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THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, now of the Magic and Mundane channel).

Named #6 in the top15 Pagan podcasts for 2022! https://blog.feedspot.com/pagan_podcasts/

Interview: Sarah the Skeptical Witch on Naturalistic Witchcraft and Religion

February 14, 2022

The Skeptical Witch Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWYaJlQZ7zGSfJv-INEgo1A

www.obscureclouds.com

 

S3E6 TRANSCRIPT:

Mark: Welcome back to the Wonder: Science-based Paganism. I'm your host Mark.

Yucca: and I'm Yucca.

Mark: And today we have a really exciting episode. We are interviewing Sarah, the skeptical witch who has the skeptical, which channel on YouTube. And it's just a super interesting, fascinating person for us to introduce to our listeners.

So welcome, Sarah.

Sarah: It's really great to be here. Thank you guys for having me on. 

Yucca: And thank you for joining us. So we were trying to narrow down all of the things we could talk about before we started too, before we pressed record, because it sounds like we could spend about five hours just going over everything, but why don't we start, Sarah? Will you, will you introduce yourself?

Let us know a little bit about you, about your channel and about who you are and what you're doing.

Sarah: Yeah, sure. So I'm yeah, Sarah, the skeptical, which on YouTube I also have a blog of scare clouds and that was kind of like my, my beginning of like kind of putting my, my practices with like witchcraft and paganism online. It started with that blog and both that, and my channel kind of came out of a synthesis of my own spiritual practice and kind of what my academic interests are.

So, I first came to like witchcraft and paganism through academia actually through like a school project that I was doing.

and kind of fell into it that way and started to craft my own practice. Out of that, out of what I was learning out of the kind of communities that I was engaging with.

And I was a student in anthropology for my undergrad and my masters. And within that, I started to engage with like various peg in witchcraft community is, and a lot of, a lot of, kind of like what I was experiencing. There was a very, I guess, Wu or like, You know, SU superstitious or like magical these kinds of things that we, that we might say about it.

And didn't really necessarily find that there had to be that kind of connection there. So I kind of began to craft my own kind of like skeptical witchcraft practice and a more like naturalistic kind of paganism or like non-theistic paganism as well. And that just kind of grew into to what I put online now.

And I just kind of documented my journey through that and try to combine my, what I'm learning with my, my own practice and Yeah. 

Yucca: And was there something that really drew you to the pagan stuff when you were doing your master's and undergrad?

Sarah: Yeah, I think well, first of all, the kind of the nature aspect of it was what really, really drew me in. I didn't start studying paganism intentionally. I kind of went into studying alternative, like spirituality with a focus on like new age practices. And from there kind of discussed. Paganism and Neo paganism and these things.

And I found that to be really, really fascinating and, and just something about it really clicked with me. So in a kind of an anthropological sense in doing ethnography you'll, you'll often, you know, join in with various community rituals and things. So it was joining in all these rituals. I was talking to all these people.

I was learning all about the religion and that, yeah. It just, I felt like the nature part, especially really just clicked with me as well as the kind of like self-improvement aspect of it and the kind of like inner exploration and transformation and things like this. So that was what really drew me in and kind of, got me hooked, I guess. 

Mark: you know, it's interesting as you say this, because it seems as though naturalistic paganism is something that just gets invented over and over and over. You know, so many of us have kind of created our own and then discovered that there were other people out there who are also doing it. So it's it's kind of wonderful that way.

It apparently there is, there's something out there to be found in the wedding of a naturalistic worldview and a scientifically skeptical mindset with a nature earth worshiping or revering kind of practice. So tell us a little bit about your approach to your witchcraft, to the sorts of ritual. And I don't know if you call it spell work or not, or.

That's tough. So the practical kind of implementation stuff. 

Sarah: Yeah. So, yeah, I guess I do like what I call like skeptical witchcraft and it has a lot of overlap with like atheistic or like secular witchcraft as well. So like you said, there, there were a lot of people like doing this at the same time that I just didn't really like realize we're doing it and it, it kind of took me a while to find that.

So it's cool that like, so many of us have kind of been like crafting our own practices. And there's a lot of like similarities there. So, so yeah, my like my particular approach to it is yeah. Using things like spells or like divination or ritual things that would be kind of in a more mainstream witchcraft practice and kind of taking the. I guess the more like supernatural magical elements out of it. So for me, it's largely psychological the way that I approach my witchcraft. So it's, it's largely about you know, setting intentions and like manifesting these intentions, not through transforming like actual physical reality, like out there in the world, but through kind of changing my own mindset, the way that I think about things improving my confidence in a lot of circumstances, you know, changing the way that I see things so that I can then change my own reality.

