Witchcraft Journal Blog

A resource for information and opinions on the beliefs, practices, customs, and magic of Traditional Witchcraft of the British Isles.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Think Your Paganism Isn't Nature-based? Think Again...

[The following article comes from The Healing P;anet Earth section at Witches' Voice.  Happy reading.

Author: Lupa

Pagans and environmentalism go hand-in-hand, right? Well, sometimes. Many Pagans do tend to be pretty environmentally-friendly—at least in theory. Few of us support the destruction of natural ecosystems or the extinction of species of animals and plants. And many Pagans I know are at least aware of the issues at hand.

But when it comes to actually putting that awareness into practice on a daily basis, many just don’t make the effort. We give lip service to deities and spirits of the natural world, but then we drive cars when we could walk or take public transportation, don’t take the time out to separate recyclable items from non-recyclable. We use Styrofoam plates and plastic-ware at our ritual meals, and buy conventional produce laced with pesticides instead of organics, produce that had to be trucked in hundreds of miles—a major waste of gasoline in comparison to locally-grown fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market.

It’s easy to become complacent in the face of overwhelming problems. After all, how can we reverse something so massive as the hole in the ozone layer? How do we stop poachers halfway around the world from killing off the last of the Bengal tigers or African elephants? And I’ll admit to being disheartened every time I see a patch of clear-cut forest on the side of the road, a raw wound amid the Earth’s soft pelt of trees. But for me, environmental awareness and action is at the heart of my path as a Pagan, and so I refuse to allow the sheer weight of the sum of all the problems crush me. I find my strength in my faith and my practice. My matron Goddess is Artemis, who protects the wild and all creatures within it. From a young age she called me to be a caretaker of what’s left of the wilderness, and I’ve taken this task very seriously. My primary totem animal is Wolf, and I work with a plethora of other animal totems in my practice. Those relationships aren’t just about what I can get from journeying with them, but also a manifestation of my responsibility towards their physical counterparts. After all, totems rely in part upon the existence of physical animals for us to be able to communicate with them; much totemic lore stems from human observation of animals in their natural habitat. Without living creatures for us to live with, how can we interpret the messages their totemic counterparts give us?

Too often we lose the connection between what we worship and the natural world those deities and spirits originally came from. In addition, many of the rituals we perform hail the elements and celebrate the turning of the seasons. Yet many of these rituals occur indoors, and the stories that are told of the deities and spirits are separated from the Natural cycles that birthed them initially.

Take a look at the Wiccan Sabbats, for example. The Wheel of the Year turns, the God is born to the Goddess, grows up, and dies, only to be reborn again. How many of us really think about what that really represents? Let’s start with a single seed. Dormant in the ground since the previous fall, it germinates when it feels the touch of rain on its skin. In order to grow, not only will it need more rain and sunshine, but also fertile ground with the necessary nutrients. It will have to survive disease and animal browsing in order to reach maturity to create seeds of its own and, depending on species, food for us.

And that’s just acknowledging that this cycle exists. How about our impact on that cycle? Go back to our cycle of seasons and the seed we left growing into a plant. If the rain that falls is acidic due to pollution, or the sun scorches it because the ozone is too thin, then that plant will die. If the soil it has sprouted in is toxic, or is blown away by wind because there are no trees or groundcover to hold it in place, the result is the same. And if the seed is a native species surrounded by a more aggressive invasive species, it may get choked out of its own habitat.

The death of that plant has farther-reaching impact as well. Many species of animals rely on certain plants to survive, whether directly, or as food for their prey. The panda is a good example; this animal subsists primarily on bamboo, and if the groves are gone, so is the panda. Those plants also create habitat, from the tops of trees to decaying leaf litter. As mentioned earlier, a lack of plant life can lead to soil erosion, which causes the land to lose its fertility. And the loss of trees means a serious decrease in oxygen, something no animal—humans included—can live without. Everything that exists is wrapped up in that cycle, and if the delicate balance is pushed too far, the whole system comes crashing down. If the Goddess’ womb is barren, then the God cannot be reborn. It’s not just a story that we tell each other—it is a symbol of the reality that we face in today’s world of increasing imbalance between the wild and the cultivated, between industry and Nature, between the Earth and Sky’s natural cleaning filters and the pollution that clogs them into stagnation and death.

Let’s revisit our gods and spirit helpers, too. Most of them, as mentioned previously, are associated with natural phenomena. If you worship a Sky god, such as Odin or Zeus, or air-based spirits like certain fairies, then take a look at air pollution. Try changing the bright yellow or pale blue candle you may use to represent air with one that is dingy yellowish-brown or poison green. Are you fond of Poseidon or sylphs? Pay attention to the effects of water pollution or the damming of rivers on the ecosystem downstream. Many Pagans venerate the Earth Mother, but how many look at the connection between the trash we throw out and the pustules on her skin created by landfills? Do you work with totems? What condition are the physical animals your totems represent in as a species, insofar as habitat destruction and threat of extinction?

How about breaking everything down into the four basic elements that many of us call upon when casting a circle or working magic? Nothing can exist without Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The Earth is our life support system, and that of all living beings on this planet; all the physical elements found on the periodic table come from that. We can’t breathe air that isn’t clean, nor can we drink water that is tainted, not without making ourselves ill,or worse. And while fire cannot be polluted, our shielding from it within the ozone layer grows thinner every year; in addition, climactic changes leading to drought cause a higher risk for wildfires.

We cannot separate natural entities from Nature. Yet there’s contradiction when, on the one hand, in our rituals we say “I honor you,” but then our actions, through neglect and complacency, we say “I don’t really care”. How can we say we revere the Earth when we don’t even try to reduce the harm we do to Her?

This isn’t necessarily a matter of living a completely sustainable life. After all, it’s unrealistic for most of us to buy a solar-powered house in the woods, raise enough food to feed ourselves, our families, and our pets, and still be able to sell enough to put away some savings. But we can work within our means, put out more effort than we usually do. We can buy used items instead of new, and materials such as paper made from recycled waste instead of tree pulp. We can temper our consumption of water, gasoline, and other resources. We can reduce the need for chemical pesticides and resources used in transportation for conventional produce by buying organic and local when possible. There are thousands of small changes available to us, though each one may not seem like much -- but they add up. The energy saved by recycling a single aluminum can produces enough energy to keep a light bulb going for four hours. (1) Think of how many cans you can recycle in a year. That’s a lot of light. And the benefit isn’t just practical; every action for the better can be made as an offering to whoever you revere in and of itself.

This isn’t meant to guilt you into being a “better” Pagan. It’s not my place to judge whether I’m more-Pagan-than-thou just for being more environmentally aware and active than many. But for me, at least, Paganism revolves around Nature, not as an abstract concept that only affects us when we allow ourselves to go outside, but as a very real, very imminent Divine that is connected to every action we take. Paganism isn’t about Nature for everyone, at least not to the extent it is to me; however, next time you call the quarters, think about the elements associated with each, and how each element weaves into everyday life, how dependent we are on it. When you ask a deity or spirit to be with you, consider the force of Nature you are inviting into your circle. I invite you, not to feel bad about yourself, but to see just how connected we really are to what we worship on an everyday basis.

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