Dr. Eric Steinhart draws on his philosophical background to create a naturalistic foundation for the Pagan Wheel of the Year. To better understand axiarchism, the philosophy on which Dr. Steinhart draws to create a Naturalistic Pagan theology, see Part 1 and Part 2 of his essay “Axiarchism and Paganism”.
At Beltane, the light, which has concentrated itself into life, now concentrates itself into a novel kind of life. Evolution builds on itself. During Beltane, life reaches a new level of self-engagement: it becomes self-aware. Perhaps life achieves self-awareness on millions of planets in our galaxy. But our self-awareness includes only the history of life on earth. It is arguable that many species have reached self-awareness here on earth; and, even if they have not, in the future, they might. Human self-awareness is not the only possible kind of self-awareness. Nevertheless, it is the only kind we can authentically discuss. So, at Beltane, Pagan naturalists focus on the development of humanity.
Beltane begins with the first members of the genus Homo. As Beltane progresses, modern humans very quickly appear. These first humans reproduce, bringing the next generation into being. The wheels of human progress start rolling uphill. During Beltane each previous generation of humans is surpassed by the next generation. And while the wheels of human progress may sometimes crash down into valleys during Beltane, it is a remarkable fact that they generally roll uphill. The series of generations of humans keeps climbing the hill of human progress, towards higher heights of flourishing and prosperity. As humanity rolls through Beltane, our lives and societies on average get better and better. Nevertheless, our lives and societies suffer from terrible defects. And human self-awareness brings a new kind of suffering into the universe: it brings moral suffering, which is closely linked with social and political suffering.
Eric Steinhart is a professor of philosophy at William Paterson University. He is the author of four books, including Your Digital Afterlives: Computational Theories of Life after Death. He is currently working on naturalistic foundations for Paganism, linking Paganism to traditional Western philosophy. He grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. He loves New England and the American West, and enjoys all types of hiking and biking, chess, microscopy, and photography.