Why I Can’t ‘Do It’ With Atheists, And How Magick Made Me Less Of An Asshole

I’m sure there are nice diehard atheists out there. Trust me, I try to get along, I really do. Maybe I don’t even notice that there are nice atheists in my life because I only notice the bullies. On a day to day basis, I know most of these diehard atheists are nice people — certainly intelligent, political people who I agree with on most topics. The only problem is, when it comes to “believers” vs. atheists, there’s only vitriol spewing from one direction. It’s that bullying and hate that I can’t stand.

I grew up without religion, so maybe that’s why spirituality has this innocence for me. My parents both came from heavily oppressive religious backgrounds and thankfully, did not impart that on my sisters and I. I didn’t grow up feeling oppressed by religion, or shamed for things because of Christianity, nor was I forced to conform to some nutty doctrine with a bunch of outdated rules that when brought into a contemporary setting cause more harm than help. Rather than religion doing that work in my childhood home, Fox News and “the Republican agenda” took the reigns. My enemy was and is always the patriarchy, which stems from a God the Father structure. It is really hard to hate the patriarchy without hating the most prominent and pervasive patriarchy of all time: Christianity.

When I was twelve-ish my best friend and I told everyone in our class we were atheists. We did things like opt out of religiously-biased school programs, refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and brandished symbols like pentagrams and inverted crucifixes. Meanwhile, we were also hypocritically practicing witchcraft. Needless to say, we got bullied pretty intensely by the Young Life (a Christian club) kids for being witches, atheists and (in their minds) lesbians. It was pretty cool, though. We felt smarter and more radical. Because we had the courage (arrogance?) to say we don’t believe in God, Heaven or Hell we thought of ourselves as more advanced, and certainly more liberated, than our fellow students. In my mind, being an atheist meant that I was anti-Christian, and it meant that to me for a really long time. I subscribed to all these atheist thinkers and movements, I listened to a lot of music that was anti-Christian and, frankly, intentionally hopeless. It got really bleak really fast. The thrill of radical liberation somehow turned into this existential crisis where I felt like there is no hope, there is no help, humanity is doomed and awful, and we roll these meat sacks around on a dying planet for 80 some odd years pointlessly until we die, only to rot in the soil and be forgotten. I felt hopeless not only as a person, but as a woman.

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Sometime after my teens I came to the realization that I’m not an atheist, and never was, if practicing witchcraft was any indication. Though I shelved my practice for most of my serious teen years, in which I opted for things less empowering like all male hardcore and punk bands who talk about “society” and how “God is dead” and shit like that. I opted for a culture that told me I didn’t matter, and in the way my life played out, so did the communities I found myself in. The message in these communities, ultimately, was that I was a scrap of meat, and my only use is to feed some starving, suffering man. Or, at least that was my personal experience as a girl in punk. I was conflicted, I still thought of myself as a queer feminist, and I did have media to back that up, and my own curiosities and secret love for things like faeries and Pagan folklore, but I couldn’t really be both. It hadn’t dawned on me that I could be a spiritual witch and someone who is anti-Christian, who doesn’t believe in a patriarchal God or Heaven or Hell, but also doesn’t believe that the end is as simple as becoming worm food. I could be intelligent and credible and also believe in magick. I could even have room to understand Christianity and listen to Minor Threat. I had room to understand that even something that’s been used as a tool for hate has loving, positive merits that help some people. I had to open myself up to the possibility that all Christians aren’t evil homophobic misogynists and that all atheists aren’t anti-misogynist or anti-homophobic. It was kind of confusing.

The female experience has so much to do with acknowledging or rejecting the self. As a woman, it’s always been my primary interest to look within, to be curious, to ask questions of how I treat others and to view myself as a creator, and a person of perpetual change and emotional evolution. Things like vanity and ego are artistic touchstones for me. My identity is important to me. A lot of my spiritual belief has been admittedly informed by Satanism. The inversion of all things misogynistic and oppressive is really attractive to me. To say that whores are powerful and that a woman’s sexuality can lead to the downfall of man is just looking at the same accusations in a different light. I still cling to some aspects of my Satanist identity, for my love of hedonism and belief in absolute autonomy and individual will, and, my undeniable love of Hollywood Satanist aesthetics. Magick is art and science: I’m guilty of weighing more heavily on the art aspect.

