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Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

PFI PhilippinesIn the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which has wreaked havoc and destruction through the Philippines, the Pagan Federation International in Philippines has started raising funds to aid in providing food, water, and shelter to those directly affected by the storm. Quote: “Let us help ease the burden of our friends from Northern Cebu by helping with our mission to give aid to the Northern Cebu Typhoon Victims such as Daan Bantayan and Bogo. Pagan Federation International is needing volunteers and donations.” Vivianne Crowley, a longtime member and organizer within the Pagan Federation, added, quote, “many of you will have seen on news programs the devastation in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). The Pagan community in the Philippines seem to all be safe, but some have lost their homes and many people are lacking food, water and shelter. Our friends in Pagan Federation International Philippines are appealing for help.” The Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene is currently following up with PFI Philippines on this effort, and we hope to bring you a more in-depth report this Sunday. I have embedded a poster created by PFI Philippines below, which lists contact information and a list of needs.

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Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Meanwhile, Pagan activist and disaster relief first responder Peter Dybing has issued a challenge to our community to give during this time of crisis. Quote: “Here is the challenge. I ask that every individual identifying as part of our community do the following things. 1. Select a relief organization that is doing work in the Philippines and donate what you can. 2. Post a link to the organization and call on everyone you know to take a similar action. 3. When the disaster fades from the news show support for the idea of a Pagan lead disaster relief organization. I have never directly asked you to share my blog posts. Today I am, please share this challenge far and wide.” Dybing added on his Facebook profile that “The American Red Cross has an outstanding record of being of assistance in small local disasters. Their record in large scale disasters is however, marred by very poor performances in responding to disasters like Katrina and Haiti. Millions of earmarked funds unspent years later. Better to donate to the local Philippines Red Cross directly.” A link to the Red Cross in the Philippines can be found, here. I’ve also provided a link to Doctors Without Borders, here.

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythBack in October I mentioned the launch of the Worldwide Heathen Census, a project of the Norse Mythology Blog that is attempting to “establish an approximate number of adherents through an anonymous survey with only one item: a pull-down menu where the respondent selects his or her home country. It is hoped that the anonymous nature of this census will attract responses from heathens who may not want to put their name on an official form from a governmental agency or research institution.” According to Dr. Seigfried, the census was in part sparked by frustration over Heathens being “mostly invisible in major surveys of religious affiliation,” and seeks to remedy that. Below, I’ve embedded a graphic from a November 9th update on the census, which will run through December of this year. So far, the United States seems to hold an overwhelming majority of contemporary Heathens, with Germany running a distant second, and the UK and even more distant third. Regarding the UK number, we do know that the census of England and Wales counted nearly 2000 Heathens (with another 150 or so in Scotland), so that number should climb a bit if participation increases. I’ll keep you posted on the final results once the census closes.

November 9 Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 Results by Country Norse Mythology Blog

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Several Pagans, reconstructionists, and polytheists have spoken out over a stunt “God Graveyard” put up by atheists in Wisconsin. Sannion has rounded up many of those voices at his blog, here. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus noted that “they [atheists] are so concerned with evidence and proving things and making sure everything they say is factual, that they get to ignore all of religious studies, history, real people and traditions that are occurring today, and other matters that might shed light on anything that has to do with religion since all religion is unreal/false/nonsense, etc.” At Baring the Aegis, Elani Temperance adds that the atheist group’s stunning lack of ethics in this matter undermines their argument for unbelief, quote, “ethical behavior is not religious, but social, and the AHA would do well to remember that.” Or, as Sannion puts it in a follow-up, “it’s a dick move to tell another person that their god is dead; doesn’t really matter whether you’re laughing while you do it or wielding a knife.”
The "God Graveyard" in Wisconsin.

The “God Graveyard” in Wisconsin.

  • Last week I mentioned Operation Circle Care, a program that sends care packages to active duty Pagan soldiers serving overseas during the holidays. This week, OCC wanted to add that they are urgently looking for names of individuals who want/need this service. Quote: Service members can submit their own names, or those here at home can submit their information. We keep all contact information absolutely confidential. To submit a name we’re asking people to send the full name, rank, branch of military service, country where serving, postal address, email address, and spiritual path for the Pagan service-member, and also include your own name and contact info, plus your relationship with the service-member. We keep contact information confidential to circle@circlesanctuary.org with cc to: occ@circlesanctuary.org.” For more information, see Operation Circle Care’s official page. So if you know someone who needs this service, please get in touch!
  • Publisher Bibliotheca Alexandrina has announced that they are lowering the prices of all their titles effective immediately. Quote:  “Bibliotheca Alexandrina has lowered the prices on nearly all of our print titles. In general, books with a page count of 0-199 pages will be $10.99 US, 200-299 pages will be $12.99, and 300+ pages will be $14.99. There are a few exceptions, as some books have higher production costs, but we plan to stick as close as possible to this pricing scheme moving forward.” They also add that the new prices are effective immediately on their CreateSpace store, but will take a couple of weeks to migrate to places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There are some excellent titles in their roster, so stock up!
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to fund a trip to India where he has been invited by Sri Tathata to help facilitate the MahaYaga. Quote: “Sri Tathata, a great spiritual leader in India, has asked Patrick to be one of the primary facilitators at the MahaYaha, a 6-day event of rituals and prayers designed to create world peace. The intention of this ritual is to shift the course and consciousness of our planet.  This is a revival of an ancient and sacred Hindu ritual called the MahaYaga, which is written about in the Vedas and goes back many thousands of years. This ritual was stopped a couple thousand years ago and is only now being re-created. In addition to facilitating the ritual itself, Patrick has been asked to be a keynote speaker both as an individual and at a round table with some of the foremost religious and political leaders from around the world where the topic is world peace, women’s issues and planetary sustainability.” Patrick is trying to raise over $10,000 dollars for the trip, and has less than a month to do so.
  • In a recent update sent to supporters, Cherry Hill Seminary puts the spotlight on Dr. David Oringderff, Chair of the Department of Pastoral Counseling and Chaplaincy, and co-founder of the Sacred Well Congregation, for ten years of service to the Pagan learning institution. In the piece, Dr. Oringderff stresses the importance of accreditation for CHS. Quote: “Because I work a lot with the military, and we’ve got a lot of fine young military people who want to become military chaplains, and of course, it’s a very rigid procedure to be accepted as a chaplain in the military. The biggest hurdle is the educational requirement. And so they’re stuck. They have to go to a traditional seminary, or they have to go to a traditional seminary; there’s just no alternative.  Yet.  Until we reach that point.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Today’s the day. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which centers on the role of prayer at government meetings, and could shape the legal landscape on this issue for decades to come. I have written extensively on this case, and you can find a round-up of my coverage here. The ever-essential SCOTUSblog gives us a preview of the arguments expected to be made today.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

