Wild Ideas: an online exploration of the wild

The Calyx: Wild Sexuality The Commons: Wild Politics Return to Wild Ideas home page

In The Forest:

Book Reviews
Web Reviews

Stay informed — join WildNews, our announcement list:

E-mail Address:


You are here: Wild Ideas > Forest > Library >

The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents page for full permissions.

13: Spiritual deep ecology

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]



All content copyright 1999-2006 by the individual authors, where cited, or by Lynna Landstreet where not specifically credited.

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Green Web Hosting by Dreamhost Site design: Spider Silk Design - Toronto web designers
This page last modified: January 29, 2006


Wild Ideas has just undergone a major redesign and restructuring, and may still be a little rough around the edges. Please bear with us as we get things sorted out.