Right. So it's Yeah. less about kind of changing the external world. And a lot of it has to do with like the placebo effect as well as kind of like a suspension of disbelief. And then I also kind of, I don't practice, like what's called chaos, magic and witchcraft necessarily, but like I do like the kind of idea coming out of chaos magic that belief can be used as a tool.

And it's not so much necessarily like explanations that matter, but experiences that do. So sometimes I will use that like suspension of disbelief to kind of like allow myself in the moment to like believe in the reality of magic, believe in like the reality of stereotypes or, or something. And, and use that to, to benefit me, even if I like rationally know, like, like that kind of underlying level, that it's not actually true.

It's, I'm using belief in the moment as a tool to, to kind of create these experiences and allow myself to to have those really like transformative moments. 

Mark: Yeah, that's, you're, you're really singing our tune here. there's, there's so much power in that suspension of disbelief and the acting as if, you know, we, we all talk about the imposter syndrome, how we find ourselves in these roles where there's this voice in us going, I don't really know how to do this.

How did they give me this job? Right. And that, that acting as if makes us able to do the job and to grow into the ability to do what we were, you know, what what's expected of us. I, I just think that all of that stuff is so fascinating and it's very similar to the way that I do my own ritual practices at my, at my focus or alter and in rituals, out in the world,

Yucca: Can we, can we come back around to, to the too skeptical? Right? So you've got the skeptical, which, and what does that part mean to you? Right. So what is it to be a skeptic or skeptical? Because that has some strong connotations, that word in our, in our culture. So how are you using that?

Sarah: Yeah, for Sure

I guess that's just like where I was coming from it with with the skeptical idea was kind of just always questioning things. Never, just kind of accepting things like at face value, always having that like kind of inquisitive mind. And I think that that's important when it comes to like, you know, anything really.

So like whether it's the supernatural or whether it's, you know, mainstream science, like, I think it's always important to be kind of asking questions and, and having like a skeptical outlook and not necessarily in like a negative way, but I think that that can be a positive. But then, yeah. But on the flip side, I also do kind of.

I think that embracing mystery and sometimes knowing when to stop asking questions can also be a good thing as well. And I do try to find that balance too. 

Yucca: Nice.

Mark: skeptical, but not cynical.

Sarah: Yeah.

exactly. I like. 

Mark: Yeah. So, you, the, the other part of, of introducing you is that you are a PhD camp. And religious studies and you're doing your work on naturalistic, paganism and naturalistic religious paths, which is so fascinating. I mean, if, if I had, if I were in grad school again, if it were 30 years ago or whatever it was that is a direction that I almost certainly would have gone.

So I'm really interested in what you're learning and what those experiences are and what, how that's changing your perspective on the world. And what's important. All that kind of thing. 

Sarah: Yeah, 

Mark: There. Wasn't a question in there. I'm sorry. I.

Sarah: No, no. Yeah. Yeah. And I'm, I'm very happy that like, yeah, I guess the state of. Yeah, academia right now is such that I. can kind of study these more like obscure topics, things that probably would have been like laughed at like 15 years ago. So it's cool that this is becoming more and more acceptable.

And actually one of the one of my committee members has actually studied atheopagan in the past as 

well. So it's really interesting to know that it's kind of, spreading within the academic world as well. Yeah. So yeah, I'm, I'm really interested in my own personal research is probably going to be focusing on the connection between like religion and science and the environment.

And these are topics that are sometimes discussed in relation to one another, but never like all three of them usually, like there isn't much kind of discussion around the intersection of all three of those. So that's kind of where I'm hoping to fill a bit of a gap. And I guess I'm really interested in like the question of secularization and like how that's transforming religion and religious meaning and spirituality and how.

How people find transcendence and kind of, meaning beyond the individual ego within the modern secular world. And one of the ways that people are finding that is, is through nature now. And that's kind of replacing more traditional, like organized religion or like church structures nowadays.

So that's yeah, that's the one kind of aspect of it. And also just how, like, even scientists are reporting feelings of like transcendence kind of just in the lab, looking at, you know, natural phenomena or astronauts kind of looking at it, or having these moments of awe and like, really like spiritually profound moments.

So I'm really interested in, in how transcendence and like that experience is shifting and changing today. And Yeah. Also considering contested relationships that exist between like religion and the environment, and also like science and the environment. And so, and, and also religion and science, like for a lot of people, religion and science seem to be like polar opposites and that's not necessarily the case and religions like atheopagan ism and other forms of religious naturalism are really like challenging that binary.

And it's just kind of interesting to explore how things are really shifting today. 

