Urban Paganism with Special Guests Eric Steinhart and Joh
Manage episode 337913296 series 2634748
Book mentioned: “Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei & the Ritual of Everyday Life” by Patrick J. Donmoyer
Eric's website is at www.ericsteinhart.com
Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com
Mark: Welcome back to the Wonder Science: Based-Paganism. I'm your host Mark.
Yucca: And I'm the other one Yucca.
Mark: And today we have a very special episode of The Wonder. We're really excited to discuss urban paganism with two guests from New York City, Joh and Eric Steinhart. And so welcome to both of you.
Joh: Hi, thank you so much for having us great to be here.
Mark: really delighted to have you, so I guess, to get started why don't we just ask you to tell us a bit about yourselves? How did you come to non paganism? You wanna start Joh?
Joh: Sure. My name is Joh. I've lived in New York for about 16 years. My path is very new. It's only about four years old. I've always been drawn to certain. Aesthetics around the occult I was a teen goth in the nineties, which perfect for that, but I never, I never really thought that I fit into any of those paths.
I couldn't put my finger on why. A few years ago I purchased a, a beginner's book on, on witchcraft and developing your own identity as a witch. I got it just for fun, for a long train ride. There's a bit in there in the beginning that outlines different kinds of witches or witchcraft like green witches, kitchen, witches, chaos, magic, wicca.
I'd heard some of these. Terms before, but they're described very plainly in the book and it gave me a little bit of a glimpse into how vast of a world paganism might be that I didn't know anything about, or I hadn't realized. So I started reading a lot more about developing a practice, but still didn't really feel like I fit in.
I couldn't relate to the belief system parts. And in one of my internet rabbit holes, I learned about the book godless paganism, which described paganism from a more science based lens. And I just got really excited about what that sounded like. So I ordered it to my local bookstore and I devoured that book, the concepts, it taught me even more about how personal one's path can be and that there is this little corner of this world that felt like a fit and like I could belong.
So then I started looking for a community because I was so excited and I wanted to talk about it with people. And I was clicking on links and links and links online and finally found the atheopagan Facebook group, which was the first active community that I had found that actually had recent activity in there.
So I, I joined and I've been in that community for about two to three years, and it's just such an incredibly supportive, inspiring place that gives me ideas of how to develop my practice even more. And you know, now fast forward to today, I'm just really grateful to have found this community and group and little subset of of the path.
Mark: That's great. Thank you.
Yucca: Yeah, Eric, what about you?
Eric: Yeah. So, I mean, I come from a very strange place. I mean, I'm Pennsylvania, German and Pennsylvania, German culture often known as Pennsylvania, Dutch, but we're not Dutch. We're Germans. And that culture is a magical culture and, you know, magic was normalized in that culture from the very beginning from its very roots.
And so I grew up with a lot of that stuff. I mean, I grew up in, in a culture that was filled with magical practices of all sorts. And I mean, nominally, I mean, you know, nominally explicitly a Christian culture, but probably a lot of Christians would say, no, you know, you guys are doing some weird stuff. And, you know, I, I became attracted to science and early on and, you know, just don't really have a theistic worldview at all.
So combining some of those things got me and I, you know, and I was in, I was involved sort of in, in atheist movements for a while and found a lot of atheism to be kind of, practically shallow, you know, there's, it's like, yeah, after you're done being mad at God, what do you do then? I mean, and there was like nothing.
And you know, my, I would always say things like, look, there's no atheist art. You know, there's like atheist music, you know, there's just, you know, there's, there's no culture, right. Or the culture is, and more and more people have observed this. It's kind of parasitic on Christianity in a way. And so I found that very unsatisfying, right?
Certainly I know plenty of atheists. I'm a philosopher, I'm a philosophy professor and I know plenty of, you know, professional atheists and all they do is talk about God. And so I'm like, look, I don't wanna talk about God. Let's let's let's talk about something else. Let's do something else. And I found that paganism in various forms, it was just kind of, kind of starting, but in various forms, you know, had a culture had art, had aesthetics, had practices, had symbols had a fairly rich worked out way of life.
And as a philosopher, you know, I've got plenty of training in ancient cultures, particularly Greek and Roman but also also Germanic. And you know, I just thought, oh, This stuff, all kind of fits together. And so I became very interested in thinking about ways and I've advocated among atheists to say things like, look, you guys have to start.
And, and, and women too, you've gotta start building a culture and you can't build a culture of negativity, you know, a culture of no, a culture and especially not a culture. That's essentially a mirror image of Christianity that all you're doing is talking about God. And you know, I've had a little success there, but it's a, it's a tough hall.
But I think more and more something like a kind of atheopagan could really be a live option for the future of lots of aspects of American culture, right? As people become de Christianized, what are they gonna do? And some people say, well, they're just gonna be secular. But that's not really an answer and that's not a culture.
And as you start looking around, you start to see these other cultures that are kind of bubbling up and developing. So yeah, I mean, I came to it from, you know, both the sort of old ethnic, Pennsylvania, German angle, the kind of philosophy and science angle and dissatisfaction with you know, sort of mainstream atheism.
