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Author Topic: Special Discussion: Nature and Pagan Religions  (Read 22288 times)
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« Reply #15: May 14, 2008, 06:14:24 pm »

I think the problem with that is that it leads into "you don't worship the *gods*, you worship nature."  While some folks certainly do worship some kind of abstract "nature," there are a number of people who worship gods that are explicitly, intimately connected with nature, and whose religious practices center around a celebration of the natural cycle, rather than, like "nature itself."  "Nature worship" is reductive, and also excludes most of the folks usually understood -- by themselves and others -- as nature-based.   

True.  But I still don't like nature-based. 
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« Reply #16: May 14, 2008, 09:35:04 pm »

Actually it's a great analogy.  If you say something is water based, then you assume it has water with other things added.  So if you say nature based, should we assume that the religion starts with being about nature and has other things added?  That nature is the 'basis' for the religion? 

Yeah, water based would mean water is the basis but not the entirity. So nature-based should mean that nature is indeed the basis for the religion, but not the be all and end all of it. Yet those Pagan religions (Wicca for example, and also my own religion) where nature is a fundamental part of it may still not follow this definition here- as the Gods may be seen as the basis of the religion (which would make sense, especially since the majority of religions would see God(s) as the primary focus).

So maybe instead of nature based, the term should be nature worship?

The term nature worship is much more direct, IMO it would mean some-one who actually worshiped the earth. But then even less Pagans would fit into that category than those who fit into the one 'nature-based', as a lot of those who revere nature still worship the Gods (Not that anyone has to fit into any category of course).
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« Reply #17: May 15, 2008, 12:38:36 pm »

I like this definition, but applying it takes more knowledge of the specific religions in question than many people who like to throw the nature-based label around have. Too often people assign the label without really knowing much about the actual religion they are labeling. For example, Hellenic Paganism seems to often be classed as nature-based because what people know about it is based on incomplete or very biased knowledge -- for example, the fact that a version of the Demeter/Persephone/Hades myth is central to some popular forms of Wicca or what one learned from reading Bullfinch's Mythology.  Bullfinch's Mythology -- like most of the stuff to come out of that era -- is based on a 19th century English view of the Greeks. And while the Demeter/Persephone/Hades myth is indeed central to some forms of Wicca, it wasn't central to belief or worship in ancient Greece.

To add on to what you are saying--I think the Greeks are pegged as "nature-based" so easily is that everyone is passingly familiar with the Greek myths. However, most people are not familiar with in-depth study of those myths, or of actual cultic practices in ancient Greece, which often contradict or ignore the stories told about the gods. It's so much more complex than reading Bullfinch's makes it out to be Smiley

That complexity is present in most religions, I'd venture, which is why I am reluctant to label anything nature-based when I don't know much about the religion.

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« Reply #18: May 15, 2008, 04:07:44 pm »

To add on to what you are saying--I think the Greeks are pegged as "nature-based" so easily is that everyone is passingly familiar with the Greek myths. However, most people are not familiar with in-depth study of those myths, or of actual cultic practices in ancient Greece, which often contradict or ignore the stories told about the gods. It's so much more complex than reading Bullfinch's makes it out to be Smiley

That complexity is present in most religions, I'd venture, which is why I am reluctant to label anything nature-based when I don't know much about the religion.

Sasha

*nods*  People know Demeter is a grain goddess, that Persephone's descent and return represents the seasons, and that Zeus throws thunderbolts:  obviously, it's nature-based!  But when you insist on that, you're completely at a loss for terms when you encounter something like Wicca, where nature plays a much more consistently central role. 

And yeah, that's why it's always better to privilege what people who belong to a religion say about their beliefs and practices -- let them find their own point on the continuum of "nature-based" vs. "non-nature-based."  It's also why I tried to come up with a neutral, descriptive definition of nature-based that is tied to general concepts and structures rather than particular religions -- i.e., Wicca is an *example* of one way a nature-based religion can work, rather than that which *defines* nature-based religion, if that makes sense.  I think a lot of the operational definitions of "nature-based" in the Pagan community run something like, "nature based=Wicca; not Wicca=not nature-based," and that just doesn't work.
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« Reply #19: May 15, 2008, 11:33:14 pm »

Sadly, there doesn't even seem to be a good and generally accepted definition of "nature-based" within the broader community of Pagan religions. What does it take to rationally and meaningfully classify a religion as "nature-based"? I've seen everything from "has to worship nature as the religion's deity to be nature-based" to "having one nature/agricultural festival out of one hundred that aren't and the religion is nature-based." This lack of a compromise definition that most Pagans AND most Pagan religions can accept is probably why these discussions so often turn nasty.
Quoting Randall, but as a hook to hang my thoughts on; I'm addressing the thread in general.

