What We Did Yesterday:
When 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.
*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
Ecosophy, or ecological wisdom starts with one’s wisdom about their own bioregion. As a Pagan, and a person that feels quite strongly about their bioregion, I think it our duty to get to know our personal loci and how interacts with the earth as a whole. As a witch, I think a useful way to do this is to look at the elements of our ecosystem as…well, as Elements.
If you have other activities or ideas that you can think of, particularly anything pertinent to a different ecosystem than mine, feel free to chime in!
Water is the only substance found naturally on earth in all three physical states–gas, liquid, and solid. In a 100-year period, a water molecule will spend 98 years in the ocean, 20 months as ice, about 2 weeks in lakes and rivers, and less than a week in the atmosphere. In terms of volume, if Earth were the size of basketball, its water would be the size of a ping pong ball. Water covers some 72% of the Earth’s surface, and 96.5% of it is ocean. Another 2% is frozen in permafrost, glaciers, and ice sheets. Most of the rest is groundwater, more than half of which is saline. The world’s rivers are the most used source of water, but if all the water in the world were “boiled down” to a single gallon, the world’s rivers would only be about 9 drops of water.
1) What is the water cycle and how does it work? Draw a picture of the water cycle.
2) List the Earth’s major oceans and river systems. How much is seawater, freshwater, landlocked, in the icecaps?
3) What watershed do you reside in? What type of pollution is the water in your watershed exposed to? How many people reside in your watershed area? How much area does it cover? What are the usage pressures on your watershed?
4) Where does your water come from, and how is it treated? In your home, what do you use water for? How much water do you use? How much water is used in household activities? Can you reduce the water you use?
5) Learn 5 species of native fishes. Are they common or are they threatened or endangered? What are their lifecycles? Do they face any ecological challenges? What role do they play in their ecosystem? Are they edible or useful to humans? What can you do to help to help their ecological success? If it is possible, go out and find them.
6) Learn 5 species of native aquatic plants, algae, or plankton. Are they common or are they threatened or endangered? What are their lifecycles? Do they face any ecological challenges? What role do they play in their ecosystem? Are they edible or useful to humans? What can you do to help to help their ecological success? If it is possible, go out and find them.
7) Learn 5 species of other native organisms such as shellfish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, etc that primarily reside in your area’s waters. Are they common or are they threatened or endangered? What are their lifecycles? Do they face any ecological challenges? What role do they play in their ecosystem? Are they edible or useful to humans? What can you do to help their ecological success? If it is possible, go out and find them.
8) What species in your watershed are invasive? Where are they found? How did they get there? What are the challenges of getting rid of them? How are they being combated? What species do they threaten and/or problems do they cause? What can you do to help remove them from your ecosystem? If it is possible, go out and find them.
9) How does the local population interact with your watershed? If you live somewhere where water is plenty, is there a dam or mill, is the economy dependent on commercial fishing or recreation such as boating or fishing, is there a naval base or coast guard station, or a port? If you live somewhere where water is scarce, how is water use managed? What are the challenges for farming or ranching or other water dependent activities?
10) Using the information in questions 2-9, re-vist question 1 and recreate the water cycle as it occurs in your specific watershed. Include yourself as part of the water cycle.
Action Bonus: List the things that you can do to protect your local watershed. Look up local organizations doing this work and volunteer and/or do some of these things on your own. Make this a regular part of your life, whether it be helping with the annual beach clean-up or taking a trash bag with you and cleaning up a local creek-side trail as you hike once a week.
Activities to try: (some ideas, which may or may not be applicable to your ecosystem) Swimming, fishing, boating, catching frogs, taking a visit your local water treatment plant, foraging for aquatic edibles, collecting shells, surfing, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, skipping rocks, visiting an aquarium, tending a home aquarium, volunteering with stranding rescue, cleaning up your local waterways, teaching water safety, etc
With kids: A dip net and a coffee can (to make an underwater view-finder) will go a long way. Add a bucket, a magnifying glass, and a field guide, and things get even more fun. There are any number of teacher’s guides online (like this one for 6th grade or this entire program) that offer lesson plans on stream ecology and stream sampling–many of these can be adopted for a family (heck, you don’t even have to be a kid to get something from it!). If you are willing to spend a little bit of money, a kit like this can be tons of fun!
In weaving, the warp is laid down first, lengthwise, and generally on a frame of some sort. The weft is then woven, over and under, up and down, line by line, to create an entire piece of cloth. They are so integrated that to remove either the weft or the warp completely destroys the fabric that has been produced, leaving it in a tangle of threads.
As an allegory, I think this describes perfectly how the material and immaterial (definition #2) weave together the fabric of the Universe. So much so, that I don’t see a division (in the final product) between the physical reality of the universe and the non-physical reality of the universe. There is a difference, yes…but not a division.
