From Atheism to Paganism

Atheist Badge

Atheist Badge via Wikipedia

The issue of returning to Paganism from Atheism came up in a thread on MysticWicks.com:

…It’s been years since I’ve been a “practicing” pagan, and I largely consider myself a non-theist these days. However, I don’t particularly want to be.

I was happiest when I felt a strong spiritual connection, and I generally had a positive outlook, because I felt in control of my life via magic and ritual, and cared for by the Divine.

I first started falling away from it when my husband and I moved in together. (I officially considered myself a pagan at 16, moved out of my parents house at 19, and am currently 25.) It seems so strange, but living with my conservative parents, it was so much easier to do rituals… even if most of my supplies and books were hidden away, I spent every night alone in my room, and had all the privacy I wanted. Not that my husband minds, but I just don’t like the idea of running off to the bedroom (or sending him and the cats to the bedroom, as he has suggested) if I want to do a ritual. I feel timed, and a bit awkward knowing someone is aware of what I’m doing, when I consider it private. (A bit like talking through the bathroom door…)

I’ve spent so much time as a cynical atheist, and defending the (shocking!) idea of not believing in God to a few nosy co-workers, that I almost feel… too stubborn? to go back to believing in a higher power. I feel like it’s conceding or something.

I’m not opposed to the idea of non-theist witchcraft, as there are still some “spiritual” things I believe in (karma, energy, etc.) without believing in God, but believing in magic without a higher power seems almost blasphemous to me. Egotistical, at least. When I would do rituals, I would consider it a prayer or a request, not “controlling” the energy and elements myself… – humangirl

My advice for her, and others, considering returning to paganism:

It took me time to adjustment to practicing rituals while living with my husband and negotiate the space-sharing issues. So I know what that feels like – to feel self-conscious while living with another person, even one who is supportive and understanding of your practices.

There is a bit of pride wrapped up in being Atheist because that involves a level of certitude; it’s a personal certitude that takes the place of faith in one or more deities outside of oneself, and that can require significant pride to maintain. I say this having been an Atheist.  It was indeed a humbling experience to first doubt that there is nothing outside of the concrete physical world, and later to believe in something more.

If you are not certain about the existence of any deities, well, then you’re Agnostic. And that’s fine.  But if you don’t believe in gods in any way, shape, or form, you can still have other ideas about how the world works.  Example: belief in Feng Shui for example doesn’t involve any kind of deity, yet it’s nearly magical the way it functions through the direction and cultivation of Chi.

It’s really going to take some self-reflection for you to find out what you believe. Neither I, nor anyone else, can tell you what to believe.  But once you do realize what your belief is, then you just need to come to terms with it. If you are changing your mind, what is there to be embarrassed about? People don’t stop learning or growing, they continue to do so throughout their entire lives.

Would you consider yourself a Theist?  Atheist?  Monotheist?  Polytheist?  Agnostic?  Have you ever changed from one to the other?  How would you advise someone experiencing a crisis of faith (or crisis of lack of faith)?

Clash of the Titans 2010 Review

As excited I am to see Greek mythology in modern media (and media inspired by mythology, like Percy Jackson), and as much as I like many of the actors in this movie, I was underwhelmed by this movie. Warning: spoilers below…
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Miasma and the Mentally Ill

Miasma: ritual pollution or defilement.

Is mental illness, and disease in general, inflicted by the gods as punishment for hubris and other “sins”? Are we punished for approaching the gods when afflicted by Miasma (ritual impurity), or simply ignored? Or, is Miasma the result of physical and mental illness, which when afflicts us, bars us from approaching the theoi (gods)? If so, what can we do to seek Their help when we most need it (when ill) and yet do so with respect?

How did the ancients approach this issue?
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Vatican Celebrates Galileo

The church denounced Galileo‘s theory as dangerous to the faith. Tried as a heretic in 1633 and forced to recant, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, later changed to house arrest.

The ruling helped fuel accusations that the church was hostile to science — a reputation the Vatican has been trying to shed ever since.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared that the ruling against Galileo was an error resulting from “tragic mutual incomprehension.”

The exhibit, and other Vatican initiatives to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope and the U.N.-designated International Year of Astronomy, is part of the Vatican’s continuing rehabilitation effort.

From here.

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Temple of Nemisis Unearthed

Nemesis holding the wheel of fortune, her righ...

Nemesis holding the Wheel of Fortune Image via Wikipedia

From here:

Archaeologists have found traces of a temple built for the Greek goddess of divine retribution, Nemesis, during excavations in the ancient city of Agora in the Aegean port city of İzmir. Akın Ersoy of Dokuz Eylül University‘s archaeology department and heading the archaeological excavations in the ancient city, told the Anatolia news agency on Monday that they speculated there might be a temple built for Nemesis in the area.

“We found traces of such a temple during our excavations in Agora,” he said.