So lots of different roads in
Yucca: Wow. That's a, that's a really interesting path to, to come on. So it'd be interesting hear more about the practice, the magical kind of practices that you talked about.
Eric: well, there's a good, there's a good book by this guy, Patrick, Don moer called pow wowing. So you can check that out. It's incredibly rich and incredibly weird stuff, you know,
Yucca: well, we'll find that and put it in the show notes. If people wanna take a look at it.
Mark: Yeah. Well, both of your stories are really very interesting that way in, in in that identification of Something being missing, but the, the main, the main offerings that are, that surround us in our culture, not really fitting that hole. That's certainly what I found as well, you know, and it's the reason that I wrote the essay that first started out a paganism.
And I, I should probably introduce at this point that Eric, you, you especially have been involved with various non theist pagan efforts since long before I wrote that essay I just was, did a poor job of research and didn't find the other naturalistic non-theistic paganism efforts that were being done around the world.
Until after I had already, you know, published and was starting to get attention for atheopagan So, as urban pagans living in the city what do your practices look like? Joh, you wanna, you wanna start on that?
Joh: Sure. My practice may not be super urban sounding, but, but. There's some stuff about like spots in the city that, that I do. But generally my, my daily practice is in the morning. My apartment faces east and I wake up early enough to catch the sunrise every day. And I'll kind of first just stare at stare at it and kind of greet the sky every morning.
I do stretches to start the day and I position my mat to face that window so that I can really connect with the day while I'm waking up. I have a small focus that I decorate seasonally. I really connect with ritual and the different physical objects around my practice, probably because I was raised Catholic and I always loved the sacred spaces, the incense, the bells, the rituals, and the regalia of it all.
So it's a very tangible practice for me. And I have a. Personal calendar with the, the, you know, the solstice and the equinoxes in it. But also with other days that are very personal to me. Like I celebrate Freddie Mercury's birthday every year, for example, and, and the anniversary of when I move to New York and I'll actually take that day off of work and like use that whole day to really explore parts of the city that I love.
And don't as easily make time for during the rest of the year. And then I also try to cook and eat seasonally as much as possible and really understand what the, what the ecology of this region is like. And I made this spreadsheet that tells me what's in season around here based on what month it is. It makes it easier to shop for and plan meals and things like that.
Mark: Wow. That's a lot.
Mark: Yeah, that's very cool. Thank you, Joh.
Yucca: you have any parks nearby that you go to? Is that part of your practice or more? Just the relationship with the city and the sky.
Joh: There is a really beautiful community garden in my neighborhood. That's open to the public a couple of days a week, and sometimes I'll walk there or ride my bike there and just kind of slowly walk down the paths and see how everyone's set up their plots and what they're growing. And there are bees everywhere and some benches off to the side.
So sometimes I'll sit there and journal a little bit, or just kind of stare into space. And, you know, the people who have plots there are required to volunteer, you know, certain number of hours every week. And there's this section at the end where you can see everyone composting and things like that. So there's that piece.
And then. In the city as well. There are different ways. Speaking of composting, that you can participate in kind of that cycle. So you can go to a drop off spot and bring your food scraps and they'll compost them and, and then use that for the public parks and things like that.
Yucca: Oh, nice.
Joh: that's like another way that allows me to feel more connected to the public parks and spaces of nature that are kind of engineered in such a dense area.
Mark: Uhhuh. Nice. Nice. Eric. How about your practice?
Eric: Yeah. I mean, my practices are probably a little too intellectual. I mean, one of my main practices is trying to figure out how all this stuff can work out and how to make sense of, of, of pagan ideas and practices. Right. That's cuz I'm a philosopher. That's what I do. I mean I do have a little I have a little altar and I do, you know, things, things like that, but I, I do try to think.
A lot about how what paganism means and what kind of pagan concepts are relevant, for instance, in an urban context, right? I mean, cities are not trying to be forests. That's not what they're trying to do. They're not. And, and, you know, trying to work out pagan contexts or concepts and beliefs and practices in an urban setting it may, you, you have to think a little bit differently, right.
Because there's a lot of you know, what you might call mainstream paganism that has a very I think very biased view of what paganism is or should be like we're all supposed to be farmers or, or, or Amish or something. I mean, I grew up with the Amish, you know, I mean, so I'm like, no, no, I know what that is.
And so, you know, thinking of the ways that that cities are natural spaces and that cities are ecosystems not because they're trying to be, you know, a national park, right. I mean, and there's more and more wonderful research among, you know, biologists and ecologists of, of how cities themselves are ecosystems, you know, they are not, they're not phony ecosystems like, oh, New York.
City's great because it's got central park. No, you know, the, the city isn't eco, I mean more and more research onto this is fascinating stuff because you're finding all these species, not just humans, humans are a natural species, but you know, raccoons, cougars, coyotes, you know, and New York city has there, there's beautiful research that's been done in New York city.
Right. We have herds of deer. Wandering the city. We have, you know, foxes. I mentioned the, the raccoons, I think the bird life in New York city is, you know, and so you find things like, and there's a term for this, a technical term for these kinds of critters, right. Sin, Andros, right. These are animals that have adapted to humans and now live.