I want to go a step further back than that, and note that there isn't a good and generally-accepted definition of nature in broader Pagandom.  Heck, not even just "broader", but in the Wiccish sphere specifically, and going back to the "cultural paganism" that was the first stage of "pagan revival".  The whole "nature" idea in this context, really, is reactionary, nostalgic, often escapist (and therefore emotion-based much more than reason-based), and varies depending on the cultural context - very broadly, British vs North American - of a given piece of the "revival".  Unfortunately, most of the religious neoPagans who inherited the terminology seem to have been pretty hazy on the history of its development (not to mention having some pseudohistoric axes to grind) - so this thread may well be the first serious attempt to address the problem.

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« Reply #20: May 15, 2008, 11:57:53 pm »

For myself, I think that "nature-based" is best understood as when the idea of nature (however "nature" is conceptualized) is understood as a central organizing principle of the religion -- to the point that if you chopped out all references to nature, you could not practice the religion in a recognizable way.  That's it.  No commentary on specific forms of worship, or how one conceptualizes the gods, or whatever -- there's tons of different possibilities.  And moreover, I think it's more of a continuum than an absolute category.
I like this definition a lot, partly because it's practical and effective, and partly because it sort-of sidesteps the problem I pointed to in my post above:  it means it's not necessary to try to wrangle over those different cultural takes on "nature".  The conceptualization could be the pastoral/agricultural one, or the "pristine wilderness" one, or a cosmological (in the sense of "stars and planets and orbits, oh my!") one, or a combination.

Getting down to personal nitty-gritty here, I think mine is a combination - while I pretty much include everything from mitochondria to galaxies in "nature" (I guess it's the "nature" of "natural science", which makes me as influenced by 19th-century English thought as any devotee of "Merrie England" pseudohistory), my spiritual/celebrational focus is on seasonal cycles, and particularly those that are under my nose (while Calgary hasn't properly reached "green haze" time, I noticed today that a few trees have begin to leaf!), whether cultivated or wild/feral.

I really have a problem with equating nature-based with nature worship - granted, I still have some issues with the w-word, so that may bias me, but I'd say that I don't worship nature any more than I worship archetypes.

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« Reply #21: May 16, 2008, 08:24:30 am »

it means it's not necessary to try to wrangle over those different cultural takes on "nature".  The conceptualization could be the pastoral/agricultural one, or the "pristine wilderness" one, or a cosmological (in the sense of "stars and planets and orbits, oh my!") one, or a combination.

However, if you don't have a common definition of "nature" the problem of labeling religions as nature-based or not nature-based still remains as bad as ever.
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« Reply #22: May 16, 2008, 09:11:16 am »

The world is the world.  It is full of things -- people and their creations, gods and their creations, beasts and their creations, spirits and their creations.  All these things are supposed to work together in a reasonably systematic whole.  People-and-their-creations aren't a sensible category separate from the rest of it.

"Ecosystem" may be a useful concept.  "Nature", I don't think is.

Bingo. Hit the nail on the head. I've been trying to figure out how to voice my answer to this thread as 'nature' does make up a significant part of the basis of my religion, but like you said, separating out people and their creations from that basis doesn't make sense. I think the best way to describe my religion would be 'energy based' which, as I believe that all matter is made out of energy, means that it is based on everything that I can see, touch, and/or interact with. Light it energy, matter is energy, sound is energy, thought is energy. What we consider 'nature' is made of energy, and it is true that it holds a special little place in my spirituality, I mean it is awe-inspiring, but really, dividing it off from everything else is creating a very artificial divide. Short answer would be no, my spirituality is not nature based. I think I need to think about this a little more before I jump into this thread any more than this though...
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« Reply #23: June 03, 2008, 02:33:04 pm »


Honestly, I think people throw the "nature-based" description around primarily to distinguish paganism from a JCI religion. "Oh, we don't worship an omnipotent God we can't relate to... we worship the Earth! We're natural! They're not!"

