Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

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Have Pagans Failed at Environmental Activism?

Many Pagans define themselves as "Earth-centered," and yet, so many of us fail to actually live in harmony with the earth. I've written before on the Pagan Activist blog about environmentalism. And I admit that--in my frustration--I've written a few harsh and perhaps even incendiary posts on the topic. I don't know that those have done anything to change anyone's mind.

However, environmentalism is a part of Pagan leadership and community building, which is why I'm writing about it here.

First, a guilty admission on my part. Late last year, Pagan blogger John Halstead asked me to be part of an initiative to create a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment. At the time, I was excited to accept the invitation...then I found myself dealing with overcommitment overload, so I wasn't ever able to participate in the way I had intended.

I was able to join in the feedback phase once the statement was drafted, but when the statement was released around Earth Day, I ended up drowning in more overcommitment-land. Thus, it's far past Earth Day, yet I still wanted to bring attention to the statement that was crafted and talk a bit more about why environmentalism is important to us as Pagan leaders and communities, and in fact, why environmentalism is important to social justice work as a whole.

Environmentalism and Social Justice

When I started writing for the Pagan Activist blog, my primary activism was environmental. Here's how environmentalism connects to social justice: power, money, and resources. The poor, the disenfranchised, the minorities, those who face discrimination...anyone who doesn't have money or social power is going to lack access to resources. People in poverty are the ones who live near the factories and deal with the air pollution, or downriver from the factory spilloffs. People in poverty are the ones most vulnerable to the exotic cancers and other medical conditions that come from exposure to pollution...and the least able to afford the resulting medical expenses.

People in poverty are the ones who are going to have the most difficulty paying for gas to get to work, for electricity and heat for their homes...and for clean water, as those resources become more scarce. Think of a resource, and the poor are going to lack access to it.

And people of color, women, and other minorities are disproportionately the people in poverty.

Those with money and power will not lack access to resources, even as those resources become more scarce. They'll be able to pay for gas at $5+ a gallon. People in poverty will start losing their jobs because they can't afford to drive to work. People in poverty will lose access to clean water when water becomes too expensive.

It's a downward spiral and it will first impact those who already face discrimination.

Angry Activist

In my time writing about environmentalism, I've gotten angry and I've written a few of those harsh getting-on-my-soapbox posts. And if there's anything I've learned from watching comment-wars on Facebook and on blog posts, it's that when someone's heels are already dug in, they aren't likely to change their minds.

And being called often polarizes people further.

I've called out Pagans using styrofoam cups for Cakes and Ale in ritual or for being hypocrites for bringing in flats of bottled water and failing to clean up their trash at festivals (or bother to sort their recycling) and yet joyously turning to call the North and honor the Earth in ritual. And then, in turn, I've been called a hypocrite because I'm typing this on a computer that has plastic casing and that uses electricity.

Sometimes the incendiary posts do have an impact; they can open people's eyes. They can serve a purpose. 

Here's the truth; activists sometimes get angry. Sometimes we lose our tempers. Sometimes it's because we see the future, we see what could happen in the future if people continue down this path of environmental abuse. In my case, I've been upset seeing Pagans who say they honor the Earth who also seem to not care at all about how many resources they use. But that's where community building, leadership, and environmentalism begin to overlap.

Environmentalism and Pagan Leadership

You might ask what environmentalism and activism has to do with Pagan leadership. There are a few answers to that. 

For one, leadership means (or should mean) standing in integrity. If you are a Pagan leader who identifies as Earth-centered, or you honor the Earth in rituals, and you aren't living your life in a way that reduces your use of resources and that in fact harms the environment...that's being a hypocrite. I know, I know--that word hypocrite is really strong, but just take a moment and think about it. Think about your values, and the impact you want to have in the world.

Now--I'm not saying you have to be environmentally perfect. In our society, the options often aren't great. You might have to do a lot of driving for your job which uses gas; there may not be any good jobs near you, or jobs you're qualified for. You might only be able to afford the apartment that is poorly insulated and you use a lot of heat.

There are dozens of different reasons why you may have realistically difficulties reducing your environmental footprint. What I'm talking about here isn't being "perfect," it's doing your best to be conscious of your use of resources, and working hard to reduce that use, even if it inconveniences you. And there's an intersection here between class, income, and how much harder it is to reduce your impact, and that's a whole tangent I won't get into here but likely in a future post. In short--while people with lower income are often using less resources simply by the fact that they are buying less and consuming less, their options and choices for what to buy are more limited because of finances, among other things. It's a factor, but out of scope for this article.