They flourish with humans. They flourish in cities, right? So, New York city for instance, is an extraordinary place to be a Raptor, a bird of prey, right? New York city has some of the highest Paran, Falcon and Hawk populations anywhere. Right? Because they love the tall buildings. They love the bridges.
Like the bridges are filled with Paragon, Falcon nests. And you're like, yeah, these, you know, life is adaptive. And So I try to think of all the ways that we live together with all these things in the cities and how humans have made a home, not just for humans, but for, for a whole ecosystem of, of critters.
And, you know, like urban raccoons are not like rural raccoons, right. They've things. Right. And it's really interesting, you know, and people study this, you know, scientists, they study like how cities are driving bur particularly birds and raccoons. Are the species been studied most to become more intelligent, they're learning how to solve all sorts of problems.
Right. So, so I find, you know, so part of, I guess my practice is sort of learning about that, observing that, thinking about ways that I mean, we haven't, we have a general issue. In the United States, right. Which is that so much of our space and structure is thoroughly Christianized. And it's not an easy thing to say, oh, well, let's, we're, you know, we're just gonna do something different, right.
When all of your space is structured around a certain way of life. And so, you know, I, I try to think about ways that we can think of all kind like, okay, the four elements, you know, fire earth, air and water for me, light, you know, how do those relate in an urban context, right? Then in the, in a great way in New York city, you know, you can actually go into the earth.
You know, in ways that most ordinary people can't right. And you can go deep into the earth right. In the, in the subways. I mean, you can do that on a daily basis. Right. And you can, you know, I mean, being stuck on a subway, train deep in the earth right. Is a way to like, encounter something that's terrifying and forceful.
So how do you think of that sort of thing in, in a, in pagan ways, right? How do you think of, I mean, New York city is also very close to water. I mean, that's the reason the city exists. Right. It's one of the greatest bays in the world. We have dolphins, we have whales in the Hudson seals thinking of that kind of life as part of the city too.
And I'll mention one other thing, thinking of things like, I don't know if people know about, I mean, you know, about Manhattan henge. Right. So, so you've got, you know, you've got structures there that people recently have started to say things like, Hey, we Stonehenge, we have Manhattan henge. You know, we have a, we have a thing and it wasn't designed that way, but
Mark: Eric, would you like to explain what that is for our listeners? That don't know what it is?
Eric: Yeah, Manhattan henge because Manhattan, the you know, the streets are in a sort of Southeast Northwest orientation. There are two times of the year when the sun come, you know, if you're stand on 42nd street in the middle and you've got skyscrapers on either side, my head is the sun, right. And the son just comes down between, you know, vertically between the skyscrapers and sets, right.
You know, across the water sort of like Stonehenge, right? Like coming down between these monoliths. And I've seen it is, is really incredible. And people, you know, thousands and thousands of people go out in the streets to photograph it. And Thinking about ways that that kind of stuff can develop.
And it might not be stuff that somebody says explicitly like, oh, this is pagan, like it's Wiccan or ARU or drew it, or, or whatever, or witchy witchcraft or something, but these are cultural things that people start to do. Right. And if you start to look around, you see all kinds of little shrines in the city, you know, I mean, there are, there are some obvious big ones in the statue of liberties, like a big pagan statue.
And there are statues of old Greek and Roman deities in the city. There's like, mercury and Atlas are down at Rockefeller center, right? There's a statue of pan at Columbia university there. These, you know, these things exist. And not to, I mean, I, I think also, you know, a lot of urban places in a sort of practical sense of things to do things like art museums, right.
Where you can go in, in New York, the metropolitan museum, and you can see lots of in fact they just are now having a big show on what old pagan statues used to look like. Right. Because they weren't white, they weren't white Mar they were painted. Right. They were dye. And so they've taken a bunch of them made replicas and they could still find microscopic traces of these dyes in the rock.
And so they've now repainted them as they looked. So I'll go see that soon. So there's lots of opportunities for people to do all kinds of things. And I, and I real, but I really do think that. There's a, still a need to develop a lot of cultural infrastructure, right? You could go out in central park and, and do some ritual on the solstice or something, but that's really not.
That to me is like something that sort of slides right off the surface of the culture, cuz it doesn't have any connections to things. There used to be some larger connections before COVID there was a network of drum circles. I don't know if people had been to prospect park in Brooklyn, there were some immense, there was immense drum drum stuff going on there.
COVID kind of brought an end to a lot of that. So we'll see how that starts up, but I, I think there's a lot of There's there's a lot of thing. And if you do wanna go out in, in you know, in a kind of less urban environment, you know, New York city is actually is the highest density of Woodland trails over 2000 miles of trails within a 60 mile radius of the city, cuz the Appalachian mountains just arc right across the north.
Eric: And so you can, you can, yeah. It's the highest concentration of Woodland parks and trails anywhere in the United States.
Eric: There's a lot, there's a lot still to be done. And I think I'll just, I'll just leave off with that.
Mark: I was that's. Yeah. There's so much to say there. I mean, you mentioned the met and it's that talk about sacred spaces? I, I mean, the metropolitan museum of art is one of the great sacred spaces of the world. It's like a shrine to all human culture. Joh, I, I know you live in Queens, so I imagine you get to the Cloisters which is another super sacred space for me.
