Wiccan Atheists and Agnostics

Wiccan Atheists and Agnostics

BellaOnline’s Wicca Editor

Can Wiccans also be atheists or agnostics? This may seem a strange question because the worship of the Lord and Lady is so central to many Wiccans’ daily spiritual practice. But the short answer is yes. It is possible to concentrate on the cultural aspects of Wicca rather than its religious concepts.

According to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, the definition of atheism is, “1. archaic: Ungodliness, Wickedness 2a: a disbelief in the existence of deity, b: the doctrine that there is no deity.” And, from the same source, here is the definition of agnostic: “1: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable; broadly: one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.”

Atheists do not believe in deities. Agnostics believe that there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of deities. But that does not necessarily mean that atheists and agnostics limit their curiosity only to those phenomena currently verifiable by science. Sometimes it takes the scientific method awhile to explain things that previously seemed like magic such as the laws of gravity, solar eclipses, electricity, hypnosis, and acupuncture. An atheist might not believe in the existence of gods, but she might acknowledge flows of electromagnetic energy that make up the universe. She might keep an open mind about an individual’s ability to influence energy by honing intent through ceremony, which is another way to describe witchcraft.

Atheists or agnostics might believe in witchcraft but not in gods. Maybe they feel strongly that the universe invented itself to its own pattern – which includes the ability of individuals to influence the flows of energy through witchcraft – but the universe itself is not a sentient being that requires worship. Or maybe they believe that everything in the universe is randomly generated, including witchcraft. There are also Deists (not atheists or agnostics) who believe that a deity or deities existed long enough to create the universe and its energy flows, but then ceased to exist and left us all to our own devices.

A Wiccan atheist or agnostic might recognize no higher power than his own moral code. And he might see his moral code and experience as sufficient to guide him through the practice of any skill from accounting to knitting to witchcraft. This type of Wiccan is the opposite of the Wiccan I described in a previous article who is not interested in practicing witchcraft, but seeks only to worship deity.

Another type of Wiccan atheist or agnostic disbelieves in deity AND witchcraft, but finds a strong identity in Wiccan cultural concepts. This might include reverence for nature, a heightened awareness of environmental issues, attraction to Celtic and Anglo-Saxon history, and an affinity for seeking balance and symmetry between the male and female energies present within each of us.

This type of Wiccan is similar to a secular Jew such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, who was an atheist and a scientist, but culturally Jewish. A secular Wiccan might not be interested in practicing witchcraft, and might observe the festivals of the Wheel of the Year mainly as a way to enjoy and connect with the ancient harvest rituals and not as a religious observance. So, as you can see, there is much diversity in what it means to be a Wiccan, which means that our cultural and religious identity has the potential for broad horizons if we can accept our differences.


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I recall someone talking about a feeling of being called to a given deity, and

how to know this was for real, and how to go about making it Signed and

Official(tm) and all that . . . I thought I’d give out with few (yeah, right)

words as to my own experiences this way.

I’m pretty much a believer in the notion that a person is best served by

following their natural inclinations on some ways.  I found my own Craft name

this way — I just sort of waited until I found the “right” name.  I waited

until I got a handle on what I was like at that time (it may change in the

future) and at that point, saw the name as the proper noun that described what I

was, the word for my inner nature.

It’s not a name in any but the most basic sense — a description of what I *am*.

It’s no more a “chosen” name that an apple “chooses” to be called an apple.

It’s simply the name we have for the thing.

Finding a deity figure is similar, and the one that fits you is often different

from time to time.  Don’t look for one that you like and say, “I want to

dedicate myself to that one.”  Look inside yourself and see what’s there — and

don’t lie or hide anything.  Honesty is needed here.  Know yourself, and then

see if you can find a deity matchup for what you see.  This is what I mean by

seeing what your own natural inclinations are and then going with them.

Oftentimes, the deity will just sort of fall into place with no effort, like a

dewdrop rolling off a leaf.  It just finds the proper time and bango — it

happens.  Very zen, actually.  This is similar — if you relax and just know

yourself, the deity will fall into place with no effort. Well, enough effort to

read books and research so that you’ll be able to know him or her when you see

them.  But research isn’t effort — it’s fun!

