Between Worlds

It’s a thing many Pagans say: “We are between the worlds”. It signifies that within the contained context of ceremonial ritual, we are apart from the mundane—that we are somehow outside of the natural world, and suspended in a space wherein all is possible. Where magic can happen.

It isn’t something I say. I know that whether or not I have drawn the circle or otherwise created the felt sense of a container of sacred ritual space, I am still in the natural world, which is the only world there is. Many things are possible there, but not all. We are constrained by physics, by the nature of sacred Reality. What is found there is safety to experiment—to play—and to connect with one another and the greater whole of the Universe in manners which may be surprising, powerful, transformative, and profound.

Still, the key to ritual freedom, to making the magic of ritual, is suspension of disbelief and release of the stiffness of the internal critic’s voice, of embarrassment and shame. Just as we must do this to play let’s-pretend, to enjoy a book or a movie, so must we surrender our critical minds to the moment in order to submerge ourselves in ritual.

So, rather, I might say, We are here, free beings in sacred space, where so much is possible. Where we may be ourselves, naked hearts before the glory of the Sacred World. Joy is found here, and change, and release, and power. Welcome.

But I digress.

Because we all live in many worlds, don’t we? Not literally, but poetically: the world of home, the world of work, the world of family, the worlds of differing circles of friends. All are facets of the great glittering gem of the one world, but they can feel as different as Earth and the Moon.

Since Pantheacon, I have indeed been between worlds. Part of me, caught in the warm liquid swirls of community and exploration and pleasure that are the Con for me, and the rest plunged back suddenly into daily routines and workaday meetings, tasks, and deadlines. It has been a deeply challenging transition this year, and I didn’t give myself enough time for readjustment. I’m pining, a bit. And disenchanted with my ordinary life, lacking as it is all the newness and near-constant stimulation of the conference.

So what is a man to do, under such circumstances? How does an Atheopagan reintegrate into ordinary experience following a peak experience?

Well, I start by taking care of myself. I have begun my Spring Fast again, eschewing alcohol until the vernal equinox. This weekend, I will tidy my home and catch up on household tasks that weigh upon me. I’m taking time to look at the sky, to watch the sunset and enjoy the shining stars. And, sheerly for self-preservation, I have been trying only to track the barest sketchy outlines of the daily sewerage emitting from Washington, D.C.

Ritually, I light candles on my Focus and contemplate the relics of Pantheacon that rest there. I love and am loved, I think. I am respected and a leader. I am helping to build something meaningful. My community is strong.

Reflecting on the love in my life, on the remarkable, beautiful humans I have been blessed to count as friends and loved ones, I feel blessed. I feel empowered and strong.

At work, I have struggled to focus and be productive, but the sheer volume and urgency of the work drive performance whether I feel up to it or not. Once I have caught up on my sleep after this weekend, it will be better. And I have a friend at work whose interesting mind and respect for me have helped me to feel stronger in that arena than I might have otherwise. We had a visit this evening and it was a real shot in the arm.

But more than anything else, I have begun to plan, looking forward, to create some more of the kind of juicy joy that I had at Pantheacon in the coming months. Not at anywhere near that scale of event, of course, but on the scale I can manage. So I’m thinking about a little gathering for High Spring, and planning for Moon Meet in August.

The latter is really exciting: an Atheopagan festival, where our ways are the mainstream. Where atheists and agnostics and scientific pantheists and naturalistic and humanistic Pagans can explore together what it means to be ritual-enacting, Earth-revering cosmological naturalists, not in the margins around the godtalk of the theists, but as the norm. It’s going to be great!

So that’s how I do it: a little extra self-care to protect the tender parts that came to the surface during the Con, a continuation of my religious practice, and a look to the future when I can have some of that sweetness again.

In these hard times, all are needed. We need to keep coming together, to support one another as we can, even though great distances may separate—but not divide—us.

Take care, friends. Be good to one another, and yourselves, in all your various worlds.

Why Ritual?

For atheists new to the “pagan” part of Atheopaganism, the frequent question to crop up is: what’s up with these rituals? Why do you do those?

And to speak to the rational parts of their minds which are commonly what they most rely on, I answer that ritual enables us to enter the Ritual State (limbic/”trance” brain state, also known to artists as “flow”). It’s pleasurable. It adds depth and meaning to life.

