Q. What is Atheopaganism?
A. Atheopaganism is a particular path within non-theistic, Naturalistic Paganism. It includes four Sacred Pillars and a set of 13 Principles, and celebrates a cycle of eight holiday celebrations around the year, known as “The Wheel of the Year”.
Q. What is Naturalistic Paganism?
A. Naturalistic Paganism is the set of religious paths which use Pagan symbols, rituals, and ideas while maintaining a Naturalistic worldview.
Q. What is “Naturalism”?
According to the dictionary: Naturalism (noun): The idea that all phenomena in the Universe can be understood in scientific terms without recourse to supernatural explanations.
Q. What is a “Naturalistic Worldview” (what do Naturalistic Pagans believe)?
A. It is an approach to existence based on the natural laws found by science, on observable evidence, and on objectively confirmable experiments. Because things like ghosts, gods, magic, souls, divination, and spirits have not been shown to exist, they are generally not included in a naturalistic worldview. People with a naturalistic worldview include pantheists, agnostics, non-theists, atheists, freethinkers, humanists, skeptics, Universists, etc. This worldview is often arrived at by the approach of using objective evidence as the only reliable means to determine the truth.
We don’t require anyone to agree to a rigid doctrine, but instead urge that everyone use reason, logic and evidence to critically test any belief. Famous naturalists include many of the US’ founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, and others such as Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, R. G. Ingersoll, Carl Sagan, and many more.
Q. What is “Paganism”?
A. Paganism is an umbrella term for a large number of religious paths, which are commonly Earth or Nature centered, focused on this life or world (as opposed to some “Otherworld” or afterlife), and often polytheistic. In the context used here for “Naturalistic Paganism”, Paganism refers to practices common in Pagan religions such as Wicca, especially the “Wheel of the Year”, which is a cycle of eight holidays spaced evenly throughout the year. The Wheel of the Year (along with the compass directions) can be used to represent many ideas.
Q. Isn’t Paganism devil worship, and don’t they kill things as sacrifices?
A. No. The idea of a “devil” is a Christian concept–we don’t believe in any such supernatural beings. And we don’t believe sacrifices to them are needed, since we don’t believe they exist.
Q. Is Atheopaganism really a religion?
A. It is! It provides answers to core questions about the meaning of life, and how best to live our lives. It proffers rites of passage, celebrations and holy days (“holidays”), and is enacted through ritual practices. The Atheopagan Society has been recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization by the US Internal Revenue Service, just like every other mainstream religion.
Q. So…what does Atheopaganism say about the meaning of life?
A. That it is to find joy and wisdom in living, and to serve others to the benefit of humanity and the Earth, both now and for subsequent generations. The Atheopagan Principles spell out clearly what we believe constitutes a moral and appropriate life, and a system for attaining contentment and happiness.
Q. What holidays do you observe?
A. We celebrate the 8 holidays (Sabbaths) on the Wheel of the Year (the solstices and equinoxes, plus the cross-quarter holidays which are at the points midway between the solstices and equinoxes). Because these are real astronomical events, they feel more like real holidays to us than dates made up by people. We also celebrate rites of passage such as naming or welcoming ceremonies for babies, passages into adulthood, handfastings (weddings), etc. And then there are some fun holidays we celebrate “just because”, like Pi Day (March 14), which is also Einstein’s birthday.
Q. How do you celebrate those holidays?
A. The more common celebrations involve rituals which follow seasonal, evolutionary, or natural themes. You’ll probably find some of our ritual activities very familiar, such as the coloring of eggs for High Spring or dancing around the Maypole of May Day. The agricultural cycle of fallowness, planting, growth, ripening and harvest serve as a metaphor for birth, growth, adulthood, aging and death.
Or something else! Because Atheopaganism is not dogmatic. You can conceptualize the mythic cycle of the year in any way you find meaningful.
Q. Why did you call them “Sabbaths” instead of Holidays?
A. The word “Sabbath” means a day of rest. The words “Sabbath” and “Holiday” can be used interchangeably. Use whichever term you are most comfortable with.