Mark: Yeah. I, I find it fascinating, you know, kind of, you know, Yucca and I are both kind of in the middle of it because we're kind of working to get, put this out into the world. And to me, it just seems so natural now. I mean, I think when I was first exploring these ideas, religion and science were kind of bashing against one another, but when I stopped.

Looking at it that way they seem to dovetail very well. And that, that sense, I don't really like the word transcendence very much except for sort of transcending the individual into some, you know, larger state of some consciousness of, of connection and place in the universe. It seems to me that what's happening is we're moving into an era of spiritual agency where people are able to choose their own paths rather than having them kind of force fed to them.

And what they're going back to is what is most inspiring and nature is what is most inspiring and space. I mean, space is very, very inspiring. It's part of

Yucca: nature, right? Nature. Yeah. It's all connected. Right? We liked it as humans. We like to separate. Okay. This is chemistry. This is physics. This is space. This is neat, but no, like it's all connected, right? Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Mark: So I think this is a very exciting time to be getting involved with these questions. And there are a lot of people out there who are hungry for this. Have so many experiences of it on the atheopagan doesn't Facebook group of people coming in and saying, you know, I had no idea that anybody else felt this way.

And I thought I was the only one and I found my people and this is just the most wonderful thing. And it, it makes, it makes me imagine a world. Where people could be taught from a young age that their spirituality is their own and they could be taught ritual skills so that they can sort of discover for themselves what's meaningful.

I find that the further I go down this path, the more my vision of the world is veering away from the way it actually there's a lot of change that needs to happen.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, no, that's an interesting point though. And I think that that's like a really wonderful vision for the future too. And I do wonder, like, as someone who studies like alternative spirituality, like I do see things kind of going in that direction in some sense. So like a lot of like American spirituality today is, is very individualistic and it's criticized for that in some ways, but it can also be a good thing and that it's, you know, it's more about discovering what works for you and you know yeah, exactly.

Like kind of giving you the, the, the tools for ritual and then kind of letting you discover what you will with that. 

Yucca: Hmm. So Sarah, how does one go about studying and researching these topics? Because these are amazing questions, but w where does one even start? Right? This is such a huge, huge field, right?

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, I'm actually in the midst of doing my my comprehensive exams right?

now. And I just did my general comprehensive exams and I'll be moving into my field comprehensive exams. And so I'm going to be studying kind of my committee is just going to put together a large list of books for me, like on these topics to kind of give you that, that foundation for, for actually going and then doing the research.

And then the research that I'm hoping to do is going to be a mostly online ethnography, I think. So I'll be hopefully like engaging in various like religious naturalist kind of communities online and learning about it from the people who actually practice it. Like the, the secondary research is important. But it's, it's really that primary research. Define what we learned from this, what I learned from it, I guess. 

Yucca: Right. So, so for our listeners, the secondary would be what you're talking about, digging into the existing research, right? Like you're going to learn, read all the books that you can find everything that's out there. And then you're going to do your primary research, which is the unique. Nobody has done this before.

You're going to be, go into communities, ask questions, observe, be recording. What you, what you see and hear is that, am I understanding correctly? 

Sarah: Yeah.

yeah, exactly. Yeah. 

Mark: Well, we have a golden opportunity for you coming up in may. If you want to do some field research, we're doing the century retreat in Colorado Springs in may. We would be delighted to have you come and join. A bunch of atheopagan is doing atheopagan things, rituals, fellowship, and all that.

Sarah: Yeah, that. sounds fantastic. Yeah, 

Mark: I'll send you some information about it. Yeah.

Sarah: perfect. Yeah. that'd be great. Thank you. 

Mark: You're welcome. Be great to have you there.

Yucca: So after, after your, your kind of literature review set part of your studies, then you're going to be coming up with a specific question you're looking for an answer to, that, is that how it works? 

Sarah: yeah. Yeah, exactly. So after these exams, they kind of, the literature review. I'm gonna create my, my proposal basically. That will then allow me to go and actually figure out what the answer to that question is. So 

Yucca: then you create a lot of literature of your own to add to that body, right? That's part of the process,

Sarah: hopefully that's the goal. Yeah. 

Mark: and so, and I realized that this is a really dirty question to ask a PhD candidate. What is your vision for what you'll do with this is your plan to go into academia and teach in religious studies or to be a chaplain or to be a naturalistic clergy member of some kind or.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I, I'm hoping to go into academia further, but unfortunately right now it's, it's it's not looking good for new 

Yucca: the changing world.

Sarah: Yeah. 

So unfortunately, you know, we'll see if that's actually a reality, but I, I do hope to, to write a lot on kind of what I've discovered, like that's kind of my number one passion.

