In the ancient world, gods and goddesses were honored with gifts. How can a naturalist carry on this tradition today?
One way it can be done is through giving to charities. For example, if you want to honor Demeter, goddess of grain, why not donate to your local food shelf? If Dionysus, god of wine, is your guest of honor, why not toast to him with a donation to Students Against Destructive Decisions? In this way, you can both honor the deity and make an immediate, concrete difference in the world.
Why mythologize charity?
Some may ask why myth and charity need to be paired. The short answer is they don’t, but doing so can have many benefits.
First, gifting is a natural way to develop relationships, well-documented in the animal world as well as across human cultures. So, if you are seeking to develop a relationship with a figure of myth, a natural way to further the bonding process is with a gift. Whether you relate to deities as symbols, archetypes, or some other naturalistic form, gifting can help develop relationships by recruiting our natural social bonding instincts. An offering in the form of a charitable donation appropriate to the deity is an excellent way to cultivate a relationship.
Second, we may intend to give to charities, but how often do we actually carry through? As Alain de Botton points out, we simply tend to forget. One way to remind yourself to do good is with a regular calendar of rituals. If each of your Wheel of the Year rituals involves some gift to charity, you will be reminded to spread the wealth at least eight times a year.
Third, charitable giving is a historically attested ancient Pagan practice. For an account of the ancient tradition of the euergetes, or benefactor, see Peter Brown’s Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire.
Finally, helping others has been scientifically shown to enhance happiness. So, if you are doing ritual anyway, why not add that extra bit of help to others? It makes ritual all the more meaningful.
How do I choose an appropriate charity?
You can start by asking: What does the deity in question care about? For further inspiration, HP has compiled extensive lists of charities organized by deity.
So far, we have five pantheons:
Don’t see your favorite pantheon? Then create it, and share it with the rest of us!
Check out all the Charities by Deity pages, and leave comments with your ideas of new charities. Thanks for your help!
About B. T. Newberg
B. T. founded HumanisticPaganism.com in 2011, and served as managing editor till 2013. His writings on naturalistic spirituality can be found at Patheos, Pagan Square, the Spiritual Naturalist Society, as well as right here on HP. Since the year 2000, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective. After leaving the Lutheranism of his raising, he experimented with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism. Currently he combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth. He headed the Google Group Polytheist Charity, and organized the international interfaith event The Genocide Prevention Ritual.
In 2009, he completed a 365-day challenge recorded at One Good Deed Per Day. As a Pagan, he has published frequently at The Witch’s Voice as well as Oak Leaves and the podcast Tribeways, and has written a book on the ritual order of Druid organization Ar nDriocht Fein called Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites. Several of his ebooks sell at GoodReads.com, including a volume of creative nonfiction set in Malaysia called Love and the Ghosts of Mount Kinabalu.
Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language. He also researches the relation between religion, psychology, and evolution at www.BTNewberg.com. After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea, B. T. Newberg currently resides in St Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and cat.
B. T. currently serves as the treasurer and advising editor for HP.