Archives For humanist

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.

Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wants you to know about the current "pagan" sexy times going on.

Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wants you to know about the current “pagan” sexy times going on.

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.

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.

Daniel LaPlante. Photo: The Boston Herald.

Daniel LaPlante. Photo: The Boston Herald.

  • A new documentary, The Art of Disappearing, tells the story of Haitian Voodoo priest Amon Fremon, who visited the People’s Republic of Poland in 1980. Quote: “What I did learn from the brief research I did on him, is that he believed that he was a descendant of Polish soldiers who were abandoned in Haiti, after the Haitian Revolution. They intermarried with Haitians, and may have established themselves at a settlement in Casales. And although they probably practiced Catholicism in the early days, some would later become practioners of Voodoo.” Sounds interesting!
  • The definition of who’s an Indian in the United States is causing some heartache (and fiscal strain) as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act rolls out. Quote: “The definition of “Indian” in the section of the law that deals with the insurance exemption appears to be the same as the one in 25 USC § 450b. That means only members of federally recognized tribes and shareholders in Alaska Native regional or village corporations are considered “Indian.” But that definition is narrower than the one found in the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was made permanent by the ACA. For example, California Indians with allotments have long been considered eligible for IHS care.” A hearing is scheduled to address these concerns.
  • Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll is becoming this generation’s Pat Robertson. Quote: “He’s been heavily criticized by Christian voices across the spectrum, and according to reports, several attendees at the Catalyst Conference in Dallaswalked out during his talk. He’s even being marginalized by some Reformed Christians (i.e. Calvinists) who precipitated his rise to prominence. “I’m not a Mark Driscoll kind of Calvinist,” some have remarked to me.” There’s good money in being a divisive lightning rod if you can withstand the weather.
  • StudioCanal has initiated a worldwide search for long-missing footage from the 1973 cult-classic film “The Wicker Man.” Quote: “Director Robin Hardy has endorsed a worldwide appeal launched by StudioCanal to locate original film materials relating to cult horror classic The Wicker Man. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the film about a policeman (Edward Woodward) sent to a remote island village in search of a missing girl, whom the townsfolk claim never existed. It also stars Christopher Lee. StudioCanal intends to mark the occasion by releasing the ‘most complete version of the film possible’.” There’s a special Facebook page created for the hunt. There have been a number of attempts to get at the “original” directors cut, with an “extended” version released in 2001 (and later packed in a deluxe box set). I’d love to see a high-quality restored director’s cut. 
  • “Evil spiritual entities” is not a real diagnosis. There’s no evidence base. 
  • Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) is protesting plans to display human remains at the Stonehenge visitors center in England. Quote: “This is out of step with the feelings of many of the people and groups I represent, who would rather the ancient dead were reburied and left to rest in peace and, where appropriate, samples kept for research and copies put on display [...]  We shall not take this development lightly and will oppose any such intention by English Heritage at Stonehenge. I cannot rule out non-violent direct action against the proposals.” As I’ve noted before on this site, there is no consensus among British Pagans on this issue, with many, most notably Pagans for Archeology, opposed to the reburial of ancient human remains. Read more about King Arthur, here.

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.

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.

Three personages who’ve had an impact on our interconnected communities passed away recently: one a noted Native American activist, one a noted figure within the occult community, and the last a noted skeptic of the paranormal and “the father of secular humanism.” All three should be honored and remembered for their contributions, for what is remembered lives.

10 22 12 Russell Means full 600Russell Means (1939 – 2012): Activist, author, and actor Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux who participated in the famous 1964 Alcatraz occupation, and would go on to become a prominent leader within the American Indian Movement (AIM) passed away on Monday from cancer. Means was a spokesman for, and involved with the occupation of, Wounded Knee and from that period of activism he would go on to run for political office, work with the United Nations, and involve himself in American Indian and indigenous issues. The Indian Country Today Media Network has a article up highlighting his many accomplishments, while the New York Times calls hims the best-known Indian since Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse.

