by Holly H.
I began taking a meandering path towards Atheopaganism when I left Protestant Christianity in my early teens. As a thirteen year old who had recently become alienated from the concept of deities following the death of my grandfather, I took a walk along a canal tow-path in rural Wiltshire, UK. It was a sparkling early summer day, the kind where the world around you seems to be dancing with the joy of living and I became suddenly aware of the glory of nature around me. Being a quiet and introspective young person, this soon turned into thoughts about the wonder of the ever-stretching universe, the fragility of our planet and the organisms on it, and, ultimately, a conclusion which has shaped my beliefs since that time: that there is nothing in existence worth revering more than nature. I thought for sure that if there is any such thing as a “god” it is solely life itself.
This conclusion has impacted my life in numerous ways since then, not least in my finding an official name for my beliefs, but also in the discovery of a whole community who share these exact same thoughts. More than this though, this belief has ultimately changed the way I live my life. I had a short exchange recently with a member of Atheopagans UK Facebook group, in which they described how they rarely take part in rituals, but instead celebrate by connecting with nature. This really resonated with me, and I started to think more deeply about the way that my beliefs are innately embedded into my lifestyle, impacting my day to day life, monthly observances, and even the schedule of my year. I have not-insignificant experience of the dreaded “dusty focus” syndrome. This is a term coined to describe the well-intentioned but seldom used focus some of us set up in our homes with the sincere belief that we would suddenly become highly functional humans who consciously take time out of their days to “do Atheopagan things”. I, for one, attempted to rise early and sit in meditation with a candle here every day. But a combination of a small cat sleeping on my legs (who inexplicably grows three times bigger and heavier at night) coupled with an inadequately-sized bed shared with my partner often finds me blurrily reaching for coffee five minutes before I log on to work for the day.
I had felt bad about this failure for a while, going through cycles of trying again and again to get into the practice before something out of my control would come along and ruin the streak (such as in-laws visiting (quick, hide the cauldron!) or Covid-19). In the end though, I realised that perhaps attempting observances inside my home first thing in the morning is not for me. Perhaps I needed to think more about what works for me, and that rather than trying to shoe-horn a practice into my life, I should instead be examining my life and working out why I do what I do, and where I could naturally fit observances into my days, weeks, and months. After all, a major benefit of Atheopaganism is that it’s meant to make sense to the individual. The following is a depiction of how I live my life as an Atheopagan, and the steps I have taken to easily incorporate my practice into my existing lifestyle.
My average day is spent glued to my computer screen between 8am and 4pm helping to protect the public from serious crime. I gain huge satisfaction from this work, as I can see the direct impact that my role has on helping to protect the vulnerable, but it is also stressful and can be quite distressing. As such, I rarely have time during workhours to do anything, and I am often tired. This really does count out doing any kind of observance in the morning or throughout the day. To land back down in reality after work, I go out into my garden. This is my sanctuary and if I could I would spend all my time here. There’s no way I’d replace this garden visit with more sitting indoors, even if it was for meditation.
While I’m in the garden I normally find something to do. Tidying, sowing new seeds, transplanting, digging things in, weeding, building features, or even just watching the wildlife that I am slowly encouraging to develop here. My partner and I moved into a new build flat last June, and the property came with a small, rectangular patch of thick clay which had been inexpertly covered in grass by building developers. The area was almost entirely devoid of life, but from the moment I saw it I knew I could make something beautiful and meaningful here which could be retained long after I have moved on to a new property.
I began keeping a daily diary of my gardening. This started as a practical measure, to record what I had done and when so that I could keep track of things such as when to sow successive lots of veg or when to expect to start hardening plants off/begin to harvest. However, I soon realised the benefit of this diary was that I started noticing things such as the weather, changes in plants, and insect life around me (I get particularly excited about bees). On a normal day, this is only a few lines, but it keeps me grounded and prompts me to really look in wonder at the world around me. It also allows me to monitor whether the changes I am making are actually having an impact on encouraging wildlife to move into my garden. It is really important to me that I provide a space where varied wildlife can flourish safely. In a world where space is increasingly becoming squeezed and commoditised, my reverence for nature makes me particularly aware of the importance of protecting areas for even the smallest, most insignificant seeming of organisms. I soon realised that my daily practice of simply being in my garden experiencing nature was a far more natural form of ritual for me.
Another aspect of my daily life which has been majorly impacted by my beliefs about the value of the Earth and life on it is my diet. I have been an on and off pescatarian since I was 11 years old, at various times being “flexitarian” (reducing meat intake but still partaking occasionally). Eventually I had a go at veganism in January 2021, and found it so easy that I have stuck to it ever since. I have the occasional cheese pizza or egg mayonnaise if I am eating out and there are no decent options, but I mainly enjoy cooking with and eating vegetables both for my health, and also to reduce both my carbon footprint, pollution, and suffering which is an unfortunate but inherent part of an over-commercialised industry. This may immediately get people’s backs up, as veganism often does, but in no way am I suggesting that it’s necessary to be vegan. My partner eats meat, and I have no issue with the choices of others. But for me, I find it easy, so it’s a contribution that I feel I can make. I’m under no pretences, however, that veganism immediately equates “better for the environment”. It is vital to be a conscious consumer. For example, what’s the point replacing milk which is produced nearby in the UK, with “soya milk” which is not particularly good for you, has unnecessary air miles, and likely caused large scale environmental destruction to produce monocrops? Growing my own vegetables is something I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do, to allow me to eat seasonally. But it is enough, I feel, to be aware of the food I am eating, to consider where it comes from, and to try to source food and other items in my home from ethical and non-destructive sources.
Part 2 coming soon!