Call for a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

Call for a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment August 29, 2014
“Earth-centered World” by Glynn Gorick


In honor of Earth Day, the statement has been published at where you can add your signatureThe statement represents the beginning of a conversation, not the final word. Join us in our call to all people to rise to this historic moment in order to protect all life on Earth by signing the statementYou can sign on your on behalf or on behalf of a group or organization.


I am very pleased to announce that the DRAFT Pagan Community Statement on the Environment is available for a period of public comment.  The public comment period will be open until April 21, 2015.  Share your comments at

The Statement will be published in its final form on Earth Day, April 22, 2015, when it will be made available for electronic signature.  The Statement only represents you if you sign it.  Please wait until April 22 to add your signature.

A lot of hard work has gone into the draft Statement over the past 6 months.  It has been an honor to work with everyone who participated in the process, many of whom have been working for reform of our relationship to the environment for longer than I have been a Pagan.  If you would like to know more about the working group that drafted this statement or our process, click here.

A week ago, the Covenant of the Goddess adopted a formal position on environmental issues. It’s an excellent statement, both poetic and practical. I have republished it below for your reading. The statement was proposed and developed by M. Macha NightMare, who has every reason to be proud of this accomplishment.

But what strikes me most about this statement is its tardiness.  It is 2014.  2014!  The Covenant of the Goddess was founded almost 40 years ago.  And the publication of this statement tends to highlight its previous absence.

Neo-Paganism’s Promise

I don’t mean to single out the CoG.  Neo-Paganism has been around for even longer — 47 years if you date it to the founding of Feraferia, the Church of all Worlds, and NROOGD.  Back then, Neo-Paganism showed real potential as a new “Earth religion”.  Feraferia and the Church of All Worlds in particular styled themselves as nature religions, with ambitious goals short of nothing but saving the world from itself.  In 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day was celebrated, the founder of the Church of All Worlds, then Tim Zell, had a vision of Mother Earth as a living planet several years before James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis was popularized, a vision which the CAW membership application required dedication to:

“In dedication to the celebration of life in its many forms, I hereby declare my commitment to a way of life that is ethical, benevolent, humanistic, life-affirming, ecstatic and ecologically sane. I subscribe to means and methods that are creative rather than destructive, tolerant rather than authoritarian, gentle rather than violent, inclusive rather than exclusive. I pledge myself to harmonious eco-psychic awareness with the total biosphere of holy Mother Earth.”

Neo-Paganism has always existed at the intersection of an esoteric Self-centricity and an exoteric Earth-centeredness, but Zell and others, like Morgan McFarland and Penny Novack, helped push Neo-Paganism in the direction of truly deserving the name “nature religion”.  In the first edition of Drawing Down the Moon in 1979, Margot Adler documented a worrying lack of political will among Neo-Pagans.  But by the time of the revised and expanded edition in 1986, Adler reported that things had shifted and Neo-Pagans had found a will to effect change.  A large part of this shift has to be credited to Starhawk, who consistently and vocally argued that magic without action is no magic at all.  Starhawk taught us that it is not enough to believe the Earth is a living being, we have to act like it.

A Promise Unfulfilled

So where are we today? John Beckett has recently reported on a study by Dr. Kimberly Kirner, which raised troubling questions about the depth of Neo-Pagan commitment to our vision of a living planet:

“While practices related to nature spirituality and connecting to place were statistically correlated to a higher frequency of political action (such as signing petitions or writing letters) and environmental education, initial statistical analysis has not indicated any correlation to household-level actions for sustainability itself (such selecting a smaller home or using less electricity).

“Across Pagan traditions and for both solitary and group practitioners, Pagans’ overall household ecological footprint in the United States is statistically similar to the American average on multiple measurements: house size, meat consumption, transportation use, and other key factors related to a household’s contribution to ecological sustainability.”

Not only have we failed to convince the rest of the planet, but it would seem that we failed to even convince ourselves.

