Potok and the Hundred-Thousand Year Fire—A Campfire Tale

There was a night—long, long ago—when we had captured fire.

This was many years before we knew how to make it. We found it in a tree which had been struck by lightning, carried it in a gourd to where we made a camp.

And that night, we gathered around where the fire was fed to grow fat and snapping. We saw one another’s faces in the flickering light, and felt the warmth even in the dead of night.

It was a miracle. No predator would dare come near. And we were all together, in a circle, about the dancing, magical fire.

One night, meat was plentiful. A man named Potok had killed a cave bear after a fierce battle. Our bellies were full and grease hissed in the fire, and when we had eaten, Potok stood and told his tale: how he had lured the bear and crept upon it, how his spear went deep, and then he leapt upon the bear with his flint knife. The bear’s fangs hung, fresh and bloody, from a thong about his neck.

We cheered and ate some more.

The next winter, Potok died. We buried him with the bear fangs. But that night at the fire, and many nights thereafter, we told the tale of Potok and the bear.

And the tale, as tales will, grew in the telling.

There followed many fires.

We took fire into caves. We drew the bear, and the cave lion, and the aurochs and the bull. Again and again we returned, our torches flaring, to blow ochre against our hands, flattened against the wall, signifying, we were here.

And we told the tale of Potok. We spoke his name over our weapons before we hunted. Before long, we were asking Potok to help us in the hunt. As if he were still alive.

As if he still existed.

And the tale, as tales will, grew in the telling.

There were fires, and fires, and fires.

We brought them into our houses. We built cities and learned to plant crops in rows.

Circles became lines. And Potok was joined by warriors and heroes and lovers and queens and kings and demons and angels and devils and djinn and ifrit.

Until at last they all rolled into one. One hallowed name. And the fires dwindled to tiny candle flames.

But still we gathered. Still we whispered the sacred name. Even as we gathered to kill one another.

Until—gradually, very slowly—we didn’t.

We learned. We brought our fire into laboratories and harnessed it for engines and turbines and rockets. We found that they flew just as truly, even when we did not invoke the name of Potok.

And so many of us left him behind. In growing numbers, the people no longer spoke the name of a Being who had once been Potok.

Which brings us to this night. This fire.

At a time when we are finally forgetting the name of Potok.

This fire is a place for us to remember the look of each others’ faces in firelight. To gaze upward to the Moon, remembering: we went there. To celebrate anew our humanity, our lives on this generous world, now that Potok no longer distracts us from it.

One day, generations in the future, the tale may be told of this fire. Of this gathering.

Of the People Who No Longer Needed Potok.

It is unlikely that our names will be remembered, but the fact that we gathered at this fire may be. The fact that we began to build the culture of those who celebrate living, who revere the Sacred Cosmos, who bind to one another in community and family…all without Potok.

And that tale, in all likelihood, will grow with the telling. For that fire will burn not here, no.

Look up. To the stars.

That fire may well burn up there. Where people will tell their tales of how we sallied forth, armed with knowledge and filled with reverence, to the sky.

Why is Naturalism Radical?

One of the hottest points of contention between Atheopagans and both theists and hard-antitheist atheists has to do with naturalism. Naturalism is a philosophical position which holds that there is nothing which is not of the physical Universe: that there is nothing which is supernatural, and that such claimed supernatural phenomena as gods, spirits, souls, ghosts, and magic are fictitious.

Theists dispute this out of hand, of course. It makes sense that nontheist Pagans have friction with theists over this point.

But adamant antitheists like David Dennett and Richard Dawkins have conflict with it, too–because they insist that if you are a naturalistic tradition, you’re not really a religion.

This is frankly silly. The only reason that we assume you must believe in the supernatural in order to be religious is because our society unthinkingly adopts the paradigm of religious traditions for whom Belief is a Big Big Deal.

Think about it. If you were going to create a religion today*, there is no way you would start from the standpoint that much of what science tells us is untrue and that instead, fantastical and completely unverifiable anecdotes are the true accounting of the nature of the Universe.

The only reason such anecdotes and beliefs are sewn into the fabric of Bronze Age religions is because they didn’t know any better back then. They were grasping for answers and they made up stories to fit their cultural values and what little they could verify for themselves.

Clearly, cultural inertia is a thing.

I grow frustrated with the likes of Dawkins and Dennett because their arguments against Religion writ large are always REALLY arguments against supernaturalism.

But religion doesn’t have to be supernaturalistic. So their arguments “against religion”—entire books’ worth—come down to straw man fallacies.

Why is it considered so wild an idea that religion need not contain a supernatural component? The only answer I have is that it is because the religions we see around us have not been doing it that way. For centuries.

The insistence that Belief in that which requires Faith is a necessary prerequisite for a religious tradition is basically a monotheistic holdover from the Abrahamic religions, in my opinion. We’ve been steeping in the assumptions of the Judeo-Christian worldview for so long we can’t even see how they have stained us.

Religion isn’t just what you believe about the Universe. It’s also about your values, and your morals, and your religious practices and observances.

And that really isn’t such a radical idea.

 

*And if you’re an Atheopagan, you actually are, by the way.