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.
(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.
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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I recently met someone who described himself as “Pagan-adjacent”, which I thought was an interesting self-designation. He was a (self-described) “angry atheist” who followed atheism to its logical end and was left wanting. He intuited that there was something else–something bigger and/or deeper–but no one seemed to be writing or talking about it. Then he discovered David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, which he experienced as revolutionary.
He told me that he knows “in his bones” that “the sacred is in the soil and the wind,” but he is turned off by a lot of what he sees in the Pagan community. By way of example, he told me about an encounter with a Pagan group where he heard one person talking about how great the divination app on her phone was. I know what he is talking about. What has a divination app to do with the sacred soil?
I’ve felt pretty much the same way for 15 years, for as long as I have been calling myself “Pagan” in fact. I came to the Pagan community because I thought here was where I would find that something bigger and deeper. But almost everywhere I look, I see the small and shallow. Almost everywhere I look, I see Pagans reproducing the disenchantment of the mainstream culture. Continue reading “Pagan with a small “p””
“Once upon a time Gods and heroes walked the Earth. People encountered dragons and faeries often enough that no one would think of questioning their existence. Most importantly, magic was a part of everyday life. The world was enchanted.”
So begins John Beckett’s recently review of The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity and the Birth of the Human Sciences by Jason Josephson-Storm. Josephson-Storm’s thesis is that “Disenchantment is a myth. The majority of people in the heartland of disenchantment believe in magic or spirits today, and it appears that they did so at the high point of modernity. Education does not directly result in disenchantment.”
In his review, Beckett briefly discusses belief in the supernatural among icons of modernity like Freud and concludes that, rather than “reenchanting the world”, we need “to maintain our commitment to the enchanted lives we already have”, by which he seems to mean: Keep on believing in magic … and apparently fairies and dragons too. Continue reading “The Fairies Have Left the Building: Enchantment is an Experience, Not a Belief”
A recent article by Mark Morrison-Reed in UU World, the Unitarian Universalist Association magazine, about the “black hole” in UU history, got me thinking about the connection between UU worship and race. According to Morriso-Reed, for all our proclaimed progressiveness, it seems we UUs have not really ever taken the lead in the fight against racism–internally or externally. I’ve been thinking about this history a lot lately, as my own UU congregation is discussing whether to display a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the church property. One part of Morrison-Reed’s article in particular jumped out at me: Continue reading “Is UU Atheism a Form of White Privilege?”
Paganism is at a turning point. It’s been 50 years since contemporary Paganism got its start. It’s time for Paganism to grow up.
Note that I didn’t say that it’s time for Pagans to grow up. Different people are at different point in their life’s journey. Childhood and adolescence are important stages of development. There are stages in a person’s religious or spiritual development as well. And, as much as most of us would have liked to skip adolescence, it’s not possible to skip stages. The same is true of spiritual adolescence. Continue reading “5 Ways Paganism Needs to Grow Up”
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.
I was recently invited to the New Orleans Pagan Pride Day this year to lead the opening ritual. I also led a couple workshops on activism and non-theistic Paganism and joined Bart Everson, Nicole Youngman, and Emily Snyder in a panel discussion on the same topics.
I wanted to share the opening ritual here. I’ve written before how protest marches can be like Pagan ritual. Here, I tried bring together elements of Pagan ritual with elements of political protest. I tried to bring together the myth of the Wild Hunt with social action, blurring the line between a religious procession and a protest march. Rather than standing in a circle with our backs to the world, I wanted the ritual to be focused outward. And I wanted to raise energy without dispersing it cathartically, so as to motivate social activism. I also wanted to tie the ritual to the place where the ritual was held, so references were made to environmental devastation, and racial and LGBT violence perpetrated in or near New Orleans. Continue reading “The Wild Hunt for Justice: At the Intersection of Ritual and Protest”
Kimberly Kirner has written a thoughtful response to my essay at Gods & Radicals, “Escaping the Otherworld: The Reenchantment of Paganism.” Kirner specifically took issue with the my assumption “that worldview is important because it drives actionable outcomes in the world” and that some worldviews lead to a disenchantment of the world. Continue reading “Why Worldview Matters: A Response to Kimberly Kirner”
I’m no stranger to conflict in Pagan circles. Over the years, I have noticed similar themes arise when I come into conflict with other Pagans. These themes can be summarized as five lies that Pagans tell themselves.