As I see it, Neo-Paganism has struggled throughout its history to reconcile its exoteric earth-centered principles with the esoteric Self-centered practices which it inherited from Wicca — which did not itself begin as a nature religion and only became one to the extent it merged with Neo-Paganism under the influence of ecofeminism in the 1970s.  This is reflected in how many of us, living in climates vastly different from Britain, still follow a Wheel of the Year derived from there.  Our Wheel, as Joanne Pearson has said, has been turning the seasons, rather than the other way around. It is reflected in many of our invocations of the elements, which sound more like Neo-Platonic essences than the very real ground beneath our feet, air in our lungs, and water flowing though our bodies.  Like Emerson, our “Nature” often seems to be more of a social construction than a direct experience, a romanticized or idealized nature that merely reflects our fantasies back to us, or a mere backdrop to our esoteric rituals.  Many of us seem to be, in the words of Steven Posch, “standing with our backs to the world” — both literally and figuratively.  We worship gods of nature, but not the God(dess) that is nature?  And our “magic”, rather than being an expression of wonder, often seems to be just another attempt to achieve mastery over the natural world.  As Peg Aloi has recently written:

“There are now hundreds of thousands of people who identify as ‘pagan’ or ‘Wiccan’ or ‘Druid’ or what have you who have never conducted a ritual out of doors, who have never attended a festival at a campground, who have never planted a garden in honor of the Eternal Return of the Earth Mother in spring. Do they discuss the gods and their ritual practices and spells and theology? Sure! But do they get their hands dirty, in actual dirt?”

But most of all, the conflict is reflected in the hypocrisy documented by Dr. Kirner above.  (And I include myself in this indictment.)

We are rapidly approaching the point of no return.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I am still glad that CoG has published its position statement. Better late than never.  And I don’t want to downplay the important work that many Pagans have done and continue to do, from Starhawk to some of the very people who blog here at Patheos.  But we as a community are shamefully behind the times.

It was 1986 when the World Wildlife Fund brought together Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Islamic leaders in the Italian town of Assisi (chosen for its association with St Francis of Assisi, the Catholic “saint of ecology”) to produce declarations to their respective faithful that they live up to their sacred duty to nature.  Did you know there is a “Muslim Seven Year Action Plan on Climate Change”?  By 1995, Baha’i, Daoists, Jains and Sikhs had joined, and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation was created.  Even the Zoroastrians have joined.  No disrespect intended, but that’s one religion that may have even fewer members than Pagans.

Of course, the Neo-Pagans were not invited.  But still, where was our declaration?  Where is our action plan?  We’re too busy scattering the proverbial cats to notice that the ale for our “Cakes and Ale” is in styrofoam cups.  In 1986, Isaac Bonewits told Margot Adler that, while many Neo-Pagans were very concerned about environmental matters, “Most Neo-Pagans are too loose and liberal to be fanatic about anything, including their own survival.”  Little seems to have changed.  I imagine the reason we haven’t produced a community statement on the environment is because too many of us would scream, “Who are you to speak for me?” or even “The environment isn’t sacred to me!”  (According to Brendan Myers, similar objections were raised to the Pagan Community Statement on Sexual Abuse.)  If we can’t bring ourselves as a community to oppose the wholesale destruction of everything that makes this planet habitable to human beings, I wonder by what right we call ourselves “Pagan”, the “people of the land”.

Today I feel like we suck.

But I still believe.  I believe in Paganism.  I believe Paganism is a rich and complex tradition with the potential to transform consciousness and, dare I say, save the world.

But today let’s start with something practical.  Let’s start with a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.  The Covenant of the Goddess has even given us a good place to begin.  This is my challenge to you.

If you are interested in being a part of the process of drafting such a statement, please let me know in the comments below or email me at allergicpagan [at] gmail [dot] com.

UPDATE: The working group for the Draft Pagan Community Statement on the Environment is closed. Updates will follow when the Draft Statement is published for public comment.

Covenant of the Goddess formal position on environmental issues

We, members of the Covenant of the Goddess, honor the sacredness of Planet Earth and Mother Nature.

We honor the powers of Air and we rejoice in breathing fresh air and in all the creatures of air. We support efforts to protect the atmosphere that shields our planet and to ensure that our air is clean and refreshing.

