You've heard of Pagans who are naturalists, humanists, atheists, agnostics, or the like, but what's it all about? Discover the wonder of a naturalistic path rooted in science and myth.

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Varieties of Naturalistic Paganism

Are all Naturalistic Pagans the same?

Hardly.

Though all share a generally naturalistic view, there are many different types.  This post surveys some of the most common.

2012.03.24 台北 by MaxChu

These types are purely descriptive; few if any identify by them.  If you want to know what to call a particular person, the best policy is to ask them.  If that's not possible, go with "Naturalistic Pagan."

There is plenty of overlap between these types; a person may fit one or all of them without contradiction.  There may also be others I've forgotten, so comments and critiques are welcome.

The Jungian

Trapeze ghost, by Elaine Clayton

Jungians understand deities as psychological archetypes.  For most of contemporary Pagan history, the largest naturalistic presence was Jungian, the influence of which was charted in last month's guest post series.  Jung touched such luminaries as Dion Fortune, Israel Regardie, Doreen Valiente, Starhawk, Margot Adler, Janet and Stewart Farrar, and Vivianne Crowley.

Today, Jungianism has lost favor, but remains significant.  The most vocal representative at present is the prolific John Halstead, who blogs at The Allergic Pagan, and has just joined Pagan Square with Dreaming the Myth Forward.  If John Ryan Haule is correct that Jungian psychology is currently experiencing a renaissance, Jungian Paganism could enjoy a resurgence.

Notably, the understanding of "archetypes" that has become popular among Pagans tends to diverge from Jung's actual concept.  In proper Jungian form, deities are not archetypes but purely cultural forms called archetypal images.  The archetype itself is an innate potentiality within the unconscious, which requires the stimulus of the archetypal image in order to express itself.  It is analogous to our innate capacity for language, which requires a local language in order to find expression.  This means the source of numinosity, for Jungians, lies not in culturally arbitrary expressions, but in the unconscious itself.  For more on this issue, see David Waldron's The Sign of the Witch.

The cognitive-evolutionary type

Neurotheology pentacle, by B. T. Newberg

Pagans of this type understand spiritual experience as emerging from the structure of the brain and its interaction with the environment.  They resemble Jungians in this psychological approach, but take their cue not from Jung but from cognitive science, evolutionary theory, neurotheology, embodied cognition, and similar fields.  Rhys Chisnall has explored the underpinnings of Pagan experience in neurotheology, Adrian Harris in embodied cognition, and B. T. Newberg in cognitive psychology and evolution.  IAO131 has taken a similarly scientific approach in his Naturalistic Occultism and Society of Scientific Illuminism.

The Pantheist

Haze Sunset Over Moya Village, Aomori, Japan, by B. T. Newberg

Pantheists see the divine as identical to the natural world.  Annika Garratt and NaturalPantheist are representatives.  The World Pantheist Movement is the largest organization of Pantheists, though they share no particular interest in Pagan myth or ritual.  The Universal Pantheist Society is another organization, a bit more inclined to Pagan interests.  Paul Harrison's Elements of Pantheism is an excellent resource.

The cosmic type

Stellar Quake

The cosmic type finds deep meaning and inspiration in the story of the cosmos, with or without invoking the divine.  Glenys Livingstone's PaGaian tradition attunes mythopoetically to the unfolding of the Cosmos through the metaphor of the Goddess, and B. T. Newberg has told the story of Big History from the perspective of the goddess Isis.  Meanwhile, Jon Cleland Host, who actually coined the term "Naturalistic Pagan" and created the yahoo group of the same name, celebrates the Wheel of the Year to honor natural cycles and ancestors, without necessarily mythologizing the cosmos.

Some folks of this type might answer to the nickname "Sagan's Pagans."

The cultural or philosophical type

Sunwheel, by Ryan Spellman

This type values Pagan community and traditions for their own sake, without necessarily adopting the various metaphysical beliefs available.  Such folk may participate in rituals and festivals in a manner similar to a cultural Jew.  Many, if not most, Pagan traditions are open to this stance.  Those that explicitly welcome it include the Druidic Order of Naturalists and Reformed Druids of Gaia, among others.

Some follow moral or aesthetic philosophies inspired by Pagan culture.  Brendan Myers articulates an existential ethics developed from ancient Pagan roots, while M. Jay Lee follows a humanistic path inspired by ancient Greek literature.  The Church of Modern Asatru nurtures a community devoted to virtue embodied in Norse traditions.  Finally, there are agnostics and atheists who follow the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

The environmental type

Alison Leigh Lily beside Angel Oak, a live oak tree in South Carolina and the oldest oak tree east of the Mississippi

The environmental type places special emphasis on ecology and environment.  Deities and myth may or may not play a part, depending on whether they choose to allegorize the natural world or not.  Rua Lupa's Ehoah is a path close to the earth with no anthropomorphism, while Eli Effinger-Weintraub's Restorying the Sacred project brings out the myth in the natural world.  No Unsacred Place hosts the writings of many such folk.

