Neopaganism and the Environment
Should all Neopagans be environmentalists?
Earth Based Spirituality is a very broad “umbrella” term, which can include belief systems like pantheism, (the belief that God is the universe,) transcendentalism, (being in nature leads to intuitive spiritual awareness,) Neopaganism, (a group of modern religions which are often reconstructions of ancient religions,) Wicca, (a group of modern religions largely based on western mysticism combined with European or Middle Eastern myth and folk traditions,) and indigenous religions. All of these share a reverence for nature.
The term, “earth centered spirituality,” can be confusing for many, because it can conjure images of tree-hugging environmental activists, which doesn’t describe everyone who practices earth centered or nature based spirituality.
The confusion hit home for me one night right after I had attended a particularly
effective, mystical Neopagan ritual. It was the sort of sublime transcendent experience in which I walked away feeling as though I were drenched in the sacred and it was still flowing from my pores. I was standing at the refreshment table, drinking hot cider out of a polystyrene cup. I was struck by the incongruence of that moment, blissfully immersed in enlightened earth based spirituality, holding what will soon become a piece of trash that will take 400 years to break down. The feeling continued as I walked to my gas-guzzling mini van, past several gas-guzzling SUVs belonging to my friends.
Not every Neopagan is deeply passionate about environmentalism. In fact, I have known many practitioners of earth-based spirituality who seem about as concerned about the environment as the average American mega consumer. Yet they are as devout in their beliefs and as dedicated to their spiritual principles as a person of any other faith. This remained a mystery until I came to the realization that earth centered spirituality, environmentalism, and eco-spirituality are entirely different things.
In his book, “Eco-Spirituality: Toward a Reverent Life,” Charles Cummings defines eco-spirituality as “stewardship of the earth as a spiritual path.” The author is a devout Christian, and his book is filled with Biblical passages which provide compelling argument for stewardship of the earth as an expression of Christian values.
An environmentalist is a person who works to protect the environment and ecosystems from pollution. This is more of a vocation that requires a certain level of commitment and expertise, and not everyone is well-suited for the job.
Earth centered spirituality, in my opinion, simply means that the earth is a source of spiritual wisdom and inspiration. Thousands of years ago, people believed that Thor and Zeus tossed thunderbolts down from the heavens. I have encountered few Neopagans who believe this in a literal sense. Somewhere at the core of these ancient beliefs is a kernel of truth: The earth really is our mother, because after all, she gestated the human race as we evolved on this planet. At the most basic level we are made of the same stuff as the trees, the ocean, wind and stone. Earth based spirituality is to Neopaganism what Bible-based spirituality is to Christianity. Most Neopagans do not worship nature any more than most Christians literally worship the Bible. This doesn’t mean that there are no Neopagans who worship nature Neopaganism is far too broad and diverse to make such narrow generalizations.
A Neopagan can be a good steward of the earth, and not be eco-spiritual, even if nature is a source of wisdom and inspiration in their faith.
One Neopagan told me, “I’ve been an environmental activist for years, but it’s not my spiritual path. My Pagan theology and my work with the environment are separate facets of who I am.”
Another Neopagan said that she was concerned that due to religious discrimination, if she broad casted that she is a Pagan and an environmental activist, she would not be helping the environmentalist movement gain credibility. According to her pantheistic world view, her spirituality and environmentalism are inseparable.
Not everyone has to be an environmentalist to be a good child of Mother Earth. A person can act according to their conscience and make modest efforts to reduce their environmental impact. The fact that more Pagans aren’t out there making a big public splash in the environmentalist movement saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m a Neopagan environmental activist,” doesn’t mean many aren’t quietly taking responsibility for their carbon footprint.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Neopaganism is a group of religions that, generally speaking, usually derive their wisdom and inspiration from some or all of these main sources:
Religions, beliefs, myths, and customs of indigenous and ancient peoples and
the Divine Feminine,
Not all Neopagans are environmentalists, nor should they be. A person can embrace any theology and be eco-spiritual or an environmentalist. In today’s times with global warming an increasing threat, it’s going to take more than the environmentalists and eco-spiritual people of this world to bring about environmental security. It’s going to take all of us.