Today we continue our late-winter theme of “Order and Structure” with Nick Ace Westward. This originally appeared at skeptophile.com.
It’s only after reading a post at skepchick.org that I really felt like I’ve got my own personal beliefs straight in my own head; in it, Judaism is discussed as being both a religion and a culture. It seems clear that people are able to be part of the latter without accepting even the most core tenets of the former, thus making it possible to have a secular Jew, or Jewish atheist, without contradiction. It’s all about heritage.
So it is with me. I define myself as pagan (or sometimes as heathen because I like the word), but don’t believe there are supreme supernatural entities interfering with life on earth. I don’t believe in an afterlife, or reincarnation, or precognition. I don’t attend any sort of temple, and don’t recognise the authority of any high priests or priestesses. I don’t indulge in arcane rites, dance around a fire skyclad, or trust a deity to cure my ills.
So what is paganism to me? Well, as I alluded to above, I immerse myself in the culture of paganism – the history of the pagan people, the mythology, the values. In particular, those of the Scandinavian cultures; something that goes sadly unnoticed by most of my fellow Britons is just how much of a role the “North-men” have played in our island’s history. Most will not, for instance, know that the Norman invasion of 1066 (as in the Battle of Hastings) was carried out not by the French but by Scandinavian people who had settled in what is now northern France.
I wear a Mjollnir (Thor’s Hammer) pendant at all times, I read the ancient Icelandic sagas (e.g. Njalssaga, Volsungasaga), and I’m educating myself wherever possible about all aspects of the culture. I find their values to be the closest to my own, and one of the most important things in the world to me is a sense of honour – something largely seen as an anachronism in today’s society. It’s one of those subjects on which I’m liable to talk for hours.
I became pagan as an anti-conformist teenager thing, I’ll admit. I was educated to the age of 11 in what was (though not explicitly advertised as such) a Church of England primary school, with hymns in assemblies and subtle indoctrination. I never believed a word of it, probably because the questioning and sceptical mindset of my parents informed my own; it’s hardly surprising that I went looking for alternatives as soon as I was able. I ate up every scrap of information I could on Britain’s and Europe’s pre-Christian culture, and even today I never miss an opportunity to remind people what our Christian holidays are based on and why. It probably annoys those closest to me, but they put up with it bless them.
So this is me. The pagan atheist, the atheistic pagan, the secular pagan, the pagan humanist – whatever you want to call it. It’s a cultural thing.