Why do ritual?

There is no single practice for Humanistic Pagans. The religious practices of some Humanistic Pagans may be outwardly indistinguishable from other Pagans, including prayers and offerings to “gods” and working “magic”, while other Humanistic Pagans may not use theistic symbolism in ritual. Humanistic Pagans often can easily practice alongside other kinds of Pagans. Many observe some form of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. Jon Cleland Host brings science and Paganism together in his unique family celebrations. Some Humanistic Pagans turn seemingly mundane activities – like making stock, crafting or composting – into religious practices. Other Naturalistic Pagans join Pagan organizations, like the druid fellowship ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin) or the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD), which include naturalistic and non-naturalistic Pagans. Or they create their own traditions, like Rua Lupa’s Ehoah, WhiteHorse’s Druidic Order of Naturalists, and Mark Green’s Atheopaganism (also a Facebook group). Humanistic Pagans also seek to learn about the natural world through scientific inquiry and direct experience. They also meditate and read mythology for inspiration and insight. And they work to improve both themselves and society through responsible action.

Ritual, too, is an essential part of many Humanistic Pagans’ religious practice. Through ritual, Humanistic Pagans seek to express their sense of wonder and reverence at the universe and to connect on a deeper level with that process of life. The ritual enactment of myth helps to transform our understanding of the natural world into a religious experience. Some Humanistic Pagans may invoke deities, spirits, or ancestors as part of their rituals, but these are usually understood in poetic, allegorical, or psychological terms. This is not the same thing as play-acting, though. Ritual is known to have many psychological and social benefits, which are not affected by the absence of belief in supernatural beings, including:

  • facilitation of group cohesion and cooperation
  • management of anxiety
  • fostering of individuation and personal transformation
  • cultivation of a sense of meaningfulness
  • a felt sense of connection to something greater than ourselves

Ritual enables us to cultivate certain subjective states of mind which are personally healing and socially and environmentally integrative. This is especially important in our time of widespread spiritual alienation and ecological desecration. Ritual can also give rise to experiences which help motivate socially and environmentally responsible behavior.

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