Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

Against the Golden Age

So, we were talking about “origin myths” in one of the Atheopagan community Zoom mixers the other day. And Mícheál, who is a member of the Atheopagan Society Council, suggested–somewhat facetiously–something like this for much of mainstream Paganism:

Long ago, people lived in peaceful, egalitarian matriarchal/matrifocal societies that revered the Earth Goddess in many forms*. Since then, patriarchy has poisoned the relationship between humans and the Earth, subjugated women and created war. We must get back to that prior way of being.

Now, this is grossly oversimplified, of course. But it is, at root, the story that many Pagans have told themselves, and often still do. Some still extend the myth to include that modern Paganism is an outgrowth of a living tradition which has survived at least since the Middle Ages in Europe, even though Ronald Hutton pretty definitively disproved that in The Triumph of the Moon.

These narratives, though certainly heartwarming, are almost certainly wrong. The conjectural work of the likes of Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler notwithstanding, there is vanishingly little evidence to support the “ancient paradise” thesis.

Moreover, they are clear descendants of the ideas of the Romantic era, which projected ideas of the “noble savage” and the celebration of “getting back to nature” in a highly colonializing, patronizing and white-supremacist manner. Romanticism and occult/magical/Pagan movements have been deeply intertwined ever since the late 18th century.

So I don’t have much truck with these myths about the past. They don’t seem to have much of a nexus with actual history.

But even if they did, I am here to state that it doesn’t matter. At all.

There is something about humans–maybe our nostalgia for previous times in our lives–that leads us to be drawn to stories of a golden past when things were, if not perfect, as least better. When the afflictions of the now were lessened or absent.

That’s a sentimental trap, and I say we should do what we can not to succumb to it.

There is also a fallacy when it comes to religions and “magical traditions” which suggests that the older something is, the more valid it is. When stated as such, this is clearly untrue. But many practitioners of various religions cite that their particular practices have been going on for a long time as “evidence” that they must be based in truth or wisdom.

To this, I say: nonsense.

I don’t use an Acheulian handaxe to process my food, or a punchcard computer. I don’t want 19th century medical care. We have learned a lot since those were on the cutting edge, and I want the benefit of everything we have learned since.

This is true, too, of religion. Human culture has evolved such that what was considered wise and just and morally acceptable in the Bronze Age is no longer so. Things like human sacrifice and stoning of adulterers and racism and slavery and subjugation of women are wrong, no matter what some ancient text might say about them.

“Ancient wisdom” is usually neither. And it’s about time people in Paganism stop romanticizing “old ways” and fess up to that.

Atheopaganism is a modern approach to religion and spirituality. We do not pretend to be rooted in anything ancient, except insofar as those things are factually based, like celebrating solstices and equinoxes and the like. Humans all over the world have been celebrating those things for many thousands of years, because they are real, rather than mythological.

The freedom that being a modern religious path gives us is that instead of being harnessed to some story about a long-gone Golden Age, we can focus on here and now, and on the future.

We’re not trying to reassert some bygone paradise. We’re trying to live as well, sustainably, kindly and happily as we can, and to help create a future in which that is more possible than it is today. We can do that with all the tools and learning that modernity offers us.

The Golden Age is a lie. We are well rid of it.

So let us push back against sentimental nostalgia, and look to the future with new eyes as we work to embody and promulgate our values. There has never been a time when so many have been as empowered as we are today–even in poor places, with access to technology such as mobile phones. Surely we can chart a course to a better future, and shatter or reshape the systems that do not serve our well-being.

*Unless you’re a Norse Pagan or heathen, of course, wherein the origin myth is often about an era infused with macho values like strength, honor, duty and courage, with much brandishing of warlike symbols like axes, swords and shields, a corresponding ignoring of the fact that during most of the year so-called “Vikings” were farmers, and a desire for an afterlife in Sto-Vo-Kor Valhalla.


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