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“Being a Spiritual Wallflower: How Humanistic Pagans can get off the wall and dance” by John Halstead

September 3, 2014

Even under the influence of the narcotic draught, of which songs of all primitive men and peoples speak, or with the potent coming of spring that penetrates all nature with joy, these Dionysian emotions awake, and as they grow in intensity everything subjective vanishes into complete self-forgetfulness. In the German Middle Ages, too, singing and dancing crowds, ever increasing in number, whirled themselves from place to place under this same Dionysian impulse. [...] There are some who, from obtuseness or lack of experience, turn away from such phenomena as from “folk-diseases,” with contempt or pity born of consciousness of their own “healthy-mindedness.” But of course such poor wretches have no idea how corpselike and ghostly their so-called “healthy-mindedness” looks when the glowing life of the Dionysian revelers roars past them.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Read more…

What to look forward to in September at HP

September 1, 2014

This month at HP, we conclude our late summer theme of “Emotion” and begin our early autumn theme “Life and Death”.

New Column: Druidry Without Deity by Ryan Cronin

HP is pleased to announce our newest columnist, Ryan Cronin. Ryan is a former Catholic who spent almost a year living in a monastery, got a degree in theology, and is now an atheist with an interest in earth-based paganism and nature-centred spirituality. His journey has led him to explore the ideas, symbols and practices of modern druidry, as an effective framework for expressing a sense of the sacred in nature and forming connections with the other-than-human world. He is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids as well as a Dedicant member of Ar n’Draiocht Fein, but tends to practice druidry in a solitary context. He is interested in evolution, philosophy, anthropology and the psychology of religion as well as creating secular spirituality without supernatural claims. Ryan writes about his ongoing druidic exploration at Room of Roots. He is also fascinated by people’s relationship with death and its role in society, and he discusses those themes on the blog Deathly Ponderings, where he is a regular contributor. He is due to begin studying for an MA in Death, Religion and Culture with the University of Winchester in January 2015. Read more…

“Compassion as Foundation” by DT Strain

August 31, 2014

This essay was originally published at The Spiritual Naturalist Society.

Compassion is under assault in our media, entertainment, and politics. Meanwhile the faceless nature of the internet often encourages even greater levels of meanness and vitriol than would normally occur in human interactions, and this negativity unavoidably spills into other parts of our lives.

Yet, compassion is an essential part of our nature as social animals and moral beings. Thomas Merton wrote that compassion is, “the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things”. Called Rahmah in Islam, compassion is considered a major trait of God, who they call “the merciful and compassionate”. Hinduism has a principle of doing no harm called Ahimsa and their word for compassion is Daya. In Buddhism, you have the notion of wishing a release from suffering in others, called Karuna, and the notion of wishing happiness for others – loving kindness – calledMetta. When asked if cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness is part of their practice, the Buddha replied, ‘no… [it is] all of our practice.” The life of Jesus exemplifies the very essence of compassion to Christians. Judaism lists 13 attributes of compassion and leading Rabbi Hillel the Elder in the 1st Century stated that the whole Torah could be summed up as, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” adding that all the rest is merely commentary on that principle. Read more…

“Unitarian Universalism and Paganism” by CrafterYearly

August 27, 2014

I first learned about Unitarian Universalism and Paganism at roughly the same time in my life. I was 16. And I knew, at that point, exactly two Pagan families: one, the family of the woman who mentored me in the Goddess religion; the other, the family of a girl I danced with in a ballet company. The women in both families encouraged me and supported me in my interest in Paganism. They were both strong women with big personalities and full, earthy bodies. And they were both convinced that their religion—our religion—was dangerous and must be kept secret. Or, rather, that bigots and fundamentalists were dangerous, and so we must keep our religion secret in order to stay safe. Read more…

The Centrality of Emotion, Part 2: An Ancient Approach to Modern Science

August 24, 2014

“The Thinker in The Gates of Hell” at the Musée Rodin

How can we bring our emotions into right relationship with reality?

This is a key question today, not only for Naturalistic Pagans, but also Secular Buddhists, Humanistic Jews, and other naturalists. Since we hold science in high esteem, a natural place to begin is academia. However, ask this question to nearly any modern scientist or philosopher, and you won’t get a very coherent response.

