September 29, 2014

Neo-Paganism is a nature religion which, like other nature religions, perceives nature as both sacred and interconnected. From this perspective, humans in the developed world have become tragically disconnected from nature, which has been desacralized in both thought and deed. Healing this rift is possible only through a profound shift in our collective consciousness. This constellation of ideas can be called “Deep Ecology”. This is the third in a 6-part series about some of “branches” of Deep Ecology. This essay was originally published at

"Solastalgia" by Kate McDowell
“Solastalgia” by Kate McDowell

“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like tree.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

“… and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on …”

— Mary Oliver, “Bone”

In 1963, Robert Greenway coined the term “psycho-ecology” to describe the intersection of psychology and ecology. He also coined the term “Wilderness Effect” to refer to the psychological impact of extended stays in wild nature. Following Greenway, a growing body of writers came to see that our relationship with non-human reality, even if largely unconscious, is one of the most significant facts of human life, and one which we humans ignore at our peril. For example, in his 1982 book, Nature and Madness, Paul Shepard argued that healthy psychological development requires that children be bonded to nature and adolescents initiated into its mysteries. He also argued that there is a kind of literal madness in our destruction of our environment. Then, in 1992, Theodore Roszak coined the term “ecopsychology” to describe study of the interaction of psyche and nature.

Much of modern psychology assumes a divide between inner reality (mind) and outer reality (nature). The central problem of ecopsychology is to overcome this divide. The human mind does not stand wholly apart from the natural world, but is deeply rooted in and intertwined with it. Ecopsychology sees the human psyche as a phenomenon of nature, an aspect of the larger “psyche” of nature or “soul of the world” (anima mundi). By expanding the scope of psychology to include study of the relationship between humans and nature, ecopsychologists hope to give truer picture of human psychology.

By ignoring this relationship between the mind and nature, modern psychology helps to perpetuate the Western industrial world’s destructive state of estrangement from its Earth home, which has disastrous consequences for both our psyches and for the environment. Ecopsychologists maintain that the pursuit of mental and emotional well-being, on the one hand, and environmental health, on the other, are closely intertwined tasks — indeed, they are inseparable. John Davis explains the ecopsychological perspective in this way:

“The deep and enduring psychological questions–who we are, how we grow, why we suffer, how we heal–are inseparable from our relationships with the physical world. Similarly, the over-riding environmental questions–the sources of, consequences of, and solutions to environmental problems–are deeply rooted in the psyche, our images of self and nature, and our behaviors.”

Ecopsychologists believe that our psychological well-being requires establishing mature, reciprocal relationships with the natural world. Direct encounters with the natural world foster mental health and facilitate healing of emotional trauma and recovery from addictions, reduction of stress and strengthening of self-confidence, as well as cultivating peak experiences and fostering spiritual growth. Ecopsychological practices also include working with the grief, anger, and guilt caused by environmental destruction. Ecopsychology overlaps with various ecologically-oriented psychotherapies (Gestalt, body-centered, Jungian, transpersonal), as well as wilderness rites of passage, nature-based soul work, neo-shamanism, deep ecological councils, and other experiential programs for reconnecting with nature.

Ecopsychologists also explore the psychological dimension of the current ecological crisis, and trace the destruction of the natural environment to a consumeristic, ego-driven, Earth-alienated psychology. What is needed, according to ecopsychologists, is a realization of our “ecological self”. We need to cultivate an experience of nature, not as a resource pool for human use, but as the larger community of life of which we humans are a part. In this way, ecopsychologists hope to promote more effective strategies for environmental action and lifestyles which are environmentally and psychologically sustainable.

Recommended links:

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, ed. by Theodore Roszak

The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology by Theodore Roszak

Jung and Ecopsychology: The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe by Dennis Merrit

March 2, 2013

Check out my new post at Dreaming the Myth Forward: Jungian Eco-Psychology: Touching nature through psyche and psyche through nature.  I present some of the basic insights of a Jungian Eco-Psychology and put the Jungian concepts of a collective unconscious, Self, and individuation in an ecological context.

November 1, 2014

Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived in a 180-foot tall, 1500-year-old California Redwood tree (“Luna”) for 2 years to prevent it from being cut down

From Self-centric Paganism to earth-centered Paganism

“If you want to go live in a tree, just let me know.”

