On Authenticity

Many religious people and paths—including many Pagans and Pagan traditions—place a great premium on claims of authenticity: that their mythologies, traditions and practices are, for want of a better word, “real”.

“Real” ancient lore or rites. “Real” narratives about god/desses. “Real” translations of “real” ancient texts. “Real” rituals, real traditions, real teachers, real magic.

“Real Paganism”.

There are those who will go on about this at great length, opining about what they believe is authentic…and, as often as not, why you’re not it.

But here’s the thing about authenticity: it has nothing to do with any of those things.

Authenticity in relationships has to do with what is in your heart. If you truly embrace and adore something, your relationship with it is authentic. And that is as true if what you adore is the Cosmos as it is if it is a given god or goddess.

As for “real” religious paths, well: either all of them are “real”, or none of them are. Because the only thing that could possibly divide them is whether or not they work for the people who follow them, and you can find somebody to follow pretty much anything.

I mean, check out Scientology.

I’ve never claimed that the religious paths of others aren’t real. If they’re following them, well, then, those paths are real. Their cosmologies may stipulate belief in things which don’t actually exist in objective reality, but the paths themselves most certainly are authentic if their followers embrace them in their hearts.

Atheopaganism is a new Pagan path. Depending on when you start counting, it’s about ten or fifteen years old. I don’t pretend it is anything other than that, though we do draw forward some old traditions that please us, like Yule trees and Maypoles and Hallows fires and celebrating the solstices and equinoxes. And yes: while there certainly are many other nontheist Pagan paths, I launched this particular one. I invented it.

But here’s the thing: all religious paths were products of human invention at some point.

Some accreted over centuries, and had dozens or even hundreds of contributors. Others were invented all at once by individuals. But every last one, from the deepest wells of antiquity, was a human creation.

The antiquity of religious traditions doesn’t really matter. Just because ideas are old does not mean they are worthy or valid. There are plenty of discredited ideas that are centuries old: astrology. Alchemy. Aether. And that’s just a few of the “A”s.

We do not assume that ancient medical knowledge is better than the modern. Nor technology, nor morality. Humans have evolved, and continue to evolve and innovate.

Why is it “normal” to scoff at a ten-year-old phone as hopelessly outdated, but to dutifully and unquestioningly embrace a Bronze Age belief system? Isn’t that a tad inconsistent…particularly given that a belief system is a lot more central to a given person’s life and experience than a phone?

Atheopaganism is a real religious path. It is as genuine as any other. The awe, celebration and wonder that we feel as we contemplate the natural world and Cosmos are as true and authentic as the worship and reverence others feel for gods. The Sacred pillars and Principles of Atheopaganism are informed by the evolution of modern and progressive values, not the (often cruel and bigoted) ones of some bygone civilization. And our rituals, even as we create them afresh, are as meaningful as any others.

We do, however, have one thing going for us that most other religious paths do not: while the existence of gods is subject to debate, what we revere demonstrably exists.

As the bumper sticker says, “I worship Nature. Don’t laugh: we can prove it exists.”

 

 

 

Old Ways, New Days

It is midnight on the 29th of December. I have just returned from the Sebastopol Wassail, which is conducted annually by the Apple Tree Morris dancing team in my local area.

Wassailing is an old English tradition. Poor people going from house to house begging became conflated with people going from tree to tree in the apple orchards, making offerings in the deep winter in the hopes of bountiful harvests in the coming year. There are many songs, many dances, many traditions.

And we hope you prove kind with your cakes and strong ale
Or we’ll come no more nigh you until the next year

Tonight, I sang the songs, in rich and aching harmony. I visited with friends and strangers, and drank the strong stuff of the wassailing bowl. And in the dark of night–at 7, and 8, and 9:00–I felt time melt, and the history of people connected with soil and trees and cycles and fruit welling up, still alive despite our smart phones and automobiles.

How well they may bloom, how well they may bear
So we may have apples and cider next year

It’s a thing some Pagan folk wonder about, with Atheopaganism: but if you reject the idea of Ancient Ways, where then is the magic?

It’s not that we’re not in love with traditions, because we are. We love our Maypoles and balefires and wassailing bowl, our flaming cauldrons and corn dollies and Yule logs and glowing solstice trees.

We love the old songs, the hints of things we did, we humans, back far before even there were words to write down. Even into the painted caves, the Neanderthal flowered graves, the days we can only dimly surmise about.

Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagsful
And a little heap under the stairs: hip hip hoorah!

No, it’s not that we aren’t in love with traditions, because we are. We’re just not addicted to them. We understand that they all started sometime, and we can create new ones with just as much power and validity. We understand that we’re all cherry-picking traditions from old times…even the Reconstructionists, who somehow never quite get around to burning oxen as sacrifices, as well they should not.

Atheopaganism is about understanding the world through a modern lens, while carrying forward the rituals, the practices, the traditions that help us to feel connectedness and meaning. We cast our eyes up to the cold winter stars and know that humans have done so for tens of thousands of years, hoping for spring and survival. We stay up to see the May morning sunrise, awash in joy that that time has come at last.

Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari
A sacred thing through the night they carry.
Betrayed are the living, betrayed the dead
All are confused by a horse’s head.

All of it. All of the things that fill a life with joy and sense of place in the world and among people. The old–a hobby horse made of a horse’s skull, ushering in a battle of wordplay before a welcome in to hospitality and kindness–and the new: modern, inclusive, sensible values; critical thinking; a science-based cosmology.

Just because we don’t believe in gods and supernatural and magical phenomena doesn’t mean we can’t have the experiences such ancient traditions carry with them. We are not cold and bloodless technocrats, as Dawkins and his ilk would have us be: we are heart-pumping animals with minds, filled with passions as evolution made us.

We are alive.

In the glow of this year’s Yule tree, bright Sun gazing down from the top, I wish you:

Waes hael!

Atheopagan “Saints”

They are Honored Dead, at the very least.

Giordano Bruno. Galileo Galilei.

Copernicus. Isaac Newton. Aldo Leopold. John Muir. Marie Curie.

Albert Einstein. Richard Feynman. Rachel Carson. Carl Sagan. Ursula K. LeGuin.

Stephen Hawking.

Mary Oliver.

And there will be more, when they go: Jane Goodall. Richard Attenborough. Bill Nye. Wendell Berry.

The work of these people is so powerful that it persists into today. It resonates across the centuries. It inspires us to seek the truth, to honor reality, to celebrate the great circle of blessed Being.

I—only half joking—call them the Atheopagan saints. St. Carl. St. Isaac. St. Rachel. St. Ursula.

And yes, we can all have a chuckle about that.

But wouldn’t you light a candle for St. Carl, who brought us into the magic of the Cosmos? Or St. Isaac, who gave us calculus and modern physics? Or St. Ursula, who shattered the conventions of gender with her wildly humane writing?

Or embattled, suffering St. Charles, who spoke the truth about evolution?

It works for me.

These are my Honored Dead, just as much as those I knew in person. They lifted us all up and helped us to come closer to embrace of reality.

And don’t even get me started on the political saints.

May each of you have the courage of St. Harriet (Tubman) and the awe and wonder of St. Carl.

Happy belated “All Saints” Day!


 

Look! You can even buy candles! But it’s Amazon, so it would be better to make your own.