Posts filed under ‘Nature/Ecology’

Nature/Green/Eco-Spirituality isn’t always Pagan

Like all the Centers of Paganism, the Nature-center definitely extends beyond the bounds of Paganism. There has been a general rise globally in ecological awareness in both secular and religious contexts, and Pagans have most certainly played a role in the latter. But seeing nature as sacred and worthy of protection and/or preservation is not a uniquely Pagan feature!

In my opinion, making an effort to conserve resources and be ecologically mindful is just part of being a good citizen of planet Earth. You can have some theological rationale for it, like regarding the Earth as a living being (the Gaia hypothesis), being a steward of the Earth (as in the Abrahamic faiths) seeing everything as divine (pantheism) or see many spirits as being part of nature (animism) You can even combine some of these beliefs as many people do. Or you can simply regard the Earth and all its creatures (including humans) in a scientific manner. I think the important thing is what you do, not why you do it!

For indigenous people, the issue of sovereignty and habitat preservation is important to maintain traditional relationships with the land, animals and plants- and thus their cultures. For example, with global climate change, the warming of Arctic areas is having an adverse effect on the reindeer herds that the Saami people of Scandinavia & Russia depend on. Closer to home (for myself) the Idle No More movement led by First Nation people in Canada has been gaining steam, including some support from polytheists and Pagans.

One approach that can be easily incorporated, regardless of a person’s location and culture, includes scientific information and gives a lot of space for various theological views and practice, is bioregional animism.

The intersection of ecology and religion (and socio-political implications related to it) is very broad and complex, so I’ll go into more specific aspects of it in other posts. For now here’s a preliminary list of reading to get you started. (To be frank I have not read most of them- with the exception of Creation Spirituality!) As time goes on and I read more, I will post reviews- for one I am very interested in Lupa’s works.

Books-

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality & the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor

Animism: Respecting the Living World by Graham Harvey

The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature by Emma Restall Orr

The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythyms of Nature by Starhawk

Plant & Fungus Totems, New Paths to Animal Totems, DIY Totemism, other works by Lupa- see her website Green Wolf for more info

Ecoshamanism by James Endredy

Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality, other works by Matthew Fox (from a Catholic viewpoint, but much of it applicable/inspiring to people of other traditions

Bibliography of Earth-based Judaism– Tel Shemesh

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May 19, 2015 at 1:37 am 4 comments

Ecoregions for St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, U.S.A.

I will focus mainly on my home in St Paul, Minnesota, however there are a couple of other places that I have spiritual interests in- the town I was born in- Havre, Montana (Hill County) and Dubuque, Iowa where I spent a good portion of my childhood. I will do those in following posts- this one is getting long!
My bioregion is Laurentia bordering near the Prairie. I find there is way more information about ecoregions, so I am not sure why the term isn’t ecoregionalism!

Here is the EPA system:

Level 1 Ecoregion 8: Eastern Temperate Forest, 8.1 Mixed Wood Plains (not sure which)

Level 3 Ecoregion 51: North Central Hardwoods

Level 4 Ecoregion 51a: St. Croix Outwash Plain & Stagnation Plains (ooh what a sexy name!)

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) divides us into the Ecological Classification System (ECS) following the guidelines of the National Hierarchical Framework of Ecological Units

In the DNR system we are in-

Province 222 Eastern Broadleaf Forest in the Minnesota & Northeast Iowa Morainal Section and the St. Paul-Baldwin Plains & Moraines subsection which continues into Wisconsin.

“The Eastern Broadleaf Forest (EBF) Province traverses Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas. In Minnesota, the EBF Province covers nearly 12 million acres (4.9 million hectares) of the central and southeastern parts of the state and serves as a transition, or ecotone, between semi-arid portions of the state that were historically prairie and semi-humid mixed conifer-deciduous forests to the northeast. The western boundary of the province in Minnesota is sharply defined along much of its length as an abrupt transition from forest and woodland to open grassland. The northeastern boundary is more diffuse, with a gradual transition between eastern deciduous forests and the mixed conifer-hardwood forests of northern Minnesota.

