Pagan Thoughts on the Christian Story

“a purely intellectualized pantheism … invites its adherents to commune with a universe that offers suffering and misery in abundance, which means that it has a strong appeal to the privileged but a much weaker appeal to people who need not only a sense of wonder from their spiritual lives but also, well, help.”

–Ross Douthat, “The Return of Paganism”, New York Times (Dec. 12, 2018)

Ever since I stopped calling myself “Christian”, I have wondered at the fact that the story of a Jewish rabbi in first century Palestine should capture the imagination of people around the world for the successive two millennia, and that the religion which developed around his story should become the most popular religion on the planet–with over 2 billion in the world and over 200 million in the United States.

Continue reading “Pagan Thoughts on the Christian Story”

No-Nonsense Paganism: My Winter Ritual

In my first post in this series, I explained how I wanted to strip away everything non-essential from pagan ritual and build it from the ground up–literally, starting with our interaction with the earth and the other-than-human beings who we share it with.

In the second part, I talked about various occasions during the winter season which present opportunities for ritual. As pagans, we need way more ritual in our lives than just eight times a year. The shift from Daylight Savings, feeling the first bite of winter, the solstice, the first snowfall, Christmas, New Years, and the coldest day–these are all good times for ritual.

And in the last post, I talked about the process of creating a ritual, starting with listening–to nature, to our own bodies, and to our unconscious. Ritual is a conscious structure applied to an unconscious response to the more-than-human world. And I focused on using simple gestures and poetic language, inspired by the practice of deep listening.

In this part, I said I would share my own ritual for the solstice. I vacillated about sharing this, because I’m not certain about it’s usefulness to you. If you create a ritual using the process I described in the last post, it’s not going to look anything like mine. But I’m going to share it anyway, just to give you an example of one outcome of the process.

Continue reading “No-Nonsense Paganism: My Winter Ritual”

No-Nonsense Paganism: Creating a Ritual

In the last post, I wrote about the when of doing a winter ritual, and now I want to talk about the how. Now that you’ve decided to mark some special event–whether it’s the solstice or the first snow or New Year’s Day–with ritual, how do you decide what to do? Note, the process I describe below can really apply to ritual at any time of the year.

Continue reading “No-Nonsense Paganism: Creating a Ritual”

No-Nonsense Paganism: Thinking About Winter Ritual

As I explained in the introduction, I want to strip Paganism down, take away its ancient or faux-ancient terminology, its mythological and legendary pretensions, its foreign folk practices, its superstitious and pseudo-scientific justifications, and its esoteric ritual structures, and get down to the phenomenological core of pagan experience.

Pagan ritual should arise out of our experience of events happening in the world around us, both what is happening in the “natural” (other-than-human) world and what is happening what is happening in the human social world. The distinction between nature and culture is itself a human construct, and one that falls apart when you start looking at it closely. Over the course of this series, I will highlight some of the ways the line between human and nature gets blurred. But let’s start with nature.

Continue reading “No-Nonsense Paganism: Thinking About Winter Ritual”

No-Nonsense Paganism: Introduction

My very first public pagan ritual was a bit of a surprise.

I had been identifying as “Pagan” for almost a decade before I ventured to meet other Pagans in the flesh. I had learned about Paganism from Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, and Graham Harvey’s anthology, Paganism Today: Wiccans, Druids, the Goddess and Ancient Earth Traditions for the Twenty-First Century. So I had a certain vision of what I thought Paganism was: spiritually profound, intellectually nuanced, politically progressive, philosophically naturalistic, and competent in the execution.

What I discovered was something very different.

Continue reading “No-Nonsense Paganism: Introduction”

Is Neo-Paganism Really a Nature Religion?

The Greening of Paganism (Revisited)

(Note, this is a reworking of a 2016 paper for presentation at the 2022 Harvard Ecological Spiritualities Conference.)

According to Religious Studies scholar, Michael York, a “nature religion” is one which has “a this-worldly focus and deep reverence for the earth as something sacred and something to be cherished.” Many contemporary Pagan traditions and groups explicitly style themselves as “nature religions” or “earth religions,” and many individual Pagans describe their spirituality as “nature-centered” or “earth-centered.” And yet, the question of whether Paganism is a “nature religion” is a complex one. This complexity is often glossed over in academic descriptions of Pagan beliefs and practices.

Continue reading “Is Neo-Paganism Really a Nature Religion?”