This is kind of out of order of the, the questions that we talked about doing, but are there specific places or sacred spaces that you think of? When you, when you think about urban paganism in your city,
Joh: Yeah. One thing that New York really does well is bigness. There are a few very stereotypically New York spaces that I have like religious experiences and in their giant. So the inside of grand central terminal is one of them. It's massive. It's echoy. The ceiling is painted with this beautiful night sky scene with the Zodiac constellations on it.
Part of what feels so humbling being in there is going off of something. Eric said before is knowing that it's also this hub of this massive living transportation network that enables the movement of thousands, millions of people within this tri-state area. Another one is the branch of the New York public library with the very iconic lions out front it's, it's a beautiful piece of architecture.
It's also inside cavernous full of this beautiful art, larger than life and quiet. It's really like church almost. You feel like when you're in there, cuz you have this like reverence and respect and gratitude for all of this knowledge that's contained in there and that it's free. Like you can just go and like getting a card is free.
It's it still blows my mind. This one is pretty kind of cliche, but the empire state building it's so tall, but the city is so dense that I never expect to see it when I do so I'll be walking somewhere, probably distracted, multitasking, and then I'll look up and it'll just be there in front of my face.
And it's this like instantly calming moment for me and kind of resets me in whatever's going on in life at the time. And then there's like smaller little smaller spots. Like there's a Steinway piano showroom near times square that I like to go visit. I play the piano and it's a really silencing experience, even though it's so busy around there and, and crowded and, and loud, but just to stand outside and gaze in at these beautiful pianos that are handmade just across the river in Queens, like it's really, really cool how accessible places like this are because of that, you know, that network that connects, although the parts of the city, so well, the subway.
So yeah, those are, those are a few that come to mind. how about you?
Eric: Yeah, I think, I think Joh says some great things. I mean, one point there is like the urban sublime, right? Like these, you know, towers that rise to infinity. I mean, it, you can have a kind of experience. That's hard to get anywhere else. If you go like up to the observation deck on the, you know, the freedom tower that replace the world trade centers or the empire state building or Rockefeller center, right.
You go up on tops of these things and you see, you know, from a. Point, and that kind of space is you know, I mean, it's commercial, right? You pay, you're going up to the top of, of a skyscraper, but you, it can induce kinds of experiences that are hard to get elsewhere. And sure, grand central station, that's like a great example of a kind of space that's already, you know, sort of semi pagan in its kind of classical thing.
Like the Zodiac is there and it's this immense space and you can, you can go in and just be you can experience awe and, and, and humbleness and things like that. A lot in the city. And I think, you know, especially when I first started coming to the city and, and probably a lot of people would have a similar experience.
You, you just feel overwhelmed. I mean, the, the sheer size of these things that are around you and unlike I mean, other cities have some of this, but you know, it's not like in New York city, you can walk, you walk a few blocks and you're out. Right. I mean, if you're in Manhattan, you can walk for like 12 miles through this amenity and you're sort of like, I mean, it's, it's humbling.
So I think that, I think, and I think there's a lot of symbolism that goes into that. I'll mention that there have been a couple of urban terror decks, right? That use, I mean, if you think of the tower and you think of just, well, the tower, you know, or you think of things like that, there have been some there have been, there are a couple of urban TA decks, some better than others, but you know, people are, and this is what I think about the cultural infrastructure.
People are starting to build that kind of thing. Right. And start to see these symbolisms in these, in these places. So, yeah, that, I like, I like that. What Joh said about sort of the urban sublime and what mark, you said about kind of these museums that hold all this, this cultural stuff and. You know, I often think of, of paganism in terms of the symbolic, right.
Rather than you know, I'm not much for, for ancient, ancient roots. That, that seems a little racist to me. I'm more into thinking about the future and thinking about things like, you know, if I think about superhuman minds, right? I mean, the city itself is like a high of mind. You know, the city itself is a super organism.
It's a superhuman intelligence. Right. And, and things like me, I'm just like a little sell in this organism. I'm passing through contributing something to it, but the, the amount of energy that flows through San Francisco or New York, or, you know, something like that is astonishing.
Eric: And it's it's information too.
I mean, places like, okay. New York, Tokyo, you know, San Francisco, you know, are, are some of the most information rich places on the planet.
Mark: London, Hong Kong.
Eric: Right. And, and so if you think of like, you know, you think of a deity like mercury or somebody like, or thought, or Glen, you know, these, you may think of these divine minds and these patterns of information.
I mean, I prefer to leave those Dees in the past where they lived, but now you look at super, if you want a symbol, cuz for me, a lot of this is symbolic. If you want symbolism for superhuman intelligence, you know, superhuman mind a superhuman agency, right? I mean the place to one place to find that there are other places, but one place to find that is in the, you know, the rich information flows the density of information flows in cities.
Eric: Right? You, you can really, you can, you don't have to think like, I mean, Okay. I lived in New York city. This means I am part of something that is immense it's 400 years old. It's I don't know how long it'll last, but you know, so many people have contributed to it and you're there you feel it you're like, yeah, I there's this thing, you know, it's immense, I'm a tiny little part of this huge thing.
