Pagan values – Earth-based?

Sorry for the long hiatus; it’s been a busy week, and I’ve been wrestling with PVM ideas *and* trying to prepare a Summer Solstice service for the UU church next weekend.

I was reading the news today about the newly discovered rainforest in Mozambique, and getting all excited about the fact that there is still a basically pristine rainforest biome that we humans might actually be able to preserve, if we’re lucky. This led me to thinking about the perennial debate (the one after “What is Paganism?”, that is) – is “Paganism”, for some value of that term, “Earth-based” (for some value of that term)?

Obviously I can’t answer that question at anything like a global level, nobody can… there are too many possible definitions of all three of the main words in that question (I’m leaving the definition of “is” as an exercise for the reader, or possibly for Bill Clinton). I can, however, say without question that my paganism is.

So, to define my terms, at least for this post: (a) I consider most of my spiritual and religious practice to be “Pagan”, by which I mean mainly that it links me with one or more communities that self-identify as such, or that explicitly include and make room for people who do. (b) I use the terms Earth-based and nature-based more or less interchangeably; in my usage these terms mean that the locus of my worship is in the perceptible natural world, even though the object of it may not be. (Yes, I’m going to expand on that.)

This tendency obviously fits right into Druidry, particularly the Revival traditions. However, as Annyikha reminded us recently, [edited to add: in Hellenic tradition as well] the Earth is a Goddess in Her own right; and with a little thought it becomes clear that a nature-oriented spirituality, while it may not be as central as in Revival Druidry, is indeed native to Hellenismos. In addition to Ge and Ouranos, there are the Nymphoi and minor Gods and spirits of rivers and such – and even among the Olympians, you’d be hard pressed to find one without some significant associations with the natural world.

Above, I said that the locus of my worship is in nature, and that I would expand on that statement. Some examples may illustrate what I mean. While I do sometimes make traditional offerings and libations (particularly the meal offerings to Hestia), I am more likely to remember the Gods when presented with some aspect of the natural world that I associate with Them.

For instance, I honor Zeus with prayer at the first flash of lightning (even something as simple as “Hail, Father Zeus!” is a prayer); a sighting of deer or other fauna in the woods often prompts me to pray to Artemis for their safety and Her blessing on them and me. Most mornings, particularly in the winter, I am up and out the door before sunrise; I generally pause to greet the Sun, and sometimes sing a verse of a hymn to Apollon. No trip to the beach is complete without an offering to Poseidon… and any particularly numinous moment – a sunset, rain, passing through trees, hearing birdsong, what have you – is likely to trigger a feeling of simple gratitude for being alive and part of this wonderful, amazing and holy world.

So, what values do I derive from this nature-based orientation? The usual, mostly… conservation, care of my environment, concern with the ethical dimension of food production and consumption. Nothing radical there; you certainly don’t have to be Pagan (or even just lower-case pagan) to have a strong environmental ethic – there are devoutly monotheistic (and atheistic, for that matter) folks in the ecology movement who put my paltry efforts to shame, and I know it well. But for me, the impulse is explicitly sourced in my Pagan religious orientation.

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2 thoughts on “Pagan values – Earth-based?

  1. nettle

    I think of “nature-based” and “earth-based” as a defining characteristic of Paganism not so much because we have more of a tendency to appreciate the unbuilt environment (as you point out, anyone from any religion can do that) but because we base our practice and beliefs on our life on Earth – on this incarnation and this life, not on beliefs about the afterlife and where we all wind up. Whether honoring Zeus as lord of the lightning or Hestia as the goddess of the hearth, we are honoring the Earth, that is, the life that we live right now and the environment that we live it in. We locate the sacred here and now, not somewhere in the future or in some other place. “Nature-based” can also include the sun and the moon and Mars and Betelgeuse and whatever other parts of the physically incarnate universe that we want to take into account. The sacred is not limited to “wherever it is we go when we die.”

    “Reality-based” might be a better term but is perhaps could be a little too provocative.

    And maybe this ought to be its own blog post… I got thinking about it after reading Sannion’s recent post on “unity through diversity” where he said something that equated being “earth-based” with being a responsible steward of the environment. And I thought, no, no, that’s not it at all… so maybe I should just buck up and finally do a “Pagan Values Month” post.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    …the life that we live right now and the environment that we live it in.

    This is almost word-for-word a sentence from the sermon. :) I’ll try to pull out that part of it and post it tonight, because that was exactly the central point that I was aiming at.

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