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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. Please don't reproduce or redistribute this paper without asking me first. I'll probably say yes if you do ask, but I do like to know where my work is going.

If you wish to cite this paper in your own work, the following format is suggested: Landstreet, Lynna. "The Soul of Nature: The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality." Unpublished paper, available electronically on Wild Ideas (http://www.wildideas.net).

This is better than using the specific URL of this document, because I may reorganize the directory structure of this site from time to time, causing the addresses of specific pages to change.

There are (at least) two avenues from which the topic of ecological spirituality can be approached: the relevance of spirituality to ecological concerns, and the relevance of ecology to spiritual concerns.

From either direction, the topic may seem unnecessary, problematic or threatening to some people. Some environmentalists are deeply skeptical of anything resembling religion, fearing that by exploring such things we may be on the brink of fulfilling the worst fears of our adversaries -- shedding the guise of rationalistic proponents of ecological balance and revealing ourselves as the crazed, atavistic tree-worshipping neo-druids they always knew we were underneath. And many who consider themselves spiritual may question the relevance of ecological concerns: after all, if the task of spirituality is perceived to be transcending the limitations of the physical world, as is often considered to be the case within both the Western Neoplatonic tradition and certain Eastern religions as well, why should spiritual people concern themselves with "merely" physical ecological issues?

But it may be that there is enough relevance to this topic to outweigh the concerns that its airing may provoke. From the environmentalist perspective, many have argued, as we shall see, that our key challenge is to bring about a shift in consciousness, a fundamental change in worldview, ethics and identity. These changes all fall within the realm of thought and experience that religion and spirituality attempt to address: questions of who we are, what our relationship to the rest of the world is, what our true priorities are or should be, and how we ought to live.

Examining the issue from the other side, I think the relevance of ecological concerns to spirituality can best be inferred from the considerable upsurge in interest in environmental matters, within both the established churches and countercultural spiritual movements. From the creation spirituality of Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox to the Earth-centred Buddhism of Gary Snyder and Stephanie Kaza, to the increasing politicization of the neo-pagan movement, to the burgeoning interest in Native spirituality among both Native and non-Native peoples (and the latter has been problematic in its own right, as we shall see), signs of interest in ecological issues can be seen across the religious spectrum.

Intriguingly, environmentalism itself has occasionally been accused of being a religion. One manner in which this occurs can be seen in John McPhee's 1971 profile of longtime environmental activist David Brower, in which American resort developer Charles Fraser refers to environmentalists as "druids":

A conservationist too often is just a preservationist, and a preservationist is a druid. I think of land use in terms of people. Ancient druids used to sacrifice human beings under oak trees. Modern druids worship trees and sacrifice people to those trees.[1]

Similar feelings have been echoed in many quarters, most recently in the town of Temagami, where a public official once accused the Wildlands League of being a religious cult.[2]

In a less hysterical and more sophisticated argument, Linda H. Graber discusses the wilderness preservation movement as a religion, outlining its iconic use of nature imagery, its treatment of wilderness areas as sacred space, the ways in which its public education campaigns resemble religious evangelism, and the fact that its core consists not of economic, ecological or political rationales for preserving wild spaces, but a mode of perceiving the world that is fundamentally different from that of mainstream society. The key purpose behind most nature writing, art and photography, she suggest, from the works of Thoreau to the Sierra Club's glossy nature calendars, is to train potential new "initiates" in the correct modes of perception and experience of the "religion" of wilderness preservation.[3]

But there is more to the image of environmentalism-as-religion than merely an attempt to smear activists, or an explanatory paradigm. One does hear and see frequently, in the speech and writing of many environmental activists, references to nature as sacred. No matter what scientific, economic, or other rationalistic arguments are used to justify the protection of some wild creature or place, the underlying motivation -- at least among the most committed activists -- very often seems to be that sense of a sacred space threatened with desecration by unbelievers.

And it may be that very concept -- the sacred -- that has the most potential to motivate people to act. Economic or scientific arguments may be useful in swaying the authorities, but they are unlikely to be the sole, or even primary, motivation of passionate, committed activists. Such motivation is almost always rooted in the realm of the moral or spiritual. It is difficult to imagine the Earth First! slogan "No Compromise in Defence of Mother Earth" being reworded as "No Compromise in Defence of Sustainable Development," or biological diversity, or any other such buzzword. It is the image of the Earth as mother, as source and foundation of life, as sacred, that gives the slogan its strength and its motivating power.

But what precisely is meant by the term sacred? The word itself derives from the past participle of the Middle English verb sacren, meaning "to consecrate", which in turn stems from the Latin sancire, to make sacred.[4] The first definition given reflects this sense of the sacred as a quality which must be imparted to things, rather than one which they might intrinsically possess: "dedicated or set apart for the worship or service of a deity." Dolores LaChappelle correctly notes, in her Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: The Rapture of the Deep, that this is a human-centred definition; the emphasis is on the (human) act of making sacred.[5]

But the dictionary does go on to list other, less anthropocentric definitions of the sacred, such as "worthy of religious veneration" and "entitled to reverence and respect". These definitions, while still implying human involvement, shift the locus of control to the sacred itself. Sacred things, here, are not merely whatever humans happen to have defined as sacred, but things which are possessed of an innate sacredness and demand recognition of that quality by humans. The distinction may appear subtle, but it is an important one.

LaChappelle makes a different distinction: between what she terms "sacred-as-substance," and "sacred-as-relationship," a more fluid definition which situates sacredness in the interaction between human and nonhuman. She quotes Derham Giuliani on the idea of "sacred" as similar to (but deeper than) "meaningful":

A state that, when activated, gives a special type of meaning to an event. It is a kind of awareness, not obtained by any act of will or logic, of patterns running through everything around us. Each 'meaningful' occurrence becomes part of a person's behavior so that one's life is changed as these accumulate, one's life enters a pattern guided by that of everything else.[6]

Here, sacredness is not a matter of human definition, but of human perception or awareness; an act of opening, rather than of controlling. Giuliani's understanding of the sacred makes clear not only LaChappelle's notion of sacred-as-relationship, but also its key relevance from an activist perspective: that a true encounter with the sacred is a transformative experience.

And this is where the image of environmentalism-as-religion begins to have real meaning and relevance. For as the rainforest activist John Seed has written, facts alone do not change a life; it is the intuitive, spontaneous awareness -- "not obtained by any act of will or logic" -- of our connectedness with the subjects of those facts that make them more than just words on paper, or images on a television screen. It is that sudden, deep rush of wonder, of reverence for the beauty and mystery of the natural world, that brings about the connectedness that motivates action and change:

The figures and extrapolations of the scientists, combined with the evidences we experience daily, are both mind-boggling and numbing. They are so real as to test all our capacities of denial, almost impossible to integrate into the reality of the humdrum of our daily lives.

