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Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host: “Flower Power”

April 23, 2014

Blue! Yellow! Purple! Red! Flowers bring an explosion of color into our lives, especially now as we approach Beltane. The beautiful sight and smell of flowers soothes our senses like few other things can, explaining why we humans take the time to grow so many flowers on land that could be growing actual food.

Like so much of nature, flowers have a lot to teach us. Our efforts to understand the real world have given us incredible information – often far more than our grandparents had – and this knowledge of the history and workings of the world around us can power our metaphors more strongly than fictional tales. But what lesson can we take from the flowers that fill our lives with color every May?

One possible lesson from flowers is the wonderful success that cooperation can bring. Imagine what the world was like sometime more than 100 million years ago, before flowers as we know them evolved. To our mammalian eyes, the most important feature of our world then may be the towering, fearsome dinosaurs. But, if we can find a place of safety under the underbrush, and momentarily pull our minds away from the sharp teeth which killed so many of our Ancestors, a discovery awaits us. Down here, a different struggle of life is playing out, as the same evolutionary factors of competition and reproduction that we vertebrates deal with are carried out in the theater of plants and insects. Plants often face a greater challenge in moving their sperm than we mobile animals do. For millions of years, the best they could do was to use things like wind, waves, and the chance movement of insects to move their sperm (pollen).

We see a green branch in front of us – and wonder why there are more insects on this one than others? Are they eating it? Apparently not. Though we can’t smell anything different, those insects can. This plant has a mutation which has resulted in a slightly different scent around the pollen production area, and hence the attracted insects. Similar mutations include making a normal secretion edible to these insects, which are now being attracted by the scent, and being rewarded with food. Were these mutations unlucky for the plant, a waste of caloric resources to benefit some other creature? No. The benefit was well worth the few calories lost – because these insects have bumped against the nearby parts of the plant, and will carry their cargo of pollen directly to other members of this plant species, instead of it being wasted on the wind. It’s easy to see how these first fumbling mutations toward flowerhood helped everyone, and so were selected for. Both insects and flowers benefited so much that many young followed, and the co-evolutionary, cooperative partnership between insects and flowers began. Later improvements in sweeter nectar, more powerful scents, more visible flowers, and insect brains hard wired to look for those flowers followed.

Moving forward toward today, we see what a successful partnership it was! As flowers evolved to be ever more alluring, the insects slowly became expert pollinators. Their partnership spread to fill our Earth, with descendants evolving into literally millions of different flowers and insects. Though people often associate evolution with competition, flowers remind us of the often unstoppable evolutionary power of friendly cooperation, where everyone wins.

We could just see flowers only as a nice part of life – but it’s so much richer for me to see their full history too, to glimpse the millions of years of innovation, improvement, and teamwork that gives us each flower we see today, and the incredible detail behind each petal. May the beautiful flowers at every turn inspire us to remember, both on Beltane and throughout the year, the power of friendly cooperation.

The Author

Jon Cleland Host

In addition to writing the Starstuff, Contemplating column here at HumanisticPaganism, Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see, and the blog at Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.

See other Starstuff, Contemplating posts.

See Dr. Jon Cleland Host’s other posts.

Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology by Glen Gordon: “Regional Direction Devotional”

April 20, 2014

“Water World” by Glynn Gorick

Over the years I have found myself in the position of creating earth-centered ceremony for my Unitarian Universalist congregation. The intent of these events was to fuse a naturalistic sense of place with a loose Wiccanate structure, in order to appeal to humanists and Neopagans in attendance. One product of this work has been this regional direction devotional designed for the Pacific Northwest.


Called by impulse to survive,
 the salmon lay eggs in the east, 
the mountains give birth to 
sacred rivers, cutting pathways in the earth. 
The [region name] stretches into the east
where the sun bursts each morning.


Called by impulse to survive,
 the geese fly from the north.
 The north brings us the snow
-wrapped within the sacred darkness. 
The [region name] stretches into the north
 with the cold embrace of transformation.


Called by impulse to survive,
 the salmon swim from the west.
 Clouds come from the west, 
carrying sacred rain in their bosoms. 
The [region name] stretches into the west
where the sun sinks each evening.


