Pagan Voices: Special Earth Day edition

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Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. Today’s edition focuses on Earth Day, which has been celebrated annually since 1970 and has attracted Pagans since that first one. 

[Wikimedia Commons.]

[Wikimedia Commons.]

The first Earth Day celebration took place in New York City in 1970, which (perhaps not coincidentally) was around the time that a recognizable community was coalescing around this thing we today call “contemporary Paganism.” Pagans today have legal rights and cultural recognition which were denied to Pagans in 1970. At the same time, our relationship with Mother Earth has become even more precarious than it was in 1970. We have a responsibility, to those who have gone before us, as well as those who will come after us, to use our hard-won freedoms to fight for a healthy home.

Aside from the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarters which make up the Wheel of the Year, Earth Day is perhaps the closest thing Pagans have to a holy day. It’s an opportunity — individually and collectively — to reexamine our relationship with the natural world which sustains us. Earth Day represents a challenge to all Pagans to move beyond the comfort of our insular communities and to engage the rest of the world positively. It’s an opportunity to deepen and broaden our engagement with non-Pagans who are also working to heal the web of life.

We need to get our hands dirty. That means working in the literal dirt, but also fighting for change through the political process, through direct action, and through community organizing.

— John Halstead

The idea of Earth Day being considered a Pagan holiday was challenged in New York on Mar. 29, 2001 when a group of parents described as of Christian faith brought a suit against the Fox Lane High School stating that their Earth Day activities were promoting Pagan and earth-based religions. Justice Kearse compared Earth Day festivities to that of displaying and paying respect to the American flag:

An objective observer would not view these detailed prescriptions for honoring the American flag . . . as an indication that Congress . . . has established flag worship as a religion,” Judge Kearse wrote. “We conclude that an objective observer similarly would not view the school district’s Earth Day ceremonies as endorsing Gaia or Earth worship as a religion.

The court found also found that the use of the term ‘mother nature’ was not a reference to a goddess or other deity, but a phrase similar to ‘father time’ used to describe a concept. Here we find objective heads prevailing to prevent a rather narrow-minded group of individuals from ruining what is a good public service in the form of Earth Day activities.

— Average Pagan, Earth day- secular call-to-action or Pagan holiday?

In my Paganism, every day is Earth Day. I find the divine immanent around me in the world: in the Pacific Ocean at the end of our street, in the butterflies that visit our drought-tolerant yard, in the old jacaranda tree clinging to life in our parkway, in the blackberries my husband lovingly nurtures in the heart of our city. I am an urban Pagan, aware that we are all interconnected and interdependent.

I am proud that Cherry Hill Seminary has done two symposiums on the links between the land and our spiritual lives, as well as developing a Certificate in Environmental Leadership. Last semester I had the pleasure of teaching a class on living systems, which examines that interconnection from a Pagan perspective. Regardless of our spiritual path, climate change is the greatest moral challenge facing humanity. It is my Paganism that will take me out into the streets this Earth Day. It is my Paganism that will take me out again the following Saturday to face the moral challenge of climate change.

— Wendy Griffin

Earth Day is a day of awe, wonder and magic to me. When I first heard of Earth Day it was on Sesame Street, as a young child, and when I heard it, it awakened me to the Mother Earth. My crazy beautiful aunt took me to my first Earth Day event at 10 years old where I would hear Oberon Zell describe Theagenesis, focusing me on Mother Earth, giving her a living cohesive reality. That moment was my enlightenment [that] ‘Gaia is alive.’ It led me to study earth sciences, become part of earth religions, and now, in my dagehood, my living and career is an earth farmer raising worms and creating soil, the very foundation of life itself. I celebrate Earth Day, as a moment of personal enlightenment, a renewal celebration of my commitment to our mother.

— Ed Hubbard

I have been observing Earth Day every year since it began in 1970. I was an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary at the time of the first Earth Day and was one of the organizers of the Earth Day teach-in on campus. Through the years, I have been observing Earth Day in a variety of ways, including facilitating ceremonies, planting trees, helping with restorative prescribed burns of prairies, and doing public education through workshops at events and media interviews.

We hold an Earth Day Festival every year at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, our 200-acre nature sanctuary located in southwestern Wisconsin. Our Earth Day includes workshops, youth activities, guided nature walks, and a multicultural, interfaith Earth Day ritual. Our event is free and open to the public. Members of our community join with those of many backgrounds, spiritual paths, and places at our Earth Day. Two Unitarian Universalist youth groups from a Madison church will be among those at our 2017 Earth Day at Circle Sanctuary.

This year, Circle Sanctuary’s Earth Day celebration is part of the interfaith network of activities of Faith Climate Action Week. In addition, our Earth Day is among the many events supporting the March for Science. Some Circle Sanctuary ministers and community members are taking part in the Earth Day March for Science in Washington, D.C., and some other places, including Chicago.

Earth Day is an important and powerful time to enhance personal and community environmental awareness and education as well as to energize efforts for environmental preservation and sustainability. I am thankful that increasing numbers of people, organizations, and nations are involved with Earth Day activities and events. It is essential that humans become more aware of environmental problems and work together to reduce pollutions and manifest solutions. May the environmental attention and action prevalent on Earth Day be every day!

— Selena Fox, who calls Earth Day the “ninth sabbat” of Neopaganism

No matter your views on the ties between religion and Earth Day, may you have the opportunity to celebrate and respect the amazing planet upon which we all live.

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Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted in this monthly feature? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.