“We want to concentrate our work to unearth the temple in the future.”

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How We Relate to the Theoi (Gods)

So-called "Velletri Pallas": Helmete...

Velletri Pallas Image via Wikipedia

1. How important is it for you to understand such things as “the nature of the Immortals”? Is it enough for us to merely understand what the Immortals define as an ethical life? And how does this choice impact both worship and daily life?

I doubt I ever will succeed, but it is important to try to understand Their nature. The reason is that by studying, discussing, and contemplating Them we draw closer to Them. By understanding Their nature, we know how to approach our relationship with Them – to who we might pray to and what we may offer, and who to acknowledge when our lives are touched and how to compose a hymn in thanks.

The gods can be perceived literally as deities who can take the form of a fellow human, even one asking for the shelter of your oikos as a guest, and They can be perceived more figuratively and Their interactions for analogies for natural forces and concepts. Both perspectives are equally valid, like light being both a wave and a particle. It is the paradox, and ultimately unknowable, in which They dwell.

After-all, to understand is to stand under a concept. One has to put the concept (in this case a god) above oneself to comprehend it.

Following this desire to approach and acknowledge and revere is worship and daily life. They are not separated. Worship is the unity of mind with body (thought with action) and celebration and reverence with daily life.

2. How do you view the nature of the relationship between God and man? Do the Gods deserve worship simply because They are Gods? Or is there a deeper relationship?

The only way to avoid hubris is to accept our limitations. By worshiping that which is greater than ourselves, we accept our limitations because worship requires acknowledging that which is greater.

We seem to be the only mortal beings that have self-awareness and seek to understand the nature of the universe (the Immortals). That is what defines us and our relationship with the gods. That need, that hunger, to understand flows deeper than simply realizing that They are more powerful than us.

3. Is your practice focused on all of the Gods, or only some? When you perform ritual or make offering, do you try to balance your practice among all of the Gods, or merely focus on those you feel closest to?

I more regularly need to pay homage to Athena and Asklepios than others because of the nature of my work and interests, so it is right to give Them more than the rest because I ask for more of them. In exchange, I know that Asklepios and Athena are more likely to answer my cries than the other gods are, and sometimes, I can ask Them to speak to the others on my behalf. However, I am one who establishes relationships with all of the gods so that when the need calls I may ask for Their aid, whether I anticipate it or not.

Even if I did not need to ask more of some than others, it’s not very practical to give equally to all of the theoi. There are just so many of them, and I don’t have the resources to pay equal tribute individually. However, I have seen examples of festival and group libations in which the first offering is given to Hestia (by tradition), the second to Zeus, and the third to all of the theoi. That seems both practical and appropriate for holidays. but not for household worship.

If it isn’t practical, then it won’t fit into mortal life. Our lives are brief, and we must find the balance between extremes.

My aim is to burn incense the household gods (Zeus who watches over our oikos, Hermes patron of travelers, Hekate of the crossroads, and Apollon far-shooting) once daily, devotee a portion of my main meal of the day to Hestia and keep Her fire lit, give sponde to the theoi when my demos gathers or once per month in their absence, and celebrate the Olympians on Their feast days. I am sometimes more and other times less successful. Hestia’s light goes out, I am sometimes too tired to make full offerings and instead bid kalimera (good morning) and kalinihta (good night) to their images, and sometimes I dine out and am unsure if and how to make an offering to Hestia. Thus, I aim to gain some small favor with all, and more with They whose realms I walk in.

4. Choose one God http://www.theoi.com/ and examine the various epithets associated with that God. How do the different epithets have an impact on worship of that God? How would you approach this issue? Would you try to worship that God in all of His or Her identities, or do you focus on one or two aspects of the God/ess as you major focus?

At this time, the theoi site is down. I used http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athena instead.

I would focus on a cluster of epithets for the purpose of which I was praying, thereby evoking that aspect of Her.

Athena Ergane as the patron of craftsmen and artisans.
Athena Promachos she led in battle Athena Polias (“of the city”), Athena was the protector of Athens and its Acropolis, but also of many other cities, including Argos, Sparta, Gortyn, Lindos, and Larisa. Athena Hippeia or Athena Hippia, horse as the inventor of the chariot
Athena Hygieia (“healer”)

Epithets sometimes overlap, such as with Athena Polias – because being “of the city” captures several aspects, from patronage (or matronage) over the craftsmen, to those needing healing, to warriors. I apply to the epithet that is related to the reason I am asking for blessing (or blessing for another). Thus, if it concerns establishing or maintaining the good of my demos, I would apply to Athea Polais and all the aspects that covers, whether they relate to Her other epithets or not. However, sometimes my need is more specific, such as when I am composing art (and applying to Athena Ergane).

In short, my approach depends on the situation. If my need is broad, I appeal to a broad epithet or more than one. If my need is specific, I tailor the epithet I invoke when I appeal to Her.