That was my wife’s recent response to my awkward attempt to tell her about the spiritual/emotional/psychological transition I am experiencing recently.  From someone else, I might have taken offense, but I knew she meant it.  That’s my wife — supportive and pragmatic.  She’s always been a “where the rubber meets the road” kind of gal.

It’s hard to put my finger on where it all started.  But over the past eight months or so, since Pantheacon, I have felt my spiritual orientation shifting from a mostly Self-centric practice to an increasingly earth-centered practice.  Actually, that statement is really misleading, because it implies that the two are different things.  This paradigm shift I am experiencing is more like the realization that Self and earth are not two things — something I’ve understood intellectually before, but am really experiencing now.  I was aware, in theory, that a Self-centric practice could lead to an earth-centric one, but now I’m living it.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but while Self-centric Paganism does lead “within”, ideally the path into the depths of one’s soul opens up on the other side to the world.  I think I’m starting to push through to the other side finally.  I guess deep ecologists call this the realization of one’s eco-self, ecological self or “more-than-human self”.  But those are just words.  The experience is something else altogether.

10425191_534002366704756_8091832837572784536_nStepping Stones Toward Eco-Consciousnes

Several events have helped push me along my way, including …

It’s been a busy year.  And then there was the smell of burning leaves on the crisp autumn air last week.  And the taste of raspberries from the plants in my backyard, and some of the last tomatoes from my garden.  And the sound of wild geese flying south, “announcing my place in the family of things.”   And dozens of other “ordinary” experiences, which I have a tendency to leave out.  I can be overly cerebral when I reconstruct important events in my life and leave out these visceral experiences, which are at least as important, I think.

“For me, love is not about froufrou New Age-ism. It’s about a way of living and honoring the interconnectedness of life and accepting our responsibility and our power to change the world for the better.” — Julia “Butterfly” Hill

“We are already living in a tree.”

All of this culminated in my attempt to explain this shift to my wife the other day.  “If you want to go live in a tree, just let me know,” she said.  I didn’t know how to respond at the time.  Later, as I reflected on it, I thought, “We are already living in a tree.”  I think that insight might sum up the shift in perspective I am experiencing.

I suppose one might take a statement like that metaphorically, I meant it quite literally.  We are already living in a tree.  Not in the way Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived in a tree, but in another, no less literal sense, I think.  Our house is made of wood … and thus, of trees.  The floors we stand on are made from trees.  The walls are framed by wood from trees.  The roof built of wooden beams and planks from trees.  In a very real sense, I am living inside of trees.

You may find that statement obvious … mundane and pedantic even.  But to me it seems profound, because it really isn’t obvious to me, not in the course of my day-to-day life at least.  You see, I live in the illusion of separateness from nature … an illusion created by artifice.  I am surrounded by “artificial” objects and structures that don’t seem to be a part of “nature” — but they are.  Even the ubiquitous plastics ultimately originate from organic sources, and even inorganic metals are part of the earth.  All of this is “nature” … even me.  Even my body.  Even my thoughts and feelings are grounded in the electrochemical reactions of my brain, heart and gut.

“Living what is not life”

But that is not my ordinary way of perceiving reality.  Even though I don’t believe it, I still move through the world as if I were a “ghost in a machine” and the world just a collection of objects “outside” of me.  I am coming to believe that this illusion of separateness is crafted and maintained deliberately — not by a cabal of Illuminati in smoke-filled rooms, but by all of us, individually and collectively, in an effort to avoid the ineluctable fact that we are all going to die someday.

We hide from ourselves our immersion in nature.  We do this by surrounding ourselves with artifice — things which are nature, but appear to be otherwise.  So much so that I can forget that I am already living in a structure made of trees, that something died so I could have shelter.  Just as I eat prepackaged food so that I forget that something died to sustain me.  I do this so can bury a little deeper the knowledge that I myself will die and be someone else’s food — and perhaps millions of years from now be a part of someone else’s shelter.

The trick is to keep this knowledge — this feeling — in the forefront of my mind, to resist the inertia of existence which forces it into the background.  That’s been hard.  I’ve been struggling to resist the draw of distractions which seem to place invisible barriers between me and that experience of participation.  “I did not wish to live what is not life,” Thoreau famously wrote.  What insight is in that simple statement: that it is possible for human beings to live what is not life … and that this should be the most ordinary of things for us, that we must actually exert effort to do otherwise!

