Godless Paganism

"Godless Paganism" paperback copy. Image by me.

“Godless Paganism” paperback copy. Image by me.

Look what arrived today! My very own copy of Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans edited by John Halstead. I am very proud to be able to say that I have made my own small contribution to this book, in the form of an essay called “Myth and Meaning: a non-literal Pagan view of Deity”, and I can’t wait to read the other essays in this collection, which include some pretty impressive authors, with whom I am honoured to share print space.

This book comes at an auspicious time, as the endless online debates between some non-theist Pagans and some polytheist Pagans continue to rage on, and some corners of the blogosphere seem bent on creating a polytheist orthodoxy. In his introduction, John recounts an email from a non-theist Pagan who was told flatly that they cannot be a Pagan and an atheist at the same time and so felt unwelcome at Pagan events and spaces. I’ve been told similar things myself in the past, and have seriously questioned my own Paganism and Druidry as a result.

This book shows that yes, you can be an atheist, agnostic or non-theist and a Pagan. And to do so does not make you “less” of a Pagan (or for that matter less of an atheist) than anyone else. The diversity of writers John has brought together, including Atheopagans, agnostic Druids, Humanistic Pagans, Gaians, Naturalistic Pantheists, Unitarian Universalists, and at least one “Zen Pagan Taoist Atheist Discordian” (!) shows that there are many, many ways to be Pagan and live your Paganism that do not depend on literal belief in gods.

Megan Manson, who blogs at Pagan Tama, declares Godless Paganism to be her “read of the month” and says in her review:

“Because non-theistic Paganism can be seen as rejecting Pagan deities on the surface, the idea of godless Pagans is controversial for some. Is it appropriate for atheists to define themselves as Pagan? Or are they misappropriating the term? The essays in Godless Paganism all reach the same conclusion: Rather than rejecting the idea of deities outright, atheist Pagans are re-defining what “deity” means within the Pagan context. Quite simply, they are Pagans who take great meaning and fulfilment from the nature-based and mystical aspects of Paganism, but want to reconcile this with 21st century rational, scientific outlooks on life.”

I’m really looking forward to reading my way through this book, and will post a proper review when I’m done.

Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theist Pagans, edited by John Halstead, is available on Amazon and Lulu in paper and e-book editions.


100th post

WordPress has kindly reminded me that I’ve reached the arbirtary but oddly impressive (to me, anyway) milestone of 100 posts here on Endless Erring.

To celebrate, have some Nightwish:

Book review: Pagan Planet

Image from Druid Life.

Image from Druid Life.

Brown, Nimue (ed.) Pagan Planet: Being, Believing and Belonging in the 21st Century, Moon Books, 2016.

“What does it mean to live as a Pagan in this uncertain world of climate change, economic hardship and worldwide social injustice? What does it mean to hold nature as sacred when ravaging the land is commonplace? How do we live our Paganism in our families and homes, our communities and countries?”

These are the questions addressed in Pagan Planet, an anthology of Pagan writers sharing their ideas, beliefs, and practices to make a difference to the world around them. Each short article looks at one aspect of living as a Pagan and working towards, if not a “Pagan Planet”, then at least a world more connected and more in touch with nature, with justice and with human and non-human rights.

Whenever you get multiple Pagan writers together, it raises the usual question of what Paganism actually is. Mike Stygal, of the Pagan Federation, offers a useful definition in his foreword. Mike says: “Paganism is a collection of spiritual or religious paths that are largely rooted in indigenous traditions – mainly from Europe, and many of which could be said to focus on a reverence for nature”.

The writers in this collection are very diverse, spanning Druids, Witches, Wiccans, Eclectic Pagans, Polytheists, Agnostics, Humanists and even Christopagans. Yet it never comes across as disunited or divided by belief and path, indeed it feels that all these individuals, each in their own way, are working toward a shared vision of the world.

Some do so by direct activism, protesting, marching, campaigning or even standing for political office, and others write more of their focus on personal life-ways, recycling, ethical shopping, and spiritual approaches such as ritual, contemplation and meditation. The feeling from this collection I got was that no one way was “the right” way to effect change, and what some people feel called or able to do might be different from others. The world needs both “Wild Sistas” and “Contemplative Druids”, each doing different things, but each part of a global grass-roots Paganism that works for change in the world.

In light of recent online debates about spiritual turning inward and outward activism, Pagan Planet serves as a reminder why we need both of these things to create change in our world, our lives and ourselves.

Pagan Planet is a thoughtful and thought-provoking little book, and I reckon everyone who reads it will find plenty to inspire them, as well as more than a few things that infuriate them too, which in my mind is the mark of a good book!

In her closing remarks, Nimue Brown writes:

“We need this planet. It is our home. Where else do we belong, but here? It is all the future we have. It is our life, and our faith, and all that we hold sacred. We have a lot of work to do as a consequence.”

Earth Day

The Earth seen from Apollo. Image from Wikipedia

The Earth seen from Apollo. Image from Wikipedia

Today, 22 April, is known worldwide as Earth Day. First devised in 1970, Earth Day is now celebrated in over 190 countries, and is a day to reflect and take action, to honour the Earth and demonstrate support for environmental issues.

Since Druidry can be described as “a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth” (John Michael Greer), Earth Day can be seen as a sacred festival.While one might suggest that for a Druid every day is Earth Day, it is worthwhile having an annual marker to provide opportunities for personal reflection and collective action to honour, protect and support the living Earth.

Pagan writer John Halstead has an article on HuffPo looking at eight ways Pagans can celebrate Earth Day, which has a good mix of the spiritual (ritual, honouring the gods) and the practical (activism, composting, learning about Nature) which is well worth a read.

