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”
I came across this chart, which comes from the book Deep Green Resistance, along with the explanation below. It captures perfectly my issues with popular Paganism, by which I mean 99% of what you find on the bookstore shelf and 95% of what you see at Pagan conventions, festivals etc.Continue reading “Why Paganism Failed (in one chart)”
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”
This post from a friend came across my Facebook feed today, about some controversy in the Pagan community. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have dived into it. Now, like my friend, I couldn’t care less. But it did prompt me to look back and review how I got here.Continue reading “R.I.P. Paganism”
I got my first Amazon review of Neo-Paganism: Historical Inspiration & Contemporary Creativity recently. It’s very positive and I wanted to share it here.
“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)
Note: The following comes from the Afterword of the newly-released book, Neo-Paganism: Historical Inspiration and Contemporary Creativity, by John Halstead. (If you’ve followed my previous criticisms of contemporary Paganism, you will have heard most of this before.) Continue reading “The Promise and the Peril of Paganism”
I’m happy to announce the publication of Neo-Paganism: Historical Inspiration and Contemporary Creativity. This book the the culmination of 15 years of research and direct experience with Neo-Paganism. Continue reading “Neo-Paganism: Historical Inspiration & Contemporary Creativity”
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.”
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.
This time was a little different, because I decided to go by myself. Taking an extended Labor Day weekend, I packed my backpack and headed for the hills of West Virginia. Continue reading “A Stranger in Paradise”
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
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”
I’m happy to announce that my little collection of essays, Another End of the World is Possible, is now available for sale in print and e-book. All proceeds from the sale will go to Gods & Radicals Press/A Beautiful Resistance. Continue reading “On Sale Now: “Another End of the World is Possible” by John Halstead”
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. …
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”
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.
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. …
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.
“… 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.
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….”
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.
Mid-Winter, or “Imbolc”, as many Neo-Pagans call it, tends to sneak up on me every year — probably because I don’t belong to any Pagan ritual group and there is no closely corresponding secular holiday of significance (unless you live in Punxsutawney). Continue reading “A Ritual for Mid-Winter”
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”
Paganism and the Law
Instructor: John Halstead
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”
Not suprisingly, the most popular posts of 2018 here at The Allergic Pagan have been some of my most provocative posts. Continue reading “Hating on Paganism: Top Posts of 2018”
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?
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.”
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
Yule: The first day of what used to be called winter. In an age of melted polar caps, snow is just a memory. Continue reading “A Wheel of Year for an Age of Climate Change”
A little while ago, someone commented that they were disappointed to see that I had written the essay, “Fight Like a Hobbit! Fight Climate Change!”, when I had previously published “‘You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up’. Continue reading “I’d Rather Be a Hobbit than a Wizard”
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”
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”
I just watched what may be the most perfect encapsulation of our alienation from the natural world. Continue reading ““The last thing you want to be right now is alone.””
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?
We’re going to lose the fight against climate change
(The fact that we think about it as a “fight” probably has something to do with why we’re going to lose.)
Human civilization will collapse and the human species will be lucky to survive.
I had a terrible thought recently …
“What if it’s already too late?”
Actually, this idea has been haunting me, hovering on the boundary between my conscious and unconscious mind, for some time.
In 2016, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist organization 350.org, came to speak at a rally at the BP tar sands refinery in my “backyard” in the highly industrialized northwest corner Indiana. The occasion was a series of coordinated direct actions around the world against the fossil fuel industry, collectively hailed as the largest direct action in the history of the environmental movement.
What struck me about McKibben’s speech, though, was its tone of … well, hopelessness. Here’s how he concluded his 10 minute speech:
That’s pretty sobering material for a speech at an environmental activist rally, not to mention a speech by one of the leaders of the climate movement:
“We’re not going to stop global climate change. It’s too late for that.”
At the time, I was caught up in the enthusiasm of participating in my first act of civil disobedience, so I didn’t think much about McKibben’s words.
But they kept coming back to me.
I recently attended a pagan gathering. It was held on private property, deep in farm country, in a secluded wood. During parts of the gathering, especially the rituals, many of those gathered, both male and female, were in various stages of undress, from wearing revealing clothing to being topless to being fully nude. Continue reading “Dancing Naked in the Woods: Pagan Nudity and Christian Shame Culture”
The website fomerly known as Neo-Paganism.com is now ProgressivePaganism.com. I decided to stop paying for the domain name, so the site has reverted to its original name. Continue reading “Neo-Paganism.com is now ProgressivePaganism.com”
“Religious morals, in a healthy society, are best enforced by drums, moonlight, f[e]asting, masks, flowers, divine possession.”
— Robert Graves, “Food for Centaurs”
I’ve been to my share of public Pagan rituals in the last decade or so. The vast majority have ranged from disappointing to excruciating affairs. (See “Gods Save Us from Bad Pagan Rituals: 10 Signs You’re Half-Assing Your Mabon Ritual” and “Lowered Expectations Is Not the Answer to Bad Pagan Rituals”.)
I have been fortunate to have participated in some notable exceptions. I think Reclaiming rituals tend to be on the better end of the spectrum. I would attend any ritual led by Thorn Coyle or Shauna Aura Knight. The Kali Puja which Chandra Alexandre and Sharanya led at Pantheacon is truly exceptional.