Why So Much of Paganism Isn’t Counter-Cultural

In a recent article at UnHerd, entitled “Witchcraft Isn’t Subversive”, Esme Partridge explores the contradiction of popular forms of witchcraft which claim to be counter-cultural, but which are in fact a manifestation of the dominant paradigm of modernity. I’ve written about this contradiction myself before. It’s not just cooptation by capitalism that’s the problem. It’s that contemporary Paganism is historically intertwined with Western occultism, which treated magic not as an expression of re-enchantment, but as yet another means of exerting the human will over the natural world. I’ve excerpted Partridge’s article below. And if you’re interested in reading more, check out Trudy Frisk’s 1997 article in Trumpeter entitled, “Paganism, Magic, and the Control of Nature”

Continue reading “Why So Much of Paganism Isn’t Counter-Cultural”

Prayer for Godless Pagans

For many years after leaving Christianity, I simply did not pray. In fact, I refused. Even when I felt guilty enough to join my wife, who was still Christian, as she led our children in prayer, I refused to get on my knees. I would sit on a chair or on the ground, but never kneel. This sign of submission still had power over me, even 15 years after I stopped believing in a God who demands submission.

Continue reading “Prayer for Godless Pagans”

Playlist for Wheel of the Year: Midwinter

Over the years, I have created rituals to celebrate the Wheel of the Year with my wife and children. Music has been an essential part of the experience. Without it, it would be much more difficult to create the sense of sacred time and space and to evoke the experience I desire for each ritual. So I want to share with you my playlist for each station on the Wheel of Year. Here’s the first list. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Playlist for Wheel of the Year: Midwinter”

Anne Rice – In Memoriam

I’ve always been a fan of vampire fiction. Of course, like most vampire fans, I have my preferences. The vampires of my generation were not Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, but Anne Rice’s rock star vampire, Lestat, and Kiefer Sutherland’s character from the 1987 film, The Lost Boys. These were the vampires of the 1980s. As the Internet meme goes: “They were not emotional sissy boys. They did not attend high school. And they did … not … sparkle.”  The vampires of the 1980s were, above all, dark. And that’s what I wanted to be in high school. I even half-convinced my younger siblings that I was a vampire for a while. My predilection for sleeping all day and my apparent aversion to sunlight made my claim all the more credible to them.

Of all the vampire fiction I’ve read, no one really compares to Anne Rice for me. Rice’s vampires are, ironically, a study in what it it means to be human. They are both more and less human than us, and as such, they highlight what it means to be human. Like humans, Rice’s vampires live on death. This aspect of our humanness is hidden from most of us by the modern food industry which insulates us from the realities of blood and death. But we are just as dependent on death to live as vampires; it’s just more visible in the case of vampires.

Continue reading “Anne Rice – In Memoriam”

I Have Healed, but I’m Still Angry

I want to talk a little to those people who have told me that they “hope I heal” from my experience with Mormonism. This isn’t just for the last person who said it to me. Over the years, I’ve heard this from friends and family, as well as well-meaning true-believing Mormons (TBMs). It’s always said in response to my angry expressions about ongoing harms by the Mormon church.

I want to say this: I have healed. But I’m still angry.

Continue reading “I Have Healed, but I’m Still Angry”

We masturbate. Get over it. (for Natasha Helfer)

May is National Masturbation Month. I am posting this a little early, because I just found out that the Mormon Church has excommunicated sex therapist and educator, Natasha Helfer (formerly Parker), for her professional activities which included teaching “that masturbation is part of a normative sexual development journey”. (Other issues the church had with her included her opposition to treating pornography as an addiction and her support of LGBT equality.)

Continue reading “We masturbate. Get over it. (for Natasha Helfer)”

We Haven’t Worshiped for a Year

For the past year, my small Unitarian Universalist congregation in Northwest Indiana has been conducting worship services virtually using Zoom. When the quarantine was announced and our church went remote, few of us had any idea it would last this long. We were thinking in terms of weeks, maybe months. Even though the Unitarian Universalist Association advised its member congregations to expect to be doing virtual services for a year, at the time, few of us could imagine it.

Continue reading “We Haven’t Worshiped for a Year”

Animism for the Religious Naturalist

I am an atheist and a religious naturalist, which means that I don’t look for supernatural explanations of natural events. But I use other words to describe my spirituality: “pagan” or “animist.” While there are pagans who believe in the supernatural, there are others like me who try to bring together an atheist rationality with a pagan sensitivity

One part of my personal spiritual practice involves pouring libations. This is an ancient spiritual practice which involved pouring some kind of liquid onto the earth or onto a stone. The liquid might be water, or wine, or olive oil. To the ancients, this was an offering to the gods, made in exchange for blessings. Because since I am an atheist, the libations serve another purpose.