Continue reading “These Things Aren’t True: Five Falsehoods in the Pagan Community”
I’ve always loved Halloween. I come by it naturally, as it’s also my mother’s favorite holiday. She used to make our costumes herself — and not just one but usually three, for each of us — one for school, one for church, and one for trick-or-treating. And we almost always won the costume contests. I love the costumes, the trick-or-treating, the whole scary-but-fun atmosphere. And then there’s the fact that it’s the only time of the year a straight guy can be flamboyant without apology in this homophobic American culture.
So when I became Pagan, I was ready to embrace Halloween as a Pagan holy day. I was disappointed to learn that most Pagans celebrate Samhain as a kind of Pagan Day of the Dead or All Souls Day, with little to no connection to the secular celebration of Halloween. Continue reading “Forget Samhain: Halloween as a Pagan Holy Day”
“There is another world and it is this one.”
Aside from the fact that no one seems certain how to pronounce it, the name “Mabon” is a poor choice for the holy day. As with “Lughnasadh”, the “Mabon” is only tenuously related to the season or the Neo-Pagan mythos relating to the season. Of all eight holidays, Mabon has the worst name of all of them. Continue reading “The Worst Named Pagan Holiday”
“It is time for spiritual people to get active and the activist people to get spiritual. I think we need both now. In order to build the alternatives to our collapsing system which is built on structural violence we need to have a total revolution of the human spirit. We need to combine the inner revolution with the outer revolution.” — Pancho Ramos-Stierele, age 26, arrested at Occupy Oakland while mediating
The first time I walked into a Unitarian church, I was looking for spiritual sanctuary. I was still recovering from my faith transition away from the religion of my birth. Unitarian Universalism offered a community of people, many of whom also had rejected traditional Christianity for one reason or another, but like me still believed in the power of religion to effect personal and social transformation. Many of the people I met in the Unitarian church were also seeking sanctuary from a Christian-dominated culture. Others were looking for an activist community which would support their work for racial, economic, and environmental justice, women’s rights, and LGBT equality. Some people were looking for both.
Over the years, I heard some of the more activist-oriented people say that they found their spirituality in activism. Being more sanctuary-oriented at the time, I would think to myself: “Clearly you don’t know what spirituality is.” Spirituality, for me, was very inwardly focused. It had more to do with personal development than social change. It turns out, it was I that didn’t know what activism was. Over the last few years, as I have become more and more involved in activism, I have made a discovery: I have discovered a kind of spirituality in activism. Continue reading “The Spirituality of Protest”
“No one ever told us we had to study our lives,make of our lives a study, as if learning natural historyor music, that we should beginwith the simple exercises firstand slowly go on tryingthe hard ones, practicing till strengthand accuracy became one with the daringto leap into transcendence …– And in fact we can’t live like that: we take oneverything at once before we’ve even begunto read or mark time, we’re forced to beginin the midst of the hardest movement,the one already sounding as we are born.”— Adrienne Rich, “Transcendental Etude”
In light of the hate and violence seen this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I feel it’s important to raise again an issue which is frequently debated both in Pagan and Religious Naturalist circles: the relationship between religion and politics or between spirituality and activism.
I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that “magic” is a word that intelligent people can use in a meaningful (albeit nuanced) way. But then I come across listicles like John Beckett’s recent “12 Movies to Inspire Your Magic” and I go back to square one.