But there is more than that. In marking the passage of the seasons, in conducting rituals to recognize, transform and heal our personal woundedness, we gain new hope and motivation towards our goals, and express deep intentions for the future. We connect with one another, building community.

We conduct rituals to mark special events in a person’s life, such as naming ceremonies, passage into becoming an adult, marriage, or death. These rituals are powerful reminders that our lives define an arc, with recognizable waystations, beginnings and ends. Indeed, we need more such rituals than we are generally offered: rites of passage into adulthood, for example, are sorely lacking in our mainstream culture.

But the core reason to do ritual is that it feels meaningful. Ritual practices help to sacralize the experience of living. And living in a re-sacralized world is a path to bringing respect into relationships which we have probably previously taken for granted, such as our relationship to Earth-given and labor-produced food, or the relationship between the plant kingdom and every breath we take.

We do ritual because humans are ritualizing organisms. We have been ritualizing the important moments and meanings of our lives since before we were fully human. Denying this, pretending that we have somehow transcended the manifold natures of our evolved brains to focus only on the “thinky” parts, is to deny the factual nature of the human experience.

We are still the creatures who painted the powerful and desirable/huntable creatures of their landscape upon cave walls, who left the prints of their hands in the caves to say, “I was here.”

And it is through ritual, even today, that we create memorable moments of power and meaning. That we connect with our deepest selves, and each other.

That’s why.

But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try. Give it several, because it may seem awkward at first.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Check out the Atheopagan Ritual Primer, and the posts here tagged Ritual Technologies and Techniques. And let me know how it goes–I may have suggestions or kudos or ideas for you!

Living in Dark Days

One thing most Pagan theists have that Atheopagans do not is a belief that their gods care about Earthly matters.

Necessarily, this means that gods are trying to achieve their goals through the unfolding of history. Theists try to divine the will of their gods and behave in accordance with it. They tell themselves that what they care about and their hopes for the future of humanity have Larger Forces helping them to manifest.

For Atheopagans, change is inevitable, but it is not necessarily positive change. It conforms to the will of no conscious being. It is simply the unfolding of the Universe, and if it involves the actions of humankind, it is up to us to bring it about.

We are now living in times which threaten the United States with  becoming a white-supremacist, straight-male-supremacist police state without worker, consumer or environmental protections and with an education system designed to serve only the wealthy. This is not hyperbole. As the execrable Trump rolls out his Cabinet picks, it appears his criterion has been to find the worst possible person for each job in question.

And there are no gods to save us. There are no supernatural forces to weigh against this political and cultural disaster. Just as there were none in the 1930s in Europe, nor in the 1940s and 50s in the Soviet Union, nor in the 1970s in Cambodia and Chile.

We are on our own.

At times like these, it’s easy to ask, why bother? Why waste our time and energy on rituals and observances? Why go through such motions when the world is burning down?

It’s a good question. I’ve been mulling it a lot lately.

And I have concluded that our religious observances and practices are now more important than ever. Here’s why.

  • Our rituals and observances bring us into our power as humans. They center us in the fierceness of our personal Will. They let us know that even though the forces arrayed against us are great, we, too, are mighty. Each of us is a force to be reckoned with.
  • They keep us focused. They remind us what is most important to us, and what we must do to serve what is Sacred.
  • Finally, they draw us together into community where we can be powerful together. Resisting the coming storm is going to take a group effort. Bonds of love and friendship will be what keep us from becoming demoralized. From contemplating surrender.

This is not the time for temperate words, platitudes about everything being okay, or burrowing under the covers in fear or depression. This is a crisis, and we must neither kid ourselves about that nor shirk our duty to stand up now and be counted. Being practicing Atheopagans is a way to energize ourselves, keep our eyes on what must be done, and share the burden of these times not only in grim determination, but with joy.

The world is still magnificent. Life is still miraculous. Love is still sublime. And the truth is that we face the greatest challenge of our lifetimes now. We need each other more than ever. We need our sense of spiritual connectedness more than ever.

Be of strong heart, and do a ritual today. Don’t let your Focus get dusty (unless you like it that way!) Remind yourself of why you follow this path, of what matters to you.

We are far from defeated. Remember that Atheopaganism is a path for happiness. While we have great challenges ahead of us, we have an advantage our opponents do not: we are not cold-hearted and remorseless. We aspire instead to be the best humanity can be.

Light a candle. Burn incense. Sing. Dance.

Keep on living in the fullness of who you are. 

If we do that, we are indomitable.