Called by impulse to survive,
 the geese flew to the south. 
The south awaits patiently
 for the return of the sacred brightness.
 The [region name] stretches into the south
 with the warm embrace of transformation.


We mourn with the land
 as our industry confuses the seasons;, as our neglect threatens the survival of many species, 
as our ignorance has blinded us from our deep humanity.
We gather here to touch our deep humanity through celebrating
 the land as our flesh and the sky as our breath.

One thing the keen observer might notice is that I start in the east and go counter-clockwise instead of clockwise as some might expect. The reasoning behind this is to follow the path of the earth around the sun and not the perceived path of the sun in the sky. Given our understanding of the earth’s gravitational pull around the sun, I feel counter-clockwise is more appropriate.

Anyone with knowledge of Pacific Northwest ecology might identify with the imagery I’ve invoked:

• On this side of the Continental Divide, rivers flow east to west.
• Salmon are a vital traditional food staple of local indigenous people, and restoring salmon population is an important conservation effort.
• The geese have prominent migration patterns during the changing of the seasons.
• The warm winds often come from the south, and the cold winds often come from the north.
• Cold air on the west of the Cascades pushes warm air eastward.

I felt it necessary for the closing to speak directly to the impact of humanity on the environment, but to end with a positive focus of re-cultivating humanity’s sacred place within the ecosystem.

I hope this serves as a practical example of how sacred ecology builds new rituals, ceremonies, and traditions from the landscape and local ecology where one lives. Also, it can be easily applied to already existing traditions. The idea is to ground religious events with local ecological awareness.

I would be delighted to hear others’ comments on:

• How do you integrate local ecological awareness and identity into your ceremonies, rituals, traditions, and celebrations?
• If you were to use the above example as a template ,what features of your life-place’s unique landscape and ecology would you be compelled to include and why?
• What role does local ecology play in your personal spiritual identity? (Whether it be Wicca, witchcraft, Neo-druid, Asatru, religious naturalist, Unitarian Universalist, deist, polytheist, Neopagan, or any other philosophy or spiritual system.)

For me, the key is to combine creative inspiration with practical knowledge of your surroundings. If you feel so moved and inspired, be free to take my words and rewrite them to be specific to your life-place and your relationship with its unique ecology. Or share a unique short sample of poetry, prose, or prayer you have created to express the intimate relationship you have with the land around you.

A version of this essay was first published at No Unsacred Places on Dec. 17, 2012.

The Author

Glen Gordon was introduced to Paganism by friends while living overseas in Europe during the late 90′s. He underwent both Wiccan and Neodruidic training during his formative years, but had not self-identified as a Pagan when his path diverged into land-centered spiritual naturalism ten years ago. His focus has been on cultivating beneficial relationships with the natural living world surrounding him wherever he lives. During this time, he discovered Unitarian Universalism and has been active in his local congregations for many years. Since 2007, he has worked on varied projects regarding BioRegional Animism, including this 5 minute video, the words of which came from a short UU sermon he gave. He has spoken on the topic of ecology and the land on a few occasions for his local congregation and facilitated a now-disbanded group of UU Pagans and spiritual naturalists. In the past, he maintained the blog, Postpagan, and is excited to share some of that material at HumanisticPaganism. Currently, you can find Glen writing occasionally for No Unsacred Places and helping achieve Green sanctuary status for his beloved UU community, where he helps create and lead ecological aware earth- and land- focused ceremonies for the solstices and equinoxes.

See other Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology posts.

See Glen Gordon’s other posts.

Mid-Month Meditation: “Veiled Woman” by B.T. Newberg

April 16, 2014
Editor’s note: We encourage our readers to take these mid-month meditations as an opportunity to take a short break from everything else.  Rather than treating these posts the way you would any other post, set aside 10 minutes someplace quiet and semi-private to have an experience.  Take a minute to relax first.  After looking at the post, take a few minutes to let the experience sink in.  If it feels right, leave a comment.
For discussion: What feelings does this image evoke? What memories does it cause you to recall? What thoughts do you have about the picture?