They first became real for me when I first participated in actions to protect some of the remaining rainforests near my home in New South Wales, Australia. Then I was able to embody, to bring to life, my intellectual knowings in interaction with other beings -- protesters, loggers, police, and the trees and other inhabitants of these forests. There and then I was gripped with an intense, profound realization of the depths of the bonds that connect us to the Earth, how deep are our feelings for these connections. I knew than I was no longer acting on behalf of myself or my human ideas, but on behalf of the Earth -- that I was literally part of the rainforest defending herself.[7]

I have often used this criterion myself, when attempting to evaluate spiritual experiences, both my own and those of others. Attempting to evaluate the spiritual experiences of others may seem presumptuous, but it is an unfortunate fact of modern life that for many people the major use of spirituality is as a means of self-aggrandizement, where the aim is showing off one's "enlightened" state to others. The most useful way I have found of separating the wheat from the chaff is to look at whether someone's professed spiritual path or experiences appear to have caused a qualitative change in their behaviour or perceptions.

And I have often enough found that it did that I remain convinced that spirituality can have an important role to play in transforming our relationship with nature -- in practice as well as in theory. I have seen previously apolitical people sufficiently moved by spiritual experiences with nature to place their bodies on the line defending wild places from destruction. And I know that, no matter how deeply I delve into scientific and ecological understandings of nature, it is not the facts and figures that are on my mind when I take action on behalf of the nonhuman world, but the long history of spiritual interactions and encounters I have had with nature and natural powers.

I think it is important here to draw a distinction between spirituality and religion, for the two are, to my mind, related, but not synonymous. Turning once again to the dictionary, we find spiritual defined first as "of, relating to, or consisting of the spirit" (which in turn is defined as "an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms"), and secondly as "of or relating to sacred matters," which we have already discussed. Religion we find as "the service and worship of God or the supernatural," or, more specifically, as "a personal or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices." One is a matter of spontaneous experience or awareness, the other of a specific system of beliefs or practices.

While spiritual awareness and experiences certainly can take place within the context of a set of codified religious beliefs and practices, and often do, they can also quite easily occur outside such settings. Spirituality is not necessarily theistic, nor inextricably tied to any specific framework of belief. Earth First! founder Dave Foreman writes in his essay "The Arrogance of Enlightenment":

If you want heaven -- it is here. Walk through an aspen grove on a bright autumn day. The gold in that light is more real than in the streets beyond the Pearly Gates. If you seek total union with the cosmos, then float a river, drift into river time, let the rich red of the San Juan or the crystal of the Salmon make you part of All. If it's Valhalla you desire, stand with your bold friends before a bulldozer, then eat, drink and make merry with them in victory celebration afterwards. And reincarnation -- yes, that too. Your atoms are of the everlasting rocks, and will become buzzard, weasel, dung beetle, worm, and so on for eternity after your simple brain sleeps. Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla, everlasting life are here and now -- in the real world. We need nothing more than this paradise into which we were born.[8]


But a single spiritual experience of nature, no matter what its context, is not likely to be sufficient. Such singular encounters can act as powerful motivators, but there is also value in continued engagement with the spiritual, in ongoing spiritual exploration by people who are already committed environmentalists.

Political activism of any sort is a recipe for burnout, if not tempered with a clear recollection of, and frequent reconnection with, the reasons for that activism. As Seed notes, the information we are flooded with daily on the state of the world -- and activists more so than the average person -- can be both mind-boggling and numbing. To which I would add that it can also be depressing and emotionally draining. Too often, activists push themselves at breakneck paces, only to see their efforts come to ruin as yet another forest falls, another destructive megadevelopment is approved, another nuclear test takes place. It is incredibly difficult, in these circumstances, not to be overcome with despair.

Psychologist and activist Joanna Macy began to explore these themes with a series of workshops on what she terms "despairwork" -- coming to terms with the draining, overwhelming grief for the fate of our world that afflicts so many activists. In her book Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age,[9] she quotes many letters from workshop participants on the importance of this type of work. In one, an English professor from Michigan writes that:

During the last fourteen years that I have worked on and off for civil rights, the anti-war movement, Native American rights, environmental issues, etc., I have often noticed the high casualty rate among movement people -- breakdowns, burn-outs, the irreversible damage done to personal relationships, suicides. We must be clear and very honest about where we are right now, and we need to acknowledge the darkness around us and inside us before we can move on.[10]

Anyone with a history of activism will recognize the phenomenon of which the writer speaks. From my own experience, I know that the time in my life when I was the most politically active was the time when I was also the most prone to bouts of crushing, overwhelming depression, which at its peak almost resulted in my being hospitalized. It was also the point at which I was the most cut off from my spirituality, having listened too closely to those in the activist community who considered it an irrational, bourgeois indulgence. I have been much more successful in coping with the stresses of activism and information overload since returning to regular spiritual practice.

Macy draws on her background in psychology, insights from ecology and systems theory, and spiritual teachings from numerous religions in formulating her analysis of the despair that seems to come entwined with increasing awareness of the world's pain. She speaks of the process of "opening like a wound to the travail of the world"[11], and of how to use that opening, the same increased awareness that brings pain, as a source of empowerment:

What is it that allows us to feel pain for our world? And what do we discover as we move through it? What awaits us there "on the other side of despair"? To all these questions there is one answer: It is our interconnectedness with life and all other beings. It is the living web out of which our individual, separate existences have risen, and in which we are interwoven. Our lives extend beyond our skins, in radical interdependence with the rest of the world.

A central theme in every major faith is just that: to break through the illusion of separateness and realize the unalterable fact of our interdependence. This theme has been often hidden and distorted, given the institutionalization of religion and the authoritarian cast it frequently assumed in the last two millennia of patriarchal culture; but it is still there. From Judaism, Christianity and Islam to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Native American and Goddess religions, each offers images of the sacred web into which we are woven.[12]

Participants in Despair and Empowerment workshops use art, dance, meditation and ritual to express the despair that paralyzes them, and to connect with the healing and empowering potential of that same interdependence. The workshops also laid the groundwork for a more explicitly ecologically centred project -- the Council of All Beings.

