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Happy Atheopaganism Day!

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S4E25 TRANSCRIPT:

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Mark: Welcome back to The Wonder, Science Based Paganism. I'm your host, Mark,

Yucca: and I'm Yucca.

Mark: and today we are celebrating Atheopagan Day, which is the anniversary of when our community first started.

Yucca: Online community.

Mark: yes the the founding of our Facebook group, which is where most of our engages online was on August 5th,

2012. So as we're recording this, it's the 11th anniversary of the founding of that community. And so we're going to talk a little bit about the history and how things have changed, what we're doing now and what we're looking towards in the future.

Yucca: that's right, and it's been a lot,

Mark: Yeah, it really has. It's it's, it's been, and it's been such a beautiful ride. I mean, obviously there have been setbacks and frustrations and all the rest of that, but. Mostly, it's just been so heartening to see and feel this community come together in all the wonderful ways that it is.

Yucca: Yeah, and it's 11 years is really hard to believe. That's, that's a lot. So,

Mark: I was saying before we started recording, in neopagan years, that's even more. It's like dog years or

Yucca: yeah,

Mark: Because the culture evolves really quickly you know, in, in the time that I've been involved in, in Neopagan Circles which started in 1987, we've had at least three distinct phases Thank you.

of development within the community in terms of changes in perspective and paradigm just really transformational things that have happened from the sort of loosey goosey still, you know, not very clueful about things like consent late 60s all the way up to today.

Yucca: Right

Mark: pretty, pretty cool. 11 years, a lot can change.

Yucca: yeah. And I think a lot, really, in the last four years, five years, at least, that I've been witnessing it seems like there's been such a shift in a lot of, not just within kind of our smaller subset of the pagan community, but the larger pagan community, and also a little bit of the, the general cultural attitude towards something like paganism. There's definitely been a big shift since, you know, since I was a kid, you know, thinking back on, it's just, it's a normal, in a lot of ways, it's a very normal thing now. I know there's a lot, definitely areas of the country that that's not the case, but on kind of a big scale, it's, it really has the, Level of acceptance has grown.

Mark: Yeah, and I think there are, I mean, there are certainly entities and figures that that are not us, that we, that contributed heavily to that. I mean, like the Lady Liberty League, for example, which pressed The U. S. military to recognize Wicca as one of the symbols you could put on a gravestone in a military cemetery.

Getting them to recognize any pagan religion was really like pulling teeth, and they pushed on it for about 20 years before they finally got it.

Yucca: Yeah, right,

Mark: And more representation in mainstream media, all that kind of stuff has really helped.

Yucca: yeah. So I think it's fascinating to see, or to really reflect on, the changes within our community and how those are influenced from outside sources and, you know, the influence that we've had as well and all of that is, I mean, somebody should do their somebody should do their dissertation on that. I think that would make a fascinating one.

Mark: yeah, me too, me too. Yeah, there's just, there's so much to say about it, but why don't we go back to the beginning,

Yucca: Right.

Mark: And start there, and just kind of, you know, work our way forward. So, atheopaganism started out as an idea that I had for myself.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: I had had, I'd been involved with the local pagan community for a very long time, had some really off putting experiences in the late 90s, early 2000s that reinforced to me how much capital B belief had become important

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: in the pagan culture, and which had not been true when I first joined.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: And as an atheist pagan, I was feeling really oppressed by this and then it got to the point where I was offended by it because there were a couple of circumstances that I saw where the will of the gods was used as an excuse for some really horrible behavior.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: And I left.

Yucca: Mm

Mark: But within six months, I mean, I was depressed.

I, I missed my rituals, and I missed my altar, and I missed my friends, and, you know, I missed celebrating the seasons, all that kind of stuff. So I started thinking, well, what is a religion really, and what do they do for us, and how can I get that stuff without having to subscribe to a bunch of supernaturalism?

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: And I started working on an essay, and this was in 2005. And the essay was done in 2009, and that was what eventually became my book that came out in 2019,

Yucca: Mm

Mark: about, first of all, about kind of my journey through this and the science You know, the neuroscience and the confirmation bias, the various fallacies, apophenia, and, you know, all those phenomena that tend to make us fooled by our senses.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: And then the second part of the book was laying out, okay, well, taking as a given that the value that, for me, is going to be about revering the Earth. How can I practice a pagan practice around the wheel of the year that doesn't involve anything supernatural or culturally appropriated?

Yucca: hmm. Mm hmm. Mm

Mark: And so I wrote all that up, and it was a 40 page essay, and and I was ready to happily go trotting forward, you know, using my little model for myself.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: But I had conversations with friends,

Yucca: So the essay had been just more of a way of you to, to clarify your thoughts, right? And work through those ideas and you just, just the writing of it was how you worked through these ideas.

Mark: That's right. I mean, I'm a writer and that is the way that it's like having an internal narrative, you know, as I explored these ideas on paper or in bits

Yucca: as you explored in

Mark: in, in, in writing new ideas would occur to me, new connections would occur to me. And so that's just the modality that I use in, in kind of framing my, my thinking about things.

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And so, as I said, I was ready to go trotting forward with my, my little practice that was for me, but when I had conversations, and so I re engaged the local pagan community. Understanding that I was going to be myself, and not to be rude about it, you know, if I go to somebody else's ritual and they're invoking gods, I'm not going to say anything about it.

Yucca: Sure. Yeah.

Mark: But the rituals that I conduct, that I invite people to, were going to be, you know, godless, non supernaturalist kinds of rituals.

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And in the course of these conversations, I started having people say, well, don't tell anybody, but actually, that's really kind of what I believe, too.

Yucca: Yeah,

Mark: and you really ought to put this essay up on the internet and, you know, have, get some comments on it, have, get some discussion started around it.

And in 2009, I did that. I put it up on Scribd.

Yucca: Remember that.

Mark: remember that? It still exists. But there was a time when Scribd was a place that you went for papers and documents and

Yucca: Yep. It was the place for a while. Yeah. Okay.

Mark: And started getting some feedback and stuff. You know, having more of these conversations where people were confiding in me that, you know, a non theist or non literal theist way of orienting to paganism was, was theirs.

And this particularly skewed towards people who were scientists, who were educators, who were engineers. You know, a lot of folks that had that grounding in the scientific method and critical thinking, they were the ones that were not subscribing to supernaturalist myths so much, interestingly enough. So, what happened was there, there ended up being enough of these people that I started realizing, you know, there's, this thing has legs.

It's not just for me. It's resonating for other people, and they should have access to it too. And I need to stop here and say, I had a major research failing during the time when I was researching all the stuff for this essay, because I am not the first Nons, supernaturalist, pagan. There are other people that were doing that and that were on the internet, and I just didn't find them.

Yucca: mm

Mark: So I kind of reinvented the wheel. And that's an interesting thing about non Theus paganism is that it seems like that happens quite a bit. People sort of come to this conclusion on their own.

Yucca: That was the family, that was what I was raised with, right? But it had never, there was no like, there was no word or identity to distinguish, that was just what we were,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: And it had never occurred to me to, to search that up, something like that, until a little bit later on, which we haven't quite gotten to that the story yet, but, but encountering.

That the belief part where, you know, later on I'd be publishing things you know, making YouTube videos or things and having people just, just furious with me that like, how dare you call yourself a pagan if you don't believe in

Mark: yeah.

