Atheopaganism for Solitaries

We’re a subgroup of a subculture. Of a couple of them, actually: atheism and Paganism.

So it’s not a surprise that though there are many of us collectively, we are spread thinly and may live far away from anyone else who identifies as practicing the path of Atheopaganism. Thus, this post, about practicing as a solitary.

That said, I do encourage folks to meet up as best they can. I have heard many heartwarming stories of folks from the Atheopaganism Facebook group meeting in person and establishing friendships. I think that’s wonderful!

I myself mostly practice as a solitary. Though I have a ritual circle that meets 8 times per year or so and the rituals of which don’t generally involve invocation of deities, most of my day-to-day practice is things that I do by myself, or sometimes with Nemea, my partner in crime.

My solitary practices fall into several categories: Daily practices, contemplation, craft projects and solitary rituals.

In my daily practices, I often have very little time in the morning before leaving for work, as I am not a morning person and typically sleep in until the very last minute when I must prepare for work. Still, I stand before my Focus, and ground myself. The Arrival Phase of ritual is particularly important in solitary work, because it is there that we submerge into the Ritual State, or trance. The creation of a sense of being safe and protected is particularly important when working alone–you’ll want to ensure you have privacy and won’t be interrupted.

I then draw a Tarot card, and contemplate its meaning. It will become a theme for reflection throughout the day. And then I’m off to work, and my day.

In the evening, mostly I just like to spend time by candlelight, to enjoy the dreamy entrancing feeling of the flickering candles on my Focus. But sometimes I do more formal solitary rituals (see below).

In contemplation practices, I typically lay out a selection of ritual decorations and tools to create a Focus, and then read Tarot cards by candlelight. I am a very poor meditator, as my attention tends to be drawn away, but Tarot or other “divination” practices work well for contemplation for me.

Similarly, when creating Pagan craft projects, I like to lay out a Focus and play music that puts me in a proper mood. Generally, you need full light to work with cutting tools and so forth, but beginning with Arrival and declaration of Qualities you would like to be imbued in the product of your crafts can make a ritual out of a crafting project. For examples of such projects, see here.

In a solitary ritual, I plan an intention in advance, and do what I can to create the setting that will enable me to go deeply into trance. So I play appropriate ritual music (see link above), burn incense or dried herbs, light candles or oil lamps, and perhaps dress in special ritual apparel or put on a special piece of jewelry. I go through the five phases of the ritual structure for Atheopaganism that I recommend (Arrival, Qualities and Intentions, Deep Play, Gratitude and Benediction). Such solitary rituals are usually planned in advance.

However, bear in mind that such personal rituals may not involve prior planning. It is perfectly legitimate to simply ground, establish sacred space, and perform an impromptu ritual without thinking about even the goal in advance. Sometimes the goal is simply to experience the ritual state of trance itself, sheerly for the symbolic meaning and pleasure of it.

And now, a word about mind-altering substances. Many find dropping into the deep Presence and warm, glowing feeling of trance to be easier—particularly when solitary—if they have some chemical assistance. I make no judgements about this, but suggest that if you choose this route, you start from the standpoint that less is more. I find personally that a single glass of wine is helpful to me in establishing the Ritual State; any more than that and I am unfocused and not really in the best state for doing rituals. Others may prefer a little cannabis or even something stronger.

If you choose to experiment in this direction, one route I highly suggest avoiding is that of stimulants. The effects of such drugs as caffeine, cocaine and amphetamines are directly opposite that of trance: they tend to lead to people being hyper, scattered, and unable to focus very well unless taken in very small doses. Not to mention their addictive natures.

There is a lot of literature on the usage of chemical drugs in ritual contexts. I’m not familiar with much of it because that isn’t my area of interest, but if you root around the Internet I’m sure you can find a lot. One very good resource on psychoactive substances generally is the nonprofit site Erowid.

Obviously, you should be aware of the laws in your area and take care of your personal security in making decisions about use of chemical enhancement.

Explore your solitary practice and I hope you find much joy and meaning in it! Feel free to remark on your experiences in the comments.


Beautiful as this image is, please: don’t EVER wear sleeves like this when working with naked flame.

An Atheopagan Tarot Spread

I have written before about “divination” and particularly the use of complex symbol systems such as runes or Tarot cards in Atheopaganism. We can use these symbol sets to access our intuitive and subconscious understandings of our situations, despite the fact that the arrangement of the cards (runes, bones, tea leaves, etc.) is random.

When reading Tarot, what I am always looking for is that sense of deep recognition: when a particular card in a particular position just feels wise and right and true.

I have long since divested myself of the commonplace “Celtic Cross” layout which is the most commonly taught layout for the cards, and thought today I would share a layout I have devised which is consistent with my Atheopagan practice.

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The reading begins with a reader declaration: The aspect of my life this reading applies to is…

And then the eight cards are laid out, as above.