“It is no exaggeration to say, then, that the constitutional meaning of church-state separation is very much in flux, and it is tempting to think that the Court has taken on a case from a town in New York to reach for some new clarity. At its core, the Town of Greece case is about the constitutional test to review government involvement in practices that have or can have religious meaning.  Should such involvement be judged by its potential effect in endorsing or promoting one religious faith over others?  Or should it be judged by its capacity to coerce what one believes about faith principles? That is basically the either/or choice that now is before the Justices.  But even making that choice is not at all simple when either alternative test is applied to prayer at the opening of a government meeting.”

SCOTUSblog reporter Lyle Denniston notes that this case could endanger the “endorsement test” in regards to displays of religious belief at government functions.

“This case, at its most significant potential level, could put the “endorsement test” into significant jeopardy.   It no longer enjoys real favor with a majority of the Court, and the sustained denunciation of it by the town board’s lawyers here could further energize that skepticism.  It is far from clear, however, what would be left of modern church-state precedents if the Court were to opt to abandon that test altogether. That, perhaps, is why the town board’s attorneys have not suggested the total demise of that test, instead recommending only that it be walled off from use in the context of legislative prayers.”

If the endorsement test is gutted, it would most likely be replaced with a coercion standard, which would greatly benefit the religious majority at the expense of religious minorities. Linda Stephens, an atheist and co-plaintiff of the Town of Greece case, told CNN that she felt marginalized during town board meetings, which overwhelmingly featured Christian prayers to Jesus Christ.

“Galloway and Stephens say the elected board of the community outside Rochester almost always invited Christian clergy to open the meetings, usually with sectarian prayers. And they say they felt ‘marginalized’ by the practice. ‘When we tried to speak with the town, we were told basically if we didn’t like the prayers, we didn’t have to listen,’ said Stephens, ‘or could stand out in the hallway while they were going on.'”

The New York Times, in reporting on this story, focuses on the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers, the case which almost every amicus brief is referencing.

“Thirty years ago, a state senator and a Presbyterian minister faced off in the Supreme Court over whether the Nebraska Legislature could open its sessions with a prayer. The court said yes, siding with the minister, and for three decades that settled matters. Such prayers are commonplace.  On Wednesday, the question of legislative prayer will return to the Supreme Court, in a case from upstate New York. But the actors in the earlier drama — the senator and the minister — have not left the stage. They continue to differ about the proper role of religion in public life. But they agree that later court decisions have twisted the facts of what went on in Nebraska.”

At The Daily Beast, Eric Segall thinks the correct answer to this prayer impasse is clear.

“Most constitutional cases the Supreme Court decides to hear raise difficult interpretative questions that don’t yield easy answers. Greece v. Galloway, however, is not one of those cases. The inherent unfairness that results from overtly religious exercises at government hearings is easy to see. A Jewish man wearing a yarmulke trying to obtain a zoning variance immediately after being asked to bow his head and pray to Jesus may feel like an outsider to the process. On the other hand, many people believe it is important to dignify official government business with a prayer. The obvious answer is to have a moment of silence during which people can pray to whatever god they want to or not pray at all. There is no coercion or identification of the town, city, or state with a particular god, or indeed with any god. That solution has worked well for public schools, and there is no good reason not to apply it to legislatures, courts, and executive sessions.”

The New York Times Editorial Board seems to agree.

“The prayers in Greece are constitutional, the defenders say, because they may be delivered by anyone, and the town does not compel citizens to pray. But compulsion is not the only issue. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a 1984 case, when a government appears to endorse one religion, it “sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.” After the Greece lawsuit was filed, one of the plaintiffs received a letter, signed “666,” that read, “If you feel ‘unwanted’ at the Town of Greece meetings, it’s probably because you are.” There are many ways to solemnize official functions without sending such a message, including a nonsectarian prayer or a moment of silence, which is what the Greece town board did for years without incident. To some degree there will always be a tension in cases such as these. On the one hand, Americans deeply value the First Amendment, which protects religion and government from each other. But as the Supreme Court has recognized, the country’s history “is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations.” In a country where religious diversity is increasing daily, the Supreme Court’s primary concern should be to ensure government neutrality toward all religions.”

At the Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn is concerned about the reasons why the Supreme Court decided to hear this case.

“Lower courts have ruled for the plaintiffs, which suggests the high court may have another view — one that says ‘Prayers before meetings are traditional, ceremonial and voluntary. Don’ t get your knickers in a twist, non-Christians, the good people of Greece, N.Y., are simply performing public rites to reflect the views of a majority of townsfolk.’ I would pretend to be baffled why people of any faith would want to encourage government to muck about promoting one belief system over another, but of course I know why. It’s a form — not even a subtle form — of proselytizing; of encouraging conformity to a particular set of religious views. And this is a feature, not a bug, in their opinion. And, I fear, in the opinion of the current majority on the Supreme Court.”