Yucca: the gods, literally, and just being completely perplexed because that was not the paganism that I had grown up with. Right, I was just like, what are you talking about? I have no, like, what?

Mark: right? Yeah.

Yucca: Wait, you're, you're taking this literal? Are you sure? Okay. Right, that was where I was coming from with that because I hadn't, you know, I, I mean, I'm interrupting you a little bit with this, but you talked about like the three different phases or like the epochs that you've seen.

And I think that one of them was this influx of a lot of new people into paganism, bringing with them. These expectations from some of the more mainstream religions in which faith is a major component. I think that Christian faith idea was brought in.

Mark: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that came in the late 90s, up until around 2000, and that really, really changed how paganism was practiced and conceptualized within the community, at least as I experienced it. Mm hmm.

Yucca: And I, and the atheopaganism was... I mean, it was still happening on the internet a lot, and when the group was founded, that was still culture of paganism as a whole, like on the big scale, there's lots of people being really into the literal belief, but I think we're moving out of that to a certain extent. But that's, there's still areas that believe that, there's still...

Like, traditions in that way, but that the larger community overall is less worried about that.

Mark: Yeah, I think so, and I certainly hope so. I mean, one of the things about paganism is that it tends to be very inclusive and tolerant and pluralistic. And so there are lots of different kinds of practices and perspectives that fall under the pagan umbrella,

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And I think that increasingly, especially over the last four or five years, The idea of non theist paganism has become yet another one of those identities that's just accepted as being part of the bigger

Yucca: know.

Mark: Yeah,

Yucca: I mean, there's still people who get very, very upset about it and want to do their gatekeeping, but it, it I definitely saw a shift in the last few years that I was that the Pagan Perspective channel was running. Like, in the first few years, it would, I would get a lot of...

of real, like, really upset commenters about it, and then in the later years, more people being like, Oh yeah, that's, I do that too. Yeah, yeah, me too, me too.

Mark: huh. Yeah. Yeah, I really think that's so, and, I mean, of the core questions, I mean, maybe we can do an episode at some point about validity and the nature of realness, because this is often the argument that's made, well, it's not real paganism, or it's not a real religion. And to me, those are meaningless questions.

Yucca: It just comes down to how you're defining it, like, you're just gonna choose to make it real the way that you, like, Your way of pagan is the real way, right? I remember having disagreements with people going, well, if we go back to, you know, Rome, and this is where, you know, the history of the word pagan, well, the people who were the, the pagans, they believed in, in multiple gods, and, but my argument would be, okay, but why are you making that?

Your criteria. Why aren't you making the criteria that they lived in the countryside and spoke, like, Latin? Like, how about, why is that the criteria? I mean, because we've had so many different criteria for what makes somebody a pagan over the years, like, you're just selecting that one specific thing to say that that's what makes somebody pagan.

Why isn't something else also valid?

Mark: right.

Yucca: Well, I mean, the answer is because then they don't get to gatekeep it and feel special,

Mark: right,

Yucca: you know.

Mark: right. And particularly this goes to the The sense on people's part that old traditions are somehow more valuable or more valid or more real, right?

Yucca: hmm,

Mark: And that's just a principle that I reject. I think humans have been evolving culture and ideas and technology and skills for our entire existence.

And there are things that we can gain from modernity that we don't find in ancient cultures that are of value. Thank you.

Yucca: right. Yeah, that

Mark: So,

Yucca: Value isn't inherent in whether it is old or new or whichever, right? Is it relevant to, to us now? Right?

Mark: which is one of the reasons why I reject the Bronze Age, you know, Christianity models is that I don't think they fit very well in a modern society,

Yucca: yeah.

Mark: And the more people try to shoehorn modern society into it, the more oppressed we get, so, you know. So, anyway. This was starting to be a thing. It had legs.

And it seemed like the next natural thing would be to find a convening place where people could come and be together and discuss this stuff. Facebook was the natural choice at that time.

Yucca: Right. That was the main, there weren't as many of the other platforms as there are now. Right, that was basically the social media platform for being able to have conversation. Other than perhaps Reddit, maybe, but Reddit has its own kind of interesting culture.

Mark: it does. It does. And the thing about Facebook was that you could create a closed group, a private group, so that you could have some control over what kinds of folks came in, so you knew that they were actually people who shared your values and were there for a legitimate exploration of, you know, what this practice is, what this philosophy is, all that stuff.

Yucca: So you weren't getting trolls as much, or

Mark: No,

Yucca: coming in from different religions that wanted to prove a point, or something like that.

Mark: in the 11 years since the Facebook group was founded, we have had precisely two people who have slipped in and started proselytizing Christianity, and they have been quietly removed, and that's been it.

Yucca: Okay, I've never noticed them.

Mark: Yeah, they didn't last long because we have moderators and the moderators, you know, our philosophy is to use a light hand and to be encouraging and guiding rather than oppressive.

But nonetheless, when somebody comes in and starts proselytizing, that is a hard no in our rules. And off you go.

Yucca: Also, just to chuckle it, I've always thought the strategy of let me quote from a book that you don't believe in at you to try to convince you.

Mark: As evidence. Yeah.

Yucca: Like, okay, cool.

Mark: It's so circular and they don't see it. They just don't see it. Well, no, no, this is God's word. No, it's not.

Yucca: But if I don't accept your premise of there being a god to begin with, and that this is his word, like, why would that hold any weight for me?

Mark: That's right. That's right. So, so, August 5th, 2012, the the Facebook group is created, and I invited a handful of people that I thought would be philosophically aligned out of my friends within the pagan community, and then we started to get knocks on the door of people who wanted to join. And we had application questions that we could review, you know, we asked them why they wanted to be a part of the community, we stipulated what our value set was and said, do you affirm these values, you know, we're pro feminist, pro environment, anti racism, anti fascist, pro environment, you know, those kinds of things that we've listed.

And, you know, we make them sign, yes, I, I will affirm these values. I think that's probably kept a lot of right wing trolls out of our group because they aren't willing to sign on to that.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: We, it's not infrequent that we get applicants who will answer the first and third question, but not, not the one about values, and they don't get admitted.

Yucca: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Mark: That's just how it goes.

Yucca: I have to admit, I don't remember filling any of that out when I joined, but I clearly had to have. I think I joined in, like, maybe 16, 20 16 or sometime around there, and I just don't remember. I'm sure I did. I just have no memory of it, like being a, like, I must have just been like, oh, of course, of course.

Yes, yes. Because I don't remember it being a thing.

Mark: Facebook questions, I think they only allowed one Facebook question for a long time, one admission question, and it's expanded to three now, so there may only have been one. But I'll,

Yucca: through it and went like, of course. Great. I'm so excited. This is, this group exists, so

Mark: And I knew who you were, so I admitted you right away.

Yucca: yeah.

Mark: So that, you know, that helped. So, the group began to grow, and it became 100 people, and it became 200 people, and it became 500 people, and it became 1, 000 people, and now it's close to 5, 000 people who are interested in this path, and we have very high participation.

In a given month, usually 2, 500 to 3, 000 of those members will do something in the way of reacting or commenting or posting. And of course you've got your lurkers, but it's very common for somebody to jump in and say, Hey, I've been a lurker for three years, but, you know, now I have a thing to say. And it's just a lovely environment.

It's safe. People support one another. There's kindness. There's very thoughtful discussion. People post really interesting stuff. It's just, it's worked out really well, and now, of course, we've spun off into having a Discord server as well while growing the movement in a bunch of ways, like this podcast.

