★★★ BOOK OF THE YEAR 2016! ★★★
I’d been looking forward to reading Patheos Pagan writer John Halstead‘s Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans for some time. I admire Halstead’s writing, especially his thoughts on Humanistic Paganism, and I also admire him for taking a lead role in championing the various forms of Paganism out there that are not centred on the worship of literal deities. Godless Paganism is a cumulation of all of Halstead’s work in giving such Pagans a voice in the wider Pagan community.
Godless Paganism presents a range of essays by Pagan writers who see themselves as lying in the Non-Theistic Pagan spectrum. A large number of contributors will be familiar to Patheos readers: Alison Leigh Lilly, Allison Ehrman, B. T. Newberg, Cat Chapin-Bishop, DT Strain, Pat Mosley, Peg Aloi, Rua Lupa, Sara Amis, Shauna Aura Knight and Tom Swiss. A range of topics are presented, including defining “godless Paganism” and interpretations of the divine, non-theistic approaches to prayer and ritual, the role of nature in non-theistic Paganism, and non-theistic Pagans of the past.
The essays in Godless Paganism are the voices of intelligent, thoughtful (and very often highly educated) people, with a genuine respect and awe for nature as well as indigenous and pre-Christian religions. They are all well-written and highly persuasive, but a few contributors in particular stand out: Halstead (naturally) for “The Disenchantment of the Gods and the Reenchantment of the Archetypes” and “I Worship the Blind Goddess” (the latter is particularly inspired); Lilly for “Anatomy of a God” and “Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist” (the most beautifully written and poetic essays in the collection, in my opinion); M. J. Lee for “Being Human When Surrounded by Greek Gods”; Nimue Brown for “Of Gods and Stories”; Chapin-Bishop for “What Do You Mean, ‘God,’ Cat?”; and “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa. A special mention must also go to “Four Devotional Practices for Naturalistic Pagans” by Anna Walther for concisely giving some real, practical ways that non-theistics can express their Paganism, and “The Three Kindreds” by NaturalPantheist for its interesting interpretation of Shinto kami.
Godless Paganism is a very valuable contribution to the world of Pagan literature – in some ways, an essential contribution, as it’s one of the few works out there in which non-theistic Pagans have openly expressed themselves and been given a chance to argue their case for this rather different interpretation of what it means to be Pagan. Not only that, but Godless Paganism shows a very real solution to the very real problem of reconciling modernity with tradition, and spirituality with science: by putting science and naturalism at the heart of spirituality, and by giving people the freedom to define their spiritual experience however they see fit.