But the absolute best pagan ritualist I have ever met is Steven Posch. So, I was very excited to receive Steven’s invitation to the Grand Sabbat held at Sweetwood Temenos in Southwest Wisconsin this past weekend. It was not a festival, at least not like others I have attended. There were no workshops, for example. Rather, it was tribal gathering, a gathering of the Tribe of Witches. Continue reading “The Real Pagan Deal”
Over the years that I have been writing online, I have been accused many times of retaining some elements of Mormonism, my religion of origin. Some of my meaner critics like to call me “Mormon”, as a way of refusing to recognize my claim to be pagan. Those criticisms never made sense to me, but there is one way that my former faith has continued to influence me: the idea that the world needs to be change and that we human beings have the power to make that change happen. This is one of the ideas which has frequently brought me into conflict with other Pagans. Continue reading “7 Types of Religions (or Why I Was Never Going Make a Good Pagan)”
Recently, on the Naturalistic Paganism Yahoo discussion group, a new member asked what to make of a Pagan author who claimed to have traveled to Faerie. His question was basically this: Should we assume this author is speaking poetically? Or should we conclude he is insane?* This question can be applied to just about any religion, from Pagan fairies to Christian angels to indigenous ancestral spirits. Continue reading “Are People Who See Fairies Insane?”
Note: What follows arose out of a discussion in the comments to a recent post entitled, Religious Leave-Taking as Asking Different Questions, in which I described my growing disinterest in most Pagan discussions and the change in the questions that most concern me now. One of the commenters, Phil Anderson, challenged me to continue to be “a purveyor of sense and reason in the paganosphere”. His comment prompted a long response from me, which I have edited and reproduced here. Where important for context, I have reproduced parts of Anderson’s comment here.
For a long time, I believed that a naturalistic* version of Paganism was the most genuine expression of contemporary Paganism. When I came to Neo-Paganism, I thought it was naturalistic at its core, and I thought the supernaturalism I saw was aberrant. It seemed to me to be an unfortunate consequence of a historical accident, the infiltration of occultism into the neopagan revival via Gerald Gardner’s Wicca. And there are several academics whose work support this notion, including Robert Ellwood & Harry Partin, Joanne Pearson, and Wouter Hanegraaff. I thought these strands–the occultist and the neo-pagan–could be separated, and so I set about trying to unwind them. Continue reading “Paganism Needs a Prophet (but it ain’t me)”
I have had an altar for several years now. I’m sure that seems strange to most non-pagans. And if a guest in my home, who knew nothing of my religion, wandered into my bedroom and saw my altar, they would probably be very curious (or weirded out). Continue reading “Rebooting My Altar”
What naturalistic pagan books have been an inspiration to you?
I love bookstores and libraries. Honestly, I feel more at home surrounded by books than I do surrounded by people. But since becoming a Naturalistic Pagan, my trips to the bookstore have become a lot more complicated.
Every time I go into a bookstore, I visit the Paganism section, or rather, the Metaphysical/Occult section that Paganism is grouped with. I don’t know why I still do it. Hope springs eternal, I guess.
Each time I approach the Metaphysical with the hopeful expectation that this time I will find something that speaks to me. I stand there for a while, feeling embarrassed, afraid someone might see me. I look for an escape route. The Philosophy section is close by. The Psychology section even closer. Once I establish that I have plausible deniability, I relax a little and quickly peruse the books. Inevitably, though, I discover that I have once again wasted…
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Last week, I unsubscribed from my weekly Patheos Pagan channel updates. It had been quite a while since any of the posts in the email blast had interested me enough to merit a click. It was the latest step in distancing myself from what goes for mainstream Paganism today.
But last week, a couple of friends shared links to reports that a writer at the Patheos evangelical channel, Warren Throckmorton, had had his blog taken down. Throckmorton has been described as an “evangelical whistleblower” and an “evangelical watchdog”. He had previously written about the scandals involving Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, K.P. Yohannan, and Gospel for Asia. Driscoll and Yohannan both have blogs at Patheos, which continue to be hosted there. Vistors to Throckmorton’s Patheos URL, however, will now see an error message. Continue reading “Then they came for an evangelical whistleblower and the Patheos Pagan writers said nothing …”
I am pleased to announce that PrayWithYourFeet.org now has two new contributors, Jason Espada and Yvonne Aburrow. If you would like to be a contributor to PrayWithYourFeet.org, send an email to me by clicking on this link. Continue reading “Become a Contributor to PrayWithYourFeet.org”
When I left the Mormon church in 2000, I had to figure out a short way to explain to people why I left. I knew nobody wanted to hear my Mormon version of Luther’s 95 Theses. I think the most succinct (if not the most satisfactory) explanation I came up with was this:
I started asking different questions. Continue reading “Religious Leave-Taking as Asking Different Questions”
“The Reluctant Radical” is excellent visual storytelling. There were lighthearted funny moments, poignant sad moments, exuberant triumphant moments, and tragic despairing moments. Through it all, I felt Ken Ward’s internal struggle with how to act in the face of seemingly insurmountable indifference. Even if I didn’t already acutely feel the same way, I would have loved this film, for its portrayal of one man’s attempt to live moral life … no matter the cost.
This past Earth Day, two of the activist organizations I am a part of sponsored a screening of “The Reluctant Radical”, a documentary about Ken Ward, by Lindsey Grayzel.
Ken Ward is one of the “valve turners” who was arrested and prosecuted for closing the emergency valve on oil sands pipelines in October 2016. He argued in court that the urgency of climate change compelled him to act. “The Reluctant Radical” follows Ken as he struggles to find an effective way to combat the fossil fuel industry. Director Lindsey Grayzel was also arrested and charged for her role filming Ken’s actions.
Following the movie, we had a Q&A with Ken Ward himself and director Lindsey Grayzel over Zoom, which was a special treat.
First let me say that Ken and his fellow valve turners are my heroes. Michael Foster, 53, a family therapist and longtime environmentalist from Seattle, shut…
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