No matter what the decision, it will no doubt have a major effect on prayer policy. Repercussions that will deeply affect all religious minorities, including Pagans, who have played an outsize role in the development of this case. By this evening, we will no doubt have some comment from the justices, giving us tea-leaves to read for the eventual decision. Let’s all pay attention as events unfold.

Afterlife

Eric O. Scott —  June 14, 2013 — 29 Comments
Virituous Pagans in Limbo, from Dante's Inferno.  Gustave Doré, 1890.

Virituous Pagans in Limbo, from Dante’s Inferno.
Gustave Doré, 1890.

 

“I’ve got a question. You know Eric, right?” asked Tim.

He and three more of my friends, Dylan and Lydia and Calvin, had just sat down to lunch. They were at a buffet off Highway 63 in Kirksville, Missouri, the town where we all went to college. I wasn’t there to see it; Tim didn’t tell me this story for months. I don’t know why he decided to ask these questions. Hoping to prove a point, I guess.

They nodded and wondered why he asked.

“Would you say he’s a good person?” asked Tim.

The three of them nodded. Sure, more or less. They were my friends, and they wouldn’t have been my friends if they thought ill of me.

“Okay then,” he said, eager to spring his trap. “Do you think he’s going to Hell?”

Calvin, who didn’t know me as well as the others, and who was in any case a committed and conservative Christian, said yes, absolutely, with no hesitation at all. Dylan and I were closer – close enough that I was his Best Man several years later. He said that he didn’t know for sure, but questions like that kept him up at night.

Lydia looked down into her lunch, didn’t answer. Tim pressed her, until she finally, quietly, replied. “Yes.”

I don’t blame her. Sometimes I think so too.

*          *          *

What happens to you when you die?

It’s the most common question I’m asked after people find out that I’m Pagan, after “Wait, really?” and “Can you fly?” I guess it’s a reasonable one. Christianity – or at least American Protestant Christianity – defines itself by the afterlife: it’s the point of the exercise. Heaven and Hell, and a life on Earth spent bumbling towards one or the other.

So, in the US, a nation of mostly Protestant Christians, it’s the question that shapes everything we think about a religion, whether or not we, ourselves, are Christians. Nobody in the public sphere ever discusses Islam’s Five Pillars, but everybody knows about the supposed 72 virgins. I doubt most could rattle off the Four Noble Truths, but we all know Nirvana means something more than the guys who recorded Nevermind. Because the afterlife is the foundation of Christianity, we expect it to be the foundation of everything else; a religion without an afterlife, that doesn’t worry about the afterlife, doesn’t seem like a religion at all.

What happens when you die?

There’s the trouble. I don’t know. I don’t even suspect.

The beauty of eclectic religion lies in its vastness of possibility – that anything could be true. Why choose? We speak of the immaterial and the transcendent, things that can’t be quantified or proven. Why can’t they all be true?

Well. That’s easy to say, so long as we’re only talking about generalities. Particulars are harder. When it comes to one’s own soul – to my own soul – well – I mean – something has to happen. Right?

If I were a better Heathen, I could confidently say I would go to Hel. (Being a portly coward, I doubt Valhalla is in the cards.) It sounds like an okay place. The landlady could be nicer. The Greeks give us the various suburbs of Hades: Tartarus, the Asphodel Fields, the blessed isles of Elysium. (Elysium, another home to valiant warriors, also seems like a stretch.)

Perhaps the Summerland? I heard about that one sometimes, growing up, though it seemed altogether more vague than the others: endless August afternoons, rolling hills and blue skies and warm breezes. Since the Summerland is a Wiccan idea (albeit one we stole from the Theosophists, like so much else), there is some variation: the Summerland might be an eternal summer vacation, or it might be a pleasant layover between trips. It may be the place where you survey your past life and plan out a new one, a tourist at the Triple-A station of the soul.

Yes, reincarnation: a popular option. Wicca conceives of time in a circle, after all: day gives way to night gives way to day, the Wheel of Year turning again and again. So perhaps we live, we die, we’re born again; no afterlife required. Hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all that dies shall be reborn.

But as much as I like the idea, I worry that it’s too appealing. It opens the door to vain recollections of past lives among the powerful and infamous. Whatever you do in this life doesn’t really matter, because you used to be Arthur Conan Doyle, or Hatshepsut, or whoever you read a book about this year. Reincarnation is a perfect answer: the circles all come around. I am suspicious of perfect things.

There are others. The Guf, mystic birdcage of souls. T’ien and Tír na nÓg and Takama-ga-hara. The one my parents made up for me when I was a boy, the Grandmother Country, where my Grandma Mae sits in a farmhouse and watches over all our departed dogs and cats and hamsters. And that’s before all the spookier options: spirits, poltergeists, zombies…

Hundreds, thousands of afterlives, all potential destinations, all acceptable, all real – except for two, the two that can’t be, the two can’t be allowed. The two that, in my heart, I will always fear are the truth.

*          *          *

My dad once had a friend who called himself Image. He died when I was 18. Image was the tallest, thinnest man I ever met. He kept a shaved head and worked hard at being Goth. I don’t think he ever kept a job for long: at one point he mucked the elephant pit for a one-ring circus, and that was the steadiest work he ever found. Mostly he made art. My favorite was an ambient record called “Surfacing,” which sounded like the soundtrack to a drowning. He was into the occult, too – he and my father were in a magickal group together for most of a decade.

