Balance at the Fulcrum of the Year

Let’s just say, circumstances don’t make these great times for perception of balance.

It would be lovely to believe that darkness and light in the world are muddling along roughly in equal proportions at the moment. But that would feel like a big step forward, now. While I sincerely hope the circumstances of your individual life are fantastic, that isn’t what I’m hearing from friends and colleagues. I’m hearing fear, and anger, and a sense of powerlessness to do anything about them. And I’m feeling much the same.

And that makes the Sabbath of Harvest all the more important. Because even when things are really tough, there are countless blessings we enjoy, and we need to pay attention to them. We need to turn around and look, recognizing that those things we may take for granted are not owed to us, that they are precious gifts worth acknowledging, celebrating.

A Harvest feast is a great time for toasting achievements and blessings. For speaking out loud that—all else notwithstanding—we are grateful for what the world pours out for us.

And at this time of year, it’s good to keep this in mind. Yes, we are going into the darker part of the year. Winter is coming, and darkness reigns now in many ways. But en route, there will be the glorious Autumn. There will be the camaraderie and warmth and joy of Yule.

To hold these together in the mind; to not tip over into exaggeration of either how terrible nor how great things are. This is the practice at this time.

As the Five of Cups tells us in the Tarot:  Yes, cups of precious nectar have spilled. Their contents are forever lost.

But remember to turn around and look at what remains.

A happy—yes, truly happy—Harvest to each of you. May this autumnal equinox mark the beginning of more gratitude: more joy.

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Fire Makes All the Difference

A guest post by Kaigi-Ron.

Fire makes all the difference.  I know this from two personal experiences – both of which didn’t have a fire the first night, but did on the second…and that one change transformed everyone and everything.

The first event occurred years ago, in another state.  We were going to share songs and stories around the campfire, as hominids have done for millennia…but that year, we were denied a permit for a fire in our campsite.  

Ever the innovators, we wove together a basket of branches, decorated it with strips of red cloth, and finished it off with a helpful sign that said “Fire”.  We all did our Pagan best to pretend it was a fire, really we did.  Some people tried to get into it, “warming” their hands in it.  But we all knew it wasn’t a real fire.  The bardic circle closed early, and we left to crawl into bed, feeling vaguely unfulfilled.

But the next night, we got an invitation from the American Indian tribe across the river – did we want to join them?   Oh My Goodness YES we said!  And it turned out They had a Fire Pit and They had a Permit and OMG we were going to actually have a FIRE!!

It was glorious: Shared food and drink, stories, drums, whistles, songs, masked dancers – everything we like…and it went on for hours.  This was what we came here for!

The scene roughly repeated itself at a more recent event.  The first night, we didn’t have all the equipment we needed to safely have a fire, so we didn’t.  While a small contingent of us ambled down to the fire pit late at night to have an Experience, it wasn’t quite the full experience.

It felt awkward and vaguely apologetic, like it was mostly just an acknowledgment that an experience was supposed to happen here.  As if we were acting out the words “Insert Genuine Pagan Feeling Here”.  Knowing that it wasn’t ever going to feel completely right…not that night, anyway.

But the next night, the rest of our fire equipment arrived!  We prepared eagerly for its coming, gathering tinder and clearing the debris around the fire pit.  We lit it with flint and steel, carefully placing the tiny glowing ember into the bird’s nest, then blowing on it to coax it into full life – Whoompsh!  It burst into a fireball and we placed it under the kindling…and in minutes, we had a roaring, vibrant FIRE!!

Again, it was glorious:  We shared our rituals, songs, stories, and dances all night long.  Just as our forebears have done since the day we first figured out how to control this beast.  A real, burning Fire of heat and light and smoke and ash – and real social connection.

Accept no substitutes!

What If It Really Is the End of the World?

You know you’ve been thinking this. I have, too.

These are times that make hopeful optimism a serious challenge. The effects of global warming and climate change are accelerating, and it is becoming less and less credible to believe that we are going to policy-and-technology our way out of them. Meanwhile, fascism and authoritarianism are on the rise even in the places that have historically been most resistant to them.

Atheopaganism is, more than anything else, a religion of reality. We don’t tell ourselves reassuring stories about gods bailing us out of our problems or having a plan for us. We don’t pretend that we have magical powers which will enable us to navigate the hardships of a world in upheaval.

That said, Atheopaganism is about creating a better world: a more tolerant, more just world, populated with kinder, better connected and more reasonable people who revere the Sacred Earth and seek to build a society that respects the tolerances of the biosphere. And there are reasons to believe that, despite recent setbacks, those values are on the rise.

But this post isn’t an argument that things will get better. This post is about the worst case scenario: what if it really is true that we are entering a period of global collapse, wherein biodiversity and liberty both crash, sea levels soar, hundreds of millions are rendered climate refugees, and the wheels just generally come off human civilization?

Why should we bother being Atheopagans if that turns out to be true?

Well, let me tell you.

First of all, humans aren’t going to go extinct (yet). I mean, we will, but not in the foreseeable future. Many of us may die, and our life expectancy may plummet, but we are ridiculously adaptable creatures. Between the tools we have created and the knowledge we have amassed, the livable areas of the Earth will continue to be colonized by homo sapiens…and even those which don’t seem livable are likely to continue to have sparse, tough populations of our kind. Short of a massive meteor strike and years of ensuing blacked-out skies, we’re going to be here.

However, many things we take for granted may very well go away. The Internet. Global trade–including of food. Telecommunications. To name a few.

And what is going to help us to survive in this scary New World?

Community. And a clear-eyed willingness to look at reality without the distortions of wishful thinking. Both of which are facilitated by Atheopaganism.

The Earth is still Sacred, even when it is undergoing radical change. The biosphere has been disrupted before. The result? The magnificent paradise that was Earth before human technology. Such a time will come again…whether or not we are there to witness it. It is worth holding in our hearts the love we have for the Earth, even in times when it is growing increasingly hostile to our kind.

Atheopaganism is the kind of practice that can draw like-minded people together in communities of love and mutual support. With our embrace of science, knowledge and life-affirming values can be preserved in these communities, passed on to children. And we can stand together for those in our communities who are targeted by racists, homophobes, misogynists and fascist authoritarians.

If all we are to have is each other, a shared value set, vision, and set of practices are the glue that can create true communities. That can sustain those values through times that discount them.

So I encourage you to reach out to like-minded friends and relations now. Invite them to a Harvest feast. Think about starting some kind of community project: perhaps a vegetable garden.

It’s still going to matter what kind of people we are if everything goes to hell. It’s still going to matter what kind of values we embrace, and what vision of the future of humanity we carry.

I don’t believe it’s going to get as bad as the scenario I have described. Not for quite awhile, anyway.

But even in the worst case scenario, Atheopaganism is still a way to a better life.

Whatever happens, we have only this one, miraculous life to live. Let’s do it the best way we know how.