Mark: and, and I think that's really well said, and it also, it extends beyond the bounds of New York city so much. I mean, I, I think about watching old movies where pretty much everybody came from New York or their immediate family came through New York. It's like the entire culture of the United States is deeply informed by this urban collective experience that then spread throughout the rest of the country.
I was thinking about, you were talking about culture and of course, city is where the culture is, right? I mean, there's culture everywhere, but big cities are there're places where it's easier for people that are cultural creatives to make it. There are more opportunities for them to, to make a living.
And it reminded me, I've lived in two big cities in my life. I've lived in San Francisco and in Barcelona. And one of the things that attracted me the most about both of those places is busking in the underground.
Mark: the, the caliber of musical performance that you can experience. Just at random, you know, by stepping off of a train and suddenly finding yourself surrounded by it is it's like this, this spontaneous moment of, you know, truly religious kind of joy to me.
And it's, it's one of the things that leaps immediately to mind to me, when I think about my fondness for those cities, right.
Eric: Yeah. I mean, I, I think, and maybe Joh can speak to this too. I mean, the you know, thinking of those of those spaces where you can go and, and, and hear music and often the, the cultural thing is, is mixtures of cultures too, like in San Francisco or Chicago or New York. I mean, I can, you know, there are all these little I think, was it, Joh, did you mention Centia, did somebody mention that somebody mentioned that, but you know, there are all these, there are all these, you know, Afro-Caribbean cultures that have come into New York city and you could find all these little things, like all over the streets.
You know, and they have some, you know, Afro-Caribbean significance and there they are. Right. And so you already find lots of, you know, there are lots of alternatives to a dominant, this sort of dominant Christian narrative. There are lots of alternatives already in these urban spaces, right. That come from from other other sources.
Joh: I was actually also thinking about the, the mixture of different cultures. When thinking about some of the places that I like to visit there, there are a couple of neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan that I like to just I'm drawn to them. And I just like to walk around in and think about. The history and evolution of culture in those neighborhoods, like the history of music, of counterculture, of the different immigrant communities that settled there over time and everywhere you look, you can see little remnants of all this history from like a German inscription in the brick facade of a building or a plaque telling you that Charlie Parker lived in that building a 24-hour Ukrainian diner founded by refugees in the sixties that like still you know, still you can't, you it's always a weight.
So there's that, there's that kind of magic too. And then I think just walkable urbanism in general, like increases the likelihood that you'll have chance encounters with not just different cultures, but like different kinds of people who are living different lives from you. Like. There's a community of local businesses and neighbors, and then the city workers, and it's all happening all in the same space.
Like there's no alleyways in New York city. There's like two in the whole city. And so all that stuff is, and activity is just running up against itself and like keeping the environment running and thriving and kind of with this magical energy all the time.
Mark: Yeah. And, and when you think about that, when you think about all those different cultures and different sort of value systems and so forth, all kind of coming together and finding a way to coexist, then it's no surprise that it's the cities that are the blue parts of the United States, right? It's like in the cities, people have figured out how to get along, cuz they have to, there's no choice about it,
Joh: Yeah. And to coexist peacefully.
Mark: And eventually to thrive. I mean, not, not just to coexist, but I to actually have melding of cultures and you know, new and interesting combinations of stuff like jazz, for example in new Orleans and New York and Chicago. Anyway, I, I don't know where I was going with that, but it, it occurs to me that the, the values that we associate with paganism, right?
The inclusiveness, the tolerance, the the appreciation for beauty and culture and diversity and all those things, they really thrive more in the cities than they do in the, in the rural areas, which we think of as more natural, right.
Eric: Yeah. I mean, that's a weird, you know, you find that kind of, to me, very, almost paradoxical or contradictory view in a lot of paganism, which is like, oh, the rural environment is the pagan environment. And you're like, no, the rural environment is filled with fundamentalists, man.
Mark: Well, not entirely, not, not Yucca.
Eric: nah, well, I mean sure, but, but still it's it's yeah, I mean, if you have a sort of polycentric culture where you've got lots of different cultures and lots of different religious ideas and lots of TISM lots of mixing of different religious ideas and you've got, you know, intelligent raccoons and, and you know, sparrows and yeah.
Racoons have little hands, you know, they're learning to work stuff. They're gonna, that's what we're that's what's gonna take over after we're gone. You know, so, so I think that that's already seeing the multiplicity. I, I think of paganism often in terms of multiplicity, instead of, you know, unity, it's like, yeah, there are, there are many perfections and many ways to bring those together and, and integrate them into a system without, you know, reducing 'em to a, to like everybody has to act the same, you know?
And I do think so. I think in, in that sense mark, what you said yeah. About cities having that, all those combinations right. Are really good. Really good. I don't think we're quite there yet in trying to figure out what, you know, the sort of next culture is gonna be, but won't happen in my lifetime, but I, I hope it will happen.
Yucca: One of the things to kind of shift a little bit that, or some qualities that are usually not associated with urban environments that sometimes are, are highly valued in certain pagan circles are things like solitude and stillness and quietness. And those are things that I'm curious. Do you feel like.
It is a fair assessment. That that's not something that really happens in urban environments. And also, is that something important in your practice? If it is, how is that something that is a pagan you, you search out or cultivate in your life?