The land surface of the province is largely the product of Pleistocene glacial processes. The northwestern and central portions of the province were covered by ice in the last glaciation and are characterized by thick (100–300 feet [30–90 meters]) deposits of glacial drift that is highly calcareous and of Wisconsin Age at its surface. Glacial lakes associated with the last glacial advance contributed large volumes of meltwater to rivers that cut deep valleys along the present course of the Minnesota, St. Croix, and lower Mississippi rivers. In the southeastern part of the province, which was not covered by ice in the last glaciation, headward erosion of streams draining into the deepening Mississippi valley dissected the flanking uplands, exposing Paleozoic bedrock and pre-Wisconsin drift. The waning stages of the glacial lakes contributed massive amounts of sediment to the river valleys and provided a source of silt that was redeposited by wind as a mantle of loess over the eroded lands in the southeastern part of the province.

The EBF Province coincides roughly with the part of Minnesota where precipitation approximately equals evapotranspiration; it seems likely that this aspect of climate has an important influence on plants, as many forest species reach their western range limits and several prairie species reach their eastern range limits within the province. Precipitation in the province increases from about 24 inches (60cm) annually in the northwestern portion to 35 inches (90cm) in the southeast, while normal annual temperatures range from 38°F (3°C) in the northwest to 46°F (8°C) in the southeast.”

“The Minnesota and Northeast Iowa Morainal Section (MIM) is a long band of deciduous forest, woodland, and prairie that stretches nearly 350 miles (560km) from Polk County in northwestern Minnesota to the Iowa border. Over half of this area consists of rugged to hummocky moraines deposited along the eastern margin of the Des Moines ice lobe during the last glaciation. Another quarter of the area consists of rolling till or basal till deposited as drumlins. Small sand plains occur locally within the moraines. A rather large sand plain, the Anoka Sand Plain, is present north of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This level plain is formed from sand deposited by meltwater from the Grantsburg sublobe, a spur of ice emanating from the east flank of the Des Moines lobe.

The presettlement pattern of upland vegetation in the MIM reflects substrate texture and landform topography. These features affected plants directly through their influence on moisture and nutrient availability, insolation, and local temperature, and also indirectly through their influence on the frequency and severity of fires. Sandy flat areas were dominated by prairie, savanna, and oak and aspen woodlands. This is especially true of the Anoka Sand Plain and sandy terraces along the major rivers. In these areas, droughty soils and absence of impediments to the spread of fire promoted fire-dependent prairie and woodland vegetation. A large area of prairie, savanna, and oak woodland was also present on gently undulating glacial till in the southern part of the section, adjacent to the extensive prairie lands of western Minnesota. The low-relief landscape in this part of the section afforded few impediments to the spread of fire, including fires that spread into the section from the adjacent prairie region. Woodland and forest dominated sites in the section where fire was uncommon or rare. Fine-textured drift deposited in hummocky moraines supported mesic forests dominated by sugar maple, basswood, American elm, and northern red oak. Even small reductions in fire frequency afforded by streams, lakes, or topographic breaks permitted the formation of forest on finer-textured soils, and once formed these forests were highly resistant to burning.

Floodplain and terrace forests were present historically along the valleys of the major rivers, the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix, and are still prominent today along many stretches of these rivers. Forests of silver maple occupy the active floodplains, while forests of silver maple, cottonwood, box-elder, green ash, and elm occupy terraces that flood infrequently. These valleys are also characterized by herbaceous and shrubby river shore communities along shorelines and on sand bars, and in some areas by cliff communities on steep rocky river bluffs. Closed depressions that pond water in the spring provide habitat for open wetlands such as marshes, wet meadows, shrub swamps, and wet prairies. Peatlands are uncommon in the section and usually develop following formation of sedge or moss mats over sediments in former lake basins.”