And I think that got me into academics in the first place was just a love for writing. So hopefully that's something that I'll be able to do, regardless of whether I actually get hired in a university or not. 

Mark: great. Great. You could write the the naturalistic paganism drawing down the moon for the 21st century. It'd be great. 

Sarah: Yeah. 

Mark: Yeah. I was listening to one of your or watching one of your YouTube videos recently, and you were talking about post humanism and I'm really interested in that because I feel that. a lot of, a lot of how our spiritual orientations are trying to sort of steer the ship of history is in a more nature revering ecosystem, respecting direction.

And of course it's very slow, but that perspective of getting beyond humanism, beyond the focus, simply on the human and the benefit to the human and that's, that's not discounting the human as I, at least as I understand it, it's encompassing of the human, but it expands to be so much more. What, tell us about that.

That would be. 

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah post humanism is kind of like a philosophy worldview or just kind of a an approach to kind of thinking about things. That's very much a reaction against like enlightenment humanism, so that focus on human beings as these like bounded rational subjects that exists in kind of like this isolated world of their own.

They're kind of separate from the rest of the world. They're separate from other people. There's an emphasis on dualisms and humanism. So kind of creating that separation between self and other self and world human and, or like nature and culture and postmodernism is just reacting against that and really trying to deconstruct those dualisms.

And there's a lot of like that enlightenment humanist kind of thinking, that's still within a lot of our modern systems and like a lot of our modern ways of thinking about things. So, that's, that's kind of where post-feminism is coming from. And it especially plays a role in how I approach, like thinking about the environment and ecology, and also spirituality is like part of that.

So, I guess one of the Major kind of criticisms of, of like environmentalism or like conservation ism today. And this is something that you guys can maybe enlightened me about a little bit as well, is that there's a very like subject object. Dichotomous way of thinking about things. So the researcher or like science in general, like this kind of scientific body of knowledge will often be positioned as having this like neutral kind of God's eye view.

That's like separate from the actual natural world, separate from things as they are. And, and it's like a very disembodied kind of way of thinking about things that doesn't think about human beings necessarily as, as part of that like natural world. And I guess we see this a lot in kind of like resource management kind of based ways of thinking about ecology and Ways of thinking about it that are very focused on like the economy and things.

So I, the post-human approach and like new materialism, which is a part of that. And all of this is kind of part of a of a critique of that and a critique of like, this is a barrier that's really constructed between like nature and culture. And I know that that's like also something that like atheopagan ism is, is concerned with and the, you guys have kind of discussed on the podcast as well.

And so. There have been arguments within like science and technology studies or like environmentalism that say we need kind of like a, a spiritual perspective almost to kind of combat that, that divide and to kind of be thinking about forming more like ethical reciprocal relationships with the non-human world in ways that are like actually helpful to both us ans and the non-human world.

So, yeah, so I think like a post-human perspective and a spiritual perspective can go hand in hand in that sense. And I, that's kind of how I connect them in my own thinking. So yeah. I wonder what you guys think of other thought as well. 

Yucca: Oh so much.

Mark: Yes,

Yucca: so much in that. Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. 

Mark: have no dispute here.

Yucca: Yeah. I mean, there was, there was just so, like, I love everything that you were saying and just, you know, my mind just went full of things to comment upon that. My, my original background is in resource management, so, range, ecology and management, and then agricultural ecology before I went into planetary science.

So I still actually work as an ecologist and a restoration ecologist specifically for range land. And one of the, the things that I've seen in the field is that a lot of science we're coming from this reductionist point of view and reductionism is really, really helpful and useful way of thinking. It's a tool.

And in ecology, we've been starting to move away from that into a more systems thinking emergence, sort of. That starts to see the connections, but there's, there's still more right? There's that the ethics piece that you were talking about, which is what I think things like permaculture tries to address that's guided with the like, oh, let's have, you know, people care and fair share and are sharing all of that.

But there's this tricky place where we get into where we run into things like our confirmation bias that we talk about a lot on this podcast that we haven't figured out a way to do really good science and also bring in the, the systems thinking enough, I think because we, we get into this place where we were humans.

We're not very good at telling the difference between what we think and what we feel. And we confused my, my emotional response to what this land looks like or what, you know, I believe about this particular animal or that animal. And we kind of let that in. And so I think there's a lot of resistance with scientists of not wanting the, all of that bias to come in.

And that's part of, what's like trying to hold back. The let's not think about that side of it because we, we don't want to be doing bad science, but we haven't gotten to the point of where we need to bring more, to expand our understanding of what these systems are kind of rambling here, but yeah,

Mark: No, I, I, I, I think what you're saying is absolutely true. And part of the problem is that in the scientific frame, we discount the experiential and subjective

Yucca: right.