I swear, I tried not to write this post. I put in on the back burner. I slept on it. But Beckett’s post keeps popping up in my FB feed (probably because his listicle-loving editor, Jason Mankey, keeps promoting it). So here goes …. Continue reading ““You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up”
The Pagan Wheel of the Year bugs me. The timing of the cross-quarters bugs me. The meaning attached of several of the eight stations bugs me. And the names of most of the days bugs me. Right, now I’m just going to focus on Lughnasadh, though, since it’s right around the corner. Continue reading “Lughna-say-what? What to Call This Pagan Holiday”
I remember when I was in high school and Indiana changed its license plate to include the phrase “Amber Waves of Grain”. It pissed people off. I mean, really pissed people off. Because in Indiana, we grow corn and soybeans, not wheat. While technically corn is a grain, it’s not amber. While the phrase was poetic, it just did not speak of “home” to the people of the Hoosier State. That’s kind of how I feel about Lughnasadh. Continue reading “Why I’m Boycotting Lughnasadh Again”
I love books. I probably feel more at home bookstores and libraries than I do in my own house. Books have had a profound influence on my spiritual evolution. In fact, I can mark certain spiritual transitions by the books I was reading.
This is the second of two posts about the books that have served as markers on the path of my spiritual journey. The first part consisted of the books that influenced me before I was Pagan. This list begins with my discovery of Paganism. There’s actually only a couple of books that are Pagan, per se, and one of them is a history book, which probably says something about my Paganism.
Note, this is not a list of my favorite books, but books that changed the course of my religious life. The dates below are the dates I read the books (to the best of my recollection), not the dates of publication. Continue reading “10 Books that Shaped My Spiritual Journey (Paganism and Beyond)”
This year, the summer solstice falls on June 20 or June 21, depending on your time zone. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the apogee of the light. In the Neo-Pagan religious tradition, the summer solstice is called “Litha”. It is one of eight holidays on the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year.
The name “Litha” is first found in the writings of the the 8th century monk, the Venerable Bede, who recorded that “Litha” was Anglo-Saxon name for the intercalendary time between June and July. But the reason why Neo-Pagans use the word “Litha” has less to do with an 8th century monk, and more to do with Hobbits.
Jason Mankey and I are both amateur Pagan history nerds. One thing we often disagree about is the importance of Gerald Gardner in the history of contemporary Paganism. In a recent post entitled, “Magick & Deity are Two of the Foundations of Modern Paganism“, Jason Mankey argues that “almost all early Modern Paganisms contained two rather noticeable traits: belief in magick and/or deity.” I would agree, with this caveat: that the term “deity” is undefined. If you’re going to claim that a belief in deity is one of the foundations of modern Paganism, then it’s important to be clear what you mean by “deity”. Continue reading “The Foundations of Modern Paganism, Part 1: Was Gerald Gardner a Jungian?”
I went to see Wonder Woman last night … for the second time. It’s not what I would call a “great movie”, but it is great fun. (And I have a bit of a crush on Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.) If you want to a read a good review of the film from a Pagan perspective, check out Heather Greene’s article at The Wild Hunt, “Of gods and love: a discussion of DC’s new film Wonder Woman.”
I have very few criticisms of the film, but one thing that jumped out at me was the characterization of the villain, Ares, the god of war. Ares’ backstory comes near the beginning of the film. We are told that Zeus created mankind righteous and good. But Ares, the God of War, grew envious of his father’s new creation and “poisoned their hearts with jealousy and suspicion,” encouraging them to war. That’s when Zeus created the Amazon women to influence men’s hearts with love and restore peace on earth. It worked, but only for a time, and Ares waged a war against the gods, killing them one by one, until Zeus used the last of his power to defeat Ares.
This might not be obvious to someone who is still steeped in a Christian paradigm, but to a Pagan like me, this is obviously a Christianization of Greek myth, with Zeus taking the role of the Christian God and Ares taking the role of Satan — making Wonder Woman a female Jesus. Similar Christian revisionism can be seen in the movie Clash of the Titans and the animated movie Hercules, in which Zeus and Hades (god of the underworld) take on parallel roles. Continue reading “How Wonder Woman Both Perpetuates and Challenges Christian Dualism”
In a recent post entitled, “What American Gods Tells Us About the Need for Religious Ecstasy“, I speculated that one of the reasons Neo-Paganism seems to be on the decline and Devotional Polytheism on the rise, is that the former no longer offers the experience of ecstasy or transcendence to many people, while the latter does. In response, Rua Lupa argued that “the search for transcendence or ecstasy in order to have a ‘deep religious experience’ is frankly hedonistic.”
