A Reading List for Atheopagans

Lately, it seems a lot of people in the Pagan community are publishing suggested book lists. To my eyes, these lists range widely in quality, but the idea is a good one. So here are some books I recommend:

Godless Paganism, edited by John Halstead. This collection of essays, poems and other pieces collects the perspectives of many nontheist Pagans, myself included (I also wrote the foreword). A great overview of approaches to nontheist Paganism.

The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. Of all the books on this list, if you’re only going to read one, make it this one. Abram’s work is a revelation and a joy. I won’t say more; just read it.

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. An overview of the state of cosmological physics at the time of writing. Dense, but completely worth it.

The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. The (thus-far) untestable principles of superstring theory may be the solution to the thornily irreconcilable Einsteinian physics of objects and the quantum mechanics of the very small. If you’re interested in answers to the question of Life, the Universe and everything*, this is for you.

The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins. As readers here know, I am not a fan of Dawkins. But in this, he sticks to his actual area of knowledge–evolutionary biology–and his book magnificently tells the story of evolution and the rise of biological diversity.

Complexity: the Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by Mitchell Waldrop. Why do complex forms arise out of simple ones? This may be the most fundamental scientific question there is. Read about the early seekers of discovery in this deep area of scientific inquiry.

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, by Carl Sagan. Like its author, by turns ebullient and deeply knowledgeable, this is an inspiring and fascinating read.

Chaos, by James Gleick. Why can’t we precisely predict the weather? Why do the features of our world appear as they do? Why do we see the same general patterns repeated over and over, at large scales and small, throughout the Universe? Read this, and find out.

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson. A fascinating true story of the power of an idea to override reason, and of the scientific method’s ability to break through the spell.

Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin (fiction). A magnificent vision of a future society where kind and sustainable values are sustained by ritual practices. Set in the Napa Valley, one mountain ridge to the east of where I live, so it’s a special favorite.

Earth Prayers: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. A lovely collection, and a great source for discovering new poets who revere the Earth.

Local Nature Guides. Can you identify the predominant trees in your region? Wildflowers? Medicinal plants? Geological formations? Birds? Animals? Butterflies? To be connected with the natural world, we must know it. It isn’t necessary to have an exhaustive knowledge, but the more familiarity we have with the ecological context within which we live, the more deeply and richly we can celebrate our love for the Earth.

Ethnographies and Anthropological Books. The rich and extraordinarily diverse details and processes of rituals throughout the world can serve as inspiration for our own ritual workings. I’ve particularly enjoyed books on the shamanic practices of Arctic peoples, on the death rites of the Masai, and on the sacred sings of the Dineh people, as well as about the folkways that are survivals of pre-Christianization of Europe. Broader works that seek to draw patterns between many cultures (Joseph Campbell, e.g.) don’t appeal to me as much because they are far more speculative, but some of them are lavishly illustrated with interesting art.

Got some favorites to recommend? Please leave them in the comments!

[UPDATE 2018: Atheopaganism now has a Goodreads page where books are recommended and reviewed. Click here to visit!]

*Spoiler: the answer is 42.

Music for Atheopagan Ritual Use

The music below was recommended by members of the Atheopagan Facebook group for use in Atheopagan rituals. Particularly in solitary rituals (when, obviously, having live accompaniment isn’t possible), the addition of a musical “soundtrack” can be tremendously powerful. Also listed are some sources for chants which can be used in group rituals—singing is one of the most powerful ways to bring people together and build the sense of energy in a ritual!

This list will grow as new music is suggested.

Adiemus (Karl Jenkins): The Journey

Anonymous4: Many disks of this a cappella women’s medieval music ensemble could work well for ritual; I prefer 11,000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula by Hildegard von Bingen

Bare Necessities: Take a Dance. This ensemble plays traditional tunes for English country dancing. This album is lovely for High Spring or May Day celebrations; very light and springy.

Bone Poets Orchestra: Atheist Anthems

Chandra, Sheila: A Bonecronedrone and The Zen Kiss. Very trance-y.

Cossu, Scott with Eugene Friesen: Reunion. Light, quiet-morning piano with cello, good for reflection and introspective work.

Coyle, T. Thorn and Knight, Sharon: Songs for the Strengthening Sun and Songs for the Waning Year (both available at Bandcamp)

Dead Can Dance: many, many tracks; the two albums best suited are The Serpent’s Egg and In the Realm of a Dying Sun

Darwin Song Project: “You May Stand Mute” “Mother of Mystery” and “Clock of the World”.

Delerium: Karma. Dance-y, trance-y. The track “Euphoria (Ecstacy)” is particularly good.

Daemonia Nymphe: Plays authentic instruments and sing hymns from ancient Greece.

Gabriel, Peter: Passion (soundtrack to “The Last Temptation of Christ”)–hands down Mark’s favorite for solitary ritual.

Figueras, Montserrat and La Capella Reial de Catalunya: El Cant de la Sybil-la. 15th and 16th century “Songs of the Sybil”. Powerful ritual music.

Libana: Fire Within. Not all tracks, but several are great for ritual.

Mayer, Peter: Naturalistic hymns, “Blue Boat Home”, “Holy Now” and “Church of the Earth” (and “God is a River” for Pantheists)

McBride, Abbi Spinner: Fire of Creation and Family of Fire. These are great chants, many of them without reference to divinity or “spirit”.

McCutcheon, John: Step by Step

Pook, Joselyn: Masked Ball (from the soundtrack to “Eyes Wide Shut”)

Portishead: Dummy. Dark, dreamy.

Reclaiming Collective: Some (not all) of the chants on Let It Begin Now: Music from the Spiral Dance (there are alternative Atheopagan lyrics to “This Ae Neet” in the Atheopagan Hymnal)

Roach, Steve: On This Planet, Minimal

Roach, Steve and Vir Unis: Blood Machine

Roth, Gabrielle and the Mirrors: all of her disks, which are themed on different ritual “flavors”

Sacred Treasures: Choral Masterworks from Russia. Russian Orthodox choral works by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and others. Magnificent.

Shibaten: haunting Digeridoo music.

Sovosó: Track “Dirt” on album Then and Now.

Vas: Sunyata and Offerings (highly meditative).

Winston, George: The Seasons Cycle. These four albums—Autumn, December, Winter into Spring, and Summer—are all lovely accompaniments for ritual work.

There are many places online that Pagan chants can be found, and many of them are fine for Atheopagan ritual. Here is a fine example.