Monday, August 14, 2006

The Pagan/Wiccan View on Nature

The practice of Pagan faith holds at its core a reverence for nature. The very word pagan means "of the earth" and generally referred to peoples who lived on, with and from the land and honored and celebrated the spirits they perceived as dwelling within. Pagans lived on every continent around the Earth and from them we draw on a rich multiplicity of myths and spiritual traditions to inform our more modern religious philosophies and practices.

For the most part, once nomadic tribes turned to a more agrarian way of life, early Pagan traditions centered around the peoples' dependence upon the seasonal cycles of the earth to provide sustenance. Many Pagan gods and goddesses had dominion over these cycles of nature and ancient peoples developed customs and rituals designed to appeal to and please these deities. In some traditions, there also was a certain belief that performing these rituals held a custodial purpose - that if the people did not perform the various rites associated with the growth and harvest seasons that the the wheel of the year would cease to turn and life on earth would cease to exist.

Here I must say that Neo-Pagan faiths include modern interpretations of many different ancient cultures and traditions. While they share a number of similarities, each has its own unique approach to ritual, deity and nature worship. Although I certainly have read about other pantheons and traditions, I can't presume to speak with any intelligence about any Pagan practices other than my own. As a Wiccan, most of what informs my practice is based on Western European traditions in general and many rituals are Celtic in particular.

The Earth's seasonal cycles are what the modern Wiccan Wheel of the Year is based on and they create the eight sacred holidays, Sabbats, that most witches observe: Yule (winter solstice), Imbolc, Ostara (vernal equinox), Beltane, Litha (summer solstice), Lughnasadh, Mabon (autumn equinox), and Samhain. Each one represents a different stage in the Sun's movement around the Earth and a different place in the agricultural cycle. Now that most of us are not personally farming the land to provide our food, the meanings behind creation of life, planting seeds, nurturing growth, harvest, and destruction so that the cycle can begin again take on a more symbolic tenor. We see these cycles in nature as metaphors for our own spiritual growth and for the journey of the soul.

Beyond the observance of holidays based on the cycles of nature, Pagans in general and Wiccans specifically believe that everything in nature is imbued with divine spirit. Many see the Earth as Mother Gaea, from whom all life comes. Animals, trees, flowers, rocks all possess energy and are connected as part of the web that makes up the universe and contains the divine spirit. It seems to be an almost Buddhist belief that we are all one small part of a larger whole. A responsible Wiccan acknowledges the divine in nature and expresses appropriate respect and gratitude in all aspects of spiritual practice. This may take the form of calling upon the elements to aid in the performance of a ritual and it may be as simple as pausing to offer thanks to the spirit of the food we eat for giving of itself to nurture our body. It is this deeply-felt reverence for the Earth as Divine Mother that leads many Pagans and Wiccans to become environmental activists.

Yet another Wiccan view of nature is the magickal correspondence that all things possess. Everyone has heard of witches working with herbs, mixing potions, wearing crystals, evoking animal totems. This calling upon and working with the spirit and the essence of plants, minerals, and animals to aid in our magickal work is part of the science and art of spellcraft. For a witch, a spell is something of an active prayer; it is the use of energy to direct one's will to manifest change. Asking nature to aid our magick by adding its energy to our own gives our spells more power and knowing the correct correspondences to use makes our magick more accurate. As I learned how to perform spells, my teacher encouraged me to meditate and experiment with various elements and spirits from nature to determine those that would best resonate with my own energy and to develop my own relationships with the nature spirits around me. It is far more likely that spirits with whom a witch has developed a personal connection through the investment of her own time will be able and willing to aid in the manifestation of her will. And as with any contact that we have with nature, Wiccans approach nature spirits with the greatest humility, gratitude and reverence when we ask for their aid with our magickal work.

*This article was posted by Nixie of Blogickal! while she was a guest blogger here. When I switched over to the new Blogger system on 9/12/06, the byline was changed by Blogger. I want to give credit where credit is due.


daboga75 said...

That last paragraph: one of the best descriptions I have seen of spellcraft, 'magick', if you will. Splendid!

Ligeia said...

Thank you for this succint description! I was fumbling last week at lunch with a young friend who is a very open-minded Christian. She was asking me to explain my "way"; wish I had had this piece at the time.
Very well done!

Niobium said...

Wiccans approach nature spirits with the greatest humility, gratitude and reverence when we ask for their aid with our magickal work.

Then why aren't we the leaders of the enviromental movement?

Sojourner said...

Nio - I think that it could have something to do lack of an organized body, leadership, etc. I am guessing that there are many Pagans that are involved in the environmental movement, but just not as "Pagans."

Bernulf said...

I think that's a really good point, Sojourner - and it also serves to answer the same question when asked about Heathenry. I think it's kind of an irony, though...many who venerate nature are driven to protect nature, yet don't approach it officially as a religious endeavor. So I think Niobium asks a really valid question, and perhaps the answer is that we need to change this?

Bernulf said...

Nixie - really good post!

I was especially moved by your mention of some traditions performing rites for custodial purposes...I think that a large percentage of people in the world would think this was a rather 'primitive' idea, and would dismiss it on those grounds. At the same time, since so many of us have been dismissing this custodial aspect of our relationship with nature, our world's running amok. Makes one think that perhaps this idea isn't so primitive or superstitious after all.

Mike said...

I loved your explanation of the holidays and cycles of nature. I've always disliked the fact that our "standard" calendar has moved away from natural cycles. Of course, it's still solar based. But there's no reverence of the phase of the moon (ask anyone around you, right now, the current phase of the moon -- almost nobody could tell you), no clear link to natural cycles.

Niobium said...

Sojourner: I agree that it's due to a lack of leadership and Pagans working in organizations and leaving the "Pagan" label outside their volunteer work; we've had this conversation before. And as Bjorngrimnir said, it's time to change this.

Samhains said...

Well Wrote. The Connection with the Earth and its animals is what binds me to paganism. Good blog :)