Were the Gods Angry with Japan?

Adrian Ivakhiv blogs on religious responses to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

All of this resonates with an immanence-based process-relational perspective: nature does what it does, it includes the “good” and the “bad” (which are relative to their perceivers), we are part of it and sometimes we get struck down in it. (Careful readers will know that when I say that good and bad are “relative to their perceivers,” this doesn’t mean that “everything is relative, anything goes, and whatever you think or do is as good as anything else.” The world is layered and folded: perceivers share their perceptual situations with other perceivers, so my “good” is closer to your “good” than it is to the good of an amoeba, a viral bacteria or cancer cell, or an asteroid whipping through the solar system. Hitler’s actions may have seemed “right” to him, but in a human context they come off as psychotic and grotesque. And as for “nature,” if it includes everything, becoming a fairly meaningless term, so be it. It corresponds to what, in an East Asian context, is thought of as “the way,” ziran, an active and unfolding “suchness,” or what Gregory Bateson called “the pattern that connects.”)

There is lots more with interesting links. Apparently even the mayor of Toyko took a “the gods are angry with us” line, although he later backed away from it.

Sometimes, the nonhuman world is not All About Us Humans.

You May Think that You Have a ‘Self’

But maybe you are just the talking part of a large collection of bacteria.

We continue to be colonized every day of our lives. “Surrounding us and infusing us is this cloud of microbes,” said Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University. We end up with different species, but those species generally carry out the same essential chemistry that we need to survive. One of those tasks is breaking down complex plant molecules. “We have a pathetic number of enzymes encoded in the human genome, whereas microbes have a large arsenal,” said Dr. Gordon.

Don’t miss the part about the fecal transplants. All these health nuts giving themselves high colonics may be going at it backwards, so to speak.

Gallimaufry with Grosbeaks

Black-headed grosbeak, evening grosbeak, downy woodpecker. Photo by Chas S.  Clifton

First black-headed grosbeak of the season (left).

If it’s Beltane, why I am still splitting firewood? Usually I observe the rhythms of the “Celtic” year by turning off the furnace at Beltane and relighting it at Samhain, using just supplemental wood heat otherwise. Not this year.

But during a brief sunny interval yesterday morning, the first black-headed grosbeak of the season landed on a feeder, and I snapped a quick picture through the window. That’s a downy woodpecker on the shadowed side, and up above, facing the camera, a male evening grosbeak—they have been hanging around for a couple of months, an unusual “irruption,” as birders say.

Other stuff:

•  The Beltania music festival happens next weekend, just down the road. The weather still looks iffy. A friend on a Colorado Pagan email list said that spring weather is “manic depressive.”  My own mental image for Beltane is snow on lilac blossoms.

• I liked this quote from an interview with Lon Milo DuQuette at Patheos:

I have a new book coming out in November (from Llewellyn) titled Low Magick — It’s All in Your Head, You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is. It’s autobiographic and contains stories of magickal operations I’ve done over the years. The title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, facetiously using the term “Low Magick” to refer to any magickal operation one actual performs rather than those one just talks or argues about.

• Jonathan Ott, who gave us the world “entheogen,” had his home destroyed by fire, needs help.

• An article on depression and dreams offers this:

In the 1970s, psychologists noted that people suffering from depression also report more dreams than average. In fact, people who are clinically depressed may dream three or four times as much. The quality of REM dreams (also called “paradoxical sleep”) is different too: more intense emotions, more negative themes, more nightmares, and more unpleasant dreams, in general.

And consequently depressed people often sleep worse. It’s a vicious circle.  Processed food is also linked to depression—another vicious circle. Feel low -> eat worse, etc.

• The Pagan Newswire Collective has two new group blog projects: The Juggler, on the arts, and Warriors & Kin, about issues facing past and current Pagan military personnel. They will be added to my blogroll.

Thinking about ‘Nature Religion’ in the Snow

I spent about an hour today on the snow shovel after fifteen inches fell yesterday, laughing a bitter and sardonic laugh at people who associate flowers and bunny wabbits with the spring equinox. (At least the Sun is stronger now than in midwinter.)

Today’s preoccupation is the talk that I have to give tomorrow on nature religion to some Unitarians.

First off, it’s not an easy term to define. I can think of at least three definitions for “nature religion.”

1. One was developed by Catherine Albanese, historian of American religion: “a symbolic center and the cluster of beliefs, behaviors, and values that encircles it.” (Nature Religion in America, 7)

To Albanese, the term was a “scholarly construct” that made it possible to talk about various attitudes and activities under one heading, everything from “natural healing” to national parks to New Agey dietary fads.

