Am I a Secular Pagan? by Heather Van De Sande

“Secular Pagans are Humanists with flare.”

I was once a very bad witch.  When I was trying to be a Wiccan, it was very difficult. I was 19 and the world was still pre-Internet. I knew no other Wiccans nor Witches nor Neo-Pagans. I did a lot of reading from mail order books about magick and the Craft. And while I wore my pentagram proudly, I felt very silly trying to perform spells. So while I was a “white witch”, a “good witch”, I wasn’t a very good at it.

Without a community of other pagans, it was difficult to maintain my beliefs, and so I eventually stopped. I wouldn’t meet an “out” Wiccan until twenty years later when I was well on my leaving-Catholicism-to-becoming-an-Atheist trajectory.  I have to admit, I was jealous of Imaari’s coven. They were a very open, friendly group of people. They were all very artistic and creative. Imaari would go join them for weekend retreats and drum circles, though no skyclad events (I was very disappointed to hear). I was invited twice to their Samhain Silent Supper and I found the event very moving from even my secular non-supernatural perspective.

Which got me to wondering, are there secular pagans?

Secular Pagans?

It turns out there are. And like any other group without a dogma or a central church handing down edicts, there is a whole gamut of individuals in the Pagan arena. For some, the rituals and ceremonies are much like LARPing; they don’t actually believe in the supernatural, it’s all just good fun. The gods and goddesses are merely metaphors. For others, it’s more about the respect for the planet and the understanding that we’re just another life form on it.

“Secular Paganism is not a religion; it is an ethical view of the world, based on the belief that Nature is sacred and must be respected and treasured. Secular Pagans hold many of the same views about Nature that religious Pagans and many people of other religions do. Secular Pagans believe that we are a part of Nature, not her master. There are no particular religious views connected with Secular Paganism.” ~ Abby Willowroot

The 15 Guiding Principles of Secular Paganism

  1. Ethical behavior does not require a religion
  2. All living things have a unique spirit or soul
  3. The equality of genders, races, and all humans
  4. Care must be taken in using Nature’s resources
  5. All Earth’s life is connected and inter-dependant
  6. The Gaia Principle is an important, basic, truth
  7. The cycles of Nature teach us what is important
  8. Balance must be maintained for all life to flourish
  9. Our health depends on the The Environment’s health
  10. Our individual actions can and do have consequences
  11. Evolution is an ongoing process that occurs in all species
  12. Birth, living and death are natural cycles shared by all life
  13. Respect for ourselves requires respect for the Earth
  14. All human cultures have value and can teach us
  15. Gods & Goddesses can be seen as metaphors

The 15 Guiding Principles Copyright Abby Willowroot 2009

While I don’t whole-heartedly agree with all 15 points, for example I’d word number two as “All Living things have a unique value,” I can accept most of it in principal. I don’t think they’re all that different from many of the Humanist Statement of Principles: (not all listed)

  • We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
  • We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
  • We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.

I’ve read on the atheist blogs about people adopting the Wheel of the Year when celebrating holidays, which is something I’ve started doing as well. Last year, when I was missing my friend’s coven and their Samhain gathering, I put up a Day of the Dead Altar in my cube. I don’t believe the dead really come back to spend time with us, but I do accept the symbolism of having them with me during that time and making sure I remember them.

Secular Pagans are Humanists with flare

The reason the big religions all do things like gather regularly, sing, make things, have holidays and rituals, is because it satisfies a need we have as human beings. I’m sure that whatever that need is, it has a non-supernatural explanation. But I don’t think we have to feel that just because we’re atheists that we shouldn’t do anything that’s *like* religion. As more people leave Big Religion behind, there are going to be more secular communities with “religious” aspects.

Whether it’s the Unitarian Universalists, the North Texas Church of Freethought, or The Sunday Assembly, we want to meet, we want to sing, and we want our rituals and ceremonies.

Just beware; I might be doing it skyclad.

This post first appeared at Freethoughtify.

The author

Heather Van De Sande is an ex-Catholic, ex-Wiccan, ex-born-again-Baptist who became an Atheist while trying to recommit to her Catholic roots. She currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and very spoiled dog, works in IT, has a technical focused blog at and annoys her co-workers by rejecting all blessings on her sneezes. … She can occasionally be found at either The Lexington Atheists Meetup Group or The Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers Meetup Group and has just started the Frankfort Humanists, Skeptics, and Freethinkers FB Group:

Recent Work

Conscious or unconscious: Which is the real you?  by B. T. Newberg

The view from above: A Stoic meditation, by Donald Robertson

What if the universe doesn’t love you back?  by B. T. Newberg

Next Sunday

B. T. Newberg

Were the earliest peoples naturalistic?  They must have been naturalistic before they came up with the first deity, right? – nope, and here’s why.

