Nature religion in a time of climate change.
I’m thinking about this now, in an uncharacteristic March marked by summery temperatures and intense blue skies. The forsythia are on fire, and the daffodils have proudly thrust up their heads early. The horseradish and some of the perennial herbs are peeking out from the freshly turned beds. And there are darker aspects, too: the mosquitoes and the ticks — which, around here, can carry the Lyme bacteria — have awoken from their slumber as well.
But it’s not so simple as the Great White North lacking the very substance that makes it white at its accustomed season. It’s snowed in the West, in Alaska, in the south of France.
Yes, I believe climate change is real and that human activities have and continue to contribute to it. The question is: How do we respond spiritually, as people who follow a “nature religion”?
I think, sadly, that human beings as a whole have an obsession with the twin concepts of stability and purity. For example, we assume that the Gods of a culture are unchanging, set in their attributes, character and realms of influence. But are the Gods worshiped by modern Druids, for example, truly those of Pagan Ireland? Or, before the Gaels landed on the shores of Eire, that of their presumed European homeland? Are they the same as the Gods of the Welsh, who presumably are a branch of the same Celtic tree? Of the Tocharians, who steered their steeds toward sunrise rather than sunset? And are the Gods of the early Irish the same as those who were worshiped before the conversion?
People change. Cultures, languages, ecosystems change. Why shouldn’t the spirits, the Otherworld, the spiritual reality?
In some ways, we operate under some kind of Neoplatonic template: This is how the world should be — the seasons, the climate, the species therein, the rules that seem to govern the operation of the system. It’s a reflection of some unchanging pattern, a reality set from on high, whether that reality is seen in a theistic/religious/spiritual context or a scientific/atheistic/mechanistic one. Predictably, the template is always the one we’re most familiar with.
Was the Earth during the Devonian period any less real than the one today? Once upon a time, the Great White North was located south of the equator, and the home of a tropical inland sea. Mountains rise from the cracks of the tectonic plates, and erode back to lowland during the press of time. Snow advances, forming glaciers that scour the land. The Earth warms and all the ice melts, turning the pole again into a brackish sea. Species rise, fail, fall and rise anew.
It’s the Great Wheel, ever turning. And so we grasp: the Wheel then is the one constant! Change always happens according to accustomed patterns and rules! And then an asteroid lands in the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting what we thought was the pattern and choking the thunder lizards.
Let’s face it: Change is the one constant of material existence, and we don’t know all the rules — or even if there are rules — that govern all of it. We’re small beings who are a part of the system, not gods-to-be on the outside looking in. And, in a spiritual context, why would Gods and spirits not be a part of that latter system of change? Why wouldn’t our own soul-parts?
I suppose this could be seen as a nihilistic view, one that embraces chaos. But I think it’s more of a realistic assessment of our own limitations. We can’t know the entirety of the system. The response, however, shouldn’t be a shrug of the shoulders and a hearty “Fuck it all.” Not knowing, we can still honor, respect, love — and treat with care. Not knowing, we can still stretch and explore, learning and expanding our horizons. We can accept that what we think we know, what we have come to expect, can and will change, and that there’s no unending, eternal state that we can accurately see or account for. At least that we know of.
Stability and purity are abstractions, and exist as abstractions. But what is stable? And what is pure? Is an Earth whose climate has changed dramatically over the course of human history any less sacred than one whose patterns we know?
A lot of questions, and no ready answers. But that’s how I like things.