Looking Forward

So, Gavin Frost died.

And several writers I respect have weighed in on his shameful legacy.

I can’t say any better what they have, and my rule-of-blog is not to repeat what’s already out there.

What I can say, though, is that the death of this awful human is an opportunity to speak about what it is that makes Atheopaganism different. Or potentially so.

Atheopaganism is a forward-looking religion. We don’t claim to derive from a lineage or tradition, and as such, we are neither beholden to nor reverent towards so-called elders.

Did those who helped to create Paganism help to pave the way for where we are here? Yes.

Did those who helped to shape modern Atheism help to pave the way for where we are here? Yes.

Are prominent figures in both camps kinda…screwed up?

Yes.

So to those of us who are Atheists becoming Atheopagans, yes: some of the people who started the modern Pagan movement were loony, and a few were delusional to the point of evil.

We learned from that. We’re getting better.

And to those who are Pagans embracing their Atheism, yes: the dogmatism of the New Atheists moved them from speakers of truth to evangelistic zealotry. They over-generalize about religion and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Still, their assertion of naturalism as the most reasonable cosmology for a thinking human is absolutely compelling.

We are fortunate in that we have no “high priest/esses”, no hierarchs, no cult leaders. We’re just a group of people working together to create something that works for us.

My hope for Atheopaganism is that we can draw forward elements of value from what has been in the past, while firmly leaving behind the dysfunction through a firm commitment to our values and Principles. And then, from there, to build our own culture, our own shared traditions sprung from our own creativity.

Let us enshrine history and legacy in the form of actions of integrity, rather than the lionizing of problematic people. If that is the practice, the likes of Gavin Frost will be forgotten soon enough.

 

 

Building Atheopagan Community

As I referenced earlier, Atheopaganism as a named path is new. That means that those of us who are a part of it are rare, and far-flung (the Facebook group has members from across the globe). That said, Atheopaganism has something precious to offer both atheists and Pagans, and those are quite a bit more common. Atheopagan community is therefore likely to be ecumenical community: at first, at least, we will gather with both those who share our worldview and those whose cosmologies differ.

Pagans are rare enough in most places; expecting to find a broad community of atheist Pagans may be unrealistic. However, most Pagans are pretty tolerant–they will joyfully be a part of your community so long as you will be a part of theirs, and they will participate in your rituals if you, in turn, join in theirs. And the point of ritual is the doing, anyway, not the philosophical underpinnings of it. Atheist Pagans have been circling with theist Pagans since the Neo-Pagan revival began, and there is no reason for us to stop doing so just because we have now come forward to declare our way of believing to be a legitimate alternative to theism.

In the atheist community, as well, there are those who are seeking ways to make their lives more meaningful. If you know such people, you can invite them to a celebration, hold a short ritual and see how it sits with them.

Unitarian Universalists and liberal Christians and Jews may also enjoy Atheopagan ritual; don’t rule them out if you know some. UU “churches” are good places to advertise for atheists/agnostics looking for meaningful celebration of the seasons, as well. If you are inviting strangers, you may want to hold your first ritual at a park rather than at your home—that’s up to you.

My encouragement, as always, is just to do it. The best times of the year to hold an “introductory” Atheopagan ritual are at the solstices and equinoxes, as these are objective astronomical events which even the staunchest atheist must recognize as real. Have your friends over for a solstice or equinox meal and tell them that you would like to do a short ceremony to celebrate the season. Be sure to include that in the invitation: inviting people over and then “springing” it on them will not go over well.

Say a brief gratitude prior to the meal (my usual one is, “This food, swelling from the Earth by the breath of the Sun, is brought to us by many hands. May all be honored.”)

Focus your ritual (the Atheopagan ritual primer will help you to design one) on the metaphorical meanings of the season passed and the one arriving, and on connection to the broader processes of the Universe: that we are a part of all this, and are grateful for all the many ways in which the biosphere and the broader Cosmos enable us to live.

These are themes which are pertinent to all humans. They have—or should have—meaning for all of us.

Keep the ceremony short. Make it participatory: each celebrant can say what she is hoping for in the coming season, for example, or what he is grateful for. You may want to have some sort of takeaway: a token of having been a part of the ritual, a symbol of what the coming season means. You would be surprised at how meaningful such objects can become for people; for some, the item may become the beginning of a Focus.

Feel free to tell your guests that you are exploring something called Atheopaganism: a science-based, god-free, woo-free practice to enrich your life by celebrating the seasons, life events, and personal transformation. Don’t keep it a “secret” from them—that’s always going to be counterproductive in the longer term. If they’re curious, point them to this website and let them find out more for themselves.

When the next Sabbath rolls around, invite the same folks again, and any others who seem like they might enjoy or find meaning in what we do.

It’s in this way that community begins: with a few friends sharing something wonderful.

 

 

“But I’m Lonely!” Finding Fellow Atheopagans

Atheopaganism is a new religious path. The essay in which I laid out its principles is only five years old, and it has been visible on the web for only a year.

This inevitably means that practitioners seeking to find people to circle with are going to be a little challenged. It’s fine to practice as a solitary, but many of us prefer to have a community with which we can share our rituals, our observances, and our exploration of our Atheopagan path.

It can be difficult to get started. Here are some suggestions which may help.

  • If you’re already a part of the Pagan community, invite your Pagan friends to sample an Atheopagan ritual. You may be surprised to learn how many Pagans don’t really “believe” in deities (I was certainly surprised at the large number of Pagans at Pantheacon who confided this to me).
  • If you’re more active in the Skeptic/atheist community, invite your atheist and agnostic friends to celebrate a seasonal holiday.
  • Convene an introductory group to present Atheopaganism’s main precepts and practices, and invite attendees to a subsequent ritual gathering.
  • Post on a bulletin board at your local Unitarian Universalist Congregation, looking for non-believers who would like to celebrate the turning of the seasons.
  • Start simply–even a very simple circle ritual can be both intriguing and a little daunting for people who aren’t accustomed to having religious ritual in their lives.
  • Avoid religious jargon. Even using terms like “Seasonal celebration for non-believers (atheists and agnostics)” instead of “ritual” may help non-believers to feel more comfortable with showing up. Once they see that what you’re doing doesn’t ask them to “believe”, if Atheopaganism works for them they’ll be easier to invite.
  • Most of all, remember to have fun. Atheopaganism isn’t a rule-bound, guilt-trippy kind of religion, and people should be able to tell the difference. Remember Principle #5!