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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in nature religion

Every religious tradition stands in some tension with its society, legitimizing some things in terms of a larger eternal context, but in the process challenging others, sometimes deeply.  As NeoPagan religions increase in America this same pattern is developing. This essay explores how the logic of Pagan religion leads us to question the legitimacy of some important contemporary institutions, particularly the joint stock corporation, and with this questioning, the way our society views the world. 

More deeply than most religions, NeoPagans legitimize and honor the goodness of this world, the sacred immanence that shines through all things.  Consequently, from a Pagan perspective living well in our world requires observing appropriate ethical and moral relationships.  This insight cannot help but lead us to criticize attitudes treating this world as noting but a means for human ends.

Our society’s institutional and legal core views the world as without value beyond its use to us.  A mountain or forest has no more intrinsic value than a crumpled wad of paper.  Our economic system in particular is only able to relate to the world on these terms. Its signature institution, the joint stock corporation, is created so treat everything it encounters as either a resource for attaining its goal of making money, a threat to that goal, or irrelevant. By understanding what is defective about a corporation we can better appreciate what Pagan insights add to our world.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    'Tapa is innocent, study is harmless, the ordinance of the Vedas prescribed for all the tribes are harmless, the acquisition of we
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Since I did not use the term 'socialist' and indeed included a strong criticism of sate socialism, I see your ability to read and
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    No, pagan is not a socialist political agenda no matter how many silly assertions you make about corporations and economics.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Are We Really a "Nature" Religion?

The organizers of Pagan political causes keep writing to me, asking (nay -- demanding) that I lend my support to various environmental protests, demonstrations, and campaigns -- on the grounds that we Pagans are supposed to be ‘stewards’ or ‘caretakers’ of Mother Earth -- and, as such, we have a religious duty to ‘walk the talk’ and engage fully in ecological activism.

Sez who?

More to the point -- who was the first to say so? And what was the process by which these beliefs (and demands) became the water in which today’s Pagans are swimming?

IMO, and FWIW, the people who rallied, with me, around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Many of us, it's true, were interested in ecology and environmentalism. But all were there, I believe, to fuel the fires of a religiosity that claimed 'all acts of love and pleasure' as its sacraments.

Over the following 15-plus years, considerable thought went into the development of an ethical system in support of this effort. A new system, now called the Expressive Ethical Style, evolved to replace obedience or self-interest as the motivations for human behavior with an ethic of impulse ('follow your feelings'), self-expression ('let it all hang out'), and situational appropriateness ('go with the flow'; 'different strokes for different folks').

Replacing the goal of self-preservation with self-awareness, this new ethical style encouraged relaxed non-analytical attention to the present situation ('be here now'), in order to meet the newly reified obligations of universal love and mutual non-injury.

But then the 80s began. And some writers, new to the field, began making rather strident announcements to the contrary. First, if this was a religion that worshiped Goddesses, and if all Goddesses must therefore be one Goddess, then this one Goddess must be the Goddess of Nature. Veneration of the Maiden (romance) and the Crone (wisdom) was scorned in favor of a kind of feminist monotheism -- worship of the Mother -- Mother Nature.

Next, it was declared that all historical Goddesses (those about which something was actually known, and from whose myths ethical insights might be gained) were hopelessly tainted by 'the patriarchy', and that only those (imaginary Goddesses of pre-literate civilizations were worthy of worship.

Established Pagan ethical ideals (esp 'harm none') were acknowledged in passing, but deemed naive and insufficient. We were not to burden ourselves with such considerations, especially if they prevented us from enacting the emergency measures necessary to protect the (now sacred) environment from those who disagreed with our visions for its preservation.

And as for 'all acts of love and pleasure', well you can just forget about them. In this instance, 'harm none' was extended, and radically so, to disallow any behavior that had ever caused harm, or was believed even theoretically capable of causing harm -- especially to members of a new 'victimhood elite' -- those capable of concocting fictive (or, as Chas Clifton once put it, 'cheerfully ahistorical') narratives of past oppression.

From this point onward, there'd be no wine in that chalice. Nor would any wand or athame be welcome there either. So there!

I object. I have only the greatest reverence for the Goddess as Mother -- but as part of a polytheistic constellation in which Maiden & Crone are included. I have no argument with the sacral nature of Nature -- that Nature is imbued with the divine -- as long as no one insists that Nature (esp as 'the environment') IS the divine.

