When you need to pray, go down to the sea. Breathe with the rhythm of the wind and the waves. Become the sun, the tide, the salt marsh. Dig your toes into the soil of your locus, rooting your spirit into the oikos of Earth. 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.
Breathe in, breathe out, and breathe in again and again and again…when you are finished, when you are ready, you will find your way back to yourself. Cleansed of the stain of society’s expectations from your soul, embrace your true self. Walk back into the world of men and carry forth the heartsong of the egret. Know that you can return anytime, because you are only one small thought away from sacredness.
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). Listen to the poetry of the meadow, the protest song of dandelion-growing-in-sidewalk, or the soliloquy of the earthworm. Feel the rhythm of prairie grasses in the wind, the dance of fireflies in the spring, and the long, slow slumber of the winter garden.
It simply begins with loving where you live as an act of devotion.
In ancient Rome, the goddess Pietas (in ancient Greece, eusebeia/Eusebeia) was the personification of piety, a core personal and public virtue. The concept of pietas encompassed the obligations of the individual to the gods, to the city/empire (of Rome), to their community, to their family (the family station/reputation, the household and the family itself, both living and dead), and to themselves. This word represents the entirety of one’s responsibilities to fulfilling these social contracts. For those of us whose religion includes a relationship with the Earth, whether it be through the gods or through the literal dirt of our bioregion, this starts with the pietas erga terram–the piety, reverence, or service that we owe towards the immanence of Nature and to its representatives (if one believes in them literally) and its inhabitants–including ourselves.
The pietas erga terram references the sum of our personal and public duties, both magical and mundane, from the greater Oikos of Earth to our respective bioregions to our own backyards. If (as I have long asserted) a bioregional spirituality calls upon us to worship 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, touching the earth (literally, symbolically, and spiritually) as we reclaim our wildness and reconcile it with our civilization through a reexamination of our relationships within the web of life, then the pietas erga terram describes the obligations of such relationships, and is rooted in two key ideas: biophilia and ecosophy.
Biophilia–Biologist (and personal hero) E. O. Wilson popularized the idea of biophilia (a term coined by psychologist Erich Fromme) to refer to what he hypothesized was an intrinsic human tendency to affiliate with (and to take it one step further, to even empathize and bond with) other forms of life. In ancient Greece, “Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them.” (source) Bio-, then comes from the modern context (like in the word biology) of living organisms, or organic life (the original meaning of the word is somewhat different). Biophilia, as expressed in our individual and communal kinship with the earth and its creatures, declares human AND non-human life is intrinsically valuable, and that the worth of the latter is not dependent on its use by the former (item #1 on the Platform for Deep Ecology).
Ecosophy–The word ecosophy originally comes from the work of Arne Naess (the Father of Deep Ecology, who used it as a brangelina of ecological psychology) and Felix Guattari. Its meaning has deepened somewhat, and can be aligned more closely with the two Greek words that it originates from–oikos and sophia, home and wisdom (the home in question here being the greater Oikos of the Earth itself). I think the best conceptulization of ecosophy can be found in this quote by Raimon Pannikar, “Much more than a simple ecology, ecosophy is a wisdom-spirituality of the earth. ‘The new balance’ is not so much between man and Earth, but between matter and spirit, between spatio-temporality and consciousness. Ecosophy is not simply a ‘science of the earth’ (ecology) and even ‘wisdom on earth,’ but the ‘wisdom of the earth itself’ that occurs when a man knows how to listen with love.” Ecosophy, according to Druid John Michael Greer, is a worldview that “makes sense of human life not in terms of some imagined conquest of nature, but of our species’ dependence and participation in the wider circle of the biosphere.”
Next time, obligations of pietas erga terram…