Joh: This made me think of something really specific. So it's actually, I feel like one thing that happens here is there's so much stimuli going on all the time. That it's actually, for me, at least fairly easy to, to, to be find myself in solitude. I, I live alone and You know, during the pandemic, especially, I didn't see anybody.
And it was, it was very quiet. Actually, if you, you know, if you live in a more busy part of the city and you have an apartment facing the back of the building, that's like a sign that it's gonna be quiet. It actually can get really quiet here, surprisingly. But one thing that I don't know, I think this happened in multiple places around the world, in the beginning of the pandemic, but this, this thing started happening here where at 7:00 PM every day, everyone would leave their apartment and go outside and start clapping for the healthcare workers and essential workers who were actually having to still leave their apartments and help the city run.
And this happened for months and months, every day at 7:00 PM, everyone would go outside and start clapping and, and it really helped, I think with the. Precarious kind of mental health situation that we were all finding ourselves in because we were trapped in these tiny boxes for so long, like scared of going outside because of the density and everything.
And it helped us feel kind of alone together in a way. So that, that goes veers a little bit off of what you were asking, but I think it's actually not that it's pretty easy to find that piece and that, that that quiet and solitude if you if you try, like, not during a global pandemic, but but yeah, that just my mind kind of went there when you asked that.
Eric: I think that was, that was a, a great place to go. I mean, I remember that we didn't go outside, but we leaned out our windows and banged on pots and pans, you know? And that's that was kind of a collective ritual.
Eric: I mean, it kind of, I mean, it was a collective ritual and I think, you know, I, I wonder about some of that solitude or something.
I mean, certainly in, in lots of urban areas, there's a lot more, I think maybe I'm maybe I'm wrong here, but you know, a lot of collective action, there's a lot of political awareness political activity. And maybe that solitude, isn't quite what people are wanting. Right. Because it's not like I'm gonna go into myself and, and I'm gonna go, I mean, cities face outward, right.
I mean, and that energy gets radiated outward. And I, I probably, if I had to think of my most well, you know, the two very pagan moments in New York city, both were musical. One was when I heard the band high long in New York, which was. You know, almost surreal in the, in the, the juxtaposition of this, this high, long shamanistic, you know, whatever they're trying to bring up.
And it's in, it's in a theater in Manhattan and there are thousands of us there and we're all chanting and clapping and dancing and stuff like that. But probably even, even a little more, you know, pagan than high, long was like one time when I went to a Patty Smith concert in Manhattan. And that was just an, you know, an, I don't like to use this word, but that was intense.
You know? I mean, that was something that was, I've been to a bunches of concerts and that was, you know, everyone just collectively this was, I think the 50th anniversary of her horses album and that's what they played.
Eric: Right. And everyone knew all the words of course, and everyone was simply. Well, like in this unison and that's already you know, Patty Smith's already like, what space is she in with with these kinds of cultural things?
You know? So I, I think there's a lot of opportunities for those kinds of collective mu I mean, music is one, art is one political, you know, political gatherings are be they protests or just activist gatherings.
Mark: Dancing thing.
Eric: Dancing. Yeah. All those kinds of activities really happen in, in cities. So I wouldn't go with the no, I mean, yeah, like, I mean, Joh was right.
You can be solitary in the city if you want to. I mean, it's probably more solitary there than anywhere else. Right. Because it's certainly in New York because you know, if you're not engaged, like nobody's gonna talk to you.
Eric: Right. I mean, they're gonna leave you alone. And but I, I do think that there is an enormous amount of col I mean, that's the point of a city it's collective activity.
Right. You know, I lived on a farm. I know what I know what rural isolation is. Like I, you know, I don't wanna do that ever, ever again, so yeah, I dunno if that answers that, but there you go.
Mark: You know, it occurs to me when you talk about that. When I was, when I was in late high school and, and into my first couple of years of college, I was really into punk rock. And of course I was living, you know, very close to San Francisco and there was a huge punk rock scene there at the Maha gardens and some other places.
And so I saw a ton of shows and one of the things that always struck me was these bands never come 60 miles north to where I live. They, they don't leave an urban environment. Right. Because punk lives in the cities and and many of those concerts were truly ecstatic experiences.
Mark: I, I mean, the mosh pit was just this glorious experience of mutual trust, where we knew we weren't going to hurt one another, but we were going to fling one another around.
My partner NAEA tells a story about being in a pit in Philadelphia where somebody lost a contact lens and the entire pit sort of went who to make a space so that they could find their contact lens. And they actually did find their contact lens. So, you know, it very, I mean, there's a, there's a very abrasive kind of quality to the punk aesthetic, but really people who cared about one another and, you know, were, were part of something.
And that was very much an urban experience.
Eric: Right, right. I mean, I think you, can you get that kind of you get those kinds of energies and a lot of that so far is kind of aesthetic, right? Music, art, dancing, things like architecture, you know? And, and it'll be interesting to see, you know, people translating that more. You know, that's why, I mean, I think for instance, sort of the pagan music is really interesting and the ways that that can go.
