Leaders of the Environmental Movement

April 8, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

Over the last few years I’ve had this question bouncing around my head: Why aren’t Pagans the leaders of the environmental movement? Mother Earth is supposed to be a sacred deity for many of us but there are few who tread lightly on Her.

It’s not that I expect Pagans to live off the grid, growing all their own food. That would be unrealistic. However, I do expect Pagans to think of our Great Mother before they make a purchase and put food in their mouths.

Many a ritual and festival I see a total lack of regard for Mother Earth. SUVs, styrofoam food containers, processed food, and wares made in far off places of plastic, poisonous enamels, or unsustainable practices, hair dyes, makeup, and other personal care items. Last year, for example, I attended a festival in southwestern New Hampshire. I wrote about it on Witchstead

I looked around and there were thousands of dollars worth of stock: books, statues, cloaks and dresses, cards, more jewelry than I can honestly fathom, hand carved wood ritual items like wands, and tons of herbs and spices. I asked each of the herb and spice vendors if they grew their stock. Each said no with a snort.

I’ve asked Pagans why they make the choices they do. Often, the response is started with “I need…” or “I can’t…”

For example:
“I need an SUV because my kids have soccer practice.”
“I can’t grow my own herbs because of the foxes.”
“I color my hair because it represents my inner self.”
“I’m so busy…”

But there’s a negative duality of honoring our Great Mother without actually honoring her.

Pagans should be at the forefront of the environmental movement. We should put into practice the green living techniques learned over the last decades and show the world we take seriously what we preach: Earth is our Mother and we will honor Her by becoming green beacons for others to gravitate to.

Comment Feed

32 Responses

  1. There are several possible contributing factors to the lack of visible Pagan leadership in the larger green movement.

    1) Pagans are not part of the broader ‘Interfaith Stewardship’ movement, like Interfaith Power and Light. For one thing, IPL is not accepting of non-Christians. By not being accepted into that movement, Pagans miss out on educational opportunities, home energy products and services rebates, etc. So we’re not part of the broader ‘stewardship’ dialog. (Never mind the underlying anthropocentrism of ‘stewardship,’ that’s a whole post on its own.)

    2) The conventional environmental movement arose from the writings of Rousseau, Thoreau, John Muir, etc. The ‘dominate and use the earth’ camp of Christians frequently belabors mainstream environmentalists for being ‘Pagan,’ based on the semi-animist slant of those early writers. This makes mainstream environmental organizations hesitant to embrace Pagan leadership, lest they lose the ability to reach out to environmentally friendly Christians. (Our funding may be embraced, but our viewpoint is not.)

    3)I would contend that there *are* Pagan leaders in the environmental movement, but they tend only to be able to ‘preach to the choir.’ I’m thinking of Starhawk – she does *excellent* work with permaculture. However, in the last decade, leftist, pro-environmental voices like hers have been silenced in the media, in favor of extractionist (use the earth) Wall-street perspectives.

    When Pagans aren’t invited into the national ‘green’ conversation, and our leaders are increasingly silenced in conventional media, it does have an effect. Pagans are still part of the national ‘green’ conversation, but if we don’t see and hear our concerns reflected, we tend not to ‘buy in,’ and take action.

    My suggestion to resolving this issue would be that a core of concerned Pagans should form an educational outreach group akin to the IPL’s, (Interfaith Pagans and Light?) and make ‘green’ education a part of every workshop, festival, or convention. That would be the way to engage Pagans on their home turf. That would develop a critical mass of engaged people to become a ‘National Voice’ for Honoring the Earth.

  2. i understand how and why we’re excluded , with our obvious progreen stance how do we overcome these obsticles and make ourselves heard. we need to add our voices to this issue . one that we , as much or more than others understand

    • I don’t believe we are excluded at all. I am dear friends with two Pagan elders who show up for many, many environmental actions. The young activists find their Paganism fascinating and intriguing, and my friends get quite a lot accomplished.

      To hear them tell it, the reason Pagans are generally not included in the conversation is that few of them show up for it. Since they’ve been active both as Pagan community elders and environmentalists since the early 1970′s, I tend to think they know what they are talking about.

      We’re excluding ourselves, as far as I can see.

  3. I’ve found that many of the Deep Green Resistance are Pagans almost by default – Derrick Jensen, Stephanie Macmillan, the good folks over at Fertile Ground and some of the Earth First people. There is no other way for them to express their convictions sacredly than in a form of Paganism – Pantheism, really, but that’s firmly under the Pagan umbrella, isn’t it?
    For myself, I became Deep Green later, Pagan first.
    Well, Witch first, then Pagan, then a Shaman, and now I practise DGR almost seamlessly along with my Shamanic work.
    You have to know where to look, is I guess what I’m saying.