St Paul-Baldwin Plains & Moraines-The northern boundary of this subsection consists of a Superior Lobe end moraine complex (St. Croix Moraine). To the west, terraces associated with the Mississippi River separate the subsection from the Anoka Sand Plain subsection. The southern boundary coincides with the southern edge of the Rosemount Outwash Plain.

This subsection is small and continues into Wisconsin. Although it is topographically low in comparison to other areas in the state, the subsection is dominated by a large moraine and areas of outwash plain. The subsection encompasses part of the seven county metropolitan area and as a result is affected by urban development.

Landform

This subsection is dominated by a Superior lobe end moraine complex. South of this moraine is a series of outwash plains associated with the Superior lobe. There are some areas of Ioess plain over bedrock or till in the southeastern portion of the subsection. Topography is rolling to hummocky on the moraine (steep, short complex slopes) and level to rolling on the outwash.

Bedrock geology

Glacial drift is generally less than 100 feet thick within the subsection, with maximum thickness of about 200 feet (Olsen and Mossler 1982). Ordovician and Devonian dolomite (some limestone, sandstone, and shale) is locally exposed, especially in the dissected stream valleys at the eastern edge of the subsection (Morey 1976, Olsen and Mossler 1982). Precambrian bedrock is exposed along the St. Croix River.

Soils

Soils in this subsection are primarily Alfisols (soils formed under forested vegetation). Areas of Mollisols (soils formed under prairie vegetation) are present on the outwash plains. Parent materials are mixed on the moraines (mixtures of clay loams, loams, sandy loams, and loamy sands). The outwash plains have sandy parent materials (Cummins and Grigal 1981).

Climate

Annual normal precipitation ranges from 28 inches in the north to 31 inches in the south, and growing season precipitation ranges from 12.5 to 13 inches. The average growing season length ranges from 146 to 156 days.

Hydrology

The drainage network is poorly developed throughout most of the subsection. This is due to the nature of the landforms. The Mississippi River cuts through the center of the subsection. There is a well developed flood plain associated with the Mississippi. The end moraines in the northern third have an undeveloped drainage network. The St. Croix River forms the east boundary (as well as the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin). The river flows into the Mississippi southeast of the Twin Cities. There are many lakes in this subsection. Most are present on the moraines.

April 9, 2015 at 4:44 am Leave a comment

What is Bioregional Animism?

Last post I mentioned bioregional animism. What the heck is that you might ask? Well first off-

Animism– belief or philosophy that the world is full of spirits- this may or may not mean that *everything* has a spirit- but at least it typically includes living things, and often rocks and other natural features. It may also include human-made objects, particularly ones that have a lot of significance and history attached to them.

Now to unpack some baggage attached to this label- the term animism has its origins in anthropology, in older and Western-centric view that more “primitive” cultures first had animism and totemism, before developing polytheism, henotheism, monotheism and then (depending on the person interpreting all this) atheism. Some people reject the use of “animism” for this reason. However, with the rising influence of ecological thought, some people have been developing a philosophy of New Animism, that takes this idea of many spirits seriously and has more respect for indigenous worldviews and their regard for “non-human persons”. I would caution that I have encountered some attitudes on new animist websites that seem to have a Noble Savage or Michael Harner-style “Core Shamanism” influences*. We definitely need to be wary of those ideas!

Bioregionalism– a bioregion is an ecologically & geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone but larger than an ecoregion and an ecosystem. It is defined by watershed, soil and terrain characteristics. Bioregionalism is an ecological, political and cultural philosophy that considers the role of bioregions as central to making decisions in the best interests of the inhabitants (human & non-human) and the land. Bioregions cross state/provincial and national boundaries, so they can require international cooperation. In the United States & Canada, the bioregion that has developed the strongest identity- even with its own flag and independence movement- is Cascadia, in the Pacific Northwest.

