Atheopaganism and the Broader Pagan Community
It’s never going to be a completely comfortable fit.
Just as the suggestion of religious ritual and other symbolic, poetic, metaphorical practices will always be dismissed by some in the atheist community, Atheopaganism is always going to be viewed by some in the Pagan community as not rightfully belonging.
Let me stop there and say that in my experience, that is a distinctly minority position. Most of the Pagans I have come out to as Atheopagan have been curious and interested in talking about the details of what I believe and do, but they have shown no interest in showing me the door. So let’s start there: this appears only to be an issue for those who are either preternaturally cranky or who take offense (or feel defensive) at the idea that we don’t believe in their gods.
Still, nobody likes being confronted with that sort of thing, and it’s a little uncomfortable when it occurs. So why should Atheopagans want to continue to be participate as a part of the broader Pagan community?
Well, I start with the principle of the thing. A community which tells itself that it is radically inclusive and devoted to the Earth really has no business deciding to kick out an Earth-honoring path that shares its values and practices in more ways than it does not.
Then, there are the people. Community and fellowship with interesting, smart, creative, playful people who share most, at least, of your values is just a great thing to have in your life. And what I find is that the longer I hang out with them as an “out” Atheopagan, the more Pagans come to me to “confess” that they, too, are unbelievers.
There are resources, too. Paganism has been around for a long enough time that there are groups, classes, venues that are open to being used for rituals, and lots of books and online information. There are chants and songs and poetry, some of which are not focused on gods.
By and large, we share a lexicon with the Pagan community. They know what a ritual is, what a circle is, what an invocation is. Most celebrate some variation of the Wheel of the Year.
We also have a (mostly) shared set of values. Though it is a subculture, the Pagan community’s values are notably different from those of the mainstream American society in several ways. On issues relating to diversity, sexuality, and caring for the Earth, most Pagans are simply more open-minded and progressive as a group than are mainstream Americans. The Atheopagan Principles as I articulate them (your mileage may vary) reflect the Pagan community’s values far more than they diverge from them.
But here is the kicker for me: Skill, lore, knowledge and artistry in creating rituals.
Pagans have been working on the art of ritual for decades. Many of us are really good at it, skilled at the moving of group energy into a pattern of reverence and flow, exaltation and release.
Regrettably, the atheist community has little of the sort to offer us, except that in being godless/supernatural-free as we are, their example extends to us the freedom to innovate, to bend whatever might be traditional to fit our own purposes, and there are some in the atheist community who are doing exactly that. Atheists have no loyalty to traditions beyond those of logical discourse and the scientific method; in that lack of allegiance, there is liberty.
The Pagan community is a socially and culturally rich milieu. Being in it opens the possibility of many interesting areas of study, art, craft and lore. But if I had to pick one quality that really makes it worthwhile to remain, it is that the accumulated experience of thousands upon thousands of rituals in the Pagan community has distilled into peerless technical expertise in how to work with human consciousness in a group setting. And that skill, combined with commitment to practice, has led many in the community to develop over time genuine human wisdom.
The Pagan community has much it can teach us. We have a thing or two to offer in exchange, and it seems that many in the community are finding it so. But as grateful as I am for the love, community, creativity, solidarity, diversity and kindness I find in the community, I hold out its ability to work with human consciousness and its frequent human wisdom as its brightest gems.