Poetry by A. D’Agio

April 13, 2014

“Call To The Quarters” by D’Agio

call to the Four, by river-stones bend
while fire sprites swirl, by here we send
magick’s a foot, though hard to see
it’s night as the rook, broad as this tree

we light with care for all behold
the flame a midair, red orange aglow
its spark of life in you and me
most aged intent, broad as this tree

crocus in hand, oh fragrant and true
by moon it hath, my lady renews
flow o’r my soul, refresh and be free
so watered by hope, broad as this tree

deosil till dawn, mud twix the toes
on ground of all being, we’re n’er alone
land of the source, a veiled mystery
none cares for us more, broad as this tree

our leaves adrift on summer’s end
each ones’ a gift and none are penned
we heed the call, in true amity
spread love to all, broad as this tree


“Succession” by D’Agio


a seed lays; a seed lays; sleeps lays; sleeps sips tilts;
a seed pushes out, falls and crumbles
deepens soils enriching a bold shrub, and expansive cherry blooms…

then taller pine trees teach dark ringed oaks stretched out they point,
this one, this child will stand-in for our weeping elders who bend to chatter;
their eyes opened, soaked with water so they can not see…

Though, they are changed by the same complex, interactive dna-enviro entanglements,
they act purposeful, fearful and determinedly separate from the cycles.
Look carefully! Generations and generations have carefully nurtured these seeds of transformation.
It should be no surprise, those that stand today shall become the dust and muck of the morrow.
It cannot be reversed, delayed, stopped, or prayed away. We are here for just this season.
Accept, nah embrace and be the thrill that lies in knowing we have been the end and the new

a seed lays waiting…

The Author

You can read more of A. D’Agio’s poetry here.


DE NATURA DEORUM: “The Mystic Demystified: Making theistic language serve the religious naturalist”

April 11, 2014

De Natura Deorum is a semi-seasonal column where we explore the beliefs of Naturalistic Pagans about the nature of deity.

For the rest of this month, the theme here at HP is “Inspiration”.  Some of our contributors have shared their poetry, which got me thinking about how we religious naturalist use language, especially religious language.  The poem “The Mystic” by Don Marquis provides an interesting case study in the how religious naturalists use religious language.

Donald Robert Perry Marquis [pron. mar-kwis] (1878–1937), also known as Don Marquis, was an American poet, as well as a celebrated New York newspaper columnist, humorist, playwright and author. He was well-known in his day, mostly for his satire.  In 1922, Marquis published the poem entitled “The Mystic” in his collection, Poems and Portraits.  Marquis’ poem was later set to the tune of Sir Hubart Parry’s 1916 anthem “Jerusalem” (the unofficial anthem of England) by Janet Wyatt (1934- ).  It appears in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, as “Have I Not Known”, No. 337, which is where I first saw it.

1. Have I not known the sky and sea
Put on a look as hushed and stilled
As if some ancient prophecy drew close upon to be fulfilled?
Like mist the houses shrink and swell,
like blood the highways throb and beat,
the sapless stones beneath my feet
turn foliate with miracle.

2. And life and death but one thing are —
and I have seen this wingless world
cursed with impermanence and whirled
like dust across the summer swirled,
And I have dealt with Presences
behind the walls of Time and Place,
and I have seen this world star — bright,
shining wonderful in space.

When I first started attending the Unitarian church near my home, I made a point of searching through the hymnals for songs and lyrics that I resonated with my religious naturalist heart.  Wyatt’s hymn stood out to me because of the sense of mystery it evoked.  So I went looking for the origin of the words and discovered Marquis’ poem.  But when I compared Marquis’ poem and Wyatt’s lyrics, I was struck by the differences.  Specifically, Wyatt’s arrangement omits significant portions of Marquis’ poem.  Marquis’ full poem is set out below.  The omitted language is emphasized (bold).  Read through it once, omitting the emphasized language, and then read it again with the emphasized language.

Have I not known the sky and sea
Put on a look as hushed and stilled
As if some ancient prophecy
Drew on to be fulfilled?

And would it be so strange a thing,
Among the rainy hills of Spring,
A veritable god to see
In luminous reality?
To see him pass, as bursts of sun
Pass over the valleys and are gone?