“[Means] styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”

Throughout his life Means was an ardent critic of the “cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples today,” and embraced the religion and spirituality of his people. You can read more remembrances and tributes, here.

2156David Godwin (19xx – 2012): Author and magician Donald Michael Kraig shares that news that David Godwin, “a longtime student of the cabala, occult lore, and magick,” and author of the influential “Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to Cabalistic Magic,” passed away on October 16th. According to Kraig, Godwin performed “two massive services” for the occult community: indexing Israel Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn”, and the publication of his aforementioned Cabalistic encyclopedia.

“Following Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia there came a flood of occult books that expanded on what went before and even pointed in new directions. I can’t think of any that pointed back to David’s book, saying, “without GCE what I’m presenting wouldn’t be here.” This wasn’t done out of spite, but out of a lack of recognition of not just the content of David’s book, but of the disruptive nature of the book for all of occultism. And that disruption has changed us all in positive ways.”

In addition to his encyclopedia and indexing work, Godwin was on FATE magazine’s editorial staff for more than a decade, edited books on the supernatural, and wrote a history of Greek magic. To again quote Kraig: “In the later part of his life, David became deeply involved in Freemasonry. So may the Great Architect of the Universe watch over you and guide you to rest and recuperation before we are lucky enough to experience your essence once again.”

Obit Kurtz.JPEG 0cbd1Paul Kurtz (1925 – 2012): You might call Paul Kurtz, who passed away on Saturday, a patron saint of the “nones.” Called a father of secular humanism Kurtz was a “giant” within the movement according to Roy Brown, chief representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). A precursor to the more militant atheists of the present era, Kurtz essentially helped found the modern skepticism and paranormal debunking movements. Kurtz also worked to develop secular alternatives to religion, something he called “eupraxsophy.”

“A compilation of Kurtz essays published by Bupp in June describes Kurtz’s theory of eupraxsophy, which he first envisioned in 1988 as a secular moral alternative to religion that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths. At a January UNESCO conference in Paris, Kurtz spoke on “neo-humanism” and the positives of unbelief. Kurtz wasn’t anti-religious, Bupp said, but nonreligious. “Neo-humanists do not believe in God, yet they wish to do good. But if this moral outlook is to prevail, then neo-humanisms need to concentrate on improving the things of this world rather than simply combating the illusions of supernaturalism,” Kurtz said at the conference.”

If you look at modern Pagan religions we have both absorbed, and rebelled, against the secular humanism that men like Kurtz helped develop. Indeed, debates still rage today within our ranks over humanistic forms of modern Paganism, belief vs practice, and supernaturalism vs. skepticism. However, unlike other faiths, modern Pagan religions have been able to absorb these tensions in ways more top-down belief systems have not. As religions that deal with magic, the supernatural, and powers undefinable, we too deal with the challenges of secular humanism.

May all these spirits be remembered, may their wisdom and work endure, and may they return to us again.

[This is a guest post by Brendan Myers. Brendan Myers, Ph.D, is the author of eight books on environmentalism, ethics and social justice, and spirituality. He has taught philosophy at six different universities in Canada and in Europe, and provided policy research for the Government of Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and various private clients. His work has been featured by the Pacific Business & Law Institute, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, as well as numerous cultural societies, environmental groups, interfaith groups, and humanist societies around the world. And he's a decent songwriter too.]

About a year ago, I was attending a semi-private gathering of pagans in eastern Ontario, Canada.  One of the people there was an atheist and we were talking about why she enjoys attending pagan events. At one point, intending to be cheeky, I called out to the group, “How many other atheists have we got here?” Eleven people, out of twenty, put their hands up.

Now, my little observation that evening is nothing like a scientific study of changing opinions in the pagan world. But that was not the only place where I’ve observed this trend. Not all of us join the pagan world because of an interest in magic, or because of a transformative spiritual epiphany, or because of a traumatic experience with some other religious group. Call it a case of observer bias on my part, but Humanist Paganism seems to be an emerging option for those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and they really don’t care about the “woo” anymore.