Now for these various ecological divisions- I’ll start with the biggest, then work my way down to the smallest. There are varying systems used by different governmental and non-profit ecological organizations, so I will consult several.

On this website– Earth is divided into 6 Bio-Kingdoms, 35 Bio-regions, and 156 bio-provinces

Eco-zones– a different system based on plate tectonics

What type of biome do you live in? The same biome can be found in many different bioregions, depending on climate, latitude, soil types etc. For example- desert, forest, tundra though they get more specific than that.

Eco-zones & Eco-regions in Canada

Eco-regions of North America– Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wikipedia

Eco-regions in Minnesota

*A good critique of Core Shamanism by Lupa, a bioregional animist can be found here

April 9, 2015 at 1:56 am 1 comment

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”!)

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

February 21, 2015 at 3:07 am 6 comments

Bioregionalism

Bioregionalism is one of many environmental ideologies- there are so many to study and comprehend- and I think there is something we can learn from all of them- environmentalists like many others can get into One True Way-ism and dogmatism and I think to avoid that a more “multi-pronged” approach is best. Bioregionalism seems to be one that I think could be very insightful and useful to developing a locally based spiritual practice and learning to engage with the natural world and local culture in a sustainable manner.  This website on Bioregional Animism was the first place I saw this idea proposed.

Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, economic ideology focused on bioregions- areas defined by ecological traits, such as the watershed, geological makeup and wildlife. Bioregionalism sees nature and human culture as interconnected, and seeks harmonious interconnection between the two. In that way it differs from other environmental ideologies that see human culture as “the enemy”. It favors decentralizing political power to bio-regions, which sometimes cross international boundaries.  Size-wise eco-zones are the largest, followed by bio-regions and eco-regions. (All this is kinda new to me, I’d only heard of bio-regions and biomes. )

Key points of Bioregionalism from Wikipedia:

*Ensure that political boundaries match ecological boundaries.[7]
*Highlight the unique ecology of the bioregion.
*Encourage consumption of local foods where possible.
*Encourage the use of local materials where possible.
*Encourage the cultivation of native plants of the region.
*Encourage sustainability in harmony with the bioregion.[8]

I’ll set aside the political boundary aspect for now, though it would be an interest idea to consider for organizing Pagan groups.

Resources:

Radical Ecology: the Search for a Livable World by Carolyn Merchant

This is an excellent side-by-side comparison of different green/environmental schools of thought, from deep ecology, eco-feminism, to eco-anarchism etc.

Ideas for adapting spiritual practice to local ecology:

Re-Vamping the Nine Sacred Woods– a Witch in Texas “tweaks” the British Isles tradition of 9 sacred woods for a Beltaine fire with trees that live in her area

A Pacific Northwest Ogham– by  John Michael Greer ” The process of creating a tree-Ogham appropriate to the Puget Sound country – or any other environment sufficiently different from northwestern Europe — is not unlike that of translating poetry from one language to another. Inevitably, some meanings are lost, and others are gained which were not present in the original. The tree-Ogham that follows should be considered a first, rather exploratory venture in this direction. If Druidry is relevant to the whole world, though – and I believe that it is – it must be able to put down roots in forests very different from the ones where it originally grew. There must someday be a cactus-Ogham for the Arizona deserts and a jungle-Ogham for the rain forests of northern Australia.”

JMG & AODA in general really walk their talk in their efforts at both spiritual connection to nature and advocacy for sustainability in the broader world

Australian Wildflower Oracle– review of a lovely divination tool. This blogger is working on writing about Australian native flora & fauna herself.

Waincraft: Resources & Links. Waincraft is a new neo-Pagan tradition (originally an outgrowth of Vanatru) that is  a general religious framework that can be adapted to ones’ bioregion and cultural focus.

American Wights by Svartesol, Gullinbursti Press  A Heathen approach to American spirits may be useful to non-Heathens as well. I am having trouble finding a copy of this but have heard good reviews of it.

