“Goddess is just a word that I use because everyone seems to get the idea that there is a spirit. But she’s enormous in a way, the entire state, from bedrock to clouds,” he said. Since meeting who he refers to as both La Florida and Our Lady Florida, his life has become more focused, with a new sense of purpose.
This is what compelled Martinez to take part in the summer symposium, as not just an activist, but also as a public Pagan. He was joined by friend and fellow community member, Mathew Sydney.
“I believe it was Dayan who in one of these journeys asked: ‘What can we do for you?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t want candles and offerings of incense and trinkets, I want you to go out there and speak for the environment and take care of the waters,’” Sydney said.
On June 29, Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties because of the volume of blue-green algae that had clogged the St. Lucie river and adjoining canal systems and estuaries. The order did little to address the immediate problem, however, mostly just providing additional funds to test water and providing vague instructions to store water in other parts of the Everglades.
The Everglades is a one of a kind ecosystem on the planet, with water slowly moving south toward Florida Bay at a near-glacial pace. Also called the River of Grass, it historically extends from the Kissimmee River basin, just south of Orlando, down through Lake Okeechobee, continuing through the current Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve out into the Bay, which is hugged by the Florida Keys.
During the push for agricultural land in the 19th century and a development boom that was facilitated by baron-capitalists of the early 20th century, draining the Everglades became an obsession for land owners, sugar and citrus interests, keen on making money off the Sunshine State. After two nasty hurricanes in the 1920’s lead to massive flooding from Lake Okeechobee, the opportunity was seized upon and the federal government stepped in, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dike along the southern edge of the lake.
From that point on, the historic flow of the Everglades has been cut off. Canals jut out to the east and west from the lake, and when the water level gets too high, instead of flowing south as it has for countless millennia, it is routed out to the ocean.
This has lead to an ongoing environmental disaster that has been reportedly exacerbated by mismanagement, poor infrastructure, and climate change. It has now culminated in large swaths of blue-green algae overcoming valuable estuaries, smothering wildlife, and sickening residents. According to researchers, restoring the historic flow of the Everglades is the best solution to this problem.Both Sydney and Martinez came away from the symposium feeling like it was a great first step, but with the realization that there was a lot more work to do. Sydney said, “The speech was very well received, I think that bringing like-minded people together is more important now.” He especially felt that there was a need for more Pagan-identifying folks to be present, saying that he’d love to see an entire panel featuring earth-centered religions as part of future secular environmental gatherings.
“In my evolution I have come to feel that those of us who identify as Pagan or Neopagan, or who practice earth-based faiths, we of all people have to stand up and lead the way to speak on behalf of the manatee, the bear, the dolphin, and the honeybees and all the other creatures who are being impacted,” Sydney said.
In an effort to lay the groundwork for more Pagan-centered activism, the two men have started a new environmental organization called the Pagan Environmental Alliance. The nascent group has already held their first protest, with a uniquely Pagan twist.
“Ritual can be a protest, ritual can be a political statement. So when we gather (in downtown West Palm Beach), we will be making our political-activist point by being ourselves in a spiritual manner. Hopefully that will inspire further types of ritual protest,” Martinez said.Their first event was a small showing, but they were happy with the outcome. They used Doreen Valiente’s Witches Creed for its ritual structure and theme of stepping out from the shadows and saying what Witches are. They also poured fresh rainwater into the intracoastal waterway between West Palm Beach and the island of Palm Beach and asked that there be an awakening within the Pagan community.
But public ritual and educational symposiums aren’t the only facet of their efforts.
“Another part of what we’re doing, another strategy is guerrilla magick. We’re developing strategies whereby quietly, undercover and surreptitiously we can perform magickal acts. The purpose of which is to restore mankind’s balance with nature,” Sydney said. He said that they’ve already begun covertly utilizing sigil magick in public places.
But, Sydney added that there’s still a good bit of work that needs to be accomplished well within the public’s view. While many Pagans have gotten their start as solitaries and continue their practice alone, he said, “I think that it’s time that (we) put aside all that solitary, private practice and actually become leaders in the community.”
Restoring the natural flow of water in the Everglades system is the goal that Martinez and Sydney have been compelled to do by La Florida, but it won’t come easy. After the economic crisis and subprime mortgage meltdown, which happened between 2008 through 2010, ownership of property in South Florida has moved out of normal, working people’s hands. As home values plummeted, banks, hedge funds, and shady development corporations moved in, consolidating land ownership right into the hands of the people who created the crisis.
These financial juggernauts, as well as Big Sugar, who has actively fought Everglades restoration and contributes to the campaigns of governor Rick Scott and former senator Marco Rubio, are the opponents that Martinez and Sydney will be facing.
Despite the odds against them, the two activists both see a moral imperative to the work that the are doing. “I don’t think that we can continue to call ourselves Pagan and ignore the fact that nature is calling, you know? Nature is asking us to do something for her after she has given us food, shelter, wealth, power and faith. It’s time to give back,” Martinez said.
Sydney feels that Pagans should take a note from those who practice Santeria and indigenous faiths and begin incorporating the idea of reciprocity. “If we want the gods or the spirits or the ancestors to help us with our problems, the mature thing is to have the courage to ask them how we can help them.”
Just this week, Martinez announced on social media that he and Sydney have been asked to be presenters at the fall Florida Pagan Gathering. “We are excited to present on … November 5th,” Sydney said, “Our Lady Florida is ready for us to awaken.” Martinez also stated that he hopes to take the same workshop around the state in the near future.
Dayan Martinez presentation at the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016