Wicca is arranged around the seasonal cycle of the year (and so is the ADF-style Druidry I've been working with), but I don't know that it necessarily would make us "nature-based". I think you can't fully live on the planet and not be aware of the seasonal cycle of the year, even if it's just to bitch about the weather. And it's really wrong to assume that the JCI religions aren't concerned about the earth and her cycles. I'm willing to bet that not everyone who recycles regularly is Pagan.

I also don't necessarily like the idea that folks use "nature-based" to imply that some of us "worship" the earth. I don't really "worship" anything, per se, at least in the common perception of "worship". I work to be in tune with the seasonal cycles by paying attention, by buying in-season produce from local growers (where I can). I work to honor our planet by recycling, and trying to choose products that are best for our environment (though sometimes that's tough. I've recently been wondering whether leather shoes are better for the environment than synthetics).

But the underlying problem is that so many Pagan paths are orthopraxic, rather than orthodoxic, and "Pagan" just isn't an umbrella term like "Christian". You can make some decent assumptions about someone who self-identifies as Christian believes, but you can't really from someone who self identifies as Pagan... you need more information there. Someone else might do all the same "nature honoring" things I do, but not apply a "nature-based" label to her work, or vise-versa.

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« Reply #24: June 21, 2008, 12:25:24 pm »

Without further ado, then, here are some questions to think about; you don't have to answer them all or in any order, certainly -- they're just some thoughts to get the ball rolling.
How important is the idea of "nature" within your religion?
How is nature conceptualized within your religion?
How does nature -- concepts, imagery, attitudes toward -- function within your religion?
Where do things like agricultural festivals fit into your religion overall?
If you practice magic, how is nature figured -- is it *the* source of power, *a* source of power, totally irrelevant, what?
Etc. etc. etc.

For my own beliefs, Nature or Gaia, is a major focal point. All that Gaia possesses,  Air, Fire, Water and Earth.  My symbols on my Altars include everything from Nature... Sand, seashells and melted snow for Water,  Bird feathers, and butterfly/moth wings (found, never taken!) for the Air Element, Rocks, Crystals for Earth. I feel that my altar helps to connect me to the Earth around me. I help seeds to grow, which, to me, is part of my faith. I nurture plants, as well.  Nature is a major part of my life, and I appreciate each day that is given to me. I do stop to smell the roses.
I get my strength from the Earth around me, always did. Going on a walk through the woods, or going for a walk along a beach, resonates through me, giving me strength, peace and comfort.
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« Reply #25: June 21, 2008, 01:22:32 pm »

How important is the idea of "nature" within your religion?

I do not align myself with a religion yet I think I am just as much a part of the natural cycle as a deer,wolf,horse or ape.

Without "nature" I cannot exist in any form, be it physical or in the form of energy.

If you practice magic, how is nature figured -- is it *the* source of power, *a* source of power, totally irrelevant, what?

"Magic" in my view is nothing more than the energies of the cosmos, especially when one learns to harness it. In harnessing there is no magic in my view, just understanding how it all works.

I draw from that "well" of cosmic energy and I put it to use. I do not personify any force of nature because nature has no human name, no human face nor does it care about me in particular. Like electricity the energy of nature and the cosmos flow around us as readily as water. One needs to understand the basics of it and how to channel it so it can be utilized.

I do not ask permission from a symbol to use any energy I feel may be of use to me.
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« Reply #26: June 21, 2008, 03:48:55 pm »

How important is the idea of "nature" within your religion?
How is nature conceptualized within your religion?
How does nature -- concepts, imagery, attitudes toward -- function within your religion?
Where do things like agricultural festivals fit into your religion overall?
If you practice magic, how is nature figured -- is it *the* source of power, *a* source of power, totally irrelevant, what?  