Naturalism in prehistory?  by B. T. Newberg

Appearing Sunday, June 30th, 2013

28 Comments on “Am I a Secular Pagan? by Heather Van De Sande

  1. Heather: I am curious why the adjective “secular” appeals to you? Are there other labels you might embrace? To me “secular” implies a disregard of the sacred as a meaningful category? Does it have the same connotation for you?

  2. I choose to be called a gnostic pagam mythicist (I don’t know what else to call it) because it’s easier for me to know nature through the astrotheological myths, and of course quantum physics, which comnfirms the myths as teaching truth about the macro/micro:)

    • >and of course quantum physics, which comnfirms the myths as teaching truth about the macro/micro:)

      Could you explain what you mean by that?

      • The illusionary aspect of reality, holographic universe, a continuum, a non-local consciousness field, the theory that the universe is a brain, (an atom is but a small solar system), observer effect, Biocentrism, etc. It seems to mirror even the ancient Vedas scriptures. They didn’t have the language of modern physicists so they used the language of myth to convey knowledge of the nature of reality.

      • hipmonkey, I’d disregard most of those applications of quantum theory. Quantum theory is counterintuitive, but it doesn’t say that reality is an illusion, for example. Most of the time when people are talking about quantum theory in a “spiritual” context, whatever they’re saying is complete nonsense.

        • There is plenty of research proving to my satisfaction that ancient wisdom and modern quantum physics are describing the same reality using different terminology. Calling quantum physics nonsense says more about you than you might realize.

      • Hipmonkey, Jonathan isn’t saying that quantum physics is nonsense, he’s saying that often when people start relating it to spirituality they are talking nonsense. These are very different things.

      • Everyone, instead of throwing around words like “nonsense”, let’s just stick to addressing specific points. Hipmonkey, in your opinion, how does myth support the aspects of quantum physics that you mention (e.g. what part of the Vedas do you mean)? Others, which parts of this do not persuade you, and why?

    • Hey Hipmonkey, I like your analogy gnostic pagam mythicist. I say gnostic christian if anyone ask me, but secretly referring to christian before it became organized religion. I think physics is totally relevant in being a naturalist. From pryamids to Mayan temples to Fibonacci numbers to our own universal astrological database. Spirit is unknown and to what exact relevance physics plays a part we will never know. I am ok with that.

  3. I’m personally fine with the descriptor of secular,in the definition of worldly rather than spiritual.
    Although I can have spiritual experiences people often misconstrue it with the word supernatural and I’d rather not be associated with that term.
    I am firmly planted in the natural world and the here and now.When I choose to do ritual I want that reflected in the way it’s worded and performed.No spirits,gods or magic.I will use the elements as metaphors for things like intellect,creativity,reality and so forth.
    As I have said before there is really no need for gods and what not in a Naturalist system the natural world around us should inspire us with enough awe and the fact we can see interact and be a part of it should be all we need with out turning to the “woo” aspect that modern paganism is inundated with.The sacred is all around us no need to make a separate space for it.That kind of thinking is too dualistic for me.
    Just my 2 cents.

    • But deity can make these forces into beings that we can interact with and therefore get to know better. It’s harder to have a relationship with a force of nature that is seen as a thing rather than a personality.

      • Chris~~ Which is why you should not seek to “have a relationship”~~ Only humans make personification of natural, neutral “forces” and then try to worship or communicate with them. While we are part of the Universe it doesn’t “know” or “care” about us and, in my view, any attempt to deny this only shows our own inadequacies~

  4. Wonderful post! I’ve been considering myself as a secular naturalist for a bit now, so this makes so much sense. I don’t really see ‘secular’ as a dismissal of ‘sacred’ but rather as a qualifier expressing a non-religious perspective.

  5. I love this post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I’d call myself a humanist first with pagan leanings. I love celebrating nature and the wheel of the year helps me do that. I love finding I’m not alone and this post was perfect!

  6. Although I agree with a lot of the principles, but I’m afraid this community might be a bit atheistic for me. I’m secular compared to some pagans, but in the end I believe in God, whom I depict as Goddess Shakti. When performing pagan rituals, I do feel like I’m LARPing, though, lol.

    • Many, though not all, in our community are atheists or agnostics. That said, anyone is welcome to take part in the discussions.

  7. Very interesting Heather~~ This was posted to me by my partner, who thought it was very like my views~~ She was right, except that I am more in tune with the humanist principles you mentioned. I see, like me, you are uncomfortable with the metaphors of spirit, soul and deity. I can understand their sources, especially in paganism, but I have always been wary of metaphors as too often they “morph” into absolute truths and personification as a metaphor becomes personification as a being to be worshipped, prayed to, etc…

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