Have I not seen the candid street
Grow secret in the blaze of noon,
Swaying before the Paraclete
Who weaves its being through his rune?

And would it be too strange to say
I see a dead man come this way?
Like mist the houses shrink and swell,
Like blood the highways throb and beat,
The sapless stones beneath my feet
Turn foliate with miracle;
And from the crowd my dead men come,
Fragrant with youth… and living mirth
Moves lips and eyes that once were dumb
And blinded in the charnel earth.

And I have dwelt with Presences
Behind the veils of Time and Place
And hearkened to the silences
that guard the courts of grace,
And I have dared the Distances
Where the red planets race—
And I have seen that Near and Far
and God and Man and Avatar

And Life and Death but one thing are—
And I have seen this wingless world
Curst with impermanence and whirled
Like dust across the Summer swirled,
And I have seen this world a star
All wonderful in Space!

There is an art to arranging a poem to music.  And arranging a hymn for religious naturalists and humanists requires a special nuance, I would think.  Of course, Wyatt may have had any number of reasons for her omissions.  No doubt, though, her intended audience was one factor.  The omitted language includes the words “God”, “Avatar”, and “Paraclete” (which is used in the New Testament and Septuagint for “comforter”), which would have been unacceptable to the humanists of her day.  Also omitted are the references to dead men walking and talking, which could be taken as an allusion to the Christian Resurrection.  Curiously, Wyatt leaves in the language about “Presences” beyond the veil of time and space, though she changes “dwelt” to “dealt”.

But Marquis’ poem is not unambiguously Christian or even theistic.  He does not say he saw a god or that he saw the dead rise, only that he has seen the sky and sea through a mystic’s eyes.  When nature is seen in this way, he asks, would it be any more wondrous to see a god or a miracle?  And though he speaks of God, it is not the monotheist’s God, which is a person, but the pantheist’s God, which is All.  Indeed, some of Marquis’ other writings (see links below) reveal him to have been very much a humanist.

So were’s my question: What is lost by Wyatt’s omission of the theistic language?  Is something essential to Marquis’ poem lost in Wyatt’s translation?  I think maybe so, though it is difficult to say what it is.  With the exception of the reference to “Presences”, Wyatt’s hymn is a beautiful expression of the experience of a religious naturalist.  Even the word “Presences” might be understood naturalistically as something like Brendan Myers’ “Immensities”.

But there is something in Marquis’ poem that is missing from Wyatt’s hymn.  Marquis connects the experience of the religious naturalist to the experience of the theist, and asks “Which is the miracle?”  “Both,” he seems to answer.  I don’t think that Marquis is trying to say that theophanies and miracles are as real as the sky and sea, but rather that the sky and sea are themselves theophanies and miracles.  And I don’t think he can say this as well without the theistic language.  I just wonder if we religious humanists sometimes cut ourselves off from a deeper experience out of a fear of theistic language.

For discussion: Which version did you like best?  Marquis poem or Wyatt’s hymn?  And why?

Here are some other short writings by Don Marquis which have a humanistic appeal:

The God-Maker, Man (“… Multiform are the tale’s variations, Time and clime ever tinting the dreams. Yet the motive, through endless mutations, The essence, immutable gleams. Though one may bow down ‘neath the Crescent, And one twirl the prayer-wheel of Buddh, And one vow the Nazarene present … Yet each of them glimpses a truth. …”)

Prophets (“… Man is evolving into another sort of being in the same manner, and it is only reasonable to suppose that this future species has had its individual forerunners, and will have others. This is the explanation of the Christs and the Buddhas. …”)

The Nobler Lesson (“… O futile, age-long talk of death and birth ! His life, that is the one thing wonder-worth : Not how he came, but how he lived on earth. …”)

The Cart and the Horse (“… There is a something superior to both brute force and conscious reason in man which has been responsible always for what we call his morality and for his various religions. This ‘something’—not to put a name upon that which has been called by a hundred names—has been responsible for human pursuit of ideals, has resulted in the various symbolical systems which we call religions. The creeds are not responsible for morality. The ‘something’—the God-in-man has been the creator of both morality and creeds—has shown man the need of his virtues and has impelled him to make symbols. …”)

In Mars, What Avatar? (“Do creeds of earth have any worth On yonder spinning star? Which godheads sway the Milky Way? In Mars, what Avatar? …”)

Collections of poetry by Don Marquis:

Poems and Portraits

Dreams and Dust

Last but not least, here’s a link to UU sermon entitled, “I Have Dealt With Presences”, which has an interesting take on the word “Presence” in Wyatt’s hymn.

