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.

Ritual Hygiene: Preparation and Recovery

I made a mistake this week.

I assigned the creation and completion of a solitary ritual to the students in the Atheopaganism U. class, and neglected to cover how to take care of yourself before and after a ritual. One of the students had a very powerful experience in her ritual, and then spent hours unable to sleep thereafter.

Whoops.

In all my writing here at the Atheopaganism site, I have completely overlooked the basic physical/psychological preparation and post-ritual self care that are necessary for health and safety. These are practices I engage in myself–it just never occurred to me to write about them.

So here goes.

Depending on their contents, rituals can be physically taxing. They can work up your feelings and metabolic and heart rates, and simply attaining and being in the Ritual State of focus, presence, emotion and awareness can burn a lot of calories.

Accordingly, we need to take care of our bodies and our minds prior to and following a ritual.

Pre-Arrival phase: Generally speaking, it is good to prepare for a ritual by eating a light, healthy snack of some kind, like a piece of fruit, and ensuring that you are sufficiently hydrated. Get a good night of sleep the night before if at all possible.

There are exceptions to these rules. Sometimes fasting is employed in the lead-up to a ritual, or sleep deprivation, or both. These can contribute to a ritual being very powerful, but are also dangerous unless thorough grounding and return to a normal state are employed after the ritual’s closing.

Hydration is always a must. Have water available for participants during a ritual and be sure you are sipping water, whether or not you feel you need it.

Post-Benediction phase: After a ritual, you may find yourself feeling lightheaded or dreamy, still in the Ritual State, or you may have had a profound emotional experience that is still lingering with you. The limbic system of the brain is highly activated during the Ritual State; this creates an altered state of consciousness which can be dangerous when it comes to engaging with physical reality: do not, for example, jump right in a car and drive while in this state.

Instead, do what you can to “ground” or re-orient your body and mind to an ordinary state of consciousness.

Eat something hearty. Touch the soles of your feet or your bare palms flat against the Earth and just breathe for a few minutes, concentrating on your breath going in and out. Then sit quietly and just notice your surroundings: pay particular attention to their details. Soon, you will feel more “normal” and will be able to go about the business of cleaning up from the ritual and moving on with your day or night.

The Ritual State is pleasurable and powerful, but it is also an altered state of consciousness and should not be combined with operating heavy machinery or other dangerous activities. Be sure to take care of yourself as you conduct your ritual work.

 

Patriotism and Ritual Cleansing

It’s the 4th of July: Independence Day in the U.S., a time of patriotic celebration.

I am a patriot. By that, I mean that I 1) love the land, water, air, creatures and people of the United States, and want the best for them; 2) I am well familiar with and do not deny the historical and current moral failings of this country, and seek to improve our record and behavior going forward.

I do not mean that I cheer lead the American Empire, nor that I jingoistically hail flags, weapons, militarism or the idea that the United States is somehow superior to all other nations, all metrics contradicting this suggestion to the contrary.

Today, I feel disgusted by the Trump kakistocracy and particularly by its caging of desperate asylum seekers in unsafe, crowded, unsanitary concentration camps. I feel revolted by this criminal cabal’s trashing of environmental protections, stacking of our Supreme Court and all-out war on anyone who isn’t straight, white, male and cisgendered.

Even thinking about these things fills me with such rage and disgust that I want to lash out. I feel dirty, as an American, for the role my taxes and my government play in these things.

Which brings me to ritual cleansing. All activism aside, there comes a time when all we can do is take care of ourselves and prepare for the next opportunity to move the needle in a more positive direction.

So here are some things we can do to ritually cleanse ourselves, to help us feel clean of the yuck that afflicts us:

Smoke blessing.  You can use incense or burning herbs such as rosemary, sweet grass, sage, yerba santa or other fragrant plants to do a smoke blessing on yourself. Place the herbs in a bowl or a large seashell such as an abalone shell, and waft the smoke over your body with a fan or feather.

Ritual bath. First, clean the tub. Make sure it feels like a place you can get clean again. Draw a warm bath, and add herbal oils for some fragrance if desired. Common “clean smelling” oils include sage, carnation, lemon, etc.  Light some incense and candles to create a sacred space. Ease into the bathtub and wash slowly, stating what you are washing off as you do so (e.g., “I wash off shame…I wash off despair…I wash off fear…”)

Ritual shower. If you don’t have a bathtub, you can take a ritual shower. Prepare the space as above, instead of putting oils in the water, anoint your body with them, speaking the qualities you are applying with each dab of oil (“I apply courage…I apply strength…I apply tenacity…I apply endurance…I apply hope…”). In the shower, speak the things you are washing off as you wash each part of your body.

Sound bath. Gather singing bowls, tingshas, and/or clear-toned metal or lead crystal bells and chimes. Prepare the space as in a ritual bath. Sit naked, surrounded by the bells and chimes, and ring them gently at random, creating a “bath” of sound all around you. Do this until you feel tension easing away; speak the things you are letting go of.

These are just a few ideas for how we can cleanse ourselves of the yuck of the world when we feel it is depressing and disempowering us. If you have others, post them in the comments!

Get clean, get strong, and be prepared to carry on. The world needs us at this time. Don’t let it grind you down.