I don't exactly have a "religion" at this point but I do somewhat have a path (if that makes any sense at all). Nature is very important to me as a person. It refreshes my mind, feeds my body and cleanses my soul. I don't believe that the planet itself is a sacred God or Goddess but I think that there are deities that are connected to it whether by choice or by chance. Our planet is part of the universe and therefore to me is a part of or an instument of the Divine. I think we should care for it, respect it and utilize it as we need. IMO if it is not man made it is of nature, so I kind of relate most magic back to nature in the long run so yes I would say my limited magic use is nature based.
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« Reply #27: June 22, 2008, 11:22:54 am »

Of course, I have trouble with earth-centered too.  Because everyone on this board is assumed to be on the planet Earth. 

This is actually something I think about a lot.  If there was a colony of Kemetics on Mars, how would the religion translate?  Some aspects of it would translate and some would not. We'd probably still write and communicate in the same way, so we'd have no problem with Djehuty as a god of writing.  But as a lunar deity?  That becomes complicated when we no longer have the same moon.  There are festivals based on agriculture and the movement of the stars and planets.  None of these things would be the same.  Where does Set come in when storms no longer occur in the same way?

So in a sense, I suppose I could call much of the religion "earth based", because it might not translate well if we did not live on Earth.  Christianity would probably translate just fine.  So by that definition, Christianity is not Earth based.  Much of Kemeticism is.   

As for nature based, I see Nature as the ground of being.  I do not see things like logic, human intelligence, art or romantic love as separate from Nature.  So, seeing a god of communication or art as a "nature" deity makes sense to me.  But that deity would not necessarily be an "earth" deity.  A god of marriage or a god of a particular city does not seem nature based to me.  These seem, to me, to be ways in which we give our lives structure and definition.  They do not necessarily grow naturally (and this comes with no judgement as to whether this is a good or bad thing).  I can see a god of sex or love to be a "nature" deity, whereas a good marriage might not be. 

It's probably a safe assumtion that most of the Kemetics on this board do not live in Egypt.  None of us live in ancient Egypt.  Many of the festivals were based on the innundation of the nile.  That is not something we experience.  And yet we've managed to adapt this religion to be relevant in our lives.  So perhaps we could adapt it to living on another planet.  But if that is the case, then we have to question whether this is an "earth based" religion.  Heck, we'd have to question whether Wicca is Earth-based.  I'm sure Wiccans on a martian colony would like to continue on something similar to their current path.  But then we have to question whether the new religion is "Wiccan" when so much of it has changed. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me, the distinction between earth-based and nature-based is an important one for me.  To me they are not the same thing. I consider myself to be primarily nature-based, but not necessarily earth-based, if that makes any sense. 
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« Reply #28: January 25, 2009, 08:02:33 pm »

let them find their own point on the continuum of "nature-based" vs. "non-nature-based." 
To do a bit of Thread Resurrection . . .

I sort of like the idea of a continuum, and would muse on the idea of taking the idea of a continuum a step further, so as to come up with new terminology that was more specific on the degree to which nature was important.  For example, perhaps "Nature-Centered," for the ones where it was considered critical, "Nature-Oriented" for ones that placed a lot of emphasis on Nature, but were, say at least around 50% devoted to other things, "Nature-Honoring" for those whom give it a passing honor, and so forth. 

Also, in relation to the term "earth-based," I have heard--though the source may possibly be mistaken--that it refers not to the physical earth, but to the "earthly" in the sense that it is not looking towards "heaven" or something transcendent and beyond, but is concerned instead with the here and now.   

As to myself, I suppose I would say that I follow a nature-based path, insofar as I tend to look at all nature as holy, see the divine as the divine all.  The little pantheist I am.  I've gone all over the place with specifics, but I've always looked at it all as part of a greater whole, that incorporates everything, and never considered anything to be truly "outside" nature. 
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« Reply #29: January 25, 2009, 09:35:03 pm »

I sort of like the idea of a continuum, and would muse on the idea of taking the idea of a continuum a step further, so as to come up with new terminology that was more specific on the degree to which nature was important.  For example, perhaps "Nature-Centered," for the ones where it was considered critical, "Nature-Oriented" for ones that placed a lot of emphasis on Nature, but were, say at least around 50% devoted to other things, "Nature-Honoring" for those whom give it a passing honor, and so forth.

Where would religions that don't real put much stress on nature at all be located in this continuum. Note, they aren't nature-hostile or the like but nature just doesn't play much of a part in the religion aside from a relatively small number (compared to the total number) of holidays or the like?
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