Yucca: Right

which we started talking about together at the end of 2019. We didn't, we didn't get it going

Mark: we waited, we waited for the pandemic and then got started.

Yucca: We had like a few, we had a few episodes and then it was Two or three or something, but it was, it was

Mark: It wasn't many, yeah, it happened really fast.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: And, ironically, the pandemic actually forced us to do some good things in the community. We started doing Zoom mixers, first once a week, and now twice a week, and there are other gatherings as well.

Yucca: That's when a lot of growth of people coming into the community happened, too, because people were searching online for that connection, because they didn't have the in person things. And then, wow, here was this community, and that's, so much happened during the pandemic.

Mark: Yeah, yeah, the population really mushroomed. And, of course at the same time, at that point, I had been working on atheopagan stuff from the beginnings of the... of the essay. And then in 2019, late 2019, my book was published, which was an expanded version of the essay with more

Yucca: is when our... Friendship had kind of started, because we'd met before, but do you remember I helped you with the formatting on that?

Mark: I do,

Yucca: Because I took it out of, they weren't accepting whatever format it was that you had, so you had it in Word and I put it in InDesign and reformatted

Mark: yeah,

Yucca: it and exported it.

Mark: right, yeah, which I

Yucca: why we got the connection to then when we started talking about doing a podcast, it was like, oh yeah, yeah, this is a good connection, let's try this.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. So the book happened, Then the podcast happened, and by that time it had been almost 15 years of working on this in one way or another for me.

Yucca: Mm hmm,

Mark: And I was looking at this community that was now thousands of people, and thinking, well, okay, clearly this is something that has some real resonance, and it needs to not be about me.

It needs to be... You know, a self governing, self evolving thing,

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: and so we created the Atheopagan Society, the non profit organization of which both Yucca and I are council members and

Yucca: of 2020 was our first meeting,

Mark: yes, early July of 2020, and You know, that was approving bylaws and articles of incorporation and blah blah blah.

There's a lot of technical stuff that has to be done to create a group like that. But we got recognized by the federal government as a religious organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Yucca: Mm hmm. We did all that stuff of so much paperwork and figuring out bank accounts and

Mark: Yeah, getting a bank account open turned out to be really kind of a nightmare.

Yucca: ridiculous amount of like weird information that they needed.

Mark: I think it's Patriot Act stuff.

I think they're concerned about non profits fostering terrorism.

Yucca: And therefore they needed your social and income and

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: All kinds of, you know,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: yeah, it was intense.

Mark: just weird. But we did it. We got it done. And the council started doing stuff. There, you know, there were various initiatives. The the library initiative online that Robin did, for example, to create a library of resources for Ethiopia Pagans that they can download and, and look at, and or, you know, lists.

Yucca: package as well,

Mark: all the, all the clerical and guidance as

Yucca: great.

Mark: And the system for ordaining. clerics online because we believe that everybody should have the right to conduct marriages and so forth. And so we had an automated system on the website for people to be ordained, which is currently broken because MailChimp changed its system.

But if you want to be ordained, you can use the contact form on the Atheopagan Society website, which is VAPSociety. org. Send a, send a message through the contact system, and I will get back to you and get you ordained.

Yucca: Yeah, and eventually we're going to have that back up and running as an automated system, but there's just a lot of things that are getting juggled at the moment.

Mark: there are. There

Yucca: There's a, yeah and just also want to clarify the, this is all volunteer, right? You know, people are, are doing this out of a sense of a desire to, So, we're really trying to, really help in whatever ways we can, and and we'll talk about this in a little bit.

I mean, the, the getting everything set up for being able to have more volunteers is one of our major focuses.

Mark: Mm hmm.

Yucca: But just trying to figure out what, what each person's strengths are and how we can best. How we can help the community and how we can best serve the community has been a big focus of what we've been trying to do over the past few years, so.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah because it's all about, you know, supporting the people that are within the umbrella of this, this community in being as fulfilled as they can be, as happy as they can be, as self actualized as they can be, as effective as they can be, which is what atheopaganism is really about. It's about being happy, being effective in your life.

You know, we don't believe in an afterlife or any of that. Nobody's keeping score. It's, it's all about just joy and joy and service, right? And so, you know, with that spirit, there's a real joyfulness in the work as well. I mean, when we work together, there's a sort of, oh, we're doing a great thing here

Yucca: Yeah, I mean every single, so the council meetings are quarterly, and every single time it's just like, wow, it, y'all are amazing, this is awesome. Thank you so much. Oh, I'm so lucky to know such cool people. I can't believe we're doing this like every, you know. Time after time after time and it's just, it never gets old, it's just amazing each time.

Mark: Yeah. And when we held the Suntree retreat, the in person retreat in 2022, and there were 50 of us there, that was the same experience. It was like, wow, every one of these people is super cool. I would like to be friends with every one of them.

Yucca: yeah, my oldest who came with me to that was like, why isn't it a week long? Why isn't it two weeks long? Can we just live here? I'm like, aw.

Mark: So, things have evolved over that 11 years. I've written another book that's coming out next year. I've written in my will that the rights to my atheopaganism book are going to go to the Atheopagan Society, so that it will always have access to that material for future people that want to practice atheopaganism so there'll never be any argument about, you know, who has the rights to any of this stuff You know, we've just, we've done a lot of, we, we launched the the YouTube,

Yucca: So we've got the media team working on this, yeah.

Mark: right?

Yucca: And I want to say the, the story, so you've told your, your thread of the story,

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: But this is a, this is a community of thousands of people now, and we each have our own thread of this story that's weaving together, right? And together we're making this larger thing.

And I really value that, the, the wisdom in going, okay, let's make sure that this isn't just about one particular personality. This is All of ours, right? And again, that's one of the things that the council's trying to figure out how to do is how do we make this something that is sustained, that keeps going, that lives past just any of individuals of us?

Mark: hmm. Yes, yes. And, and it's very egalitarian,

Yucca: yeah,

Mark: where we, we're not going to have, you know, different degrees or levels or priesthood or any of that kind of stuff. When people choose to be ordained and become what's called an atheopagan cleric, that's a service role. That means I've committed to provide particular kinds of service in my community.

It doesn't mean I'm a muckety muck now and I get to tell other people what to do. We don't have that,

Yucca: right. And same thing with the council, right? Again, the council is just, it really is a service position, just because somebody's on the council and someone else isn't on the council, the person on the council, they're... They're not more important than anyone else, they're just in a position of that volunteer.

Mark: right? We don't. Right. So, you know, we've built so much over this time. Oh, and I want to mention, because we have two wonderful volunteers that are doing it, Instagram as well. We've you know, that are part of the media team. We've got a couple of folks that are doing wonderful Instagram stuff as well.

And someone created an atheopaganism Reddit, subreddit,

Yucca: Oh, nice.

Mark: the blue a person who I didn't know. And that was kind of miraculous to stumble across.

Yucca: That's great.

Mark: Yeah, sort of propagating itself out into the world.

Yucca: And we don't have an official TikTok, but there are some folks from the community who are on on TikTok, and you can find, you know, you can search through the hashtag of Atheopagan, you'll come up with, you know, Robin's channel, and a couple of other folks who have that conversation.

Mark: We do have an account,

Yucca: we, yes,

Mark: but we never post anything.

