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IMG_20131108_131657When you need to pray, go down to the sea.  Breathe with the rhythm of the waves. Become the sun, the surf, the sand.  And when you no longer know one from the other, let your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your very soul become one with the world, with the universe.

Don’t worry, when you are finished you will find your way back to yourself.  You will have cleansed the stain of civilization from your soul to one again embrace your true self.  And you will know that you can come back anytime, you are only a small thought away from god.

If you lack a handy nearby ocean, don’t worry.  You can do this anywhere…just shut off your computer or put down your book, open your front door and go outside (shoes are optional, but generally not recommended).

Connecting with Nature

Earth-centered Paganism would include those Paganisms concerned primarily with ecology, those more local forms of Paganism that I would call “backyard Paganism” or are sometimes called “dirt worship”, and many forms of (neo-)animism which view humans as non-privileged part of an interconnected more-than-human community of beings. The Pagan identity of earth-centered Pagans is defined by their relationship to their natural environment. Authenticity for these Pagans is defined by one’s ability to connect with the more-than-human world.
~John Halstead, Three (or more?) Centers of Paganism @ The Allergic Pagan

Nature Centered Pagans find the Divine in Nature – their primary concern is the natural world and our relationship with it. You may hear terms like “Earth centered” “tree hugger” and “dirt worshipper.”

This may be a non-theistic practice, though not necessarily so. It includes Animism, the idea that whatever animates you and me and the birds and bees also animates the wind and rain and even the mountains.
~John Beckett, The Four Centers of Paganism @ Under the Ancient Oaks

My “Connection with Spirit” is primarily a connection with nature.  Yes (as mentioned in the last post), I worship deities, but do so in relation to their relationship to the natural world. My connection with nature is specifically a relationship with my bioregion (but not an animistic one), the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I worship personified natural forces as a way of worshiping Nature Herself (through the Nereids). Land is steeped in sacredness, whether one sees these as individual spirits (what one might call land wights, or nature spirits) or part of a greater (almost pantheistic) spirit is (IMO) beside the point. It has been my experience that the land doesn’t care about what you call it, it cares that you have heard its call (and it doesn’t care whether you believe that call is literal or figurative).

A Nature or Earth centered Pagan may work with only one of these aspects–spirits, nature, and Nature; a naturalistic Pagan might work with nature, an animist might work with their local bioregion, a pantheistic Pagan with Nature Herself, etc. Or a Nature-centered Pagan may work in the area where Nature and the gods overlap (if we think of this as a Venn diagram), or with all three aspects. Either way, the focus for most Nature centered Pagans generally seems to be building a relationship between the various aspects of nature and one’s self. This may mean building a relationship with one’s local land spirits, incorporating service and/or activism as a sign of reverence (which can be as simple as picking up trash at the local park), or creating a tradition unique to yourself and your bioregion. For me, it includes all of the above, as well as things like being ecologically thoughtful about my offerings, being a conscious and responsbile consumer, and striving to teach all of these things to my children.

I found it surprising that Albertsson didn’t address nature worship much as part of “connecting with spirit”, as he comes from an ADF background (though I suppose one could argue that he does address various ways to do so in the rest of the book).  ADF considers nature part of the Three Kindred–gods, nature, and ancestors.  The ADF Dedicant Path though the Wheel of the Year (a book that can be used to help complete ADF’s Dedicant Path) explains Nature awareness as having three facets–awareness of the physical and material existence of nature, an awareness of the spirits of Nature, and the awareness of the Earth as a sort of Mother deity (akin to what I call “Nature, Herself”).   One of the activities incalls upon its new members to find a place near enough to their home that they can visit it at least weekly for at least an hour, and to observe and experience that place with their entire being for the entire year of their Dedicant Path work.

I’m a big fan of the “find a place in nature and exhalt in spending time there regularly” practice as the most effective way to connect with nature. Too bad there isn’t a simpler word for that idea the English lanugage–after all, the Norwegians have the word friluftsliv and the Japanese have the term shinrin yoku, both of which come close…  The myriad of physical benefits from spending time in Nature–decreased stress, improves memory and attention (especially for persons with ADHD), an increased sense of vitality, and a strengthened immune system (to name a few) should have Pagans (of all sorts) lining up to go outside on a regular basis.  Physical reasons for going outside and spending time in nature aside, Paganism is ultimately a religion steeped in the idea of gods that are of this world–gods that are imminent and accessible, that are the forces and features of this existence.

If we truly believe this, whether we do so literally or figuratively, I would hope our worship would include getting to know those forces and features beyond the personality said to represent them. Spend an hour in nature (at least) each week. Learn about your bioregion, your ecosystem, your backyard.  You don’t have to do anything crazy or go anywhere fancy, though activities (like flying a kite to get to know your local Air or planting a native garden to attract your local animal spirits) can absolutely be a part of this process.  Pick up a field guide or two, go on a plant walk with your local Native Plant society, volunteer for a bird count with your local Audobon, pick up trash at the park where you walk your dog.  Talk to your garden, sleep in your woods, swim at your beach.  And do them all with reverence. But no matter what you choose do, let your feet greet the earth and get to know your bit of land, in both the mundane sense and the spiritual sense.

Once you’ve gotten to know your bioregion, make an offering to it or to an aspect of it that you are interested in working with, or to a particular spirit of your region, or to a deity or entity that you feel is representative of your bioregion at large or a particular aspect of it.  Whichever one of these options you choose (or which ever one chooses you) is, in my experience, largely unimportant–it is my experience that the land doesn’t care what you call it or how you relate to it (provided it is in keeping with its features and forces), it “cares” that you are called.  Beyond that, the process of getting to know a landspirit can be much the same as the process in getting to know any other deity.    I would also hope (and here’s where I will take great effort to stay off my soapbox as to not get off topic) that if our spirituality includes the idea of these forces and features as sacred that our everyday actions would reflect that concept of sacredness…particularly once we get to know them.

Thalassa’s Recommended Reading for the Nature-Centered Pagan:

*The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature by Emma Restall Orr
*Biophilia by Christopher Marley
*My “bioregional awareness” post, as well as a post on bioregional witchcraft, and another on spiritual bioregionalism
*The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram
*Bless the Waters Thrice: Making Environmentally Sustainable Offerings, What Will Druidry Look Like on Mars?, and Talking About Anthropocentrism in Modern Paganism (blog posts by Alison Leigh Lilly)
*The Song of the Land: Bioregional Animism, Land Guardianship, and How to Create a Genius Loci Profile (blog posts by Sarah Anne Lawless)
*The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
*The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough
*The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell
*A Pagan at Donner’s Pass, The Collapse of the West and the Future of the Human Species, and (blog posts by John Beckett @ Under the Ancient Oaks)
*Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie
*Deconstructing Local Mythologies, Only Connect, and Lost Watercourses and Resacredization (blog posts on Gods and Radicals)
*How Earth-Centered is Neo-Paganism Really? (blog post by John Halstead @ Humanistic Paganism)
*The World in One Cubic Foot: A Portrait of Biodiversity by David Liittschwager
*Depth Ecology (an essay by David Abram)
*A Natural History of the Senses and The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman
*The Meaning of Human Existence, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Future of Life, On Human Nature, Biophilia, The Diversity of Life, and Conscience: The Unity of Knowledge, all by E. O. Wilson