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TUCSON, Ariz. –In what could be the first gesture of its kind, members of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship’s (ADF) mother grove have committed to sponsoring American Forests in the name of the organization.The $1,000 donation comes personally from the board members, not the organization’s treasury, and Archdruid Jean Pagano has additionally committed to planting a tree for every new member that joins ADF in 2017.

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According to a statement released from the ADF offices: “American Forests was established over 140 years ago, and they have planted over 150 million trees since 1990 alone. In fulfilling our values as an organization to honor the Earth Mother and be of service to the land, ADF will be able to make a positive impact on our environment through this partnership.”

The idea came from Rev. Jean “Drum” Pagano, who is now in his first year as archdruid. Pagano chipped in $250 himself, and intends on matching that gift each year he is in office. Archdruids can serve three three-year terms, meaning Pagano could be in office for up to eight more years, provided his members choose to re-elect him.

According to Pagano, American Forests was selected for a track record of fiscal management, “and quite frankly were not afraid of a Neopagan Druidic church.” Also, he added, “We can plant trees through them.”

Planting trees is exactly why this appears to be an ideal match. Druids are known for holding trees to be sacred, and the mission of American Forests is to protect them. From its web site: “We can’t live without forests. They are the source of the air we breathe and water we drink. Forests provide a home for most wildlife and are critical to our planet’s biodiversity. And they provide one of our primary defenses against climate change.”

[Photo Credit: H. Greene] Angel Oak

Angel Oak, Charleston [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

ADF Druids incorporate trees into their rituals as a matter of course, and there is much writing on trees to be found on ADF’s own site. For example, in one article, Judith Anderson-Morris writes of her experiences with “The Angel Oak,” and the “tiny affirmations” she receives during visits with that tree in Charleston:

Sometimes it comes in the form of a visiting hawk; sometimes a horde of butterflies; sometimes I find unique feathers at its base. It provides acorns, moss, and ferns for my spellwork and, of course, a deep sense of peace. I always leave three shiny copper pennies in its hollows in return.

Rev. Sean Harbaugh, public relations director for ADF, laid out exactly what this support entails.

The sponsorship allows ADF to use [American Forest]’s logo on our website and vice versa. The $1,000 pays for 1,000 trees to be planted on ADF’s behalf. It’s a way for us to show that we are serious about the environment and putting our money to good use.

Neither Pagano nor Harbaugh are familiar with any similar effort by a religious organization, Pagan or not. “It’s kind of groundbreaking,” observed Harbaugh.

“The intent was to partner with an organization outside of [our] own group that shared a part of our vision,” explained Pagano. “We are not insular, and I am honoured to have a board of directors that are forward-thinking. I also wanted to give a gift to our membership. We get a lot from them; this is a gift for us all.”

That gift has benefits on multiple levels, and the American Forests web site provides detail illustrating his point:

  • Water: More than half of the drinking water in the U.S. originates in forests, where each mature tree controls runoff and flooding by filtering more than 36,000 gallons annually.
  • Air: A tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, with a forest acre offsetting the emissions of two typical cars. Two trees can provide enough oxygen for a human to breathe all year.
  • Earth: More than five million terrestrial species depend upon forests for survival, including black bears which can roam up to 2,800 acres and red-cockaded woodpeckers, which need 500 acres of territory to live.
  • Fire: 60% of forest fires are human-caused, while natural fires clear out underbrush that can lead to out-of-control blazes. Many tree species only propagate after fire. Climate change is increasing the likelihood of fires, but forests in turn mitigate climate change and can keep that danger in check.

According to Harbaugh, “ADF has enough resources to carry this indefinitely if it turns into a positive thing. So far the member responses have all been positive.” A number of members have asked how they can participate, indicating that the gesture truly resonates with them.

[Courtesy Sean Harbaugh]

Archdruid Jean ‘Drum’ Pagano at an ADF ritual  [Courtesy S. Harbaugh, 2016]

Pagano dug into the nitty-gritty of what long-term support might look like. “As the Mother Grove, we wanted to lead by example without altering the flow of donations to ADF. If this idea is a popular one, I would envision an annual fundraiser, perhaps GoFundMe or the like, and if there is a shortfall then the archdruid or Mother Grove makes up the difference; if the amount is raised entirely, the Mother Grove and myself would earmark what we would have given to [American Forests to donate to] ADF instead.”

Donating an additional tree for each new member that joins the organization this year is entirely on Pagano’s dime. The 2016 goal set out for American Forests was to plant 2.7 million trees; the organization accepts donations to support that work specifically.

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The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.