Lately I have been fascinated by people's idea about God and lack there of. While I myself am not an atheist or even an agnostic, I admit I am fascinated by the idea of atheist paganism. How does one practice paganism without Deity? To be honest, it seems pretty easy to me. After all, paganism is based on nature.
Unfortunately some people aren't as open minded as I am. What!? A closed minded pagan? Does such a thing even exist? It seems so. While doing research for this post I came across a Yahoo Answers question that asked about atheist paganism. The best answer as chosen by other readers sadly was "Atheist pagan is an oxymoron." Fortunately, the commentor got schooled in the responses.
Why is it an oxymoron? Atheists believe in science and nature, not Divinity. Paganism is a nature based religion. How in the world is that incompatible? I'm almost tempted to do an experiment and practice for one month using nature only and not Deity just to see what it would be like.
I decided to do some research to see just how others do practice atheist paganism. It was quite eye opening.
Jo Jerome brilliantly asks, "Can one dance naked under the Full Moon or welcome the Summer Solstice from a purely beauty-in-science point of view?" Jo believes you can. What's interesting about this article is that it goes even further than just eliminating Deity. The writer practices witchcraft but doesn't believe it's magick. Jo believes it's science! For Jo, magick is simply "the Unified Field and interconnectedness of the cosmos."
On this forum I found atheist paganism explained in terms of Jungian psychology. "There are some Pagans who believe that the Gods are archetypes, and don't exist anywhere outside our own minds." But this begs the question, even if you know the Gods are not real but you still use them, does that make you truly an atheist? I don't think it's my place to answer such a question, but I certainly wonder what atheists think.
Fortunately, I came across one atheist pagan's answer. Rhett Aultman says, "I might not think that Hermes is 'real', but that doesn't mean that I can't aspire to be like Hermes, make art that represents Hermes, talk about Hermes, do things and claim Hermes did them, dress like Hermes, act like Hermes, get other people to call me Hermes, or be Hermes...for myself or others...for a time. Just because something isn't real doesn't mean that you can't experience it. If things that didn't really exist had no power, I sincerely doubt that people would go to see Batman or Iron Man movies. People love connecting with those complex symbols of heroism." (In fact, such symbols can be used in chaos magick, but I digress.) It seems some atheist pagans still appreciate the power of myth. (I give an example of one later in this post.)
I also discovered it's not just some pagans that have a problem with the idea of atheist paganism. Some atheists do as well. The Good Atheist says, "Atheist Paganism? I’m so sick and tired of young women falling for this Wicca bullshit. No, you are not a witch with magical powers. No, you can not use spells to make some douchebag you have a crush on fall in love with you. If you want to do 'medicinal' shit, try becoming a doctor instead."
Clearly The Good Athiest is completely ignorant of what paganism, Wicca, witchcraft, and medicinal healing is about. You don't have to believe in magick to do a spell. You simply have to believe in energy. Witchcraft is about manipulating energy, which according to science is all that exists. As for medicinal healing, you don't have to believe in a Higher Power to use aromatherapy, crystals, or herbs. You don't even have to believe in a Higher Power to do reiki or distance healing. I personally think believing in the power for a quartz crystal to heal or basil to bring you good luck is no different than believe penicillin will kill an infection. You don't need God to believe it!
Now I do admit I question whether or not one could be a Wiccan atheist. The belief and mythology of God and Goddess just makes up too much of Wicca to be taken out. What you would have left wouldn't actually be Wicca. There would certainly be elements of witchcraft and paganism, but not Wicca. Besides Wicca is a religion. So can an atheist follow a religion but not believe in God? Again, I don't feel it's my place to answer such a question since I'm not an atheist. However, you will soon see that if one views God and Goddess in Wicca simply as myth, it seems it might be possible to be an Atheist Wiccan.
Some pagans however do not use the term atheist and prefer humanist instead. At humanisticpaganism.com, Humanist Paganism is described as having a Fourfold Path. This includes exploration of the Five +1 (five senses, plus one introspective sense), relationship with mythology, responsible action, and a sense of wonder.
On the About page, it is explained how humanism is different from atheism or agnosticism and we see how it can easily be combined with paganism. "Humanism goes beyond atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, and other similar philosophies by introducing an ethical element. Not only must we invoke no deity to solve our problems, but also we must actively acknowledge our responsibility to solve these problems. Responsibility is a necessity if we hope to prosper as individuals and as a species on this planet." It is then explained, "Humanism and Paganism are complementary. While Humanism is well-adapted to address the latest intellectual and social issues, it lacks the kind of deep symbolic texture conducive to psychological fulfillment. Paganism is positioned to fill that void, providing a field of symbolic imagery in which the modern individual can feel rooted and nourished."
Ultimately, it seems that atheist paganism is about taking the idea that "Thou art God/dess" to an entirely new level. While I don't think it could be my path, I have learned a great deal exploring it. I have asked myself many hard questions such as Why do I believe in Divinity? And Do I believe Divinity and nature are the same thing? I've even asked myself Do I believe in magick or is magick simply science in action?
This post has been part of the blogging project The Pagan Blog Project 2013. This is a year long blog party where you blog on pagan topics from A to Z.
I discovered yet another tradition of agnostic/atheist paganism that I wanted to share. It's called naturalistic paganism and Patheos is doing an entire series on the topic.