“The Patron Deities of an Atheist Pagan” by Melanie Elizabeth Hexen

This essay was originally published at Many Hands House.

I am a Sagan Pagan. An atheist Pagan. This does not make me popular with either the Pagans or the Atheists. I understand why. I still cannot come to terms with “almost vegetarians” or  “Christo-Pagans” (sorry – just can’t!)

I am a Pagan. I honor Pagan Gods and Goddesses. I tell their stories. I keep altars to them. I keep holy the Sabbats. I pilgrim. I participate in rituals. I am a Witch. I have sucked a goat’s teat. I spellcraft. I scry. I stay active in my Pagan community. I love Gerald Gardner and Margaret Murray. I have kissed Raymond Buckland. That’s right — give it to me old school baby.

carl sagan, cosmos, atheism, science, cosmology, paganI am an atheist. Because I don’t believe any of it is REAL. Not real in that I don’t believe there is an actual being floating around us, caring about us, etc. I do not believe in “energy”. Maybe it’s because I have been Pagan for so long. Before Witchcraft blended with New Age or Neo-Paganism. Steven Posch’d Elder Gods* are awesome. They are true. They are REAL. You would think I would totally be on board. But I’m not. I mean, I do worship the Elder Gods. But I worship the Younger Gods too.

I want a deity that gives me a story, an example, a framework for my life. I want a deity who has menstruated. I want a deity who has birthed a baby. I want a deity who found her lover in the arms of another. I want a deity who has held her mother dying. The Younger Gods. Birth, growth, love, wisdom, pain, death. I want examples. I want inspiration. I put human faces and stories on my Gods. Because I can. Because as a Sagan Pagan, I make it all up as I go!

So, who am I working with? Lately it has been “Birth Goddess”. Often Tlazolteotl or Artemis. What do I know about them historically? Well, I have Wikipedia. I know that Tlazolteotl is a bad ass and can get a baby out. I know that Artemis’ first act in life was to turn and midwife out her brother. I know someone thought birth was worth making up these stories about and that I find inspiration in them.

Is that Inanna I see walking down the street? I think I’d like to work with her! Is there, or has there ever been, a more incredible, awesome, powerful woman  in the universe? An awesome woman like me needs an awesome Goddess like Inanna. Please read Innana, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Wolkstein and Kramer.

Inanna-Rain“Great queen of queens, issue of a holy womb for righteous divine powers, greater than your own mother, wise and sage, lady of all the foreign lands, life-force of the teeming people: I will recite your holy song! True goddess fit for divine powers, your splendid utterances are magnificent. Deep-hearted, good woman with a radiant heart, I will enumerate your divine powers for you!”

And then, of course, there is Ganesha. Just typing his name makes him happy! And me happy! Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. When I am worried, I try to imagine the details of a real, earth side Ganesha. The elephant coarse fuzz on his ears ( I recall when I once rode an elephant as a child), his hairy man chest, his broken tusk. He loves it, and I feel better. I recommend reading Loving Ganesha.

AU10604lgWhich brings me to a sore spot. Especially for a Sagan Pagan. Cultural co-optation. I don’t want to be a part of it! I asked T. Thorn Coyle what she thought, and she said if I didn’t own a Kali lunchbox I was fine. But I do own a Kali lunchbox. Cuss.

And so to end this, I recall a story about a man who is on a cruise ship. There is a terrible accident and the man is left on a chunk of ship alone with a circus tiger. He has many adventures, always with the tiger. He is eventually rescued. On his death bed, his great grandson asks if the story of the ship and the tiger is true. He confesses that he made up the part about the tiger. But didn’t it make the story more interesting? That is how I feel about religion. I think the tiger makes life more interesting. Or maybe that makes the storyteller a manipulator.

What do you think?
Jai Ganesha!