Yucca: and if that's somebody's passion, hey, talk to us on the media team, we'd love, you know, each of the different platforms kind of have their own system and culture and all of that. So yes, thank you for pointing out, we really, we have one, we just don't, aren't doing it on a regular basis at this point

Mark: So,

Yucca: we have to do is figure out that we are, in fact, human, and have a limited amount of time and space and spoons as they say, and where do we use them.

Mark: right. Yeah. And that's actually a perfect opportunity for me to thank you, Yucca, for your three years of service as the chair of the Atheopagan Society Council. You did a tremendous amount of work and modeled a tone and a can do kind of, attitude and a level headedness that I think just really served us so well.

And I totally understand that it was time for you to step down and John has stepped up and that's all great. A, a,

Yucca: honor, so thank you. Yeah, it's really, and I, and I look forward to continue to serve in different ways in the coming years, so.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. So, all these things have happened, all these incredible things over the last 11 years, and now we look to the future.

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: The Atheopagan Society is creating its first strategic plan,

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And a strategic plan is basically just narrowing our focus down to a few goals. That we're going to pursue over, that we're going to seek to accomplish over the next couple of years.

And that's where we're going to invest our time and our energy and our money in order to accomplish those things. Our money, vast.

Yucca: yes, our vast resources.

Mark: yes, I think we have 5, 000 right now. I think that's something like

Yucca: don't think we quite have, that's what we did last time, but I think we've, we've had quite a few expenses

Mark: that's true. You're right. Yeah, we have had expenses. So yeah, it's probably more like 4, 500. But it's enough because we, you know, we operate. We operate with volunteers.

Yucca: yeah, and donations. And so

Mark: Yes,

Yucca: who donate on a regular basis and that, that makes doing those things possible, right? So we really, really value that.

Mark: Because we do have regular expenses. We have to pay for things like Zoom and MailChimp and, you know, all that

Yucca: Hosting for, you know, all of that. Yeah.

Mark: for the blog. Yeah. So, the strategic plan is going to be finalized at our Autumnal Equinox meeting coming up. After September 21st, I think it's October 5th, I think is the next meeting.

Yucca: We'd have to look at, yeah, it's somewhere around

Mark: yeah, somewhere around there.

Yucca: Do you want to mention the three? We're finalizing it, but we've got the idea of what our goals are.

Mark: we've, we've narrowed the goals down to three things. And they are, first of all, Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make our spaces feel safe and inclusive and welcoming to everyone. As long as they share our values. If they're Nazis, we don't want them to feel welcome.

We want them to go somewhere else. But... You know, certainly for people in marginalized communities, we want to make sure that we're really uplifting those voices and making sure that people feel safe and welcome in those spaces.

Yucca: And just being really really conscious about that. And really clear about that, yeah.

Mark: So that's the first. And the second is what is the second?

Yucca: Well, the steady engagement and growth, yeah.

Mark: right. The fostering of engagement between Ethiopia Pagans. So more more in the way of online opportunities like the conference, the vi virtual conference that we held this past spring in person opportunities like the the sun retreat that we're gonna do another one of in 2024.

Yucca: which is a little less than a year away. 'cause it's in September this year. Right.

Mark: Yes. So it's a little more than a year. It's a little more

Yucca: Just a, you know.

Mark: Yeah. But

Yucca: On another full moon, I believe. Didn't we end up getting another full

Mark: We did. So we're going to start working on that, you know, right after Labor Day. The, the issue there is really, and also I didn't mention this, but we have a program of affinity groups now.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Mark: some of which are geographically based, so they can get together in person. Because they, they all come from a particular region. Some of them are interest based, like there's an LGBTQ group, there's a BIPOC group, there's a gardening group, there's a crafting group, things like that, right? So creating opportunities and providing resources to help like Affinity Groups to get together in person, build interpersonal relationships, because, you know, community is a big thing that religion is about. And as wonderful as online community is, in person is better. And we, we'd like for people to have opportunities for that if they want them.

Yucca: Right. Yeah, so for both, right? And there being a steady component and we'll talk about this in the next goal as well, but we don't want to kind of explode and spread too quickly and then collapse. Right? So we're really working on how to do this in a way that is sustainable.

Mark: Yes. And that's the third big area, which is creating infrastructure and support for volunteers, so that we don't have burnout. We're always, you know, drawing in new leadership and new voices and new participation, so that nobody has to sit in the same position for 10 years and get real tired of it. And, I mean, that's just good for us in all kinds of ways, because You know, having a variety of different perspectives, it just helps our approach to be that much more nuanced, that much more considerate.

It's just good for us, all the way around.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So those are the three big areas, and you'll notice that none of them involves some big, huge growth initiative. We have never been a proselytizing spiritual community, and we're not. My philosophy around this is I would like people to be aware of this as an opportunity that they can take if they want to.

I would never tell them you should be an atheopagan.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: I would never say that to any.

Yucca: Yeah. Because it's, I think it's a wonderful option, but it's not the only thing out there. Lots of things work for lots of different people and I'm just grateful that we've got a community of incredible people who really love and care for each other and work together and can, you know, share these values and use a similar framework.

And yet, as we've talked about in so many other podcasts are also so very different in so many delightful ways.

Mark: Right, and we encourage that diversity, right? Like, you know, there isn't this mandated wheel of the year where, you know, the symbols are all the same and the rituals are all the same. No, you create for yourself what's meaningful for you and relates to what nature is doing at a given time of year where you are.

So there's, there's a tremendous amount of freedom. Within atheopaganism, it's meant to be facilitative and supportive and kind of informing rather than directive.

Yucca: hmm. Yeah.

Mark: So that's where we're going. That's, that's the idea there.

Yucca: And it's a fun process.

Mark: it is. It is. And fun people to do it with. So that's, that's all to the good as well. I mean, having not had any comprehension of Arriving here 11 years ago, I have no idea where we might be 10, 11 years from now. It's just, it's hard to, hard to imagine what that could be like.

Yucca: Oh, we'll be an ancient group in neo pagan years at that

Mark: that's, oh, that's true.

Yeah, we'll be almost Bronze Age.

Yucca: Yes. I guess then we'll be, then we'll be legitimate, right? Because

Mark: Right, well, yeah, we'll, we'll be Silicon Age, and by that time it'll all be, you know, molecular computing or or quantum computing, and then we can look back nostalgically at our silicon chips and and yes, we'll, we'll be the old established Version.

Yucca: That's quite funny to think of.

Mark: It is. It is.

Yucca: but yeah. . Alright.

Mark: So, yeah I'd like to thank everyone that has played a part in or participated in or joined, you know, for however long, because some people have decided that it wasn't for them and gone off to do something else. All those people who have played a role in where we've arrived and what we've been able to achieve in serving people, in, in really working to help people be happier and help the world be a better place.

Yucca: Yeah. Thank you.

Mark: Yeah, so thank you to all you listeners, that counts.

Yucca: Absolutely. We are so grateful that you are all here and Yeah.

Mark: Yeah, it's

Yucca: Spending this time with us.

Mark: yeah, it's a real honor and we know that Of all the things that people can donate to a movement or a cause, time is the most precious. You know, the number of people that will contribute to an organization, for example, is always much higher than the number that will volunteer for the organization.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Mark: So, you know, when you give us 30, 40 minutes a week out of your day that's a very meaningful thing and we, we recognize it and we appreciate it.

Yucca: right.

Mark: So, with that, here's to the next 11 years!

Yucca: And we'll see you next week.