Mark: and the experiential, we discounted to the point that we throw it away entirely.

Yucca: Yeah. So we're putting the baby out with the bath water because it's important, but we also don't want it to take over the objective part, right?

Mark: Yeah. You don't want to romanticize the, the natural system that you're looking at to the degree that you can't make any decisions anymore about how to relate to it.

Yucca: yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess kind of like adding to that, like another aspect of post-feminism is giving voice to people's who have been previously silenced by who have not necessarily been considered human because they have not been considered, you know, rational. Communities people. So like indigenous peoples for example and post-feminism kind of is trying to center those voices a little more.

And I think that that's also like something in ecology as well, that we're seeing too, like taking these more kind of like spiritual, not necessarily like Western science-based kind of perspectives and applying that to how we understand our relationships with the environment and how they can be improved and things.

So, is that something that you've noticed as well? Like maybe more so 

Mark: Some 

Sarah: ecology today? A little bit. 

Mark: it, the challenge that I've experienced, because most of my involvement has been well, there've been kind of two buckets of what I've done. I've done a lot of advocacy, a lot of public organizing and advocacy on behalf of, of nature. And then I've also worked in the restoration field. Basically generating the funding to pay for restoration projects.

I'm not designing those projects. That's not my area, but what I've seen, especially on the advocacy side is that there is such complete contempt for the experiential on the part of economic interests. Then it becomes very difficult to even get them in the room. You know, there's the whole NIMBY thing, right?

Not in my backyard is an accusation that gets made by everybody who wants to do some God awful earth ribbing project. And their, their response is, well, this is my land. And I want to maximize the economic value that I can get out of it. And it doesn't matter, you know, if it doesn't matter what a complete.

Blight on the land. It's going to be, as long as they can quantify that there, they won't have polluted runoff or air quality impacts or any of those kinds of things. You know, the simple fact that something is an abomination, doesn't get into the discussion.

Yucca: My, my situation we live in, in very different areas. I'm in Northern New Mexico, which is very interesting cultural area. And there's a lot of, of tensions that are, are, you know, centuries old tensions around land use and management. Because we have, we, we talk about it as being three different main groups, but it's it's much, much more complex than that.

So we have the pueblos here, so we've got the tribes and then we have the old Spanish families and then we have the newer Anglos. And then a lot of that land is managed now by forest service and BLM and from almost everyone's perspective, it was stolen from them. So there's a whole.

Going on with that. But what I have been often involved with, because again, my area is actually in range. Ecology is dealing with public lands where there will be people with very, very strong ideas about what animals are good and what aren't and what things should look like and what things shouldn't look like.

And I think a lot of it is also like they would never admit it, but I think a lot of it is, is racially motivated because the people who are. Ranchers. Aren't Anglo. And so there's a, there's a lot of like people who come in, especially from, other states and Northern, sorry, Northern California can come in with very strong ideas about how the land should be managed and about what's environmentally right.

And not, and have a really hard time listening to what the people are saying. And to, to even be able to see that something like a cow could be good, right. If the people have these really strong ideas, they come in with the, like the super vegan bias and all of that. And like, oh, you can't don't touch the land.

And it's pristine wilderness and forgetting, but people have been here for thousands of years and people have been here for hundreds of years and that there, that there's there's. There's the science, there's also the way that people manage culturally. And we have to consider all of those things, not just, and also that some of the signs that they're bringing in might not be good science that they're claiming, right.

 That they don't understand how ranges work and how these systems work. And so where I live, it's, it's there's just a lot of, of tension and there's a lot of, people trying to work this out and different, cultural groups clashing and not really being able to talk about what's really going on.

And it's a lot of, it's very emotional and old trauma and people totally oblivious. And I mean, that's, this could be a whole, it is many, many podcasts. Lots of people do this. But it's a very interesting area. So I know that you, you kind of coming back to your question about do we see that in our fields.

That the, there being a, a growing awareness. And I think that there, there is a growing awareness. I see a lot of places where we need the work. Right. It's a very where I live. It's, it's very raw. It's very, very real. And it's right. Like I, you know, I, I don't know if you can hear it, but I, you know, have very strong feelings about it because I look at as a range of colleges, I look at the land and I, and I see that it's, that it's very, very damaged land.

But then, you know, it's hard to say that because there'll be people who, who go, but it's so beautiful. Right. You know, leave it alone. Don't do anything. Don't touch it. And then ecologists like myself going, if we don't touch it, we're losing it.

Mark: It it'll get covered with star thistle and nothing else.

