Bioregionalism: the belief that human activity, including environmental and social policies, should be based on ecological or geographical boundaries rather than economic or political boundaries (dictionary.com)
If you have been a follower of my blog, you are likely familiar with the idea of bioregionalism as applied to religion, so please forgive me for taking the time to define it once again. If you are new to my blog, or just missed those posts, bioregionalism is one of the foundations of my personal beliefs and practices as a Pagan, a witch, a Unitarian Universalist, a mom, and a member of this species we call Homo sapiens. It is something that I often talk about directly or allude to indirectly, but it has been a while since I’ve talked about it specifically…
In a bioregional spirituality, the bioregion*, and all of its inhabitants (including people, past and present) are an originatingor foundational inspiration for religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Practice is centered in the idea that the bioregion (or the bioregion as its various components, from the landscape to the flora and fauna) can take the place of a central deity or deities (or other entities), which are interacted with and celebrated via the spectrum of traditional (and nontraditional) human ideas of godhood . This interaction may be theistic (heno-, hard or soft poly-, or pan-, etc) or non-theistic (animism, pantheism, agnostic or atheist) in nature and may be based in the idea of gods as literal, symbolic, or something else. The deities through which the bioregion is interacted with range from a created (modern) or a historical (even reconstructed) pantheon, or may literally be the natural features of the bioregion themselves.
Bioregionalism** when it is applied to spirituality calls upon us to worship (or not) in those ways that bring ecstasy and reverence for the very experience of living while honoring the cycles and stages of the bioregion and its inhabitants–this may include shamanistic practices, eclectic practices, or reconstructed practices that have been adapted to our personal bioregions. Either way, the point of a bioregionally centered religion is to (literally, symbolically, and spiritually) touch the earth and to grok ourselves as part of it. A spiritual bioregionalism calls on us to reclaim our wildness and reconcile it with our civilization through a reexamination of our relationships within the web of life.
We are children of Earth, children of Nature. To borrow some words from Neil deGrasse Tyson, “The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.” Our species has been forged by life on the savannas of Africa and molded by steppes and jungles, mountains and deserts, forests and bogs, and the vast icy reaches of the north. Our cultures have evolved just as our bodies have to meet the challenges of varying ecosystems.
Somehow though, we have forgotten that we are animals. We have forgotten that we are are just two footed, upright walkers with opposable thumbs, big brains and a relatively long childhood. As we have been shaped in our crucible of civilization, we have forgotten that our nearest evolutionary cousins still live in the trees. And generally speaking, this is a good thing. We humans have done amazing things. We have explored the length and breadth of our planet (and a wee bit of its depths). We have traveled into the vacuum of space, and stepped foot onto another piece of rock orbiting in space. We have traveled into our own bodies, into our very cells, and decoded our DNA (though we still have work to do in making sense of it all). We have made fire…and discovered the pieces that make up the fabric of the Universe.
But we have also broken our covenant with the land, our relationship with nature, and we have indulged too much in our distrust of one another. The responsibilities of the guest in the Oikos of Earth have been abandoned. We have been reckless, we have lost our compassion. We (specifically those of us in Western nations) have mostly forgotten what it feels like live on the land, to be subjected to the whims of Nature–of weather, predators, famine, of darkness. We no longer recognize pietas terra**–the piety, reverence, or service we owe to the immanence of Nature and to its representatives (if one believes in them literally) and its inhabitants–including ourselves. This is not a reason to be misanthropic (if H. sapiens has its own version of kryptonite, its its guilt-ridden self-loathing) it is a reason to be hopeful, because we have never before had such a capacity to consciously understand and work with and work within nature, and such an incentive to do so.
Bioregionalism demands a recognition of our locus***, a reclamation of ourselves as part of our locus, and a reimagining of our relationships with the other inhabitants of our locus (as well as the with the inhabitants of other loci). And since a spiritual or religious bioregionalism requires us to become rooted in our locus, we need to get to know our bioregion. We have to–it is a physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual imperative…and a moral one as well. We need to know its inhabitants (flora and fauna both) and understand its history–its geological history, its ecological history, and its human history. We must find our place, a sustainable place as one among equals, in our ecosystems…or with time, we will perish as a species that failed to live up to its potential. We can’t claim**** to be part of an interconnected web of all existence (to borrow a phrase from Unitarian Universalism) spiritually or magically if we don’t understand it physically or mundanely.
As my regular readers may know, we have just moved. And not just a little move, but a geographical shift of 3 states to the south (and over 6 degrees in latitude). Moving any distance, in all practicality, often means a new history of the land and peoples that have inhabited it, new flora and fauna, new ecosystem interactions, a new watershed and land and terrain types, new rock formations… The seasons change, the significance of the Longest Day (Midsummer) and Longest Night (Yule) changes, seasonal holidays (WotY or otherwise) shift in meaning or timing. Certainly there are similarities–many plant and animal species have large ranges, or have closely related species that inhabit similar habitats (or have adapted to quite different habitats); many traditional medicinal plants, magical plants, and foragables are naturalized or invasive species that are ubiquitous (sometimes globally so) in their range. But the feel of the land is different, the voice of its spirit sings to the soul with a different flavor, a different texture…and it takes time to learn its rhythms, to grok its presence. For us, this year will be a time of readjustment and change, of meeting new places and making friends with new plants…
I hope you will continue to experience it with us!
*a bioregion is an area with similar natural characteristics, including plant and animal life, human culture, climate, and continuous geographic terrain
**pietas terra is my own term, not anything official or historical (nor maybe even gramatically correct Latin)
***locus is a term adopted by mathematics (meaning a point or points (plural, loci) whose coordinates fulfill a particular equation or set of conditions) from Latin, where it means a location, spot, place, or position, it can also refer to a center of activity or focus of attention.
****I get it, not everyone claims to be a nature-based Pagan. But ancient pagan religions are based in a human relationship with the land as much as with the gods. Religion was fully integrated into their cultures; ceremonies and rituals and traditions are not just for the gods. Sacrifices to the sea for a good haul while fishing, or to the field for a good harvest, or to the spirit of the spring for clean water or good fortune is as much a part of Paganism as sacrifices to whichever deity one fancies.