My own deities are a bit odd — the moirae from the Mycenean/Greek pantheon are

good, as is the Minoan god Kouros.  (Never let it be said that your deity has to

be the same gender!)

Anyway, the only advice I can give you is to know yourself and then when you see

your deity you’ll recognize him or her as the right one. Choosing one that isn’t

a good fit is a bad idea

No Religion? 7 Types of Non-Believers

    By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet     Printed on June 13, 2012     http://www.alternet.org/story/155685/no_religion_7_types_of_non-believers

Catholic, Born-Again, Reformed, Jew, Muslim, Shiite, Sunni, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist . . . .  Religions give people labels. The downside can be tribalism, an assumption that insiders are better than outsiders, that they merit more compassion, integrity and generosity or even that violence toward “infidels” is acceptable. But the upside is that religious or spiritual labels offer a way of defining who we are.  They remind adherents that our moral sense and quest for meaning are core parts of what it means to be human.  They make it easier to convey a subset of our deepest values to other people, and even to ourselves.

For those who have lost their religion or never had one, finding a label can feel important.  It can be part of a healing process or, alternately, a way of declaring resistance to a dominant and oppressive paradigm.  Finding the right combination of words can be a challenge though.  For a label to fit it needs to resonate personally and also communicate what you want to say to the world.  Words have definitions, connotations and history, and how people respond to your label will be affected by all three.  What does it mean?  What emotions does it evoke?  Who are you identifying as your intellectual and spiritual forebears and your community?  The differences may be subtle but they are important.

If, one way or another, you’ve left religion behind, and if you’ve been unsure what to call yourself, you might try on one of these:

1. Atheist.  The term atheist can be defined literally as lacking a humanoid god concept, but historically it means one of two things.  Positive atheism asserts that a personal supreme being does not exist.  Negative atheism simply asserts a lack of belief in such a deity.  It is possible be a positive atheist about the Christian God, for example, while maintaining a stance of negative atheism or even uncertainty on the question of a more abstract deity like a “prime mover.”  In the United States, it is important to know that atheist may be the most reviled label for a godless person.  Devout believers use it as a slur and many assume an atheist has no moral core.  Until recently calling oneself an atheist was an act of defiance.  That appears to be changing.  With the rise of the “New Atheists” and the recent atheist visibility movement, the term is losing its edge.

2. Anti-theist.  When atheist consistently evoked images of Madeline Murray O’Hare, hostility toward religion was assumed.  Now that it may evoke a white-haired grandmother at the Unitarian church or the gay kid on Glee, some people want a term that more clearly conveys their opposition to the whole religious enterprise.  The term anti-theist says, “I think religion is harmful.”  It also implies some form of activism that goes beyond merely advocating church-state separation or science education.  Anti-theism challenges the legitimacy of faith as a moral authority or way of knowing.  Anti-theists often work to expose harms caused in the name of God like stonings, gay bating, religious child maltreatment, genital mutilation, unwanted childbearing or black-collar crime.  The New Atheist writers including Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins might better be described as anti-theists.

3. Agnostic.  Some atheists think of agnostic as a weenie term, because it gets used by people who lack a god-concept but don’t want to offend family members or colleagues.  Agnostic doesn’t convey the same sense of confrontation or defiance that atheist can, and so it gets used as a bridge. But in reality, the term agnostic represents a range of intellectual positions that have important substance in their own right and can be independent of atheism.  Strong agnosticism views God’s existence as unknowable, permanently and to all people.  Weak agnosticism can mean simply “I don’t know if there is a God,” or “We collectively don’t know if there is a God but we might find out in the future.” Alternately, the term agnosticism can be used to describe an approach to knowledge, somewhat like skepticism (which comes next in this list). Philosopher Thomas Huxley illustrates this position:  

Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed as ‘in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.’