I want to see a return to our original Pagan spirituality, in which the genuine Pagan deities of the past are studied with reverence and care -- hopefully to provide us with insight into the polytheistic worldviews that predated the Abrahamic religions. And I’d like to encourage study of the concocted deities of the past couple of decades in order to better understand the inner nature of the political, spiritual, and psychological environment that produced them.

I propose a return to our roots. Those who wish to pursue environmentalism (or feminism, etc) are welcome, now as then. But they could just as easily find a home -- quite a comfortable spiritual niche -- in any number of mainstream religions. IMO, what makes Paganism unique, what distinguishes it from these other established religious paths, is its enthusiastic embracing of a sybaritic worldview -- along with the focus and energy to continue (or resume) work on an ethical system (see above) that would support such a way of spiritual life.

Anybody interested?

Raise your hand and shake your bells.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Naya Aerodiode
    Naya Aerodiode says #
    This article, right here, is why I've stopped reading Pagan blogs for the most part. I'm really done with people attempting to def
  • Fritz Muntean
    Fritz Muntean says #
    I couldn't agree more, Lupus. (but where DO you kids get these NAMES -- haven't any of you read 'Lady Pixie Moondrip'?) Literacy
  • Fritz Muntean
    Fritz Muntean says #
    Good point, Sindra. I should have discriminated more carefully/clearly between Modern (aka 'Contemporary') Paganism -- a New Relig

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Every religion is both a product of its times and, to the degree its vision takes hold of practitioners, transforms those times.  Ours is no exception. I think Pagans interested in our larger significance within American society as a whole will want to take a look at my new book, Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine, published last month by Quest. 

It was as a guest at a NROOGD Midsummer Sabbat many years ago that I had my first and most powerful encounter with the Wiccan Goddess. After that encounter my life existed in a context I had not even imagined possible. It would be years before I began to grasp how different.

At first the Pagan world differed only in the most obvious ways.  We dealt with different deities, and more of them and had different sacred days.  Often we had more fun and were rarely on time. But the longer I lived within our world the more I realized it opened me to insights far deeper than these relatively minor ones.

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you Jamie. I think you will like the larger context, ultimately spiritual. in which I put the very accurate points you are
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. diZerega, I'm a fan of your writing, and your book made it onto my gift list shortly after I became aware of it. Spot on. Ev

In my last post, I talked about how to sense nature spirits. Once you've found a way to sense them that works for you, the next step is to try communicating with them.

Except...why would you want to? And why would they want to talk back?

There are plenty of reasons. For one thing, spirits have insights that we may not have. They exist in a different manner than we do; some of them represent or embody natural forces that we can only observe and interact with in a limited manner. My work with animal, plant, and fungus totems is a good example. These beings are intermediaries between their species and the rest of the world, to include humans. When I work with them, I can find out more about the living beings that I share my world with. For example, I discovered when cleaning up the stretch of the Columbia River I adopted that while the totems of animal species like White Sturgeon and American Robin are concerned with litter that their physical counterparts could accidentally eat or become entangled in, plant totems like Black Cottonwood communicate to me more about water pollution that the trees and other plants can absorb into their roots through the soil.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

So, let's start with the very basics, beginning with how to sense spirits. After all, if I'm going to be helping my readership work with spirits and totems and the like, I should make sure that you have a way of doing so. You might already have figured out a good option for yourself, but keep reading anyway if you like--maybe there's something in here you haven't considered yet.

I'm going to sidestep the issue of the exact nature of spirits, whether they're independent beings in a nonphysical reality that parallels our own, or unseen denizens of our world, or elements of our psyche that we project outward. Not that it isn't important, but I'll leave it up to you to decide exactly what they are; the how-tos I'm going to put in this blog should work regardless of your answer.

Sensing Spirits

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Is Nature Enough?

Paganism is often described as religion of “Nature Worship” or as “Earth-Centered”. Is it? Should it be? Is Nature, in how we use it, a euphemism for the wilderness, or the biological, ‘living’ part of the world, or is it a name we put on the world as a whole? Is Nature big enough for it to be a descriptive characteristic of our group spiritual life? Much depends on the definition of Nature. . .

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  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    Following Gary Snyder, I define "nature" not as trees and flowers merely, but as all processes outside the control of the human eg
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    There is so very, very much we do not know about the interwoven web of life that we call Nature. The sustainable and ever-changing
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Good to hear, Sam. Glad you like the essay. I read it as suggesting I was at the end of a continuum the other end of which was tho

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Desire carries the implicit possibility of change. Relationship requires that possibility to become a reality.