Yucca: or nothing. We're talking about land that has, that is we do not have soil in these areas and they're going, oh no, this is natural.

And I'm like, this does not look that this erosion here, like we have to do something and they say, no, no, no humans have messed it up. Humans can't go in and touch it. You know, we we've messed everything up, but it's like, well, okay. But if the broken bone is broken, you need to set that bone. You've got to get involved. Or else, I guess we could let nature take its path in that. And just as in, let it degrade even further and lose even more biodiversity where we can take some steps. Right. so

Mark: the big piece that I hear missing from your description of the situation, and it's the same one that I experienced up here is the concept of reciprocity that we have. Responsibilities to land and animals and water and air and trees and all that kind of thing. And that, that w what we take has to be balanced by what we give.

And that's just such an alien concept in the west that it, it almost never even gets voiced.

Yucca: Well, and, and at least for this half of the continent, I think it it's, we're not at a point of balance. We're at a point of, we need to be giving more because we have such degraded lands and, and being that humans have such short lifespans, we may not recognize that at first, right. We might look out at the west or we might look out at the planes and go, oh, this is beautiful.

And it is beautiful, but it's also hurt and sick and we can, we can see that it needs to be that. That it is degrading and that it's going to keep degrading unless we do something. So,

Mark: Okay.

Yucca: Yeah, 

Sarah: yeah, no, for sure. Yeah. And I think that that's also, I guess, I guess like a perspective that could tie into post you as, as well just like kind of going back to that like the, the idea of like pure nature is, is just an illusion and to have that human intervention is not a bad thing. And yeah.

And I guess there have been some like, oh, sorry, go ahead. 

Yucca: part of nature, right? Like that's showing this idea that like, human shouldn't intervene. Well, no, but, but we're here and at least where I'm sitting right now, we've been here for about 20,000 years, right. Or more, but at least 20,000 years, we know that, right. Like humans, we talk about us as if we're oh, humans intervening, but, but no matter what we do, we're influencing.

The system so we can choose what we're like, we're making choices either way. So, and I'm sorry, Sarah. I jumped, I was very excited and 

Sarah: Oh no, Yeah.

no, no. Yeah. exactly. No, that's a great point. And yeah, it was just going to say, like, this is also something that like, you know, indigenous people, like who have been on this land for thousands of years, like they've, they've known that for, for millennia. And you know, that's kind of where I think listening to these voices can be really important and then kind of learning from that.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah. And indigenous people, some, some indigenous people have in their history, the experience of the disaster of mismanagement of land, right. There are, you know, abandoned civilizations where, you know, soil got so depleted that it just couldn't produce food anymore. And people had to move out and go somewhere else.

The end. That's very powerful lesson, you know, I would think you would learn a lot from having to disrupt your culture that seriously. So I've been thinking a lot lately about vision for the future. I mean, I, I think of atheopagan ism is as having a definite political component to it and and it, and a visionary component for how humans can live with one another and with the earth with the rest of the earth, because we are of course the earth.

And I wonder. wonder whether your research is going to move, it will include any like speculation about where naturalistic spirituality is going. Or if you have thoughts about that or, you know, what the trends are that you see happening, 

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think that that's, I mean, like, that's honestly, probably like one of the big questions that my research is going to be asking, because I think that is like a really important question. And I think, you know, what, what I've seen so far is that. What's really important is this shift in mindset that we've been talking about, like kind of moving away from like that, that divide between like peer nature and like human and nature and culture, and like, you know, breaking down those barriers and entering into like more reciprocal relationships with the non-human and kind of seeing it in more of a kinship sense.

And I guess, yeah, like one of the big questions that I do want to ask is like, how can religions help us in this? Like it beyond the context of those specific religions, right? Like how can this become more of a, a political or global kind of thing that we're thinking about? And You know, I don't necessarily like have an answer for that yet, but that is something that I do hope to answer.

And I think that it's, it's really going to be the people that I talk to or who are going to be answering that. And like, it's going to come out of, you know, seeing, seeing the work that they're doing and the kind of mindsets that they have and the approaches that they take to engaging with the environment and considering how, how we can learn from that in, in a, in a more broad kind of sense.

So, yeah, it's definitely an important question. 

Yucca: One of the things that you talked about being really interested in was how, how people find meaning and importance and talking about how in, in some of these forms of paganism, like an atheopagan ism and other alternative religions that are more nature-based and science-based how people are, are looking for that meaning.

Is that something that, I mean, can you speak to that a little bit? 

Sarah: Yeah. Do you mean like from a personal 

Yucca: no. Oh, either way, like from a personal sense or things or trends that you've been seeing, I know you're just getting started with your research, but are there particular trends that you're seeing.

