Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. Halstead, John (ed.). Lulu, 2015
I have been meaning to review this book for a while now. It’s taken me longer than I expected to read, not only because it clocks in at over 400 pages, but because the depth of thought, knowledge and experience presented in its many contributions required me to spend a lot of time thinking, making notes and digesting the ideas contained within.
I confess to being biased in favour of this book from the start, not least because I have a short article in it, but because I identify as being a “non-theistic pagan” myself, and I have often been made aware of how much of a minority opinion that is, both within wider society and within paganism as a whole, where some of the loudest voices are often those calling for a form of pagan creed or polytheistic orthodoxy.
Godless Paganism articulates an alternative approach, one where deity is not necessarily dismissed as by the so-called “new atheists”, but is reinterpreted in a non-literal, non-anthropomorphic, often archetypal way. Amongst the many contributors are Wiccans, Druids, “Godlauss” Heathens, Humanistic Pagans, Naturalistic Pantheists and even one “Zen Pagan Taoist Atheist Discordian”, so the views expressed are wide-ranging and show that non-theistic pagans are not a monolith, and that non-theistic approaches exist in virtually every pagan path.
The articles range from personal reflections to poetry, ritual outlines, autobiography, history, theology and philosophy, yet they never feel disjointed or disconnected from each other. Indeed it is striking how much the contributors have in common, and how much their non-theistic paganisms have in common with paganism as a whole.
There is so much packed into this volume, it is impossible to go into great detail in a short review, but some of the articles that really stood out for me include John Halstead’s “I Worship the Blind Goddess”, “Natural Theology: Polytheism Beyond the Pale” by Alison Leigh Lily, and “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa.
Godless Paganism is a bold statement of “coming out” for non-theistic pagans. In his introduction, John Halstead writes of an email he received from a person who was told that they cannot be a pagan and an atheist. I’ve seen similar claims (often in more explicit language) repeated online daily, and have seriously questioned my own paganism as a result. What this book shows is that, yes, you can be a pagan and an atheist, or an agnostic, or a naturalist, or a humanist, and what is more, this doesn’t make you any less of a pagan than the most devout theist. As Joyce and River Higginbotham, authors of Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions write, “Pagans may believe anything they wish about Deity”.
I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone who is pagan, atheist, both or neither and would like to hear from a wide and diverse range of people who find meaning in the mythology, ritual, ethics, symbolism and spirit of paganism without believing in literal gods.