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S4E25 TRANSCRIPT:

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Mark: Welcome back to The Wonder, Science Based Paganism. I'm your host, Mark,

Yucca: and I'm Yucca.

Mark: and today we are celebrating Atheopagan Day, which is the anniversary of when our community first started.

Yucca: Online community.

Mark: yes the the founding of our Facebook group, which is where most of our engages online was on August 5th,

2012. So as we're recording this, it's the 11th anniversary of the founding of that community. And so we're going to talk a little bit about the history and how things have changed, what we're doing now and what we're looking towards in the future.

Yucca: that's right, and it's been a lot,

Mark: Yeah, it really has. It's it's, it's been, and it's been such a beautiful ride. I mean, obviously there have been setbacks and frustrations and all the rest of that, but. Mostly, it's just been so heartening to see and feel this community come together in all the wonderful ways that it is.

Yucca: Yeah, and it's 11 years is really hard to believe. That's, that's a lot. So,

Mark: I was saying before we started recording, in neopagan years, that's even more. It's like dog years or

Yucca: yeah,

Mark: Because the culture evolves really quickly you know, in, in the time that I've been involved in, in Neopagan Circles which started in 1987, we've had at least three distinct phases Thank you.

of development within the community in terms of changes in perspective and paradigm just really transformational things that have happened from the sort of loosey goosey still, you know, not very clueful about things like consent late 60s all the way up to today.

Yucca: Right

Mark: pretty, pretty cool. 11 years, a lot can change.

Yucca: yeah. And I think a lot, really, in the last four years, five years, at least, that I've been witnessing it seems like there's been such a shift in a lot of, not just within kind of our smaller subset of the pagan community, but the larger pagan community, and also a little bit of the, the general cultural attitude towards something like paganism. There's definitely been a big shift since, you know, since I was a kid, you know, thinking back on, it's just, it's a normal, in a lot of ways, it's a very normal thing now. I know there's a lot, definitely areas of the country that that's not the case, but on kind of a big scale, it's, it really has the, Level of acceptance has grown.

Mark: Yeah, and I think there are, I mean, there are certainly entities and figures that that are not us, that we, that contributed heavily to that. I mean, like the Lady Liberty League, for example, which pressed The U. S. military to recognize Wicca as one of the symbols you could put on a gravestone in a military cemetery.

Getting them to recognize any pagan religion was really like pulling teeth, and they pushed on it for about 20 years before they finally got it.

Yucca: Yeah, right,

Mark: And more representation in mainstream media, all that kind of stuff has really helped.

Yucca: yeah. So I think it's fascinating to see, or to really reflect on, the changes within our community and how those are influenced from outside sources and, you know, the influence that we've had as well and all of that is, I mean, somebody should do their somebody should do their dissertation on that. I think that would make a fascinating one.

Mark: yeah, me too, me too. Yeah, there's just, there's so much to say about it, but why don't we go back to the beginning,

Yucca: Right.

Mark: And start there, and just kind of, you know, work our way forward. So, atheopaganism started out as an idea that I had for myself.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: I had had, I'd been involved with the local pagan community for a very long time, had some really off putting experiences in the late 90s, early 2000s that reinforced to me how much capital B belief had become important

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: in the pagan culture, and which had not been true when I first joined.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: And as an atheist pagan, I was feeling really oppressed by this and then it got to the point where I was offended by it because there were a couple of circumstances that I saw where the will of the gods was used as an excuse for some really horrible behavior.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: And I left.

Yucca: Mm

Mark: But within six months, I mean, I was depressed.

I, I missed my rituals, and I missed my altar, and I missed my friends, and, you know, I missed celebrating the seasons, all that kind of stuff. So I started thinking, well, what is a religion really, and what do they do for us, and how can I get that stuff without having to subscribe to a bunch of supernaturalism?

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: And I started working on an essay, and this was in 2005. And the essay was done in 2009, and that was what eventually became my book that came out in 2019,

Yucca: Mm

Mark: about, first of all, about kind of my journey through this and the science You know, the neuroscience and the confirmation bias, the various fallacies, apophenia, and, you know, all those phenomena that tend to make us fooled by our senses.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: And then the second part of the book was laying out, okay, well, taking as a given that the value that, for me, is going to be about revering the Earth. How can I practice a pagan practice around the wheel of the year that doesn't involve anything supernatural or culturally appropriated?

Yucca: hmm. Mm hmm. Mm

Mark: And so I wrote all that up, and it was a 40 page essay, and and I was ready to happily go trotting forward, you know, using my little model for myself.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: But I had conversations with friends,

Yucca: So the essay had been just more of a way of you to, to clarify your thoughts, right? And work through those ideas and you just, just the writing of it was how you worked through these ideas.

Mark: That's right. I mean, I'm a writer and that is the way that it's like having an internal narrative, you know, as I explored these ideas on paper or in bits

Yucca: as you explored in

Mark: in, in, in writing new ideas would occur to me, new connections would occur to me. And so that's just the modality that I use in, in kind of framing my, my thinking about things.

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And so, as I said, I was ready to go trotting forward with my, my little practice that was for me, but when I had conversations, and so I re engaged the local pagan community. Understanding that I was going to be myself, and not to be rude about it, you know, if I go to somebody else's ritual and they're invoking gods, I'm not going to say anything about it.

Yucca: Sure. Yeah.

Mark: But the rituals that I conduct, that I invite people to, were going to be, you know, godless, non supernaturalist kinds of rituals.

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And in the course of these conversations, I started having people say, well, don't tell anybody, but actually, that's really kind of what I believe, too.

Yucca: Yeah,

Mark: and you really ought to put this essay up on the internet and, you know, have, get some comments on it, have, get some discussion started around it.

And in 2009, I did that. I put it up on Scribd.

Yucca: Remember that.

Mark: remember that? It still exists. But there was a time when Scribd was a place that you went for papers and documents and

Yucca: Yep. It was the place for a while. Yeah. Okay.

Mark: And started getting some feedback and stuff. You know, having more of these conversations where people were confiding in me that, you know, a non theist or non literal theist way of orienting to paganism was, was theirs.

And this particularly skewed towards people who were scientists, who were educators, who were engineers. You know, a lot of folks that had that grounding in the scientific method and critical thinking, they were the ones that were not subscribing to supernaturalist myths so much, interestingly enough. So, what happened was there, there ended up being enough of these people that I started realizing, you know, there's, this thing has legs.

It's not just for me. It's resonating for other people, and they should have access to it too. And I need to stop here and say, I had a major research failing during the time when I was researching all the stuff for this essay, because I am not the first Nons, supernaturalist, pagan. There are other people that were doing that and that were on the internet, and I just didn't find them.

Yucca: mm

Mark: So I kind of reinvented the wheel. And that's an interesting thing about non Theus paganism is that it seems like that happens quite a bit. People sort of come to this conclusion on their own.

Yucca: That was the family, that was what I was raised with, right? But it had never, there was no like, there was no word or identity to distinguish, that was just what we were,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: And it had never occurred to me to, to search that up, something like that, until a little bit later on, which we haven't quite gotten to that the story yet, but, but encountering.

That the belief part where, you know, later on I'd be publishing things you know, making YouTube videos or things and having people just, just furious with me that like, how dare you call yourself a pagan if you don't believe in

Mark: yeah.

Yucca: the gods, literally, and just being completely perplexed because that was not the paganism that I had grown up with. Right, I was just like, what are you talking about? I have no, like, what?

