Nature/Religion (part 1)
[I wrote the following 3 posts while on the road without internet access. They are my reflections on Nature Religion as well as the many conversations about Paganism as “indigenous religion” that happened at the Parliament. I recognize that a lot of discussion has happened on this topic while I was in radio silence. Here are my thoughts nonetheless. Since they were written in stages, there is likely some repetition. Forgive me.]
Sitting here in a cabin in the Huon Bush, I marvel at the beauty of the fern trees and acacia, the fairy wrens and the eucalypts, the pademelons and possums and the sheer stretch of the sacred creature that is this mountain range.
Last night, we went to an exhibit of photos taken by tree-sitters and activists, the sacred warriors who attempt to save the amazing old growth forests of Tasmania from the perils of cable logging and wood chipping. Cable logging is not only deadly for the environment, it is bad capitalism. The huge cables are dragged from the top of the mountain to the bottom, felling every tree in their wake. These trees, weather eucalypts or black hard wood that could be used to hand-craft furniture, are used for chips that are shipped to Japan. But huge amounts – often 70% – of branches and wood are left on the mountain to compost.
Looking upon those pictures of beauty and destruction I thought of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I thought that these photos should go to Copenhagen. I was also thinking of Barney Zwartz, religion writer from The Age. I told some of the photographers that they should send these pictures and their stories to him with the words, “this is our religion.”
Many of the activists are atheists – “no Gods, no Masters” – and they have a sense of sacred Nature more keen than many Pagans I know. They share similar concerns to the indigenous people who came to the Parliament… which brings me to the argument that was raised in many a conversation: “can and should Pagans call ourselves an indigenous religion?”
I find the statement that Paganism is the indigenous religion of Europe to be problematic. I understand that Andras Corban-Arthen – who speaks quite eloquently on the subject – has filed us into three categories (reconstructionist, indigenous and neo-Pagan) and truly feels that his tradition is reviving traditions from remnants of the old. Many of us are. Feri Tradition, for example, is an American Pagan tradition that draws upon many sources – Victor Anderson’s gnosis for one, Cora Anderson’s Appalachian folk traditions some of which came from her rootworker grandfather for another, plus hoodoo, some other influences from the African diaspora and Latin America, and finally, eventually, Wicca and some Celtic religious influence (of course the Celtic influences were already present in the Appalachian magic). Just as most Americans are mixtures of bloodlines and heritages, so most “American” traditions spring from a variety of sources. Does this make us ‘indigenous’ because Victor and Cora both had access to and practiced folk traditions, revitalizing them with other sources and their own wisdom? Or does this make us a “new religious movement” because most of us don’t claim some unbroken line? Victor and Cora were always clear that the small dark people’s of the world carried the magic of the world. They were also clear that humans all came from Africa and shared common ancestry and that magic was as old as humanity. They called what we did, simply, “the Craft.”
Folk traditions and magic have survived all over the world – in Scotland, in Lithuania, in Japan – and in some cases do have a fairly unbroken line of a coherent teaching despite oppression and slaughter. In other cases, fragments have been passed down in stories or spells, kept alive in families – as was the case with Cora Anderson and many others. I feel that most of us from the European Pagan Traditions are in the latter camp. As Patrick McCollum pointed out in conversation, even those coming at this only from books are sharing in the wealth of those who have had direct teaching. Each of us also must practice deeply, share in the mysteries of the Earth and the Gods, and be informed by our own observances.
I think calling ourselves indigenous religions is problematic on many levels. First, it lays claim to an unbroken, coherent tradition, when most of us have fragments. Second, it runs the risk of laying claim to the same conditions that our indigenous brothers and sisters are currently struggling with in their fights for reparations, the right to practice freely, the right to fish or have their own sacred lands, and the right for autonomy of their nations. We have no nation, even those of us who claim to trace unbroken lines of magic. We are surviving fragments, or revitalizing (a word Andras uses nicely) old ways for a new time. Third, it sets up a hierarchy of “authenticity” where “authenticity” is always going to have a superior air about it. What is inauthentic about a tree-sitter spending years of her life to save a stand of trees? She does not call herself indigenous. He does not even call himself Pagan. But I would say there is a spiritual sense, and a case could even be made for calling it a religion. There are rituals for entering the forest and erecting the platforms, there are protocols for what materials can be used and which are forbidden. There is communion with earth, sky, rain, trees, animals, and wind. There is connection: re-ligio.
We are good enough as we are: Pagans. Nature Religionists. Ordinary Mystics.
- T. Thorn Coyle