Honouring the Earth
Ed Richardson looks at
First Published (on paper) 1994 in The Philosopher's Stone
PAGANISM IS an idea (or collection of ideas) which is very difficult to define. At its very simplest, it seems to be a spiritual form of anarchy and at its most complex it involves a whole range of extra rules and tenets such as revering 'divine polarity', agreeing 'an it harm none' and so fourth. Whether or not any of these ideas are true (and to a paradigm shifting sorcerer such as myself, only when I wear my Wiccan hat) there is one aspect that does repeat itself in more or less all attempts at definition. This idea is that of honouring the Earth, and that is the focus of this essay. I am of the opinion that this is the most important aspect of paganism, but sadly is the most ignored or taken for granted.
The reason for this is that we are alienated from the natural, earthly world. Without diving into complex communistic conspiracy plots, I shall refer to Karl Marx, who put forward the theory of alienation. Marx criticised capitalism for producing 'fetishes' out of ordinary man made objects. These products would almost be treated as if they had a life of their own, being more valuable than the inventors who design them, and playing a part in the domination of society. We all know how youngsters are described as obsessed with computer games, saving all their pocket money and giving up all their time to slavishly press buttons like mindless addicts. This is an extreme example, but the idea is that humanity can be alienated from the very stuff we are made from and rely upon, the Earth.
Before we consider the more obvious effects on the natural environment we should consider our primary experience of Earth, namely our bodies. It seems that in modem society the body is either ignored or demonised as a taboo subject. How many of you masturbate and do so with pride? In a society where we are alienated from our bodies, we are only allowed to practice intellectual masturbation as we become more unhealthy and overweight. The Protestant work ethic has told us that pleasure is not an efficient use of our time and that pleasure awaits us in the afterlife if we work hard enough during our lives. Although it is unlikely that many of the readers of this essay will be Christians, this mentality has been so ingrained into society that we are all effected by it. By honouring the earth, paganism does not wait for heaven but gets on with pleasure here and now, on Earth.
Wilhelm Reich spoke in terms of 'armour' we put up around ourselves. This allows us to keep our distance from others but also allows us to keep a distance from ourselves. He advocated the use of breathing exercises to help remove the armour, and frequent, healthy sexual practice to allow real self-expression. This compares with the transcendental practices of Tantra, but also serves to give health to the body.
To start honounng the Earth, we should start with Earth's greatest gift, the body. The body has very simple needs, enough food and drink, rest, exercise and sex. This is all so very simple but normally we seem to get one or more of these wrong. We get hang-ups (or body armour) so we don't get enough sex (and there is a link between sex and staying youthful as you age), we over eat, over drink, over or under sleep or get no exercise. We end up obese, unfit and ashamed of our bodies and if we get ashamed enough we get therapy to tell us it's good to be fat slobs. There is no honour in shame, and even less in lying to yourself, no matter how much you pay the therapist. Guilt and shame alienate us further as the truth becomes increasingly painful and the body gets further ignored in a self destructive, locked loop.
Many pagans practice magick, and magick can help one to overcome these problems by giving confidence and self knowledge. It can also lead to a more profound relationship with the Earth and Earthly experience. However, it is surprising how many so called magicians are afraid to enchant for money, new motorbikes, job promotions, winning court cases and such. As paganism deals with the real world, pagan magick should involve the real world. A successful magician should show material signs of success. There is no point in working on your higher self (man) if your real self can't afford to go out once in a while. To the pagan, aestheticism has no place. Perhaps the fear of magick actually working puts some people off, but then a life with changes is something real magicians deliberately engineer and thrive on.
We now have a framework from which to consider the natural environment. By starting with ourselves as part of the living world we only need to extend these same ideas. The armour to transcend is a little different and the magick to work is somewhat more ambitious. As an exercise, try walking on your own in the woods. People will wonder where your dog is. After all, you would be doing something that is not an efficient use of time. You may even be seen as a weirdo hanging around in the woods. We have been alienated from the living world, not only by the Protestant work ethic, but also by its demon son consumerism. The consumerism demon works by telling you that an item is only worth its cost in money. Thus we learn to only value things which cost money. Walking in the woods does not cost money so it's seen as 'boring', 'time wasting' and so on and so fourth. If we are to experience the living world then we do so through television, as at least we have to pay for it. Outdoor ritual will help solve this, as does working with allowing yourself to experience pleasure. After all, walking in the woods is pleasant.
The last level in honouring the Earth is dealing with the threat of global ecological destruction. There are myriad campaigns we can join to stop the rain forest from being cut down, and groups we can financially support. However, this is not enough. The western world is crippled by the demon consumerism and ecological disaster. Britain was once a big forest and if we don't act fast it will become a big car park. We need the Earth to survive and to provide a future for our children. If we do nothing, the earth will sneeze and expel us into extinction in our own filth like discarded snot so it can breath again. We can take part in education, recycling, protest and non-violent direct action. Our magick should also reflect this and back what we do.
At the end of the day, the results of magicians who worked to save Oxleys Wood near London, when it was threatened by a road development, came about by eco-protesters at Twyford Down scaring the hell out of the British government. There's no point in hiding from politics. Politics starts with two people communicating and from there on gets more complicated.
To free ourselves from alienation is to free ourselves. To honour the Earth is to honour our selves. To live paganism is to do all of this and to work towards survival in the future.
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