There was more to Image that I never knew about: drugs and fetishes and other things I never looked into. But he was a soft-spoken person, and he was always nice to me, and as far as I know, he never hurt anybody.

A year or two after he died, when I was home from college for a few days, my dad asked me to come with him on a trip. We got into the truck and drove for a little over an hour. We came to a part of Missouri I had never seen before, somewhere out in the country. We pulled into a graveyard and drove around, taking pictures of interesting headstones, drinking sodas. Finally, my dad parked the truck.

We came to a headstone near a tree, and my dad stared at it for a long time. It belonged to someone named Paul F. I’d never heard the name before. I realized, when I looked up from the headstone, that my dad was crying.

“If you’re going to walk around in my dreams,” he whispered, “you could have the decency to stop and say hello.”

We didn’t talk at first after we got back in the truck. Garrison Keillor’s voice filled the silence. We passed a little river, far from the highway, and then dad said, bitterly, “Paul F. ‘Freddy.’ Image hadn’t called himself that in a decade.”

He turned down the radio. “His father was a preacher. Ugly man, self-centered. Everything in the world was always about him. When his son ended up as a cross-dressing magician instead of a Bible-thumper, he took that as something horrible happening to him. And when Image got sick, that was something happening to him, too. Just another shame Image made him endure.

“I heard about what he said at the funeral,” my dad continued. He had been in California when Image died and missed it. “He didn’t say anything about Image’s art, or the things he cared about. He just said it was a wicked life cut short.”

My dad wasn’t quite talking to me; he needed me there, needed me to listen. He needed to purge the words from his mind. Rip away the bitterness. He needed a witness. I didn’t say anything. I let him talk. It was what he needed.

But I thought about Image, and Image’s father, and what his father must have thought while preparing that sermon – what it must have been like, for a man so sure of the afterlife to have been faced with a son beyond saving. He had outlived a child – awful enough – but had outlived a child he knew to be damned.

Knew. Knew for certain.

That kind of certainty looms large against one person’s doubt.

*          *          *

During my last summer in Kirksville, I spent a lot of time with my friends Harry and Jenn. We were at their apartment one night, had just finished watching one of Harry’s beloved B-movies, when the subject of religion came up. You know my opinions on the subject. Harry and Jenn are both atheists, though the amicable sort.

Jenn got more emotional about it than I expected, aided, perhaps, by the three glasses of wine she had put away. “There’s something about it I don’t think you guys understand. You’ve both always been the way you are now,” she said. She was right: Harry’s parents were atheists. Mine were Pagan. We had taken after them. “But me, you know, I used to be Catholic. That’s how I was raised. And let me tell you something: you never get over that. I know what I want to believe, how I want to act. But in the back of my head there’s always this fear: I’m going to Hell. And it doesn’t go away, ever, no matter how much I try to convince myself that I’m beyond all that now.” She paused, shook her head. “I’m sorry. It’s something you can’t understand.”

She’s right. I don’t know what it’s like to have been a part of that system, or to reject it. But I know what it’s like to be haunted by the bad dreams of a religion I’ve never followed, to lay awake wondering whether it would be smarter, or safer, or saner, to try and square myself with the God of Abraham.

Because sometimes I think about that lake of fire, and Lord, I can feel the sweat start to creep across my skin.

 

(By the way, if you like my essays here on the Wild Hunt, good news: my first book, The Lives of the Apostatescomes out on June 28th! It’s available in ebook and paperback. It’s a novella about a Pagan kid in the Midwest. It’s got Sabbat rituals, awkward kissing, theological debates, Julian the Apostate, and a hearse. Order it from your local bookseller through IndieBoundor buy it from Amazon or Barnes and NobleFor more news on the book, might I humbly recommend my Facebook page? Alright, end of shilling. Thanks! -Eric) 

"God" printed in many fonts on many colors, Essex Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio.

“God” printed in many fonts on many colors, Essex Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The following statements are true:

★ There is one god.

★ There are many gods.

★ There is a god named G-d.

★ There are gods that are nameless.

★ There is a God and a Goddess.

★ There is one god, but that god is broken into two gods; one is male, and the other is female.

★ Gods have no gender.

★ Gods have no physicality.

★ All of what is, is God.

★ All of what is, is god-less.

★ There are no gods.

★ The gods are imaginary.

★ The imagination is the birthplace of deity.

★ The imagination is a temple, in which deity can be honored, spoken to or summoned.

★ We are God.

★ God is love.

★ God is not love.

★ The Gods are unique persons, each with their own temperaments.

★ The gods are merely aspects of one Deity.

★ The gods are aspects of ourselves.

★ Everything is the Goddess.

★ The Goddess is in everything, but also distinct from everything that is contained within her.

★ My cat is a god.

★ We are all deities.

★ You are divine.

★ We are only human, and that is enough.

★ We are human and divine; incarnate.

★ The gods are present here.

★ The gods are both present and absent.

★ The Goddess is omnipresent.

★ The gods are not omnipresent.

★ No one can understand what the gods are.

★ The gods can communicate exactly what they are.

★ The gods are….

This list could go on. Forever, perhaps.

I say that these statements are all true, recognizing full well that they are also (depending on the statement and particular reader) equally false.

Subjectivity is a Pagan value.

I’m musing on these statements of “truth” on the eve of Beltane, and will continue to do so as I prepare for my joint-presentation on Pagan theology at the annual Beltania Festival in Florence, Colorado. William Ashton, the Organizer for Mountain Ancestor’s Protogrove in Boulder, Colorado invited me to share the stage with him and teach this 101 course as a part of Beltania’s Stepping Stones series. I gladly accepted.

