Walpurgisnacht and the Veil of Memory

In Northern European folklore from Ireland to the Czech Republic, the 30th of April is “May Eve”, which the Germans named for the Catholic St. Walpurga as Walpurgisnacht and believed to be a time when witches and evil spirits were abroad. It is believed—like Hallows in October—to be a time when the “veil” between the world and “the spirit world” is thin and passage between them in both directions is possible: a time when, just before the joy and lightness of May Day, there is exposure to dark dealings and presences.

Huge bonfires are burned on Walpurgisnacht, serving—as fires have since before modern humans even existed—to keep the Scary Monsters away.

Many flavors of modern Paganism have adopted this folkloric tradition to designate Walpurgisnacht as a night of spooky darkness, divination and ritual purification before the sensual celebration of May Day, or Beltane.

Human life is recursive. We are children, we come into adulthood, then we have children. We love, we lose, we remember, we love some more. The seasons pass: spring to summer to autumn to winter, and back to spring again.

In Atheopaganism, we don’t believe in a ghostly “otherworld” of spirits and fairies and the like. But there is something to be said for a moment of reflection, of delving into the deep and inward, before that bright morning of sparkling dew and green meadows, and the new green hope of summer.

So here, on May Eve, please consider taking some time to look back on the previous year, on the losses and gains, the joys and sorrows. Remember what is past; perhaps cast Tarot cards or runes, or gaze into a dark mirror for a take on the current condition of your subconscious.

Contemplate that which is “beyond the veil” tonight. And dawn will be all the rosier, all the brighter with May Day’s promise.

 

 

The Atheopagan Way, and What It Isn’t

It’s not dressing as if you’re at a Renaissance Faire.

Nor goth/BDSM aesthetic, all black and “witchy”.

Both are fine, if you want to indulge in them. But they’re not relevant to the path.

It’s not a commercial platform for selling crystals, oils, tinctures, potions, tools, incenses, candles, Tarot cards, workshops or books. It’s not having elaborate “occult” tools.

Though some who practice it may avail themselves of such things.

Atheopaganism is actually something serious, though lighthearted. It’s not a dress-up game and it’s not about collecting stuff.

It isn’t even necessarily about doing rituals…though it is about creating and having experiences.

It’s about loving and delighting in and wondering at the magnificence of the natural world. About living values that are life-affirming and generous. About understanding that reason and science are valuable for telling us about the nature of the world, but the symbolic, the poetic, the metaphorical are also meaningful human endeavors, and valid, rich parts of our lives.

It’s about living as much depth, wisdom, and color as we possibly can. About inhabiting our bodies, embracing our communities, adoring the Sacred Earth and magnificent Cosmos. Through the Four Sacred Pillars, the thirteen Atheopagan Principles, it is about being the best and kindest people we can be.

It is about living with passion and self-awareness. About moments of sheer emotional magic, be it hiking in canyons, forests, deserts and mountains, or shooting the rapids, or dancing about a fire, creating art and music, expressing the core truth of our unique selves as extensions of the Sacred Universe. It is about opening ourselves to that Universe, experiencing ecstasy and transformation, and bending our choices and efforts to serve and defend the Sacred Earth.

Being an Atheopagan is about looking at the reality of the Universe and affirming it: uncaring though it is. It is about accepting ourselves, myriad as we are, complex and contradictory as we remain.

So…dress as you like. I tend to jeans and button-up shirts, myself. I’ll go a bit more flowy and velvety in big group rituals. But I don’t find demonstrative dress or jewelry to be essential to my path.

Observe as you like: define the Sabbaths of the Wheel of the Year as they make sense for your climate, for your landscape. Build a Focus that speaks to you. Structure your observances as you choose to do–use the recommendations in the Atheopagan Ritual Primer, or create your own frameworks and practices.

How is not so much the issue. The point is to do it: to embrace the world, celebrate living, think critically, live with integrity and kindness. To be fully alive and of good intention.

That is the Atheopagan way.

 

Being Rooted and Transcending the Overculture

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.