Other agnostics and atheists

Standing Out, by A.LwinDigital

Agnostics and atheist doubt the existence of deities.  Although this is true of most Naturalistic Pagans, some don't fit neatly into the types listed thus far.

Some occupy a gray area between naturalism and something else, doubting deity but otherwise believing in magic, mystical energies, or other supernatural phenomena.  Others doubt all these, but simply have a focus that doesn't fit the other categories.

This type should not be confused with those who are agnostic about the nature of deities, while emphatically affirming their existence.  This is a legitimate form of agnosticism, but is not a form of naturalism.  Rather, it is much closer to the status quo of Paganism generally.

Common Ground

This brief post gives some idea of the varieties of Naturalistic Paganism. There is a great deal of diversity.

At the same time, all share the common ground of naturalism.  And they can find common community in places such as the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group or the Pantheist Pagans or Naturalistic Pagans Facebook group.

Have I forgotten any types?  I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

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B. T. Newberg is the editor of Humanistic Paganism, a community blog for naturalistic spirituality.  For eleven years and counting, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  He is a member of ADF, and frequent contributor to Patheos, Witchvox, and GoodReads.  Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.

Comments

  • Janneke Brouwers
    Janneke Brouwers Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I am wondering about the following: "This type should not be confused with those who are agnostic about the nature of deities, while emphatically affirming their existence. This is a legitimate form of agnosticism, but is not a form of naturalism." This type could be a Jungian, which in your categorization, ís a naturalistic pagan. Could you expand on this?

    I guess I am one of these agnostic but not naturalist type in your categorization. Yet I do not see why someone who accepts the gods but rejects magic, the paranormal, mystical energies etc (like me) should be less of a naturalist that someone who rejects the gods but accepts magic. This confuses me a lot, and if this is what you are saying I must disagree. But I guess you only write of the naturalist in comparison to the theist?

  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Very good point, Janneke. One thing I neglected to point out was that there also are non-naturalistic Jungians, non-naturalistic environmentals, and so on. I pointed it out for the atheists and agnostics mainly because agnostic/atheist Paganism is often thought to be identical to Naturalistic Paganism, but that is incorrect.

    >Yet I do not see why someone who accepts the gods but rejects magic, the paranormal, mystical energies etc (like me) should be less of a naturalist that someone who rejects the gods but accepts magic.

    Agreed. Neither of those would be naturalistic in my opinion, unless you qualify your definition of gods or magic as wholly within the human mind or symbolic of feature(s) of the natural world. I didn't mean to give the impression that one was less naturalistic than the other, but rather that they are both on the fringe or outside naturalism.

  • Editor B
    Editor B Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    Thank you for this B. T.

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Tuesday, 15 January 2013

    I really do love how unalike our practices are. I fit none of these--at all--but I see the value in them regardless. Thank you for this.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Thursday, 17 January 2013

    "This means the source of numinosity, for Jungians, lies not in culturally arbitrary expressions, but in the unconscious itself."

    Well put!

    Your list seems pretty comprehensive, but I do question any time I see agnostics and atheists put together. I'd love to hear from some of the people identified as to whether they agree with the categorization. I'd also like to hear if anyone has better names for the various "types" above. I love "Sagan Pagan". Also I thought Alison Leigh Lilly's "natural polytheism" is worth a mention in the environmental classification: http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com/2012/09/14/natural-theology-polytheism-beyond-the-pale/

  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg Thursday, 17 January 2013

    >I do question any time I see agnostics and atheists put together.

    Why is that? I once made a stark distinction too, saying I'm not atheist because I can't actually disprove the existence of gods, so technically I'm agnostic. But lately all I've been reading from self-identified atheists suggests that almost none ofthem actually believe they can justifiably claim there is no God, only that there is no good evidence for God. Even Richard Dawkins says that. That seems to be the argument behind collapsing the distinction between agnostic and atheist. What about for you?

    >Also I thought Alison Leigh Lilly's "natural polytheism" is worth a mention in the environmental classification

    I thought about Alison as well, but upon reading her post closely, her argument isn't talking about the worldview of naturalism, but about a kind of soft or hard polytheism in which deities and humans are less distinct and more interdependent, like entities in the natural world. She is definitely environmental, but maybe not naturalistic, so I didn't think it right to include her.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Thursday, 17 January 2013

    >I do question any time I see agnostics and atheists put together.

    >>Why is that?

    Most people I encounter who are self-described atheists believe in the non-existence of God/gods/supernatural. They see as religious about their non-belief as believers are about their faith. I don't get this from self-described agnostics though. From most atheists, I get an attitude of: "It's not real until you prove it is". Whereas, most agnostics are more like: "It may be real, until you prove it isn't." Since atheists seem to resemble believers (in form, as opposed than content), grouping them with agnostics doesn't seem right.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Thursday, 17 January 2013

    This post made me go back and re-read your post about what naturalistic Paganism is [ http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Paths-Blogs/what-s-a-naturalistic-pagan.html ] to help me figure out what all these groups have in common. It's a great summary!

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