Q. But if your Naturalistic worldview doesn’t include literal gods, then are you really Pagan?
A. Yes. Paganism is not about orthodoxy, or belief–it is about how we conduct our religious practices. We respect those who see the gods as real, and for the most part we’ve been respected in return. Naturalism & Paganism are both focused on this life and this glorious Universe, so for us, they fit together well.
Q. But how can you take part in Pagan rituals if your worldview doesn’t include gods or magic?
A. In the same way we can value both engineering and poetry. If we insisted on only literal truth in everything, our lives wouldn’t be much fun or very moving. We’ve found the Pagan metaphors and practices add meaning, pleasure and joy to our lives.
Q. How can you be moral with a Naturalistic Worldview?
A. Atheopagans hold four Sacred Pillars–Life, Truth, Beauty and Love–and live by thirteen Principles which are kind, moral and progressive. We do so because we genuinely want the world to be a better place for all of us. As such, we are explicitly anti-racist, pro-environment, pro-LGBTQ, pro-science, feminist, anti-fascist and anti-ableist in our approach, because each of these is a path of kindness and justice rather than oppression and misery.
Q. Is Atheopaganism some new crackpot religion?
A. You can decide that for yourself. While Atheopaganism itself is both new and forward-looking (rather than looking backward to some imagined “better time”), many of the ideas in Atheopaganism have been around for millennia. For instance, many Pagan practices, such as celebrating the Solstices and Equinoxes date back at least 7,000 years, and possibly many times that. Naturalistic views bloomed into their modern form three centuries ago during the Enlightenment, and early forms of Naturalism are found in Greek philosophy, over 2,500 years old. Our ancient Pagan Ancestors (such as those who built Stonehenge) celebrated our Universe using the most advanced knowledge they had available at the time. We do the same, and now the most advanced knowledge we have is that of science.
Q. Is Atheopaganism a cult?
A. Atheopaganism does not meet any of the criteria generally recognized as indicating cult-like behavior. There is more on this here. Most significantly, Atheopaganism is an egalitarian rather than authoritarian path in which we encourage people to make their own choices and decisions and do not tell them what to do. We sometimes describe ourselves as “religion with agency” rather than “religion as submission” to some “higher power”.
Q. Are Atheopagans weird?
A. Well, one can decide for oneself what “weird” means. We are normal people like you meet every day. We come from many walks of life. We are fathers, mothers, students, wives, husbands, scientists, computer programmers, laborers, office workers, sisters, brothers and neighbors, and we’re all over the world. We feel a deep connection to our Earth, indeed to the Universe, and we celebrate that connection through our religion.
Q. What about spells and magic(k)?
A. A Naturalistic worldview means that only things with verifiable, testable evidence are believed in, and that generally eliminates a belief in magic. However, magic spells do serve to make a desired outcome more real in one’s own mind. For instance, before a track meet, a Naturalistic Pagan may conduct a ritual spell to help them focus their intent — rather like wearing a “lucky” shirt. To Atheopagans, spells are not understood to cause a real change in the world other than in the mind of the participant. This view of spells is different from that of many other Pagans.
Q. Is there a local Atheopagan circle or coven I can join?
A. Starting in 2022, we have begun to form smaller “affinity groups” organized around geographical areas or topics of interest. These meet and converse through Zoom, Facebook, Discord or in person, when safe. A directory of these may be found here.
Additionally, many Pagans are accepting of various types of Pagans, including Atheopagans. Eclectic Pagan communities are often welcoming of Atheopagans, such as CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) groups at Unitarian Universalist fellowships.
Finally, there is a large and thriving online community of Atheopagans on Facebook and a smaller one on Discord.
Q. What is that symbol?
A. The Atheopagan symbol, the Suntree, was designed and selected by the community in 2018. It has many symbolic meanings.
Q. I’d like to learn more about Atheopaganism. Where should I start?
A. Buy the book! Click here to order a copy. There is also a great survey anthology called Godless Paganism which contains information about many nontheist Pagan paths, including Atheopaganism. For a less detailed explanation of Atheopaganism, where it comes from and the science behind it, you can also download this essay or watch this video:
Thanks to Jon Cleland Host of Naturalistic Paganism from whose site FAQ this was adapted.