Over on his Patheos blog, John also has been running a “countdown to Earth Day” series, looking in-depth at various ways we can work for change to defend the Earth, not just today but each day of the year.

One important start is standing up to be counted, to make your voice heard. One way to do that could be to sign the Pagan Community Statement for the Environment, which currently has over 8,000 signatures.

One thing I always like to do on Earth Day is take time to consider the fragility and beauty of this planet, our Earth Mother, and my relationship as part of the great web of life that connects us all. This helps to inform my daily actions, everything from cycling to recycling.

What are you doing for Earth Day this year?

Image via imgur

Image via imgur

Cremation consultation

The fabulous Manchester Crematorium, opened in 1892

The fabulous Manchester Crematorium, opened in 1892 and location of “Encountering Corpses 2016” conference. Image from Manchester Crematorium.

As well as my interest in Druidry, I am also involved in the growing “Death Positive” movement, and regularly attend events such as Death Salon and death conferences, where the societal taboo on speaking openly about death and dying is lifted, and we can address this ultimate human concern head-on, and often with a healthy dose of good humor to boot.

Once in a while, these two worlds collide, such as when Kristoffer Hughes, of the Anglesey Druid Order, spoke at Death Salon 2014 (Kris also works as an Anatomical Pathology Technologist). The other day, I saw something death-y online that brought Druidry to my mind:

The UK government are holding a consultation and review of crematoria provision, following concerns that “crematoria do not always pay sufficient regard to the cultural sensitivities of different faiths.” It is true in my experience that some (by no means all, or even most) crematorium chapels are replete with crosses, Bibles and Christian imagery.

Where does Druidry fit in this? Well, not only is it important for modern Druids, Pagans and others to be able to choose to be cremated in a way that is respectful of their path, without the symbols of another religion glaring down at them, but it was a Druid who paved the way for cremation to become mainstream in the UK in the first place.

William Price in his Druid regalia. Image from Wikipedia.

William Price in his Druid regalia. Image from Wikipedia.

William Price was a Welsh doctor and Druid of the 19th century, known for adhering to such principles as equal democratic rights for all men, vegetarianism and the abolition of marriage, all of which were highly controversial  ideas at the time. He was also a supporter of people’s right to be cremated rather than buried in a churchyard. When his infant son, fabulously named Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ) died in 1884, Price cremated his body. He was arrested and tried under the claim that cremation was illegal, however Price deftly showed that there was in fact no written legislation that specifically mentioned it, and in so doing paved the way for the eventual passing of the Cremation Act of 1902, which made cremation fully legal. When Price himself died in 1893, he was also cremated on an open-air pyre on two tons of coal in a Druidic ceremony watched by 20,000 people.

While cremation is not my personal choice (I’d rather have a green burial myself) it is important for people to have funeral options that respect who they are and what they believed in life. If you want to contribute to the consultation, the Government have set up an online survey.

If you’re interested in the Death-Positive movement, check out the Order of the Good Death (they’re pretty awesome!).

The Naturalistic Pagan Toolbox: Speaking of/to Nature

Why do we speak of animals and plants as “it”? They are our kin, so let’s shift our language and raise our consciousness accordingly.

Humanistic Paganism

This column is for sharing ideas for religious technologies which we might use or adapt to deepen our Naturalistic Pagan practices. It includes the ideas and experiences of others, as well as some of my own, and I welcome you to send me your ideas for sharing in future posts. If you have discovered a ritual technique which works for you that you would like to add to the Naturalistic Pagan Toolbox, click here to send me an email.

Language and Experience

Language shapes our experience.  And this includes our experience of nature.

We tend to think of language as only reflecting your experience, but in reality is that language and experience interact in a cyclical fashion.  To a certain extent, our experience is limited by what we can say about it.  As Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”  For example, lacking words for…

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A moment of calm

Tree in Russell Square, London. Photo by me.

Tree in Russell Square, London. Photo by me.

The other day, I was in London for some dull work training thing. Now, as a massive introvert, I don’t deal well with crowds and loud places, so large cities like London tend to be hell for me and set me off on panic attacks.

Thankfully, the journey in wasn’t too bad, I managed to get a seat on the train and then walked to my destination instead of taking the claustrophobic Underground, and there weren’t too many people about.

However, by lunchtime, a morning of being “on” professionally and dealing with people and my personal dread of group discussions, I needed to get out of there, so I went across the road to Russell Square, one of the many little handkerchief-patches of green space that dot the centre of London like tiny punctuation marks amongst the constant chatter of the city.

I found a knobbly old tree (afraid I wasn’t able to identify the species, though according to Trees of London, it may have been a Holm Oak, Quercus ilex) that had a bulbous “seat” at just the right height for me to climb on and sit there. As I nestled against the trunk, I watched the comings and goings around me, firstly the people: office workers eating lunch, tourists taking photos, locals passing through staring at their phones. But then, as I stayed still, I noticed the other creatures which live with us even in the biggest and busiest cities: pigeons and squirrels of course, but also blackbirds, thrushes and finches. All just getting on with their lives, caring nothing for the hustle and bustle of humanity, the bankers and lawyers and accountants all managing their imaginary wealth and status.

It’s easy to think of these creatures as “sharing our space” in the city, but sitting there, I was the outsider, in their space.

Taking a simple moment out of the day to let go of the work-stress and the people-stress, I allowed myself to merge with the nwyfre of the tree and simply…be. Just for a moment.

It wasn’t formal meditation or ritual, and to all intents and purposes I was just another office type in shirt and trousers sitting in the park to get a breath of whatever mix of fumes and particulates passes for “fresh air” in London, but to me it was a small moment of Druidry.