During our initial planning sessions, William and I discussed the various ways that Pagans conceived of deity. We’ve covered most, if not all of the general categories:

Monotheism
Polytheism
Dualistic Monotheism
Pantheism
Monism
Panentheism
Atheism

But the more I think about it, the more I believe that it isn’t enough to tell people, “These are the categories of belief. Here’s how it looks on paper.” You have to provide them examples. They need context in order for these -isms to be relevant.

That’s where you come in.

I would like to turn the Wild Hunt’s readership into a lecture-hall of teachers, each of you explaining to the average Pagan noobie what Pagan theology is.

More specifically, what your Pagan theology is.

We’re going to crowdsource theology. That way, when I join William at Beltania I will not just come with my perspective, but I will bring all of yours, as well.

Here’s how it will work:

1. Post a comment on TWH

Explain your Pagan theology in the comment section. Use one of the “truth” statements above as a writing prompt if you like, either explaining how it is what you believe or how it is exactly not what you believe.

Write honestly. Write about your perspective, your vision and experience of “truth”. Be the teacher you wish you had when you were just developing your own paganism. And, keep in mind that there will be many differing opinions and perspectives here. No one need to feel the need to correct others — the point is to crowdsource multiple perspectives, and to hold space for those differing perspectives.

2. Tweet your Pagan theology

For every day between Beltane and the beginning of Beltania (May 9th) I will tweet from @TeoBishop the following question:

What is your Pagan theology?

Respond to this question, and include the hashtag: #mypagantheology

Your tweet might look something like this:

I honor one god, but I also believe that there are many gods. #mypagantheology

3. Write your Pagan theology on your own site

Many TWH readers write for other Pagan media sources, including blogs and other online journals. If you’re among this group of people, write your 101 explanation of Pagan theology on your site, then post a link in the comments of this post.

Then, when I join William to explain the basics of Pagan theology, I will direct our students to this blog post and to the #mypagantheology hashtag. They will find your words, read your stories, and learn – from you – what a Pagan theology can look like.

 

So have at it, friends. Unleash your vocab, unlock your mind and explain to the questioning Pagan what your Pagan theology looks like.

 

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

"Psychostasia" by Daemonia Nymphe

“Psychostasia” by Daemonia Nymphe

  • The great Greek Pagan band Daemonia Nymphe have announced that their new album, “Psychostasia,” will be officially released on May 10th.  Quote: “Six years after ‘Krataia Asterope’ (2007) and many Live dates in Europe, the Greeks led by the duet Spyros Giasafakis & Evi Stergiou are back with their new album ‘Psychostasia’ (the “weighing” of souls by Gods). Since its origins the band uses instruments recreated from the Greek Antiquity [...] ‘Psychostasia’ takes us into the journey of a Life, the journey of a Soul. It starts with Zephiros (the god of Wind), then comes ‘Pnoe’ the breath that animates each thing … During the trip, we will meet Gaia, the forces of Nature, the moon dances for Selene and Eros, to finish into Hypnos’s dreams.” You can order and hear samples of the new album at Prikosnovenie.
  • The reality television program “Wife Swap” aired another episode featuring a Pagan family last night, but according to participant Arana Fireheart, the process from his standpoint was not exploitive. Quote: “[The casting director] reassured me that we would be given the chance to present ourselves as a normal happy family that just happen to be Witches and I trusted that he would keep his word.” So did anyone watch it? How was it? Let us know in the comments. I think it’s fair to say that the show hasn’t the best track record regarding Pagan families, so I’m interested to see if things have evolved
  • Stonehenge is looking for a part-time Solstice manager, which has gotten a bit of press attention. One of the qualifications is an ability to maintain good relations with Druid groups and other “stakeholders” who access the stones for special events. Quote: “As English Heritage’s Tim Reeve told the BBC, one of the General Manager’s subsidiary jobs will be to liaise with neo-druid leaders, helping to oversee arrangements for the ceremonies that those leaders conduct to celebrate the summer and winter solstices. The General Manager will work to guarantee, essentially, that the rocks of the 21st century remain as faithful as possible to the rocks of prehistory. It’s ‘important,’ Reeve notes, ‘to ensure we keep the dignity of the stones.'” You guys are lucky I’m not a UK citizen, or I’d have this thing locked up. 
  • A retired Russian Orthodox bishop has been deposed after it was revealed that he was giving psychic counseling at a New Age center in Russia. It seems a fair cop. The Orthodox news site that reported on the incident is in English, but the lingo, acronyms, and haughty triumphalism make it nearly indecipherable to the casual reader (I suppose some could argue the same about my site, though I try to remain accessible). 
  • This story is supposed to be satire, but I can actually imagine certain Heathens saying something like what’s quoted in the “article.” Quote: “It’s an insult to our religion, it is bad enough they turned our God of Thunder into a blond pretty boy in a unitard, but the lack of bloodshed makes a mockery of our beliefs.” You laugh now, just wait until they turn The Morrigan into a superhero character… oh, wait.
Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