These three definitions of agnosticism, though different, all focus on what we do or can know, rather than on whether God exists.  This means it is possible to be both atheist and agnostic.  Author Phillip Pullman has described himself as both.

The question of what term to use is a difficult one, in strict terms I suppose I’m an agnostic because of course the circle of the things I do know is vastly smaller than the things I don’t know about out there in the darkness somewhere maybe there is a God. But among all the things I do know in this world I see no evidence of a God whatsoever and everybody who claims to know there is a God seems to use that as an excuse for exercising power over other people, and historically as we know from looking at the history in Europe alone that’s involved persecution, massacre, slaughter on an industrial scale, it’s a shocking prospect.

4. Skeptic.  Traditionally, skeptic has been used to describe a person who doubts received religious dogmas.  However, while agnostic focuses on God questions in particular, the term skeptic expresses a broader life approach.  Someone who calls him- or herself a skeptic has put critical thinking at the heart of the matter.  Well known skeptics, like Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller, or James Randi devote a majority of their effort to debunking pseudoscience, alternative medicine, astrology and so forth.  They broadly challenge the human tendency to believe things on insufficient evidence.  Australian comic Tim Minchen is an outspoken atheist who earns a living in part by poking fun at religion.  But his most beloved and hilarious beat poem, Storm, smacks down homeopathy and hippy woo.

5. Freethinker.  Free-thinker is a term that dates to the end of the 17th Century, when it was first used in England to describe those who opposed the Church and literal belief in the Bible.  Freethought is an intellectual stance that says that opinions should be based on logic and evidence rather than authorities and traditions.  Well known philosophers including John Locke and Voltaire were called freethinkers in their own time, and a magazine, The Freethinkerhas been published in Britain continuously from 1881 to the present.  The term has gotten popular recently in part because it is affirmative.  Unlike atheism, which defines itself in contrast to religion, freethought identifies with a proactive process for deciding what is real and important.

6. Humanist.  While terms like atheist or anti-theist focus on a lack of god-belief and agnostic, skeptic and freethinker all focus on ways of knowing—humanist centers in on a set of ethical values.  Humanism  seeks to promote broad wellbeing by advancing compassion, equality, self-determination, and other values that allow individuals to flourish and to live in community with each other.  These values drive not from revelation, but from human experience.  As can be seen in two manifestos published in 1933 and 1973 respectively, humanist leaders don’t shy away from concepts like joy and inner peace that have spiritual connotations. In fact, some think that religion itself should be reclaimed by those who have moved beyond supernaturalism but recognize the benefits of spiritual community and ritual.  Harvard Chaplain Greg Epstein dreams of incubating a thriving network of secular congregations.

7. Pantheist.  As self-described humanists seek to reclaim the ethical and communitarian aspects of religion, pantheistscenter in on the spiritual heart of faith–the experience of humility, wonder, and transcendence.  They see human beings as one small part of a vast natural order, with the Cosmos itself made conscious in us.  Pantheists reject the idea of a person- god, but believe that the holy is made manifest in all that exists.  Consequently, they often have a strong commitment to protecting the sacred web of life in which and from which we have our existence.  The writings of Carl Sagan reflect this sentiment and often are quoted by pantheists, for example in a “Symphony of Science” video series which mixes evocative natural world images, atonal music, and the voices of leading scientists, and has received 30 million views.

If none of these fit . . . .  Keep looking.  Many of the American founding fathers were deists who didn’t believe in miracles or special revelation through sacred texts but thought that the natural world itself revealed a designer who could be discovered through reason and inquiry.  Naturalists assume a philosophical position that the laws operating within the natural realm are the only laws governing the universe and no supernatural realm lies beyond.  Secularists argue that moral standards and laws should be based on whether they do good or harm in this world and that religion should be kept out of government.  Pastafarians playfully claim to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and their religion is a good-humored spoof on Abrahamic beliefs and rituals.

Recently there has been steep uptick in people who identify as godless and a parallel uptick in atheist and humanist visibility efforts.  Many godless people are newly out of religion (or newly out of the closet).  Despite the best efforts of, say, the Humanist Community Project or Foundation Beyond Belief, stable communities organized around shared secular values and spiritual practices have yet to emerge.  That means our labels are largely individual and sometimes experimental.  We may try one on for size, live with it for a while, then try on something else.

