Two years ago a North Carolina newspaper published a Letter to the Editor that read:
My problem with the Pagan or Wiccan groups is in whether they qualify as a religion. Most religions in the world espouse doing good. We see food pantries, homeless shelters, free clinics and hospitals started and manned by religious entities….I’ve never seen a Pagan hospital or food pantry or homeless shelter. I would call Pagans evil, but maybe I could more easily support that they have no socially redeeming value. – J. Bromley
At that time I created a solid list of “good works” that served to demonstrate Pagan involvement in tremendous acts of service. Some of these projects were Pagan community specific (i.e. Operation Circle Care) and some served the larger population (i.e. Doctors Without Borders).
I’d like to resurrect this topic and share the stories of two Pagans who engage in dynamic acts of service that benefit far more than just themselves. Here are two different men on two different continents who have both made a passionate commitment to protecting the Earth and its vital resources.
Paganism, Deep Ecology and Environmental Activism
For over twenty years, Adam Burling, a Pantheist Pagan, has been an advocate for the environment in his home country of Australia. He began his career working in one of Sydney’s merchant banks. But he quickly became disillusioned with the financial industry. Looking around he felt “empty” seeing no “real community or passion.”
Finally Adam quit and fell in with a crowd of surfers, skaters and musicians. Some of them were also environmental activists who volunteered for The Australian Wildnerness Society, a group that works to protect native forests. He signed up.
Adam remembers his first mass protest:
[There was] a real sense of community…music, songs, laughter even in the face of so much horror and destruction of nature. Not long after that I decided to dedicate my life to working for the Earth and its creatures (including us humans).
Adam continued to volunteer for The Wildnerness Society living mostly off his inner desire to act. He recalls, “In the face of the destruction of what [was] occurring I felt compelled to do nothing else.” Then after years on the front-lines, he finally got an office job in the campaign headquarters of the Tasmanian Green Party working for Bob Brown. His passion “to act” turned into a career. Now Adam is the media coordinator for Sea Shepherd, an international organization that “takes a stand against poachers, whalers and [ocean] polluters.”
While the fight to save Earth’s eco-systems may seem insurmountable at times, Adam remains undaunted. He wrote:
Starhawk on her visit to Tasmania said to me that all wild places are facing some threat. They call to us for help…I feel honoured that I have heard that call and have chosen to act accordingly.
In his own home town, Adam with a group of 17 others were successful in stopping the clear cutting of 1000 acres of native forest and fending off a corporate lawsuit. This is a small local victory but one that Adam holds close.
Since the beginning Adam has grounded his work within his strongly held Pagan beliefs and the philosophy of Deep Ecology. He has studied both the Reclaiming Tradition and the works of T. Thorn Coyle. He adds:
Paganism has provided me with a specific world view that supports my work. It puts everything more into perspective. Like John Seed says we are the rain forest defending itself. When you start to view activism as such it shifts something inside of you, it is no longer just reactionary. It is pro-active and it a movement for all life including humanity.
Air, Water, Earth: Stopping Injection Drilling
On the other side of the world, a retired engineer has been aggressively working to curb air and water pollution in the small towns of East Texas near the Sabine National Forest. Lord Sez, a long-time Wiccan practitioner, explains,
I do not like anyone who sends poison into the air. With good technology the emissions can be eliminated and the air kept clean. But that would cost more money. Most of the [emission] permits are granted with no public hearing. It is permit by rule. The plant owners do not live close to [the plants] and, [as for] the families that do live close….too bad.
Several years ago, Lord Sez identified a growing problem caused by a local chemical plant built only 900 feet from his home. Over time, he and his neighbors noticed an increasing incidence of illness, strange “smells, loss of taste … and floating gas clouds around the plant.” They also observed an increasing amount of dead grass and fewer and fewer birds.
With his engineering background Lord Sez was able to take his own air and water quality test samples to validate his suspicions. He also dug up documents proving that the company falsified several sworn records. After rallying local landowners, he presented his case to the Texas Commission on Environmental Equality. As a result, the chemical plant is being fined with further investigations to come.
Lord Sez remarks, “I am not a good neighbor for a plant or well that produces pollution” Over the same period of time, the Texas Railroad commission approved the drilling of a Injection well in the Sabine National Forest, near Pendleton Harbor and Toledo Bend lake. The injection well was to be used to store oil and gas waste and was to be dug only 400 feet from a fresh water drinking source.
The project wasn’t made public until after ETX solutions LLC, the drilling company, began clearing the forest for construction. Upon learning of the project, Lord Sez immediately began an extensive investigation. With the help of others, he was able to halt construction by creating enough noise to scare away investors. The drill project has since been abandoned.
Lord Sez will continue his work and already has another project lined up. He gave me permission to share the details of his story in the hopes that it will inspire others to act. But he emphatically states that, although he is Wiccan, his environmental work is not at all about religion. For him, it is about the safety, health and the quality of life within in his community for all living things. He says:
I get angry [knowing] that a family [could] gather for a holiday meal with the windows open and everyone [could] sick from the stink in the air.
He doesn’t care what holiday that might be. Some acts of service transcend theology.
These stories are certainly not the only ones. Many Pagans are dedicating their time, money, and careers to protecting the Earth and its eco-systems. In addition, there are Pagans performing many, many other “good works” that contribute positively to our greater societies. I look forward to hearing more of these stories. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to report on the opening of a Pagan-run hospital.
An Aside: Remember little Duncan Lawrence, the North Georgia March of Dimes ambassador. He and 50 other team members managed to raise over $18,000 dollars to date and the pledging is still open. Tom, his father and Druid Elder, estimate that they will raise another 2-3,000 before the donation period ends. Now that is socially relevant.