Leadership, Seeing the Future, and Being the Change:
One aspect of leadership is being the visionary who sees the future--whether that's the future you want for your community, or the less positive future as you see it unfolding if current trends continue. But that's where leadership and activism crossover, as leadership is being the change we wish to see in the world. Leadership is working to build the world we want to live in. Leadership is having the vision to see what's coming, and the strength and fortitude to, at times, go against the grain, against what's easy, in order to provide a better future for your group, your community, for the world around you. 

It probably goes without saying, but being the change isn't easy. Going against the grain of society isn't easy. Anyone who has come out of the closet as Pagan, gay, lesbian, already know that it isn't easy. Many of those who come out do it because they want a better world for those who will come after them.

Do you want your children, and the Pagan communities generations from now, to struggle because of the resources we used today?

The Pagans of the future will likely still face much of the marginalization that we do today, and as such, are likely to lack the money and power to have access to needed resources as those resources begin to vanish. And so will other marginalized groups.

Leadership and Personal Growth
I've written a bit about how leadership and personal growth are intertwined, but here's how it plays out as far as environmentalism. Most of us are raised in a culture of consumerism, of entitlement. We are taught this crazy "Anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be a success" and "You should have ___" and "If you don't have ___ you're not a success." There's pressure to buy, buy, buy, and use, use, use. So it's not really our fault that we have issues around entitlement. We feel we're entitled to those things because we worked hard for them. We "should" have them.

But "should" is one of those damning words. Who said you should have that? Do you genuinely need it, or do you just feel the social pressure to buy it so that you look successful? And ultimately, who profits from your buying that thing? Who profits when you aren't thinking about how many resources you use every day?

And that advertising and social pressure helps to make it easy to not think about the consequences of buying the products you buy, of using what you do. Advertising makes it easy to think just about what you want now, in this moment. You want a bottle of water. But what happens when that aquifer is dried up from the company bottling the water? What happens to the plastic bottles? What toxins are released into the air by the plant producing the bottles?

As leaders--heck, as human beings--coming at life from a place of entitlement serves no one. It doesn't serve our communities, it doesn't serve the world around us, and it sure doesn't serve the next generation. Issues that we cause in the environment today will have horrific repercussions for the next generations.

Yes--reducing your consumption can make your life less convenient.

But, do you want to come at it from a place of entitlement, that you somehow deserve these resources? Because then you're placing your needs above the needs of the next generation. And specifically, the needs of those who will have less power and money, less access to resources, because they are poor, because they are people of color, because they are women, because they are a minority or otherwise face discrimination. 

Pagan Leadership and Values
So much of my spirituality is connected to my values. What are your values? How do they connect to your view of the divine, to your spirituality? I value people. I value equal rights. I value equal access to water and resources. I value living in harmony with our planet instead of using resources until it's a toxic wasteland.

You may not share my values, but consider what your own values are as a person, and as a leader, and ask yourself if you are living your life in alignment with those values.

Paganism, Leadership, and Environmentalism

I wasn't able to be as directly involved in crafting "A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment" as I had hoped, but I proudly sign it. Will you join me? Signing this statement isn't the end--it's the beginning. It's the beginning of rallying more people within the Pagan community to understanding the devastating impact of our use of resources.

Is signing the statement going to fix anything? Nope. And does this statement offer any specific fixes that are going to change the game? Nope. But, if we don't have an awareness of the problems of our culture of buy and use, we can't shift things. If we don't have an awareness of the corporate greed that's causing much of our environmental problems, we can't shift things either.

Signing the statement is an act of magic. It's an act of setting an intention. Instead of just pixels on a screen...think of it as joining with other Pagans to say, "Yes, I will commit to being part of the change." Which is, in effect, setting a magical intention. 


There are some Pagans who have offered some useful dissent about the statement. Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth have both spoken out about how the statement doesn't go far enough in denouncing capitalism and the corporations causing environmental problems. David Salisbury posted a concise article about how animal agriculture is the culprit of a significant percentage of global greenhouse gasses, potentially as much as 50%, among other statistics.   

It's impossible for any one environmental statement to cover everything and satisfy everyone. And without pages and pages of material, it's impossible for any statement to cover all the specific ways we need to change our lives in order to reduce our load on the Earth. So I tend to look at the dissenting statements as a useful conversation on how we need to do more, how we can go further.

Alley and Rhyd have given me a lot to think about capitalism and corporations, and David's post certainly has me committing to reduce how much meat I eat. I'm not Vegan, nor do I believe that everyone going 100% Vegan is the solution, but I do believe that reducing meat consumption is crucial to reducing our environmental impact.

Dissent is an important part of this conversation. Even if it's one of the things that makes environmentalism frustrating--most people interested in reducing their use of resources eventually hit a wall of frustration because it seems that everything they try is just the lesser of two evils.

