Pagans Doing Good: Two Men and Their Missions to Protect the Earth

Heather Greene —  June 5, 2013 — 10 Comments

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.

Adam Burling

Adam Burling

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.

Adam Burling

Adam Burling

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.

Injection Well Courtesy of Flickr's kqedquest

Injection Well
Courtesy of Flickr’s kqedquest

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.

IMG_5336ed

Druid Elder, Tom Lawrence and son Duncan at March of Dimes Walk 2013.

 

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Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and Pagan spirit living in the Deep South. She is currently the National Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess and has worked extensively with Lady Liberty League. Heather's work has been published in Circle Magazine and elsewhere. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History with a background in the performing and visual arts.
  • Obsidia

    This is great work! Also, we must remember that, for many Pagans, healing and helping others is a daily work. Many (if not most) Witches are healers who work with herbs and many other methods. Witches and Pagan Shamans have often been the chief healer of their villages and tribes from time immemorial! Before Hospitals ever existed, these Pagans were doing this work. I doubt that humans would have survived in such numbers if this was not true. Just wanted to affirm that!

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Good to see good works by Pagans, but I would describe religions somewhat differently than the individual who catalysed this post.

  • NT

    Our numbers are small and our communities, rights and freedoms come under attack frequently. Maybe when we no longer have to spend such a goodly chunk of our time defending ourselves and our rights and our way of life then we’ll all have a bit more time for starting charities. As it stands, many many Pagans already serve in the community and with charity organizations. Ignorant people like J. Bromley don’t know because we’re forced to keep ourselves in the broom closet so often. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that we need to stand up and be counted.

  • gary p golden jr

    “I’ve never seen a Pagan hospital or food pantry or homeless shelter.”

    That’s because the signs and name tags have not come in yet. I find this comment humorous. I am involved with my towns community garden which in turn is a partner in the Ample Harvest program (http://www.ampleharvest.org/). I am one of the “pickers” and am the liaison between the garden and ::GASP!!:: Holy Faith Lutheran Church.

    Does Madeline know I am heathen? nope, would she give a flying rats ass if she knew? nope. She does care however that she has a kickass guy helping the people out in the town he lives in, asks about the kids when I see her and is always very humbled and thankful to be receiving the produce she does.

    Am I any less of a heathen for “helping out those evul kristjans? Well, I saw in my local rag last week they had two fires back to back in the church, the second one being set while there were people inside, did I laugh? I called Madeline right away and asked if everyone was alright and if she needed anything not to hesitate to call and ask.

    The garden is up and running and picking starts in July, i know I look forward to another year of helping out my neighbors and seeing Madeline every Friday at 7…

    “I would call Pagans evil, but maybe I could more easily support that
    they have no socially redeeming value”

    lulz…

    • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

      Heathens can be involved in interfaith work, of course! Need is need.

      When we lived in Santa Cruz, I was unable to set up harvest with local food banks for our (nice old, there when we bought the house) apple tree, and since then haven’t been able to stay put long enough to get a tree old enough to produce.

      I tend to think that when religious organizations who feed the hungry have qualifications about who may donate and who may be served, they have lost sight of what is important.

  • Ursyl

    Dude simply doesn’t know where to look.
    Just because many, if not most, of us are doing whatever charity work and making donations to ongoing/existing efforts/organizations rather than reinventing wheels all over the place doesn’t mean that we are not giving back in many ways and on many levels.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Could just be that many people doing charity just do charity without shouting out “Lookit me!!! I’m doing this because I’m a Christian!!!”

      • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

        Or, in case of a UU I know, want to be seen as doing good.

  • http://enondragonart.com/ Kelly NicDruegan

    Sadly, it’s not just people **outside** of the Pagan community who seem to think that Pagans “do no good” or do no charity work. I recently had a woman and fellow Pagan whom I have know for several years express that Pagans had no right to “demand respect” because we had done nothing to earn it, that Pagans do nothing to “support their communities,” that Pagans “do nothing to support our own members in need,” don’t “participate in multi-faith efforts” or “pull together for causes like the environment and sustainable economies.”

    One has to wonder what are we to do? Any time a Pagan is out
    donating their time, money, or expertise to a local charity they should
    be sure to wear the biggest, hubcap pentacle they can find? Wear a
    radioactive, lime green t-shirt proclaiming “PAGAN CHARITY WORKER?” Send out a press release?

    Oh, she acknowledged that “some Pagans” do get involved with charity work, but that it was “spotty at best” and relied on a few “lonely volunteers.” If there are people within Paganism who feel we don’t do anything to “deserve respect” because we aren’t funding hospitals and free clinics, homeless shelters, etc., should we really be surprised that ignorant mouth breathers like the “letter to the editor ” author quoted above believe that we have “no socially redeeming value” either?

    • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

      Where in heavens was this woman looking? I think that statement might cover a very small minority of us! In northern California, I see many examples of each of those efforts, including Interfaith work. Most of us may not do it on a large individual scale that all can see, but we work in steady, smaller ways (for the most part).

      One sees more Pagans and Heathens involved in environmental endeavors, perhaps, than any other cause, but we also clothe those who need it, at a distance or not, feed the hungry, if only by nameless monetary donations, heal, work to help all veterans, help our homeless and our ill by various methods, and work in the political arena in order to better the lives of everyone–writing our elected officials and various boards, being involved in schools, signing petitions, VOTING, and being involved in political and social campaigns. That’s what *I* see.

      In contrast to what whosiwhat’s sees, we don’t make a big name for ourselves doing much of this–we work behind the scenes, in steady smaller ways, without much in the way of press releases or fanfares.

      As to young Duncan Lawrence, may he continue to thrive and beat the odds, as well as rasing the bar for what young ones can try to accomplish.

      May he see each birthday, well into adulthood, as my sister and I do: one more year of having beat the odds at our youngest age, rather than the usual trope of “I’m getting older, oh woe”. My sister, in the early days after her stroke, was given a future of near-vegetation in an institution by the first neurosurgeon who talked to me. One of his colleagues said a bit later that the brain is a mysterious thing, and one cannot truly predict what it will do. We are blessed by the lack of change in her intellect or personality, even if her right side is pretty uncooperative and she has expressive aphasia (many guessing games!).