Pagans and Earth Day

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 22, 2013 — 15 Comments

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”John Muir

A view from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

A view from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

Despite the fact that it has been co-opted for all sorts of bizarre and cynical purposes over the years, as a Pagan I still find Earth Day a worthy, and historically important, day. Originally a teach-in on environmental issues, it has since become a global moment where we collectively stop and take stock of how we are treating our home. Since before the very first Earth Day in 1970, many modern Pagans have embraced and incorporated the idea of being Nature Religions, in addition to religions of fertility or mystery.

“The spirit of Earth Day 1970 did not just happen; its roots could include the gradual stirring of environmental consciousness that accelerated in the 1960s, but that stirring itself had deeper roots in an American consciousness of a special relationship with the land, even if that relationship was often abusive. Still, if there was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England, that year was 1970.” – Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America

Modern Pagan and Heathen faiths, whether they identify as “nature religions” or not, have a special sacral relationship with the natural world. Our gods and goddesses can be found in oceans, rivers, forests, and mountains (indeed, in many cultures, Earth is the primal mother of most acknowledged gods and powers), some pre-Christian cultures envision a World Tree that binds reality together. Our rites often mark the changing seasons, and once tracked the progress of crops essential to our survival. Deity is not merely a transcendent force separate from creation, deity is everywhere and within every thing. Each of us holds the potential to be like the gods, and we acknowledge that the gods and powers walk and exist among us still. So it isn’t surprising that many Pagans feel a special urging to advocate for the environment and the protection of the natural world.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

“Pagans should be at the forefront of the environmental movement. We should put into practice the green living techniques learned over the last decades and show the world we take seriously what we preach: Earth is our Mother and we will honor Her by becoming green beacons for others to gravitate to.”

Lately, with extreme weather events making the headlines on a regular basis, and controversial initiatives like the Keystone XL pipeline spurring environmental groups like the Sierra Club to endorse civil disobedience, the call to fulfill the role-modeling and leadership many in our community believe we should be engaging with on these issues grows more urgent.

“We should know better. Here’s what I’d like to see in the Pagan community. I’d like to see Pagans across the world standing up to choose the sometimes harder road.”

When that call for civil disobedience came from the Sierra Club, I wondered if our interconnected communities would find a new, more expansive, consensus on the role of environmentalism, eco-spirituality, and “nature religion” within modern Pagan religions and modern Pagan organizations.

“This is a moment of challenge for those Pagans who espouse an eco-spirituality, who want to practice an Earth or nature religion. If the “safe” moderate environmental group says it’s now time for civil disobedience, do we follow suit? Do our leaders also say “enough” and call for civil disobedience? For direct action in the face of climate crisis? Such calls have usually come from “activist” Pagans like Starhawk, and her critics have often accused her of politicizing Paganism, but are we now at a different moment? Is this the moment where we move beyond recycling and buying the Sierra Club calendar, into advocating for direct action? Not just prayers and spells, but our bodies on the front lines? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but perhaps it’s time we had a renewed discussion about what, exactly, Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagan faiths that espouse the natural world as sacred and alive, should do in the face of a now impossible to ignore climate crisis. The Sierra Club has made a decision, and perhaps that should press us to collectively make one too.”

I’m still wondering, and I’d still like to see more robust discussion on what kind of leadership, or role, Pagans should engage in regarding our environment, our climate, our collective ecosystems. I’ve heard and read a lot of talk over the years about how Pagans would bring better stewardship to our planet, that our values are better on these issues, but it seems like only a small fraction of us are engaged in the work of becoming the models we say we naturally are. I include myself in that statement, knowing that I could do more, be more, sacrifice more, if I truly felt the sense of urgency that some eco-activists feel. So I don’t ask these questions to collectively damn us, but instead to use this moment of Earth Day to ask if we are collectively content with our current level of engagement, of activism, or if we should be more.

While we work on finding our place on these issues, let’s individually embrace nature religion for real, reduce our carbon footprint (and our water footprint), support small farmseat ethically, teach on global climate change as a moral issue, hold up those who act for the environment in our stead, invest green, vote green, and “go green.” Individual changes might not bring about some of the macro-changes the world so sorely needs, but small acts of leadership and courage can have effects beyond our doorstep, especially if we truly embrace the idea that everything is connected.

“I will sing of well-founded Earth, mother of all, eldest of all beings. She feeds all creatures that are in the world, all that go upon the goodly land, and all that are in the paths of the seas, and all that fly: all these are fed of her store.” – Homer

Let’s make every day Earth Day.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Crystal Hope Kendrick

    Hoping everyone has a mindful Earth Day. I may have to steal the quote from Homer, Jason.