We honor the fire of the Sun above and the fire within our Earth — the fires that warm us and transform us. We support efforts to provide sustainable energy to fuel our future without further damaging our ecosystem.

We honor the Waters of Life – springs, rivers, lakes and oceans – and the waters of our bodies – blood, sweat and tears –the waters that keep our bodies and our dreams fluid and ever-changing. We cherish all the creatures of water. We believe that access to clean water is a basic right, and thus we oppose privatization of water sources and efforts to deny anyone access to those sources. We support efforts to prevent and reverse pollution of our waters, to preserve groundwater, marshlands and the oceans that embrace our world.

We honor the Earth, our bodies, trees and plants, animals and rocks, and all that is manifest on this plane of existence. We support efforts to remediate damage, to conserve natural resources, to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity, and to maintain wilderness areas.

We stand at the Center, mindful of our interdependence as part of the Web of Life. We commit to support efforts to rebalance our wondrous world for future generations.

We know that climate change presents an imminent threat to humanity and other life on Earth. Since this imbalance is caused by human activity, we humans must accept responsibility for our actions and seek to reverse the damage and restore the balance.

We support local, regional, national, and global efforts to conserve natural resources, to seek clean, sustainable sources of energy, and to rebalance our world.


I should point out that there have been a couple of prior environmental statements by CoG’s predecessors: The Council of Themis, organized by the Church of All Worlds, Feraferia, and other Pagan groups, to be a Pagan ecumenical organization, issues a statement that says, in part, “ecology shows the pattern of man’s proper and creative involvement with Nature, that Nature which encompasses his own life and on proper relation to which his survival and development depend. Of all man’s secular studies, ecology comes closest to bringing him to the threshold of religious relationship to his world.”  In 1972, the Council of American Witches adopted a document titled “Principles of Wiccan Belief” that defined the central belief system of Wicca/Witchcraft for the general public. The second item declares: “We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.”

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  • Xiaorong

    I have always been really fond of Starhawk’s Declaration of the Four Sacred Things, as it is beautiful yet also takes a very strong, deep ecology stance. But I do admire the Covenant of the Goddess’s statement, which deals with some more specific environmental issues, and declares opposition/support for certain actions.

    Not sure where I’m going with this, just a thought I had.

    • Thanks! That’s another good starting point:

      Declaration of the Four Sacred Things

      The Earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, and earth.

      Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood, and body of the Mother, or as the blessed gifts of a Creator, or as symbols of interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.

      To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standard by which our acts, our economics, our laws, and our purposes must be judged. No one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy.

      All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other. Only justice can assure balance; only ecological balance can sustain freedom. Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call spirit flourish in its full diversity.

      To honor the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom, and beauty can thrive. To honor the sacred is to make love possible.

      To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences, and our voices. To this we dedicate our lives.

      • Falkenna

        A lot of good starts here; finding The Best is going to be the
        challenge! I think Starhawk’s first sentence would be highly
        controversial, at least continuing to use the word “conscious”. Her
        third paragraph (“the standard” by which to judge), however, is a crucial
        point, missing from the other proto-versions given here, which should be
        included. Or, perhaps it would also be too controversial, but I tend to
        think most Pagans who would be inclined to sign anything would support
        it. It would surely state how our position differs from those of other

  • Thinking about this, I can’t even see how to begin writing it. Paganism is diverse enough that we hardly even speak the same languages, theologically speaking.

    “Recognizing that the spirit is a part of life and not separate from it, we the Pagan community hold the world sacred of itself.
    “As humans, through rapid change, have moved out of harmony with their environment, we call on all people, members of our disparate communities or not, to work to reduce our impact on the land, water, air, and all life.
    “Recognizing our diversity, we know that there is no one path to this goal.
    “Nonetheless, we come together to recognize this worthy goal as one of the fundamental challenges of our time, and commit ourselves to it.”

    There, that’s my swing at a start.

  • A few random thoughts:

    Folks going through the motions and not connecting to the core of the religion they claim is hardly unique to Paganism. I don’t think we need to feel too bad about it — which is not to say we shouldn’t try to do something about it.