And different kinds of artistic expressions. And one of the things we didn't really talk about, which I think of as kind of pagan is sort of the, the visionary community, right? The transformational festivals and, and, you know, visionary art and that stuff, which to, to my mind, is in entirely a pagan culture, a pagan subculture.
And that's, that's there too. Right? A lot of that is in urban areas. Also in New York city, there was an San Francisco too, I believe, but they're a big, you know, I think of stoicism as, as a pagan movement, contemporary stoicism, and there's an enormous enormously rich stoic groups in in New York.
San Francisco comes to mind and a few, there are a few other cities that have, but yeah, San Francisco certainly has all this transformative tech stuff.
Mark: And the, the whole burning man phenomenon, which is really interesting when you think about it. Because a lot of the people who go to burning, man, don't come from urban centers, but they have to build a city
Mark: in order to have. The kind of crucible of creativity that they want. And burning man is a very pagan experience in, in at least the one time I was there.
It definitely was not necessarily in a worshipful kind of way, but in a, in a cultural way, the, the kind of mutuality and celebration and expressiveness and creativity that you have in those kinds of environments are they remind me of the pagan community. And of course there's a lot of people there who are pagans.
Eric: Oh yeah.
Yucca: A lot of rituals.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah.
Eric: Yeah, that's gotta be like a paradigm case of how to do religion differently than it was done before. Right. And yeah, I mean, I teach a lot about burning man and you know, I always say to my students, I'm like, well, what do you think a new religion would look like? It's not gonna look like the old ones, you know?
And you find, I mean, there's a lot of that around, I mean, that's, that's obviously closely connected with San Francisco, but there is a lot of that around not just burning man, but there's a, there's lots of places around New York city that are filled with that kind of stuff. I mean, yeah. I'm thinking in particular of like Alex Gray's chapel of sacred mirrors,
Eric: which, which used to be in Manhattan, Joh, did you ever see that?
Joh: No, I didn't. Unfortunately.
Eric: It used to be in Manhattan. And now it's moved up the river into the Hudson valley and COVID kind of shut it down, but that guy used to have like weekly I'll just say raves at his place. Right. Wa in Weiner's falls check an hour north of the city. So, so that stuff is all around. Right. And it will be interesting to see if it gets more, you know, as things go on, if it gets, I mean, maybe it will just remain at a kind of level where it's people doing aesthetic things.
Right. And they'll come together in these kind of groups and maybe it'll get more organized. I don't know.
Eric: Yeah, go to go to, Wappinger go to the chapel. I can't wait till the chapel sacred mirrors opens up again. I went with my, my friend, my friend of mine, Pete, and there was something about, I don't know what, you know, iowaska or something. And Pete looked at me and said, I didn't think this guy would be into drugs if you know, Alex
Mark: Alex Gray. Really?
Eric: yeah. It's like,
Mark: the man who envisions gigantic halos of color all around the human form.
Eric: you know, like 47 eyeballs, you know, like yeah, right. A little irony. But you know, that's, that's you know, it's all around and you know, maybe people don't conceive of it as pagan in a unified way, but maybe they should. Right. So we'll, we'll see where that goes.
Mark: And I think, you know, the other part of it is that people are looking for rituals for, for shared communal experiences. Some of which we've just been talking about, but even people that are doing rituals in a more formally pagan kind of way, they have a much easier time finding others of like mind in a city than they do in an area like mine.
For example, even though I'm close to San Francisco and there's a pretty large population of pagans here there's exactly one atheopagan other than me living in my county to my knowledge. Oh, that's not true four, there, there there's four of us, including me. And that's a, you know, there's half a million people living in my county, so yeah.
Cities become this focus of such energy and, and collaboration.
Eric: Yeah, I think they might. I mean, I, I, you know, there's probably like, you know, 7 million atheopagan in, in New York city. They just don't call themselves that.
Eric: Right. And I think that's an inter I don't know if that's quite true, but it's, I think an interesting point, right? That you have people that are maybe nominally secular, but yet they do all these kinds of things.
Right. And they don't I mean, I make contact with this through my students. Right. Who don't identify as, you know, pagan or atheists, but yet they're doing all sorts of they, you know, if you ask them, do they believe in God? No, but they don't identify as atheists. It's just, they just, they just don't do that stuff, but then they do all kinds of other things.
Right. And you know, they, they do all sorts of, I mean, witchcraft was a kind of popular thing. I don't know if it still is, but they do things right. And they have all sorts of little rituals. Some of which are, are, come from family, traditions, others, you know, they do strange things with crystals, with their cell phones.
Right. Those kinds of things could easily become more you know, a little deeper and a little more widespread where people start to think organically like, oh, what? And sometimes they might just not say, no, I'm not doing anything religious because they think of religion as Christianity and maybe they're right.
And maybe that's right. And so I do find it an interesting point. That you say like, yeah, there might be a lot of atheopagan around you. They just don't call themselves that,
Eric: you know, and they don't, you know, I mean, I know Masimo is a big leader of the stoic community and we just have this debate about whether or not he was a pagan.
He'd be like, no, cuz that's like star Hawk. And I was like, no, dude, you're reviving, you're reviving an ancient pagan way of life, which is, oh, by the way, your own family history by your own admission, you know? And he's kind of like, like, guess that's true, you know? But he wouldn't call himself a pagan.