The Author

John H. Halstead

John Halstead is a former Mormon, now eclectic Neo-Pagan with an interest in ritual as an art form, ecopsychology, theopoetics, Jungian theory, and the idea of death as an act of creation (palingenesis).  He is the author of the blogs, The Allergic Pagan at Patheos and Dreaming the Myth Forward at Pagan Square.

John currently serves at the managing editor here at HP.

See John Halstead’s other posts.

Two paintings by Annika Garratt

April 9, 2014

Today we continue our early spring theme, Inspiration, where we will showcase examples of the artistic imagination flowing from the depths of the universe through the minds and hands of Naturalistic Pagans and friends.

The videos below show the process of two of Annika’s paintings coming to life. Enjoy!

Sun Salutation painting

Mother Earth painting

The Artist

Annika Garratt

Annika is an artist/illustrator from Bournemouth UK. She produces colourful mixed media artwork on canvas as well as fluid ink illustrations, often based on folklore and mythological themes. Annika sells original paintings on canvas as well as fine art prints. If you have any questions about Annika’s work, feel free to contact her by email. You can also find Annika at:

See Annika’s other posts.

Full Moon Poem by AtheistWitch

April 6, 2014

Today we continue our early spring theme, Inspiration, where we showcase examples of the poetic imagination flowing from the depths of the universe through the minds and hands of Naturalistic Pagans and friends.

This was originally published at AtheistWitch’s blog.

Ok, so I celebrate the full moon, right?

It seemed like a good natural cycle to follow in my aim to be more aware of nature, and also has a very strong tradition in “witchy” circles. The problem, however, was figuring out what to do? What I often did was read “The Charge of the Goddess” by Doreen Valiente, a very influential early Wiccan. It’s a beautiful poem, but impractical for me in some ways. I find it to be too maternalistic, in the sense that it is the Goddess talking down to the human. I didn’t like the God talking down to the human in Christianity, so what is good for the goose is good for the gander. So I decided to try my shot at making own liturgy, one which would be naturalistic and also speak to what I was celebrating. But at the same time, I tried to keep a poetic register.

So without further ado …

I stand here below, gazing at the sky
Contemplating my home world’s only satellite,

The only celestial body visited by my kind,
Grey iron ore Amazon who coaxes the tides,
and whose bright reflected beams put a twinkle in my eyes
Eternal timekeeper as you slim and expand, as you recede and advance I remember again
that life is a circle, a loop without end,
our hormones tick tick as our energies we expend

White form in the darkness has inflamed the minds,
of men and women since the beginning of time
So I rejoice in life and ancestors as I gaze towards the heavens,
Rare full moon that is but one of six plus seven
and brands much of the magic I create with my mind
This night of plenilunio, so honor it I

The author


AtheistWitch: I was born in the middle of the United States, but have been living in Europe for most of my adult life.  I was raised an Evangelical Christian, but started to disconnect from my denomination at around the age of 16 when I realized I was gay.  I only admitted to being an atheist around the age of 23.  At some point, I started researching Wicca and Paganism in depth and liked most of what I saw, but didn’t want to give up my Atheism.  Since Wicca’s symbols are nominally related to real natural events or aspects, I realized I didn’t have to. While I don’t consider myself a Wiccan, I today call myself a naturalistic, atheistic eclectic, solitary witch.  I celebrate the wheel of the year, meditate, do rituals both complex and simple, strive towards better understanding of self and others, as I try to be an ecological eater and walk through the greener parts around my area on a regular basis.  It is an ever-evolving practice, one that attempts to remain scientifically and logically grounded, while at the same time involving a lot of humor and being very “me”.”  Here is the link to my blog:

See AtheistWitch’s other posts.


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