Emotion is largely peripheral to modern higher learning. As we saw in Part 1, however, it was central to ancient philosophy. At the same time, ancient philosophy suffers from one major flaw: its theories are rooted in outdated models of the mind and world.

It seems the ancient and modern worlds each hold different parts of the puzzle. So the question becomes: how can we discover a path that makes emotion genuinely central, but which is also rooted in today’s best scientific evidence? Read more…

“The Centrality of Emotion, Part 1: What Ancient Philosophy Offers Modern Naturalists” by B. T. Newberg

August 23, 2014

“The Scream of Nature” by Edvard Munch

Emotion is central. As much as we naturalists embrace objective science, the reason we do so is for the sake of the subjective. If it were not for the emotional response to nature, community, and the depths of our own minds – in short, the re-enchantment of our world – there would be little point to Naturalistic Paganism at all.

This is something I’ve realized as I’ve been working to create an online educational course for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. In order to make it applicable to all paths of Spiritual Naturalism, not just Pagan ones, I’ve had to drill down into the core of what we do. What I’ve discovered is that emotion is central, but a principled approach to cultivating it is hardly to be found in the science we so cherish. Rather, we must return to ancient philosophy for a model. Part 1 of this article explores this issue, while Part 2 attempts to integrate ancient philosophy and modern science. Read more…

Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1: An Anthology of Articles from the Spiritual Naturalist Society is available for sale!

August 22, 2014

From SNS’s press release:

Spirituality Without the Supernatural? New Book Offers Bold Vision

Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1: An Anthology of Articles from the Spiritual Naturalist Society

Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1: An Anthology of Articles from the Spiritual Naturalist Society

“We are talking about a full and rich spiritual practice inspired by the wisdom from a variety of traditions, philosophies, and religions, as well as a respect for the natural universe as revealed by science.”

For most, the term ‘spirituality’ evokes the supernatural, such as the afterlife, God, prayer, and so on. But some who aren’t believers in those things are, nonetheless, taking spiritual practices head on. A new book gives a sweeping panorama of what practitioners call Spiritual Naturalism. “Exploring Spiritual Naturalism, Year 1 is an anthology of articles from the first year of the Spiritual Naturalist Society ( and is available at and Barnes & Noble online.

While many might call them atheists, the organization’s executive director, Daniel Strain, says, “I think you’ll find that most Spiritual Naturalists aren’t like the atheists commonly found in the media and encountered in online forums. Our aim is to be compassionate, mindful, and humble. Our practice involves cultivating these qualities in ourselves.”

But how can there be a spirituality without, well… spirits? Strain explains, “The root of spirituality comes from the Latin ‘spiritus’ which meant wind or breath – the essence of something, so it’s actually a much broader term. It’s like calling all tissue Kleenex or referring to all soft drinks as Coke. The supernatural religions are simply the dominant brand.”

There are still leftover artifacts of that broader meaning in our language today, Strain points out. For example, we still talk about ‘school spirit’ or ‘the spirit of the law’ without meaning anything supernatural. “Therefore, the spirit of a thing is the essence of a thing. For us, spirituality is about the essential things in life, as opposed to the mundane or profane.”

If you believe in God and salvation, then those will be what you find to be ‘the essential’ things. But what about these Spiritual Naturalists? The organization, now in its second year, wanted to make clear they are talking about something much deeper than merely atheists meditating.” Strain says, “We are talking about a full and rich spiritual practice inspired by the wisdom from a variety of traditions, philosophies, and religions, as well as a respect for the natural universe as revealed by science. Naturalistic practices like these have existed in the past, such as with the Stoics who were materialists, and even some schools of Buddhism, as the Buddha specifically discouraged speculation about the supernatural and things beyond our experience, in favor of a more practical approach that sought to address suffering here and now. We want to reunite the natural universe and that sense of the sacred.”

There have been seminal works in religious and spiritual naturalism before, but the Society’s book takes the next steps in applied naturalistic spirituality. Arranged by theme, its articles address how science fits in, advice on practice and ritual, handling tough times, applied issues, and their take on a variety of religions and philosophies. Rather than talk about what not to believe in, Exploring Spiritual Naturalism describes comprehensive life paths for flourishing. As Strain puts it, “These practices are nothing less than a path to freedom from fear and the bonds of circumstance as a condition for happiness.”

Readers can get the book at these links:


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