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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What’s a Naturalistic Pagan?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Last time, we met some of today’s most publicly visible naturalists. Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Exactly what does it mean to be a naturalist, and what do naturalists have in common with other Pagans?

Down to terms

a1sx2_Original1_B-T-Newberg_blog2_01-00.jpgYou’ll hear a variety of different terms describing roughly the same circles of people: Naturalistic Pagans, Humanistic Pagans, Atheist Pagans, Agnostic Pagans, Existential Pagans, Secular Pagans, etc.

The current most popular term seems to be “Naturalistic

Pagan.” It aligns with the larger movement of naturalism, especially Religious Naturalism. Good technical definitions of naturalism are here and here, but the simplest and clearest I’ve found is as follows:

  • only natural causes affect the universe; there are no supernatural causes.

There’s a problem with that definition in a Pagan context, though. Most Pagans consider their gods and magic to emerge from within nature, so wouldn’t they be “natural” by definition?

That’s a fair argument, perhaps. However, it’s not usually what Naturalistic Pagans mean. Most consider naturalism to entail alignment of beliefs with current mainstream scientific evidence.

Trends and shared values

As a result of such naturalism, a few tendencies emerge:

  • We tend to view deities as metaphorical, poetic, or psychological in some sense, and not as causal agents external to and independent of the individual. Thunder is external and independent, but the personification of it as Zeus, for example, is not.
  • We tend to view magic as manipulating the world indirectly through the individual’s own psychology, for example by motivating her or him to action, and not as tugging on energies or forces to produce effects with no known physical causal relation to the individual.
  • We tend to ground our practices and beliefs in experience, accurate history, and (especially) mainstream scientific evidence.

Other Pagans may differ with us on some of these points, but we also share much in common. I want to close by highlighting the many ways Pagans – all of us – are alike.

  • We uphold nature as sacred.
  • We value creativity, integrity, and beauty.
  • We embrace embodied, sensuous, passionate existence, which comes in all genders and orientations.
  • We celebrate common festivals and holidays, such as the Wheel of the Year.
  • We honor this world and our place in it through ritual.
  • We explore experience and cultivate self-knowledge through meditation.
  • We draw inspiration from non-Abrahamic mythic traditions, especially those from Europe and the Mediterranean.
  • We feel awe, reverence, and wonder before nature and our human and non-human ancestors.
  • We work toward environmental, humanitarian, and community causes.
  • We affirm responsible action within a pluralistic society.
  • We affirm the right and responsibility of individuals to weigh evidence and determine their own beliefs.
  • We respect others with whose views we may disagree.

As you can see, the differences are far outweighed by what we share in common.

Still confused?

Hopefully, this begins to clear up some of the confusion, but…

Still perplexed? Then ask a naturalist! Please post any questions you’d like answered in the comments section.

Pagan, Naturally will be back regularly to dispel misconceptions and give the straight dope on the naturalistic way.

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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

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Friday, 14 September 2012

    Welcome to PaganSquare!

    I enjoyed this post, but I disagree with most of it. Mostly because I can name at least two or three people who do not adhere to one or more point in the list you post for all Pagans, myself included. I do not celebrate the Wheel of the Year, I don't worship nature, nor do I think the Gods come from it. That's fine, though, I understand what you meant.

    I look forward to future posts; your views are fascinating to me!

  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg Friday, 14 September 2012

    Good to meet you, Elani. :D Disagreement is more than welcome, of course.

  • Bill
    Bill Sunday, 16 September 2012

    "Only natural causes affect the universe; there are no supernatural causes."

    With the exception of the above statement, you have described the practice and beliefs of this back pew Unitarian for the last twenty years. Yet I must always leave room for the possibility that supernatural forces exist and operate beyond science - that my own failure to observe measurable evidence of this phenomena may, among other considerations, merely be the result of inadequate research.

  • Sardonyx
    Sardonyx Monday, 22 October 2012

    I totally agree. As humanism is to christianity (it shares values, culture), so you can have a humanist version of paganism, sharing the values of paganism, but without the desire to ascribe to the supernaturalism.

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