Themes for Atheopagan “Welcoming” Gatherings

This past weekend, a handful of us threw a successful Atheopagan gathering for the Harvest Sabbath.

Not everyone there was an Atheopagan. Not everyone there had even heard of Atheopaganism. But we ate and drank and socialized and circled together, and a good time was had by all.

And isn’t that the point?

Where I’m going with this is that wherever you live, there may not be self-identified Atheopagans to gather with. Not right away, at least. But there are people: folks who might very well enjoy a seasonal gathering with a theme, socializing and food, and a short acknowledgement of the meanings of the season in ritual form. Those folks may find, in time, that doing these Atheopagan rituals—perhaps even helping to design or officiate them— is something that interests them, and they may want to learn more.

So think about it: who might you invite to something like that? The gathering doesn’t have to be huge; even 6-8 people can have a great time together. You can start to pull together a working Atheopagan community simply by being hospitable and offering experiences that are connecting, meaningful and memorable.

Here are some suggested themes and activities for Atheopagan gatherings at various Sabbaths around the year*:

Yule (winter solstice): family and community, the return of the light, the longest night

Slogg (3rd Saturday in January): “second Christmas” party, community, getting through winter

Imbolc/Brighid/Riverain (~Feb. 1) : early spring, making Rain Babies,

High Spring(vernal equinox): dyeing eggs, playing childhood games, candy and desserts

May Day (~May 1) : playfulness, arrival of summer, Maypole, May wine.

Midsummer (summer solstice): the peak of the light, the longest day, evening gathering, outdoor games

Summer’s End (~Aug. 1): picnic or beach/river day, go berry-gathering, bake bread

Harvest (autumnal equinox): harvest feast, celebrate the year’s “harvest”, gratitude for abundance

Hallows (~Oct. 31/Nov. 1): Halloween, spooky fun, costumes, ancestors and remembering those who have died in the past year.

One reason we practice Atheopaganism is to connect with our fellow humans. Wherever you are, I hope you will reach out and extend invitations to friends to join you in simple celebration of seasons, rites of passage and the fact that we are alive.

May your gatherings be well-attended, fun, and rich with meaning!


*These are for the Northern Hemisphere; reverse the dates for Southern.

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Seize the (Unusual) Day!

Recently, I posted about customizing your own Atheopagan Wheel of the Year creating a cycle of observances of the equinoxes, solstices and points between as an 8-holiday cycle of rituals and traditions.

However, I believe there are more holidays (“holy days”) than just these. Those on the Wheel are the ones we can predict will come every year, but there are also unusual and amazing phenomena that come along once in a very great while which we should also take time out to celebrate.

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Here where I live in Northern California, for example, thunder and lightning are almost unheard of. They require a combination of precipitation and heat that we just don’t see here very often*: typically, heat is during the dry season, and precipitation during the cold season.

So when we get a forecast with a strong likelihood of lightning, if at all possible I free up some time and drive for high ground where I can watch it come down. Likewise with snowfall (very rare): up early to see it come down (it is almost always at night or in the early hours of the morning).

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These kinds of phenomena are rare and wonderful. We should definitely declare a “holy day” when we can, and take the time to celebrate them.

In some desert areas, there are spectacular wildflower blooms after particularly wet winters. In the mountains, temporary waterfalls are created by spring snowmelt. Lunar and (especially) solar eclipses; meteor showers; comets, auroras, bird migrations, autumn foliage…there are marvels that come around us, and not too infrequently. We must not be “too busy” with quotidian affairs to experience them.

Oh, and Fridays the 13th. Just because.

We are people who celebrate the Earth and Cosmos: let’s go see those things!

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*Although with climate change, this is changing. In recent years, we have had one or two instances of lightning storms every summer. Nothing like what is seen in the Southwestern or eastern US, but remarkable for here.

Creating Your Own Wheel of the Year

In Atheopaganism,  similar to many other Pagan paths, we celebrate eight Sabbaths, or holy days: the solar equinoxes and solstices, and the points between them. But I encourage folks to adapt this calendar to fit the circumstances of the places where we live, choosing our own names and meanings for these holidays as necessary.

