When I was a kid, I wasn’t afraid of the boogeyman. My family didn’t really go in much for telling stories like that. But I had D’Aulaire’s Greek myths, which I read cover to cover an uncountable number of times, and I distinctly remember spending some nights in bed staring at the window, worrying that Hades was going to come through it and carry me away.

I also loved the Egyptian deities. (This is probably because I’d always preferred animals to people.) I liked reading the myths, but even more I loved looking at the art and then drawing my own. I’m pretty sure that I recently uncovered (and then promptly re-covered through additional “cleaning”) at least one of a set of drawings I did of my high school literature magazine’s staff as Egyptian gods. I should post it somewhere.

Now, when I say I preferred animals to people, I mean it. Like, really. I thought people were ugly, clumsy things when compared with animals. That was the source of my monkey hate, too; they look far too close to people for me to have found them cute. I’ve been assured that even as a very, very small child I had no interest in dolls, but I loved my stuffed animals. If there had been an internet and a theriomorph subculture around when I was in middle school and high school, I’d probably currently be trying to convince you that I’m actually part cat (and there are those who know me who probably wouldn’t try to argue it all that hard…).

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say next, and I think the easiest thing may be to post an excerpt from a livejournal post I wrote several years ago. I wrote a few posts back then as I was really starting to swim through the transition from Christianity to not-Christianity, and I’ve been considering re-posting them again here and reflecting on the contents from a distance of several years and a more stable emotional state (believe it or not). But here’s the relevant bit for now:

The tipping point came close when I picked up Hal Bennett’s Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life at the Emmaus library. I liked what this guy had to say in general – in spite of a Christian upbringing, I have through my entire life felt drawn to the more Earth-centered religions, so it was always rather a problem for that I was told my entire life that Earth reverence was akin to demon worship (no one likes to hear that their ‘inherent’ beliefs are evil) – but didn’t feel specifically drawn to anything and was still in general feeling fairly detached from everything. Then, ahhh, then. I was looking for excerpts of Velvet Elvis to try to get a feel for what it said (hadn’t been to Bethlehem at this point), and I happened across a website called Read the Spirit, which had published an interview with Bell.

And they had all sorts of other interviews on there. And I kept clicking on them and following links and opening tabs and reading and reading and reading…. And eventually I found a “conversation” with a theologian named Matthew Fox, a conversation specifically about a book he’d written about men’s spirituality that involves discussion of the Green Man archetype, and the Blue Man and Grandfather Sky and other mythic figures. And I’m fascinated by this, and then I get to the end of the article and read this:

This time is a tremendous opportunity to reinvent and to recreate our ways of living on this planet. This is an opportunity to bring in a more nuanced and generous and just expression of what human economics can be, one that includes not just human beings but also the other species on the planet from forests and rivers and oceans.

This globe has to be a system that works for all of us—humans and all the other creatures as well.

And as I hear the words of the shaman coming from the mouth of the Christian, I am sitting there gape-mouthed and in tears because this is the first time, the first time in my GOD. DAMN. LIFE that someone from my own religious tradition is even implying that I do not have to suppress or hide or be ashamed of this insanely important part of my own spirituality.

Eventually, of course, I allowed myself to drift farther from Christianity and oddly (I thought at the time) towards both atheism and Paganism simultaneously. I was kind of mad about that, for a while. “Dammit, all those years of theism wasted as a Christian when I could have been happily Pagan!” rather sums up how I felt about the whole realization-that-there’s-no-evidence-for-a-deity. But books and web writings written by earth religionists still pulled at something in me – scratched a persistent emotional itch, as it were. In the end, I told myself, “You know what? The solstices and equinoctes and cross-quarters and full moons still happen whether there’s a god behind them or no. I can still do ritual, I can still call on the mythology and symbolism to express myself, and I shall be Pagan if I damn well want to, atheism be metaphorically damned.”

And after that, of course, I discovered humanistic Paganism and a number of blogs and found out that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way at all.

There are a lot of reasons why I feel more comfortable as a Pagan. One, if I’m being perfectly honest, is a certain dose of rebelliousness. Here’s a spiritual path I wasn’t even allowed to look at while I was growing up, even the symbols of which were considered signs of evil (in the general culture as opposed to my house or church in particular, so really I should probably say they still often are considered evil). So in my embrace of it now there is a tiny amount of “I am going to eat an entire box of Count Chocula for breakfast and you can’t stop me because I am An Adult, neener neener neener.” It’s not a driving factor, but I would be dishonest if I tried to pretend it wasn’t there at all. So, there’s that out of the way.

One of the major reasons – probably the major reason, really – that I prefer Paganism is because of the earth connection. I think that in general that’s become one of the defining factors of large-P Paganism. And I like being able to access a spiritual tradition that says, “Yes! These trees and birds and rivers are valuable in themselves, not as examples of a god’s handiwork, or their material value for human consumption, but simply because they are.” As I watch more and more of the land around me cleared out and covered with buildings (usually ugly ones), it’s pretty hard not to want to reach for that.

I also like the DIY aspect. I hear often that Pagans are interested in orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. Of course, you can have just as many arguments about what constitutes correct actions as about what’s correct doctrine, but still. That general attitude means it’s much easier to build your spiritual practice as you see fit, without worrying about how your actions fit with the pronouncements from On High. And, of course, as an atheist I get to pick whatever I want, since I fully admit I’m making it all up as I go along. 😀

I’ve spent a week on this post, and it’s bedtime, so I’m going to close with one of the downsides to being Pagan Atheist: it is true that it can be hard to find trust between atheists and theists when we believe that their gods are entirely human creations with no existance outside the minds of their believers. One way to look at it – and one way many atheists do look at it – is at people refusing to grow up and let go of their imaginary friend(s).

Atheists who think that way are not generally interested in being active in the Pagan community, I believe.

Another way to look at it, which I find more reasonable for me, is to recognise that Deity is the way this person finds wholeness in their spirituality. Do they need it? No, I don’t really think so. But as long as they’re not hurting anyone, I don’t particularly care what they believe. I know that this is not currently accepted Atheist Thought, but that’s a whole post in itself so I’ll deal with it later.