I live fairly remotely – Literally on an island (the big one that sits along the north shore of Lake Huron… yeah, that one).
So, as a Pagan, I don’t have much in the way of comradery in terms of my Nature-Based worldview here, being used to doing my own thing, and am delighted when I cross paths with other Pagans, but it can get awkward real quick. We obviously share a lot of the same outlooks to be sure – We are obviously aware of the current lunar phase, the seasonal occurrences and wildlife of the area, are feminists, human rights advocates, and do strive for a more eco-friendly way of life, but that is where the similarities tend to end.
Many continue the conversation assuming that I believe in supernatural beings, like spirits in the rocks, air, rivers, etc. and deities; that the Earth, Moon, Sun, Stars, are beings that care about you; that I follow the Celtic ‘Wheel of the Year’; practice magic/majick; read tarot/divination cards; and perform ceremonies that involve enchanting a circle, the elements in specific directions, and going clockwise. Mistaken on all accounts. But its an understandable one, as most Pagans do associate with these things and the conversations would naturally go along how their beliefs differ in each – something I enjoy listening in on. But for me, its often a smile and nod in response unless asked directly what I believe, and then I struggle with how to best respond because I don’t want to discourage people in their spiritual pursuits, I just hope people actively explore all their options to figure out what works best for them. For me, that just happened to end up being atheism (more specifically Naturalism – a form of atheism, “Any of several philosophical stances wherein all phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural are either false or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.”) – something that some find off putting and often struggle with trying to find how I can be an atheist, while obviously quite Pagan still.
Many try to convince me that I do believe in these things and that I’m just in denial – which is the most annoying response I get that I try to patiently explain that I really, truly, don’t believe in incorporeal spirits, spirits in non-living things, a soul, an afterlife, or deities (and its just as bad with liberal Christians). I don’t even like referencing them in metaphor, feeling like that’d be a disingenuous thing to do and in that way am respecting those who genuinely do believe in their existence. And besides, why bother if I actually don’t believe in them and personally, believing I am better off looking for other, newer ways of doing things rather than trying to alter ceremonies that were obviously designed around believing in them in the first place. I mean, they’re great sources of inspiration, but I don’t need to do the same things to be a Pagan.
What I Do Believe About This…
Now I am sure those reading this are questioning what I do believe with regards to spirits, celestial bodies, the Celtic Wheel of the Year, magic, divination, ceremonies – circle casting, elements, and directions therein.
When it comes to ‘spirits’ I tend to avoid that word all together because of their common associations with the incorporeal or animism, but when pressed (usually when people insist I’m spiritual, though I don’t believe I can associate with that label specifically) I can only say that I regard spirits as living beings – simply breathing and alive (like what the origin of the word means), with no separation of the body such as a soul/incorporeal spirit. That death is the end of that being, but what makes up that being gets broken down and becomes incorporated into other beings – without memory. And that is something we can embrace and celebrate instead of fear.
Outside of that I don’t believe in spirits. When I have space to do so, I do plan on having ‘Spirit Houses’ throughout my property for various spirits – not entirely unlike Shinto Spirit Houses, just designed to suit the physical creatures instead. And instead of worshiping said spirit or touting supposed symbolisms, it would be designed to be oriented to maximize opportunities to learn from that spirit, becoming better able to coexist as fellow spirits sharing the same space in our little region on earth. Something that appeals to me greatly as a Saegoah (someone who follows the Saegoah’s Three Basic Tenets – “Through Nature fulfillment can be found”, “Nature, being inseparable from human existence, is important in human pursuits”, “As humans are a part of Nature it is important to ensure our connections within it are harmonious.” In other words, a Seeker of Ehoah – A Seeker of ‘Complete Harmony within Nature’).
Wheel of the Year
The Celtic Wheel of The Year simply doesn’t jive with me as it really doesn’t line up with what is actually going on with where I live, and frankly where most people live outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland. To that end I actually invented an entirely new calendar that works for both hemispheres and bioregions – a perpetual calendar that draws connections to the solar-earth changes in a relatable way.
