A Former Neo-Pagan Reflects on the Autumnal Equinox

This is going to be all very off the cuff. I didn't even think this was something I would be writing about. I have eschewed careful copy editing in favor of actually trying to roughly sketch my thoughts on my old neo-paganism, my new secular humanism and what the Autumnal Equinox means to me in light of this fundamental change in worldview.

When I say I didn't think I'd be writing about this, I mean it. I had forgotten that today is the Autumnal Equinox; well, not today, but at 03:19 UTC. My husband wished me a happy one before he left for work this morning. A few years ago, I would have looked forward to this day for weeks. I love Autumn so naturally the sabbat for the equinox was my favorite. I once called this day Mabon and would have celebrated it by myself, probably looking at the moon or watching the rain from inside a candle lit room. I typically didn't do magic, preferring to commune with the mystical beings that I imagined to be all around me. And honestly, I was happy that way for a long time.

It was in activities like these that the seeds of my atheism were planted. Did I really think I was communing with spirits, or was I in an altered state of consciousness no more mystical than any other altered state of consciousness I had experienced? Why did I have to do enjoyable things for any reason other than that they were enjoyable? And why did I needlessly need to complicate things that I was being directed to do because I was meant to appreciate the simplicity of the task?

In short, I didn't have good answers for why I did the things I did as a neo-pagan. I felt a compelling faith in that religion on one or two occasions. One experience in particular was a touchstone event in my life that I still appreciate, although viewing it in a naturalistic way. The best answers I could come up with were vanity, fear, social pressure, addiction, isolation... Nothing about being a neo-pagan was healthy for me. I'm still unraveling why things went the way they did for me; some of the factors were personal, others were serious problems faced by that community of believers as a whole.

It is certainly something I want to examine in greater detail in the future but wanted to introduce here, while I was thinking about it, wanting to share something with any other ex-pagans out there, and appreciating this day for what it truly is--Wednesday.

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Tags: atheism, autumn, equinox, neo-paganism

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Comment by Sarah Walton on October 4, 2010 at 7:12pm
In it's earliest years, it is said that Gardnerian Wicca frowned on homosexuality as unnatural, echoing the common opinion of British folks in the 1950s. How homophobic Gardner ways is up to debate, with some people who knew him describing him as being disgusted by homosexuality, while others paint him in a more tolerant light. At any rate, orthodox Gardnerian Wiccans are just the tip of the iceberg when looking for homophobia among neo-pagans.

As a queer, childless woman who is highly skeptical of maternal instincts and the pedestal we place parents on, I could never get into what you rightly describe as the heterosexist myths that accompany many neo-paganisms. It appears to me that many neo-pagan writers and thinkers have a hard time accepting that being sex positive and pro-child don't have to go hand in hand any more. Not to say they are urging us all to go barefoot and pregnant in our kitchens; they just don't seem to speak to the experience of celebratory sex where fertility simply isn't a factor. Maybe it was the authors I was reading...
Comment by Prog Rock Girl on October 4, 2010 at 4:55pm
I thought some of the rituals were a little heterosexist, with the sword/chalice, god/goddess, I even remember a few versions of ritual having something about the special union between male and female. There were also earlier versions of neo-paganism who thought of homosexuality as unnatural, although I don't remember which ones.

Furthermore, looking at the "whole" of neo-paganism, declare one thing about it based on a cursory examination of a few of their doctrines, then dismiss it as somehow benign based limited knowledge of one doctrine held by some neo-pagans is shortsightedness that simply shouldn't be excused any longer.

It sure is, especially for a religion that doesn't have a central doctrine, and is made up of a wide range of people.
Comment by Sarah Walton on September 22, 2010 at 5:53pm
I will second that. Neo-paganism is a twisted little knot these days. On the one side it has been shamelessly commodified by "publishing houses" that are running little more than tourist trinket shops.

Although the overwhelming trend is towards a queer friendly philosophy in the more recent incarnations of neo-paganism, to say all neo-pagans are queer friendly is simply untrue. Furthermore, looking at the "whole" of neo-paganism, declare one thing about it based on a cursory examination of a few of their doctrines, then dismiss it as somehow benign based limited knowledge of one doctrine held by some neo-pagans is shortsightedness that simply shouldn't be excused any longer.

Neo-paganism is being marketed directly to some of the most inexperienced and thus vulnerable people in our communities--young men and women who are frequently lonely, feel unloved and desperately want to feel they are living meaningful, powerful lives.
Comment by Prog Rock Girl on September 22, 2010 at 5:03pm
Yes. I don't need any religion to tell me to love nature; I do that already.

I remember having those "spiritual/magickal" feelings. I think I could still psych myself into feeling them, but I don't think they're anything extraordinary.

Social pressure was one reason I stuck with paganism too. Isolation was a reason that many people I knew did; they got in the coven b/c they wanted to fit in and have friends, and they didn't have many other friends. Vanity: people want to believe that they're part of "the craft of the wise" or that they have special abilities that others don't or haven't realized. I wish more atheists didn't have a view of paganism as a benign and nice religion just b/c they don't condemn gays and such.

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