    It strikes me that language like “we support efforts” is weak tea. If something like this is going to be meaningful, it has to be about each of us taking action, not cheering on other people’s action. I’d suggest something more along the lines of “We pledge to make choices that [protect the ecosystem in various ways]”.

    If someone want to say “The environment isn’t sacred to me!”, well, then don’t sign on. No one has a trademark on the term, but IMHO you shouldn’t label yourself a Neopagan if that’s the case, since the Neopagan movement arises very much out of the 19th century concern with the effects of industrialization. (I talk a little about that here: ) Indeed, I’d suggest including that in the statement: “As [Neo]Pagans we are part of a stream of thought that has for two centuries spoken caution over humankind’s transformation of the planet.”

    • Amen, amen, amen. I agree you on all the above. I like your suggestion: none of this invoking the myth of the noble ecological pagan of antiquity.

  • Barefoot Pagan

    Apparently, I’m not a Neo-Pagan since I’ve never been to a campground.

    • Does your Paganism involve interaction with real live nature (i.e., outdoors) in other ways?

  • I agree with many of your points, though as with the attempts to create a statement about sexual abuse, perhaps the key to success is encouraging local groups or individual traditions to create their own statements of intention (or adapt them from examples produced by others). We seem to do best as a movement when we speak with many voices with similar sentiments.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Isaac was a major contributor to the 1972 Principles of Wiccan Belief, so no surprise that there was ecological content. It really was important to him.

  • It seems odd to me to read “I believe Paganism is a rich and complex tradition” when it can hardly be called a tradition – as if we all share the same way of doing things. On any one topic of practice you can easily have several very different approaches and reasons for doing so. Paganism is a group of traditions that somehow look similar to outsiders – those outsiders usually referred to as Abrahamic or Monotheistic, leaving everyone else lumped into the group of Paganism. So it can hardly be called A Tradition and therefore you are bound for divisions on any subject including this one. There are groups that have little to do with the environment and are happy to continue that way. While others the environment plays varying roles in practice. So the only thing I can think of is instead of calling on all Pagans for a Pagan Community statement on the environment, call on the nature oriented pagan practices to express official community statements on the environment – because it is relevant to them. Its otherwise more than likely to fail to have all Pagan groups unified on any single statement.

    The practice I follow is founded on such a statement:
    The Three Basic Tenets of Ehoah
    “Through Nature fulfillment can be found”
    “Nature, being inseparable from human existence is important in human pursuits”
    “As humans are a part of Nature, it is important to ensure our connections within it are harmonious”

    As a result there are a number of things that arise that are different from conventional Paganism, such as Saegoah Kalendars –

    A Saegoah Wedding Ceremony (time of celebrating human fertility)-

    Approach to directions in ceremony –

    And approach to our world in general –

    All are intrinsic to our surrounding environment, making it a strange thing to not act accordingly with respect to our ecosystem.

  • I share your frustration. The past couple of full moons in a row, our CUUPS group used disposable cups, and I winced. I feel validated about that now and have some ideas for how to change that practice.

    In order for people to truly, deeply commit to doing the hard work of personal growth and political activism and science and maybe washing some extra dishes, they must be convinced that doing so is worth it: that the work they do will matter, and that the work of ecological sustainability is the path to a happy life. In other words, the main work lies in changing people’s minds. Will an official statement do that? I don’t know. I think it’s an inside job that must be done by each individual. And as others note here, I’m not sure who would have the authority to speak for all of Neo-pagans anyway. But that said, I’m still interested in the statement you have in mind and would enjoy helping in whatever way I can. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Instead of a formal position statement, what about a set of recommended practices for cultivating awareness of the environment and our relationship with it?

    • Anna, I think that’s a great idea. I would love to see practical suggestions be a part of the statement. I’ll be in touch.

      • Anna, send me your email at allergicpagan [at] gmail [dot] com or friend me on Facebook so I can send you the info.

