagans, is the longer-term scenario?

First, the idea that this is some kind of choose-your-own-ending adventure is silly. We don’t know what is going to happen, and we’re going to have to apply an all-approaches mentality to our strategies going forward.

And what does that mean?

First, it means pushing to give carbon-minimal technologies and environmental regulation every opportunity to succeed so we can have a “soft landing” rather than a crash. Cheering for the world’s economic systems to collapse—even though capitalism is immoral and destructive in nearly every way—is both morally suspect (given that it is the poor and oppressed who suffer disproportionately under such circumstances) and a longshot bet, since no one can really predict what would arise after current systems crash, and odds are good it would involve strongarm warlordism, vigilantism, more bigotry and xenophobia and a far uglier world than we have now. If we have a soft letdown from industrial capitalism, we are less likely to end up in that world.

Yet abrupt collapse may come anyway.

In either case, we hedge our bets through culture creation: through building lifeways and practices and ethics and community consistent with a healthy and life-affirming world. And that’s where Atheopaganism comes in.

Our world is currently screwed up because most people in it are NOT that. They are superstitious, credulous, bigoted and misogynistic. They celebrate greed and acquisition rather than happiness and love and beauty and creativity, and excuse it in the name of imaginary gods. They promulgate guilt and shame and contempt for our own bodies. They are phobic and obsessive about sex and death.

We’re not.

That’s not the world we want to live in, and it’s not what we’re about.

It’s not who we are.

Ours is a set of values and Principles that are the natural underpinning of a sane and moral society: a reasoning, inclusive, heartfelt, environmentally responsible, individual-affirming, world-revering approach to governance, economy and culture.

Be that in the world. Be it with one another. Live the Principles. Carry that vision in your heart.

Do that, and you are making a better future already.

Whatever happens.

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Contrasts

Saturday night, I was dancing around a cauldron ablaze with candles, with drums thundering and voices lifted high in song, at the monthly Spark Collective gathering.

Sunday morning, I attended a Unitarian Universalist service.

Tellya, there are differences.

Paganism is fundamentally an ecstatic practice: it’s about living in the body, embracing physicality both of ourselves and of our existence as creatures of the Earth, cultivating joy and intensity of emotional and meaningful experience.

UU is more about a calm and gentle cultivation of wisdom on the personal level, and activism on the societal. The service I attended incorporated some quasi-Protestant elements such as singing (rather tepid) hymns with a five-minute silent meditation, a call-and-response poetry reading, a sermon and other contemplative elements. I appreciated that there was no usage of god-words.

Both provide community and fellowship, of course. And though I think both approaches have something of value to offer, I definitely have my preferences.

One issue I have with the UU service is that it’s organized in the Abrahamic-style “audience and performers” model: attendees are mostly “passive consumers” who sit in pews and absorb what is offered to them by designated providers. That’s not intentional on their part, so much as simply inherited from the Christian traditions which were the religious norms of the English-speaking world when Unitarian Universalism was created.

I prefer an egalitarian circle to the pews-and-pulpit model. Admittedly, you need a lot of space do a circle with 200 people, but smaller and more intimate spiritual gatherings are more appealing to me anyway.

The main thing that draws me to Paganism that is missing from UU, though, is passion. The UU seems so bloodless by comparison with Paganism, so denatured, so divorced from the fact that we are embodied animals. All the things we associate with white, middle-class Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.

Looking around the congregation this morning, not only was nearly every person there in their 60s or older, I noted exactly two people of color. I live in a pretty white area, but we have a large Latinx population and none of them were there.

When Pagans mourn, they keen. When we are joyous, our eyes fill with love and we embrace one another. We laugh from the belly. We throw our heads back and howl. We fight against injustice, party hard, and confront both our own and the world’s darkness with courage. On an emotional scale, what we do is just…more.

That said, Pagans are miserable at creating institutions. And maybe that intensity scares away people who might otherwise join us.

There are Unitarian Universalist congregations all over the place with active congregations and owned buildings; Pagans have nothing like that, and show no sign that we ever will. Of course, having buildings isn’t nearly the priority for us that it is for UUs. We can practice our religion anywhere–particularly outdoors.

They need walls and seats and a pulpit.

Quite a number of Atheopagans are also UUs. They participate in the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPs) and enjoy community and fellowship in UU congregations. Makes sense; UU congregations welcome atheists and agnostics and have a strong environmental and social justice orientation.