    Terri in Joburg

    • And some are Pagans by theology, too. However, so many Pagans have been resistant for so many years to becoming more than superficially engaged in environmentalism, either on a personal or a political level, that the Pagans I know tend to be activists without a banner to stand under. They can be hard to find because they have, perhaps, given up on having much company from their co-religionists.

      I know some kickass Pagan activists. But I also know an awful lot of lukewarm Pagans, whose idea of being an environmentalist is recycling the bottled water they drink on a regular basis. It’s a bit frustrating!

  4. As I understand it, the Maine Earthtides Pagan organization has had a booth at the Common Ground Fair held annually by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association every September in Unity, Maine.

    I have never managed to make the trip up there, at least so far.

  5. I am a firm believer in “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Sometimes I think that means doing without recognition. I am a promoter of the tiny house movement and believe that there are more like minded folks out there than we even know.

    However, I completely understand what you mean when you point out the excuses. I am often faced with reactions like “Oh, I could never do that because…” To which I want to respond that it doesn’t matter what it is that you do, just do something.

  6. I was part of a panel discussion for a podcast yesterday (Pagan Pathfinders podcast) Diana Paxton lamented that Pagans are uncomfortable getting involved in politics. Every Canadian on the panel immediatly spoke up: “that’s not a problem here!” I think the lady was a little take aback.
    Having lived and travelled a fair bit I must say that one’s experience with nonpolitical and un-ego friendly Pagans is going to differ depending on where one is.

  7. Thanks for all the great comments everyone. I really appreciate it.

    I was a little nervous this post would come off all preachy and sanctimonious which is why it’s such a short post. I will come back to it over time.

  8. Non-eco friendly. Damn you, auto correct!
    I do agree it is heartening to see Pagans acting with disregard for the Earth.

  9. My own experience as a Pagan in the environmental movement came from working within a sustainability non-profit. The goal was to sway what are now called ‘climate deniers’ toward more sustainable consumer behaviors. As most of the climate deniers are Christian, tens of thousands of dollars were channeled into swaying that audience, not pagans. Educational programs to teach sustainable behaviors are developed for Christian audiences, not Pagans. Money for weatherizing, buying low energy use appliances, and solar power is channeled through Christian organizations like Interfaith Power and Light – and not to Pagans, or through Pagan organizations. This leaves us outside the national conversation on environmental sustainability in ways hard to appreciate if you’ve never been involved with city or state government.

    Pagan environmental activity tends to be either marching in the streets or other ‘actions,’ or confined to consumerist activity such as buying local organic foods. Pagans are not funded by foundations, don’t have non-profits that can rally large numbers of people to take action, don’t have a ‘media voice’ such as a blog on Huffington Post or columnists in national media. Our organizational presence and public clout is far smaller than our actual numbers should warrant.

    We need to discern the difference between consumeris’ activities to ‘save the earth’ and the larger scale work to end a carbon-based economy. While changing pagan consumer patterns has spiritual merit, changing consumer buying habits has FAR less environmental impact than changing energy use policies on a city, state, or national level. What’s needed to make that kind of difference is hard political power, and clout.

    Yes, we need to walk our talk, and buy organic. But we also need to develop strategies to translate our UPG’s into successful political strategy. Juniper has it right – we’re hesitant to get involved in politics. Doubly so if we’re marginalized. So what do we do about it?

    Until we get our heads out of the clouds and come down to the earth we so love, and get our hands dirty… we won’t be leaders in the environmental movement. It’s time to organize!

  10. I also wonder if some of the problem is just from the fact that pagan/polytheist religions are still marginalized and not regarded as legitimate in the larger religious communities.
    Within the pagan community though, I find it deplorable that there isn’t more of an active ecological focus happening. It’s one thing to talk about it, something else entirely to PRACTICE it.

  11. If you believe the fundamentalist Christians and conservatives in general these days, we ARE the leaders of the environmental movement. In fact, the whole movement is a new age/pagan conspiracy!

    We also need to ask ourselves who is the movement and who are it’s leaders? The CEOs of big “green” NGOs line their pockets and their organization’s budgets with money from places like BP. They’ve also increasingly become shills for the nuclear industry.

    Do all of us root-level pagans do all that we could? No, but we try harder than most. For better and worse, we still live in a 21st Century world, and most of us live in cities and suburbs, not rural organic farm communes. As a modern people, our carbon footprints are simply not going to shrink down to what it was for our ancestors anytime soon. If it did, ie if we had no petroleum, no plastics, no chemical fertilizers, 90% of us would be dead of childhood illness or starvation. That’s a fact. We can and we must and we will retool this mess to sustainable ways.