Both Satanism and witchcraft encouraged me to love my body and embrace my sexuality. I’m an experience person, I can’t oppress that. I believe that my body is a vehicle for my soul, which is a thing that can change, adapt and feel. It will come and go, and it requires me to have a positive, healthy relationship with my vehicle. I love my body because I don’t have all these weighty expectations of it — I’m lucky to have it in such a fine tuned form, it’s doing it’s job in this lifetime, and I love it for that. I don’t need to say it, but having a positive relationship with one’s own body is a thing that people of all genders struggle with, most specifically (but not exclusively) female identifying individuals. My body is more than just a vessel, it can create life. Atheists (perhaps some atheists who have never experienced what it’s like to know that you’re pregnant before any medical tool can, simply through intuition) will laugh at me when I say that I am a fool to think I can fully understand the magick of my womb or my woman’s intuition. They will say it’s simply science, like all other living things: we live, breed and die. That’s all well and good, but as a woman, my history is being told that my body is not for me, it’s a thing that men need to have control over to make their own mini-me’s, and that I shouldn’t feel empowered by my reproductive abilities. In fact, I should feel guilty for this and surrender full control to a husband. Atheists I’m sure mean well, but women don’t need more people downplaying our role in reproduction, or taking our reproductive power away from us.

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At one point in history it was a “scientific truth” that women are simply vessels for the male experience, that they should not and can not be autonomous. They exist to quietly mirror their husbands, give them children, then die (due to fetishization of illness and frailty at the time, many died very early). Women were men’s property. They couldn’t own anything, have money, read, exercise, and, in some theorists thinking, should be artificially inseminated to use the womb for childbearing exclusively. The virgin mother dream. Just read anything written about women by some of the leading thinkers of the 19th century: Jules Michelet, Auguste Comte, Nicholas Francis Cooke, for example. It was even a “scientific truth” that women wanted and needed to be raped and beaten, thanks to social scientists and psychologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and an all too willing male audience. Women were considered “womb crazy” and needed to be controlled and owned by men, and it wasn’t politicians and talking heads in media spouting these claims, it was scientists. Many of these beliefs about women which were fed to the crème de la crème of Western civilizations throughout the 19th century are still prevalent and pervasive beliefs today. We still couldn’t shake some of these “truths” in psychology in the 80s and 90s. In that sense, I guess science can be as harmful as spirituality? Even science is subject to bias, because humans live with intention and ego.

To be clear, I’m not anti-science, I’m just tired of having men yell that word at me, like it’s their safe word when woman talk crazy. I think there’s room to be into Aleister Crowley and Carl Sagan at the same time, and many people are without needing extreme claims of belief or disbelief. I don’t care about what theories you have to “prove” or “disprove” that my apparently offensive beliefs are wrong. First of all, science is theoretical, and secondly none of my beliefs are about truth, reality, right or wrong. My beliefs are about guidance, self care, art, expression, self empowerment, and autonomy. One thing atheism never gave me is autonomy, and that’s a serious problem as a woman. To believe that you are simply a cog in the system and that your body does not belong to you and no matter what you do you’ll die meaninglessly are all toxic notions for various populations who already believe that about their lives. I find it laughable when certain white male atheists try to tell me things like this, because they don’t know what it’s like to experience a day to day life in which their body belongs to other people, and is considered to be property, and their identities and souls disposable (oh except when they misappropriate these realities from rape culture and systematic racism to describe corporate America).

Again, maybe I’ve known too many asshole atheists who happened to be men. I usually associate atheism with specific communities of men. I’m sure there are women atheists too, who are empowered somehow by the system of disbelief and faith in science, but I’m not sure how well they fit into these communities (I know, not great,  from experience). I think in general, women are less likely to join up in communities, especially intellectual communities, because we tend to get bullied or threatened out of them, or discluded through other methods of systematic misogyny. We usually find ourselves solitary in our beliefs, or with a smaller, more personal discourse, or discourses made up primarily of women and othered individuals. Out of curiosity, I did a quick google search of “women atheists” finding a lot of similar sentiments, some about visibility and other pieces about how “white men are the face of atheism.” This brief Salon piece touches on a few reasons for that.