Mark: right? Yeah.

Yucca: Wait, you're, you're taking this literal? Are you sure? Okay. Right, that was where I was coming from with that because I hadn't, you know, I, I mean, I'm interrupting you a little bit with this, but you talked about like the three different phases or like the epochs that you've seen.

And I think that one of them was this influx of a lot of new people into paganism, bringing with them. These expectations from some of the more mainstream religions in which faith is a major component. I think that Christian faith idea was brought in.

Mark: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that came in the late 90s, up until around 2000, and that really, really changed how paganism was practiced and conceptualized within the community, at least as I experienced it. Mm hmm.

Yucca: And I, and the atheopaganism was... I mean, it was still happening on the internet a lot, and when the group was founded, that was still culture of paganism as a whole, like on the big scale, there's lots of people being really into the literal belief, but I think we're moving out of that to a certain extent. But that's, there's still areas that believe that, there's still...

Like, traditions in that way, but that the larger community overall is less worried about that.

Mark: Yeah, I think so, and I certainly hope so. I mean, one of the things about paganism is that it tends to be very inclusive and tolerant and pluralistic. And so there are lots of different kinds of practices and perspectives that fall under the pagan umbrella,

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And I think that increasingly, especially over the last four or five years, The idea of non theist paganism has become yet another one of those identities that's just accepted as being part of the bigger

Yucca: know.

Mark: Yeah,

Yucca: I mean, there's still people who get very, very upset about it and want to do their gatekeeping, but it, it I definitely saw a shift in the last few years that I was that the Pagan Perspective channel was running. Like, in the first few years, it would, I would get a lot of...

of real, like, really upset commenters about it, and then in the later years, more people being like, Oh yeah, that's, I do that too. Yeah, yeah, me too, me too.

Mark: huh. Yeah. Yeah, I really think that's so, and, I mean, of the core questions, I mean, maybe we can do an episode at some point about validity and the nature of realness, because this is often the argument that's made, well, it's not real paganism, or it's not a real religion. And to me, those are meaningless questions.

Yucca: It just comes down to how you're defining it, like, you're just gonna choose to make it real the way that you, like, Your way of pagan is the real way, right? I remember having disagreements with people going, well, if we go back to, you know, Rome, and this is where, you know, the history of the word pagan, well, the people who were the, the pagans, they believed in, in multiple gods, and, but my argument would be, okay, but why are you making that?

Your criteria. Why aren't you making the criteria that they lived in the countryside and spoke, like, Latin? Like, how about, why is that the criteria? I mean, because we've had so many different criteria for what makes somebody a pagan over the years, like, you're just selecting that one specific thing to say that that's what makes somebody pagan.

Why isn't something else also valid?

Mark: right.

Yucca: Well, I mean, the answer is because then they don't get to gatekeep it and feel special,

Mark: right,

Yucca: you know.

Mark: right. And particularly this goes to the The sense on people's part that old traditions are somehow more valuable or more valid or more real, right?

Yucca: hmm,

Mark: And that's just a principle that I reject. I think humans have been evolving culture and ideas and technology and skills for our entire existence.

And there are things that we can gain from modernity that we don't find in ancient cultures that are of value. Thank you.

Yucca: right. Yeah, that

Mark: So,

Yucca: Value isn't inherent in whether it is old or new or whichever, right? Is it relevant to, to us now? Right?

Mark: which is one of the reasons why I reject the Bronze Age, you know, Christianity models is that I don't think they fit very well in a modern society,

Yucca: yeah.

Mark: And the more people try to shoehorn modern society into it, the more oppressed we get, so, you know. So, anyway. This was starting to be a thing. It had legs.

And it seemed like the next natural thing would be to find a convening place where people could come and be together and discuss this stuff. Facebook was the natural choice at that time.

Yucca: Right. That was the main, there weren't as many of the other platforms as there are now. Right, that was basically the social media platform for being able to have conversation. Other than perhaps Reddit, maybe, but Reddit has its own kind of interesting culture.

Mark: it does. It does. And the thing about Facebook was that you could create a closed group, a private group, so that you could have some control over what kinds of folks came in, so you knew that they were actually people who shared your values and were there for a legitimate exploration of, you know, what this practice is, what this philosophy is, all that stuff.

Yucca: So you weren't getting trolls as much, or

Mark: No,

Yucca: coming in from different religions that wanted to prove a point, or something like that.

Mark: in the 11 years since the Facebook group was founded, we have had precisely two people who have slipped in and started proselytizing Christianity, and they have been quietly removed, and that's been it.

Yucca: Okay, I've never noticed them.

Mark: Yeah, they didn't last long because we have moderators and the moderators, you know, our philosophy is to use a light hand and to be encouraging and guiding rather than oppressive.

But nonetheless, when somebody comes in and starts proselytizing, that is a hard no in our rules. And off you go.

Yucca: Also, just to chuckle it, I've always thought the strategy of let me quote from a book that you don't believe in at you to try to convince you.

Mark: As evidence. Yeah.

Yucca: Like, okay, cool.

Mark: It's so circular and they don't see it. They just don't see it. Well, no, no, this is God's word. No, it's not.

Yucca: But if I don't accept your premise of there being a god to begin with, and that this is his word, like, why would that hold any weight for me?

Mark: That's right. That's right. So, so, August 5th, 2012, the the Facebook group is created, and I invited a handful of people that I thought would be philosophically aligned out of my friends within the pagan community, and then we started to get knocks on the door of people who wanted to join. And we had application questions that we could review, you know, we asked them why they wanted to be a part of the community, we stipulated what our value set was and said, do you affirm these values, you know, we're pro feminist, pro environment, anti racism, anti fascist, pro environment, you know, those kinds of things that we've listed.

And, you know, we make them sign, yes, I, I will affirm these values. I think that's probably kept a lot of right wing trolls out of our group because they aren't willing to sign on to that.

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: We, it's not infrequent that we get applicants who will answer the first and third question, but not, not the one about values, and they don't get admitted.

Yucca: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Mark: That's just how it goes.

Yucca: I have to admit, I don't remember filling any of that out when I joined, but I clearly had to have. I think I joined in, like, maybe 16, 20 16 or sometime around there, and I just don't remember. I'm sure I did. I just have no memory of it, like being a, like, I must have just been like, oh, of course, of course.

Yes, yes. Because I don't remember it being a thing.

Mark: Facebook questions, I think they only allowed one Facebook question for a long time, one admission question, and it's expanded to three now, so there may only have been one. But I'll,

Yucca: through it and went like, of course. Great. I'm so excited. This is, this group exists, so

Mark: And I knew who you were, so I admitted you right away.

Yucca: yeah.

Mark: So that, you know, that helped. So, the group began to grow, and it became 100 people, and it became 200 people, and it became 500 people, and it became 1, 000 people, and now it's close to 5, 000 people who are interested in this path, and we have very high participation.

In a given month, usually 2, 500 to 3, 000 of those members will do something in the way of reacting or commenting or posting. And of course you've got your lurkers, but it's very common for somebody to jump in and say, Hey, I've been a lurker for three years, but, you know, now I have a thing to say. And it's just a lovely environment.

It's safe. People support one another. There's kindness. There's very thoughtful discussion. People post really interesting stuff. It's just, it's worked out really well, and now, of course, we've spun off into having a Discord server as well while growing the movement in a bunch of ways, like this podcast.