That’s why I checked the UU service out, and though it really isn’t for me, I plan to keep participating with the congregation’s CUUPs group.

I’m a Pagan, but not so much a Unitarian Universalist. I admire their principles and their activism and the hearts of those who gravitate towards UU: I suspect, in fact, that some of those folks might have become Pagan instead, but we are still so small and invisible that they never really bumped up against us.

It was quite a contrast, I tellya.

 

Ritual Tools I Find Useful

Ritual tools are physical objects with which one performs symbolic ritual acts. In more formal “occult” systems there are prescribed sets of these tools, but in Atheopaganism, we’re strictly practical about them; we use what is useful to us.

The items below are things I use in rituals, in combination with objects symbolizing the qualities and attributes I wish to include in a given ritual:

Focus cloths: I like to have cloths I can put down on a table or other surface, upon which I build my Focus. They vary in color by the season (bright pastels for High Spring, e.g., or spider web-patterned black fabric for Hallows).

Asperger: Asperging is the act of sprinkling water or other liquids as a “blessing” of an area, object or person. An asperging setup can be as simple as a bowl of liquid with a sprig of rosemary or other herb to dip in the liquid and then scatter upon the subject, or as ornate as actual asperging bottles (as shown) used in Catholic and Orthodox ceremonies.

Ritual Knife (known in Wicca as an “athame” (uh-THAH-may)): This is a knife which is used to symbolically “cut” things one from another, as in “cutting” a circle in space to define sacred space or to separate something unwanted from the body. You might be surprised how psychologically effective the use of this “knife” can be.

“Moon” knife: This is what I use when actual physical cutting is needed: it is a decorated grape-harvesting knife, which makes it particularly special to the region where I live, and to Pagans generally as it is shaped like the Moon.

Wands: Sometimes it feels more right to use a wand than a knife for invoking a “magic circle”, or for “releasing the magic” into an object, chalice full of liquid, etc. I have several: one of dried kelp, one of oak, one of redwood, as well as a human femur I have used as a wand in Hallows and Underworld rituals. Mine are simple and natural but some people like wands that have symbols or crystals mounted on them.

Chalice: A chalice typically contains water or wine. It can simply stand in to serve as a symbol of the life-giving nature of water, the ocean, etc., or it can also be passed around the circle to share a sip of wine with each participant (if you do that, ask participants who aren’t feeling well to opt out–it’s no fun to spread cold or flu germs)

Censer: A censer is an incense burner. It can be as simple as an oyster or abalone shell, or as ornate as a Roman Catholic censer hanging from chains. You will also want charcoal pellets or discs so you can burn powder and resin incense.

Acheulian handaxe: I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone go out and get one, but this is my favorite ritual tool due to its antiquity and amazing history.

Tingsha, clear-toned bell, chime, tuning fork or singing bowl: A clear, ringing tone can “clear the air”, rendering a sense of purity and stillness. This is useful for establishing a sense of sacred space or “dispelling” something you wish to be rid of.

Ritual mask: Used to create an “otherworldly” quality or to enable you to portray a persona of someone/something other than yourself in a ritual.

Ritual rattle: Useful as a passed “talking tool” or used as an instrument in a group ritual to accompany singing or drumming. Mine has colorful ribbons attached to it, which flare out behind it when it is shaken and create a pleasing effect.

Jewelry (not shown): I have a ritual earring I wear most of the time when I attend public or group rituals: it is a brass snake eating its own tail (an Ouroboros) and coiled into a figure-8, thus forming two symbols for Infinity. I also have a few pieces of ritual jewelry for Hallows, specifically: two rings (an old-fashioned coffin and a ring of skulls) and a skull earring.

Cauldron (not shown): Some rituals involve mixing potions or dissolving/burning unwanted qualities in a cauldron over a fire or filled with water. An iron cauldron is a useful ritual tool.

Sun broom (not shown): a ritual tool created each year at Midsummer “filled with sunlight” and useful for cleansing, purifying and illuminating with virtual “light”.

Colorful and/or cool piece of stone (not shown): a weighty stone (ten pounds or so) is useful for grounding. Just sit cross-legged and heft it into your lap, feel the weight of gravity. A stone can also be useful as a symbol of the Earth.

Cat: Optional, but recommended. Otherwise, what will walk through your Focus, or sit in the middle of it, in the midst of your ritual?

 

What are some of your favorite ritual tools?