I am sympathetic to the argument that pursuing “peak experiences” for their own sake can be problematic. At its most benign, “blissing out” may be “purely aesthetic”, but at worst, it can resemble drug seeking behavior. Nevertheless, I believe there are real benefits to seeking out mystical or ecstatic states. Continue reading “3 Reasons to Seek Out Profound Religious Experiences”
I am an atheist north by northwest.
But when the wind is southerly, I know a deity from a deist.
If you were to tell me your god is a person like you, I would tell you I am an atheist.
But if you tell me you believe in no god, I will testify the world is full of them.
If you were to tell me there is only one true god, I would tell you I contain multitudes.
But if you tell me your gods are many, I will tell you I have faith in an unseen unity.
If you were to tell me my gods are just in my head, I would point to the earth and say, “Praise!”
But if you tell me your gods are real, I will point to your head and say, “Behold!”
If you were to tell me your god is good, I would offer to sell you some more.
But if you tell me your gods are dark, I will remind you of the words of the oracle: “Know thyself.”
If you were to tell me you don’t know about the gods, I would call you wise.
But if you tell me you don’t care about the gods, I will not call you at all.
“Light though thou be, thou leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee!”
— Moby Dick, Herman Melville
The Summer Solstice occurs at almost midnight on June 20th in the Northern Hemisphere this year. It is the longest day of the year and the shortest night. Summer finally begins here in the Midwest, both meteorologically—with the warming of the air and the increasing occurrence of sunny days—and socially—with the end of the school year. This is why I don’t call the day “Midsummer.” For me, “Midsummer” falls on Lughnasadh in early August. Continue reading “Worshiping the Dark at the Summer Solstice”
American Gods is a novel by Neil Gaiman, which has now been made into a (really good) TV series on Starz. The premise of American Gods is that the people who came to the American continent–including conquerors, slaves, and immigrants–brought with them their gods … literally. The gods now walk around disguised as human beings. But the old gods have weakened as belief in them disappeared, and they now battle with new gods, gods of the internet and credit cards and super highways. Continue reading “What American Gods Tells Us About the Need for Religious Ecstasy”
Yesterday, I posted an essay about literal-minded polytheism. It’s likely to upset some polytheists (especially those who don’t read beyond the title), because they will read it as an attack on their belief. Actually, what I had intended in the article was to bracket the question of whether or not the gods are “real” and talk about the criteria we use to call something “real.” My thesis was that some polytheists (not all, by any means) have a very “disenchanted” way of talking about reality. By “disenchanted,” I mean they define what is real in terms of it’s level of disconnection from everything else.
But of course, the same could–and should–be said about many atheists as well. Disenchanted discourse is not limited to theists. In the same way that theists insist that their gods are “really, really real,” atheists insist that the gods are “really, really not real.” And what both sides seem to have in mind is a very objective–and hence, disenchanted–definition of reality. The assumption that both theists and atheists make in these arguments is that objective reality–reality in which the observer is separated from the observed–is somehow more real than subjective reality.
Here and there in the tiny echo chamber that is the Pagan blog-o-sphere, I am once again hearing repeated the false dichotomy of archetypes vs. “real gods.” As in, “My gods aren’t just archetypes. They are real…literal, distinct, independent gods.”
With the recent premiere of the series American Gods (which is awesome, by the way), I anticipate we’re going to be hearing a lot more talk like this–especially considering the influence the publication of the book American Gods had on the growth of Pagan polytheism.
I remember when I left the Mormon church, I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I had been a less than perfect Mormon. You see, when you leave the LDS Church, the people who stay start looking for all kinds of reasons why you left, reasons which have to do with your own moral failings. They can’t admit that anything might be wrong with the Church, so something has to be wrong with you.