    Our entire economy and infrastructure works against green decisions. My daily commute is two miles each way, but I drive (no, not an SUV). I’d love to walk or bike, but I live on a very high traffic road without an inch of sidewalk or shoulder. I’d be dead within a week. My condo building is an energy nightmare, no shading and asphalt all around, so I have two giant window AC units keeping me alive all summer.

    So I don’t do all that I would like, but I do what I can. I got the building refitted with energy efficient lights. I try to buy organic food whenever I can. I’m pretty handy mechanically and so I keep my appliances and things going much longer than the average person. I still use a pre-9/11 cell phone! I’ve even been known to garbage pick things like microwave ovens to refurbish for use in my lab.

    I guess what I’m saying is we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves or fellow pagans. We are working hard to overcome 15 centuries or so of spiritual oppression and reconnect with the Earth in a society which has been conditioned for 200 years or so to believe that the Earth is our slave.

    The one thing I think paganism in its many forms demands of all of us is to live consciously. Be aware of how your daily choices impact the environment, and push yourself a little harder each day to do better. Help others to do the same, but be wary of pushing too hard or getting into questioning if everyone else is “pagan enough” or “green enoughh.” The last thing our movement needs right now is fundamentalism.

  12. I love how your blog brought on so many thought provoking posts. All of which were a pleasure to read and contemplate. What I personally see is people taking these priorities home first, than to the public. It is better to have practiced what you wish to preach to better convey how it can be done. Many of us are practicing as best we can and are examples instead of leaders. As long as we each do our part, little by little when and where we can, we’ll be successful and even more so when our success is shared with friends and family, and on blogs :D

    What I encourage is experimenting at home to see what works for your personal circumstances. As we already know, not everyone can live in the country growing our own organic permaculture gardens. I currently live in an apartment, so I try to grow my own fruit and veggie plants indoors by a sunny window. I have a number of native trees I’ve grown from wild collected seeds in pots and will likely plant two of them this spring. I try to buy organic as best as I can, and buy local as best as I can. As I am in a new neighbourhood I try to learn how to avoid commuting to get my needs, and if I do need to, make sure the shopping trip is as eco-friendly as possible. I am still learning how to improve on what I am doing and by experimenting I am getting better at it over time.

  13. This post surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. In comparison to some of your examples, I’m a poster child for green & environmentally-friendly Paganism. Ironically, I am always seeking ways to do better.
    I think there may be a correlation between personal finance and green-living. In my observation, Pagans in general take traditionally low-paying jobs and have poor personal finance hygiene. Many Pagans I’ve met over the years have lots of occult “bling” and large libraries, but no savings, no retirement accounts, large amounts of credit card debt and no emergency funds.
    Green alternatives frequently cost more and/or are more time consuming to implement – so they go for the cheap styrofoam, the fast processed food or the factory farmed meats. People in general, Pagans included, choose to spend their time and money on other things. I don’t know how Pagans cope with the massive cognitive dissonance that allows them to profess an Earth-centered faith and yet also drive gas-guzzling SUVs, buy plastic crap from Mall Wart or eat processed fast food – but they do. Part of me thinks its sheer laziness, but also cheapness that drives them to continue.

  14. I saw your post on the Wild Hunt. It definitely got me thinking about my habits as a consumer and my practice as a pagan. I do my best to integrate the two, but I am always open to ideas for improving myself as a conservationist.

    • Glad to hear I got you thinking! There is no greater compliment!

      Cat and I will be writing a lot of posts on easy changes one can make to their life style to green up our Mother. I will be talking about some of the challenges I’ve encountered and some of the more difficult changes I’ve made.

  15. We do have leaders involved in the environmental movement, but I don’t know if we are seeing the bigger picture. Starhawk has announced a demonstration on April 14:

    “– CALL TO ACTION: MASS DEMONSTRATION at CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

    It Happened in Japan, It can Happen HERE!! Close Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant!”

    And starting next week:
    “Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk 2011

    NDE’s 63-mile, annual pilgrimage to the Nevada National Security Site (the NNSS, formerly called the Nevada Test Site) begins on April 18 with an orientation in Las Vegas and preparation for our six-day walk starting on April 19, 2011. For complete information go to http://nevadadesertexperience.org/ and see events in upper right hand corner.

    “We stop at the Temple of Goddess of Spirituality

    dedicated to the Goddess Sekhmet, in Cactus Springs, Nevada.”