Divination Reading – A Big Ol’ Nope! I personally don’t like them because regardless on what you think about them – be it real or a game – the results influence how you consider your actions for the next while and I much prefer to consider each of my actions independently from divination readings, and I don’t like how people get all bent out of shape over them when they do believe in them. To me tarot cards are simply just cards that have no divination power and only ‘work’ because they are vague enough to apply to a whole slew of situations, and the vast majority of divination approaches are just as vague. But I do really like the artwork and like to contemplate the symbolism.
Magic? Not so much – I really don’t believe you can influence the physical world with magic i.e. changing weather, causing a difference in a very distant place or time, summoning, or altering the physical makeup of something – unless we’re strictly talking about chemistry. Although I do believe that ritual and ceremonies can psychologically influence the people involved in a beneficial way and do like to study rituals and ceremonies for that purpose and use that knowledge to help create ceremonies and rituals for myself (this Libation ritual being one such example)
Circle Casting & Celestial Deities
As I don’t believe in incorporeal spirits or deities, casting a circle makes no logic to me, let alone that I don’t like how it gives the sense that we can somehow separate ourselves from Nature when we’re never separate. I guess that is why I don’t like the idea of magic, as it comes across as anthropocentric in the belief that humans can somehow control Nature to our will. This is where I accept how Nature isn’t something we can really control – physically influence yes – but not able to fully control, and that Nature is indifferent. And in relation to that, I don’t believe the Earth, Moon, Sun, Stars, are beings that care about you – we are connected to them chemically and atomically, which is really cool in itself that we can learn a lot from, but not much more than that.
So the relation between the sun and earth is part of the foundation of my ceremonies rather than just the earth, as such I don’t go clockwise / the direction the sun appears to go in, because in reality its the earth that is moving not our host star for our days and nights. In response to that I move the direction the earth is spinning instead to get a better sense of connection on how our planet functions, and thus a better sense of connection with our seasons – because the relation between the earth and sun is what causes our seasons.
As for the elements and directions, I never really understood why the typical Pagan directions are the way they are and opted for making something more universal as a result. Air / Sky is Pole oriented, Earth is Equatorially oriented, Fire is East – where we first see the sun at dawn (our source of energy, and thus fire), and Water is West – where we last see the sun at dusk (fire seemingly doused).
I like Shrines, and I find that they can work for me too and plan on making a pocket one for myself. How shrines can work for me is as places for meditative contemplation on the theme or subject it represents and what I can do to make my tangible relationship(s) with it/them better. For my pocket shrine, I plan on having it based on symbolism of Solar-Earth Life, the life cycle therein and permaculture (I will be writing more on the pocket shrine at a later time – and its one of the reasons why I haven’t been writing as much here for the last while). With that symbolic imagery and written Saegoah Teachings, I’ll have native seeds for rejuvenating land that could use it, hand woven gauze/fire starter, and homemade medicinal salve. If anyone reading this has made their own pocket shrine I’d love to hear about it!
In my experience, Pagans are the most welcoming of non-mainstream beliefs, but even so there tends to be a distance between me and other Pagans because my beliefs make people uncomfortable, as if that to acknowledge it as a legitimate belief is somehow detrimental to their own. I really don’t mind other beliefs, just don’t expect me to agree with you in everything, that’s all. In fact, I enjoy discussing the philosophies of all beliefs – the why’s and how’s of beliefs, without condemnation. Something I do with one friend a lot, who is a Christian Minister (who likes to study the Old Norse and Celtic Religions), and we both enjoy those discussions. I have all sorts of close friends with a whole spectrum of beliefs and we don’t have to agree on everything to get along and have a grand ol’ time. And it saddens me that being an atheist creates a rift with people that I’d really like to be able to make friends with, or simply be jolly acquaintances (because realistically, you can’t be close friends with everyone you meet). So all I ask is for those who would find themselves creating a distance with those who are atheistic because of a difference in belief, please accept our differences as simply personal outlooks that need not interfere with a possible good friendship, as the world is made a better place when there are more friends in it.