Yucca: Right

which we started talking about together at the end of 2019. We didn't, we didn't get it going

Mark: we waited, we waited for the pandemic and then got started.

Yucca: We had like a few, we had a few episodes and then it was Two or three or something, but it was, it was

Mark: It wasn't many, yeah, it happened really fast.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: And, ironically, the pandemic actually forced us to do some good things in the community. We started doing Zoom mixers, first once a week, and now twice a week, and there are other gatherings as well.

Yucca: That's when a lot of growth of people coming into the community happened, too, because people were searching online for that connection, because they didn't have the in person things. And then, wow, here was this community, and that's, so much happened during the pandemic.

Mark: Yeah, yeah, the population really mushroomed. And, of course at the same time, at that point, I had been working on atheopagan stuff from the beginnings of the... of the essay. And then in 2019, late 2019, my book was published, which was an expanded version of the essay with more

Yucca: is when our... Friendship had kind of started, because we'd met before, but do you remember I helped you with the formatting on that?

Mark: I do,

Yucca: Because I took it out of, they weren't accepting whatever format it was that you had, so you had it in Word and I put it in InDesign and reformatted

Mark: yeah,

Yucca: it and exported it.

Mark: right, yeah, which I

Yucca: why we got the connection to then when we started talking about doing a podcast, it was like, oh yeah, yeah, this is a good connection, let's try this.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. So the book happened, Then the podcast happened, and by that time it had been almost 15 years of working on this in one way or another for me.

Yucca: Mm hmm,

Mark: And I was looking at this community that was now thousands of people, and thinking, well, okay, clearly this is something that has some real resonance, and it needs to not be about me.

It needs to be... You know, a self governing, self evolving thing,

Yucca: hmm.

Mark: and so we created the Atheopagan Society, the non profit organization of which both Yucca and I are council members and

Yucca: of 2020 was our first meeting,

Mark: yes, early July of 2020, and You know, that was approving bylaws and articles of incorporation and blah blah blah.

There's a lot of technical stuff that has to be done to create a group like that. But we got recognized by the federal government as a religious organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Yucca: Mm hmm. We did all that stuff of so much paperwork and figuring out bank accounts and

Mark: Yeah, getting a bank account open turned out to be really kind of a nightmare.

Yucca: ridiculous amount of like weird information that they needed.

Mark: I think it's Patriot Act stuff.

I think they're concerned about non profits fostering terrorism.

Yucca: And therefore they needed your social and income and

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: All kinds of, you know,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: yeah, it was intense.

Mark: just weird. But we did it. We got it done. And the council started doing stuff. There, you know, there were various initiatives. The the library initiative online that Robin did, for example, to create a library of resources for Ethiopia Pagans that they can download and, and look at, and or, you know, lists.

Yucca: package as well,

Mark: all the, all the clerical and guidance as

Yucca: great.

Mark: And the system for ordaining. clerics online because we believe that everybody should have the right to conduct marriages and so forth. And so we had an automated system on the website for people to be ordained, which is currently broken because MailChimp changed its system.

But if you want to be ordained, you can use the contact form on the Atheopagan Society website, which is VAPSociety. org. Send a, send a message through the contact system, and I will get back to you and get you ordained.

Yucca: Yeah, and eventually we're going to have that back up and running as an automated system, but there's just a lot of things that are getting juggled at the moment.

Mark: there are. There

Yucca: There's a, yeah and just also want to clarify the, this is all volunteer, right? You know, people are, are doing this out of a sense of a desire to, So, we're really trying to, really help in whatever ways we can, and and we'll talk about this in a little bit.

I mean, the, the getting everything set up for being able to have more volunteers is one of our major focuses.

Mark: Mm hmm.

Yucca: But just trying to figure out what, what each person's strengths are and how we can best. How we can help the community and how we can best serve the community has been a big focus of what we've been trying to do over the past few years, so.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah because it's all about, you know, supporting the people that are within the umbrella of this, this community in being as fulfilled as they can be, as happy as they can be, as self actualized as they can be, as effective as they can be, which is what atheopaganism is really about. It's about being happy, being effective in your life.

You know, we don't believe in an afterlife or any of that. Nobody's keeping score. It's, it's all about just joy and joy and service, right? And so, you know, with that spirit, there's a real joyfulness in the work as well. I mean, when we work together, there's a sort of, oh, we're doing a great thing here

Yucca: Yeah, I mean every single, so the council meetings are quarterly, and every single time it's just like, wow, it, y'all are amazing, this is awesome. Thank you so much. Oh, I'm so lucky to know such cool people. I can't believe we're doing this like every, you know. Time after time after time and it's just, it never gets old, it's just amazing each time.

Mark: Yeah. And when we held the Suntree retreat, the in person retreat in 2022, and there were 50 of us there, that was the same experience. It was like, wow, every one of these people is super cool. I would like to be friends with every one of them.

Yucca: yeah, my oldest who came with me to that was like, why isn't it a week long? Why isn't it two weeks long? Can we just live here? I'm like, aw.

Mark: So, things have evolved over that 11 years. I've written another book that's coming out next year. I've written in my will that the rights to my atheopaganism book are going to go to the Atheopagan Society, so that it will always have access to that material for future people that want to practice atheopaganism so there'll never be any argument about, you know, who has the rights to any of this stuff You know, we've just, we've done a lot of, we, we launched the the YouTube,

Yucca: So we've got the media team working on this, yeah.

Mark: right?

Yucca: And I want to say the, the story, so you've told your, your thread of the story,

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: But this is a, this is a community of thousands of people now, and we each have our own thread of this story that's weaving together, right? And together we're making this larger thing.

And I really value that, the, the wisdom in going, okay, let's make sure that this isn't just about one particular personality. This is All of ours, right? And again, that's one of the things that the council's trying to figure out how to do is how do we make this something that is sustained, that keeps going, that lives past just any of individuals of us?

Mark: hmm. Yes, yes. And, and it's very egalitarian,

Yucca: yeah,

Mark: where we, we're not going to have, you know, different degrees or levels or priesthood or any of that kind of stuff. When people choose to be ordained and become what's called an atheopagan cleric, that's a service role. That means I've committed to provide particular kinds of service in my community.

It doesn't mean I'm a muckety muck now and I get to tell other people what to do. We don't have that,

Yucca: right. And same thing with the council, right? Again, the council is just, it really is a service position, just because somebody's on the council and someone else isn't on the council, the person on the council, they're... They're not more important than anyone else, they're just in a position of that volunteer.

Mark: right? We don't. Right. So, you know, we've built so much over this time. Oh, and I want to mention, because we have two wonderful volunteers that are doing it, Instagram as well. We've you know, that are part of the media team. We've got a couple of folks that are doing wonderful Instagram stuff as well.

And someone created an atheopaganism Reddit, subreddit,

Yucca: Oh, nice.

Mark: the blue a person who I didn't know. And that was kind of miraculous to stumble across.

Yucca: That's great.

Mark: Yeah, sort of propagating itself out into the world.

Yucca: And we don't have an official TikTok, but there are some folks from the community who are on on TikTok, and you can find, you know, you can search through the hashtag of Atheopagan, you'll come up with, you know, Robin's channel, and a couple of other folks who have that conversation.

Mark: We do have an account,

Yucca: we, yes,

Mark: but we never post anything.

