Article ID: 9187
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,505
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Posted: April 24th. 2005
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As a religion that relates to nature and works with nature, it is natural that we find allies in the environmental movement, and our energies can be quite effective when we work with secular organizations whose primary concern is the environment. I see no need to start a new organization just so that there is a Pagan name attached to it, nor do I see any value in channeling environmental action through so-called interfaith groups.
Why? Consider all the wasted energy trying to get some respect from the bigger, mainstream religions. It is difficult for the monotheistic religions to acknowledge polytheistic religions as equals. Not to mention the difficulty getting the ministers who have degrees from seminaries and theological schools to accept us as clergy equal to them. So my suggestion is to simply not waste time this way, and work with secular organizations whose sole purpose is working for environmental goals. For example, nationally, both Sierra Club and the Audubon Society have chapters all over the country. Both of them have programs which get people into the outdoors for hikes and nature walks, and both provide information through their magazines and websites to keep us informed of important issues and offer useful environmental information. Other excellent national groups include Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Greenpeace, and the Nature Conservancy. This is, of course, not a complete list, just a suggested handful that have proven track records for effectiveness.
As a whole, environmental organizations such as these generally have excellent ratings when you examine the ratio of money they spend on their stated goals and programs compared to the amount spent on overhead and administration.
And there are local organizations, such as various “riverkeepers” groups or “friends of the parks” groups that exist to focus their efforts in limited geographic areas.
For example, in the county where we live, we have a large, beautiful park with hiking trails in old growth forest. Recently, the county considered letting the electric company build a substation in the park and run transmission lines out from there. Now, we do not argue that we need electricity, but what we did feel was wrong was that the substation and power lines could be constructed on land that is already zoned commercial, near shopping centers and parking lots, rather than cutting down old growth forest.
So we attended a public meeting and expressed our opinions as local residents, registered voters, and customers of the power company. The county commissioners and the power company representatives heard from a number of us, and in the end, they made the right decision and routed the substation to commercially zoned property and left the park intact. I know I made a difference in the decision making process, because the county commissioner from my area and the power company representative returned my phone calls to let me know that they had changed their minds, and that our opinions mattered in their decision making process. It was a happy ending to the story.
Obviously, we don’t always win such battles, but it is worth trying and being involved to do our part to help preserve and protect the environment. From a point of view of our religion, it simply makes sense to do this as an extension of our way of working with the world. Plus, of course, we all need some beautiful natural areas where we can refresh ourselves even if it is just for a walk in the woods, a picnic, or some meditation in a quiet spot surrounded by big trees and a stream.
People in the community know that I was active in this effort because I also had a letter published in the local newspaper, in addition to attending the meeting and being on the contact list for the citizens group working to save the park. What I did not make public was anything about being Wiccan. If people had started to view this as an issue I was interested in because of my religion, or view me as a Wiccan, maybe they would not have listened to me as much as they did because I simply identified myself as a concerned local resident and registered voter. I have no doubt that most of my neighbors are Christians and that they also had a hand in this issue, simply because they also enjoy the park. There are lots of big churches around us, and the homeowners association newsletter always carries announcements of Bible study groups. The county residents vote overwhelmingly for conservative Republicans. By not even raising the issue of religion, we became allies for a common cause, and it benefits all of us. We maintained our privacy, the right thing got done, and I’m sure the God, Goddess and the nature spirits are happy with the results.
Realistically, we know that even though all forms of Paganism and Wicca are rapidly growing, the Christians will always outnumber us. While we might view environmental issues as having spiritual as well as mundane perspectives, others may view them simply as civic issues, and we can work with them to achieve worthy goals, by simply addressing the practical aspects rather than getting into religious debates. Environmental issues and environmental groups offer some of our best opportunities for doing community work that fits with the spirit of our religions and celebrates the things we ordinarily would choose to support. If we stay focused on nature, we can find natural allies among other people. Within a religion-neutral forum such as an environmental group, there is greater room for agreement than there is within the context of a religious committee, symposium, or group.
Remember that when we do magic, the goal is to get a result. The method for casting the spell is not the object, getting results is the object.
