[The following is a guest opinion piece from Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion.” Michael York’s interests are in polytheism, pantheism, animism and shamanism. He taught in the Study of Religions department of Bath Spa University in England and ended up as Professor of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology before retirement. He sees paganism as a missing piece of the religion jigsaw puzzle and believes it to be central in today’s recognition of the ecological peril the planet is facing as well as a viable solution to the disenchantment seen by Max Weber as a fundamental problem for bureaucratic society.]
The recent abandonment by Peter Dybing of all titles and roles within the Pagan community to pursue ‘dirt worship’ and to focus more directly on his partner Rebekah possibly portends what I am increasingly fearing, namely, end times. The eco-system of our planet is dying. As Phoebe Wray puts it, our planet “will survive. We won’t.” If we honestly assess the planetary human community, we know that it is deeply and even dishonestly fractured. This rupturing situation extends to the Pagan community as well and to the point that our “backstabbing” appears to be much of the reason why Peter is quitting and seeking a “return to anonymity.” As he recognises, it is a disease that can infect us all.
On the wider level, half of humanity identifies with and/or practices an Abrahamic faith that is essentially a religion of division – an orientation that reduces the human event to an ‘us and them’ scenario. Whether Judaism, Christianity or Islam, the very nature of the religious conviction is schismatic so that each of these three world religions fight between themselves and even within themselves. They are also, potentially at least, at war with the other half of the human population. Two possible Abrahamic exceptions might be seen in Baha’i and Sikhism, but even with this last the Five K’s of its adherents concretely re-create an ‘us and them’ identity division.
Thanks to both desperation and greed, the divisiveness of Abrahamic exclusivism is to be found among the rest of us as well, whether secular, dharmic or pagan. Our human community has reached seven billion, and while within that figure there may be some coalescing into nests and concordant groups or communities, there is still an irreducibly huge number of self-ish desires, demands and uncompromising thought. And now with the sham of democracy, the imminent melt-down of our economic systems, governmental deceit, depletion of resources, global pollution and disregard of others on every level – from drunken mindlessness at 4 AM as inebriants vociferously blast through sleeping residential communities to collateral damage through drone bombings, armed aggression and suicide bombing – we have reached our end times; all of us.
Being upon the brink of catastrophe, it is no wonder that someone like Peter has chosen to focus more exclusively on his beloved and the ‘dirt’ immediacy of what is local and still left to appreciate and even, however doomed, to work with and for. As our earth if not the planet dies, we Pagans in particular die with it. She is our centre and comprises the core of our spirituality of engagement regardless of its individual forms. But it is to our shame that we fight among ourselves, drench ourselves in petty jealousies and reflect our worldwide human comrades more than the mother’s sanctity itself. We are disappointingly unimaginative as a communal voice despite some exemplary individuals among us.
Drowning as we are in a sea of mediocrity and banal ridiculousness, this last is not surprising. I would wish that I am wrong in this, but Peter’s decision is one that makes perfect sense in the face of hopelessness. In the dirt, some of us can still dream and envision perhaps the magic that we ourselves, as both a Pagan community and a human community, have failed. In the time we have left, perhaps the best we can do now is individually, locally and trans-politically seek to separate our dirt from the more ubiquitous filth of collective insanity. What exactly we have lost perhaps cannot be named, but our human terrestrial quest should be so obvious that it should be our silently spoken but absolutely insistent and universal demand. How sad for the earth, how sad for us and how sad for our children that it is not.