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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality

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

8: Three axes of change

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]



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