And when I manage to hold it, then comes the really hard question … how to live with this knowledge?  What does this mean for my day to day life? — that’s what my wife wants to know.  One of the commenters to another post tells me it’s all futile and that my use of a computer to blog about this makes me a hypocrite.  Selectively changing individual consumption habits may not avert environmental catastrophe brought on by global warming, but are there other reasons to change?  I think there are.  I think about that story of the boy and the old man on the beach and I think, perhaps it is not a question of our saving the lives of all the starfish or even of individual starfish, but of the starfish saving our lives.  Perhaps there is no better reason than that I no longer want to live in a world that has had all the life methodically sucked out of it, a sterile world of things and not beings. Perhaps there is no better reason than that fleeting, but very real feeling of being a temporary knot in the immense web of life, a feeling that I think jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was describing when he said:

“Life is a roar of bargain and battle, but in the very heart of it there rises a mystic spiritual tone that gives meaning to the whole. It transmutes the dull details into romance. It reminds us that our only but wholly adequate significance is as parts of the unimaginable whole. It suggests that even while living we are living to ends outside ourselves.”

October 22, 2014


Read and Sign “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”

20 Things You Can Do To Honor the Earth

  1. Vote Responsibly
  2. Take Direct Action
  3. Organize Your Community
  4. Overturn Citizen United
  5. Save Biodiversity
  6. Use Your Privilege for Good
  7. Source What You Consume
  8. Eat Green, Eat Local
  9. Build Community
  10. Become a Social Justice Warrior
  11. Talk About Climate Change
  12. Ground Your Rituals
  13. Learn Old Skills
  14. Reconnect with Wild Nature
  15. Fight Capitalism
  16. Restory the World
  17. Let Yourself Grieve
  18. Face Your Death
  19. Take Care of Yourself
  20. Share A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

The Greening of Paganism

Part 1  Part 2

The Deep Ecology Series

Roots of the Deep Ecology Tree

The Transcendentalists, “An Original Relation to the Universe”

John Muir, “Prophet of the Wilderness”

Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain”

Rachel Carson, “A cry in the wilderness that changed the world”

The Neo-Pagans: “The Dirt Worshippers”

What is Deep Ecology?

Branches of the Deep Ecology Tree

The Gaia Theory: Reuniting our bodies and nature

Neo-Animism and Bioregionalism: Reuniting human and nature

Ecopsychology: Reuniting our minds and nature

Ecofeminism: Reuniting the masculine and nature

Interlude: The Maidens of the Wells: An ecofeminist myth

Ecotheology: Reuniting God and nature

Nature Religion: Reuniting religion and nature

Fruits of the Deep Ecology Tree




Wilderness and Rewilding

Connecting with Nature

Other Links

Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Ideas (video)

“The Land Ethic” by Aldo Leopold

“Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold

“Some Fundamentals of Conservation in the Southwest: Conservation as a Moral Issue” by Aldo Leopold

Covenant of the Goddess formal statement and policy regarding the environment

“Neo-Paganism: An Old Religion for a New Age” by Otter G’Zell, Church of All Worlds (1970)

“Nature Religions & Fertility Religions” by Jon Hanna

“Neopaganism: A Twenty-First Century Synthesis of Spirituality and Nature” by Paul Chase

“Ecofeminism, Neopaganism, and the Gaia Movement in the Postmodern Age” by Michael Werner

“The Deep Ecology Platform” by Arne Naess and George Sessions

“Deep Ecology” by Bron Taylor and Michael Zimmerman

“Beyond Anthropocentrism” by John Seed

“Depth Ecology” by David Abram

“Radical Environmentalism” by Bron Taylor

Bron Taylor bibliography

Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings by John Seed, Joanna Macy and Pat Fleming