Created by Macy, John Seed, Pat Fleming, and Arne Naess, the Council of All Beings is a ritual/workshop for environmental activists aimed at giving voice to grief and anger, reconnecting with their reasons for becoming active, and forging a deeper bond with the natural world. In it, participants go through various types of meditation and ritual, from calling the names of extinct and endangered species in mourning to an "Evolutionary Remembering" aimed at bringing home humans' kinship with other life forms by recalling our common evolutionary origins, and ultimately take on the identity of a plant, animal or natural feature and speak for it in the council from which the entire event takes its name, saying what they feel the being they represent might express to humans if it had the chance.[13]

The Council of All Beings and other similar projects are attempts at answering the question posed by novelist Gael Baudino's activist characters in Strands of Sunlight: "What gets us through?" What is there to keep us struggling on against seemingly insurmountable odds, to keep us picking up the pieces after each defeat, to keep us focussed on beauty in an increasingly ugly world? Baudino's characters find their answer in an ancient goddess, but -- significantly -- not through mere belief in the goddess, but through direct, lived experience.[14]

This is a key point. Blind faith is not empowering; real, visceral, intimate experience of the sacred is. It not only reconnects us with our source of motivation and inspiration, but also with the authority of our own senses and experience. According to neo-pagan priestess Starhawk:

People often ask me if I believe in the Goddess. I reply "Do you believe in rocks?" It is extremely difficult for most Westerners to grasp the concept of a manifest deity. The phrase "believe in" itself implies that we cannot know the Goddess, that She is somehow intangible, incomprehensible. But we do not believe in rocks -- we may see them, touch them, dig them out of our gardens or stop small children from throwing them at each other. We know them; we connect with them. In the Craft [Wicca, a neo-pagan religion], we do not believe in the Goddess -- we connect with Her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, the trees, the animals, through other human beings, through ourselves. She is here. She is within us all.[15] (Italics in the original)


However, the sense of divinity immanent within the world was not always an unfamiliar concept, even in the West. While religious beliefs and even social structures in prehistory are difficult to reconstruct, and a topic fraught with controversy, it is possible to draw certain inferences from archaeological evidence and from the belief systems of many surviving tribal societies. Our earliest ancestors probably held an animistic worldview, perceiving and interacting with a world permeated with indwelling spirits and divinities of various sorts.

Whether we are speaking of nomadic hunter-gatherer societies or early agriculturalists, we can find a reverence for nature, and a sense of the natural world as embodying divinity, embodying the sacred. According to historian of religion Mircea Eliade:

Between the nomadic hunters and the sedentary cultivators, there is a similarity in behavior that seems to us infinitely more important than their differences: both live in a sacralized cosmos, both share in a cosmic sacrality manifested equally in the animal world and in the vegetable world. We need only compare their existential situations with that of a man from the modern societies, living in a desacralized cosmos, and we shall be aware of all that separates him from them.[16] (Italics in the original)

LaChappelle's notion of sacred-as-relationship, discussed earlier, can clearly be seen in the animistic worldview. Sacredness is perceived in the world, and humans perceive themselves as intimately connected with that world:

Unlike us, primitive man was not disposed to separate his own soul from the world-soul. Soul is soul, invisible power that moves in the wind, so how can it be chopped up and compartmentalized?[17]

Closely linked to primal animism is what could be termed animistic polytheism. Here, divine power begins to be personified, but is still experienced as being strongly embedded in nature. We can clearly see this view of divinity in Celtic mythology, where many deities are linked with specific natural features -- the river goddesses Bóann and Sionan, who gave their names to the Boyne and Shannon rivers in Ireland[18]; the two mountains in County Kerry known as Dá Chich Dhannann, "the two paps of [land goddess] Danu"[19], and so on. Divinities may be depicted in human or semi-human form, or perceived as possessing human attributes, but they are still based in the natural world. As Miranda Green writes:

In Celtic religion, it was the miraculous power of nature which underpinned all beliefs and religious practices. Thus, some of the most important divinities were those of the sun, thunder, fertility and water. These were the pre-Celtic deities: the celestial gods, the mother-goddesses, and the cults of water and of trees transcended tribal boundaries and were venerated in some form throughout Celtic Europe. Every tree, mountain, rock and spring possessed its own spirit or numen.[20] (Italics in the original)

Accordingly, most of the groups and individuals involved in attempting to reconstruct Celtic paganism also take a very nature-based -- and often overtly environmentalist -- approach to their faith. Erynn Laurie, author of A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts[21], founder of the Nemeton-L Internet mailing list for Celtic pagans, and one of the most respected voices in Celtic reconstructionist paganism, writes that:

We must understand our local ecologies and work with them as embodiments of the sacred.

Every river has some spark of Danu and Bóann and Siannan within it. Every spring reflects the Well of Wisdom guarded by Segais or Nechtan. All islands are potentially the drowned city of Ys. Each forest may be a hidden part of Broceliande. All beaches are places where we can meet with Manannan mac Lír, no matter what ocean they front. We should certainly make pilgrimages to holy mountains close to us to commune there with the Cailleach or Lugh. Our interactions with trees should reflect our respect for the world tree, because it is the center of the world, and the Center is everywhere.

I can't take a day trip to Brugh na Boyne or camp on Ben Bulben. But I can make my pilgrimages to Tahoma and give my offerings on a mountain there. I can sail on Puget Sound and talk with Manannan, because the Sound is an inlet of the sea, and therefore he lives within it. I can leave offerings at the foot of trees in nearby parks and acknowledge them as sacred. These are things that the ancient Celts would have done, had they found their way here two thousand years ago.[22]

Even looking at classical Greece, which begins to move into quite a different form of polytheism, we can see residual elements of animistic belief in some of the more primal deities: Gaia, Pan, Artemis, Dionysus, Demeter, Persephone. These nature-based deities stand out in the mythos of what was becoming an increasingly less nature-based culture. In classical polytheism, we see the majority of the deities becoming more human, and less "natural," but even there, there are lingering elements of an older worldview, enough to cause Eliade to generalize as follows about "homo religiosus" in archaic societies:

For [archaic] religious man, nature is never only "natural"; it is always fraught with a religious value. This is easy to understand, for the cosmos is a divine creation; coming from the hands of the gods, the world is impregnated with sacredness. It is not simply a sacrality communicated by the gods, as is the case, for example, with a place or an object consecrated by the divine presence. The gods did more; they manifested the different modalities of the sacred in the very structure of the world and of cosmic phenomena.[23] (Italics in the original)

With the advent of monotheism, things become more complex. The Judaeo-Christian scriptures carry mixed messages on the topic of nature and humanity's proper relationship to it. There is the oft-quoted Biblical mandate to:

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26-29)

But there are also passages, notably within the psalms, that have been cited as attributing sentience and responsiveness to nature -- for example:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy,
Before the Lord, for He comes
(Psalm 96:11-12)

The Judaeo-Christian view of nature and humans' place within it is a complex enough topic that entire books and Ph.D. dissertations have been devoted to the topic, and I do not intend to attempt to settle it here. But it seems to me that many of the passages cited by Christian scholars as showing reverence for nature, such as the one above, still carry a subtle but distinct difference from the animistic view of divinity-in-nature. Here, nature is capable of responding to the presence of dignity, but the divine itself is situated outside the natural world. There is a relationship between the two, but not the identity that one sees elsewhere. Within this paradigm, one can see the divine reflected in or celebrated by nature, but not actually resident within it.

