Godless Paganism * John Halstead (editor) (2016)

A while ago I was going around the web like I do not do very often and I ran into a ‘blog’ called “Humanistic Paganism“, a board for atheistic pagans. I never really saw such divisions within ‘the pagan sphere’, but here apparently are people who found it needed to team up and give themselves a voice for having ‘uncommon pagan ideas’. The ‘blog’ has a few entries that make a nice read, but I have not really tried to read up. Soon after I started following the ‘blog’ a book was announced and eventually this book was published in April 2016 Godless Paganism, voices on Non-Theistic Pagans.

I got the book to see what this would be about and soon also experienced why there are people giving “non-theistic pagans” a voice. On an Asatru forum mostly occupied by Americans somebody asked about atheism and Asatru so I said: “Did you know about this book?” After that I get torched for recommending a book by somebody who is not accepted by “the community” and who tries to bring rot to paganism from the inside. So what are these ideas that appear to be offensive to some?

The main point seems to be that there are pagans out there who have a very strict idea of what (mostly) Asatru should be like: a certain kind of polytheism in which the Gods are all separate entities. There are people (like myself I may add) who have other views. A simple example, the Gods are part of a ‘larger Divinity’. So came distinctions between “hard” and “soft” polytheism, because the second view does not deny the Gods, but does have another view on them. The book under review shoves a whole lot of views different from what they call “hard polytheism” under their title and the largest part of the authors of the essays in this books are certainly not anti- or even a-theistic; while others are. There are again nuances within the atheistic group. Also within the confines of this book are pantheists, panentheists, etc.

The book comes up with all kinds of paganisms that I never heard of. “Humanistic”, “naturalistic”, “atheopagans”, PaGaians and whatnot. The authors come from all kinds of backgrounds. There are Wiccas, ecclectics, Southern-European pagans, Northern-European pagans, etc. There are very short and rather lengthy texts. Some are quite scholarly, while other are short and very personal. We run into people seeing Gods as projections of their psyches, people seeing Gods as archetypes or forces. There are worhippers of Mother Earth as Nature (not super-natural). Some texts go into practice. Of course there is quite a bit about how and why somebody who does not believe in literal Gods practices ritual for example and is this with ‘theisitic pagans’ or not? How was this in the past?

There is not much that I did not encounter in some form just as a form of paganism, rather than a ‘branch’ of it. Apparently over time some sort of conformity (dogmatism?) has grown within the pagan community and it has become necessary to give people with ‘other views’ a voice and a platform again. I do not find a whole lot of books with personal and practical contemporary paganism, so there is a reason to get this book already. Do not expect an in-depth learned book about contemporary pagan theology. Rather expect a book with texts by contemporary pagans sharing their views on things. Some even admit that they are not sure about everything they come up with so far and there are some who do not care to fill in all the details of their worldview as practice is more important than theory.

The book is good to get a feel of what the minds of a variety of contemporary pagans keep occupied. A thing I always enjoys learning about. Lots of things I read here are pretty far from my own views. The ecclecticism and New Age-approach of some people are things I cannot symphatise with, but it never hurts to learn about other ways of looking at things. What I do find interesting is that there are a few people describing how they try to make ‘including rituals’ which should work for ‘theists’ and ‘non-theists’ alike; which should even work whether the practitioner is interested in Southern, Northern European or ‘Amerindian’ mythology. The message is: of course there are different ideas within the ‘pagan community’, but why would anyone tell somebody else to be wrong? Does everybody going to the same celebration have exactly the same ideas? Fortunately not, otherwise I would probably be a lonely heathen.

And since I always tend to take sides with the underdog: of course I recommend this book! No matter how far some of the ideas posed here stand from my own, everybody has to walk his/her own path, come to his/her own conclusions and if these are different from my own, that is actually a good thing. So, whether you consider yourself ‘theistic’ (like myself) or not and whether you are pagan or not (or of whatever kind) here we have a book to get a bit of a feel of other people’s ideas.

2016 lulu.com, isbn 1329943570

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