I need to get back to Nature.
We cannot disengage from politics, or politics will be dominated by those who do not share our values and who do not have our best interests at heart. We know this, so many of us – myself included – put an incredible amount of time, energy, and money into this election. I can’t speak for everyone, but while I have maintained my daily spiritual practices and my seasonal observations, politics has taken a lot of time from my religion and my spirituality.
This was necessary, for reasons I’ve explained in depth on multiple occasions. But the fact that it was necessary doesn’t change the fact that when we cut back on what’s most important to us, we lose something.
I feel the need for a restart. And while this political cycle is not over, what with the Georgia Senate runoffs and Trump’s refusal to accept reality, we’re past the point where my constant involvement will significantly influence the outcome.
I don’t want to disengage from politics. But I do want to stop obsessing over them.
And so I want to go back to the beginning of my Paganism. I want to reconnect with the source of my inspiration and wisdom.
And that begins with Nature.
The Big Bang
We do not know how the universe began.
Physics does a great job of “rolling back the film” and seeing what happened over the past 14 billion years or so. But when it gets to a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the model breaks down. We don’t know what happened before the Big Bang, or if such a question even makes sense.
Fundamentalists argue their God created everything, but that just pushes the question back: where did their God come from? And if the answer is that their God always existed, then why can’t we just say that the universe always existed?
This much we know: everything we can see, hear, and touch in the material world was once compressed into an infinitely small, infinitely dense point.
And then it began to expand. Over billions of years, stars and galaxies began to coalesce. Then came planets. Then came biological life.
When you look up in the night sky, the light you see has been traveling in space for millions, and in some cases billions of years. The stars are so far away we can’t comprehend the distance, even if astronomers can measure it.
On one hand, we are all incredibly small and insignificant. On the other hand, we are part of a universe that’s billions of years old and billions of light-years in size.
These two statements form the foundation of my Paganism. We are tiny and brief and insignificant. And we are part of something huge and old and all-encompassing.
We are part of all that is.
All life on Earth is related
We do not know how life on Earth began. It’s possible life began and ended several times, but we have no evidence of that it did, and no way to know that it didn’t.
What we know is that about 3.7 billion years ago, life began. And this time it stuck. Every living thing is a descendant of that first single-celled organism.
Life began in the sea, then moved onto the land. Through the process of evolution, the lines diverged. The first primates appeared about 55 million years ago. Our line diverged from chimpanzees about 6 million years ago. Our species – homo sapiens sapiens – appeared about 200,000 years ago. Our most recent human relatives – the Neanderthals – died off sometime in the last ice age. Some of their genes live on in all of us except for Africans.
We are all related. All humans can trace their ancestry back to East Africa. We share 99% of our DNA with chimps, 90% with cats, and 50% with bananas.
When Saint Francis called the wolf his brother, he had no way of knowing just how right he was.
We aren’t just connected to everyone and everything else – we are related to every living creature on this planet.
We are dependent on the Earth for our survival
We evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and eat other living creatures. If we do not do these things we will die.
Over the past 300 years or so, we have become increasingly detached from the land. Today most of us live in cities or suburbs. Our food comes prepackaged from around the world instead of from the land on which we live. We have forgotten what it is to forage for roots and berries, to hunt, to grow crops, and to tend herds.
One of the drivers behind the modern Pagan movement has been the desire to reconnect with the land, and with the rhythms and cycles of Nature. We celebrate the Wheel of the Year in part because our ancient ancestors did (some of them, anyway) but also because something deep inside us recognizes the need to mark the changing seasons and to honor the agricultural cycle.
We come from the Earth, and without the Earth we would not be.
Nature is beautiful and terrible
Lest we grow naively romantic, let us remember that Nature includes hurricanes, wildfires, and coronaviruses.
Christians argue that the Earth is “fallen” – that there was a time when everything on Earth was perfect for humans. Pagans understand the reality that we are simply one species among many. We like to think we’re the pinnacle of evolution, but go hiking in grizzly bear country or swimming in a shark habitat and you’ll quickly realize that Nature isn’t all about us.
When we drop our human-centered arrogance, we learn to respect the rest of the natural world. Bears and sharks are just doing what they have to do to survive, the same as us. We can appreciate their beauty, even as we acknowledge the need to give them their space.
All creatures modify their environment, but none to the extent of humans
Prairie dogs dig holes. Beavers build dams. Tall trees block sunlight from smaller trees. All creatures modify their environment. But only humans have the brain power and the technology to modify their environment to the extent that we do.
Many times this is a good thing. Cities are an efficient use of land and energy, and they promote sharing and growing cultures. I’m rather fond of electricity and modern medicine.
Much of the American West evolved to burn on a regular basis. The first people who lived in these areas learned to live with the fires. Europeans moved in and tried to stop the fires. That just means that when the fires do start, there’s far more fuel and the damage is far greater.
It’s a line from a comic book movie, but it’s still true: with great power comes great responsibility. We have a responsibility to leave clean water, clean air, and healthy soil for future generations of humans. And we have an obligation to share the Earth with other creatures… and not just the ones we like.
Building and maintaining relationships with Nature
Most people in the Christian and Protestant dominated West think religion is about what you believe. For most people in most of the world throughout most of history, religion is about what you do, who you are, and whose you are.
Religion is about relationships.
Paganism is a Big Tent, but my Paganism and many other Paganisms are grounded in our relationships with Nature.
We build and maintain these relationships first by spending time in Nature. Go outside, hug a tree, dig in the dirt. Watch the birds and squirrels. Look up at the night sky and wonder. Follow the moon through her monthly cycles of waxing and waning. Follow the sun through his yearly cycles of light and dark.
As with our human relationships, what we do matters more than what we say. There is no such thing as “zero impact” but we can avoid waste. We can support sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy. We can oppose political decisions that lead to habitat destruction and species loss. This is easier for the rich and the middle class than it is for the poor, but again, more power means more responsibility. Do what you can.
Over the years my Paganism has focused more and more on the Gods and my relationships with Them. We’ll talk more about that in future posts. But for me, it all begins with Nature.
I do not love Nature because I’m a Pagan. I’m a Pagan because I love Nature.