Sarah: yeah. Yeah, so I think that like in general they're often like when thinking about like modern, secular society from, from kind of a mainstream perspective, there's often been this idea that like, you know, rationalization and like this kind of. The more scientifically become the less and chanted the world becomes.

And the less like, meaningful the world becomes an kind of like an ethical or like sacred sense. And I think from what I've been studying, this isn't the case at all, like secularization may cause like, a decline in more organized forms of religion. But I think it also increases religious pluralism and it increases like more kind of individual approaches to, to finding spiritual meaning.

And I think that we're also really seeing like a blurring of the sacred and the secular and that's, that's also something I'm really interested in is how you know, things that would have once been considered secular, like nature are becoming very spiritual and people are finding kind of their own version of the divine in that, whatever that may be.

Or the transcendent and I don't mean that in like a God way necessarily. I just mean it in, I think kind of what you said, mark, like, something that's bigger than, than you kind of sense or like a, a sense of yeah, just, just meaning that, that goes beyond that, like ego or, or kind of our, our everyday lives that we're caught up in and things like that.

So, yeah, so nature is kind of one area even science, sports, you know, also like popular culture and materialism, like even, even that can be like a place where people are finding like maybe not spiritual experiences, but like different kinds of, like, of meaning and, and yeah, if that kinda makes sense. 

Mark: Sure. Well, I mean, under, under capitalism, what you accumulate is who you are. So, you know, the, your identity gets all bound up in the meaning of your life. It's all bound up in, you know, your wealth and your possessions. Oh, that kind of stuff. So, I mean, I'm, I really hope we can move away from that because it's incredibly destructive, but there's no doubt that acquisition is something that many people find gives them meaning in their life.

And I think that's why we have a lot of people who have kind of a hole in the middle of them.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, sure, sure. 

Yucca: So Sarah, when you, when you speak of secular or secularization, what do you, what do you mean by that? Right. Because a lot of the, cause you're talking about religion, but secular this, it could be a little bit like I'm a little bit confused sometimes on what does that really mean? Right? Is it just not organized religion or is it no religion at all?

Is that word changing? Its meaning over time.

Sarah: Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah, that's a good question. I should have addressed that kind of going into it, but it is like a really complex question too. So like secularization, as we generally think about it kind of comes out of like the 1960s sociology and like that general idea was just like a decline in religion in modern society.

So that's like, that's the typical way of thinking about secularization is that like, you know, as you know, we learn more about the world and we have kind of more scientific knowledge about the world around us religious religions they were thought anyway to that they would be declining. And, and we're not necessarily seeing that.

So. The secular in general is more just like this idea that we live now in a society where, well, the way that I see it anyway, there's many different ways of approaching it, but like it's more than we just, we live in a society where we, where religion is, is an option. Now it's one option among many kind of, so, You know, whereas like 200 years ago it would have been pretty like unthinkable that you weren't religious in some sense.

Right. But now it's, it's, you know, it's just an option and belief isn't like the default anymore. And so that's kind of like the idea of the secular as I'm talking about it. And Yeah.

So, secularization is also something that I'm going to be kind of looking at in my own research. And it's something that my supervisor is kind of looking at and just like this idea of, we need to redefine what secularization actually is, because we're not seeing this decline in religion.

That was that was predicted in, in the way that it was predicted. Religion is changing, but it's not disappearing

Yucca: So, was it referring in the beginning when, like not being religious to not being one of like the big three kind of, 

Sarah: kind of, 

Yucca: religion at all? Cause I know there's been over time, there's been back and forth about what people consider religion. That's one of the things that atheopagan get thrown at them a lot.

So he can't possibly be a religion cause you're not, you don't believe in a God. Right. And people have said that about Buddhism and people have said that about, you know, a lot of the Eastern religions or things like that.

Sarah: Yeah, no, for sure. It was definitely like thought that kind of yeah, like religion in general and like, just like a religious way of seeing things. So like, I guess in opposed to like a scientific way of seeing things. But also there's no necessarily no necessarily kind of like harsh divide between those things but, but yeah, I guess like secularization in the, in the 1960s, when it was first kind of theorized was, was very much of a, like um, yeah, these kind of main organized religious traditions and they are kind of declining.

I think that.

but in like an organized sense. more just they're changing, I guess. 

Mark: Sure because I mean, the spiritual impulse is something that's baked into us. You know, many of us have kind of culturally headed hammered out of us. Particularly men. I mean, when I, when I look at mainstream men, I they're, they're permitted an effect is so narrow. They're allowed to be aggressive or angry.

