An Atheopagan Path: Journeys in the Sacred World

Musings, values and practices in non-theistic Paganism

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Coming down from the mountain
I have seen the lofty glory
I will go again some day
But for now, I’m coming down.

–Meat Puppets

There is an ache in my heart right now, a longing for the people and experiences of Suntree Retreat.

It isn’t that I’m not glad to be home. I like my life, by and large. But I have had a peak experience and there is a feeling of sorrow, of yearning now that it is over.

At the Retreat, I came to feel a deep caring for every attendee and for what we were doing together: the rituals, the vulnerability, the courage, the socializing, the celebration. Such an experience–often intensified by some physical strain such as reduced sleep–can release floods of oxytocin into the brain.

Oxytocin is the falling-in-love hormone. It can lead to deep feelings of connection, and longing when separated.

None of this is to say that the experience “isn’t real”. Of COURSE it is real. But neurochemically, this is what is happening.

Oxytocin has many effects: hyperfocus and social bonding, for example.

I can’t stop thinking about the people and events of the Retreat.

And I want to talk about it, but it’s hard to communicate what it was like to those who weren’t there.

In the meantime, I remind myself to be careful: careful physically, so I don’t make clumsy mistakes while preoccupied, and careful emotionally, as I feel tender and vulnerable right now. I eat solid, grounding meals and do my daily Atheopagan practices. I write.

This will fade. And normality–hopefully, informed by the learning and happiness of the peak experience–will return.

This experience is natural. We can’t live atop the mountain peak. Those who chase from one such oxytocin-fueled experience to another are ungrounded, and in my experience, can stumble into difficulties in life. Most of us probably know someone who flits from relationship to relationship, thrilled with the joyous, sexy high of the first phase and then off to something new when that fades. Sadly, they often end up lonely and alone.

And so I let myself feel the feelings, and remember the memories, and I remind myself that this was a beginning, not an end. There will be more Atheopagan community gatherings. There will be more peak experiences that open my eyes to our great mutual humanity, to the beauty of each individual and of this life.

I will go again someday, but for now, I’m coming down.

Any time we have such an experience, we have to come down and live our lives, to integrate what we have learned, before we go again for that high-ground experience.

The high peaks of experience have a heady, rarified atmosphere, and it is lovely and delicious. It feeds the deep parts of ourselves, brings wisdom and compassion. It is well worth going, even though the price is that we open our hearts and take risks with them.

So if you have such an experience, be gentle with yourself, stay grounded, and try to be glad: such joy is rare, and so enriches our lives.

We can create more, through our rituals, observances and community-building, which is what we are learning together.

Be well, my dear, dear Atheopagans.


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Mark Green is an activist, writer and nonprofit professional with a background in environmental public policy and electoral campaigns. He is the author of "Atheopaganism: an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science", published in 2019. A Pagan since 1987, he presents at Pantheacon and has been published in Green Egg and the anthology "Godless Paganism" (for which he wrote the foreword). His Pagan writing appears here, at the Humanistic Paganism website (, at the Naturalist Pagan site ( and at the Atheopaganism blog.  


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