  • In a move that should surprise no one, the Vatican has made it clear that they really, really, don’t like Santa Muerte. Quote: “The Mexican offensive against Santa Muerte (Saint Death) launched by former president, Felipe Calderon, has now gone global. In an interview last week with a Peruvian Catholic news site (Aciprensa), the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as “sinister and infernal.” The Italian prelate, whom Vatican watcher John Allen recently called “the most interesting man in the Church” and even profiled as a candidate for the papacy, called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death.” Chances that this will hinder the religious movement? I’d wager they are slim to none. 
  • The interfaith ceremony that took place after the Boston bombing attack excluded humanists and atheists. Quote: “We made it exceedingly easy for the Governor’s staff to find us and include us, but they chose not to do so. The exclusion of non-theists today no doubt deepened the hurt the people in the non-theist community are feeling. What principle was served by our exclusion, I don’t begin to understand.”
  • Come visit scenic Cornwall, we’ve got a really, really, big Celtic Cross. Quote: “We hope it will become an iconic landmark, our version of the Angel of the North, so people don’t just pass by Saltash, but go in.” Also, King Arthur was conceived there, but that’s not exactly a roadside attraction. 
  • Speaking of Stonehenge, here’s a new theory about it. Quote: “…the site, which was occupied continuously for 3,000 years, had evidence of burning, thousands of flint tool fragments and bones of wild aurochs, a type of extinct giant cow. That suggests the area near Stonehenge may have been an auroch migration route that became an ancient feasting site, drawing people together from across different cultures in the region, wrote lead researcher David Jacques of the Open University in the United Kingdom.”
  • My pal Cara Schulz (who also happens to be a Hellenic Pagan), is holding a Kickstarter for a cool-sounding luxury camping book, and in honor of reaching $1,500 of the $4,500 goal she shares a drink recipe on Youtube called the “Blue Gem.” With Summer festival season almost here, maybe we could all use this book? 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I rarely agree with American Conservative opinion columnist Rod Dreher, not because he’s a “crunchy conservative,” but because his views on religion are so skewed by his evangelical-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian worldview that he often comes off (perhaps inadvertently) as the worst sort of smug, triumphalist, man-of-God. The kind of guy who blames Haiti’s condition on Vodou, right after it’s rocked by a massive natural disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.

The kind of guy who calls Santeria savage demon worship (just like Vodou), who spreads unproven smears against liberal Catholics involving the taint of Vodou and polytheism, who joined the hilarious-in-retrospect freak-out over Hollywood “pantheism” (ie “Avatar” made a lot of money), and who never misses an opportunity to be “funny” regarding the beliefs of modern Pagans (it’s humorless and like Dungeons & Dragons). However, adversity makes for strange bedfellows and all that, there is stuff going down, a Pope has resigned, and the secular “nones” are rising!

Cue the grudging “I guess Pagans aren’t SO bad” re-evaluation: 

“Personally, I find paganism far more attractive than atheism, because pagans, however mistaken their understanding (from a Christian point of view) nevertheless share with Christians a recognition that there is Something There beyond ourselves, and the material world. I can have (have had) a fruitful, engaging discussion with my friend and commenter Franklin Evans, a pagan, in a way that I just can’t with friends who have no spiritual or religious beliefs, or a sense of the numinous.

My guess, and it’s only that, is that some pagans will fall away from the practice of their faith for the same reason many Christians are: because it doesn’t make sense in our scientistic, materialistic, consumerist world. At the same time, I think that paganism stands to gain overall from the unchristening of the West. If you look at the Asatru site, this neopagan religion speaks to longings that are deep within all of us, and cannot be suppressed forever.”

Yes, in the beauty contest of belief we’re pretty homely, but at lest we’re better looking than the atheists. So, go team Paganism? Yay? Here’s the thing though, while it’s inevitable that some Pagans will leave our umbrella for other pastures in our post-Christian future, modern Paganism as a movement has no trouble embracing both “hard” polytheists and, well, Pagan humanists. Most of the faiths under our umbrella have been fine with all sorts of conceptions of the divine, because our movement isn’t centered on a single correct belief. We, and I use that “we” very loosely here, are not all that threatened by atheism, humanism, or other post-theism “isms.” Our conditions of solidarity are practical, political (in the sense of fighting for our shared rights), social, and festival-based. So it’s amazingly common to see Pagan ecumenical gatherings where polytheists and atheists participate in the same rituals. When transformative (sacred/secular) phenomena like Burning Man appear, we are generally of the “what took you guys so long” school than the “does this threaten us” school.

The “spiritual but not religious” people are, for the most part, just fine with Pagans, are are the nones. As I’ve said before, I think their growth provides fertile ground for Pagan faiths, something Dreher also agrees with. Where he truly goes wrong in his analysis is in holding any one group up as representative of the movement as a whole. Paganism, polytheism, indigenous religions, syncretic diasporic faiths, Dharmic religions, these systems endured the rise of monotheism (and sometimes even thrived) because these faiths are, for the most part, decentralized, free of a binding “Pope” hierarchy, and able to change in ways Catholicism and other top-down systems can’t. Yes, monotheism can, for a time, be brutally effective in spreading and changing culture, but that success has to tie itself to the same colonial/militaristic power structure that early Christians condemned. When that power is slowly removed, a million green religious shoots appear in the paved-over theological parking lot.

Even if the Pagan umbrella crumbles some day and our faiths go our separate ways, it will not ultimately impede the growth of this religious phenomena. Some day we may be so popular that “umbrellas” may no longer be necessary, but the religious shift we are harbingers of will endure so long as we are not actively suppressed. Dreher sees the future as a battle between “something” (theism) and “nothing” (atheism)  and thus includes Pagans in team “theism”; but modern Pagans (and our allies) know that this is a false separation. There is no dualistic battle between “something” and “nothing” and our faiths aren’t playing that game. We don’t “fight” conceptions of the liminal that we don’t agree with, we either let them be (so long as they let us be) or find ways to simply include them. Modern Paganism, and similar religious movements are far more complex, and rich, than I think Dreher can imagine, and we are far more ready for the future than perhaps even we are ready to acknowledge.

As for Dreher, I’m sure he’d make a lovely neighbor, as Chas Clifton attests, and I hope he continues to travel the road he seems to have embarked on. Maybe he’ll find that all the demons he sees are placed there by a worldview invested in seeing our faiths as demonic, that the future to fear is not the growth of atheists, or Pagans, but what the dominant monotheisms might do to retain their power and influence.

