Can an atheist be pagan? Can a pagan be atheist? If you were to poll various social media communities, you’d get a laundry list of answers. Unfortunately, many of those answers will come from a place of confusion — and even, strangely, anger. Keep in mind that you’ll encounter many newly-converted Pagans, who are more well-read on the intricacies of Christianity, than the numerous paths under the umbrella of Paganism. You may encounter self-taught religious scholars who may argue semantics and other micro-points to try to keep Paganism for those who worship gods and goddesses. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that atheistic paganism is and has long-been practiced, and is as deeply rooted in human history as deistic paganism. The following article is a brief look at the history of atheistic paganism:
Ordinarily when ancient Greece is brought up in a discussion regarding paganism, numerous deities come to mind. The vast majority of ancient Greeks honored a number of gods and goddesses, such as Zeus and Aphrodite. However, there were some who prominently denied the existence of “The Gods,” and some who even formed spiritual paths surrounding this non-worship.
Xenophanes was a 5th Century philosopher who rejected the idea that deities literally existed. Instead, this ancient Greek speculated that the deities worshiped at the time were merely symbolic of human ideas. He was among the first in recorded human history to make this sort of observation of deity-worship, and also among the first ancient philosophers to use the word “god” to describe the nature of the universe, and not a supernatural being.
Democritus, another ancient Greek philosopher, believed that the “soul,” was nothing more than atoms that dispersed into the atmosphere once we die. This ancient pagan also believed that magical spells and concepts such as “the evil eye,” aren’t supernatural, but rather possible within the laws of nature and the universe. In his view, things like spells and prayers (and the apparent success of such) could be attributed to natural powers found within the universe and ourselves. In other words, to Democritus, witchcraft required no belief in any deities, in any ghosts or mythical beings. Successful witchcraft came from within. Like Xenophanes, Democritus also believed that deities were nothing more than human projections.
A highly intelligent and forward-thinking person, Democritus is credited to be the father of the atomic theory of the universe. Democritus believed early-on that the universe and everything in it consists of atoms. Astrophysicists over the centuries, into modern times, have come to the same conclusion.
Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion. – Democritus
In other words, Democritus could be considered one of the world’s first Naturalist Pagans, and was among others during the ancient era who questioned the legitimacy of literal deity-worship. At the very root of this belief lies atheism — the rejection of gods and goddesses as literal beings in existence.
Men ask for health in their prayers to the gods: they do not realize that the power to achieve it lies in themselves. – Democritus
Traditional witchcraft in and of itself isn’t a religious concept. Witches have come from many paths and many religions over the course of the existence of mankind. And just as Democritus believed that magic was a natural human ability, some traditional witches walked godless paths. There is nothing “new age” about the concept of godless magic. And it is no older or “better” than deistic practice. Atheistic and deistic witchcraft have coexisted through all of human history.
Atheism and witchcraft have been controversial ideas in our society for many centuries. The majority of people either worship one god or they worship many, and atheists by far are a minority (albeit a minority that is increasing in numbers). Religious paganism still encompasses most paths, and atheist witches tend to keep to themselves because of this. Nonetheless, we’re here, and we’ve always been here.