This year was the first time I had the opportunity to leap a (small, thankfully) fire as part of a Beltane ritual. I was surprised by how much it made me feel in my flesh and bones the way that Beltane is about the potential for transformation.

We're all familiar with the idea that Beltane is about desire, of course, but there's a wonderful book called The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World in which author Michael Pollan investigates and meditates on the relationships between humanity and four different plants, each one catering to a different human desire.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
"Pagan" is a constellation, not a star

A constellation is not an object, it's a pattern of objects visible from a certain perspective.  Look from a different perspective, and the pattern disappears.

That's what's going on right now with the raging controversies over the meaning of the word "Pagan."  From some perspectives it makes sense, from others it does not.  And since no single perspective has authority, neither does any single definition.

The constellation dilemma

Here's a small sampling of the questions skewed by the constellation dilemma:

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This post started as a discussion of whether some Pagan traditions are more “privileged” than others.  It rapidly became deeper than this.

When I first became a Pagan and began thinking about the deeper implications of my spiritual path, my first major insight was that since Spirit is everywhere, every spiritual tradition, including those made up from whole cloth, have the potential of carrying someone closer to harmony with the Sacred. For example, even if Gerald Gardner simply made up Gardnerian Wicca (which I do NOT believe), that the Gods come in our workings is all the proof I need that it is a valid path – at least for me.

Several major insights grew from this realization.

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  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Thanks. I try to tread very carefully, because I do NOT want to add fuel to the "culture wars" that seem to be brewing between ecc
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you D.R. We all carry what we once were with us when we change on anything, and many either try to stuff what is new into o
  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Lovely post, as usual. As one who has learned and lived an ecclectic path for almost 30 years, it has always been my experience (n

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

A few days ago, PaganSquare blogger Gus diZerega posted a blog post on nature religions within Paganism, a reply to a lovely post by Joseph Bloch. Paganism--as used by Gus--seems to include any pre-Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religion, and is separate from Neo-Paganism, which he classifies as 'modern revival of Pagan spirituality by people coming from within modern society'. The focal point of Gus' post was that, whether the ancient or modern Pagan cultures agree or not, they were, and are, nature worshippers. As such, reconstructionists of said religions are also nature worshippers. I'm paraphrasing here, so please, read Gus' words for yourself.

I disagree with Gus' conclusions, but I will not go into his writing here. I simply introduce Gus and his post to introduce PaganSquare reader Trine, who commented on one of my replies to Gus with a question I would love to dedicate a blog post to. Her post went as follows:

"I am curious - would you be interested in writing a blog post on your Hellenistic view on the reverence of (or indifference to) nature and on pollution? What I read above is that oil spills, trash in the woods, bee hive death due to insecticides, etc. does not really concern you as much as other topics may, because Hellenism is not a nature-based religion. My question, or curiosity, regards how you would approach this in terms of your Gods - is an oil spill offensive to Poseidon? Is littering in the wild and limiting the natural habitats of wildlife offensive to Pan, or Artemis? And how did the Hellenes approach this?"
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  • Trine
    Trine says #
    Thank you very much for taking the time to write this enlightening post, Elani. It answered all of my questions perfectly, and gav
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Very welcome, Trine, thank you for asking the questions!
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Thank you for this great post! As a Platonist-leaning Hellenist myself, I honor the local nature spirits in addition to the Theoi.

UPDATE BELOW

Joseph Bloch has made an interesting case that Pagan religion cannot always be labeled a “nature religion”  because  historically most weren’t. Instead they were concerned primarily with human affairs. I argue here that he is wrong, and do so in three steps. The first two explore crucial concepts he ignores. The third looks at errors of fact.  Grasping how he is mistaken deepens our understanding of what Paganism is and how we relate to the world today. 

The issues he does not examine are what we mean by “religion” and how Paganism reflects the times in which it exists. 

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I just posted a discussion of how a Pagan perspective gives us insight into the nature of our protected wilderness areas over at P
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I just posted a discussion of how a Pagan perspective gives us insight into the nature of our protected wilderness areas over at P
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Dear Elani- The points you raise require more space to reply than this format makes comfortable for readers. I think I might do a

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Playa De Chipiona, by Ponce 2007

Nature is self-caused, both source and manifestation of all matter, all experience, all thought, all emotion, all life, and all death.  We were not created by nature; we have emerged within it, as integral parts of it.  In short:

We are nature.

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