That's their emotional range. And they've got this work ethic about, you know, work yourself to death and, you know, don't, don't acknowledge when things are going wrong with your body and all that kind of stuff. But it seems as though. Given an opportunity given, given a culture that fosters it, the spiritual impulse is something that pretty much everybody has because it answers big questions about who am I and what does it mean to be alive and how should I live?

And, you know, those are, those are important questions to get answered for yourself. So I think this idea from the sixties that we were going to become more and more rational actors in a sort of economic sense it just flies in the face of reality. I talk about this in my book a little bit. You know, the reason that Richard Dawkins is barking up the wrong tree is that he assumes that humans are these rational creatures.

If they can just get all that damn religion out of their minds. And we are inherently biologically, not rational actors, the nature of our brains as they evolved, prevent us from being rational actors, which is why science is so valuable because it enables us to kind of filter out the subjectivity as best we can and draw conclusions.

But I dunno, I'm ranting now, but I, I just feel like spirituality is something that's always going to be with us for as long as we're human. 

Sarah: for sure. And I really like appreciated that part of your, your book was kind of discussing like, that aspect of human cognition that is just kind of inclined towards spirituality or religion, or like finding meaning in some way. And I think it's, it's very true and this kind of assumption that we would just become like overly rational and kind of let go of that spiritual impulse.

I think it was kind of fundamentally flood and that's why we're not seeing it. And Yeah.

Mark: Well, let me ask this. Is there anything you would like for our listeners to know about you're thinking about, you know, what you're learning that you're you find surprising or edifying or something that really people really need to know?

Sarah: That's, that's a good question. One thing that I've just kind of experienced, I guess, just from like, Do we like having this YouTube channel and having a blog and everything and kind of putting what I'm learning online is that my thinking is constantly changing. And I'll go back like, and listen to like a video that I did a year ago.

And I'll think like, you know, I still hold some of those beliefs, but a lot of them have changed and it's just kind of constantly changing. And I think that, I guess that's maybe something that I'd want people to know, like if they watched my content. But other than that I guess just the importance of finding your own path when it comes to spirituality and religion and witchcraft.

I get like a lot of. Comments from viewers saying that, you know, they, they always felt like they couldn't practice witchcraft or they couldn't be religious because there's just this very, you know, they kind of see the mainstream dominant way of practicing witchcraft or being religious and, and they, they don't see themselves in that.

But I think that, you know? having discussions like these and like your, your your podcast and like, your work and everything that kind of goes to show that there are different ways of, of being a Pegan today. And there are different ways of practicing witchcraft and, and being religious. And you don't have to kind of conform to. but what seems to be expected in that sense. And even if people find it weird, even if people find it confusing there is always going to be someone who thinks similarly to you. And it's just a matter of finding that, I think.

Mark: But I saw a bumper sticker once it said something like there are others. Go find them. 

Sarah: Yeah, 

Mark: However alone you feel there are others go find them,

Yucca: well, and that's how it always starts. Right? What's normal to us and expected today was weird and strange. And there were just only a few people doing it at one point, right. We, today we can sit here and talk about mainstream paganism. Right? Think about that for a moment. That was not that wasn't something we, that one used to be able to do.

Everything was weird and confusing and kind of, you know, looked down the nose at, but now the whole movement is growing and, and it's going to be changing and. And, you know, you can fit into it or not. There's a way that works for you.

Sarah: Yeah. 

Mark: When WCA has been referenced, recognized by the U S government as a, as an official religion for purposes of the military, that's a, that's a pretty big step.

Yucca: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.

definitely. Yeah. It's not so fringe anymore. 

Mark: Right? Right. Well, you know, do believe that a lot of what's happening with the, the, the rise of the nones, N O N E S in, certainly in the United States has to do with people flocking away from the hardcore right-wing ideologies of many of those religious entities and paganism by and large is not.

It's generally something that's much more inclusive, much more tolerant, much more progressive. It's about people developing themselves and being the best people they can be. And it's about a better world. And I, you know, for the same reasons that people are attracted to star Trek, I think they get attracted to, you know, being part of a movement.

That's about being better people and being part of a better world. 

Sarah: Yeah, definitely. 

Mark: Well, Sarah, this has been wonderful. It has really been enjoyable to talk with you about all this. And as Yucca said, we could go on for another three hours about all the, all the things. I really encourage people to check out your YouTube channel the skeptical, which

Yucca: LinkedIn, the show notes.

Mark: Good. Okay. Very thoughtful, very interesting engaging stuff.

So, and we, we really appreciate your coming on the podcast. It's been great to have you here.

Sarah: Yeah, it's been really great to be on here.

So thank you guys so much. 

Yucca: Thanks Sarah.