Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

In the Time of Gathering Shadows

These days are hard.

Not just the Orlando massacre.

Not just the awful depths to which our political dialogue have descended.

Not just the prospect of a preening narcissist with complete inability to control his impulses as a potential President of the most powerful nation on Earth.

There is the dying of the oceans. The warming of the atmosphere. The not-so-slow roll of the Anthropocene as it snuffs out precious species by the handful, day after day.

Beauty is leaving. Harmony is leaving.

We can see the future, and it is hard.

As atheists, we steel ourselves to look at the world as it is, and not as we would have it. These things are true.

As Pagans, we mourn. We keen to the sky for what is being lost, for what has been lost. And those of us who have the heart for it fight. We fight by all the means we can find: through politics or direct action, by consuming as little as possible, by having few or no children, by stirring the hearts of those who will listen to us to join in.

In the time of gathering shadows, it is hope that is in short supply, yet humanity has so long depended upon it: a tale of a better future, of greater happiness.

When I consider this time in context, I am reminded of the Black Plague. How they must have felt as everyone they knew, as entire villages were taken. As their economy ground to a halt, the simple ability to live became impractical even for the survivors.

They told themselves it was a curse from God. We have no such easy excuses.

So why, then, Atheopaganism? Why indeed anything?

Because we must. Because we have this precious life, and must seek joy, and love, and pursue what is right and just.

We have no happy story about an afterlife. This life is what we have, and we must make of it a work of art, a tale worthy of the telling.

Yesterday, Nemea and I celebrated the long days of Midsummer. We used a ritual knife to cut long shafts of dry wild rye, filled with the golden grace of California summer, and we bound them to a wild oak handle to create a Sunbroom. This ritual tool will be used to whisk darkness and despair from our home, to remind us of these golden days when nights are long and the weather is cold.

These symbolic ritual practices help to lift our hearts, to remind us that we are a part of a greater fabric, to inspire love for the natural phenomena like the Sun by whose grace we are able to live. They connect us to one another, and to the Earth. In practice with others, they build community, which is the truest shelter from the coldness of the world that I know.

These are the kinds of times when I almost envy the theists and supernaturalists, those who believe there is some kind of plan, that there is a better destiny, or Great Powers who–for some unimaginable reason–actually care about we little humans.

It takes courage to have a naturalistic view of the world: to confront a life without such easy guarantees. We’re right, of course—or so the evidence would seem to suggest—but that isn’t much comfort when the world becomes a dark wave, threatening to drown.

Courage, my friends. Stay strong. Love the broken world, and each other. Sing into the darkness, and dance, ache though your feet may. Breathe the good air and know you belong here as much as any other, and there is beauty in the world.

It’s not over yet. Humans are resourceful. It may well be that we break through, despite the crises we have created, to a new way of living that creates harmony with the world. We may never see it, but we can help to bring it about.

Remember love, observe your rites, and carry on.




  1. Well spoken, Brother. And, yes: I frequently feel as though I am watching the collapse of Western- and perhaps human- Civilization, and I remember that it has happened before, probably more times than we know. The Black Plague, certainly, and the collapse of Rome were times when hope must have seemed foolish, but our species survived, recovered and began its lunge toward the next catastrophe. Perhaps this is just what we do; I have no idea if it makes us stronger, or “better” (the evidence would suggest otherwise), but it’s just what we do.
    And, in the meantime, yes: we may as well find joy and friendship and what contentment we can, in community and love. It is said that such things will “save” us. Couldn’t tell you, but, what the hell, we might as well make it better, for ourselves and others, where and while we can. Beats the alternative, says I.

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