Beyond rejection from other communities, there’s a reason why so many women are drawn to what some call “new-age hippie bullshit.” There’s room for women and the female experience in the religion of the ancients. We see representations of ourselves as sexual beings, mothers, children, wise old women, creators, thinkers, and leaders — not just virgins and whores, vessels for the male seed and ego. Witchcraft and my personal journey as a witch has taught me many things, and given me a path to follow that is calm and happy. Witchcraft guided me away from chaos and self destructive patterns. Through my practice I began to see who and what was toxic and harmful to me.

Thinkers like Starhawk and Jana Riley helped me to understand the soul’s journey of each individual, and to view each living thing as an equal soul, knowing that hate and violence come from fear — mostly fear of difference and fear of the other. Appreciating otherness is a foundational aspect of witchcraft. Even astrology has its merits. Like anything, you can see the superficial shitty version of something and think it’s toxic and dangerous for society, rather than recognizing that maybe it’s just most people who are shitty and toxic regardless of their weapon of choice. Unfortunately, this seems to be the overruling view of astrology, when for many people it’s simply a philosophy. I use astrology to find similarities in people I get along with or butt heads with, and by looking at these differences and similarities I can create a narrative that helps me to empathize, and to see what behaviors of my own cause conflict. Whether this is because of the day and time a person is born, or simply because I’ve created a psychological tool, it doesn’t matter. It helps, and it’s helped me to rebuild relationships with friends, family and lovers. And in terms of the atheist’s most hated phrase, “Mercury in Retrograde,” that’s simply a time to reflect on potential confrontations, to be extra careful about travel and timing, and to reconsider some major leaps. People can’t be that conscientious all the time. Likewise in any other planet’s retrograde, it’s a great opportunity to look within and be thoughtful about how we can do better. Each planet has a personality of its own, strengths and weaknesses, and we can reflect those things back onto ourselves to be better friends, lovers and citizens of the planet (especially us privileged folks).

Of course this little bit of information can cause people to go into wacko overdrive and do and say all kinds of thoughtless garbage, but so can anything. If you tell someone that it’s scientific fact that something will happen or it will happen because of a spiritual overlord, certain people will follow suit and act like fools. I know there are versions of my own spirituality that are embarrassing. I’m not one of those spirituals who talks about karma and things in absolutes. I don’t think that’s very witchy. Karma is a word that’s been hijacked by white Westerners to help them believe that the bad guys get caught and that if they donate money to charity that they will be able to buy a new car without guilt. That’s not very witchy, either, and it’s not the kind of pseudo spirituality that I subscribe to. Like anything, there’s the superficial garbage version and then there’s a simple foundation, where you can find integrity and care. An asshole will be an asshole regardless of the tools they’re given.

I don’t believe that life is fair and just, or that prayer can heal, or that all the dead babies are going to baby heaven or whatever. I think life is really fucked up for a majority of the Earth’s population, and I know that I am privileged to practice my craft and find autonomy. But that’s only because our planet’s human history (save peaceful, Earth-loving, genderfluid/equal ancient civilizations) is one of dominion, misogyny and white supremacy. One could even say that progress has hurt us, or conversely that imperialism is inevitable in all civilizations. To dominate or be dominated. Maybe that’s human nature, but as science will tell you, humans have evolved beyond all other living things, and we have the ability to step outside of our “nature” and act individually, consciously, constructively. It’s our personal responsibility as citizens of the first world to learn empathy and to care about all living things.

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Personally, my beliefs have taken me from a point of self-loathing, self-pitying victimhood and brought me to a place where I am humbled and empowered. Before I learned divination and reconnected with magick I was SUCH AN ASSHOLE. I blamed everyone and everything around me for the things that happened to me, and for how unhappy I was. If I knew to connect with my spirituality I wouldn’t have subjected myself to the things I thought were right for me, as a hater of myself and what I considered to be systems of oppression.

One of the first steps in taking responsibility for myself and my actions was asking what I was doing wrong, and how I could change and improve. I was subjecting myself to so much unnecessary violence and conflict, because I didn’t know how to get better, or find happiness. I didn’t feel powerful, I felt powerless at the hands of men who enacted sexual and emotional violence. I also didn’t realize I was putting myself in these situations, and I was welcoming violence into my life.

I really just felt lost.

