• In the “Finding a God” chapter of Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton describes the rise of Pan in Victorian literature. Sometimes he personified an idealized countryside while at others he was “a battering-ram against respectability.” He appears in America during that period too — this time as sculpture.
I couldn’t stop the thought: And this is what award-winning education looks like. It was education that had gotten the climate wrong, the animals wrong, and the children wrong as well. By feeding the students a pablum of anachronisms about the natural world instead of teaching them to sink their hands in mud, to feast their eyes on the colors of tree foliage, to recognize poison oak and name the first wildflower in spring, this brand of education disrespected the students. It inculcated a story from another time and place instead of encouraging the students to observe grasses or flowers or woodland using their own eyes, their fingers and toes, their ears, their skin. It treated the children as if they didn’t have the capacity to appreciate or synthesize the results of their own observations.
Dusk is falling as I get off the bus but within 10 minutes I find myself walking down the rough path towards the camp. A voice hollers out a “Hello!” from the bank above me. “Hi! It’s Adrian – I phoned the camp a couple of days ago.” At the moment I’m no more than a shadow in the dark, so I want to reassure them that I’m a friend. “Oh, hi! Come on up. There’s a gap in the fence over here”. A guy who calls himself ‘Oak’ meets me with a smile and leads me to the fire pit where people sit huddled round the warmth.
For many contemporary Pagans the relationship between bodymind and place is fundamental, but that relationship has rarely been explored in any depth. Paganism is often described as being polytheistic, animist or about ‘nature worship’, and while that’s all true in a vague and anodyne way, it’s of limited value.
Photo from April 29, 2011. All the gray in the background is smoke. I am in the yellow shirt, lower center, trying to get a word with the sheriff. (Photo from the Wet Mountain Tribune)
I have spent much of today being nervous about the weather (warm, dry, windy) while yet working on a workshop presentation on nature religion.
Nature is making me nervous. Ironic, eh? Even though M. and I have been back in our house for a week, we are still jumpy. After all, lightning season has not yet really begun.
At least my little volunteer fire department is suddenly taking training very seriously. And we have some new members.
Last night, when the festival was starting, I was at the fire house, working up an equipment order for the General Services Administration. More hard hats! More yellow Nomex shirts! And what’s your size?
So today I had to finish the workshop for tomorrow. It’s too much like preparing a lecture.
The problem is, I’m not really a Pagan festival workshop guy.
I used to think I knew some things. Now everything is complicated, nuanced, and requires further thought.
A couple of months ago, this Pagan podcaster was after me and after me to appear on his show. Finally I told him, “You have to understand that I don’t have a ‘shtick.’ I don’t go around to festivals (other than Florida Pagan Gathering two years ago, where I was mainly on panels about Pagan history). In other words, I don’t do ‘how-to’ or ‘how ancient wisdom can make you a better Witch’ or anything like that.”
Never heard from him again.
If I had a shtick, I would be like my friend Thorn Coyle. I would walk out in front of a group, and inside of five minutes they would be breathing and moving and chanting and visualizing and liking it. That’s what she does, but it’s not what I do.
So I will try to talk about the ways that I defined “nature religion” in Her Hidden Children, I suppose. And give people an exercise or two to do. Maybe try to convince them that even if they are not capital-N Native (in some legal sense) they can still be “native” in an earth-based spirituality sense.
I have also decided that I am sick of the phrase “spiritual path,” at least on even-numbered days of the month. Being on a “path” sounds like you are trying to get away from something, but as that 1970s wall poster said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
(Did the same people who said “Be here now” also say that they were “on a path”? And if so, did that mean that they were in fact trying to leave here and go elsewhere? Inquiring minds want to know.)
So, yeah, a workshop. Forty-five minutes worth of blather and then dismiss class early? That might work. This bunch will probably be talkative though.
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.”)
I can add only that he was one of the most prolific and visible figures of the Pagan revival from the 1970s forward.
As a student, he took what had been a sort of spoof “Druidry” and turned it into a genuine Pagan religion with a spoofy name, the Schismatic Druids of North America.
That in turn become Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF), which is very much alive today.
Druids are always associated with trees, and the photo is one that I took in January 1978 at a tree-planting at “Annwfn,” part of Greenfields Ranch, near Ukiah, California.
From left, Isaac’s then-wife Selene Kumin vega, Isaac (leaning on his hoedad), Morning Glory Zell, someone obscured (possibly Gwydion Pendderwen), and would that be Oberon Zell with arm outstretched?
I am glad that I was able to offer Phaedra some help in finding a home for his papers. Although I did not see Isaac often, we were always friends at a distance, and I shall miss his presence on the Pagan scene. Ave atque vale.
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.
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.
I am busy working up a talk on “nature religion” to give to a Unitarian Universalist congregation on Sunday.
Hey, it’s a change: bring in the Pagan speaker at Ostara instead of Samhain. On the other hand, they did originally try to get me at Samhain, but someone messed up the scheduling. This is better, actually.
It’s a good thing that Unitarians tend to be a bookish crowd, so I do not have to sing, dance, lead breathing exercises, etc. There are others who are so much better at all that.
I can talk, however. But I will have to repress the tendency to want to turn and write on the blackboard.