But it is with the shift from monotheism to scientific atheism and the mechanistic worldview it embodies[24] that we truly begin to see Eliade's "desacralized cosmos" taking form. The gradual displacement of divine power from the natural world to an externalized deity set the stage for the complete desacralization of the world when that deity itself began to fade. As Starhawk bluntly puts it:

Modern science undermined belief in the last repository of spirit when it killed off God after he had sucked the life out of the world. No longer do we see ourselves as having even a dubious dignity as flawed images of God. Instead, we imagine ourselves in the image of the machine as flawed computers with faulty childhood programming. We are left in the empty world described ad nauseam in twentieth-century art, literature and music -- from Sartre to the Sex Pistols.[25]

Obviously, the above-described sequence of religious worldviews does not apply worldwide -- in many cultures and subcultures, animism and/or polytheism still flourish, in whole or in part (although such cultures are increasingly under ideological assault from Western colonialism, and from assimilationist forces within). Rather, I refer predominantly to Western society, and mainstream Western society in particular, since that is the culture most clearly implicated in environmental destruction, and within which the task of recovering a sense of ecological spirituality could accordingly be said to be of the greatest importance.

We can identify at least three axes of change in the sequence outlined above:

Direct spiritual
of magic
| | |
Mediated spiritual
Magic seen
as evil
| | |
Absence of
Denial/suppression of
spiritual experience
Magic seen as

Concerning the impact of these changes on human perceptions of and interactions with nature, the first axis, which I have concentrated upon above, is fairly self-evident, as it directly concerns the perception of value in the natural world.

The second pertains to what I referred to earlier: the distinction between blind faith and direct experience. Increasingly, we as a society appear to have moved from the intimate, vital experience of dwelling within Eliade's sacralized cosmos to a situation where sacredness is displaced from the world around us to a transcendent realm where it must be transmitted to us via professional mediators, only to be experienced in specific, authorized settings. As a logger on a TV newscast I saw once snapped to an environmentalist who was trying to speak of her spiritual encounters with the forest he was being employed to cut down, "If you want a spiritual experience, go to church!"

From there, we enter a new stage where spiritual experience as such is ignored or suppressed, and we have come increasingly to distrust our own intuitions and perceptions in general, in favour of the officially sanctioned version of reality given to us by the experts:

Ours is a world of nonbelievers -- not of religious nonbelievers, but of people who no longer trust their senses and feelings, their intuitions. What we do trust are the mediators in our lives, the authorities who tell us when the air is polluted, when a species is near extinction, or when there are "too many" wolves in a place and that they need to be killed.[26]

The third axis -- the acceptance, condemnation or outright rejection of the possibility of magic or paranormal phenomena -- may seem initially the most difficult to relate to environmental concerns. But I think that there may be more of a connection that might at first appear to be the case. A society's view of magic may in fact say a great deal about where that society perceives itself in relation to the world, in terms of the locus of power and control. A world where magic can happen is a world where we don't have all the answers, a world where nature still holds the power to surprise us, to confound our expectations and evade our attempts at categorization, prediction and control.

In my view, the acceptance of the possibility of magic is rooted in humility -- it is a tacit admission that we don't know everything. Conversely, the denial of magic is rooted in control fetishism -- in the blind faith that nothing we don't understand can exist. Even the term "supernatural" in itself implies a faith in the possibility of some sort of absolute knowledge of what is "natural."

I find that this faith in the ability, and perhaps more importantly, the right, of human beings to define the bounds of reality, to dictate what nature should and should not be allowed to do, is disturbingly widespread, even among many who are otherwise quite critical of anthropocentric biases. I sometimes refer to the common perception that things cease to exist if we stop believing in them as the Tinkerbell syndrome, after the well-known scene in stage productions of Peter Pan where the audience is exhorted to clap their hands if they believe in fairies, in order to save Tinkerbell from being destroyed by their disbelief.

This view can be seen in the popular interpretations of a legend originally told by Roman writer Plutarch about a ship which was stopped in mid-voyage by a mysterious voice from nowhere announcing demanding that the captain carry the following message (as recounted by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her poem "The Dead Pan") home with them:

And that dismal cry rose slowly,
And sank slowly through the air.
"Pan is dead! -- Great Pan is dead --
Pan, Pan is dead."[27]

Dolores LaChappelle points out that the Greek god Pan has often been portrayed as representative of the old gods in their entirety due to his name, which means "all" in Greek, and adds that:

Plutarch's story, dating from the second century, predates the time of Constantine by roughly 150 years; yet, according to the Christians, this was a clear prophecy that all the pagan gods were gone; only the one Christian God remained.[28]

So, apart from the temporal problems, we have here perhaps the classic example of what could be termed the ultimate in anthropocentric hubris: the idea that the human mind, human belief, is so potent that it can literally destroy gods. Nietzche's famous "God is dead" is only a refinement of the basic sentiment expressed here.

A similar viewpoint was expressed by Neil Evernden, who in his Nature and Society class in 1995 remarked upon the lingering traces of magic in mediaeval sensibility, wherein a field might contain messages from God. Nowadays, he added, this could not be. When I suggested, only half-jokingly, that perhaps it wasn't that the messages that were gone, but that the majority of people had stopped paying attention to them, he adamantly insisted that no, the messages were no longer there. If the majority of people don't believe in something, apparently, it cannot exist.

Personally, I tend to feel that the divinity of nature, like "the beauty of things" that the poet Robinson Jeffers writes of,

...was born before eyes and
sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.[29]


Certainly, it is difficult for most modern people to place themselves in the position of their animistic forebears. The idea of experiencing the world as alive, sensate, imbued with divinity, may be challenging for many of us now, but I think it is a mistake to assume that it is impossible. No matter how immersed we may be now in Eliade's desacralized cosmos, we need to keep in perspective that we have not been that way for all that long:

It should be said at once that the completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is recent discovery in the history of the human spirit. Desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modern societies and in consequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.[30] (Italics in the original)

It is important also to realize that denial of spiritual experience is a culturally as well as historically specific phenomenon. Starhawk once recounted in an interview the experience of speaking about her experience as a Wiccan priestess to a small gathering of women from various Afro-Caribbean magico-religious traditions such as Santeria and Voudoun. When she had finished, one woman asked "Do you have trouble being accepted by white people?" Starhawk was startled; she had never before considered how culturally bound the rejection of the sort of spirituality she practiced was.[31]

And I recall an incident earlier this year where, in a class at York, we were discussing a reading which dealt with the phenomenon of spirit possession among Malaysian female factory workers. Both the reading and the class discussion centred on how this might be an unconscious form of resistance to the incursions of industrial capitalism upon traditional lifestyles, but never once referred to the possession phenomenon as anything other than a delusion or hallucination on the part of the workers. The one non-Western student present looked more and more uncomfortable as the discussion progressed, and finally timidly raised her hand to ask if anyone had considered that perhaps the women really were possessed.

An awkward silence followed the question, and deepened when the student added that she herself had had supernatural experiences, having once been haunted by a ghost that had to be exorcised by a Buddhist priest. Most people did not appear to have considered that in another cultural context, it might not be so readily taken for granted that spiritual phenomena were delusional. Personally, I had great admiration for her courage, because I had been thinking the same thing, but had not considered actually mentioning it, fearing that I would be sabotaging my academic reputation beyond repair if I did.