But I was a less than ideal Mormon. I didn’t obey all the rules, I didn’t pray as often as I was supposed to, and so on. Now I have the perspective and wisdom to recognize that nobody obeyed all the rules or prayed as much as they were supposed to. Well, maybe somebody did. But those people are scary. And they’re also a very small minority.
The same is true of Pagans, I think. I suspect that very few of us are practicing with as much consistency as we claim to. And that’s okay. Continue reading “The Shame of Being a “Non-Practicing Pagan””
Twice in the past month, capitalists have tried to extort my silence.
That sounds dramatic. But it’s what happened.
The question why I am “still” a Pagan implies that there might be reasons why I would not want to identify as Pagan any longer. And there are. I believe that Paganism has the potential to transform our relationship with the earth, with each other, and with our deeper selves—but a lot of the time, I cannot relate to other Pagans.
Note: I wrote this a couple years ago, but it seems appropriate to resurrect it now (with some revisions). Continue reading “Ego-Paganism and the Tyranny of Structurelessness”
Paganism is not dying. Paganism is NOT dying. PAGANISM IS NOT DYING!
Why don’t you believe me?
People who are telling you otherwise (like He Who Shall Not Be Named at Patheos) just want attention. Attention whores!
Believe me, Paganism is fine. It’s just fine. I mean, it’s okay. Really. Continue reading “Nothing to see here folks. Paganism is fine, really, just fine.”
Today is the official launch of NaturalPagans.com!
Contributors are Pagans from a variety of backgrounds, but all of whom have adopted a naturalistic approach to our spirituality. We celebrate the natural world, cultivate personal relationships to the land, and follow to the scientific method. We embrace explanations of the world that rely on natural causes rather than supernatural ones, and we practice a healthy skepticism towards such topics as deities, spirits, and magic.
While we may differ from many other Pagans in our attitude toward the supernatural, we are another one of the many varied and vibrant Pagan paths under the Pagan umbrella. We invite all Pagans to join us in our efforts to use evidence-based solutions to create a just, healthy and sustainable world for future generations.
Continue reading “Announcing NaturalPagans.com”
I don’t know whether contemporary Paganism is dying or not. But it’s definitely changing.
Contemporary Paganism is being squeezed by the same social, economic, and technological pressures that all other contemporary religions are struggling with. Generational differences with Millennials. Economic inequality. The internet.
Which got me thinking, why are we bothering to struggle? Why not just let entropy take its course? Continue reading “Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die”
In spite of having left Christianity behind 17 years ago, I found myself at another Easter service this year.
I’ve been Pagan for about 15 years, but in recent years I have been drawn back to Easter and Christmas services … but not for the reasons you might think. It not because many of my friends and family are Christian. And it’s not because of any residual or resurgent Christianity on my part.
It’s because of the Pagan-ness of these holidays.
Continue reading “Pagan Reflections on Another Easter Passed”
(Image courtesy of Mike Mason, Pagan Pride UK, Nottingham, 2012.)
Contemporary Paganism, as it exists today, began with the Counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Religious studies scholar, Sarah Pike dates the origins of contemporary Paganism to 1967, the year that Frederick Adams incorporated Feraferia and the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn was founded. That same year, the Church of All Worlds filed for incorporation as a the first Pagan “church”.
Which means that this year, 2017, is the 50th anniversary of contemporary Paganism! So let’s look back at what we have accomplished over the past five decades. Continue reading “It’s been 50 years. And what have Pagans accomplished?”
While the origins of some forms of contemporary Paganism, like Wicca and Druidry, go back further, the beginning of what is called the “Pagan movement” can be dated to 1967* — making this year the 50th anniversary of contemporary Paganism.
For many contemporary Pagans, Paganism takes the form of a nature religion or earth-centered spirituality. According to Religious Studies scholar, Michael York, a nature religion is one that has “a this-worldly focus and deep reverence for the earth as something sacred and something to be cherished.” Not surprisingly then, Earth Day (April 22 this year) is a holy day for many Pagans. Here are some ways that we Pagans can celebrate Earth Day. Continue reading “Eight Ways Pagans Can Celebrate Earth Day”