    I’ve been following John Michael Greer’s The Archdruid Report (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com)for over a year. JMG written extensively about Peak Oil and Post-Industrial Society. There are over 1000 people at JMG’s Green Wizard Forum http://www.greenwizards.org talking about permaculture, renewable energy, and appropriate technology.

    Philip Carr-Gomm, another Druid, has been writing about environmental issues in England. (http://philipcarrgomm.wordpress.com/) Monday he announced TreeStory:
    “TreeStory is an innovative film with an ambitious plan to reconnect people to nature. Using a timeless form of activism: story-telling, it will explore the dramatic changes that can happen to people thanks to an experience with one important tree in their life.”

    Selena Fox at Circle Sanctuary just announced the first green burial at the Circle Sanctuary cemetery.

    And last month Selena published a healing ritual for Japan online. I forwarded the ritual to the president of our local Interfaith Alliance Chapter. She had been in Tokyo visiting family and returned to the US just two days before the quake. Joy, who’s a Methodist minister, now wants to put on an interfaith “Festival for the Healing of the Earth.” We’ve had one committee meeting already, and we’ve got a second one planned for Thursday morning. She’d never heard of Interfaith Power and Light, and I’m hoping to nudge the rest of the IA chapter into exploring IPL.

    I think No Unsacred Place can be a great clearinghouse for information on what Pagans are doing for the environment.

    • I agree there are some great voices in the Pagan community about living greenly. However, I was thinking of more loftily.

      For instance, when you think of the anti-abortion movement, you think fundamental Christians. When you think of Israel you think of Jews and Muslims. What I’d like to see is when someone in the general public thinks environmentalism they think Pagans.

  16. Yep to Kenneth! Climate deniers and Christian Fundamentalists believe that the earth is ‘Fallen,’ and so anyone who finds the earth a Sacred Place gets the label of Pagan. Science is suspect, as it studies the material world, ‘fallen’ matter. It’s almost funny – Pagans struggle to be as green as environmentalists, and the environmentalists get blamed for being Pagan! Uffda!

  17. “Why aren’t Pagans the leaders of the environmental movement?”

    There are many ways of being Pagan, and some of them don’t require using the word at all… (Unless you believe they do, in which case you end up with questions like this one.)

  18. You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation
    but I to find this matter to be really one thing that
    I think I’d by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and very extensive for me. I’m having a look forward
    in your subsequent publish, I’ll try to get the cling of it!

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] Howling Hill asks “why aren’t Pagans the leaders of the environmental movement?” [...]

  2. [...] by GG on Apr 12, 2011 • 3:56 pm No Comments I recently read a post on another pagan blog, No Unsacred Place (part of the Pagan Newswire Collective we told you about a few months ago). The author expressed [...]

  3. [...] are willing to go.It is also not lost on me the significance of what Howling Hill points out about Pagans and the environmental movement, where she says: Many a ritual and festival I see a total lack of regard for Mother Earth. SUVs, [...]

  4. [...] made because we have run out of other options. As this gradual shift happens, modern Pagans can become the philosophical, spiritual, and ethical leaders we have often supposed we could (or shoul…. I’m very pleased that the Pagan Newswire Collective was able to host and launch a new nature [...]

  5. [...] days ago, I asked in my inaugural post Why aren’t Pagans the leaders of the environmental movement?. I’ve had a year to think on my [...]

  6. [...] made because we have run out of other options. As this gradual shift happens, modern Pagans can become the philosophical, spiritual, and ethical leaders we have often supposed we could (or shoul….“Pagans should be at the forefront of the environmental movement. We should put into practice [...]

  7. [...] me wonder if we are really that difficult to organize. And it brings me back to my inaugural post Leader of the Environmental Movement where I wondered aloud why Pagans aren’t leading the charge against climate change. [...]

  8. [...] Modern Pagan and Heathen faiths, whether they identify as “nature religions” or not, have a special sacral relationship with the natural world. Our gods and goddesses can be found in oceans, rivers, forests, and mountains (indeed, in many cultures, Earth is the primal mother of most acknowledged gods and powers), some pre-Christian cultures envision a World Tree that binds reality together. Our rites often mark the changing seasons, and once tracked the progress of crops essential to our survival. Deity is not merely a transcendent force separate from creation, deity is everywhere and within every thing. Each of us holds the potential to be like the gods, and we acknowledge that the gods and powers walk and exist among us still. So it isn’t surprising that many Pagans feel a special urging to advocate for the environment and the protection of the natural … [...]

  9. [...] me wonder if we are really that difficult to organize. And it brings me back to my inaugural post Leader of the Environmental Movement where I wondered aloud why Pagans aren’t leading the charge against climate [...]