But there does seem to be a small movement afoot, even among academics, towards viewing beliefs about spiritual or "supernatural" phenomena without our culture's usual rationalistic blinders. At the 1991 Fife Conference on Folklore at Utah State University, many presentations dealt with questions of belief and experience, and confronted the fact that what we are accustomed to terming supernatural experiences may be considered commonplace within other cultures, and that to automatically assume that our own culture's view of such experiences as delusional is correct is indicative of an ethnocentric bias, as well as the anthropocentric one I believe it to be.[32]

In her introduction to the book that grew out of the conference proceedings, conference coordinator Barbara Walker writes:

In a way, believing in the supernatural is conceding and submitting to a universe that extend further than human understanding or control or empirical observation, and such belief imbues that universe with possibilities that surpass ordinary human devices. Yet when supernatural powers are tapped or extraordinary events occur, we in some respects are empowered , because then the limitations of any sphere repudiating the magical or the miraculous are outdistanced. We successfully broaden and deepen our world and perhaps open ourselves to a greater reality. In this regard, and in the best senses of the words, belief in the supernatural is primal, is uncontrollable, is subversive.[33]


Increasingly, many people even within Western industrial society are confronting the questions raised here. Many people are not content with the mechanistic worldview of scientific atheism, or with mainstream monotheistic religion. As outlined at the beginning of this paper, many are searching for a form of spiritual meaning rooted in the world, not outside or above it. Others are led to explore new or non-mainstream forms of spirituality by a discontent with mediated experience. They want to know divine ecstasy, to experience direct, personal revelation rather than predigested revelations someone else experienced a thousand years ago. They want to meet God, or Gaia, face to face. And still others cannot bring themselves to accept on blind faith that Western science, or Western models of reality, are sufficient to explain everything. They may have had experiences for which they can find no rational explanation. Like the student mentioned above, they may have encountered ghosts or spirits, or simply felt presences in the world that mainstream science or even mainstream religion could not explain.

Obviously, not every manifestation of this growing interest in spirituality is going to be relevant from an environmentalist point of view. It is not simply an interest in spirituality per se that motivates the activists I described earlier in this paper, nor is an interest or involvement in spirituality in itself going to automatically alter anyone's perception of or interaction with nature. The effect is entirely dependent upon exactly what type of spirituality we are dealing with.

The most visible sign of this growing interest in things of the spirit is the burgeoning new age movement, or industry as it could perhaps better be termed. But from an environmental point of view, there are numerous problems with this. Although this topic has been dealt with in considerably more depth elsewhere[34], I will briefly enumerate some of what I see as the movement's major failings. Foremost among them is its intensely commercialized character. The emphasis is frequently on buying your way to enlightenment -- an approach that fits all too well with our society's already out-of-control mania for overconsumption.

Then there is its incessant shallowness. As compared to science, where it has been said that one comes to know more and more about less and less until one eventually knows everything about nothing, new agers tend to know virtually nothing about virtually everything. Searching for easy answers to complex problems, they mix and match materials from a mind-boggling variety of cultures with no regard for the contexts in which the symbols, beliefs or practices evolved.

They have come in for particularly harsh criticism from First Nations activists for appropriating Native beliefs and practices.[35] I think this may be rooted in the fact that many North American white people feeling rootless, living in one land while having ancestry from another, which they may have never seen. Finding mainstream North American culture lacking in answers, they clutch at other cultures, seeking answers in Eastern mysticism or Native shamanism, whether those cultures want the participation of outsiders or not.

There are also deeper philosophical problems with the movement, as George Sessions and Dolores LaChappelle recount.[36] So while it is true that the new age movement occasionally speaks of reverence for nature, and may thus be responsible to some degree for raising at least a few of its followers' level of environmental awareness, I do not think it can ultimately can be considered a form of ecological spirituality. Too many of its tenets and practices work against the aims of environmentalists, either by encouraging overconsumption, emphasizing instant gratification rather than in-depth effort (via $300 weekend "shamanism" workshops and the like), or through endangering cultural diversity by erasing the distinctions between cultures and falsely appropriating the identities of other peoples.

Another modern magico-religious movement which is sometimes lumped in with the new age movement by outsiders, but in fact holds substantially different beliefs in many respects, is that of neo-paganism. There are numerous forms of this, from historically based and culturally specific movements, such as the Celtic reconstructionists referred to earlier, to highly eclectic, unstructured groups which place more emphasis on spontaneity and individuality than on any historical pagan precedent. But probably the most widespread and best-known form of neo-paganism is Wicca, an explicitly nature-centred religion whose roots lie in a blend of 19th century occultism and British folk tradition.[37]

As the earlier quote from Wiccan priestess Starhawk outlined, the key tenets of the religion involve the immanence of divinity within the natural world and a focus on direct experience rather than blind faith. Wicca's system of ethics is based on a belief in the interconnectedness of all things, meaning that the consequences of any action are likely to be farther-reaching than may be at first apparent, and will often return upon the actor in unexpected ways. This belief in some respects parallels the insights of modern ecology, as well as the Eastern concept of karma.

The Wiccan worldview is a strongly animistic one, with animals, plants, and other natural phenomena perceived as possessing indwelling spirits. Rituals frequently take place outdoors, and nature imagery is very prevalent. In "The Charge of the Goddess," probably the most widespread piece of Wiccan ritual poetry, the Goddess states:

I who am the beauty of the green earth,
And the white moon among the stars,
And the mystery of the waters,
Call unto your soul: arise and come unto me,
For I am the soul of nature...[38]

Here, nature is not merely alive and responsive to divinity, as in the Christian psalms quoted earlier; nature is the deity. In terms of the fourfold progression outlined above, Wicca could be said to combine elements of both primal animism and animistic polytheism. Individual deities, sometimes in anthropomorphic form, are acknowledged, but primarily as aspects of an underlying, immanent divinity resident within nature.

There is also a strong strain of environmental awareness and activism among Wiccans and other neo-pagans, which is particularly evident in the work of writers like Starhawk and Erynn Laurie. Neo-pagan magazines frequently feature information on environmental issues, and rituals are often specifically devoted to raising ecological awareness. This has become increasingly true over the last 20 years; Margot Adler notes that in the seven years between the first and second editions of Drawing Down the Moon, her survey of neo-paganism in the United States, she witnessed a tremendous upsurge in political involvement among pagans, especially around environmental issues.[39] And I have personally seen previously apolitical people sufficiently moved by involvement in Wicca to engage in civil disobedience actions with Earth First!.

In fact, the association between neo-paganism and ecological politics has become sufficiently strong that a somewhat unfortunate side-effect has been the widespread misconception that the movement is itself somehow merely an outgrowth of the environmental movement -- or of feminism, with which it is also frequently associated -- rather than religious movement in its own right which predates either feminism or environmentalism in their modern forms. Entire essays have been devoted to attacking Wicca and neo-paganism on the assumption that they are purely political creations.[40]

Exactly how old the various neo-pagan traditions are is a subject of considerable debate. While many practitioners feel they have a spiritual lineage dating back to pre-Christian times, in actual historical terms, the genesis of the movement can largely be traced to the various occult orders that sprang up in England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. While by and large, these groups used pagan deities only symbolically, operated predominantly within a Judaeo-Christian framework, and accepted the typically Western metaphysical notions of transcendent divinity, there were important countercurrents present, particularly as the occult revival grew on into the 1920's and 30's.

