A Very Quick Introduction to Non-Deity-Centered Paganism
I’ve seen at least one or two relative newcomers to the forum ask about if they can be pagan if they don’t believe in gods or goddesses, or what the relation is between paganism and science. I hope to address at least a few of these questions here, since I sincerely believe that Paganism is a very all-encompassing umbrella with room for a lot of different ideas on divinity and supernaturalism.
To begin with, I’d like to share a model of Paganism by John Halstead, the Allergic Pagan. He posits that Paganism has different “centers”
: Deity-Centered, Earth-Centered, and Self-Centered. Deity-Centered is fairly straightforward, comprised of Pagans who worship a Goddess, God, or goddesses and gods. Earth-Centered folks revere nature and seek to connect with the natural world. Finally, the Self-Centered group desires to transform the individual spiritually and psychologically, perhaps by seeking to unite with the greater divine “One” (it does NOT mean that people who fall in this group are selfish, necessarily). Later, Halstead added a fourth center of Paganism, “Community-Centered”, where people participate in Paganism because they enjoy the community, or because their family practices Paganism.
Very few people only devote themselves to one center of paganism only; most people can probably easily identify with two. Many people find themselves a mix of all four. But what I’d like to call to attention in this post is people who don’t find themselves particularly attracted to the Deity-Centered aspect of paganism, or perhaps don’t believe in the supernatural in the traditional sense.
Alternative Conceptions of the Divine
Some people may be uncomfortable with more traditional notions of deities (without getting into a big theological debate, I’m going to characterize this very broadly as an external supernatural being who has powers over this realm and who may or may not want to be worshipped). Many Pagans turn to Paganism precisely because they are uncomfortable with, or have never seen proof of, these supernatural beings but were demanded to “have faith” in them by an organized religion. But simply because we don’t believe in the concrete existence of deities doesn’t mean that we cannot find other ways of seeking and appreciating divinity and the sacred in the world. Pagans have many alternate ways to relate to the divine, and I’m going to list just a few of them (none of which are mutually exclusive):
: The belief that natural physical entities, such as rocks, trees, and streams, have some kind of spiritual essence worthy of respect (how intelligent this spiritual essence varies depending on your belief); this was a fairly common belief among ancient religions.
: The belief that everything has a single source, or a divine essence that underlies all things
: The belief that everything in the universe put together is Goddess/God/the Divine, or that the universe is identical to Goddess/God/the Divine. Pantheism does not hold that the Divine is personal, or anthropomorphic (i.e. takes the form of a human).
: The belief that the Goddess/God/the Divine is a part of everything in the universe, but also extends beyond the universe (panentheism means “God is in the world”)
: The idea that the gods may be aspects of a single divine spirit or essence, personifications of natural forces, or psychological archetypes (as opposed to hard polytheism, which holds that gods are each distinct, supernatural beings that have an independent existence from us)
: The belief that there are no supernatural causes in the universe, only natural ones, and that science is the best route to understanding these natural causes
: A rejection of the belief in deities, or the belief that no deities exist.
: A philosophy and ethical stance that emphasizes the experience and agency of human beings, usually over the supernatural.
Here's just a small list of reasons off the top of my head why Paganism may be right for you, even if you do not believe in the literal existence of deities:
- Because you draw inspiration from the spiritual practices of ancient traditions such as the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Norse, Celts, Indians, etc.
- Because you find mythology from the ancient world powerful and meaningful, even if not literally true
- Because you want to celebrate ancient gods and goddesses, perhaps not as literal beings but as a kind of poetic homage to the greater Divine
- Because you are inspired by an earth- and nature-based religion, which celebrates the natural rhythms of the moon and sun and cares deeply for the environment and nature
- Because you follow Pagan ethics
- Because your family or culture has a traditional witchcraft tradition that you are interested in practicing
- Because you are interested in a spirituality that ties you to where you live and the earth around you
- Because you want to practice magic or witchcraft
- Because you grew up in a Pagan family or environment and you would like to continue carrying on the tradition
- Because you experience awe and wonder at the beauty and complexity of the universe -- the natural is already pretty amazing by itself, without needing the supernatural
- Because you are interested in a spirituality which honors the sacred in the feminine equally with the masculine
- Because pagan rituals are interesting, powerful, effective, and fun
Adventures of a Non-Deist, or Why I Don’t Believe In The Gods
- thank you, Frozenlight, for viewtopic.php?f=14&t=26212 bringing this to our attention
, a blog about integrating naturalism and Paganism (it makes for a confusing blog name, but it’s a great blog!). While naturalists hold that there is no evidence for supernatural forces in the universe and that science is the best way to understand our world, Pagan myth, ritual, and meditation is nevertheless incredibly powerful psychologically
The Allergic Pagan
, my personal favorite Pagan blog, where John Halstead writes extensively about Jungian Neopaganism and the numinous power of archetypes (among many other things)
, a spiritual path that explores the awe and wonder of the universe outside the context of deities. This blogger also outlines 13 Principles of Atheopaganism and many non-theistic rituals.
Talking to the Gods as an Atheist Pagan
, by Amber Magpie
An Atheist’s Magical Practice in Detail by the Spiritual Atheist Witch. [EDIT = blog post had been removed] Is it possible to practice magic even if you don’t believe in supernatural forces? (spoiler: yes!!)
Interview with an Atheist Pagan
Pagan Atheists - Yes, We Exist
, in which Stifyn Emrys explains how atheist pagans like himself experience marvel and wonder at nature, in lieu of believing in deities
The Care and Feeding of Your Atheist Pagan [EDIT= Post evaporated] a post directed mainly towards theistic Pagans about how not to alienate and marginalize non-theistic Pagans, and does a great job of dispelling many myths about atheistic pagans along the way.
I am sure there are many more, but these are just the ones I’ve found particularly helpful. Please feel free to chime in the comments with more suggested reading material!
Anyways, for all you Pagans who are struggling to reconciling Pagan practices and lack of belief or interest in the gods, I hope you find this very short introduction to be helpful. If you’d like to discuss this further, please feel free to discuss or comment below or PM me. Wishing you many blessings on your spiritual explorations!