Continue reading “Animism for the Religious Naturalist”

Unitarian Universalism is Dying, and I’m Okay with That

Note: This essay was originally published under the title, “My Church is Dying, and I’m Okay with That,” at Click here to read the entire article.

“The movement which many call ‘Unitarian Universalism’ has been dying for 43 years, continues to die, and the fact of its slow but steady death is the elephant in the room that few in the UUA want to face, let alone talk about.”

— David Loehr, “Why ‘Unitarian Universalism’ is Dying,” Journal of Liberal Religion (2005)

Continue reading “Unitarian Universalism is Dying, and I’m Okay with That”

The Gospel of Compost

This is the sermon I gave today at the First Unitarian Church of Hobart, Indiana.

“Give me your moldy, your stale, your sprouting potatoes.  Bring me that wilted, pitiful bag of salad you really meant to eat this time.  Bring me your bananas too brown and mushy even to make bread with.  Bring me your grass clippings and fallen leaves.  Give me the wretched refuse of your teeming refrigerator, yearning to rot free.  Give me these, and we will make life itself.”

Continue reading “The Gospel of Compost”

A Stranger in Paradise: On Our Relationship to Nature

Every so often I feel a compelling need to get myself into the woods. I feel soul-starved if I go for too long without immersing myself in the green world. I live in Indiana, which is woefully flat and plowed. But it’s within a day’s drive of some good hiking—Kentucky to the south, Michigan to the north, and my favorite place to hike, West Virginia to the east.

I spent a few years of my childhood in West Virginia, from ages nine to twelve. After my parents’ divorce, my mother moved us to Elkins, West Virginia, population 8,000. My father would drive the six hours from Louisville, Kentucky once a month for visitation over a weekend. There is really nothing to do in Elkins, but it does sit on the edge of the Monongahela National Forest. So my dad broke out some old camping gear which he had inherited, bought a couple of sleeping bags for me and my brother, and suddenly we were backpackers. For the next several years, we spent all our springs and autumns backpacking. And thus was born my love of the woods.

Continue reading “A Stranger in Paradise: On Our Relationship to Nature”

Things I Left on the Road

day 1—our house, second car, closets full of clothes, a fridge full of cold food, lots of books, two televisions, laptops, video game console, boxes of Christmas and Halloween decorations, family heirlooms, stuffed animals, unpaid bills on the desk, a drawer full of elementary school art projects, the answering machine with unanswered messages

day 2—three black Samsonite suitcases with extra clothes (to make room for water and canned food)

day 3—Honda Pilot SUV (out of gas) and, in the back of the car, lots of canned food and water, extra jackets and shoes, shaving kit, more books, cookbook with favorite recipes, heirloom quilt, photo album with pictures of our wedding, the births of our children, and Christmases and birthdays past

Continue reading “Things I Left on the Road”

The End of Thinking

I have hit the limit–or at least my limit.

Lately, in multiple areas of my life–in my environmental activism, in my closest relationships, and in my internal state–I have run up against this limit.

It’s the limit of my ability to reason through a problem.

Talking about it no longer helps. It actually makes it worse.

Even thinking about it often makes it worse. Continue reading “The End of Thinking”

The Yoga of Despair

This was a sermon or homily I recently gave at Beverly Unitarian Church, in Illinois, and First Unitarian Church of Hobart, in Indiana, on two consecutive Sundays. I began by showing the clip below, from the HBO series, The Newsroom. In the scene, a deputy director of the EPA is being interviewed by a news anchor.

I love that video. It’s funny, but it’s also accurate.  Except for the part about permanent darkness, everything the EPA director says in that video is true.

I especially get a kick out of the reaction of the producer, when the EPA director says, “The person has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet.” And she says “What did he just say?!”

I had my own “what did he just say?” moment a few years ago. …


The Avengers Won the War, But Lost the Argument: How Our Heroes Doom Our Future

This is not a review of Avengers: Endgame, but there are spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and want to, don’t read ahead.