In a previous Pagan Blog Project post, I talked about a reoccurring theme on this blog, the idea of loving where you live. I worship (and by worship I mean that I celebrate, revere, honor, adore, devote myself to, make offerings to, and regard with awe and deference) nature (and by little-n nature I mean rocks and trees and lakes and ponds and birds and crocodiles and slime mold and slugs) as the physical body of Nature (and by big-N Nature, I mean The Big Mystery, aka The Divine, aka The Universe, aka Nature’s Consciousness) through the language and symbolism of deity (and by deity, I mean individual gods like Zeus or Brigid).
Admittedly, the idea of nature worship can be an idea that is not without its difficulties, difficulties that another blogger has tackled pretty thoroughly (if you click and read any links, read these two!). But this post really isn’t about that. This post is more about how, when I talk to nature, Nature often talks back. And how, when I talk to Nature, nature often talks back as well. And how I have chosen (or been chosen) to interpret deity/divinity in a particular way. How we have all been chosen to interpret deity and divinity in particular ways, rooted in our own independent and individual experiences of them.
Last time, for the PBP, I talked about consciousness. The ultimate question of consciousness is the question of how the physical processes occurring in the brain (such as those that occur when sensing an event) transform into the subjective experiences of the person? What makes the firing of neurons, the flow of electrons, the transmission of neurotransmitters become something that is unique to each person, that can ultimately be seen differently, felt differently? So far, this is a question that is unanswerable by science–not because we lack the technology or understanding, but because it is largely untestable.
In my post, I talked about ourselves as a “cauldron of consciousness”, that I think that the place where we meet That Which Is Divine, however it chooses to reveal itself to us (or how we are able to interpret it) is here, in the space between sensing something and experiencing it. For me, deity is nature–it is rock and tree and sea and sky. It is also Nature–as Rock and Tree and Sea and Sky. They are separate, but so tightly woven together that they are one. For me, my experience of deity has worn into my brain an idea that isn’t quite animism, or pantheism, or polytheism, but contains elements of each.
When I go to the beach and make an offering to Psamathe, I am honoring the beach itself–the convergence of the physical elements and magical ones, as much as the Nereid of Greek mythology. I believe in a Divine Universe, woven into the physicality of the physical universe, where everything is ensouled.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself getting very, very small. Very, very small, and all curled up, waiting for something.
The smaller you get, the more squished you get, and you start to turn green. The greener you become, the smaller you get, until you are the size of a pea, perched high up in the air…until you are a small, green leaf, curled up into a tiny bud on the top branch of a tall oak tree.
The air is cold, and you shiver in the icy breeze of winter, in the rain and snow…but as the days go by, you feel the sun growing stronger and stronger, as the light shines on you just a little bit longer.
You rest, tiny and green, curled up on your branch, inside of your bud, waiting for the sign that the time is right.
The day has come!
After a long, cold winter, it is finally warm enough for you to break free of your bud! You unfurl into the breeze, attached to your branch with your petiole “foot”, swaying from side to side.
You have emerged as a little green leaf, on the top branch, of a tall oak tree.
Stretch yourself into the sun and let its warm rays sink into you. Inside of you, your chlorophyll starts to collect pieces of sunlight. It is your chlorophyll that makes you green, and makes food for you to grow and for the rest of your tree.
As you bask in the sun, you take those pieces of sunlight and turn it into food with your chlorophyll in a process called photosynthesis. You breathe through tiny little holes on your underside called stomata.
You have now grown into a big green leaf, waving in the summer sun, from the top branch, of your tall oak tree.
Every day, you draw water and nutrients up your petiole that has traveled up from very end of the roots of your tree, into your tissues, to stay strong and healthy. In return, you send the sugar you make as food down your veins, through your petiole back into the tree, which sends it to the places where it is needed that cannot make their own food.
You might just be one green leaf of many on this tall oak tree, but by working together, you and your fellow leaves are able to make enough food to feed the tree, AND to store it for the long winter to come, AND to make the next generation of trees, by making acorns.
You help your tree grow thousands of acorns every year, all summer long.
And as the wind grows cooler, and the days grow shorter, you start to change colors. You know that you will not be able to get enough light to help your tree over the winter, which is why you worked so hard all summer long for your tree.
Your chlorophyll disappears, and all that is left is a beautiful red color, that the green had been hiding. No longer are you a green leaf–now you are a red leaf on the top branch of a tall oak tree.
You watch as your tree drops the acorns you helped create. Many different animals will eat some of acorns that fall on the ground. You watch as squirrels scurry about, burying the acorns, in the hopes that they keep them to eat over the winter. You know that the squirrels will probably forget some of those acorns, and new trees will get the chance to sprout and grow into another strong, tall oak tree.
You are a red leaf, on the top branch of a tall oak tree, and you know that it is almost time for you to fall. But that is alright, because you know that you have helped your tree make preparations for the winter and for a new spring. Even now, there are little tiny buds being made nearby on your branch, that will continue to help the tree, just like you.
As the year turns into autumn, the attachment to your tree becomes weak. And finally, in a strong breeze, your petiole foot lets go of the branch and you are released into the wind.
You are a red oak leaf, whirling and twirling, into the breeze, wondering where you will land.
But you know that even now, there is a little green leaf, all curled up in its bud, on the top branch of a tall oak tree…waiting for spring.