America’s First Archdruid

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 2, 2006 — Leave a comment

“There is a love of wild nature in everybody an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.”John Muir, 1924

Meera Subramanian, writing for Killing The Buddha, gives a loving portrait of 19th c. naturalist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. Subramanian’s essay highlights Muir’s role as father to the theory of “Deep Ecology” and (oddly enough) the loving antics of Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin.

“Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation?…Though alligators, snakes, etc. naturally repel us, they are not mysterious evils. They dwell happily in these flowery wilds, are part of God’s family, unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

John Muir: A Self-Portrait, 1887

Though Muir’s spiritual language was couched in a Christian context, much of his writing displays a pantheistic understanding of God and Nature.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”John Muir, 1938

In addition to his famed work as an early conservationist, Muir helped prove the theory of glacial action as an agent in carving the Yosemite valley and struck up a friendship with Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emmerson towards the end of his life.

“Mr. Emerson, if you will promise to camp with me in the Grove. I’ll build a glorious campfire, and the great brown boles of the giant Sequoias will be most impressively lighted up, and the night will be glorious.” At this he became enthusiastic like a boy, his sweet perennial smile became still deeper and sweeter, and he said, “Yes, yes, we will camp out, camp out”; and so next day we left Yosemite and rode twenty five miles through the Sierra forests, the noblest on the face of the earth, and he kept me talking all the time, but said little himself. The colossal silver firs, Douglas spruce, Libocedrus and sugar pine, the kings and priests of the conifers of the earth, filled him with awe and delight.”

Muir’s conservation ethic was carried on by David Brower (nicknamed the “Archdruid”) who helped create the modern enviornmental movement. This confluence of conservationism, transcendentalism, and a shared idea of a sacred landscape came to a head in the early seventies and had a deep effect on how modern Paganism in America formed its “Nature Religion” ethic*. It is people like Muir who helped make America fertile soil for a revival of pre-Christian faith.

* For more on how environmentalism has influenced American Paganism, I highly recommend Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children”.

Jason Pitzl-Waters