Friday, 12 August 2011

Pagan Ecology

two pieces this week from the "Step back and consider" section of "The Wanton Green",  firstly a from Emma Restall Orr and then a reflection from environment and heritage interpretation consultant Susan Cross. These are just extracts - to read full pieces you will have to buy the book when it comes out!

Pagan Ecology: on our perception of nature, ancestry and home
Emma Restall Orr

When asked for a concise definition, the majority of British Pagans would probably describe their religion as a nature-based spirituality.  It’s a simple phrase.  Yet as three words, a catch-all, a sound-bite, it is one of those wonderful phrases that may actually be saying nothing at all. 

After all, what on earth is meant by nature?  The notion is vigorously and often emotively debated, and rightly so, for it has been used as a political tool in countless ways by governments, corporations, protest groups and religions.  How broadly one might extend it, and what might be included within its embrace, has changed over the centuries, as cultures have considered the natural and unnatural, seeking to describe the ungodly, the uncivilized and dangerous, or that which should be prioritized, protected and treasured: nature has been defined equally as the acceptable and the unacceptable.

Perhaps because the breadth of possible definition is so broad, even where other brief descriptives are used to sum up Paganism, the essential focus on nature is often still there.  Expressed in countless ways, a gentle process of distillation brings us back to those three words.  Pagans might, and freely do, wrangle over the precise meaning of key associated terms, such as spirituality, deity and sanctity, and the implications for each definition with regard to religious practice, but these too boil down to the basic question of how our understanding of nature is foundational to our ethics and daily behaviour.

Indeed, in many ways, it is this individual fervour of self expression, often so protective of the validity of personal experience, with its inherently rich diversity and dismissal of any universal truth or certainty, that so often expresses – or even defines – modern Western Paganism, as much as its focus or basis on nature.

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