Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Pagan community here.
In 1987, I wrote a piece for a Pagan magazine entitled "Walking Gently on the Earth in a Throw-Away World." In it, I describe stopping at a rest area on the Taconic Parkway in New York and finding garbage strewn all about: beer bottles, fast-food wrappers, and whole bags of household rubbish. I picked up the scattered trash as a sacred act of love for Gaia, Mother Earth. At the time, I was mostly concerned about how humankind was vandalizing Gaia with garbage and chemical wastes. Climate change was not even a consideration.
Now climate change is near the top of my environmental concerns. Being an environmental engineer as well as a witch, I approach climate change with these assumptions:
- Humankind has already brought about irreversible climate change.
- There is little we can do to mitigate the effects because they are so massive and global.
- It is possible to stabilize the effects before global warming becomes a runaway out-of-control phenomenon.
- Doing so will require worldwide effort, not limited to just this country.
We have come to where we are with respect to global warming because as a culture, we have forgotten a principle that Pagans know to be true: we are utterly dependent for our existence on the Earth and on everything and everyone else on her. As a Pagan high priest, I know we taunt Gaia at our peril; there will be consequences.
Seeing the seemingly irreversible effects of climate change descend upon us, what do I do? Despair? Grieve? What can a single Pagan like me do?
In his book God Revised, Galen Guengerich relates an incident from the movie Shall We Dance?, in which Richard Gere plays a middle-aged man who secretly takes up ballroom dancing. His renewed liveliness and energy causes his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, to suspect that he is having an affair. She retains a private detective to discover what her husband is actually up to. When the detective reveals the truth to Sarandon, she decides to let her husband continue dancing. When they meet to close out the investigation, the detective and the wife linger over a drink and discuss why people marry in the first place. The reason we marry, she insists, is that:
"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... What does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things . . . all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.'"
What can one Pagan do? I can be Gaia's witness. The pain global warming inflicts upon her will not go unnoticed. I can promise to bear witness to the life of Gaia: the good, the bad, the mundane, even the terrible. The Earth and what we are doing to Her will not go un-witnessed or unnoticed if I choose to be Her witness. Working to reduce global warming is very important, in fact critical. But I feel that as well as working for change, I must commit to bear witness—to the Earth and to climate change—as a sacred act.
We need to take Gaia and her needs personally, more so now than ever before. It's important not only to "talk the talk" but also "to walk the walk." Some of us are bearing witness right now through simple practices and public acts—like walking instead of driving to work—to remind us and others of our dependence on the Earth and our contribution to global warming and climate change. We can do healing rituals focused upon climate change. And, most important, we can find others of like mind with whom to broaden public understanding of global warming and stare down the naysayers. We can each find our own unique ways to bear witness.
These are just examples. They remind us of all Gaia has given us and all that we owe. As a Pagan, I experience Gaia as alive, with a living spirit. By joining our spirit with hers in witness to the hurt we are inflicting on her, we will make a difference in ways that we do not know.
If we witness with discipline and dedication, others will notice and some will choose to do the same. Eventually tens will become hundreds will become thousands will become millions of people. It may not take place in ten, twenty, or even thirty years, but I believe that eventually it will make a difference.
We at least need to try.