An example: I remember back when I was trying to get everyone I knew to use the CFL bulbs. Except, it turns out that those CFL bulbs have mercury in them. So even though they use less electricity, they cause more pollution. Discovering these things can be frustrating, but we have to keep trying.

Being the Change

As I said earlier--the point isn't to be perfect. The point is to begin to shift our perspective so that we're working toward a culture of using less. And to keep at it, to not give up.

For a closing note, any of you reading this who are thinking, "But politics is not part of my Paganism, and environmentalism is part of politics," consider checking out this blog post by Niki Whiting. It's a great, concise overview of the interconnectedness of being Pagan, politics, and values. 

What are your values? How can we work harder to reduce our use? How can we be the change we want to see in the world?



Last modified on
An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


  • Soli
    Soli Tuesday, 26 May 2015

    I'm one of those people who ended up not signing the pledge, and the "small actions" post I did on Pagan Activist in early April is a lot of why.

    I'd also point out, in reference to "animal agriculture," that capitalism and industrial agriculture is what made that possible. Cut out the CAFOs, put the animals on grass and pasture, you cut out a lot of the issues there. Plus, grassland should not get turned into large scale farmland because it can't handle the load without industrial fertilizer and pesticide. (and I know full well a lot of people cannot afford or even have access to grass-fed and pastured animal products, which is something else to drive me crazy.)

  • Richard Wachenheim
    Richard Wachenheim Tuesday, 26 May 2015

    I consider myself as a reasonable environmentalist pagan. That said, I have been close to the earth for many years and watching others who say they are too. But they are not. Even non-pagan environmentalists don't practice what they preach. When the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment came out, I read it and thought another feel good statement for people to sign and forget. Where is the "teeth" in this statement? How about a signed commitment to do 24 hours of some type of community service yearly? I am also a natural area restorationist (retired, but volunteering in the field now) and many of us are the only ones I see making a concentrated effort in doing something. Some of use do use herbicides in our work to eliminate invasive species, but not on the scale as non-organic farmers. And we must be licensed to apply (and in Illinois test every 3 years to keep a license). People buy herbicides from Home Depot and Menard for example, and use them irresponsibly. One of the worse things some so-called pagans continue doing is smoking cigarettes. The old ones use tobacco in a sacred way, most who smoke do not do not smoke for the divine, but for themselves. It is unfortunate that most of want you and others write about pagan environmentalism will go in one ear and out the other. When pagans are approached about doing the green thing, they say, "I am pagan. Isn't that green enough?"

  • Rick
    Rick Tuesday, 26 May 2015

    Shauna, yours is one of the better posts on the subject.

    In terms of what can be done and what should be done, the entire race, not just Pagans are failing at environmental protection. But the first question I might ask, is can the battle be won? That might make you bristle, but hear me out.

    50% of the world's population live in cities. This is critical, because that means that everything has to be brought to them - even if we reduce our consumption the means of communication, food, other material necessities, water and energy all have to be transported to the cities. There is no way we are not going to need a massive transportation infrastructure to meet that demand - and consume massive amounts of energy. So, the earth will continue to be exploited for that energy until fossil fuels are gone. The harder to extract those fuels, the higher the cost and the more the urban poor take a disproportionate part of the sacrifice. Eventually, a tipping point will be reached where we cannot afford cities anymore. I see this happening no matter how we change our habits. When we can no longer afford cities as they exist today, we will see changes at all levels of society.

    There is one thing that could be done right now that would help cut pollution, maybe slow down the consumption of fossil fuels. If Obama would sign an executive order mandating a change of all non-combat government vehicle to natural gas - an easy fix for the vehicle and it would spur construction of natural gas distribution centers. The private sector would see the advantage and follow. Currently, the US is a net exporter of natural gas, so it isn't like we don't have the resources. If a simple change like this cannot be implemented, maybe the best we can hope for is for fossil fuels to run out so we can rebuild civilization.

  • Rick
    Rick Tuesday, 26 May 2015

    And that doesn't even address my pet peeve of over-population!

  • Leslie J Linder
    Leslie J Linder Wednesday, 27 May 2015

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog! I am an Eclectic Vegan Pagan, and I signed the statement. I had given the authors some info from the center for biodiversity (take extinction off your plate) when they did a shout out for contributions. While of course a general statement was not going to specifically endorse veganism, I thought the wording was inclusive enough that it was worth joining my pagan peers in the endorsement of the document. Thanks for furthering the conversation! And thanks for the link to David Salisbury. Here is the link to the biodiversity webpage I was referencing: take care :)

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