In the area where we live, there are active branches of national groups like those mentioned earlier. Then there are specific groups that help maintain and improve parks, clean up the river, rescue injured animals, plant trees, organic farmers who have co-ops you can join so that you can buy produce directly from them. You can go hiking, birdwatching, canoeing or bicycling with some of these groups. What would you like to do? In what way would you like to give something back to the natural world? Even if you are more shy and don’t care to go to meetings, work days or hike with these groups, you can always support them by simply making a donation so that they can continue doing their good work. A number of the organizations have e-mail updates and response mechanisms so that you can act quickly to express your opinions on matters of public policy and laws concerning the environment.
As we look back at this period of explosive growth in Pagan spirituality, it runs exactly parallel to the growth of interest in the environmental movement. The two are related. The awakening of spirituality among Americans from the 60’s to the present did not always arise out of a conscious decision to engage in a spiritual quest. Environmentalism began as an important secular and civic movement that subsequently fueled spiritual evolution, which led significant numbers of activists towards involvement with Native American, Pagan, Druid and Wiccan forms of spirituality.
By the time I had joined Sierra Club, I had long since quit going to church, but I hadn’t found any other spiritual path or religion that appealed to me. I knew how to use the I Ching cards and knew a little bit about Buddhism and a little about chanting. I was reading books about Witches when I could find them. I didn’t have any kind of in-depth, regular spiritual or religious practice, but I did go hiking and out for long walks regularly. This was a form of regular spiritual practice, although I did not recognize it as that until later.
Greenpeace, a very media savvy organization, became famous for focusing public attention on saving whales. They have since gone on to bring other important issues, such as the genetic engineering of our foods, to greater awareness. The question of the wisdom of saving some of the oldest, largest creatures on the planet emphasized our relation to other living things in a way that resonated again, more than 20 years later, when one courageous young woman, Julia Butterfly, became a national celebrity for sitting in a giant redwood tree until the logging company agreed to modify their plans for cutting down the redwoods. Once again, the symbolism came to a head over saving some of the largest, oldest beings on the planet, this time trees, which serve as a cultural touchstone. Julia Butterfly's defiant act of living in a redwood until they agreed not to cut it took a great deal of courage and physical stamina, every bit the equal of the Greenpeace members who placed themselves in little rubber boats between the whales and the harpooners.
The size of subjects like whales and redwoods posed questions that were remarkably intense: If we are not willing to save at least a portion of the oldest, largest and most beautiful creatures on this earth, what kind of world are we creating? And if we are not willing to work toward saving some of the most obvious symbols of evolution of life on earth, then what does that portend for smaller creatures or smaller plants? If we do not care about the quality of our earth, our air, our water, the plants and animals that share it with us, then what will the quality of our own lives be?
Symbols are important in cultivating a mindset. That is why they are important to all religions, to countries, and tribes. When the Endangered Species Act was originally proposed, one of the creatures that needed saving was the bald eagle, which is the symbol of our country. What would it mean for our spirit as a people if we were to let the creature whose image adorns the seal of our nation be wiped out?
Eventually, for some of us, another train of thought entered the picture. What if it was not just a matter of doing something good for the environment, so that it might benefit someone else? What if we were to care about animals, birds, fish, trees, mountains, woodlands, deserts, rivers and lakes because there is a life in all things and we need to show a respect for all forms of life?
Although many environmentalists simply look at the issues as preserving parks for their kids, or making sure there are places to continue to hunt and fish, or are simply appalled at the ugliness and toxicity of various mining and logging methods, or making sure that they have peaceful places to go hiking, canoeing and swimming, they do not need to embrace all of the same spiritual concepts as we do in order to share common ground on the issues.
Environmentalists realize that if we do not keep our waterways clean and treat animals decently that we will not have healthy food and water. Most of us would agree that the proper care and feeding of livestock, for example, precludes feeding them the ground-up remains of dead and diseased animals. (Is it any wonder why the vegetarian cows go mad?) Most all of us are coming to realize that food crops genetically engineered to withstand higher and higher doses of pesticides and herbicides could wreak havoc in the world of plants and insects, with many possible unintended consequences.
It is quite shocking to be out hiking in the mountains, or in the woods, relishing the beauty of the plant and animal life and then round a bend to come face to face with a mountaintop that has been clear cut, leaving only ground studded with stumps. The viewer cannot help but wonder if that is really what is necessary in order for us to enjoy living in houses with furniture or reading newspapers. Recycling and new technologies can reduce the need for virgin timber. We can do better than we have with making good use of our trees, especially those that would take the equivalent time span of several human generations to replace.