“Animist Manifesto” by Graham Harvey

Interview of David Abram

“Bioregionalism” by Michael Vincent McGinnis

“Bioregionalism: An Ethics of Loyalty to Place” by Bron Taylor

“Ecofeminism: Historic and International Evolution” by Laura Hobgood-Oster

“The Death of Nature” by Carolyn Merchant

“Is Male to Female as Nature Is to Culture?” by Sherry Ortner

“The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought” by Susan Bordo

“The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” by Lynn White

“The Religious Background of the Present Environmental Crisis” by Arnold Toynbee

Matthew Fox and Creation Spirituality

“Evolutionary Evangelism” of Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow

The Assisi Declarations

“Nature Religion as a Contemporary Sectarian Development” by Michael York

Alliance for Wild Ethics

Wallace Stegner’s “Wilderness Letter”

“Rewilding Witchcraft” by Peter Grey

“Sometimes a Wild God” (poem) by Tom Hirons (listen to the reading by Mark Lewis)

“Nature Religion for Real” by Chas Clifton

October 21, 2014


This post concludes my month-long series on Deep Ecology, exploring its “roots”, “branches”, and “fruits”. A map is provided below. (And if anyone would like to design an interactive tree graphic for me, I would kiss your feet.)

Roots of the Deep Ecology Tree

The Transcendentalists, “An Original Relation to the Universe”

John Muir, “Prophet of the Wilderness”

Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain”

Rachel Carson, “A cry in the wilderness that changed the world”

The Neo-Pagans: “The Dirt Worshippers”

What is Deep Ecology?

Branches of the Deep Ecology Tree

The Gaia Theory: Reuniting our bodies and nature

Neo-Animism and Bioregionalism: Reuniting human and nature

Ecopsychology: Reuniting our minds and nature

Ecofeminism: Reuniting the masculine and nature

Interlude: The Maidens of the Wells: An ecofeminist myth

Ecotheology: Reuniting God and nature

Nature Religion: Reuniting religion  and nature

Fruits of the Deep Ecology Tree




Wilderness and Rewilding

Connecting with Nature

October 3, 2014

Having just talked about ecofeminism, I think now might be a good time to pause and and tell a story.


The Wasteland in the Grail Myth

This story comes from the Arthurian Grail mythos.  You’ve probably heard of the search for the Holy Grail undertaken by King Arthur’s knights.  One of the scenes which recurs in several versions of that story is the chapter about the Fisher King and the Grail Castle.  If you are familiar with the Arthurian Grail mythos, you might agree with me that one of the most perplexing parts of the story is the origin of the Wasteland.  In the various versions, one of the knights comes upon the Grail Castle and meets the “Fisher King” or “Rich Fisher” (probably an allusion to Jesus).  In the course of his stay, the King is wounded, usually stabbed somehow by a spear in the thigh or genitals.  This wounding mysteriously causes the country around the Grail Castle to become barren.  Thereafter, it is called the “Wasteland”.  And it becomes the quest of the knight to restore the king and the land to health.

This myth relates to the idea, described by James Frazer and others, that a special “sympathetic” relationship exists between a ruler and the land.  In some cases, he is symbolically wedded to the land, which is symbolized by a Goddess of sovereignty.  The relationship is such that, if somehow the king becomes physically impaired or morally unworthy, then the land would then cease to be fertile.

The various Grail texts are, however, confused and contradictory with regard to the cause of the original wounding of the Fisher King and the creation of the Wasteland.  But one obscure text, called the “Elucidation” explains the creation of the Wasteland in a novel way, which also has relevance for our lives today.  The anonymous text known as the “Elucidation” is a brief prologue to Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval. It was composed after Chrétien’s work, sometime during the early thirteenth century.  The “Elucidation” recounts the story of the “Maidens of the Wells” and attributes the creation of the Wasteland of the Grail myths to their violation by a King Amangon.  These well maidens are representatives of the Goddess of sovereignty, representatives of the fertility of the land.

This is the story:

414px-Siegfried_and_the_Twilight_of_the_Gods_p_162The Maidens of the Wells

The kingdom went to ruin,
The land was so dead and desolate
That it wasn’t worth two bits;
They lost the voices of the wells
And the maidens who dwelled in them.
Indeed, the maidens served a very important purpose:
No one who wandered the highways,
Whether at night or in the morning,
Ever needed to alter his route
In order to find food or drink;
He had only go to one of the wells.
He could ask for nothing
In the way of fine and pleasing food
That he would not have forthwith,
Provided he asked reasonably.
At once a damsel would come forth
From the well, as I understand:
Travelers could not have asked for one more beautiful!
In her hand she’d be bearing a golden cup
With bacon, meat pies, and bread.
Another maiden would come carrying
A white towel and a gold and silver
Platter, in which was
The food that had been requested
By the man who’d come to be fed.
He was warmly received at the well;
And if this food did not please him,
She would bring a number of others,
Joyfully and generously,
According to his desires.
One and all, the maidens
Happily and properly served
All those who wandered the highways
And came to the wells for food.

