Is Nature-Based Paganism More “Mainstream”?
A suggestion I’ve seen here and there in discussions of Pagan theology, and how Pagans present ourselves to the general public, including interfaith work, is that promoting a style of Paganism as nature or earth-based- as opposed to a focus on Gods/spirits or a particular culture- is a way to make Paganism seem more “mainstream”, whatever that means.
First-off, I think if you are talking about Paganism to the public, it’s better to give a description of your own path or tradition rather than trying define the ever-moving Pagan umbrella/tent. Lately I have taken to calling myself a polytheist, and going to more detail from there, as a way of bypassing the Pagan = default assumption of Wicca issue. Nothing against Wicca, I’d just rather have Wiccans explain it themselves. I’ve also given up on distinguishing Wicca from Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions that waddle and quack like Wicca but loudly squawk that they are not.
Anyhow I’ve seen this implication arise somewhere amidst the debates between polytheist and non-theistic pagans and polytheists and Wiccan/Witches/closely allied Pagans. I don’t feel as if I have skin in the game of either of said debates but I am wondering about it, because “earth/nature-based” is a description frequently used by CUUPS- the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and for that matter earth-based is often instead of Pagan in UU settings. I’d like to hear some feedback from folks of varying viewpoints on this, I just ask that y’all play nicely together.
I don’t see Earth-based as necessarily more mainstream. There’s a big spectrum between Sierra Club member and eco-anarchist, or someone who drives a Prius, shops at Whole Foods and someone who consistently uses rags for toilet paper and has a completely wilderness based lifestyle. I see a term like Earth/nature-based spirituality as being overlapping with, but also broader than Paganism. Some forms of Paganism aren’t very nature-y. Some indigenous/traditional religions might identify with being Earth/nature-based but not the pagan label. Individual spiritual but not religious folks (SBNR) might call themselves earth-based but not Pagan- I suspect those folks are more apt to contemplate nature, do outdoors activities but not so much engage in formal ritual. Several of my relatives fall into this sort of category- my uncle uses the term “Blue Domer”- the blue dome- the sky is my cathedral, he says. Theologically they might be pantheists, panentheists, deists, agnostics, atheists, or animists. There are even Earth-based Jews, Christians and Buddhists. This is all totally cool and awesome, it’s great to see people connecting with nature, physically, spiritually and mentally. It’s great to see environmentalism taken more seriously. But the commonalities I find with hikers, bikers, campers, recyclers and such across the board are different than the commonalities I find with broader Pagandom, or with UUs for that matter. It’s hard to explain I guess. Basically, when I use a term that attracts all kinds of people who enjoy nature, I will encounter some cool people, but not necessarily the freaky geeky radical queer tribe that I feel at home with! For reasons of practicality, sanity, wanting to be in touch with reality, and to be honest decent shots at career networking, I don’t limit my interactions to just Pagani. But in spite of their dysfunctional, disorganized goofiness, it is often with Pagans that I feel the most at home. Earth-based is one of our labels, yes, but it’s part of a bigger tag cloud- (since I’m talking about earth, it makes me think “dust cloud”!)