I realized I had a fear of intimacy that built up after all these years of conflicts with sex and men, that made me a hardened, mean spirited person. Therapy was financially out of reach so I took to Tarot instead. I took an opportunity to have my cards read by a professional cartomancer, which was not only a very small fraction of the cost of therapy, but encouraged so much agency. The practice not only helped to guide me out darkness but also gave me the tools I needed to heal myself and to continue learning divination on my own terms (without breaking the bank, either). Simultaneously, I befriended a woman who would become my mentor, and through her I would learn about divination and reconnect with magick in a serious way. I had been playing with Tarot since I was 18, and had known other diviners, but failed to realize how powerful this tool could be, and how guidance through divination was both humbling and grounding.

I found that the Tarot not only worked, but was fun, liberating and artistically satisfying. Contrary to what some think, divination isn’t fortune telling. There is no definite end or final outcome. Many paths are offered to you, it is up to you which one you would like to take. It can be painful, but the pain is not without rewards. The cards can help you to see yourself and the choices you are making from an outside perspective. There’s even science behind why divination works.

After several years of reading Tarot and manifesting and practicing a variety of spells, I finally overcame my fear of intimacy, and beyond that I became a more humbled person, who is able to care about others and give to others. Oddly enough, looking at my past life helped me to feel better about problems in my current life. I felt like I could understand my cosmic purpose better, and put an end to cycles of self destruction and misery. I stopped blaming other people for my unhappiness and took ownership for my actions. I saw violence and chaos fall away. It wasn’t some extra force doing this for me, it was me, being empowered, something I couldn’t have achieved without The Craft. That’s not about facts and truths, it’s about a method and a process that works for me.

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I’m not out here trying to make a witch of anyone. If being an atheist works for you, then keep at it. It’s the bullying that gets to me, and knowing that divination could help others but those people are ashamed of themselves and don’t want to be laughed at and ridiculed. I know what that’s like. In particular, I know what it’s like to date as a witch. I’ve been on several first dates with men who feel totally justified in laughing at me, and calling me stupid when I talk about my lifestyle. Or, in some cases, I’ve been straight up yelled at in public after asking a man’s zodiac. Because, as a woman, I need more experiences with men reacting to threats to his ego with violent actions. I once went on a date with a man (who I unfortunately continued seeing after, against my best interest) who told me to stop talking about astrology because he thought I was cute and didn’t want to have to end the date. It truly would be a shame to ruin my cuteness. Ultimately, my spirituality was enough to regard me as “not girlfriend material.” Needless to say, my dating endeavors with atheists never worked out, though I can respect a man’s love of science, logic, rationalism and “fact”-based intellect as well as his journey to becoming an atheist — especially those men who were raised with oppressive religions and found atheism and science to ground them. I respect their journey, they laugh at mine.

They regarded me as a joke and didn’t want to hear about how I became the person I am, the sexy, smart person they want to fuck and continue seeing. They didn’t seem to get that the person they wanted couldn’t exist or be this way without spirituality. If I wasn’t a witch I’d be some mean, shitty, punk girl who gets blackout drunk, cries during sex and would probably villainize any man. That’s not the woman they want, they want the calm, mature, intelligent woman who happens to also be a practicing witch. They want to remove the witch part, when they don’t know that part is responsible for the whole. I don’t think that witch/atheist pairings are impossible, it just seems that one side is less capable of empathy and appreciating difference than the other. We have separate paths, and that should be an opportunity to learn rather than an offense to one.

I guess the thing that bothers me about atheism as an absolute belief system is the arrogance in thinking you know absolutely and ruling out all other possibilities. Even I am open to the idea that atheists are right. I’m not ruling it out, it just doesn’t jive with me. The fact is: I don’t know. All I know is what works for me in this life, and I know that misogyny comes from both religion and scientific theory. I know that hate has many forms.

Atheists must have forgotten that we witches are the most hated of all. Women who believe in their own spirituality, sexuality, ability to be independent. Christians (among other patriarchal religions) have hated us since the beginning of their version of time. Women died not even for their beliefs, but for being the things they saw the devil in. Giving power and autonomy to women is the ultimate evil in their minds, and because of that we’ve been murdered, tortured, enslaved, raped, abused. They called us witches first, when all we were doing was loving ourselves and living lives of feminine divinity and autonomy. The religious fear of women was the death and enslavement of women. When I hear an atheist man laugh at a spiritual woman, it’s more than just bullying, it’s playing the same game as those aforementioned God religions and patriarchies. It’s taking our power away from us, from every angle.

