What Good is (Nature-Based) Paganism?

What Good is (Nature-Based) Paganism? April 23, 2015

This past Monday, Rua Lupa gave her answer to the Patheos-wide question, “What good is religion?” I wanted to add in my own two cents.

We just passed Earth Day–again. Started in 1970, this holiday is meant to shake us up and remind us that we can live a more eco-friendly life while also hanging onto the social and technological changes that have made our existence a bit easier. Unfortunately, as with so many other good ideas, it’s become bogged down in commercialization and whitewashing. Chemical companies have chosen this time to promote their slightly less ecologically offensive products; car companies laud the virtues of hybrids.

And then everyone goes back home and does basically what they’ve been doing the rest of the year. Few of them will contact their elected officials about environmental issues; few will make even small lifestyle changes to lighten their personal impact on the planet. They might hem and haw a bit at the latest oil spill, but they won’t do much about it. It’s not that they hate the planet. It’s just easy to be complacent, especially when you feel like you can get all your environmental responsibility done on one day.

I don’t have that luxury, and I’m okay with that. I am a naturalist pagan, a nature-based pagan. I don’t focus on supposedly supernatural occurrences or esoteric mysteries. My path is rooted firmly in the soil and the seasons, and not in abstracted and symbolic “Beltane means this, and on Samhain we do this, and let’s leave this half-stale bread out for the raccoons as an offering” ways. I no longer care about magic or formal rituals or trying to prove the totems I work with must be real outside of my own head.

My spirituality is in the dirt in my hands when I work seeds into my little plot at the local community garden. It’s in the sweat on my chest as I hike up a mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s in the ache in my back after an afternoon of picking up cigarette butts and bits of styrofoam on the beach along the Columbia I adopted a few years ago. It’s in my phone when I use the Seafood Watch app before purchasing fish to eat, and the book on lichens I bought to better get to know the macrobiology of my bioregion. It’s in my art, and every bit of stuff I reclaim from a thrift store to be reborn as something beautiful.

It’s here in my typing, and in every breath, and in every motion, and every thought that I create. My life is an ongoing conversation with the environment I inhabit and everyone I share it with. It’s a conscious feeling of responsibility toward the rest of the world, particularly that which I have an impact on. There’s no escaping it, or shuffling it away into a closet on April 23.

Most importantly, my spirituality is in this world. Not some other spiritual realm, not a promised afterlife. It’s in the only life I know that I have for sure, this one of sinews and stones and seagulls. And even if I have nothing more after I die, I have the legacy I leave for those who will undoubtedly come after I’m gone. I don’t pretend to invest in some paradise; I bet on the sure thing, the thing that I already have. The bird in the hand, not the bush in the book.

So what good is my path? It requires me to put my money where my conscience is. It requires me to walk my talk as best as I am able under the circumstances I’m in. It tells me to toss off the trappings and unnecessary weight, and to walk a path that permeates every moment I live, not just the special occasions. It makes me be aware of my decisions, and even if I make one that could have been better, it reminds me for next time to do better. It asks me to weigh my options carefully, not just for my own benefit but for that of the great entangled web of life I am a part of, because as John Muir said “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.

In short: my path makes me a more active and engaged part of this world, not for sake of invisible beings or afterlives, but for the sake of those who are right here, right now.

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