  • This has to be something each of us wrestles with daily. How do we responsibly use the wealth that we have exploited from nature? The devil is always in the details. For example, can we truly live up to these ideals when the computers we are using require rare earth elements – the very mining of which release radioactive materials into the environment? Do we stop using computers? Or does our very lifestyle make us hypocritical?

    I think the best we can do is honor that part of nature that was sacrificed so our civilization could come into being and continue while each doing our best to ensure we live as harmoniously with nature as possible.Being an example does not require activism. Best, IMO, for Pagan organizations to focus on our own spirituality and our personal relationship with the Goddess. If a Pagan wants to do more, there are plenty of other organizations one can join.

    • I understand every Pagan needs to work this out for themselves. And sometimes the size of the problem can seem so overwhelming it is easy to feel paralyzed. But I am increasingly seeing the idea of “focus[ing] on our own spirituality and our personal relationship with the Goddess” as just another form of escapism: What does having a personal relationship with the Goddess mean when in our daily lives we are not really trying to live in harmony with the Earth who is our Goddess?

      • The problem is overwhelming. However, I have come to realize that the Earth is more powerful than all of us, and that in the end, She will survive – even if we don’t. I also know, as I have a degree in geology with minors in chemistry and physics, that the graph presented in the article is pseudoscience. I can go into details as to why if you like, but it comes down to knowing how much CO2 was in the atmosphere in the past – and we didn’t have a tipping point. It comes down to knowing that in the past 100 million years, a phenomenal amount of CO2 has become tied up in limestone. How can the average Pagan separate “good” and “bad” science? I have problems sometimes, unless I dig into details that aren’t presented outside of the scientific literature.

        So John, to live in harmony with the Goddess are you willing to give up electricity, computers, vehicles – where is your line in the sand? My conclusion is that the root problem is presented as the black line in the graph – there are too many people for the entire human race to live in harmony with the Goddess. There is only one solution – and it didn’t work in China.

        • I don’t know where my line in the sand is. But I do know that I am nowhere near it right now. So rather than doing nothing, I choose to do something.

          • But what? Take our example. We live on 8 acres, mostly wooded, and grow about 50% of our own food, make our own alcoholic beverages (wine, mead, beer – no still, yet) and our own herbal medicines.The deer, chipmunks, squirrels, etc are compensated for loss of habitat with products from the garden. To be here, we likely have a larger carbon footprint than someone living in the city though, for it is a ways to the store, doctor, etc..

            Religiously, we honor those sacrificed so man can have civilization each August at our Festival of Tailtiu. Our Burning Man celebration in the Spring welcomes back the Earth’s fertility and adds nutrients to the garden in the form of ashes. In many traditions, it is the Lord who gives his strength to the harvest, dies and is reborn, and He is honored for this annual sacrifice. This is religious. I cannot think of a religious objection to responsible exploitation.

            What you speak of quickly becomes political. So without being hypocritical, how can we be generally against mining while using the products of the Earth? How can we be against logging while using the products of the forest? How can we be against fracking for petroleum while using petroleum products? I don’t know, because exploitation is destructive, yet necessary for us to have this conversation. There are always political objections to any kind of exploitation.

            • I agree with you, there are no easy choices, and there is no zero impact lifestyle. But the fact you are asking these questions (not to mention the other lifestyle choices you listed above) is more than I think most people are doing.

              I’m not suggesting that Paganism has all the answers that would solve climate change. But I do think we will find better answers if we can shift into an eco-centric paradigm. And that is one of the things that Paganism has the potential to do for people.

              So, to bring this full circle: When you said we should “focus on our own spirituality and our personal relationship with the Goddess”, I would agree with you *if* (1) your “spirituality” was also (at least partly) “materiality” and (2) the Goddess you mention is (at least partly) the very real ground underneath your feet, and not a romanticized abstraction. Based on what little you have shared here, it sounds to me like this would describe you.

              But again, my point here is not to tell anyone else how to answer the hard questions of how to live day to day — only that we need to be asking them.

            • I agree people have to ask the hard questions of themselves. Part of what I’ve attempted here is to expose some of those questions we have to ask of ourselves, and part of that is to look at our own hypocrisy. Can Paganism be unified on this issue? LOL – Can Paganism find itself unified on any issue! Have a good journey.