Why your own? Because we all live in different climates, and the traditional Pagan/Wiccan Wheel doesn’t really reflect any except that of England and places with similar seasonal cycles. Ours is an Earth religion, and connectedness to our local seasonal cycles is essential: our celebrations should reflect the land on which we live, not somewhere else.

I live in coastal Northern California, where we have a “Mediterranean” climate cycle: rain in the winter and completely dry in the summer. Snow is rare and even when we get it, it is usually just a dusting on the mountaintops after a particularly cold winter night.

So I have created my own cycle of holidays, still using the equinoxes, solstices, and points-between dates, but changing up the meanings and rituals somewhat to reflect this land and its seasons. I have renamed many of the Sabbaths from their common Celtic names, because I don’t personally relate to that culture or history.

I can imagine a wide range of Wheels of the Year for different climates: for example, in the Southwestern U.S., where the tail ends of hurricanes bring spectacular thunderstorms in August, I could see the Aug. 1 holiday being a rain Sabbath, or a Festival of Lightning. And in the tropics, of course, the Sabbaths may be totally different and mark the cycles of monsoon seasons.

Recently, Jon Cleland Host published a synopsis of his holidays and their associations over at Humanistic Paganism. It’s a good idea, so below, using an adaptation of Jon’s “cheat sheet” format, is my Wheel of the Year (note: I don’t use Jon’s concept of the midpoint Sabbaths as “Thermistices” and “Equitherms” because the climate where I live doesn’t really work that way).

Note that Sabbath names are live links to all articles on the site about that Sabbath; there are also a few other links to craft projects or ritual articles in the table.

DATE NAME ASSOCIATIONS RITUALS
Winter Solstice (~ Dec. 21) Yule The Festival of Light; birth of the New Sun; beginning of the year; family and community. Yule Tree; Yule Log; lights, presents; stockings; watching Hogfather; singing carols
Midpoint

(~ Feb. 1)

Riverain The Festival of Water and beginning of Spring (first wildflowers appear) Sowing seeds; planning for the coming year; Rain Baby (corn dolly); rain hike; spring cleaning, Spring Fast
Spring Equinox (~ March 21) High Spring The Festival of Childhood, innocence, playfulness, lightness. Dyeing eggs; childhood games; focus on children in ritual; bright, childlike colors
Midpoint

(~ May 1)

May Day The Festival of Adulthood, sexuality, beginning of Summer Maypole; sexy/flirty games; May wine; rites of passage into adulthood
Summer Solstice (~ June 21) Midsummer The Festival of Enjoyment, relaxation, leisure, the long warm evenings, flitting about in the woods like fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Have a party—preferably in the woods! Relax and enjoy life. Perhaps a trip to the beach. Rebuild Sun broom.
Midpoint

(~Aug. 1)

Summer’s End The Festival of Work and Craft; grain harvest, brewing, John Barleycorn, breadmaking, end of the fog cycle and beginning of Autumn and the hottest part of the year Bake bread; pick wild blackberries; brew beer or Yule mead; handcrafts
Autumnal Equinox (~ September 21) Harvest The Harvest, the grape crush, wine, feasting, completion of efforts Harvest feast with lots of wine!
Midpoint (~Nov. 6) Hallows The Festival of Death, mortality and morbidity, remembrance of Honored Dead, ancestry, beginning of Winter Hallows ritual; divination; burn the Rain Baby in the Hallows fire; light the Hallows fire with yew branch gathered from cemetery the year before; carve pumpkins

I invite you to do the same! Here is a link to a blank version of this template, so you can create your own.

I envision a time when Atheopagans who meet one another from different parts of the world might exchange information about the Sabbaths they observe, just as other Pagans share their tradition or path with one another. Each land is different, and we who live there are informed by the seasons we experience: let’s get connected to our local Earth cycles and celebrate!