Dion Fortune, a former Golden Dawn initiate who went on to found her own order, the Society of the Inner Light, wrote several occult novels which embodied a much more visceral, ecstatic, and nature based approach to divinity than was prevalent among occultists at the time.[41] While Fortune herself soon abandoned her flirtation with paganism and returned to a Christian-based mysticism, two of her students, Christine Hartley and Charles Seymour, carried on in the vein she had begun.[42] Seymour's work, in particular, articulates a very different sort of spirituality than was the norm for British occultism of that period:

On tree-clad hills, in boulder-strewn gorges, and upon bare windswept wastes and steep-sided peaks dwell the Old Gods, the essential Gods. These are the nature gods that the slum-dwelling children of modern man have forgotten, to their infinite loss.[43]

According to at least one scholar who has researched the matter, Seymour and Hartley were likely two of the founders of modern Wicca.[44] While this is somewhat speculative, it is certain that for them the goal of what occultists referred to as "the Mysteries" was the cultivation of contact with the Old Gods, the primal forces of nature, and most especially with the Earth Mother, the Magna Mater who they regarded as the soul of the living world, a concept that is central to much of neo-pagan theology today. Their concept of divinity and of spiritual exploration and discovery was one that was strongly rooted in the living earth:

There are many who know well how nature, when we are in the wild places, comes stealthily nearer with a riot of silent beauty. Through closed eyes in green beechwoods, feelings steal upon us that bring an awareness of some vital essence of the place that discharges itself into the receptive human soul. Something that recharges the natural battery that modern town life causes to run down. There is a tingling at the nape and a prickling in the thumbs. Then a glow as from a great inner fire warms one's being. A deep sense of the greatness and goodness of nature's vast life steals over one, and the pagan who knows this feeling says, "This place is divine. Here the Old Ones are still with us."[45]

It is also certain, from my experience, that involvement with neo-paganism has inspired many previously apolitical people to become environmentally active. Many adherents are drawn to the movement simply by a search for spiritual meaning, but find their worldview sufficiently altered by their experiences that they are inspired to act. Of course, not every neo-pagan becomes politically active -- Western society's insistence on pigeonholing religion as a separate category of experience, divorced from daily life, has made itself felt in countercultural communities too, with the result that many people appear to be quite capable of keeping their nature-revering religious beliefs in a separate compartment from their nature-destroying lifestyles. Despite the overall emphasis on living one's religion, there are "Sunday pagans" whose commitment to their faith goes no deeper than that of "Sunday Christians."

One can also find among the activists many people who were environmentally active before they discovered neo-paganism, and gravitated to it because it complemented their political beliefs and provided them with the emotional and spiritual support essential to avoiding the phenomenon of "activist burnout." But looking at the politically active pagans I have met within my 18 years of involvement with Toronto's Wiccan community, I can attest that I have encountered more who came to activism by way of spirituality than vice-versa.

Of course, neo-pagans are not the only people explicitly combining ecological politics with ecological spiritual practices. Within the deep ecology movement, there have been, almost from the very beginning, those who have interpreted the movement's principles in a spiritual as well as political light. The emphasis in movement founder Arne Naess's writings[46] on the need to alter the human concept of self to one based on relatedness, rather than separateness from the world, has led many deep ecologists to engage with explicitly spiritual questions. Bill Devall and George Sessions's seminal Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered, which defined the movement for many people when it was first published in 1985, cites several religious traditions as "sources of the deep ecology perspective," including Taoism, Buddhism, indigenous religions, and the Christianity of St. Francis of Assisi.[47]

A number of appendixes to the book by various authors specifically address spiritual concerns, including pieces by John Seed, Dolores LaChappelle and Gary Snyder, who might be collectively termed the "holy trinity" of spiritual deep ecology. Seed, whose involvement in the Council of All Beings was discussed near the start of this paper, discusses the deeper implications of rejecting anthropocentrism:

"I am protecting the rain forest" develops to "I am part of the rain forest protecting itself." The thousands of years of imagined separation are over and we begin to recall our true nature. That is, the change is a spiritual one, thinking like a mountain, sometimes referred to as "deep ecology."[48]

LaChappelle stresses the importance of ritual in re-establishing and maintaining a healthier relationship with the natural world:

We have tried to relate to the world around us through only the left side of our brain, and we are clearly failing. If we are to re-establish a viable relationship, we need to rediscover the wisdom of these other cultures who knew that their relationship to the land and to the natural world required the whole of their being. What we call their "ritual and ceremony" was a sophisticated social and spiritual technology, refined through many thousands of years of experience, that maintained that relationship much more successfully than we are.[49]

And they are by no means alone in interpreting deep ecology in a spiritual light. The poetry and prose of Gary Snyder has been very influential in raising these issues from a Buddhist perspective. The element of the sacred in Earth First!'s "No compromise in defence of Mother Earth" stance has already been discussed. Longtime EF! activist Jesse "Lone Wolf Circles" Hardin frequently writes for neo-pagan publications and has published a book of poetry and artwork dealing with "Earthen Spirituality."[50]

All of these efforts have the advantage of being explicitly rooted in the political, rather than implicitly leading to it as is the case with neo-paganism. However, this is not to say that they are problem-free. Like new agers, deep ecologists have been criticized for cultural appropriation.[51] This problem is particularly apparent with the work of LaChappelle and her Way of the Mountain Centre, in which cultural influences are randomly combined in a manner we are more accustomed to seeing among new agers than deep ecologists. While many native people might agree with her that white people need to learn from other cultures, they are unlikely to approve of the wholesale appropriation of their spiritual practices. LaChappelle's Earth Wisdom exhorts readers to use Pawnee adoption rituals, Japanese tea ceremony, and Sioux sweat lodges in their quest for reunion with nature.[52] In Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, she mixes in even more elements, from Japanese Taiko drumming and Tai Chi to chants from Huichol peyote ceremonies and the Plains Indian Ghost Dance[53] -- ironically, this last was a movement devoted to banishing whites from North America. LaChappelle's theoretical and critical writings are often very insightful, but her mixmaster approach to cultures is maddening.