I was present at an American Academy of Religion panel c. 1998 when Professor Albanese learned to her surprise that “nature religion” was also a term self-applied by many contemporary Pagans. Pagans had simply not been on her mental radar.

2. My own research, however, showed various Pagans using “earth religion” and “nature religion” to describe themselves (and to avoid loaded terms like Witch and Pagan) at least as long ago as 1970. And 1970 happens to be the year when the first Earth Day was observed.

3. Somewhat similar to Albanese, another religious studies professor, Bron Taylor, has a recent book called Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future.

Not particularly theistic, Taylor defines “dark green religion” as “religion that considers nature to be sacred, imbued with intrinsic value, and worthy of reverent care.” The “dark” suggests not just intensity but also nature religion’s propensity to “precipitate or exacerbate violence” (ix).

Once jokingly described to me as “the house intellectual of Earth First!” Taylor has had a long interest in studying ecotage and other environmental violence, along with more peaceful manifestations of nature religion as  surfing culture.

Consequently, where Albanese tends to be more interested in the nineteenth century, Taylor is more focused on contemporary environmentalism and politics.

Deep Snow, Deep Winter


I spent the last three days camping with friends up on the Arapaho National Forest.

I have done a little deep-winter camping before, but never before on skis with a sled.

I learned that my sleeping bag is not really warm enough for -18 F. (-27 C.) nights. Must remedy that.

Even after that short time, it is hard to make the transition back to the writing life. And things like Facebook–or even blogging–seem so trivial.

But I am developing some new blog posts, so check back after a couple of days.

Dark of the Moon

I tend to get into some bad places psychologically when it’s the dark of the Moon and work is not going well. “No one respects me, no one pays any attention to what I say”—that sort of thing.

The best cure is to take a dog (who may or may not pay any attention but who can be bribed) and go for a hike, interrupted with geocaching, as described at the other blog.

Photos from the Edges of the Festival

M. and I have returned from the smallest of the three Colorado Pagan camp-out festivals held at Wellington Lake, a large private campground. Wellington Lake is dominated by a large rock formation called (imaginatively) The Castle.

The photo above, however, is the west (back) side, which most festival attendees never see. But if you are a boundary-crossing transgressive Hagazussa, then, perhaps you might find yourself on the Rolling Creek Trail into the Lost Creek Wilderness.

RIGHT: Some Pagans spend so much time at Wellington Lake that they feel a certain sense of ownership.

LEFT: The wet weeks of June meant that more mushrooms were available in the forest than usual for this time of year, including this and other boletes.

What Happened to Ecopsychology?

Lupa posts on bioregionalism, animism, and ecopsychology.

When M. was in grad school in psychology in the 1990s, she hoped that ecopsychology would be the Next Big Thing. Articles on the psychological affects of interacting (or not) with the non-human world were popping up in places like McCall’s magazine. Addressing “nature-deficit syndrome” would be a component of it–even the Girl Scouts are onto that.

But as an overarching concept–even without acknowledging “spirits of place”–ecopsychology does not seem to have caught fire except in a low-level therapeutic way: “Gardening makes you feel better.”

Possibly related is the way in which a certain kind of self-righteous environmentalism may be ripe for mocking. Are we still too leery of assigning spiritual value to non-human nature? Doing so has been a component of American spirituality since around 1800, as Catherine Albanese wrote in Nature Religion in America: From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age. But it has always been a minority position, although a well-established one.

I used to start my nature-writing students with the “Where You At?” quiz. It offers a quick immersion in bioregional thinking and blends both non-human and human cultural material.

Gallimaufry with Frankincense.

¶ Burn more frankincense in your rituals: it is psychoactive.

¶ From this side of the pond, I would say that if not enough young people are not taking up Morris dancing, they are not getting drunk enough first. (In England?! — ed.) Will it be only the Pagans and that sort who keep it going?

¶ Five top faked memoirs of recent years.

¶ Aiieee, it’s the end of the world! The solar storm will wipe out all our gadgetry!

¶ Aiieee, it’s the end of the world! The Ice Age is coming!

So learn some basic skills and have a plan, I reckon. And burn frankincense.

These Witches Have No Covens

The New York Times profiles a California water witch (dowser).

How many rural witches are still around is an open question. Water witches have no trade unions — or covens. Few advertise, or dowse full time.

I learned dowsing on a construction job, and I had no “intuitive sense” of where the rural gas line in question was, so I do not buy that explanation of how it works.

There is a national society of dowsers, headquartered in the same little Vermont town where M.’s father grew up. (A civil engineer by profession, he accepted dowsing too.) It used to be all practical dowsers like this guy, but in recent decades the “earth energies” crowd seems to have a growing impact.