Death, the Creator

Classic depictions of Death personified include skeletons carrying an hourglass or a scythe, mummified persons extending leathery hands, armies of skeletal warriors mowing down the living, or Pale Horsemen laying waste to kings, priests and children, as in the Coleman-Waite “Rider” Tarot deck.

It makes complete sense that we view death with fear and revulsion. We are, after all, hardwired to wish to survive, hardwired to want to pass our genes on, however we may. Certainly, our deaths scare us. We die, and by and large, we don’t want to.

But if we step back, we can see the value of death. The importance it plays in the perpetuation and evolution of Life on Earth.

We are assemblies of molecules, intricate biological machines that start self-assembling according to genetic instructions as soon as THIS sperm cell hits THAT egg. We are assembled by Life to perpetuate Life. And when we have fulfilled our natural spans, we die, and our components are disassembled and reassembled into new Life.

This is not a dark, horrible thing! It is the only way we could have existed in the first place.

And for those who seize onto terror of death—or fetishize its power—well: both are missing the point.

This is the time of year that we Atheopagans acknowledge our mortality, honor it, recognize the driving force it has in our lives. We decorate our homes with skulls and bones and frightening jack o’ lanterns; we scare ourselves with spooky films and stories about frightening beings that break the fundamental rule of death, like mummies, ghosts, vampires and Frankenstein’s monster; we remember those whose deaths we have lived through. We make death as real to ourselves as we can, short of the actual, final experience.

And this is apt. Because the next, magical, phenomenally important phase after death is the one we will never live, never experience: the composting. The rotting into rich, fertile soil, the recomposition of our component molecules into bacteria, badgers, bluebirds or bears.

We Atheopagans acknowledge this essential time in the weeks between Hallows and Yule: the period of Resting. Of decomposition and recomposition.

Death is the Creator.

Yes: that very thing we fear is what makes all we love about Nature, about Life on Earth. Death creates; it is the process of gathering of resources for assembly of new creatures, plants and animals and microbes.

And we are exponents of it: we eat what is living, and disassemble it, create flesh and bone and thoughts and actions, and excrete food filled with nutrients for other creatures. It is the essential nature of what we are.

So as we scare ourselves with our spooks and skulls and dead bodies–as we feel the very real loss when we grieve–let us remember the tremendous kindness of Death. We would not be here without it. We are death-makers and death-beneficiaries, like all life on Earth. Our precious lives were assembled for us out of the dead, and we in turn will go forward for disassembly and reassembly in our time.

Death is the means to Life: the only gateway to living this magnificent voyage we enjoy as humans. The price of the ticket, in fact.

Let us not hate it so much.

Settling for the Awesome Universe

Goddesses and gods. Fairies and ghosts. Magic spells and hexes. Dragons and griffons and mermaids.

Epic. Mythic. Heroic.

Awesome.

Well of course they are. We are story-telling creatures, and who doesn’t love a good story? If these were pedestrian tales, and boring, why would we listen to them? Why would we long for them to be real?

It’s all very human.

I can’t blame someone for wanting to live in a world where such things are real. A childlike* world of magical beings and epic wonders.

But…

But.

Reality is. We can imagine many things that are wondrous and beautiful and yet which do not exist. And fairies and hobbits and elves and ghosts and gods and goddesses are among them.

Or so the scientifically credible evidence suggests.

Woe be unto us, right? Our world is stripped of wonders. Cue sad trombone.

VVRRRRRTTTT scratching needle sound

What???

I’m sorry, but please.

We are intrinsic parts of a spectacularly beautiful planet in a Universe that showers us with gifts and wonders on a second-by-second basis: oxygen burning in our cells, leaves alchemically converting sunlight to sugar and breathing out that oxygen for us to consume, soil bursting with food…auroras and glaciers and deserts and mountains and rivers and sunsets and rainbows and oceans and all the magnificent creatures. The pleasures of food and drink and art and music and dance and love and flesh.

…And that is just this world.

Beyond, so much. SO much. A Cosmos filled with enough beauty and strangeness to stagger even the coldest heart.

How can this not be enough? How cannot all the worship, all the reverence, all the transported joy a person can possibly muster not be engendered simply by looking around and paying attention?

My Paganism is the spirituality of reality. Just this: just what is here.

Because it is enough. It is more than enough.

If there’s more, it will have to either stop playing hide-and-seek and show some real evidence of its existence—at which point I will begin to marvel at it, the way I do everything else—or it will have to go without my attention.

Because there is already so much—SO much—to revere that we know for certain exists.

Questionably factual stuff will have to wait in line.


*NOT childish. I am not saying that.

Image: Migrating manta rays

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.”