For those of you who haven’t seen it and don’t want to, the last two Avengers movies, Infinity War and Endgame are about a struggle between the “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, the superhero team called the “Avengers”, and a villain named “Thanos”. Thanos believes that life has exceeded the universe’s carrying capacity, and he wants to wipe out half of all life so as to bring things back into a state of balance. Thanos explains his motivation in two conversations with the heroes: Continue reading “The Avengers Won the War, But Lost the Argument: How Our Heroes Doom Our Future”

The Wizard & the Prophet … and the Microbiologist?: 3 Visions of Our Future

It’s April 1946, and two men are standing on the edge of a field of dying wheat on the outskirts of Mexico City. They are looking at the same field, but they see two very different visions. Both look at a field stricken by stem rust, a condition largely unknown today, but which was responsible for millennia of famine and untold human deaths. One of them sees the potential to grow a strain of wheat resistant to stem rust, and thereby to feed billions. The other sees the need to drastically reduce the human population to within the carrying capacity of the planet.

The two men are Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, and they are, respectively, the Wizard and the Prophet in the title of Charles Mann’s 2018 book, The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World. Mann presents Borlaug and Vogt as archetypes, representatives of two different visions of humankind’s relationship with the natural world: the one viewing nature as a something to be bent to the will of humankind, the other viewing nature as something to which humankind must bend.


Paganism Isn’t Where You Think It Is

Anna Walther is one of my favorite pagans. I say that because she consistently reminds me what being pagan is all about.

Most recently, it was in her essay, “Walking with my Dog is my Most Sacred Practice”. There, Anna explains that her most sacred practice involves no ritual paraphernalia, no casting of a circle, no calling the quarters, but simply walking through her neighborhood with her dog, Poe. Because she walks with Poe, explains Anna, she knows what phase the moon is in, when the trees are leafing and the flowers are blooming, when the birds and bats return, and what her neighbors are about. In short, she knows when and where she is.

“I experience a sense of place and belonging, when Poe and I walk through our neighborhood. I’m grounded, connected, and relating with intention to the human and more-than-human world around me. I’m aware that the very real world of spirits is here, right now, and not somewhere else, far away. This is it!, to borrow a Zen Buddhist proverb. To experience this world as radically alive, all I have to do is keep walking and pay attention.”


Anna reminds me that being pagan is about being here, now.  But more than that, it’s about loving here, now. …


Jesus & the Goddess: A Christo-Pagan Story-Ritual for Easter-Equinox

Since my wife is Christian, it makes sense to find ways to incorporate Christian themes into our Neo-Pagan celebrations. Easter tends to fall around the spring equinox (not so much this year), which causes me to think about the ways in which our two faiths overlap.

 I came up with this story/ritual after reading a small book called Jesus and the Goddess by Carl McColman. In this story/ritual, the children of God and the Goddess, Jesus and Magdala share three gifts with each other and with their parents. The gifts remind them that they have more in common than they had thought.  The story can be read by one person or performed by four people.

I hope you enjoy it. Continue reading “Jesus & the Goddess: A Christo-Pagan Story-Ritual for Easter-Equinox”

Review of *Godless Paganism* by Holli Emore

“… a beautifully-nuanced picture of today’s non-theistic Pagans. … At a time when many are being loudly vocal about what they call hard polytheism, Godless Paganism is refreshingly non-dogmatic. By telling their own stories, the writers show that just as in any religious/spiritual group, there are infinite shades of gray in both experience and practice.”

A version of this review was previously published in Witches & Pagans #35.

To read the full review, click here.

“Paganism Has Failed Us & We Have Failed the World” by Dayan Martinez (REBLOG)

Please go and read Dayan’s entire essay at Atroposian Musings.  Here is a short excerpt:

“…the [Pagan] movement has not prepared most people involved in it to step beyond their personal self-healing/comforting in order to grapple with larger issues….

…We are meant to be a healing balm for our ancestors and our modern cultures, going forward. We are meant to make peace with a tortured past so that institutions might be restructured. We are meant to be the chorus of the dead, for those beings that pass without notice. We are meant to give voice to those that yet remain, and affirm the relational bonds that weave the Immanent Divine.

With every calling of Mother Earth, great and bountiful Gaia, we are meant to assert the irrevocable obligations life makes upon life and all other beings of Nature. We are supposed to make kin with beings whose lives are our fortune and live in ways of mutual benefit. We are meant to teach this way of living–more than just a way of believing–to a world much in need of it. By creating little and grand rituals, we are supposed to reaffirm the belonginness due to every human….”

My Grandchildren May Never See A Monarch Butterfly

I have Monarch corpse pinned inside a shadow box on my bookshelf.  A few years ago, I found it dying and waited for it to die before taking it inside. One day, I will show the corpse of the Monarch to a grandchild and tell them the story of the Monarch’s multi-generational migration. And I will tell them that my generation and those before mine forgot the lesson of the Monarch.