Yucca: and if that's somebody's passion, hey, talk to us on the media team, we'd love, you know, each of the different platforms kind of have their own system and culture and all of that. So yes, thank you for pointing out, we really, we have one, we just don't, aren't doing it on a regular basis at this point

Mark: So,

Yucca: we have to do is figure out that we are, in fact, human, and have a limited amount of time and space and spoons as they say, and where do we use them.

Mark: right. Yeah. And that's actually a perfect opportunity for me to thank you, Yucca, for your three years of service as the chair of the Atheopagan Society Council. You did a tremendous amount of work and modeled a tone and a can do kind of, attitude and a level headedness that I think just really served us so well.

And I totally understand that it was time for you to step down and John has stepped up and that's all great. A, a,

Yucca: honor, so thank you. Yeah, it's really, and I, and I look forward to continue to serve in different ways in the coming years, so.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. So, all these things have happened, all these incredible things over the last 11 years, and now we look to the future.

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: The Atheopagan Society is creating its first strategic plan,

Yucca: Mm hmm.

Mark: And a strategic plan is basically just narrowing our focus down to a few goals. That we're going to pursue over, that we're going to seek to accomplish over the next couple of years.

And that's where we're going to invest our time and our energy and our money in order to accomplish those things. Our money, vast.

Yucca: yes, our vast resources.

Mark: yes, I think we have 5, 000 right now. I think that's something like

Yucca: don't think we quite have, that's what we did last time, but I think we've, we've had quite a few expenses

Mark: that's true. You're right. Yeah, we have had expenses. So yeah, it's probably more like 4, 500. But it's enough because we, you know, we operate. We operate with volunteers.

Yucca: yeah, and donations. And so

Mark: Yes,

Yucca: who donate on a regular basis and that, that makes doing those things possible, right? So we really, really value that.

Mark: Because we do have regular expenses. We have to pay for things like Zoom and MailChimp and, you know, all that

Yucca: Hosting for, you know, all of that. Yeah.

Mark: for the blog. Yeah. So, the strategic plan is going to be finalized at our Autumnal Equinox meeting coming up. After September 21st, I think it's October 5th, I think is the next meeting.

Yucca: We'd have to look at, yeah, it's somewhere around

Mark: yeah, somewhere around there.

Yucca: Do you want to mention the three? We're finalizing it, but we've got the idea of what our goals are.

Mark: we've, we've narrowed the goals down to three things. And they are, first of all, Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make our spaces feel safe and inclusive and welcoming to everyone. As long as they share our values. If they're Nazis, we don't want them to feel welcome.

We want them to go somewhere else. But... You know, certainly for people in marginalized communities, we want to make sure that we're really uplifting those voices and making sure that people feel safe and welcome in those spaces.

Yucca: And just being really really conscious about that. And really clear about that, yeah.

Mark: So that's the first. And the second is what is the second?

Yucca: Well, the steady engagement and growth, yeah.

Mark: right. The fostering of engagement between Ethiopia Pagans. So more more in the way of online opportunities like the conference, the vi virtual conference that we held this past spring in person opportunities like the the sun retreat that we're gonna do another one of in 2024.

Yucca: which is a little less than a year away. 'cause it's in September this year. Right.

Mark: Yes. So it's a little more than a year. It's a little more

Yucca: Just a, you know.

Mark: Yeah. But

Yucca: On another full moon, I believe. Didn't we end up getting another full

Mark: We did. So we're going to start working on that, you know, right after Labor Day. The, the issue there is really, and also I didn't mention this, but we have a program of affinity groups now.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Mark: some of which are geographically based, so they can get together in person. Because they, they all come from a particular region. Some of them are interest based, like there's an LGBTQ group, there's a BIPOC group, there's a gardening group, there's a crafting group, things like that, right? So creating opportunities and providing resources to help like Affinity Groups to get together in person, build interpersonal relationships, because, you know, community is a big thing that religion is about. And as wonderful as online community is, in person is better. And we, we'd like for people to have opportunities for that if they want them.

Yucca: Right. Yeah, so for both, right? And there being a steady component and we'll talk about this in the next goal as well, but we don't want to kind of explode and spread too quickly and then collapse. Right? So we're really working on how to do this in a way that is sustainable.

Mark: Yes. And that's the third big area, which is creating infrastructure and support for volunteers, so that we don't have burnout. We're always, you know, drawing in new leadership and new voices and new participation, so that nobody has to sit in the same position for 10 years and get real tired of it. And, I mean, that's just good for us in all kinds of ways, because You know, having a variety of different perspectives, it just helps our approach to be that much more nuanced, that much more considerate.

It's just good for us, all the way around.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So those are the three big areas, and you'll notice that none of them involves some big, huge growth initiative. We have never been a proselytizing spiritual community, and we're not. My philosophy around this is I would like people to be aware of this as an opportunity that they can take if they want to.

I would never tell them you should be an atheopagan.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: I would never say that to any.

Yucca: Yeah. Because it's, I think it's a wonderful option, but it's not the only thing out there. Lots of things work for lots of different people and I'm just grateful that we've got a community of incredible people who really love and care for each other and work together and can, you know, share these values and use a similar framework.

And yet, as we've talked about in so many other podcasts are also so very different in so many delightful ways.

Mark: Right, and we encourage that diversity, right? Like, you know, there isn't this mandated wheel of the year where, you know, the symbols are all the same and the rituals are all the same. No, you create for yourself what's meaningful for you and relates to what nature is doing at a given time of year where you are.

So there's, there's a tremendous amount of freedom. Within atheopaganism, it's meant to be facilitative and supportive and kind of informing rather than directive.

Yucca: hmm. Yeah.

Mark: So that's where we're going. That's, that's the idea there.

Yucca: And it's a fun process.

Mark: it is. It is. And fun people to do it with. So that's, that's all to the good as well. I mean, having not had any comprehension of Arriving here 11 years ago, I have no idea where we might be 10, 11 years from now. It's just, it's hard to, hard to imagine what that could be like.

Yucca: Oh, we'll be an ancient group in neo pagan years at that

Mark: that's, oh, that's true.

Yeah, we'll be almost Bronze Age.

Yucca: Yes. I guess then we'll be, then we'll be legitimate, right? Because

Mark: Right, well, yeah, we'll, we'll be Silicon Age, and by that time it'll all be, you know, molecular computing or or quantum computing, and then we can look back nostalgically at our silicon chips and and yes, we'll, we'll be the old established Version.

Yucca: That's quite funny to think of.

Mark: It is. It is.

Yucca: but yeah. . Alright.

Mark: So, yeah I'd like to thank everyone that has played a part in or participated in or joined, you know, for however long, because some people have decided that it wasn't for them and gone off to do something else. All those people who have played a role in where we've arrived and what we've been able to achieve in serving people, in, in really working to help people be happier and help the world be a better place.

Yucca: Yeah. Thank you.

Mark: Yeah, so thank you to all you listeners, that counts.

Yucca: Absolutely. We are so grateful that you are all here and Yeah.

Mark: Yeah, it's

Yucca: Spending this time with us.

Mark: yeah, it's a real honor and we know that Of all the things that people can donate to a movement or a cause, time is the most precious. You know, the number of people that will contribute to an organization, for example, is always much higher than the number that will volunteer for the organization.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Mark: So, you know, when you give us 30, 40 minutes a week out of your day that's a very meaningful thing and we, we recognize it and we appreciate it.

Yucca: right.

Mark: So, with that, here's to the next 11 years!

Yucca: And we'll see you next week.

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