As a movement, sexual and gender minorities have faced a similar challenge.  LGB started replacing the term “gay community” in the 1980s. It then became LGBT, and then LGBTQ (to acknowledge those who were questioning) or LGBTI (to include intersex people).  In India, an H got added to the end for the Hijra subculture.  For urban teens, the catch-all termqueer has now replaced the cumbersome acronym.  Queer embraces the idea that sexual and gender identity is biologically and psychologically multifaceted.  It includes everyone who doesn’t think of themselves as straight.  Secular rights activists may eventually evolve a similar catch all, but in the meantime, organizations that want to be inclusive end up with long lists on their ‘About’ pages:  atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker, pantheist, skeptic and more.  So, join the experiment that picking one that fits and wearing it for a while.  Or make up your own.  I often call myself a “spiritual nontheist.”  It’s a mouthful, but it forces people to ask, what is that?  and then, rather than having them make assumptions I get to tell them where I’m at:  I don’t have any kind of humanoid god concept, and I think that issues of morality and meaning are at the very heart of what it means to be human.  Maybe next year I’ll find something that fits even better.


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

 View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/155685/

The Wicca Book of Days for April 13 – Lady of Liberty

The Wicca Book of Days for April 13

Lady of Liberty

Ancient Romans, venerated Libertas, their goddess of liberty, today, and focused their rituals on her temple on Rome’s Aventure Hill. Although Libertas came to be considered the person of the political liberty of the people of Rome, perhaps her most fervent worshippers were the slaves who longed to be liberated from their servitude, as had occurred when enslaved soldiers were rewarded for their part in Rome’s victory at Beneventum in 214BC. Libertas was depicted wearing or holding the felt cap of liberty that was presented to slaves on being freed.

Be A Liberator!

Give thanks for the many freedoms that you enjoy and spare a thought for those who, for whatever reason, have been deprived of their liberty. Consider volunteering to campaign for others’ human rights, for instance, by linking up with Amnesty International.

The Wicca Book of Days for April 5 – Purifying Purges

The Wicca Book of Days for April 5

Purifying Purges

According to a long-established European tradition, April is the month in which it is efficacious to purge oneself. John Neve’s A New Almanacke and Prognostication (1633) claims:

This April, with his stormy showers,

Doth make the earth yield pleasant flowers.

Purge well therein, for it is good

To help thy body and cleanse thy blood.

The twenty-first-century equivalent of the purge is the detox, a complex regime that is said to eliminate toxins from the body, but if you feel in need of an old-fashioned herbal purgative, try a one-off doss of caster oil.

The Quintessential Element

Are you familiar with the fifth element either, of the quintessence? Take time, on this fifth day of the month to learn more about this universal spirit.

The Wicca Book of Days for March 26th – The Fiery Personality

The Wicca Book of Days for March 26th

The Fiery Personality

March 26th is an Arien day, which means that the element that dominates it, according to astrological belief, is Fire. Like the other three elements, Fire is said to have a profound effect on the personality, fiery people being characterized as warm-hearted and passionate, creative and experimental, attention-seeking and exuberant, but also headstrong, fiery, domineering and destructive if they become carried away. According to Jungian theory, Fire is also associated with the intuitive personality type, which means that fire-influenced individuals tend to rely on their gut instincts, rather than rational evaluation, when it comes to gaining insight into a situation or deciding on a course of action.


Solitude Day

Many Wiccans observe Solitude Day today. If you can, take some time to yourself, be it for quiet contemplation, meditation or a healing respite from the demands of everyday life.

What are Gods?