Seed and Macy's Council of All Beings avoids the problem of cultural appropriation by remaining for the most part culturally non-specific. What few cultural references there are are for the most part based in European paganism -- there is a call to Gaia, and the structure of the workshop bears some similarities to that of a Wiccan ritual. Many of the meditations are essentially poetic re-readings of modern science, such as the "evolutionary remembering", which lyrically takes participants step by step through the formation of the universe and the evolution of life on earth, in order to deepen their sense of kinship with other life. The only native element is a rendition of the apocryphal speech attributed to Chief Seattle.[54]

There is, of course, a certain amount of overlap between the neo-pagan movement and spiritual deep ecology. The concept of divinity immanent within nature, the centrality of Gaia/Mother Earth imagery, the emphasis on seasonal cycles -- the Earth First! Journal is published on the eight major Wiccan festivals -- and so on. Both groups tend to share a concern with bioregionalism -- learning to live "in place", to belong to the place where you live. And there are important ways in which the two movements can complement each other, with deep ecology providing an explicitly political framework within which neo-pagans can apply their commitment to the earth, and Wicca and neo-paganism providing more suitable sources for ritual material for non-Native deep ecologists wishing to avoid cultural appropriation.

In fact, some native activists have explicitly told people of European ancestry to start working with their own ancestral religions instead of pirating native beliefs. In a political speaking tour of Germany, Ward Churchill, Bob Robideau, Annette Jaimes and Paulette D'Auteuil told audiences of European "wanna-be's" in no uncertain terms to stick to their own roots:

You seem to feel that you are either completely disconnected from your own heritage of having been conquered and colonized, or that you can and should disconnect yourselves from it as a means of destroying that which oppresses you. We are not unique in being indigenous. Everyone is indigenous somewhere You are not necessarily part of the colonizing, predatory reality called "Europe." You are not even necessarily "Germans," with all that implies. You are, or can be, who your ancestors were and who the faith-keepers of your cultures remain: Angles, Saxons, Huns, Goths, Visigoths. The choice is yours, but in order for it to have meaning, you must meet the responsibilities that come with it.[55]

Elsewhere, Churchill states, in a viewpoint strikingly similar to that of the cultural reconstructionist traditions within neo-paganism, that:

What we have to understand is that in order for Europeans to do what they have done to virtually all non-Europeans, all non-Westerners on the planet, they had to colonize themselves. These colonizers are colonized.

They too are indigenous people. Not here. But somewhere they are indigenous people, with indigenous understandings of the land, and all the things we counterpoise to the predator reality that engulfs us now. They need to get back in touch with that, you see. They must recover that which was taken from them in the process of colonization, taken in the same fashion that things are being taken from us now.

And it may be that we [Natives] can be helpful to them in that regard, once they have recognized the need for that to occur, to get back to what it meant to be Gaelic or Celtic, to find out what Anglo-Saxon really meant before the synthesis of "Europe" was effected. I can talk to Basques and Celts. I can't talk to Europeans.[56]


Neo-paganism and deep ecology are by no means the only forms of ecological spirituality, but they are the two I personally find the most compelling. And there are, as I have stated, important ways in which the two movements can complement each other. But there remain potential areas of tension between the two as well. One question that has been raised is: can the animistic worldview of Wicca and neo-paganism coexist with science? Many environmentalists, myself included, have an interest in science and have studied ecology and conservation biology. Must this inevitably lead to embracing the mechanistic worldview usually associated with modern science, or is it possible to hold a more holistic view? Can one look at a jack pine tree and perceive both its role in the boreal forest ecosystem and its indwelling spirit?

Personally, I have never had any problem doing just that. I think it is a question of, as LaChapelle put it earlier, learning to relate to the world with our whole beings, not just as isolated left or right brains. To function as a whole and healthy human being, it is necessary to integrate one's intellect and intuition in order to have a balanced perspective. Emphasizing the spiritual to the exclusion of the practical leads to the kind of blissed-out inaction Foreman criticized in "The Arrogance of Enlightenment," while the reverse leads to the empty world our society has already been inhabiting for far too long. The beautiful science-based meditations in Thinking Like a Mountain, and in particular, John Seed's invocation to Gaia, show that science and the spirit and coexist:

We call upon the spirit of evolution, the miraculous force that inspires rocks and dust to weave themselves into biology. You have stood by us for millions and billions of years -- do not forsake us now. Empower us, and awaken in us pure and dazzling creativity. You that can turn scales into feathers, sea water into blood, caterpillars into butterflies, metamorphose our species, awaken in us the powers that we need to survive the present crisis and evolve into more æons of our solar journey.

O stars, lend us your burning passion.

O silence, give weight to our voice.

We ask for the presence of the spirit of Gaia.[57]

On a related note, many deep ecologists may be wary of the elements of magic and occultism that pervade Wicca in particular, and other neo-pagan traditions to a lesser extent. While the idea of ritual as a means of emotional support for political work may make sense to them, the idea of magic -- of ritual being able to create change in and of itself -- may be seen as being a cop-out, or as just plain weird. There is no simple answer to this problem; in some respects, the question of supernatural phenomena reaches deeper than many other spiritual matters, as it involves not just questions of how we choose to perceive the world, but of what the world actually is, and is capable of doing.

In Out of the Ordinary, the proceedings of the 1991 Fife Conference on Folklore, David J. Hufford proposes what he terms an experience-based theory concerning folk beliefs, in which he suggests that many people's belief in supernatural phenomena can be described as reasonable in that it is derived in some way from experience.[58] In my experience, this is broadly true of most Wiccans; the experiential emphasis within the religion means that blind faith is frowned upon. In this light, what the matter essentially boils down to is the willingness of individuals whose experience of these matters has been different to acknowledge that other people's experiences may be valid. To avoid what I identified earlier as an anthropocentric bias, it is not necessary to blindly accept the reality of any and all supernatural phenomena; merely to accept that Western science may not have all the answers all of the time.

Another question that must be addressed in dealing with the existence of spiritual or religious motivations behind environmental activism is whether that motivation should be publicly admitted or not. For those who hold such motivations, is it better to show their true colours openly, and risk alienating potential supporters or appearing irrational, or to conceal them and risk relying on utilitarian arguments that may betray us?[59]

Yet another point that must be kept in mind is the importance of avoiding dogmatism. As stressed several times throughout this paper, it is spiritual experience, not doctrine, that is crucial to any meaningful form of ecological spirituality. Blind faith is not empowering, and demanding blind faith of others is outright oppressive. Our purpose should be not to create some new orthodoxy or eco-evangelism, but to encourage and empower people to open up to new experiences, to rediscover the sacredness of the world in their own way, and make their own spiritual journey, in whatever direction it may take them. The attention I have given to neo-paganism within this paper has been due to my extensive experience with it, which allows me to discuss it with more assurance than I could, say, Franciscan Christianity or Zen Buddhism, both of which have certainly inspired their share of environmental activists as well.

Any of these paths can fulfill the crucial tasks of ecological spirituality: The challenge Seed speaks of, of how to integrate the information we are flooded with, how to make it real and relevant and personal; the need for what Macy terms "despairwork," a means of overcoming the paralyzing hopelessness that the daily flood of bad news can engender, of finding a way to keep on going in spite of everything; and the need, if we are ever to attain deep-rooted, lasting change in our way of relating to nature, to escape from Eliade's desacralized cosmos, to rediscover a world "impregnated with sacredness."

