Faith Matters: Nature as sacred

  • Lis McLoughlin of Northfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Founder, NatureCulture LLC
Published: 12/3/2021 2:26:54 PM

Pagans are a diverse group of people whose beliefs focus on the natural world. And that is about all you can accurately say about Pagans as a whole without setting off some sort of disagreement. As a very diverse group, no one person can speak for all Pagans. I am speaking from a European-American Pagan perspective, one of many. Importantly, note that the term Pagan is rejected by most Indigenous people of North America, who have suffered from being categorized as such.

For European-American Pagans, the divine exists in Nature. For many of us, the sacred does not have a face, or even a name, does not require our obedience, worship, or even belief. It just is, and being able to tap into that energy is both a gift and a right, for all people.

Because Nature, in and of itself, is whole, it includes the sacred, and it includes humans. We as humans are part of nature, and thus it is our obligation to treat the rest of Nature with the respect due to sacred kin, and not as resource put there for our exploitation.

This concept is different than the one of “stewardship.” Stewardship implies that humans are in charge of Nature, that our job is to protect it and cultivate it. While many who embrace the idea of stewardship mean it kindly, and in opposition to the status quo of rampant exploitation, for Pagans the term stewardship does not go far enough toward dismantling the idea that humans are above the rest of Nature. As part of Nature, and perhaps uniquely, with the ability to act outside the web of Nature, we must choose to act toward the rest of Nature with respect as kin, and treat it with the dignity due all animate beings.

One branch of Paganism, Animism (of which, again, there are many types), states that in some ways all natural things are living beings. When you start thinking of the world as full of people, not all of them human, it changes the way you walk through life. It makes it easier to believe in a living, sacred pulse of energy in our universe. And once you envision the Natural world as sacred, it is easier to imagine how to align your life to be in harmony, co-creating, with it.

Respect for Nature does not mean we can’t use other beings — it just means that if we take something, we do it because we need to, and with an understanding that since we are taking, we must also give. We assert ourselves within this web to assuage our needs, but also leave room for our co-creators to spin out their part of the web that holds us all.

We will eat some plants and animals, we will burn some trees as firewood — with an understanding of ourselves as part of the natural web of existence. And we will put the energy we gain from them to good use strengthening that web. We do not exhaust the soil by taking more than can be replenished, or cut old growth trees sequestering carbon and healing our planet. We use resources wisely and in proportion to our needs, and in the end, we return to the Earth — hopefully in a form that allows us to become part of the ecosystem rather than poison it.

As with all people living in a developed country, these hopes, for European-American Pagans in the U.S., are aspirational. Yet our ideal goals shape the way we live, the way we interact with the sacred Natural world. We hope that with stones, rivers, plants and animals we co-create a sacred existence here on Earth, bound together with mutual respect and understanding. We hope we can live less wastefully, and in harmony within this natural web before it is too late for our planet — our sacred Natural world — to recover.

Lis McLoughlin holds a BS in Civil Engineering, an MEd in Education, and a PhD in Science and Technology Studies. She founded NatureCulture LLC (nature-culture.net) whose mission is to bring people into closer right relationship with the rest of Nature, and through which she directs the Writing the Land project (writingtheland.org), and organizes the annual Authors and Artists Festival. She lives off-grid in Northfield.


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