    • Apuleius Platonicus

      The beautiful Hymn to Gaia, Mother of All, is “homeric”, but it is not actually from Homer. This in no way detracts from its worth. It is a genuine representation of ancient polytheistic piety, as well as being just plain great poetry in its own right, although, like all 33 of the “Homeric Hymns”, we do not know who the author was.

      • Cari Ferraro

        In its translations (of which there are several) it is said to have appeared in Hesiod’s “Theogony” as one of the Homeric hymns, meaning of that time and style, but yes, unknown and very old. This translation is from 1914 by Evelyn White. My artistic treatment of it is here:

        • cernowain greenman

          Nice translation!

      • cernowain greenman

        When some of us say “Homer”, we are referring not to a historical figure, but to the tradition which stretched over centuries. I didn’t read anything in Crystal’s remark to signify that she meant the historical figure.

        • Apuleius Platonicus

          Both Jason and Crystal explicitly misattribute this quote to “Homer”. It is not a major issue, but it is worth getting right.

          • cernowain greenman

            I don’t think it is that imperative to clarify at this point in the conversation. I would have only brought it up if someone inferred the hymns go back to, say, the 9th century bce. “Homer” is shorthand and a collective noun referring to a long line of poetic tradition.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I know very little about Homer, and, indeed, Greek culture/myth/history.

            I thought ‘Homer’ referred to the Greek guy.

          • Folcwald

            There is some disagreement as to whether there ever really was a guy named Homer. I think most scholars think there was, and that he wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad. In the classical age, he was also thought to have written the various Homeric hymns and, as I understand it, nearly much every piece of epic poetry in the Ionic dialect. By the Hellenistic era, I think it was recognized that he had not written all of it, and certainly not the Homeric hymns. In any case, even assuming he was a real person, composing an epic poem in his age did not mean that he invented it from whole cloth, but that he picked up traditional themes and stories and put them together, drawing on a traditionally handed down stock poetic phrases. The actual construction of the entire thing in its current form, then, would have been his work, but it is a work of reconfiguring and tying together earlier (much earlier – many Homeric phrases can be reconstructed as Indo-European poetic phrases, including most notably kleos aphthiton, identical to Sanskrit sravo aksitam (sp?) – undying fame) material. When I learned Homeric Greek in college, my professor emphasized that the parts of the Iliad and the Odyssey that are linguistically recognizable as being the newest are often the poetically beautiful Homeric similies, which we can thus assume are pretty much entirely his (assuming there is a Homer) own original work.

            In any case, I think it is imprecise not to differentiate between the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey and the anonymous authors of the Homeric hymns, which although themselves beautiful and moving are not in the same category as the Iliad or the Odyssey. But I am no expert.

          • Apuleius Platonicus

            I think that the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymns are important enough as sacred literature that we should get the most basic facts concerning them straight, and when these facts are mangled, this should be pointed out, as it has been.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Surely that’d be the difference between Homer and Homeric?

        • Crystal Hope Kendrick

          Thanks, Cernowain for giving me the benefit of the doubt. And yes, I didn’t think it important to specify “Homeric” as opposed to “Homer” because usually it is understood that Homer is not a specific person unless you’re talking about the Iliad and the Odyssey. I imagine Jason was using it that way too. Next time I’ll be more specific for our pedantic friends. Tempest in a teapot.

  • Obsidia

    A beautiful tribute to Earth day, Jason, and to Earth, our own home and spaceship, beloved and loving. As Pagans, we have so many ways to celebrate the Earth throughout the rolling year. We can honor our own Guiding Spirits by choosing to speak for the oceans, trees, animals, and all those in Earth’s ever-changing, ever-replenishing dance. Speak for them, work for them, advocate for them, and support those who put themselves on the line. We can follow the lead of our Indigenous elders:

    join with those whose life is dedicated to establishing a passionate Natural regeneration:

    and just to the “little things” that make a big difference! One thing I know: The Earth appreciates every little thing we do that makes a positive contribution to the Earth’s health, life, and love. And the Earth pays us back a millionfold!!!

  • Lupa GreenWolf

    I do feel that those of us who consider nature to be the center of our pagan paths need to be sure to ground those beliefs in our actions. Pagans have a tendency to focus quite a bit on symbols and abstracts and correspondences, and there’s the very real risk of mistaking the map for the territory. There’s nothing wrong with a complex, ornate and symbol-heavy ritual, of course. But remember to also care for whatever you were symbolizing, too. It’s one thing to visualize wrapping the Earth in a warm pink energy blanket of healing, and another to clean up trash at the public park where you held your ritual.

  • Rua Lupa

    I find the Bioregional Quiz to be very helpful in beginning that real world connection within our environment. To first see what is actually right in front of you instead of always looking out/in ward and then knowing its workings be better able to engage.