* Editor’s Note: Steven Posch describes the “Elder Gods” as the un-anthropomorphized wild powers of nature, with whom we live in relationship, whether we pay attention to it or not:

“Each of us knows them intimately
already, being the ground of every birth:
Earth, mighty mother of us all;
Sun, splendid in royal self-immolation;
Moon, queen of witches,
threefold mistress of fate;
Storm, called Thunder by the ancestors;
Sea, the fish-tailed lady of the deep;
the winged Winds, wide-faring;
Fire, youngest elder, fallen from heaven;
the Horned One, master of animals
—ourselves among them
—and the Green his firstborn brother,
lord of leaf and tendril.
These themselves are they,
themselves themselves.” — Steven Posch

The Author: Melanie Elizabeth Hexen

melanieMelanie is a midwife, regionally famous bellydancer, homeschooling mother and matriarch of the Many Hands House. She has been a witch for 25 years, and her belief system is currently based on the writings of Terry Pratchett and the teachings of Steven Posch. Follow her blog The Pagan Family.

See Melanie’s Posts

6 Comments on ““The Patron Deities of an Atheist Pagan” by Melanie Elizabeth Hexen

  1. Hi Melanie, I, too, honor the old gods and to me they in all their facets are real. I am dedicated to the Lady Ishtar who is named among the dark goddesses. Shes’ tough and as a Crone, She is someone to whom I look to as a role model. She’s a no nonsense kind of girl and she’ll kick your ass when necessary.

  2. Hail! I like the term “Sagan Pagan”, I’ve always used “Scientific Witch”. Boy oh boy, some pagans can get right ripped about the whole atheistic thing. (ESPECIALLY when I flay their anti-science woo when I feel the discussion is possibly leading someone into trouble – like taking random herbs to help along a pregnancy…when I knew flat out that some of them were poisonous or could have bad reactions when you WEREN’T pregnant!)

    On the topic of “pregnancy goddesses”, I like Bastet in her mothering form – people usually view her as a sort of temptress dancing and bedding anyone she pleases, but her hedonism at twilight is answered by the fact that she was the “good mother cat who cares for her kittens” – when I struggled with breastfeeding, it was picturing Bast holding oodles of kittens and trying to nurse them that got me to a place where I could relax through it.

  3. I guess my curiosity would be, what do you think is happening with the spells you cast?

    • I know I’m not the OP, but I personally liken spellwork to any other method of positive self-talk, habit formation, goal keeping, or talk therapy. The human mind is very suggestible, and with meditation and soul searching, I find I am more and more able to change myself in deep and lasting ways on my own without seeing a therapist.
      I believe that taking concrete physical action, especially verbalizing what I want to happen, helps me stay focused and not give up to easily. If I care enough to cast a circle and tell my symbolic deities what I am planning to change or accomplish, I care enough to keep that ritual in the back of my mind as motivation.
      It’s kinda the same idea as telling a friend or posting on FB when you set New Year’s goals. Or having a marriage/handfasting ceremony in front of family and friends. The action, the verbalization, and the public commitment all help you keep those goals or promises. Especially since, as witches, our word should have the validity of an oath, right? 🙂
      I don’t believe in mysterious supernatural “energy” or other woowoo mystical stuff. That’s why I’m a naturalistic, rationalist, scientific sort of witch. But that doesn’t mean the psychology, inner peace, and beauty behind pagan ritual and beliefs isn’t mostly valuable.

  4. I like the tiger analogy. I think the most important part of that analogy is that the grandfather used the tiger to enhance the story for the sake of story-telling. I’ll assume, on the other hand, that he did not make up a circus tiger when he gave his statement to the investigating authorities after his rescue.
    Our lives are part of an everlasting story, and we build our identities around a worldview that is largely based off the story we hear, the story we tell the world about ourselves. As long as we know when that story must be “just the facts, ma’am”, and when creative embellishment and free use of imagination can help us cope with our own mortality, even in little ways.
    I, too, am becoming bolder in calling myself a pagan atheist. Nothing else seems to quite capture my deep reverence for and connection to nature, while remaining a scientific rationalist who seeks solid evidence for everything. Thanks for this post! It is hard to find like-minded folk.

%d bloggers like this: