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This year as we celebrate the 48th annual Earth Day on April 22, hope is a resource that’s coming up short for many environmental activists. Environmental regulations are being rolled back, U.S. governmental departments like the EPA and the Department of the Interior face huge cuts, and land and monuments that have been held in the public trust for a generation are being slashed. April 21-29 is also National Parks Week in the United States, with all national parks offering free admission on the 21st. 

This is a great week to enjoy our national parks; what we have is actually a rarity among most of the countries on the planet. Having such large tracts of unspoiled land set aside for nature to just be nature is a treasure. Sadly, it’s under threat. 

Looking ahead, I see one of the major challenges for the Pagan community being able to walk our talk. At the heart of many, though not all, Pagan spiritual practices is a deep and spiritual love and appreciation for the Earth, its inhabitants and natural processes. From many backgrounds we are frequently united in our finding peace and solace in the natural world. Though many of us are urban dwellers, our hearts break as we see the unchecked damage caused by fossil fuels globally and the scientifically verifiable, catastrophic impact that human activity is having on our home.

As someone who has only in the last five or six years truly reawakened to animism, I have come to recognize that it is a knowledge, not just a belief, that I’ve had since I was a young child. 

In an enspirited universe, we are required to act with respect, deference and reciprocity with those spirits all around us. As a child I used to talk to rocks, ask them where they wanted to be moved or if they wanted to be left alone. I used to send wishes and prayers away with the robins and cardinals I would find perched in the trees outside of my bedroom window. When I learned other children didn’t think and act the way that I did, when I was bullied and attacked for being a weirdo who would sing to trees (they like to be sung to, try it), I tried to kill that part of myself. I began to abuse and disrespect those things around me that represented nature because I was led to believe that such love and reverence was weakness. When you treat the spirits poorly they respond in kind. It wasn’t one person or one group of kids but the message that our culture manifested, one obsessed with assigning monetary value to everything, one that said strength means violence or the ability to perpetrate violence, one that only was capable of binary thinking. 

This week, David Buckel, a former lawyer for Lambda Legal and environmentalist, killed himself by self-immolation in protest of the negative effects of fossil fuels on humans and the earth. 

Buckel was well known for being the lead lawyer on the Brandon Teena lawsuit which found Nebraska law enforcement officers negligent in the death of Teena, a transgender man. The details of Teena’s life became the basis for the movie Boys Don’t Cry, directed by Kimberly Pierce. 

Buckel was also famously on the front lines of marriage equality, arguing in 2006 before the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris that civil unions relegated same-sex couples to second-class status. While the court agreed that all rights afforded to heterosexual legal partnerships must be granted to same-sex couples, they split on how to recognize them with the majority of the court advising for amending civil unions rather than full legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Susan Sommer, a former lawyer at Lambda Legal said in a New York Times article following his death that he was “one of the architects of the freedom to marry and marriage equality movement.”

Buckel was a passionate environmentalist who would walk an hour to and from work every day rather than drive, and who helped lead the NYC Compost Project, an outreach and education program created through the New York City Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability. He mentored young people from financially unstable backgrounds and got them active and involved in creating an environmentally sustainable future. Surviving him are his partner and their daughter. 

Buckel’s fierce willingness to fight for justice may have belied a commonality I see in him, in that he seems like a very sensitive soul. According to friends and family he had been feeling distraught about the state of the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump as well as soaring temperatures in the polar regions of the planet.

I think many of us can identify with that sense of powerlessness to create change. The odds seem stacked against us and the planet’s health is accelerating past the point of no return, at least when it comes to our ability to survive as a species. The earth mother, in whatever form you experience her, will live on beyond us. In that I find great solace all the while mourning for the lost species and the spirits we have sundered because of our hubris. When you act disrespectfully to spirits, they respond in kind.

How powerless are we, really? As magickal people I would say we aren’t powerless at all. Our challenge is to stand in our power, not allow others to take it from us, it is from that point where we are able to shift and change our realities. To be clear, I’m not saying Buckel was acting from a place of powerlessness when he chose to make his final protest, far from it. Whether or not you agree with what he did, his action has raised the dialogue, which seems to have been his intent. 

What do we do now? Are we as a group of loosely affiliated, religious and/or spiritual and/or magickal people capable of standing together around what, at the very least, a majority of us believe is the core of our practice in a meaningful way?

Buckel sent an email to the New York Times detailing the reasons why he took his life. In it he remarked that, “many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help.” Times editors also noted that he said that donating to organizations was not enough. 

On this Earth Day, during National Parks Week, as the head of the EPA Scott Pruitt continues to gut the agency he works for, all the while bankrupting it at every turn, perhaps we should all take some time for contemplation. Reach out to those embattled spirits of the land, air, and sea. Look with fresh eyes and fresh inspiration towards a Pagan-powered environmental movement. Look to where we’ve been, where our elders have taken us and ask where we can go next. Ask ancestors and spirit guides where we could improve and what we’re not doing now that we can be doing.

Stop talking and just listen.

Then act.

When you act respectfully to spirits, they respond in kind.

*   *   *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

 

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