Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is Paganism A Nature Religion?

When I've asked people to describe Paganism, there are several themes that come up almost every time. One of the themes is the religion's connection to nature, specifically that Pagans worship nature. Okay, that would definitely make it a nature religion. But do Pagan really worship nature itself? When I think of worshiping, my concept of it includes showing devotion to a deity. As I don't see nature as being a deity, how can it be worshiped?

I question this because of the impression that while they don't actually worship nature, most modern Pagans do have a deep respect nature. But respect for nature and actually knowing about it enough for worship are two different things. I would argue that many modern Pagans (as well as the general population) do not spend much time outside, do not know the natural cycles (beyond the holidays) and do not have much knowledge about nature itself. (Be honest - if you went for a hike, how many trees, flowers, etc. would you be able to identify?)

Another theme that is mentioned is that Paganism is based on the natural cycles. While Pagan holidays themselves are based on the traditional yearly harvest festivals, I really don't see much in the way of natural cycles being emphasized. After all, how many people are growing most of their food? Is there really an emphasis on life cycles through the use of rites of passage? Do we know the yearly cycle intimately enough to call Paganism a religion based on nature?

While the holidays are still based on traditional harvest festivals, most modern Pagans do not have that intimate connection with the earth. That is why books such as City Magic by Christopher Penczak are becoming popular. Pagans are try to relate to both their spirituality and the mundane world around them.

Recently, Red Raven talked about the concept of "nature-based" and said that as a reconstructionist, it was a label that she rejects. She also presents the term "culture based" that could be used instead of "nature based" and gives this explanation:

The relationship to nature is part of the culture and cannot be removed from it without significant difficulty.

I realize that modern Paganism is still in it's early years and that defining a concept such as this is difficult at the start. While there are some aspects of Paganism that use nature as its muse, is it really a nature-based religion or is the Pagan's relationship to nature enhanced by some of the concepts presented in the religion?

Next installment of this discussion: A Pagan's Relationship To Nature.


Deborah said...

I'm not sure that Paganism is a religion at all. It's an umbrella term for a disparate group of religions.

Many Pagan religions ARE nature-based. If you are following seasonal cycles, if your holidays are marked by natural rather than calendrical events (i.e. the sun, the moon, the crops) then that's nature-based.

Penguin said...

Wow, that got me thinking! Want my input? It will be long....let me know.

Sojourner said...

Deborah - Thanks for the correction about Paganism as a religion. Maybe I should have named this post "Are Pagan Religions Nature Religions?" or something like that.

The only thing that it takes for a religion to be called "nature-based" is that the holidays are based on seasonal cycles? That's it? Somehow I get the impression that there may be more to it.

Penguin - Go for it. I would love your input as I am here to learn.

Jenavira said...

While I agree that there's a lot of talk about nature in Paganism generally and not so much of the substance (it wasn't until I lived in Ireland that I realized that the Irish holiday cycle really is based on the way the seasons turn -- in Ireland, and not in the US Midwest), I think the term "nature-based" still has some utility because of the way it separates Pagans from other religions which not only do not venerate nature but see little or no value in the world we live in at all. Of course, that's using "nature" in the broad sense of "physical reality" -- which many Pagans do, in some sense, by accepting humans and our efforts as a part of nature, which is not the same worldview as in, say, the Abrahamic religions, where humans are above nature (or should be).

Sojourner said...

Thanks Jenavira! Your explanation helped me to understand this concept better.

Niobium said...

I've wondered this myself, but in a differnt manner.

Recently I wrote a post asking why aren't Pagans the leaders of the enviromental movmement?. We proclaim to be stewarts of the earth, yet most Pagans that I know don't practice what they preach. They don't grow their own food, use a lot of chemicals in the makeup and hair dyes they use along with the chemicals to do their hair, drive honking SUVs, and whenever it's requested that one bring food to a festivle, they bring crappy GMed food that is not even remotely handmade.

Now I'm not saying that all Pagans are like this, just the majority that I've come across in my life. Certainly it makes me (and Wolf) shy away from potential groups of people because we see their waste as hypocrisy.

I do, shamefully, fall into one of your catagories though: I don't spend enough time outside, nor can I name the plants around me (besides the basics). But the deeper my Paganism becomes in me, the more I want to know about my world, the one I honor as Mother and Goddess.

peppylady said...

I have trouble explain the place I worship at...I never new the differents between nondemontional (sorry about the spelling)and metaphysical.
Until I looked up the two words metaphysical and nondemontail. The nondemtional relgious has no creed but bases their belief on christanity.
One day I was at curves and in a conversation which I didn't get involved with because I know it wasn't going any where.
One lady said basicly all beliefs aren't relgious except christainity. I guess it a personal thing,

Sojourner said...

Nio said:

I do, shamefully, fall into one of your catagories though: I don't spend enough time outside, nor can I name the plants around me (besides the basics).

I think that is most of us. Where do you think I get my examples from? :) I have every intention to get out (and hike, usually) but modern life gets in the way, mainly school.

Peppylady - don't worry about your spelling. :)

Letting that conversation go without comment sounds like it was a smart move.

Lillithmother said...

I call myself a pagan because I honor both aspect of God/dess, revere Mother Earth and all her gifts to us (even if I can't identify all of them), and because I believe we are all sons and daughters of God/dess. It's not so much a religion I practise, more like a way of life. Erm...did I answere the question? ;-)

Grian said...

This post made me think quite a bit and I've dedicated my own post to the subject on my blog - with a link to yours of course. Thanks for the blog worthy, thought provoking topic.

Sojourner said...

Lillithmother - To call it a way of life is a good description.

Grian - And I have linked back to you. Thanks for expanding on this topic.

Deborah said...

niobium--many Green leaders are Pagan, and of course, we don't always know who is Pagan and who isn't.

I want to stay away from a definition of "nature religion" that is equivalent to "back to nature" or rural. I think urban Paganism can be nature-based.

Judaism (my religion of birth) is tribal-based and historic. Holidays commemorate the history of the tribe, events in the past, and God's law.

Christianity is not tribal, but again, holidays commemorate events in the past, Gods law, and obedience to it.

Regular worship (Sabbath) is also commemorative of a "historic" event; Creation.

So yea, I'd say a nature-based religion, in which worship and holidays are based on current occurences in nature and connecting the self to nature is pretty distinctive. I'm not sure any further expansion is needed.

Bernulf said...

I think Jenavira used a word that is very important in this discussion: venerate. I would imagine many Pagans don't worship Nature, and I can also say that Nature is not a deity found in the Heathen pantheon (our gods are, however, subject to Nature, and act within it). But veneration of Nature is a different story.

The only thing I find a little sad is that it seems Nature is only found by many outdoors. While I think that's a great place to find Nature, and I certainly enjoy my time meditating by the Weser river, I think veneration of Nature should enable us to find Nature in the city, in the home, and within ourselves. When I'm at work, and have to keep two of my students focused more on lecture than on flirting, Nature can be found there, too. Nature is also in the technologies we use and, not so politically correct, it's in the waste many of those technologies create.

Also, that some Pagans may venerate Nature more than others doesn't affect the degree to which Paganism can be considered a Nature-based, or Nature-venerating religion. It would be similar to saying that, because such a large number of Christians don't read the New Testament from cover to cover, Christianity isn't based on the teachings of Jesus...that would be a misleading twist of logic. There are the tenets of faith upon which a religion might be based, and then there is the practice of said religion's adherents...both can be different.