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What Pagans can offer
This is the reflection paper I mentioned in my previous post. I've added a note or two to explain some references, but otherwise it's the way I sent it in. Comments, suggestions, etc. all welcome- like I said, my instructor thinks it would be good for a larger audience to see this, and any ideas to aid in that end would be appreciated.

What Paganism Can Offer

While reading Taylor’s chapter on radical environmentalism(1), I began to have more sympathy for that movement than I’d had before. Their genuine passion and commitment moves me, and I also found myself impressed with the amount of real thought and reason that goes into their worldview. And yet there is much that alarms me about that side of environmentalism; the very word “radical” signifies an extremist, even fanatical viewpoint which is not only repugnant to me, but quite probably self-defeating. If it is to be “no compromise in the defense of Mother Earth”, then they are at war- and almost certainly on the losing side.

So Grant’s(2) question last night- essentially, what do we as Pagans have to offer radical environmentalist nature spirituality?- got me thinking. A good starting place is in an area that he mentioned- interfaith dialogue. Modern Paganism (whatever its ancient roots may be) is young, and as such we have had to find ways to relate with more established religions in order to make our way. Also, Paganism itself is a collection of diverse religions, traditions, and paths; we have had to learn to live and communicate with each other. I can see this doing a lot of good in the contentious world of radical environmentalism.

Pagans can get along even while following wildly diverse paths; one of the reasons is that we have a more relativist approach to spiritual truth than most of the Abrahamic(3) faiths. Polytheism by nature is willing to accept that “there are other gods than what we worship,” and accept those worshipers, too. Even the more duo-theistic or monotheistic varieties of Paganism are inclusive. Radical environmentalism has inherited the Abrahamic tendency towards religious dogma, absolutism, and monoveritism(4). A leavening of Pagan relativism could help them relate to others.

Radical environmentalism has also inherited apocalyptic thinking from the Abrahamic religions. Paganism, on the other hand, is built around the older idea of cyclic time, with the cycle of the seasons and of Nature driving the ritual calendar. The Western idea of linear time enables and enhances the irrational side of apocalyptic thinking. Although there is reason to believe that an environmental cataclysm may lie in our future, a cyclic view of time may help to approach it in a more nuanced fashion.

Another facet of radical environmental thinking is the identification of theism with the “god as separate from nature” element of Abrahamic theology. Paganism, on the other hand, leads towards a mindset where the gods, spirits, and magic itself are not seen as “supernatural,” but as an organic part of nature itself. Combined with a view of humanity as an essential part of nature, this allows full play for the more magical side of animistic and Gaian thought(5)- an area with which radical environmentalists seem uncomfortable. Similarly, Paganism has a “this world” focus, as opposed to the “afterworld” focus prevalent in Abrahamic religions. This emphasis living in the world is a much better fit with nature spirituality in general.

Lastly, a potential benefit that Paganism has to offer is something I’m thinking of as “non-exclusive humanism.” Simply stated, this is the idea that although humanity is part of nature and in many ways not more privileged than any other part, we are also in some way special. We may be a way for the cosmos to know itself, the consciousness of Gaia, or something even more. But the ability to hold two parallel truths like that- implicit in much Pagan thinking if not unique to it- could provide a bridge between the radical environmentalists and other progressive activist movements that are centered around humanist concerns.

(1) Dark Green Religion, Bron Taylor. A highly readable and very informative book on nature spirituality, covering both the history of the movement and many of its current expressions.

(2) Grant Potts, our instructor.

(3) I like this term better than "Judeo-Christian", don't you?

(4) My own coinage, referring to an exclusionist view of religious truth (the "one-true-and-only-right-Way" aspect of religious thinking).

(5) Taylor has a very interesting grid for classifying nature spirituality- one axis is Animist vs. Gaian, and the other is Spiritualist vs. Naturalist. Too long to go into here...

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This is well crafted, and I especially like the section on Paganism's cyclic view of time. Thank you for posting this.

Thank you... that means a lot to me.


I <3 your neologism! so applicable is so many places! ;)

nifty and thought-provoking!

i liked it a lot -- and i wouldn't have thought as polytheism as a path to environmentalists being less dogmatic. So kudos for thinking outside the box. If there was a thing I would have liked to see it would have been for a more practical application of this although I realize its merely a reflection paper. But as such, it doesn't really *do* anything. And perhaps that was never the intent and I can see why that might be upon original writing for a class (professor) audience.

However, if now the vision is for it to reach a wider audience, I would have to ask what the goal is, what audience you (or your professor) want it to reach, and look to see whether or not there might be room for a more practical application of your thoughts. If you are taking the paper to the next level, is it not also appropriate to take the subject matter to the next level?

If I were working with environmental groups, my next thought would be "ok cool but what do I do with these thoughts now?" Also I might broaden the scope along these (broader audience, practical application) lines to what environmentalists can offer pagans -- make it a two way street, so to speak. Because, with many pagan religions being so earthy based, I'd bet you that environmentalists have a lot to offer pagans that want to build environmental practices into their spirituality. In this way it becomes "what can we learn from each other" and I think that might be more valuable than "here's what we can teach you."

We can talk about this more at our upcoming brunch if you'd like.

Thank you for the comments... very helpful. I look forward to talking with you at our brunch, about this and other things...

I would submit an article query to Ode or Yes! magazine. You would have to be willing to write from scratch, probably find some Pagan groups that are doing interfaith-style work in political or sociological arenas to use as examples, or some individuals to interview, or something like that-- basically it'd probably need to be more of a "here's what people have started doing that more people should do" than a theory. But if you could/were willing to give that a shot, those are two magazines that I think would be particularly welcoming to an article like that. And the audiences who read them are the type of people who might actually run with the idea themselves.

*mwah* It was awesome, and I think you make a very good point!

That's an interesting idea, and one I hadn't thought of. But I think that the rationale behind Grant's question- and his interest in my publishing this in a larger forum- is that because no-one in the Pagan community is doing this in any systematic way. Thus, the idea for presenting my ideas in a theory+call to action fashion...

Awesome! There are a couple sentences that could be tightened (like the phrase "I could see this doing a lot of good" is fairly weak both in terms of clarity and strength), but that's the harshest thing I can say about it. All the ideas are admirably succinct and solid (to say the least!), but could also bear up well under some unpacking and expansion without sounding "paid for by the word".:)

If you decide to add another idea (depending on how you personally feel about it, and your specific definition of Paganism) you could add thoughts about some of the moderating effects transcendentalism can have on militancy and apocalyptic hysteria...similar to cyclic time, just more lateral.

Thanks for the help with tightening up the language- that's something that I would certainly do, especially since this was a "reaction" paper rather than anything even remotely scholarly. I'd probably have to do some research and sourcing, too...

I'm not sure what you mean by "transcendentalism" here. Paganism is more of a spirituality of immanence rather than of transcendence...

I wasn't sure if you were going for the most inclusive definition or not. If you're going by the "everything not touched by the old testament" definition (which is valid) then zen buddism would qualify. If you're going by one of the more "anything that walks and quacks kinda like a wiccan" definition (which is also valid) then yeah, not so much.

I applaud your bravery, btw. Generally I get the heebie jeebies just writing a sentence with the word-coupling of "paganism is".

My definition is somewhat different, and is inclusive of things like Northern Trad/Heathenism, revivalist Druidry, and Hellenic and Egyptian reconstructionism... but not Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Vodou, American Indian spirituality.

I'm still working on my definition... it's kind of slippery.

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