King Amangon was the first to violate their hospitality:
He behaved wickedly and underhandedly;
Afterwards many others did likewise
Because of the example given
By the king who should have protected the maidens
And guarded and kept them safe.
He forced himself upon one of the maidens
And deflowered her against her will
And took the golden bowl from her
And carried it off along with the girl,
Then had her serve him ever afterwards.
Ill luck was to come of it,
For no maiden served again
Or came forth from that well
To help any man who happened by
And requested sustenance there;
And all other [travelers] followed [the king’s example].
God! Why didn’t the other vassals
Act according to their honor?
When they saw that their lord
Was raping the maidens
Because of their beauty,
They likewise raped them
and carried off the golden bowls.
Never afterwards did any maiden serve
Or come forth from any of the wells;
Know that this is the truth.
My lords, in this way
The land went into decline
And the king who had so wronged them
And those who’d followed his example
All met a dreadful end.
The land was so wasted
That no tree ever bloomed there again,
The grasses and flowers withered,
And the streams dried up.
Afterwards no one could locate
The court of the Rich Fisher,
Which had made the land resplendent
With gold and silver, splendid furs,
Precious brocaded silks,
Fine foodstuffs and cloth,
Gerfalcons and merlins,
Goshawks, sparrowhawks, and falcons.
In earlier days, when the court could be found,
There was throughout the land
Such an abundance of riches,
Of all those I’ve named here,
That everyone, rich or poor,
Was awestruck at the wealth.
But now it has lost everything.

(You can read the full text of the “Elucidation” here.)

In “The Rape of the Well-Maidens: Feminist Psychology and the Environmental Crisis” (published in Theodore Roszak’s Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind (1995)), Mary Gomes and Allen Kanner draw the connection between the “Elucidation” and our present environmental crisis.

“This story illustrates a key insight of ecofeminism: that the despoiling of the Earth and the subjugation of women are intimately connected. It is not a coincidence that when women are raped, the land becomes parched and desolate, and when ‘feminine’ qualities are oppressed, the human mind is cut off from participation in the mystery and left with a disenchanted world. In patriarchal cultures, it is common to find patterns of domination and control aimed at both women and the land.”

The maidens represent the life-sustaining quality of the earth giving each person we need “provided he ask reasonably”, as the text says.  But we have not “asked reasonably”.  We have violated the earth, just as King Amangon and his knights violated the maidens of the wells.  Rape may be understood as a denial of the personhood of the victim.  Similarly, we deny the personhood of the other-than-human beings that are a part of our biotic community.  And just as the land of Logres became dead and desolate, the trees ceased to bloom, the grasses and flowers withered, and the streams dried up, so too we are witnessing the desolation of our environment.  The “Elucidation” at least suggests that the wounding of the land was the cause of the wounding of the Fisher King (and the disappearance of his castle), not the other way around.  Similarly, in wounding the earth, we have wounded ourselves.

But the story does not end there.  Later, Arthur’s knights come across a band of maidens and knights in the forest.  Initially the fight, but eventually Arthur’s knights learn that the maidens  are the daughters of maidens of the wells (and perhaps the knights are their sons), “offspring of both nature’s guardians and its destroyers”, as Gomes and Kanner write.  They wandered the land, seeking the castle of the Fisher King, which had vanished when the maidens were violated.  We are all those maidens and those knights, children of a violated earth, bearers of “the dual inheritance of the destructive aspects of our culture and the living soul that continues beneath it.”  But instead of searching for a lost paradise (like the maidens and the knights searching for the court of the Fisher King), we must find a way to restore the wells.  We must restore their divine guardians. We do this by restoring the sense of the sacred to the natural world which has been desecrated.  This is a new myth which we have to write together: The Restoration of the Maidens of the Wells.

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