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.

From what I have seen so far, Humanist Pagans tend to be uninterested in ritual, or energy work, or developing psychic powers. Some still practice magic (you don’t have to be religious to do that), but will approach the matter with a critical, scientific eye. And speaking of science, they tend to be interested in astronomy, quantum theory, evolutionary biology, and the like, and will take inspiration from Neil DeGrasse Tyson and from Bill Nye right alongside Starhawk or Crowley. Those whom I have met tended to be in their 30′s or older, educated, earning a lower-middle class income, and raising small families. (As an aside, a lot of them are cosplayers too!) Social, political, and moral causes tended to be more important to them than supernatural ones. For instance, an associate of mine who recently declared himself a Humanist Pagan told me that avoiding genetically modified food improved his health more than reiki treatments and aura cleanings. And he felt afraid to admit that to his pagan friends! Finally, many of the humanist pagans I’ve met tend to think of themselves as artists and musicians (or whatever) first, and as pagans second – as THW has observed about artists like Austin Osman Spare, or Dead Can Dance.

But they love folklore and mythology, they love going to pagan festivals, and they subscribe to pagan moral values like the Wiccan Rede, and the Heroic Virtues. They’re perfectly happy to shout “Hail Thor!” with an upraised drinking horn. They don’t care whether the gods exist or do not exist: for as they see it, the existence of the gods is not what matters. Rather, what matters is the pursuit of a good and worthwhile life, and the flourishing of our social and environmental relations. They are a kind of pagan that perhaps has not been seen since classical Greece and Rome, and their place in the modern pagan movement may still be marginal and unclear, but they are a kind of pagan nonetheless.

(This isn’t a recruitment drive, by the way. I just thought the pagan world might like to know that these people exist, and that if you haven’t met one yet, you probably will soon.)

For those who struggle with anti-pagan prejudices and stereotypes, Humanist Paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain, and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just. Remember, the Acropolis of Athens, Stonehenge, Newgrange, and the Pyramids of Egypt, were built by Pagans. Complex astronomical instruments like the Antikythera Mechanism, and the Nebra Sky Disk, were made by Pagans. Our Pagan intellectual heritage includes poets and scientists and literary intellectuals of every kind, especially including those who wrote some of the most important and influential books in all of Western history. Homer, Hesiod, Pythagoras, Plato, and Cicero, just to name a few, all lived in pagan societies. Some of the greatest political and military leaders of all time, such as Alexander the Great, Pericles of Athens, Hannibal of Carthage, and Julius Caesar of Rome, were all pagans, or else living in a pagan society. And speaking of Pagan societies: some of today’s highest social and political values, like democracy, secular republican government, freedom of speech, and trial by jury, were invented by pagans. Even the Olympic Games were invented by pagans. Yet that fact is almost always ignored when people study the origins of western civilization. In the face of anti-pagan prejudices, it might be better to point to accomplishments like these, than to something mostly amorphous like “freedom”.

Finally, if I may speak personally, I also noticed that some pagans have treated me as a spokesperson for humanist paganism. Perhaps that is because my books are about universal philosophical problems like loneliness, fear, global warming, and social justice. Also, I don’t write about magic or ritual or how to talk to the gods (although I do write about Druids). The role of main spokesperson for humanist paganism probably belongs to B.T. Newberg, more than to me, because he manages the Humanistic Paganism blog and FB page. But for my part, I find that human rationality is profoundly spiritual; an instrument not just of practical knowledge but also of enlightenment. I study Druidry to be a better philosopher; I don’t study philosophy to be a better Druid. Perhaps that makes me a humanist pagan. But if so, I will still toast the Great Queen with my drinking horn. Hail!

See also:
http://humanisticpaganism.com/
http://btnewberg.com/
http://www.facebook.com/humanistic.paganism
http://paganhumanist.com/