A guest post by Sue Irwin
In 2016, after a lifetime of religious affiliation, I walked away from it all. I became an atheist. Although it took me several months to realize it, I was a new atheist with a hole. I was a new atheist with desires. Freed from the mental and financial shackles of the organized religion I’d been born into, I realized I could do anything that I wanted to do.
For someone raised in an oppressive religion, this thought is life changing. And what did I want to do? Two things topped my agenda. First, I wanted to read anything and everything I’d missed in all those years. That project is still ongoing. And second, I wanted to mark the passage of time through the seasons.
I love the seasons. I live in the Midwest where we still get sunshine in the summer, rain in the spring and fall, and snow in the winter. Springtime makes my heart race, every single year. I feel new energy in the spring. I love to watch the flower stems peek through the new grass. Listening to the birds call to one another fills me with joy, just as it used to when I was five years old.
The hot summer days bring onions and garlic, basil and spearmint, tomatoes and peppers to my tiny garden. Watching a tomato plant grow, flower, and produce fruit has always been a magical event for me. It’s a new experience, every single year.
Autumn fills me with energy again, energy to tidy and gather and ready the household for the long winter days ahead. Harvesting the last of my minuscule crops is bittersweet, even when I have enough to can a few small jars of relish or hot sauce to keep us through the winter.
The winter days filled with snow and hot cocoa make me long for the sunshine again. The beauty of a cardinal against the snow takes my breath away. And then we circle back around to springtime once again.
I wanted to mark the turn of the year somehow. But I’d never met an atheist who was anything but… an atheist. They loved to reason and discuss philosophy and science, but none of them seemed to look at nature with anything akin to joy. (Of course, that could be because I live in the Midwest, and the people I meet on a daily basis are more likely to ask me what church I go to than when the next full moon rises.)
Something in my life needed to encapsulate the wonder that I felt at the turn of the seasons. I wanted a reason to go outside and gaze at the full moon twelve to thirteen times a year. I wanted to grow herbs in the summer, have bonfires in the fall, dance with the falling leaves in the autumn, and laugh in the spring at the birds as they played in puddles on the ground.
After a time of reading, searching, and wondering, I discovered non-theistic paganism. Suddenly that hole had a name. The world held a place for someone who wanted to critically evaluate claims, embrace true science, and still experience the joy of the turning of the year. I could peacefully live as a non-theist and a pagan at the same time. This revelation brought peace. Two very different parts of me could co-exist, and happily.
Now every six weeks or so I stop and embrace the changes I see around me. The candlelit dinner of Winter Solstice (Yule) to the frolic of Summer Solstice (Litha) brings me from the darkest of winter, through the bitter cold, and back to the warmth and sunshine and growth. The eight sabbats of the year ground me. They connect me to nature in a way that refreshes me, gives me energy, and heals me in a way that atheism alone could not. And through those eight markers in the year, I thoughtfully notice the seasons rather than rush through them mindlessly.
I really needed to fill that hole. And I found the fill with Atheopaganism, a non-theistic pagan practice.
Over the last several years, I’ve missed Mabon. The autumnal equinox screamed right past me as I was finishing up the duties of summer and looking forward to the end of October. This year I decided things were going to be different.
And they were. On Mabon I enacted my very first pagan ritual. And for me this was huge. Although I’ve embraced other aspects of Atheopagan practice wholeheartedly, I was lax about ritual. My only ritual centered around my morning cup of tea. While that’s a good place to start, I knew I was missing out on a lot.
Extreme introversion and sometimes crippling anxiety meant that I didn’t feel comfortable creating a ritual with anyone else. The very thought sends me into breathing exercises — slow… in… out… breathe… out. There. That’s better.
This left me. Alone. And while I know that many solo practitioners exist, I felt silly. Overwhelmed. Uneducated. All the questionable adjectives visited my brain whenever I tried to think through creating a ritual just for me.
This year, as I was reading about Mabon, I came across a solo ritual that really spoke to me. It was about releasing sorrow and fears over a cup of tea. As I read it over, I realized that I would have to modify it a bit since it was not written from an atheistic pagan perspective. But I was determined to give this a try. It was time.
In the dark of the eve of Mabon, I sat down with my hot tea. I had my battery operated tea lights. (Remember the anxiety? No live candles.) I skipped over some parts, like the room cleansing. Instead of lighting a stick, I spent a few minutes in meditation to clear the room, and in turn, my mind.
Then I lit my candles and I worked through the ritual. I was able to release both sorrow and fear. When it was over I felt cleansed. Accomplished. Whole. And I found that it was fun.
Now I understand why pagans are so interested in ritual. In time I want to write my own, tailored to Atheopagan practice. In the meantime, however, I will happily follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, and change as I need.
Yes, this was definitely a memorable Mabon.