The Environment, from a Pagan Perspective
by DeeDee Freeman
“Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws ... to which man is inseparably related.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
More than one and a half million Americans today identify as Pagan, a family of non-Abrahamic spiritual paths that live in harmony with Planet Earth. While not yet completely mainstream, the number of people who claim Nature as their religion is steadily growing, giving widespread exposure to these Nature-honoring practices.
Traditionally, Pagan spirituality involved an unwavering adherence to Nature and natural law, careful attention to the environment, and keen observation of the planet’s rhythms and respect for the lives with which humanity coexists. Based on cycles of the year, important seasonal points became annual celebrations that included when to plant, the beginning of summer and when to start preparing for winter.
These holy days gave rural folks an opportunity to step out of their daily routines to be in communion with Nature and each other. The celebrations also served as a constant reminder that humans were completely dependent on Mother Earth and Father Time for their very existence.
Let’s face it, both Nature and the Environment are sacred.
We are the earth: what makes up our bodies one day is incorporated into the rocks and soil the next. We are air, breathing in the plants’ gift of oxygen, and returning that gift as carbon dioxide when we exhale. We are fire, burning the energy of the sun, captured by plants. We are water, with the ocean flowing in our veins.
We’re part of the body of Planet Earth, and as part of the planet’s body, we must care about and protect our collective health. Anything that harms Earth’s natural resources, including actions that contribute to global warming, pollution and extinction, is therefore a spiritual issue.
Another spiritual issue is the growing number of people suffering from addiction and other mental health problems. This is due in part to western medicine’s misplaced efforts to treat symptoms rather than actual causes. We all have the power to heal ourselves, each other and the planet, by simply remembering that we are here to live our lives in joy rather than misery.
Love and acceptance make us feel good, and is what we all seek. “Nature as therapy” allows us to tap into natural resources for a sense of belonging and wellness. We are powerful beyond limit when we live in accordance with the Laws of Nature. By returning to time-tested practices that honor and harness the relationship between humans and the inherent healing properties of Nature, psychological and physical balance can be restored. Activities like outdoor drum circles around bonfires allow people get in touch with themselves, each other, and with the planet itself.
“Imagine a life without dependence on external substances for contentment. No pills, alcohol, or, or, or! Nature has our backs; healing power lives in every plant, rock, celestial body and sound. Mother Earth has limitless amounts of healing readily available for us to tap into ..., and best of all, it’s free! — Morgana Raven Wolf
Americans, increasingly turned off by organized religion, seek a new home for their spirituality. The 'religion' of environmentalism stems from dissatisfaction with our Judeo-Christian heritage, which, in contrast to Pagan spirituality, has contributed to mankind’s disrespect for the earth’s natural resources, claiming it was God's will that man dominate Nature for his benefit. Christianity made it possible for humans to exploit the environment with a complete lack of gratitude, thankfulness, or respect for the natural world and its right to exist undisturbed.
This may come as a surprise, but Pagan spirituality has a great deal in common with the “natural theology” of Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas. His concept strove to prove God’s existence through his creations, without the use of religious text. With human reason alone, Aquinas gave supporting evidence for the idea that God existed as the “First Cause” in this cause-and-effect world, therefore making all of Nature sacred.
Paganism forces us to rethink our place and purpose in relation to the environment. While we ask our elected leaders to take environmental concerns seriously, we also need to act locally to reduce our impact on Nature. We must understand that the sacred isn’t confined to heaven; it permeates the natural world that surrounds us.
There are simple actions we can take as individuals for the betterment of the whole. We need to reexamine our very definitions of what it means to be human, and how humanity relates to the natural world. Earth is able to heal itself, but first we must stop doing harm and allow the healing to begin. Acknowledgment of the universal intelligence of rivers, trees, and mountains, and seeing the earth as one vast living organism, is where we, individually and collectively, can start.
“There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.”— John Muir
The following call to action was taken from Nature Religion for Real, written in 1998 by Chas S. Clifton. He felt that we can best practice earth-centered spirituality by learning the cycles of Nature where we live — the rhythms of the seasons, land, water and the wind. When we understand and honor the relationship between fire and forest, how our regional aquifers are replenished, and the history hidden within an ancient alligator juniper tree, we truly become a part of where we live.
1. Can you trace your drinking water from a snowfall to the tap?
2. What was the total precipitation in your area last year?
3. From what direction do winter storms and summer monsoons generally come?
4. Can you name five edible native plants in Yavapai County?
5. Name five birds in your area.
6. Which birds are migratory? Which ones are year-round residents?
7. What soil type is predominant?
8. What’s been the land use by humans during the past two centuries? Before that?
9. Where are there closest remnants of the indigenous population in your region?
10. Where does your garbage ultimately go? How about the recycling?
11. What geological processes influenced your area’s land formations?
12. When do the deer rut, and when are their young born?
13. What species have become extinct?
14. Which spring wildflowers are the first to bloom?
15. Name five grasses in your area. Are they native?
16. What are the most common types of trees in your region?
17. When will the Moon be full again?
18. Where does your electricity come from?
19. What are the primary sources of pollution?
20. What are the primary natural sounds heard in a particular month or season?
DeeDee Freeman is an ordained Spiritualist minister and teacher, and an active member of Collective Karma.
For more information on how to work locally to protect the environment as a spiritual community, please contact Arizona Pagan Perspectives.