30 Days of Paganism: The meaning of terms like “earth-based” and what they mean to this path

Ah, this old chestnut.

The idea of pagan religions all being “earth-based” is actually a pretty persistent myth. As in, it’s not true, yet it’s the thing that comes up most often when people are trying to explain paganism to the layman.

Of course, you need to actually examine what people mean when they say earth-based, as by itself it’s a pretty nonsensical term. (“Earth-based? you mean there are religions that are moon-based, or Jupiter-based? of fucking course we’re earth-based. WE’RE ON EARTH.”)

Generally speaking, people mean “revering nature as the central basis of the religion” when they say earth-based. And that’s the part that’s not necessarily true of all pagan religions. Do pagans, as a general trend, tend to be more into “holy shit nature is awesome” ideas? Yeah. Generally. But even if individual pagans tend to be more into the “holy shit nature” camp, that doesn’t mean their particular pagan religion is centrally based on the idea of revering nature.

Take Hellenic recon, or Roman recon. Hellenic and Roman religions were largely civic practices. They were city-based; based on people, what people needed. That didn’t mean they ignored nature; it means they took it into context as it related to people.

Don’t forget, people are part of nature. We tend to separate the two, but actually cities are as natural as tree groves.

And that’s just one example. There are plenty of modern pagan religions that aren’t, actually, super invested in nature reverence or other forms of eco-spirituality — that have it as a side part of the religion, an afterthought, or only look at nature reverence as it relates to humans.

Actually, eco-spirituality would be a much better term than “earth-based religion”. It drives home the point that people usually want to make with “earth-based”, which is that the spirituality of said religion is inextricably tied up with the state of the environment and ecology and the earth — that nature reverence is a central point to the faith.

Look, I’m not denying that environmentalism is a big deal, nor saying that it shouldn’t be. See my recent post on my province being on fire when it shouldn’t be, to levels it shouldn’t be. This is what you get when you have a gov’t that ignores and muzzles scientists and claims climate change is a hoax and does nothing to mitigate problems that are coming about from having climate change. It’s fucking bullshit, and I blogged about it on my religion blog because yes, that stuff is religiously important to me.

But I wouldn’t call my path earth-based.

Or maybe I would. Yes, my path is earth-based, and at this point we are not anywhere near being able to colonize space. Thus, I — and my path — are stuck on this planet. That is reason enough to want to see this planet continue to be habitable to me and other humans. I don’t need to be in the camp of “holy fucking shit, nature” in order to be interested in saving the environment from ultimate destruction or mitigating climate change (which is now too late to stop, but we can still hopefully make things not as shitty as they will be if we do nothing).

I don’t need to look at the full moon and feel my heart stop for a moment at its beauty in order to give a shit about the sky filling up with so much smog that my grandkids will never know that heart-stopping beauty. Wanting my grandkids to be able to breathe is enough impetus.

I don’t need to see my Father in the rain in order to want it to rain enough so we don’t all die of thirst.

I don’t need to be eco-spiritual in order to fight for the planet and our ability to survive on it. (The planet will continue regardless, by the by. Eventually, it will heal itself, no matter what we do to it — short of actually blowing it up. But I am actually invested in human survival.)

I think when people try to speak for all pagans and say we’re all “earth-based” they’re actually trying to subtly make a political point: “We revere nature, so we actually CARE about the earth.” (Or they actually believe all pagan religions are centrally based on nature reverence, in which case: no. Please stop.)

Well, that might be true for some pagans. But like I said — revering nature? Not a prerequisite for giving a fuck.

There are plenty of Christians who don’t revere nature but instead see it as the Lord’s creation, and thus are environmentalists because they believe taking care of the earth is part of their charge as followers and children of the Lord.

(Ok, I say “plenty” — I’ve met a few. I’m sure there are more, but I don’t have the numbers to back this up.)

I think if your path is actually centrally about revering nature, if it is centrally eco-spirituality, that’s great. You do you; go on with your bad self, all that.

I wouldn’t class my religion that way, but I can see how other people might think I would — I talk a lot about seeing the Morrigan in the earth, Manannan in the sea and rain, Brighid in the sun and fresh-water springs. I do. I see Them in these things.

I also see Brighid in my knitting and on the hospital gowns my Oma wore as her life ended, and Manannan in funeral homes and homeless shelters, and the Morrigan in civil disobedience and a leather, rose-tipped flogger. I see Manannan in Mary-Janes that are painted with messages of peace; Brighid in a calming cup of tea; the Morrigan in a fucking rave with glow-sticks. I see Them everywhere.

Nature reverence is part of my path, but it’s not the only part. So in that respect, no, my religion is not one based in revering the earth.

But in the respect I outline above — in the respect that I live on this earth, my path is on this earth, and we ain’t got no lunar outpost to move to — yes, it is earth-based.

So make of that what you will.


PS: Please stop saying all pagan religions are “earth-based” or based on revering nature. They’re not. I’m really happy for you if yours is. Really. But I’m not happy when people speak for all pagans.