“Paganism is defined by its earth-centered ethos. While our collective humanity has lost sight of the ways of the green world, pagans hunger to touch and be touched by the powers and splendor of nature. And in this sensual, embodied exchange, we awaken to the living world.”
— Karen Clark, The Path of She
The terms “nature religion”, “earth religion” and “earth-centered religions” are used more or less interchangeably to refer to those religions which are defined primarily by their relationship to the natural environment. Not all forms of Paganism are nature religions. The category of nature religions include many indigenous religious, those forms of Paganism and feminist spirituality which are concerned primarily with nature generally or with local bioregions specifically, those forms of neo-animism and neo-shamanism which view humans as a non-privileged part of a more-than-human community of beings, and those forms of environmental protest that Bron Taylor calls “Dark Green Religion”.
“I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”
— Mikhail Gorbachev
Michael York writes that nature religions share “a this-worldly focus and deep reverence for the earth as something sacred and something to be cherished.” According to York, nature religion is part of a wider post-modern protest against the modernist separation of nature and the sacred. There is a fundamental theological divide running through most religions separating matter from spirit. York calls these “gnostic” religions, which he contrasts with nature religions. In the latter case, nature is neither fallen nor a prison from which we must escape.
Nature religionists perceive nature as both sacred and interconnected. By “sacred”, we mean that nature has intrinsic value apart from its utility as a resource for human beings. By “interconnected”, we mean that our very being is determined by our ecology, by the material and cultural environment which we share with all other living beings. We are immersed in a web of life which is our true community.
Nature religionists perceive that humans in the developed world have become tragically disconnected from nature. Nature in the developed world has been desacralized in both our thoughts and our deeds. Healing this rift is possible only through a profound shift in our collective consciousness which will enable us to reconnect to the material conditions of our lives. Richard Roberts calls this urge to reconnect with the earth the “chthonic imperative”. Many Neo-Pagans refer to this new consciousness as the “re-enchantment of the world“. Deep ecologists call this the realization of one’s “ecological Self”, which is distinguished from one’s “ego-self”. Neo-Pagans seek to effect this “re-enchantment” through education, ritual, worship of Mother Earth, and other practices designed to reconnect us with nature.
Gus DiZerega has identified several common attributes which most nature religions share, including:
- focus on this world
- perceive the inherent goodness of embodied/physical existence
- focus on the immanent dimension of the sacred
- see the sacred as potentially accessible to all
- emphasize experience over belief
- emphasize living in harmony in the natural world
- teach spiritual truths found in natural cycles and nature processes
- treat birth, death, and sexuality as sacraments
- focus on relationships over mastery
- tend not to have sacred texts
- tend not to have institutionalized hierarchies