Pagans and the Environment

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 15, 2007 — 2 Comments

[This post is part of Blog Action Day]

Often when people talk about modern Pagan religions terms like “earth-centered”, “earth-honoring”, and “nature religion” get used as a descriptor. These terms mean different things to different people, and some modern Pagan faiths reject such terminology altogether, but few can deny that modern Pagan religions have long been tied to environmental causes and concerns.

“Climate change calls us to become humble – a virtue most religions preach and a word which has the same roots as humus. We must literally return to earth, let go of our hubris and pride, and begin to honor and respect those things that sustain our lives. When we do, when we work within nature and take natural systems as our teacher and model, we also find strong allies in some of the most humble creatures. To heal toxic soil, to restore fertility, to break down pathogens, bacteria and fungi are powerful helpers. The sun, the wind, falling water and moving tides can generate energy. Nature gives us all that we need, and more, to provide lives of abundance, balance, and beauty for all – but She does not give us enough to waste or to satisfy endless greed or addictive need.”Starhawk, “Climate Change: A Moral Imperative to Act”

While there is a diversity of viewpoint, a large majority of modern Pagans view our planet and ecosystem as containing a divine life all its own. This can take the form of acknowledging a sacred intelligence within rivers, trees, and mountains, or seeing the earth as a whole as a vast living organism.

“Rather than trying to be revived ancient Somebodies-or-Other, rather than trying to adapt or adopt Native spirituality (which is itself inconsistent and in a state of flux with many variations), I would rather see my fellow Pagans focus on becoming rooted. I am not proposing some agrarian fantasy of instant peasant-hood here, nor am I ruling out people’s needs or desires to move around occasionally. But when we are in a place, let’s be in. Let us truly learn from it and learn about it. Let us feel its tides and changes in our lives. I think that someone who knows the flow of water, the songs of birds, and the needs of grasses has a basic store of knowledge that puts flesh on the claim she makes that something is ‘sacred.'”Chas Clifton, Nature Religion for Real

A continuing theme in today’s environmental movement is that changing individual hearts and minds is the key to making lasting change in the way we interact with the natural world. To make people understand that this earth is the only one we get, and that if we don’t honor its limits, it will no longer support us. This idea is an ongoing struggle within the dominant religious traditions, where some see no obligation to control the exploitation of a world created for their use, and offering an alternative view of our relationship with the planet is a reason why modern Pagan faiths have seen such tremendous growth.

“Make no mistake about it, the most effective environmental activism is inspired, fed and sustained by spiritual sensibility and magical practice! Every legislated environmental gain remains subject to both the whims of the electorate and the manipulations of the corporate paradigm, therefore any lasting healing or return to balance depends upon a revival of Earth-consciousness and nature-honoring values, species-inclusive ritual, spell and prayer. This is our calling, the calling of all fully aware and deeply empathic beings, and of those of us devoted to a magical life.”Earthen Spirituality Project and Women’s Center

As we look forward at the challenges that face us when dealing with climate change and other environmental issues, it is important to remember that we aren’t simply fighting for our survival, but for the survival of an interwoven and interconnected web of life that has sustained us for thousands of years and can only continue to do so if we properly honor its gifts. Modern Paganism offers one way (but not the only way) to re-think our place and purpose on our Mother Earth.

“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

The next ten years will be vital in deciding what path we choose to take. We must ask our elected leaders to take our concerns seriously, we must do simple things at home to reduce our environmental impact, and we must see that the sacred isn’t only “up there”, but also “in here”.

Jason Pitzl-Waters