Kill You and Eat You! Or, a Well-Intentioned Celt’s Guide to Non-Celtic Bioregions

Another PBP post on Bioregionalism from Thalassa, Musings of a Kitchen Witch. (added Feb 3rd)

Please add to my lists of resources in the comments. They may need to get their own page(s).

January 25, 2014 at 1:19 am 2 comments

Spirits of Winter

A follow-up to my earlier post on the recurring “Jack” figure in English folklore- Jack Frost being one form. Here’s a brain-storming list of spirits and personifications of winter- winter in general, not Yule/Winter Solstice specifically. I would like to do some more research and go into more depth with them individually.

  • Jack Frost– a sprite who paints frost on windows and the colors on leaves. I think his trickster aspect comes into play as he sneaks in before you are expecting frost, maybe haven’t finished harvesting or covering your flower beds, or doing certain kinds of chores- like painting outside.
  • Old Man Winter- metaphorical phrase, like Mother Nature. Also makes me think of Old Man River- a nickname for the Mississippi.
  • Father Frost– Russian version of Old Man Winter, though he actually shows up in folk tales. It would be worthwhile to take a look at Russian folklore, the climate in some areas is certainly a lot closer to Minnesota’s!
  • Snow Queen– a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the Snow Queen has made it into American & Western European culture as a broader archetype. Also makes me think of the White Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- in fact I think it is intentional on the part C.S. Lewis to have a vain, beautiful and powerful woman who tempts children into the cold. (Link to post about Frozen, a modern “re-mix” of the Snow Queen)
  • Cailleach Bheur– Scottish female spirit- some think her to be a legacy of an older goddess- particularly associated with storms in March. March is a winter month in Minnesota, and we often get a lot of snow then. Awesome post by Leithin Cluan on the Cailleachan- a group rather of weather & land spirits in Scotland and Ireland
  • Boreas– in Greek mythology, the god of the north wind. His wife is Oreithyia, representing the cool mountain wind, and their daughter is Khione, the goddess of snow.
  • WinterPower/Archetype in Waincraft, a good distillation of ideas/concepts related to feminine wintry figures in European folklore

Note: as I write posts on these characters, I am linking them back to this post.

November 28, 2013 at 2:20 am 2 comments

A Hawk Wind Blows

I just returned last night from a weekend trip with my partner to the Iron Range and Duluth, Minnesota. We had a wonderful time biking on the Mesabi Trail (20 miles in total!) through the deep pine and birch forests and saw a painted turtle on the trail. Yesterday in Duluth we went up to Hawk Ridge , the highest point in Duluth to watch the hawk migrations. Dan, an avid bird watcher had told me this was a great time and place to do this but I hadn’t realized it was an entire nature reserve. Northeast winds had just begun that day, which really favors flying conditions. Despite this we only spotted a few hawks. Still, it was a treat to see birds we rarely do in the Twin Cities and we had a gorgeous view of the city and lakeshore below.

Upon perusing MetaPagan today, an article by Lupa was highlighted relevant to avian ecology. While I was aware that possessing eagle feathers is illegal in the U.S., I didn’t realize that extended to other birds of prey. And no, the laws don’t distinguish how you acquired the feather (or talon, beak etc) as that is difficult to prove.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen the issue she raises discussed before in the Pagan community. I know I have a collection of feathers I’ve found on the ground various places, but they are mostly from song birds and water fowl that are fairly common- blue jays, mallards, swans etc.  Just to be on the safe side though, I’m going to familiarize myself with these laws. And I suggest you do the same.

If we are to truly walk our talk about protecting and respecting Mother Earth and her creatures, we need to follow these and other environmental laws. I know modern Pagans often have a libertarian/anarchistic streak and reject authority, but these are not arbitrary bureaucratic regulations. I also think disregard for this also says something about the pursuit of ego and material things getting in the way of true spirituality.

September 30, 2009 at 7:58 am Leave a comment

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