Right. But he's doing the thing. So I, I do. And all those people out in San Francisco who do like the transformative text stuff and. A lot of the kind of consciousness hacking and things that goes into like some Americanized forms of Buddhism and things like that. That's, you know, there just might not be a single word for it yet.
Mark: Sure sure. And all the, all the tech millionaires going to south America for iowaska ceremonies, you know, I mean, these, these are not the, the men who founded IBM in the 1950s and all wore an identical blue suit with a white shirt and tie. You know, this is, this is a very, very different culture that we've got now.
Eric: Yeah. I think so. Was there, Joh, were you gonna say it, that it looked like you were gonna say a thing.
Joh: The thing you were the thing you said about, you know, there, there might be 7 million Athens here, but they don't call it that. I just keep thinking about that because there's so many parts about like the set of values and the just human universal human needs, or like seeking for community for for ritual.
The I've, I've seen acts of service, like in the past couple of years, like just becoming more community based here, like mutual aid, community fridges things like that. And, and what you were describing, like not, not your IBM founder, you know, people kind of looking for more right. Trying to. To look for more meaning it's all these little pieces kind of just existing at the same time, but not being named in any way.
Eric: Yeah, or people aren't quite sure. That's why I think that, you know, building a cultural infrastructure, you know, some way to fit things together that says, oh, you guys are all have a lot in common. Right. I don't Joh, maybe, you know, maybe you're tapped into the secret networks. I mean, I don't know, like allegedly there's a zillion you know, iowaska rituals, like all the time in New York or there were before the pandemic.
I don't know what the Panda, I mean, the pandemic transformed so much. There are big psychedelic conferences in New York, right? The the horizons which I've gone to. And but I, I don't know if this stuff is all, is all, you know, secret or, or not.
Mark: Well, it seems as though we're at a time where culture and particularly the monopoly of Christianity has really shattered. And of course it's rebelling right now and trying to lock down everything it possibly can, as it loses its grip on the population. But there are all these fragments of things that are kind of floating around.
It's like the accretion disc around a star, you know, Those things are going to, to glom onto one another and get bigger and bigger. And some of them will just spin off into space and be their own thing or dissolve. But I feel like nontheistic paganism is a kind of an organizing principle that a lot of these things can fit under because it provides meaning it provides pleasurable activities that people find joyful, provides opportunities for people to be expressive and to create family in whatever form that is meaningful and helpful to them.
So it's, it's kind of an exciting time and I, I agree with you, Eric. We're not gonna see the outcome in our lifetimes. I don't think, but this, I think we're at a really pivotal time in this moment. And so working to be a culture creator is a really exciting thing.
Eric: Yeah, I think that's true. And I, I mean, sure. I mean, I think that you know, and I don't know what to make of this as a, you know, an American who's growing older, but yeah, the, the sort of angry Christian nationalists trying to lock down what they can. And I don't know what it's like to live in, you know, Tennessee or Georgia or Indiana.
I lived in the Northeast and, you know, Pennsylvania's an interesting case too, but I mean, you know, New York and north and east, it's like, Christianity's gone.
Eric: It's like, it's not here anymore. And I don't know if California or the west coast is that way. Certainly you have pockets here and there, but what a strange, yeah, that's just strange,
Mark: After 2000 years of complete hegemony, right?
Eric: Well, right. And you know, how are people living their lives around that? I mean, one of the things I like to do is catalog the existence of stone circles in the United States, you know? And like they're all over the place. I just found one like three miles from where I am now,
Eric: know? I mean, and so what are people doing?
Mark: It's a lot of work to build a stone circle. They must be doing something.
Yucca: Is this is this in a park.
Eric: No, this is on private land, up in the Hudson valley, you know, and I, and I just, just learned about it and you know, so I, I, I think we're all gonna, my prediction is we're everybody's gonna smoke weed and look at birds that's gonna be the, that's gonna be the thing, you know, bird.
Now he's a bird, you know, now that now that weed is legal, but yeah. Where's this gonna go, Joh? You're young. It's up to you.
Mark: Yucca is young
Eric: Yucca is young too. That's right. You guys are young. Not, not is old, old foggy like us.
Eric: So what are you gonna do? I telescopes you got it all there.
Yucca: Oh, yeah, I'm a science teacher. that's this is my classroom back here. Yeah.
Eric: Oh, all right.
Mark: Well, this has been an incredible conversation and I know we could go on for hours. But I think it's probably a good point for us to kind of draw down for this episode. And I would imagine we're gonna get a lot of really positive response from this episode. And we may ask to have you back to talk more about these things, cuz it's, it's really been just wonderful and super interesting talking with both of you.
Yucca: Thank you for joining us so much to think about.
Eric: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for having us. Thanks for having
Joh: Yeah, thank you so much. Us on, this was super fun to, to reflect on and think about, and talk about in this group. So thank you.
Mark: You're very welcome. And of course we welcome feedback and questions from our listeners. The email address is the wonder podcast, QS, gmail.com. That's the wonder podcast, QS, gmail.com. So we hope to hear from you have a great week, everybody, and we'll be back next week.