  1. Where I have been.
  2. Where am I headed now (if I keep doing what I am doing).
  3. What is known.
  4. What is hidden to me.
  5. My challenge is…
  6. How I can help myself to evolve?
  7. This evolution will help me to…
  8. Theme/summation/archetype

 

In the reading above, my declaration was, “The aspect of my life this reading applies to is career and finances.”

  1. I have been worried and fearful, perhaps not noticing some of the good in my life for fear of survival.
  2. Where I am headed now is to confront and overcome this fear. I am on a good track.
  3. What is known is that it is an economically hostile world. Opportunities can be hard to come by, and previous encounters haven’t necessarily worked out.
  4. What is hidden, however, is the opportunity presented by an expansive vision and a willingness to take risks.
  5. My challenge is a feeling of imprisonment, of being trapped. Of not having options.
  6. I can help myself to evolve by transitioning out of “refugee” status: no longer thinking of myself as powerless, but rather having new opportunities.
  7. This evolution will help me to master my economic fate, and thrive.
  8. The summation of this is that I have prioritized other areas like love and relationships over money-making. It is not a “failing” to be in this circumstance now.

If the Tarot spreads you have been using don’t feel quite right, give this one a try!

With Both Hands in Grave Dirt

‘Tis the season for we Pagany/witchy types. There is an entire aesthetic we—or most of us, anyway—enjoy that has a brief moment in the waning sun each year, and this is it.

Now, as Atheopagans, we don’t believe in ghosts or spirits or Dark God/desses. But that doesn’t matter: there is plenty of rich fodder for ritual, for reflection, and for psychological transformation at this time of year.

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all suffered loss. And we have only to look out to the world around us to find ample and overflowing reason for rage, for sorrow and for lament.

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Bones, skulls, graves and funerary ceremonies are powerful images and processes. They bring us into encounter with the fact of death and are cathartic moments when our deepest feelings can emerge. And this is the time of year most apt for these kinds of rituals.

So here are some ideas. These can be solitary or group rituals; in my experience such rituals are powerfully transformative and can make a real difference in our lives. You can do them in a back yard or even in a private corner of a public park*.

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  • Dig a shallow (perhaps 1′ deep) “grave” and hold a FUNERAL for (preferably biodegradable) symbols of what has departed or no longer serves you in your life. Enclose them in a wooden or cardboard “coffin” and bury it with full ritual honors. Keep a flower from the funeral and dry it for your Focus (I put mine in the Underworld section of my Focus, where I keep pictures of my Beloved Dead, as well as of ancestors, destruction and change.)6325510481_ffb3c10f22_b
  • Alternatively, build a PYRE. Place on it the symbols of what you wish to release, and light it ablaze. Be sure to practice fire safety–you can even do this ritual on a backyard fire pit. When the flames have cooled, keep a coal or a small portion of ashes from the fire for your Focus, to remind you of the change you have undergone.a4203082386_10.jpg
  • Perform a RESURRECTION. Something Missing from your life that you once had–some activity you loved, or quality or feeling about life? Build a mounded grave with a symbol or symbols of it buried inside. After dark, go to the grave and build a Focus beside it illumined by chimney candles or a jack o’lantern. Go for the spookiest look and feeling you can find!Contemplate the Focus; perhaps sip some blood-red wine. When the moment feels right, slowly dig for the symbol(s) of what has been lost, chanting, Bring it back to me, bring it back to me. Seize the symbol(s) tightly when you find them, and hold each to your heart. Replace the dirt as before. Carry the symbol with you, at least until Yule. This ritual can be even more powerful if done as a group, with one person as the “subject” and the rest choosing the symbol(s) to be buried and creating the grave–in this way, the subject will not know what is in the grave and its emotional impact will be stronger.

 

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  • Visit with ANCESTORS. This one CAN be done in a a cemetery, preferably after dark. Prepare by anointing a black candle with cedar oil (the scent of coffin wood–at least, that’s my association. You can also use yew, which is an evergreen traditionally planted in cemeteries). Plant the candle in the ground, and light it (bring a glass chimney to keep the wind from blowing it out).

    Bring a list of ten or twenty of your ancestors’ names, if you don’t know many of them by heart. Read the list aloud, repeating 3 times. Ask aloud, three times, What, wise ancestors, would you have me know? What is your message for me? Pay close attention to what message arises from within you, for it is your wisest self speaking to you. I do not recommend this ritual for those with a history of abuse at the hands of family—the Abuser Voice is a powerful psychological structure and may hijack the process.

One of the things that scares people of the Overculture about Pagans is that unlike them, we are not in denial about the dark aspects of existence. We understand an emphasis on “white light and love” to be an incomplete and illusory perspective on the complex mixture that is our human reality. Death and loss are a part of this—and we as Atheopagans are even more unflinching about this, because we understand that an afterlife is highly unlikely. Working with the physical and symbolic reality of death and endings renders us more grounded in reality, more psychologically healthy and empowered, and more able to be effective in the world.

Speaking of, it IS the season! Be sure to complete or update your Death Instructions!


* Though it would be really cool, I do not recommend trying these rituals in an actual cemetery, as you may end up talking with police.

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