My Life as a “None”

Heather Greene —  February 3, 2013 — 16 Comments

Before I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason suggested that I introduce myself.  I never did and time scurried away.  So today, I’m going to share with you a personal revelation – an admission, of sorts.  I frequently write about my Jewish upbringing.  But now I must confess that I was really only Jew-ish.  In actuality, I was raised a “none.”

antique photograph

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s curtis4x5

As I child, I lived in a wholly secular family environment. We didn’t have a mezuzah.  We didn’t belong to a temple. Religion had no place in our lives. Words like “prayer,” “faith” and “God” were foreign terms used by other people. Existence was explained through science and philosophy. Ethics were harvested from history, art and experience.

And so it was, my life as a “none.”  Before I continue, let me be clear. We were not atheists, agnostics or humanists.  We were nothing.  We just lived in the world as it presented itself; which, as it turns out, was very religiously diverse. While that eclectic environment was fundamentally excellent, the diversity eventually became a problem.

Everyone around me had a religious identity linking them to a community filled with rich tradition and heritage. Through these identities, they had a defined relationship with spirit.  Some kids went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes and others to Hebrew school. Some missed school for Yom Kippur and others fasted during Ramadan.

While I felt the presence of spirit, I had no means of accessing it. The few Jewish prayers that I knew were spoken in a foreign language; rendering them spiritually useless.  I was left standing alone outside the religious speak-easy with no password to enter.

This void became my burden and my quest.  I clung desperately to the small trickle of Jewish culture that was accessible.  In doing so, I did find my cultural heritage but, unfortunately, I found no suitable relationship to spirit.

Astronomical Clock in Prague Courtesy of Anthony Dodd

Astronomical Clock in Prague
Courtesy of Anthony Dodd

As the wheel turns, life changes. I am no longer nothing.  My quest led me to Wicca and my burden was left at some doorstep long ago. Interestingly enough, I can also now say that I was never nothing.  There is finally a label for what I was: “religiously unaffiliated.”  I was a “none.”  According to Pew Forum, the “unaffiliated” population has now grown from 5-10%, in the 1980s, to today’s 19.8% of the overall population. This growth warranted finally giving the group a name.

What has fuelled this growth?  Harvard Professor, Robert Putnam told NPR, “this young generation has been distancing itself from community institutions…” Putnam goes on to relate this phenomenon to the heavily polarized socio-political landscape with regards to religion. While that may be so, I’d also suggest that this increase coincides with our transformation into an independent “do-it-yourself” society.  (e.g. Home Depot, You Tube, TiVo, eTrade.)  We now have “do-it-yourself” religion.

While that sounds as if I’m mocking the concept, I’m not.  Remember, I was raised a “none.”  As such, I’ve always participated in creative, off-beat religious expression.  One year, we renamed our secular Christmas holiday to “Peacemas,” celebrated with Jewish friends, Kugel and Pictionary. 

Additionally, secular culture is increasingly able to fill the void that plagued me as child – one of connectivity. Of course, the internet plays a big role, but outside of that, “nones” are connecting in the physical world.  Just this month, the First Church of Atheism opened its doors in the U.K.  Founder Sanderson Jones said, “We want all the things that are good about bringing a community together and make us better people, just without God being involved.”

Similarly, Calgary boasts the new Calgary Secular Church.  Founder Korey Peters explained, “We are a small group of a-religious or atheist people who want the community and celebration we used to have in our Christian (or Mormon) churches.”  These “nones” are searching, as I did, for the community connection that only comes through one’s relationship to spirit; whether that spirit be through humanity or other secular modalities.

Reason Rally

Summer Reason Rally in WDC
Courtesy of CNN.com

Now there’s even a movement.  I suppose someone stood up and said, “Hey, wait!  There are a lot of us.  What can we do with that?” Dale McGowan, director of Foundation Beyond Belief , told CNN:

Part of it is trying to consolidate … cultural presence. That has something to do with politics, but it is also more generally cultural…Much as churches and synagogues foster and nurture communities, Atheists can do the same to gain clout and broader acceptance

On January 26th in Atlanta, the eighth annual Heads Meeting took place. It was attended by leaders from various secular organizations such as; The American Humanist Association, Foundations Beyond Belief, The Center for Inquiry, and American Athiests. They met to discuss the socio-political future of the “non-affiliated.”  Dale McGowan explains:

These groups operated separately from each other and sometimes at odds with each other. There was a realization that we should meet once a year and come together on the goals that we have in common.

What makes a “none?”  How do they distill all that diversity into one single word?  What is the defining point?  Simply put, they all check “not affiliated.”  That’s it. That’s what binds them. That’s what makes them “nones.”

I relate this to art. The “nones” are the negative space – the environment around the meticulously drawn picture. Good artists always carefully consider their negative space because in visual imagery, nothing is always something. As a child, I was defined as nothing.  Now, the “nones,” are embracing that definition; being defined by what they are not.  They are the negative space filling 20% of the collective social canvas. They are something.

Many years ago, I left the life of “nothing” and found a spiritual path, a deep connection to humanity through the language of Wicca.  I went from being a “none” to being a Priestess; from the negative space to the positive.  Why are the “nones” important to me now?  Why should they be important to Pagans?

The “nones’” cultural evolution appears to be running almost parallel to the Pagan movement.  Just as they did, many of us looked up one day and said, “Hey, wait! There are a lot of us.  What can do with that?”  We are asking similar questions. Do we need to organize?  Should we build institutions? How can we foster community? Do we need leaders?  And most importantly, how do we define “Pagan?”  Where is the checkbox on the form?  We have much to learn from the “nones.”

BeachGirlAs for my personal journey, I can now better appreciate my childhood.  My parents’ secular path allowed me the freedom to eventually build my own relationship to religion; to become a spiritual artist.  Where once there was angst and frustration, there is now respect and gratitude.

