To polytheists, the gods are sacred. But atheist Pagans don’t believe in gods. What is sacred to an atheist Pagans? Some polytheists mistakenly assume that an absence of gods must mean an absence of sacrality.
I’ve had polytheists come right out and say that, because I don’t believe in gods, then nothing is sacred or holy to me. Implied in that statement is the belief that there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the gods. I would have a hard time imaging a less “pagan” statement than that.
Now, as far as I am concerned, you can be Pagan and a polytheist, or a duotheist, or a Goddess-worshipping monotheist, or a pantheist, or an animist, or a non-theist, or an atheist—if you want to call yourself one. I’m not interested in trying to push anybody out of the Big Tent of Paganism. But I do not understand a Paganism which cannot find the holy or the sacred in the earth or our bodies or in our relationships.
As for myself, I hold these things to be sacred and holy: all life, the earth, nature, our deep selves, our bodies, our relationships. My Paganism is rooted in these things: Life, Matter, Relationship.
The notion that the earth, and our physical bodies, and our very selves are holy: to me, this is the most profound and transformative realization which contemporary Paganism has to offer. The notion that the sacred nature of…nature…does not derive from any God or gods: this is the revolutionary core of my Paganism.
For some deity-centered religionists, the earth is holy only because it was created by a holy God or gods. For earth-centered Pagans like myself, the earth itself is the source of holiness. One polytheist actually wondered rhetorically, “How can Halstead claim his religion is rooted when the soil of the Holy Powers is denied?” My answer to that question is a question: “How can you claim your is rooted when the Holy Power of the soil is denied?” That particular polytheist defined holiness as “rootedness”. My religion is rooted. In fact, it is a religion of roots…and of tubers and worms and actinobacteria. I am a dirt worshiping Pagan. My gospel is the gospel of compost.
If you need a cosmology to understand my conception of the sacred, then I give you “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, the greatest creation myth ever conceived: “The Epic of Evolution”.
And if you need see a deity to understand my conception of the holy, then … behold the Goddess! The Mama! She who is the Universe. She who is the Earth. She who is the largest supernovas exploding in the unimaginable vastness of space and She who is the earthworms in my garden.
She is as real and as present as the ground beneath our feet, because She is the ground beneath our feet. In Her, “we live and move and have our being,” like the air we breathe, because She is the air we breathe. She is closer to us than we are to ourselves, because She is the blood in our veins, the electricity in our brains, the microorganisms in our gut metabolizing the food we eat, the shit we excrete which returns to the earth as fertilizer for new life.
In the words of poet Ruby Sara, “my religion rests on the belly of the Mama. … The Mama is simply All. She is not the manifestation of the Divine, She is not the creation of the Divine – She IS Divine.” And I am a part of her. And so are you. And our bodies, our flesh, our whole organic selves are holy. This is not a reductionist theology. This flesh, this landscape, this earth, this cosmos is more complex than we can comprehend in our present state. Understanding this doesn’t close the doors of perception; it opens them. It deepens our relationship with all that is.
Shall we speak of gods? Then let us speak of the forgotten gods of nature. Let us speak of the god of dirt:
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,and never once mentioned forever,
— Mary Oliver
Grok Earth. Praise to the Mama! Thou Art Goddess.