Pagan Paths

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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Why do ritual as a Naturalistic Pagan?

One of the most common sources of confuzzlement about naturalism is ritual.  If you don't believe deities are literally real, then what's the point of ritual?  Isn't it just empty play-acting?

Nothing could be further from the truth.


Skira Altar 2007, by B. T. Newberg
First of all, it may be that ritual doesn't need a justification to give it meaning.  Like art, it may be an end in itself.

But that may not hold water for many.  So here's a second reply:

Most affirm that ritual, whatever its primary intentions, comes with a whole suite of positive secondary effects: group cohesion, self-discovery, cultivation of virtue, motivation to activism, and so on.  Naturalists simply take these "secondary" effects as primary.

Effects of ritual

First, the hypothesized psychological and social benefits of religion in general, in which ritual plays a key role, are many.  Some of the most academically well-traversed are:

Arguably, none of these preclude a naturalistic view.  The scientific, psychological, sociological, and anthropological literature is rich with studies on them. 

In addition, religious practicioners often claim specific effects of ritual.  The following are exclusively from Naturalistic Pagans, gleaned through links or personal conversations:

Connection to something greater? Really?

Most of the effects above are probably fairly easy to understand, but the first on that list might cause a double-take.  How can naturalists connect to something greater, if they don't believe literally in deities or spirits?

The answer: easily.

There are many things greater than ourselves.  Three I find most inspiring are: nature, community, and mind.  The individual ego appears lonely and small, until it discovers its interdependent participation in the natural universe, the community of life, and the deep unconscious.  Beholding such a vision, we connect to something greater than ourselves.

Why talk of benefits at all?

Even after all this, some may still object to the very idea of focusing on benefits.  Ritual isn't about us, they may say, it's about the gods.  I respect that opinion, but as a naturalist I cannot agree.  What I do agree with is that ritual should not be self-centered.

Looking back at the list of benefits above, there isn't a single one that does not potentially make for a better, more virtuous, more responsible citizen of the universe.  Such benefit is not self-centered; it benefits everyone.


Still skeptical?  I'd like to hear what you have to say.  Drop me a line in the comments!

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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.


  • Laurel
    Laurel Friday, 27 December 2013

    I myself would like to do rituals as a new Naturalistic Pagan, however I'm having trouble adapting typical Pagan rituals to suit my needs. Do you know of any that exist as a resource? Thank you!

  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg Saturday, 28 December 2013

    Nice to meet you, Laurel. Yes, there are many naturalistic rituals available online. The most comprehensive compilation I'm aware of is here:

  • Laurel
    Laurel Saturday, 28 December 2013

    Thank you, that's exactly what I was looking for! :)

  • Lia Hunter
    Lia Hunter Monday, 01 January 2018

    I appreciate that you took the time to lay this out. It makes perfect sense to me (and it seems we may have both taken a science of religion class or study anthropology of religion :)).

  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg Tuesday, 02 January 2018

    Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the article.

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