When Death Comes

Mary Oliver died today. Through her poetry, I negotiated one of the most difficult passages of my life.

She taught me to leave behind those other voices, so that I could hear a new voice, which I slowly recognized as my own and which kept me company as I strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to save the only life that I could save. Continue reading “When Death Comes”

Syllabus for Paganism & the Law

Paganism and the Law
Instructor: John Halstead

Register Here


This will not be a typical “Know Your Rights” class. Instead, we will be taking a critical look at the American Legal Tradition from a Pagan/ecological/systems perspective. For the purposes of this class, a Pagan/ecological/systems perspective is one that sees community as interconnected, biocentric, and cooperative, rather than mechanistic, anthropocentric, and adversarial. Continue reading “Syllabus for Paganism & the Law”

Excommunications Show that the Mormon Church Really Doesn’t Get Jesus

Another September Six?

This past September, Sam Young was excommunicated by the Mormon church. Young, a former Mormon bishop, had publicly criticized the Mormon church’s practice of asking minors sexually explicit questions in interviews with bishops. Young even went on a 23-day hunger strike to draw attention to the issue.

The Mormon church’s response?

Excommunication. Continue reading “Excommunications Show that the Mormon Church Really Doesn’t Get Jesus”

There is only one truly free choice we can make.

I was raised in a Christian religion which taught me that human beings have the gift of free will or “agency” from God.  I was never really explained how this was gifted to us, but I understood it to mean that God had chosen not to force his will on us, which apparently he could do if he wanted.

As I grew up, I learned more about the myriad factors that influence human behavior, including genetic predispositions, socialization, biological drives (like the need for food, sex, and security), psychological needs (like the need for esteem, love, and meaning), social influences (like peers and the media), etc. Continue reading “There is only one truly free choice we can make.”

You wanted justice, but there is none … only love.

This morning, I knelt down in the snow
in my favorite place to pray,
a little garden off the side of my porch,
now bare and stark,
where My Lady of Tears keeps her vigil.
And these were the words which came
to me like a prayer … or an answer to one:

You wanted justice, but there isn’t any.
There’s the world.
Cry for justice, and the stars
will stare until your eyes
Weep, and enormous winds
will thrash the water.
Cry in your sleep for your lost children, and snow
will fall … snow will fall.
You wanted justice, but there is none … only love.
God does not love. God is.
But we do. We love.
That’s the wonder.*

Wise words, I think, for one contemplating the end
of his world.

*paraphrased from Archibald MacLeish’s play, “J.B.”, a modern retelling of the story of Job

12 Reasons Why I Wish I Could Quit the Mormon Church All Over Again

I left the Mormon church almost two decades ago.  My reasons were primarily theological, though the church’s misogynistic, racist, and homophobic policies were part of it too.

Since leaving, I’ve continued to keep my eye on the Mormon church–which has been in the national news more and more, usually because of its misogynistic, racist, and homophobic policies.

In fact, quite a lot of Mormon B.S. has piled up in the years since my left.  So much so, I wish I could leave the Mormon church all over again.  This time, these would be my top 12 reasons. Continue reading “12 Reasons Why I Wish I Could Quit the Mormon Church All Over Again”

Re-Thinking the Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism

Over at The Postmodern Polytheist, the Anarcho-Heathen published a critique of an older essay of mine, “The Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism”.   At the time it was published, my essay provoked a quite a bit of controversy in the Pagan blogosphere. In it, I argued that certain forms of polytheism which view the gods as radically distinct individuals contribute to the ongoing disenchantment of the world, just as do certain reductive forms of scientism which view human and other beings as radically distinct individuals.  In contrast to both these forms of alienation, I contrasted a form of Paganism which emphasizes the interconnectedness of everything, including humans and gods. Continue reading “Re-Thinking the Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism”

“Die Early and Often”: Being Attis in the Anthropocene

In yesterday’s post, “‘What If It’s Already Too Late?’: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene”, I faced the fact that we are … well, f**ked.  Our civilization is rushing toward its inevitable end.  And it’s going to take out a big part of the biosphere with it.

Cap and trade is not going to save us.  Renewable energy is not going to save us.  Nuclear energy is not going to save us.  Carbon capture is not going to save use.  The politicians are not going to save us.  The scientists are not going to save us.  The activists are not going to save us.

We are not going to be saved.

For so many reasons, we are going to fail … and fail badly.

Once we come to terms with that fact, the question becomes …

So What Do We Do Now?


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