I am not implying that all environmental activists are Pagan or Wiccan, because they are not, and in fact, some Pagans and Wiccans have other favorite charities and causes. Many avid environmentalists are members of other religions, although they are acting out of an individual sense of consciousness and responsibility, rather than at the urging of their churches.
It is not just pragmatic; the issue is also aesthetic. We need green spaces and clean water and wild animals as a way to rejuvenate our spirits and refresh us from the constant drone of traffic, phone calls and the relentless pace of business.
The nations of Europe draw visitors to their cathedrals and museums, because those are the most spectacular views they have to offer us, but the most visited places in America, by both foreign and domestic tourists, are our national parks. These are the real American cathedrals. They inspire our sense of awe and give us a perspective on our place in the world. Our places of great natural beauty deserve to be set aside and saved simply as places for simple recreation and rejuvenation for our spirits as well as our bodies. This is the same rationale we have for keeping museums and beautiful manmade objects; we save them in special places just to look at them just because they are beautiful and they provide us with a perspective on our place in the world, and there is a value in that alone.
Experiencing the outdoors facilitates visualizing God and Goddess as figures of power and beauty. It is in the depictions of the Goddess that we find erotic beauty, hearth and home life to counterbalance the might of the warrior, hunter and adventurer Gods. The balance of male and female found in nature helps teach us about the power and beauty of the God and Goddess and how that is reflected in our own spirits.
Today, I experience the mysteries of nature just as profoundly when I plant the garden and watch the seeds push up through the soil, then reach up toward the sky until they get leaves, flower, then see the growth of fruits, vegetables and herbs. It is magic how a handful of seeds with a little bit of dirt, weeding, pruning, and regular watering yield fruits and vegetables to eat, and plenty of herbs to make tea, bath salts or incense in addition to seasoning food. There are bird feeders right outside our kitchen window, and we can see the different ways each type of bird acts and how different their personalities are. We can watch them while they sing and know which song belongs to which bird. Watching the butterflies, hummingbirds and bees work all the flowering plants while we are in the garden is quite an experience. As children, we used to try and catch these things, but now we are content to let them be around us, and with us.
There is a symbol that I feel brings a very appropriate close to this essay. A number of years ago, I found out about Defenders of Wildlife. They were raising money to support the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and in a number of states. The return of the wolves was needed to complete the community of wildlife and the cycles of nature. They had been hunted, poisoned, trapped, and killed over a period of years when the US government worked with the cattlemen and farmers to try and exterminate them completely. It took a long time to realize that killing all the wolves led to the overabundance of deer, which happily graze on our suburban gardens and farmers' cultivated fields of food crops, and increasingly dash into roads and highways, causing wrecks. The absence of wolves has also permitted coyotes to expand their territories into areas where they never lived before, since they are also adversaries.
In the past, governments and other religions worked to try and eliminate Shamans Witches and Pagans. In the past, they tried to eliminate the practice of the native ways among the tribes. The wolf has long been an animal associated with us; they hold a place in many mythologies, including the Roman, Celtic, Norse, and Native American, and wolves have been unjustly blamed for other peoples' problems in the past. Suddenly, we are back, both the wolves, and the ancient tribal and Pagan spiritual ways. I sent money to help Defenders pay for the costs of this program, and sent letters to different government officials to support the wolf reintroduction.
The wolves have resumed their place in nature in several parts of the country, and keepers of ancient ways have resumed their place in the spiritual spectrum of life in contemporary society. Defenders made the brilliant move of establishing a fund to compensate farmers and ranchers for any loss of livestock due to wolves, and the fund has remained solvent, helping to maintain relationships with both sides. Both the symbols and the practices have returned from the brink of extinction with a renewed vigor.
Since we don’t really know how many of us there are, there is also no way of knowing how many of us are already involved with secular environmental groups, so speculation that we are not active enough in these areas is just that, speculation.
There is no reason why everyone in a coven or grove needs to support the same environmental cause or group. There is plenty of room for individual choice. I certainly don’t feel that my accomplishments are any less appreciated by God, Goddess and the spirits of nature because they were done in the name of Friends of the Park, Sierra Club or Defenders of Wildlife, rather than in a name like Pagan Environmental Alliance or Religious Volunteers For the Environment. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. Environmental groups are our natural allies. We can celebrate and enjoy the spirit of nature with people of other religions. We can celebrate our religions in ways specific to us with our friends. Remember, the important thing about both magical and mundane efforts in life is to achieve the desired results. Our natural allies can help us do that.
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