Many a hotly debated discussions have taken place over the years about what Gods are and whether it is important to believe in them as actual beings or if it is only necessary to understand that they represent psychopomps in our psyche that describe a part of ourselves or the world around us. There may never be a definitive answer found to this question, since each and every witch approaches the idea of the divine from a different point. To make one grand decision for everyone would be the height of hubris. Be that as it may, the Gods do hold power over and around us through both of these paths.
They can unlock the power that we hold within ourselves so that we can use it readily and easily by letting that aspect of ourselves be free. Additionally, they can exist in nature and the world around us to add more power to our own. What matters is that we ally ourselves wisely with those deities or archetypes that work best for us. If you are uncomfortable with a particular deity, trying to work with that one will most likely thwart what you are trying to accomplish.
Sometimes it is necessary to work through that discomfort, however. For example, many pagans and witches have difficulty working with the Christian God. There is great power, though, in being able to do so. When you learn how to deal with this discomfort, you have learned to stop letting it control you.
In the Craft, the state of mind that you do something in can have a large impact on the results of what you are attempting to do. A spell can be given a completely opposite direction to take if you do not focus on exactly what it is that you want and let yourself become distracted by other random thoughts. This is why clarity of mind and purpose is so necessary to witchcraft.

In a nutshell, Gods are whatever you believe them to be. Before you scream in frustration, take a deep breath and read on. Looking across the world’s religions, there are a whole host of beliefs about what Gods are. Christianity believes that there is one God, and only one God, all others being false idols, and that God is removed from the world, existing on high and watching us all.

Buddhism does not believe in Gods. Instead, they believe that a person can achieve enlightenment and cease their earthly existence and move on to something better. Many tribal religions revere more than one God, choosing instead to put the divine into the natural world and unexplained things and naming them Gods.

In my studies, I have found that there are five main beliefs that religions, or most of them, fall into; Atheism, Monotheism, Duothesim, Polythiesm, and Pantheism. Starting with the easiest, atheism is the belief that there is no God or that man himself is God. Some branches of Satanism fall into this category, as well as many pagans of varied “religious” beliefs, including some types of Wicca, that see the human as the pinnacle of existence, and most people who believe that there is no God, including man.

Monotheism, then, is the belief that there is one God, or the worship of one God despite recognizing the existence of others. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all fall into this category, as do people who follow one particular God such as Gaia or Set. Closely related to Monotheism is the belief of Duotheism. A person who practices duothesim is a follower of two deities, most often a male-female pairing. Most Wiccans fall into this category or blend this with polytheism or pantheism.

Polytheism, as one might expect, is the worship of many Gods, each individual and separate. Tribal religions from around the world fall into this category as well as many pagans that are followers of the Norse paths. Finally, pantheism is the belief that all Gods are one God who has many faces so that man might understand the divine. Pantheism can also be expressed duotheistically by the belief that all Gods are one God and all Goddesses are one Goddess, both of whom wear many faces.

We still do not know, however, what Gods are. Within all of these categories, there are further subdivisions, most with no clear cut name, that allow a closer look at what gods are. The first group to look at is the people that believe that gods are literal entities. With this belief, worship is much more likely to be of an offertory nature, invoking the gods and asking them to intercede and help on the petitioner’s behalf. Most of the world’s dominant religions follow this belief, though they are scattered throughout the five types of theistic belief.

The second group believes that Gods may be literal entities, but they really aren’t sure and so they are not really going to worry about it, besides, who wants to offend a God if they’re wrong? For these people, worship is a little less offertory, though there are still offerings made. They tend to be more geared towards nature and the earth than any of the others, with the belief that the divine is in everything around them.

The second group believes that Gods may be literal entities, but they really aren’t sure and so they are not really going to worry about it, besides, who wants to offend a God if they’re wrong? For these people, worship is a little less offertory, though there are still offerings made. They tend to be more geared towards nature and the earth than any of the others, with the belief that the divine is in everything around them.

There are many other types of beliefs that are not covered here, as to what the Gods are or are not, but this give you, as a student, a place to start and discover for yourself what they mean to you and how you will interact with them. You may find, as you study and learn more, that your ideas of what the Gods are changes from time to time. This happens to almost everyone at one time or another, and is nothing to become distraught about. It is all a part of the riddle of the Gods, and they expect it.