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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality
Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents
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13: Spiritual deep ecology
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
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
-- 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
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.
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