In the Silken Air

At this time of year, I like to spend as much time without clothing as possible. The soft Spring air is delightful, caressing my body, and it just feels liberating and alive to be naked.

Now, this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not saying it should be. You have to come to terms with the state of your body, which is a real challenge for some of us (not that their bodies aren’t fine as they are, but body-image issues are a real thing). I am a middle-aged man with a typical middle-aged man’s body, somewhat the worse for the COVID-19 (lbs.)’ weight gain over the past year. To be comfortable in nothing but my skin, I have to make peace with this.

Nudity and Paganism have gone together since at least the 1940s, when Gerald Gardner began publishing his books on witchcraft. There is a lot of debate about where Gardner got his ideas and practices, but it is certainly true that he was both a naturist (nudist) and a BDSM enthusiast, and lo and behold, elements of these practices ended up in the tradition that he claimed to have been taught. I’m not the first to observe this.

But I think there is a kernel of wisdom in putting the challenge before us to become comfortable in our own skins, to embrace our bodies, just as they are, as unique and beautiful manifestations of the magnificent Cosmos and the fertile Earth.

We are our bodies—they are the instruments of everything we do. In our rituals, we work to connect ourselves integrally, focusing on the breath that provides the oxygen for the cellular flames we are. We work to bring our whole selves to the ritual work, and that includes our bodies, head to feet.

Our bodies change over time, and this is one of the inevitabilities with which we must grapple as they turn away from societal expectations of youthfulness and become something else: something it is our challenge to love, though we are taught to find fault with it. I have been fortunate in this regard; until I was 40 or so, I was tall and slim and had abundant wavy hair. I was good-looking—though I never realized it until it was almost over—and enjoyed the social privileges that go with that.

It has been interesting to watch as I have faded from view to young people as I have aged. The late poet and singer Leonard Cohen once joked that he had become somewhat transparent, and then fully invisible, and then repulsive…and then, in his 80s, cute. I’m around the invisible stage now; he wasn’t wrong.

This phenomenon is even more severe for women, whose social value is so wrongly tied to their appearance.

In the end, it’s not funny to feel unattractive and invisible, but we must be our own greatest allies, as in all things. To love ourselves, we must love our bodies, hard though it may be. This is a part of the work set before us to be healthy and happy and kind: to be kind to ourselves about our physical persons.

I don’t claim to have perfected it. I look with rue at my balding head and my belly. But then I shake my head and laugh, and know that to have this body is much better than many of the alternatives, like dying young.

It is better to have more chances at joyful experiences, connections, adventures, discoveries. Unless we are truly suffering and there is no hope of that suffering ending, it is always better to have a little more of this amazing, one-time-only journey we call life.

So here I sit, in my back yard, with birds investigating the ground for food and the Sun just peering over the trees, warm on my skin.

The silken air touches me and I feel a part of everything.

Joy Hunt

It’s been a long time.

I mean, a really long time. For many of us, since long before even the pandemic.

Since we strode, or ran, or wheeled, or paddled into the wild, lungs gulping precious air, consumed with The Moment of Aliveness.

Or, being unable to do any of those things, simply witnessed one of the many miracles of life on this exquisite Earth—a sunset or rise, a rainbow, a bolt of lightning, a crashing wave, a moonrise, snow falling, an aurora—and had our breath taken away.

It’s more than a year now since our socialization, our group activities were taken from us.

And I’m writing now to suggest to you—to me—that it’s time.

Not that the pandemic is over. It isn’t. But after a year of fear and isolation, it is time to chase joy.

Yes, we must be safe. Some of us — myself included — are vaccinated now, and I have to say that it feels like an enormous weight has been lifted. But even if you’re not, I recommend a joy hunt: a drive to somewhere beautiful, perhaps, or a socially-distanced walk or trip. I know not all of us are able to do some of the things I am describing, but Nature is so vast — it’s even in your house! — that surely there is some wonder to be found, however limited your range of motion.

Now, a joy hunt doesn’t necessarily have to be for a natural phenomenon; that just happens to be the sort of thing that makes me and many others happy. Is it an activity you love? Something that fell by the wayside as the pandemic ground on? It may feel awkward to do that thing again, but give it a try. Here, after so much time, is a moment when we can emerge as the plants are emerging (in the Northern Hemisphere), and restate our aliveness.

Joy isn’t something that always falls in our laps. Happiness is a muscle; it must be exercised. Even as we use our rituals and our contemplative practices and draw forth our wisdom through personal growth, we must also go to where the Good Feeling is if we want to feel it.

Good hunting!

Post Five Hundred: Thank You

Once upon a time, on a laptop far, far away, a guy with some ideas posted an essay about them to Scribd. He sent it to some friends who had expressed interest in it, too.

It was 2009.

Among those friends, there were discussions.

After awhile, too, there was a Facebook group dedicated to discussing the ideas. And that group started to grow. People the guy didn’t know started joining the group, expressing relief and joy at having found people of like mind.

The ideas grew, too. The dude produced more materials fleshing out the ideas, and posted them as files to the Facebook group, along with long posts about the ideas.

But Facebook posts are ephemeral, and its file feature is a pretty poor way of organizing and accessing information. So the guy started this blog.

That was on August 19th, 2014.

And this is the 500th post to that blog.

In the time between then and now, remarkable things have happened:

  • The Facebook group has grown both in size (now nearly 3,000 members) and character to become a true community, with a book club, regular Zoom mixers and rituals, and other projects and programs.
  • The ideas have expanded to other channels such as Twitter, YouTube, Discord and GoodReads.
  • The ideas have had recognition/platforming at Pantheacon and the Conference on Current Pagan Studies.
  • The original essay was expanded into a published book.
  • The science-based Paganism podcast, THE WONDER, was launched.
  • Finally, The Atheopagan Society, a tax-exempt nonprofit religious organization dedicated to supporting and spreading those ideas, has been incorporated and its Council convened.

And here we are.

I describe this as I do because Atheopaganism is a set of ideas, and practices rooted in those ideas. That’s what we’re here for.

And I am so grateful.

I have found the community of people I have longed for. I am having the conversations I yearned for.

And our community has become a legitimate, recognized voice within Paganism.

Now, I’ve done a lot of work to help these things to happen, and I’m proud of that work. I’m still kind of stunned at the rousing response to it.

But more than anything, I’m grateful to you, reader.

I’m grateful for every single person who has explored these ideas, has chosen a rational and heartfelt, deep Earth-honoring spirituality. Everyone who has entered this community saying—or thinking—oh, thank fortune, I have finally found my people.

Much of this time we have been growing, and growing closer, the situation in the world has not been very good. Fascism and racist nationalism have had a resurgence, and in the form of Brexit, Hungarian policies against refugees, Bolsonaro’s genocidal hatred for indigenous Amazonians, everything about Donald Trump’s “administration”—and China’s, and Russia’s—and so many more examples, it has been tough going for human decency, mutual respect, and the systems of the living Earth.

But we Atheopagans share a vision: a vision of better, kinder, wiser, more reasonable, more ecologically connected humanity. We strive to be that ourselves, and hope to perpetuate it in the world. We didn’t give up as the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson stunk up the place, and we’re not going to give up, either. In our personal work and in our public work, we are about the Principles and values that brought us here.

Our religious path gives us purpose, focus, wisdom and joy. It’s about being the best humans we can be.

Thank you for joining me on this amazing ride. I am humbled and honored that so many have found such value in those ideas some dude tossed up on the web in 2009.

My love and gratitude to you all.