A Life-Affirming Religion

“Spring” (detail) by Lawrence Alma Tadema

“Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfy­ing life, is, in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.”

— James Leuba, The Monist (1901)

Neo-Pagans seek to live life in the present, in the here and now, rather than seeking to escape into heaven or nirvana. The Neo-Pagan ethos focuses on enjoying and celebrating the fact of life itself. Rather than living life in terms of religion, Neo-Pagans seek to live their religion in terms of life. To Neo-Pagans, life is to be lived as fully as possible in harmony with pleasure, responsibil­ity toward others, and personal growth. As the existen­tialist, Albert Camus, declared, “If there is a sin against life, it consists not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” The Transcendentalist, William Wordsworth, expressed this senti­ment too:

Not in Utopia,—subterranean fields,—
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!

But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,—the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all!

— William Wordsworth, “French Revolution”

Ancient pagan religions were fertility religions. They sought to promote the growth of grain and the abundance of herds through prayer and sacrifice. Neo-Pagans embrace a broader con­cept of fertility, one that is not only physical, but also mental and spir­itual. We humans can create, not only through physical reproduc­tion, but also with our hands and minds, through art and science, commerce and industry, social relations and per­sonal develop­ment. As Wiccan priestess, Doreen Valiente, ex­plained, “There is a spiritual as well as a material fertility; and human life is a desert without it.” Along the same line, Wiccan priest, Ed Fitch wrote, “[I]n the old days a material fruitfulness was needed for life, but now the craving is for fruitfulness within the soul itself.”

This is what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said he wanted to “live deliberately” and to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” This sense of life abundant is what some Neo-Pagans call “energy.” It is experienced when we live in the present, in our bodies, in the tangible world of sense, and as part of the sensual rhythm of nature. Dancer and choreographer, Mar­tha Graham, explains:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”

Finding and cultivating this energy is one of the goals of Neo-Pagan spirituality.

For Neo-Pagans, the sheer, intoxicating joy of being alive is a religious experience. Neo-Pagans sing, dance, feast, laugh, joke, and have fun during their religious rituals. Spiritual feminist, Ka­ren Clark counsels:

“[Neo-]Paganism is a spiritual practice that calls us to a joy­ful, sensual communion with nature and our bodies. Take a walk on the wild side with your unruly, untama­ble pagan nature. Turn up your favorite music and dance from the inside-out. Eat a bowl of the ripest, sweet­est fruit you can find. Make love to your partner as if you are made of one skin. Breathe the blue of the sky deep into your lungs. Spin yourself dizzy under the moon­light. Be radically, delectably, unapologetically alive!”

For Neo-Pagans, joy is seen as a pathway to the divine. This senti­ment was expressed well by Algernon Blackwood, the au­thor of the short story, “A Touch of Pan,” which describes the epiphany of the god, Pan, to a group of contemporary English men and women:

“He came with blessing. With the stupendous Presence there was joy, the joy of abundant, natural life, pure as the sunlight and the wind. … There was sweetness, peace, and loveliness; but above all there was—life. He sanctioned every natural joy in them and blessed each pas­sion with his power of creation.”

pdated 2019

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