Authenticity

We revere the world because it is real. It verifiably exists, and it is magnificent: it sustains us, it unfolds in its myriad, fractal ways: in forests and grasslands, in oceans and deserts, in mountains and valleys and canyons, in lakes and rivers and fog and rain and snow. It feeds us, it waters us, it sustains us with warmth and so many kindnesses that, though it isn’t volitional, we might as well poetically conceptualize it as Love.

We celebrate living because we are living. We sing, we stomp, we chant, we write poetry, we make art, we drum, we play. We light the candles, we burn the fire, we lay out the sacred objects. We paint the cave. We dance around the fire.

I have just returned from a weekend with friends, a retreat for the Core group of the Spark Collective. Spark conducts monthly fire-circle-style rituals (indoors), and in most years, throws a summer festival of three consecutive nights of all-night rituals around a blazing fire. It’s a magical community of fine, creative, kind people, and I love a great many of them very much.

The Core group coordinates the activities of Spark, and serves as its legal board of directors. But mostly, we just made sure that there are leaders  for the monthly rituals, and we organize the summer festival.

The fire circle tradition is a Pagan path quite different from many others. Ours is an ecstatic path about connection with the exquisite Earth, and with one another, through movement about a leaping fire.

It sounds simple, but it is anything but that.

There is something that happens when it is four AM and you are circling about a fire with others, singing and dancing to the beat of drums. Perhaps you take a little break, exhausted, and go to the food altar to restore yourself, drink some water, eat some nuts.

And others are there, and you converse.

I will tell you, the conversations at a time like that are the truest, most genuine exchanges imaginable. People are tender and open and ready to reveal what is true about themselves, and they are ready to connect with what is true about you.

Authenticity.

So rare—so resisted—in our cultures. But so precious.

I envision a world in which we can be true with one another about the things that matter. In which we need not mask ourselves. And we can start in our own communities, with one another.

Authenticity is the greatest gift we can give to one another: the honest truth of our experience. It takes courage, and it takes trust.

If we can build trust amongst ourselves, we can find that courage.

If we can assume kindness as the core intention of one another, we can bridge the great gulf that lays between us.

So say a true thing—a fragile and vulnerable thing— to someone you love. Share the beauty within you, for it is a lens opening into a landscape of wonder and joy.

Speak your truth. Acknowledge your love.

Be authentic. It is the greatest gift you can give to another.

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Practically Speaking

Atheopagan Principle 6 is about praxis: having a spiritual practice. For many, that involves rituals and seasonal celebrations. For others, simple walks in nature or periods of quiet meditation fulfill that purpose.

For many who are just coming into Atheopaganism, this can be a little daunting. How to start? What is this ritual stuff, anyway? I’ve written on these questions before.

But fundamentally, we say having a practice is important because to be human is to contain multitudes. We are not only actors, creators, family members, citizens. We are complex and manifold manifestations of the Universe.

Each of us carries a unique poetry within us.

And it is the enactment of that poetry, the experience of deep living that is why we say one should have a practice: a regular behavior that brings you into communication with what you feel and experience. With the joy and wonder and deep questions that correlate to being alive and human.

Atheopaganism is a religious path that is about what we do, far more than what we believe. What we believe we can leave to science and reason. But what we do?

That, well.

That’s personal to each of us.

One day, I hope to have the honor of sharing a ritual circle with you. But in the meantime, we all have our own ways of celebrating and observing, and all I can say to you is: keep doing that. 

So draw that daily Tarot card. Light the candles, and the incense, and create a Focus for the season. Make a point of watching the sunrise, or the sunset. Honor the full Moon. Walk in the rain, and tip your face to the sky. Splash in the puddles! Gather the bright autumn leaves, the pine cones, the seed pods. Admire and treasure the fossils and sea shells, the antlers and bones, the flowers and leaves.

Dye the eggs for springtime and dance about the Maypole. Burn the old year’s losses in the Hallows fire, and sing the joy of the reborn Sun about the Yule tree.

Breathe the cold, crisp, fragrant air…or the warm, humid, fragrant air. Hike the forest and climb the mountain; go to the hot spring, the waterfall, the lakeside, the ocean. Speak the Magic Words. Wave the wand, or the knife, or the other ritual tool. Dance around the fire. Sing!

Live, and celebrate living. For this is the way of Atheopaganism: to be as fully alive as we can be, and to shine in this luminous, confounding world.

Towards a Culture of Happiness

Yes, the world presents us with tremendous challenges.

Yes, there are many reasons for sadness and anger and grief.

Yes, there is urgency in addressing crises that threaten our very existence.

So why, then, does Atheopaganism put a premium not only on being activists, but on being happy people? On having lives that are fulfilling adventures of growth and discovery?

Well, I’ll tell you why.

First of all, there is inherent justification in it. As Atheopagans, we know that an afterlife is highly unlikely. This is a one-time, one-way trip for each of us. Surely we should enjoy that journey as much as is reasonably possible. Pleasure is our birthright, as the tenth Atheopagan Principle so explicitly tells us.

But secondly, happy people are effective people. As psychologist Shawn Achor explains in the (very funny) video below, people who are affirmed, engaged, and appreciated are also more motivated, more productive, and perform at a higher level.

Now, Achor’s TED talk is rooted in some pretty capitalistic biases (such as “higher productivity = good”). But for our own purposes, we can learn from what he has to say when it comes to our sacred charge to work to make the world a better place, as articulated in Atheopagan Principles 2, 8, and 9: Reverence for the Earth, Legacy, and Social Responsibility.

Being demoralized and hopeless isn’t conducive to the kind of effort we’re going to need to transform our societies and economies. Wallowing in the horrors of the world not only makes us miserable…it makes us helpless. And that is the farthest thing from what is demanded of us in these times.

No, we shouldn’t be Pollyannas who insist on “always looking on the bright side”. There is horror in the world, and we must confront it. But that doesn’t mean we need to be morose, or dejected. Rather, let us do what we can also to see what there is to be celebrated, and to draw continual joy and uplifting from the beauty of our spectacular world.

Our cultures are deeply prejudiced against this. “The news” is always, overwhelmingly bad news. Good news just isn’t seen as that important.

In my new job, I have been fortunate enough to come into an organization which is just at the beginning point of formally developing systems of leadership and culture which are explicitly about the happiness and affirmation of every person involved with the organization: staff, volunteers and clients. While the culture there has already been kind and compassionate, we have now grown to the point where it is necessary to enshrine such values in our policies and procedures, and in how we manage meetings, performance reviews, and supervision. We are starting to emphasize celebration of accomplishment as much as problem solving.

I’m learning a lot, and I’m glad to have arrived at this transitional moment. The potential feels almost unlimited.

As Atheopagans, I think we are uniquely positioned to embrace happiness and its effectiveness-boosting nature in the course of our religious practices. Each of us has things to be grateful for, things to celebrate, things to be proud of. We don’t have to be shackled by some leftover Abrahamic urge to shy away from tooting our own horns when we deserve it: better to say, “I did that WELL!”, and bask in the good feeling for a moment before moving on with your day. And to tell others what you appreciate about them, as well.

Much has been made about the scale of the challenges before us, and this site’s assessment has been no exception. Yet we are mighty. We are resourceful, strategic, kind, and committed.

Lasting revolutions are joyous ones.  So be of good cheer and stout heart, and go forward into the world, sharing the light we know belongs to all of us.