8 thoughts on “Why I Can’t ‘Do It’ With Atheists, And How Magick Made Me Less Of An Asshole

  1. Amazing article. I also experienced a period where “the thrill of radical liberation somehow turned into this existential crisis where I felt like there is no hope, there is no help, humanity is doomed and awful, and we roll these meat sacks around on a dying planet for 80 some odd years pointlessly until we die, only to rot in the soil and be forgotten.”

    Without magick and music I would still be stuck. May the blessing, curse, and cunning be!

  2. What an incredible account. I loved it. Thanks for having the guts to share it. We live in a complicated world and we all have to find what helps to make us better human beings. I’m glad you found your path. I think if we all concentrated on making ourselves better we wouldn’t have time to try and tinker with the lives of others. The whole “mind your own business” thing would serve us all well, I think. And…I’m rambling. Sorry. Thanks again!

  3. this is wonderful, thanks. in my 20’s i was heavily seduced by the seeming hard-headed rationalism of atheist thinkers like hitchens, somehow able to brush off that he was also writing articles like “why women aren’t funny” and supporting george w bush. cognitive dissonance is powerful, even (or especially) for o-so-serious young men like i was… so ready to rail against the power structures of organized religion, so unwilling to examine the centuries of race and gender power imbalance that i benefitted from.
    i’ve since come to understand more about the role that magick plays in our spectrum of experience, and my engagement with the world has become way more fulfilling and, as you say, less existentially bleak. while i’ve never had to deal with the stuff you have in terms of encountering asshole atheist dudes as a woman, i appreciate seeing you put into words a lot of general feelings i’ve had on these issues that i never took the time to totally think through. i just realized while reading this that if someone asked me today if i were an atheist, my answer would be “no.” thanks for sharing

  4. “There’s even science behind why divination works.”

    There’s a nice line of Daniel Dennett’s (yes, really) about how it is rational to decide by casting lots when there isn’t time to decide by evaluating a situation carefully, because if you cast lots you’ll get the right (or a good-enough) answer at least some of the time, whereas if you take too long coming to a more carefully reasoned decision the opportunity may be lost (or the predator might eat you, or whatever).

    You can use randomness, or arbitrary systems, to break up fixed patterns of thinking and behaviour, which is often a useful thing to be able to do (not least when evading predators, as it happens).

    In that sense, divination certainly “works” – not by giving you a predictive power you might not otherwise have, but by enhancing your ability to reason and behave *unpredictably*, to grow out of a self-image that might have trapped you.

  5. My only real issue with this article is the perpetuating of the false idea that witchcraft is religious. Wicca and Neo-Wicca is a religion that incorperates witchcraft. Witchcraft itself is secular. It is a practice with many different ways to do it. Anyone can be a witch, religious or not…regardless of what religion you believe in. Regardless of age, sex, gender, creed, sexuality, race….you can practice witchcraft. I’m a Hellenistic Polytheist pagan and I’m a witch.

    1. Cammy: That’s an important distinction, thank you for bringing it up. Though I now consider myself an animist, I started practicing sorcery in the chaos magick current, while I still considered myself an atheist. I was not a Dawkins hardcore atheist, and always had some fondness for mysticism, but I was definitely a skeptic regarding events that could not be rationally explained. It was the process of working magick itself that blew apart my worldview. So, if you found an atheist who was practicing magick, you might actually be able to get along.
      I’d also note that Traditional Witchcraft from around 1500-1900 is not really pagan, it essentially works within a framework of heretical Christianity, which includes work with figures such as the Devil, the Watchers, and Cain. Although most people now associate witchcraft with the (Neo-?) Wicca, more traditional groups are still out there.
      As you said: “Regardless of age, sex, gender, creed, sexuality, race….you can practice witchcraft. “

  6. Good article. I quite enjoyed it.

    “Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.”
    — Bertrand Russell

  7. Great article. Being a former firm believer of Islam, I fell into the same existential crisis as mentioned in the article when I began challenging my “faith” and got caught up in filling that missing piece of the puzzle with scientific empiricism, utilizing science as a tool seeking to detract from other spiritual beliefs, which ironically paralleled my Islamic mentors methods of debasing other faiths to prove theirs as “right”. At this point in my life, I feel it is more proactive to see science as a tool for learning and greater insight, rather than a means to impose ego-centric bullying, and spirituality is something that is far more personal for growth, healing, understanding, and love. At the end of the day, things would be better off if we were more interested in how and why someone adopted their spiritual beliefs (or lack therrof) rather than judging them for it.

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