Pagans and Earth Day

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”John Muir

A view from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

A view from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

Despite the fact that it has been co-opted for all sorts of bizarre and cynical purposes over the years, as a Pagan I still find Earth Day a worthy, and historically important, day. Originally a teach-in on environmental issues, it has since become a global moment where we collectively stop and take stock of how we are treating our home. Since before the very first Earth Day in 1970, many modern Pagans have embraced and incorporated the idea of being Nature Religions, in addition to religions of fertility or mystery.

“The spirit of Earth Day 1970 did not just happen; its roots could include the gradual stirring of environmental consciousness that accelerated in the 1960s, but that stirring itself had deeper roots in an American consciousness of a special relationship with the land, even if that relationship was often abusive. Still, if there was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England, that year was 1970.” – Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America

Modern Pagan and Heathen faiths, whether they identify as “nature religions” or not, have a special sacral relationship with the natural world. Our gods and goddesses can be found in oceans, rivers, forests, and mountains (indeed, in many cultures, Earth is the primal mother of most acknowledged gods and powers), some pre-Christian cultures envision a World Tree that binds reality together. Our rites often mark the changing seasons, and once tracked the progress of crops essential to our survival. Deity is not merely a transcendent force separate from creation, deity is everywhere and within every thing. Each of us holds the potential to be like the gods, and we acknowledge that the gods and powers walk and exist among us still. So it isn’t surprising that many Pagans feel a special urging to advocate for the environment and the protection of the natural world.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

“Pagans should be at the forefront of the environmental movement. We should put into practice the green living techniques learned over the last decades and show the world we take seriously what we preach: Earth is our Mother and we will honor Her by becoming green beacons for others to gravitate to.”

Lately, with extreme weather events making the headlines on a regular basis, and controversial initiatives like the Keystone XL pipeline spurring environmental groups like the Sierra Club to endorse civil disobedience, the call to fulfill the role-modeling and leadership many in our community believe we should be engaging with on these issues grows more urgent.

“We should know better. Here’s what I’d like to see in the Pagan community. I’d like to see Pagans across the world standing up to choose the sometimes harder road.”

When that call for civil disobedience came from the Sierra Club, I wondered if our interconnected communities would find a new, more expansive, consensus on the role of environmentalism, eco-spirituality, and “nature religion” within modern Pagan religions and modern Pagan organizations.

“This is a moment of challenge for those Pagans who espouse an eco-spirituality, who want to practice an Earth or nature religion. If the “safe” moderate environmental group says it’s now time for civil disobedience, do we follow suit? Do our leaders also say “enough” and call for civil disobedience? For direct action in the face of climate crisis? Such calls have usually come from “activist” Pagans like Starhawk, and her critics have often accused her of politicizing Paganism, but are we now at a different moment? Is this the moment where we move beyond recycling and buying the Sierra Club calendar, into advocating for direct action? Not just prayers and spells, but our bodies on the front lines? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but perhaps it’s time we had a renewed discussion about what, exactly, Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagan faiths that espouse the natural world as sacred and alive, should do in the face of a now impossible to ignore climate crisis. The Sierra Club has made a decision, and perhaps that should press us to collectively make one too.”

I’m still wondering, and I’d still like to see more robust discussion on what kind of leadership, or role, Pagans should engage in regarding our environment, our climate, our collective ecosystems. I’ve heard and read a lot of talk over the years about how Pagans would bring better stewardship to our planet, that our values are better on these issues, but it seems like only a small fraction of us are engaged in the work of becoming the models we say we naturally are. I include myself in that statement, knowing that I could do more, be more, sacrifice more, if I truly felt the sense of urgency that some eco-activists feel. So I don’t ask these questions to collectively damn us, but instead to use this moment of Earth Day to ask if we are collectively content with our current level of engagement, of activism, or if we should be more.

While we work on finding our place on these issues, let’s individually embrace nature religion for real, reduce our carbon footprint (and our water footprint), support small farmseat ethically, teach on global climate change as a moral issue, hold up those who act for the environment in our stead, invest green, vote green, and “go green.” Individual changes might not bring about some of the macro-changes the world so sorely needs, but small acts of leadership and courage can have effects beyond our doorstep, especially if we truly embrace the idea that everything is connected.

“I will sing of well-founded Earth, mother of all, eldest of all beings. She feeds all creatures that are in the world, all that go upon the goodly land, and all that are in the paths of the seas, and all that fly: all these are fed of her store.” – Homer

Let’s make every day Earth Day.