Is Nature-Based Paganism More “Mainstream”?

February 21, 2015 at 3:07 am 6 comments

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”!)

Possibly relevant discussions:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/naturespath/2015/02/tree-huggers-loosen-your-grip/
http://www.patheos.com//Pagan/Bringing-Back-Gods-Sufenas-Virius-Lupus-01-11-2013.html

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Entry filed under: Nature/Ecology, Pagan Communities, Unitarian Universalism.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. brentblonigan  |  February 22, 2015 at 5:45 am

    This is a very thoughtful piece. I am very earth based. The beauty of spirituality is that it is multi-dimensional. There are no absolutes and most religions are in the box. I would rather be out of the box because in that experience, there is freedom.

    Reply
  • 2. Laine DeLaney  |  February 24, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    I don’t like using the term earth-based for my own practice because it often gives people the wrong idea. It’s odd, because I work with spirits of the land around me and honor the Earth Mother regularly, and care about the way that we treat the world. I think that saying “Earth-based” draws attention away from other aspects of Pagan faith and leaves people surprised when they encounter magick or polytheism “I thought you just, like, worshiped Nature or something.”

    Calling our faiths Earth-based makes me think of the fervent protestations of monotheism when Hindus are forced to speak to interfaith groups, likewise Buddhists with fervent protestations of atheism. It feels like a way to sugarcoat the aspects of our practices that might not meet with public approval.

    I suppose it truly does come down to how individual Pagans want to identify. The ideals that kickstarted the modern Neopagan movement sprang up in and around conservation and environmental movements, going back as far as the 1800s. We are culturally intertwined with those ideals, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. When, as a member of a Council of Elders, Diana Paxson was asked what good she thought Paganism brought to the rest of the world, she replied (I am paraphrasing somewhat, as this was back in 2013) that building a relationship with the world and its parts as people and entities helped draw people closer to nature and make them more conscious of the environment.

    Are you Pagan because you care about the Earth? Do you care about the Earth because you are Pagan? People who engage in Pagansim can’t seem to avoid being conscious of the damage that humankind does to our world, whether or not their practice is labelled “Earth-based”.

    Reply
    • 3. caelesti  |  February 25, 2015 at 12:34 am

      Very insightful and eloquent response- do you mind if I quote you on my blog? I imagine different people have different reactions to “earth-based”, I think Pagans and polytheists attach more baggage and assumptions to it than the general public does. Personally, I was raised to be eco-friendly and value nature, it was simply part of being a good human being and citizen, and that’s something I encourage in other people, regardless of their religious identity. Being Pagan has added other reasons, but it was already there for me, really my values in general haven’t changed that much since I become Pagan.

      Reply
      • 4. Laine DeLaney  |  February 25, 2015 at 1:42 am

        You’re certainly welcome to quote me! I’ve thought about this a lot myself, as you can probably tell, likely enough for a post of my own, in which I may, in turn, quote (or at least link) you.

  • 5. David Pollard  |  March 2, 2015 at 3:57 am

    I see that staking a “Nature-based” or “Earth-centered” position is creating a tent that is bigger than just traditional Paganism. It also includes part of the cultural Secular world that doesn’t have a problem with personal spirituality as long as its not tied to faith-based monotheisms, or even a few monotheists who are willing to transcend their religious texts (think Matthew Fox or some Sufis, etc.)
    This would also mean that some Pagan traditions get left out – those who are centered on a specific racial image, or New Age teachers for home the physical is so anathema that they are unconcerned with the fate of the planet.

    Reply
    • 6. caelesti  |  March 2, 2015 at 4:08 am

      Very true! New Age, while even harder to define than Pagan (once again, to me it’s “I know it when I see it!” seems to overlap most with the Self and Nature centers, and a person or tradition could be so focused on Self that they neglect Nature or Community, or so focused on Nature or Deities they neglect human needs. I think nature/earth-based is really too vague of a term to describe my own path, though it might be suitable for others. I think bazaar or caravan full of tents that move around works better as a metaphor than one Big Tent. It’s way more complicated!

      Reply

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