In conclusion, we must remember that the single most important aspect of ecological spirituality is in providing the why of environmental activism. Why should we care? Why should these issues matter to us? Why should we be willing to keep working, keep fighting, keep caring, in the face of constant setbacks, defeats and ridicule? What gets us through?

It is at those moments that the deeper questions call out to be answered, that we need the assurance of something vaster, older, deeper, than our individual selves:

O stars, lend us your burning passion.

O silence, give weight to our voice.

We ask for the presence of the spirit of Gaia.[60]



  1. Fraser, Charles, quoted in John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid: Narratives about a Conservationist and Three of his Natural Enemies. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971, pp. 95 & 103. Return to text.
  2. Mitchell, Kara, The Wildlands League, personal communication. Return to text.
  3. Graber, Linda H., Wilderness as Sacred Space. Washington, DC: Association of America Geographers, 1976. Return to text.
  4. This, and all dictionary definitions that follow, come from Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1993. Return to text.
  5. LaChappelle, Dolores. Sacred Land, Sacred Sex -- The Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life. Silverton, CO: Finn Hill Arts, 1988, p. 118. Return to text.
  6. Ibid. Return to text.
  7. Seed, John, "To Hear Within Ourselves the Sound of the Earth Crying," in John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming & Arne Naess, Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1988, p. 6. Return to text.
  8. Foreman, Dave. Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. NY: Harmony Books, 1991, pp. 52-53. Return to text.
  9. Macy, Joanna. Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1983. Return to text.
  10. Ibid, p. 16. Return to text.
  11. Ibid, pp. 28-29. Return to text.
  12. Ibid, pp. 24 & 27. Return to text.
  13. Seed, Macy, Fleming & Naess, Thinking Like a Mountain. Return to text.
  14. Baudino, Gael, Strands of Sunlight. NY: Roc, 1994. Return to text.
  15. Starhawk (Miriam Simos). The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. NY: Harper & Row, 1979. pp. 77-78. Return to text.
  16. Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1957, p. 17. Return to text.
  17. Young, Dudley. Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1991, p. xxi. Return to text.
  18. Ellis, Peter Berresford. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. London: Constable, 1992, pp. 41 & 198. Return to text.
  19. Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition. London: Prentice Hall Press, 1991, p. 244. Return to text.
  20. Green, Miranda. Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 1. Return to text.
  21. Laurie, Erynn. A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts. Seattle: Eschaton Press, 1994. Return to text.
  22. Laurie, Erynn. Message posted on Nemeton-L, Wednesday, April 19, 1995. Return to text.
  23. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 116. Return to text.
  24. For an excellent account of this transition, see Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980. Return to text.
  25. Starhawk. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982, pp. 7-8. Return to text.
  26. Scarce, Rik. Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement. Chicago: The Noble Press, 1990, p. 34. Return to text.
  27. Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. "The Dead Pan." Cited in The Pocket Book of Quotations. NY: Pocket Books, 1942, p. 263. Return to text.
  28. LaChappelle, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, p. 121. Return to text.
  29. Jeffers, Robinson, "Credo." Cited in The Pocket Book of Quotations. NY: Pocket Books, 1942, p. 12. Return to text.
  30. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 13. Return to text.
  31. This story appeared in an interview with Starhawk in some feminist magazine, which I cannot for the life of me find right now. Return to text.
  32. Walker, Barbara (ed.). Out of the Ordinary: Folklore & the Supernatural. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1995. Note that to the best of my knowledge, this is not the same Barbara Walker who has written several books on feminist spirituality. Return to text.
  33. Ibid, pp. 5-6. Return to text.
  34. See Sessions, George, "Deep Ecology and the New Age Movement," in George Sessions (ed.), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. Boston: Shambhala Books, 1995. Return to text.
  35. See Churchill, Ward, Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994. Return to text.
  36. Sessions, George, "Deep Ecology and the New Age Movement"; LaChappelle, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, p. 121-123. Return to text.
  37. For a good introduction to Wicca, and to neo-paganism in general, see Adler, Margot, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Return to text.
  38. "The Charge of the Goddess." Precise origin unknown, but thought by many to have been written by Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner in the 1940s or 50s. Widely published; see for example Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p. 77. Return to text.
  39. Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 411 17. Return to text.
  40. See Biehl, Janet. "The Politics of Myth." Kick It Over, no. 23, Spring 1989. My article in response, which the editors somewhat confusingly titled "The Politics of Atheism," appeared in the following issue. Return to text.
  41. See Fortuen, Dion, The Goat Foot God (NY: Samuel Weiser, 1936), The Sea Priestess (NY: Samuel Weiser, 1938), Moon Magic (NY: Samuel Weiser, 1940). Return to text.
  42. See Richardson, Alan (ed.). Dancers to the Gods: The Magical Records of Charles Seymour and Christine Hartley, 1937 1939. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1985. Return to text.
  43. Seymour, Charles. In Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki (ed.). The Forgotten Mage: The Magical Lectures of Colonel C.R.F. Seymour. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1986, p. 135. Return to text.
  44. Kelly, Aidan, Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1991. I do not support all of Kelly's theories by any means, but on this particular point, I believe he is likely correct.Return to text.
  45. Seymour, Charles. The Forgotten Mage. p. 207. Return to text.
  46. See Naess, Arne, "Self-Realization," In Sessions, Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. Return to text.
  47. Devall, Bill, and George Sessions. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City, UT: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985, pp. 90-101. Return to text.
  48. Seed, John. "Anthropocentrism." Appendix E in Devall & Sessions, Deep Ecology, p. 243. Return to text.
  49. LaChappelle, Dolores. "Ritual is Essential." Appendix F in Devall & Sessions, Deep Ecology, p. 247-48. Return to text.
  50. Lone Wolf Circles. Full Circle: A Song of Ecology & Earthen Spirituality. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1991. Return to text.
  51. See Guha, Ramachandra, "Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique," in Environmental Ethics vol. 11, no. 1 (1989). Return to text.
  52. LaChappelle, Dolores. Earth Wisdom. Silverton, CO: Finn Hill Arts, 1978. Return to text.
  53. LaChappelle, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, pp. 274-302. Return to text.
  54. Seed, Macy, Fleming & Naess, Thinking Like a Mountain. Return to text.
  55. Churchill, Indians Are Us?, pp. 234-37. Return to text.
  56. Churchill, Ward, in Derrick Jensen, Listening to the Land: Conversations About Nature, Culture and Eros. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1995, pp. 161-62. Return to text.
  57. Seed, John, "Invocation," in Seed, Macy, Fleming & Naess, Thinking Like a Mountain, p. 7. Return to text.
  58. Hufford, David J. "Beings Without Bodies: An Experience-Centered Theory of the Belief in Spirits." In Walker (ed.), Out of the Ordinary. Return to text.
  59. See Evernden, Neil, The Natural Alien: Humankind & Environment. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985, pp. 3-14, on the dangers of utilitarian arguments. Return to text.
  60. Seed, John, "Invocation," in Seed, Macy, Fleming & Naess, Thinking Like a Mountain, p. 7. Return to text.


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