            • Thanks. Honestly I don’t think we’ll have any more or less of a problem than any other liberal religion or family of religions. While authoritarian religions appear to have more unity, I think much of it is a facade. There’s a lot of diversity even in authoritarian religions; people just work harder to hide it.

    • A Big Sarcastic Fairy!

      I agree with the first part of your comment. If we give up computers, then its cars, electricity, disease free water, access to the rest of the world, ad infinitum.

      • To be certain, not every environmental group is as radical as ELF, but when was the last time you heard of one saying “logging here is ok or mining here is ok”? How do we responsibly make the decision regarding what part of Nature we are willing to sacrifice for our computers, cars, electricity, etc.? Few of us have the technical expertise to even begin to address that question – yet there must be that balance. How can we take a stand as a Pagan community, without being hypocritical? Even our toothpaste requires sacrificing part of nature (cellulose, clay, fluoride, etc,). To me, it all goes back to defining what is a sustainable human population – but then how can that be enforced, except by Nature Herself?

  • Bob_Knows

    The only real environmental problem is the expanding human population. The only real environmental solution is to limit and reduce human population with “drastic” measures such as China’s “one child” policy. Nothing else will do any good. Every other “environmental” policy is feel good nonsense and political profiteering.

    • shalako7

      So the burning of fossil fuels has nothing to do with it???

      • Bob_Knows

        Nothing at all, shalako7. The burgeoning human population uses up available fossil fuels rapidly, and obliterates all in its path, but the problem is the number of people. Pretending that wasting money to chop up migratory birds while ignoring the problem does nothing at all to solve the problem. It only diverts public attention from the real problem.

        • shalako7

          I disagree with this elimination of the use of fossil fuels from a diagnosis of ‘the problem.” I agree that population is a huge factor but not the only one. Both of these causes of our environmental problems need to be urgently addressed.

      • The issue of CO2 is really quite an interesting one. Probably most people know that during the Cretaceous Period, the global temperature was higher than today – high enough for tropical conditions at the north pole. A large percentage of our fossil fuels formed during and since that time, so it seems that releasing the CO2 from fossil fuels would return us to those climatic conditions. However there are a number of factors that aren’t being considered in this simple logic.To start, ignoring living biomass, there are three major carbon sinks on the planet: dead biomass in the form of fossil fuels is likely the smallest of these three. Carbon dioxide dissolved in ocean water is certainly significant, but the release of carbon dioxide because of warming may not be as devastating as some of the more doomsday type environmentalists believe. Certainly warm us up to Cretaceous conditions and there will be some exsolution in the process. There is a study somewhere by Gary Landis when he was at the USGS – he measured the amount of CO2 in Cretaceous amber. While his results demonstrated incrementally higher amounts of atmospheric CO2, the air would certainly be breathable and we know the Earth was teeming with life at that time. But there is a third carbon sink that seems to be ignored in much of the literature on global warming – limestone. In the Southeast US and Mexico as well as several other places around the globe, massive amounts of limestone (CaO+CO2) – some over a mile thick, have been deposited during and since Cretaceous time (for example most of Florida, most of the Yucatan). This carbon sink has not been measured or estimated to my knowledge, but it may contain nearly as much CO2 as is dissolved in the oceans – I don’t know for sure because no one, to my knowledge has done that calculation. But that CO2, except for some very minor cement manufacturing, isn’t going anywhere. This is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that seems to be being ignored… How can I believe the prognosticators when such a major aspect of the problem seems to be ignored?

        I do agree with Bob_Knows: expanding human population is the root cause of all our environmental issues. How can Pagans, who generally celebrate the fertility of the Earth as something good, denounce the fertility of the Earth’s people as something evil?

  • shalako7

    some suggestions for practicing environmental good deeds: recycle all you can, plant a garden, plant a tree, become as close to a vegan/vegetarian diet as possible, reduce consumption of fossil fuels to a minimum, avoid using single-use plastic bags, avoid using clothing that requires the death or suffering of animals, reduce use of electricity.