To this day, my life as a “none” colors my Wiccan experience. I enjoy drawing the sacred out of the secular and finding the magick in the mainstream. While I have yet to do a full moon ritual with Broadway music, I can see the creative possibilities. For me, the lines between the secular and the sacred are blurred, colored by the language of Wicca. I do still check “unaffiliated” and will continue to do so until Wicca or Pagan has its own check box.

Some people love watching the sport of tennis, but I am not one of them. This should in no way reflect on that no-doubt fine sport, the talented people who play it, and the fans of said talented athletes. I’m sure it’s a deficiency on my part, nobody’s perfect, right? Similarly, I just can’t get too worked up over the ongoing theist-atheist tennis match, the way some read so much meaning into every “point” scored by each side, how “heroes” and “villains” are created, how “experts” in the commentary box try to explain how one point was more devastating than another point, or how one player’s career is on the decline. Worst of all is when a prominent player on one “team” decides to switch teams, then things really start to heat up!

Such was the case when fellow Patheos blogger Leah Libresco, formerly on the atheist channel here, decided to convert to Catholicism. Faster than you could say “Bristol Palin” traffic to her blog went insane, and CNN dubbed her a “prominent atheist blogger,” much to the chagrin of  prominent atheist bloggers (it’s a Catch-22, if CNN is reporting on your conversion, you must be prominent, because CNN is reporting on your conversion). Now, everybody has an opinion about Ms. Libresco, with many giving interpretations as to this conversion’s importance, or lack of importance. One Catholic blogger even opined that “heaven is roaring with joy” over this conversion (which makes one wonder what sounds heaven makes when a Catholic becomes an atheist, but I digress).

"Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman poses with Leah Libresco.

"Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman poses with Leah Libresco.

For my part, I was just going to ignore the whole thing. As a Pagan I have no real emotional investment in atheists and Catholics debating over conversion, or the significance of Libresco’s turn towards Rome. It’s like, well, like watching tennis. I can intellectually understand why some people get worked up about it, but it isn’t my game. Indeed, Pagans, in general, don’t much care about conversions. Patheos columnist Carl McColman, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism,”still has plenty of Pagan friends, despite becoming a Catholic (the same is true of Pagans who’ve become atheists). We believe that a person’s relationship to the gods is their own affair, and it only becomes an issue for us when those converted decide to turn against us. To use their conversion as a means to sell books about our defaults, or to demonize us. Sadly that is an all-too-common phenomenon.

Carl McColman at the Hill of Tara.

Carl McColman at the Hill of Tara.

For many Pagans, when we hear that one of us has converted to Christianity, we wonder when the book is coming out. You think people love atheist-turned-believer stories? Well, there’s a certain segment of Christians that just can’t get enough ex-Pagan/ex-Witch narratives. Books with titles like “Taken From the Night,” or “Generation Hex,” or “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers.” Some of these narratives have elements of truth in them, but most are exaggerated or fabricated to make for a more dramatic telling. The simple truth, you see, is far too mundane. The truth is that thousands of people, perhaps even millions, shift in and out of different religious identities every day. It’s as common as crabgrass, and it really means little to the larger trends that are driving religion.

Those trends show that the biggest growth isn’t in atheists, but in people who refuse to label their religious beliefs. The “nones,” who now comprise around 16% of the population in the United States, and a possibly influential majority in certain states. Atheists only account for around 1.6% of that 16.1%. Only slightly bigger than the modern Pagan movement here. Meanwhile, Christianity in the West is in crisis, especially in America, where it’s becoming increasingly politically polarized. In the anxiety that is created by this situation, the still-dominant but increasingly worried religious majority starts to look for signs of “winning” the ideological/theological struggle. It starts to worry that maybe their impressive numbers are inflated, that there are far more heretics in their ranks than they ever suspected. It starts to see a minor atheist blogger converting as quite a big deal.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

As to this current ruckus, let me quote Stephen F. Roberts who famously opined that “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do.” Early pagans called Christians atheists because they didn’t merely prefer their god over other gods (henotheism), they said those other gods were demonic figments of their god’s dualistic evil counterpart. Once they grasped real power, Christians went on a campaign of eliminating those other gods, actions that would make the most militant atheists of today blanch (censorship, destruction of religious property, social pressure, and when those didn’t work, killing). Those gods that couldn’t be completely destroyed were either (literally) demonized or sanctified. That some are now trying to finish off that “last” god no doubt creates a unique tension for monotheists.

Into that tension steps an atheist who converts, who says, let us add one god. Who swings the door in the other direction, towards theism. The problem with that is that it creates its own tension. Christianity is still very much in the game of eliminating all the other gods, of stressing that there is only one god. But once you say, there is at least one god, one power in this universe that is beyond humanity, you open the door to the questions that any reasonable person would then ask. Is there more than one power? What came before Christianity? Why God and not Goddess? Is the Christian conception of God the correct one? What if the moral universe Catholics like to claim was actually acquired from other religions? Why would an inquisitive person stop at mere Christianity? The answer is that reasonable people ask these questions all the time, and certain Christian institutions spend a lot of time and money to stop people from finding the answers.

I wish Leah Libresco well, and I wish her happiness. While I profoundly disagree with Catholicism, thinking it a flawed and troubled faith, I hold no ill will towards its adherents, so long as they are committed to coexisting in a pluralistic secular society with us Pagans. I hope that her faith can develop away from the tennis match that this has all become, complete with cheering sections on each side. If you ever decide that maybe your world needs more than one god, feel free to drop me a line.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed. Oh, and if you’re in the Oakland California area, be sure to drop by Hexenfest on March 9th!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.