I first heard of For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World by Sasha Sagan from a fellow Cannonballer’s review. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of finding ways to create ritual and deeper meaning in our daily lives from a non-religious perspective.
The book is organized roughly around seasons, both of the natural world and seasons of life (birth, spring, holidays, etc.). In each chapter, Sagan discusses different cultural and/or religious rites connected to the event being focused on, and then suggests ways that folks who are not religious can also honor the moment. She draws from her own experiences from being raised by (famously) secular (famous) parents, astronomer Carl Sagan and writer/producer Ann Druyan. For example, she shares how her mother and she have a tradition of throwing an impromptu party when they first see a flower bud forming on the trees outside Sagan’s childhood home. She also writes quite a bit about how her father’s death shaped her, and her own experience processing grief and loss from a secular perspective. I found these passages particularly meaningful.
I really enjoyed the ideas that Sagan presented for celebrating meaningful life events and seasonal cycles in For Small Creatures Such as We. I read it in e-book form on my Libby app, and I’m probably going to buy a hard copy of the book because I wish I had taken some notes while reading!
The only real criticism I have is that I occasionally grew weary of Sagan’s long lists of different cultural celebrations – but, on the other hand, I appreciate her effort to widen her scope from her own cultural experiences as a secular Jewish-American woman. She also freely acknowledges the privilege that her unique upbringing afforded her, including having a full-time nanny who had a deep influence on her life. While I occasionally felt that her childhood, being raised by two professionally successful members of the intelligentsia, was extremely alien to my own experience being raised Methodist in the midwest, I appreciated how open Sagan was throughout the book about how her own experiences shaped her – and how we can (and should!) each use our own unique background to find rituals that are meaningful for ourselves.
My biggest takeaway from reading For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World was a feeling of recognition for Sagan’s longing to hold certain moments in life’s cycle as sacred, despite not having any particular belief in any religion’s belief system. Especially since Covid, I’ve been fixated on changing my home’s decor with each passing season – my own personal ritual for marking our planet’s annual cycles. This book definitely gave me some ideas for how I can deepen this practice. If you also long for the ritual and pageantry associated with many religious holidays, but don’t feel connected to any particular Higher Power, I think this book is definitely worth checking out!