So, what would a world run on Pagan principles look like?
“A lot fewer churches,” you might say.
But, probably not, actually: pagans are a pretty inclusive bunch and are happy to let people practise whatever religion they like, as long as it does no harm to others and doesn’t get all screwed up about having “the one true God” and all that nonsense.
Nevertheless, a Pagan World would look very different to our present one. Here is my take on how it might do so.
First and utterly foremost would be the fact that, on Planet Pagan, every decision would be made with the sacredness of the Natural World in mind. The ultimate criteria guiding every action would be that it benefit the Natural World as a whole. Not just one bit of it. An action would be deemed Good if it improved the health of the Planet – not just the health of one man’s bank balance.
Now, I need to take a moment to define some terms that I am using. What do I mean by the Natural World? Well, I do not have in mind some fluffy, nebulous concept like The Countryside. I don’t mean just trees and flowers and interesting animals – the stuff of Nature Documentaries. For me, Man is a part of Nature. Man does not stand apart from or, indeed, in any special relationship to Nature. Man likes to think that he is special. That he has special abilities that make him in some way superior to the other Life forms sharing the Planet with him. “Look,” he says “I can make fire. I can dig ores from the earth and, with the fire I create, I can transform these ores to metals. And, with these metals, I can make swords and conquer other lands. Make aeroplanes to travel to new lands. I can even make rockets to travel to other planets. No other animal can achieve these things.” All of which is true. And all well and good. But look at the cow who eats the grass and transforms it to manure that helps the plants grow. Or the mole who brings the soil from the depths to the light and transforms the fertility of the earth. Are not Man’s feats of transformation just more sophisticated examples of the same thing? Are not all Living Things engaged continually in the process of Transformation? Isn’t Being In The Process Of Being Transformed what defines Living?
You might say that Man is different because he only transforms materials in order to benefit himself. The results of his efforts do not bring any benefits to the rest of the Natural World. Well, not on the face of it. It is hard to see how the building of a new runway at Heathrow airport benefits the Natural World. Sometimes, Man seems to do nothing but take from the Earth. It’s easy to view Man’s presence on the Planet as one big disaster for the rest of Nature. Easy to view Man as a plague causing ruin and devastation wherever he goes. Only, I don’t think it’s that simple.
The forest fire rages and reduces the trees to charred skeletons. It seems like a disaster. But, wait a while, be patient, and, in time, we see that the inferno cleared the way for fresh life to begin. The old trees had to go in order to create space for more vigorous shoots. The fire is just part of the process. The ebb and flow of life. It’s Nature’s system. Nothing is static. Everything is in a constant state of change. And Man is just as much a part of that system as anything else. And so are the things Man produces. Man-made is not the opposite of Natural – it is just a sub category. Little of our planet has not felt the touch of Man. Everywhere we look there is evidence of our passing. But it is a passing. Nothing stays forever. I live close to the Ironbridge Gorge – the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. A few hundred years ago ( a blink in planetary terms) it was a place utterly transformed by Man. Scarred by mines, pits, furnaces. Filled with fire and smoke. Roaring with the clamour of Man’s advancement. A hell on earth. Now, that time has passed. Evidence remains but Nature does not allow these monuments to Man’s industry to stand unchanged. Lichens grow on the remains of blast furnaces. Flowers make their homes in the gaps between flag-stones. The green, even in the greyest night, through loose tarmac and mortar stretches. Time is short and everything collapses. As soon as Man pauses for breath, Nature returns and takes hold. Now, people say how beautiful the Gorge looks.
So, what should we take from this? Well, firstly, we should be humble. Recognise our place. We are not in control. We are just a small part of a system that is way bigger and way subtler than we can comprehend.
Also, I recognise that there is a danger in what I write. If it doesn’t matter what we do to the planet. If Nature will put it all right eventually. Then why shouldn’t we go on taking? Why shouldn’t we dig up all the fossil fuels? Melting the ice-caps? Who is to say that our actions won’t ultimately increase biodiversity as they have in the past?
My answer is simple: Do you want to be happy?
Because living with awareness that you are part of Nature will make you happier. It will bring you Home. Modern Man is plagued by depression and a deep sadness. He feels alienated and alone. He is dying of loneliness. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere. He wants to escape. Constantly looking for distractions from this unease.
Yet, all the time, he was already Home. He could be happy. He just needs to pay attention to the right things. He needs to pay attention to that in Nature which is not him or the result of his actions. Pay attention to that. And learn from what he sees. Man’s constant introspection – his obsession with himself and his own creations – is both limiting and damaging. He needs to stop the navel gazing and look outside. Learn by observing that which is other than himself.
And that is what I mean by The Natural World: that which is Outside. That which is Other.
And we need to look after it, treat it with honour and respect, precisely because we recognise that it is only the Natural World that can save us from our deep unhappiness. Only the Natural World that can save us from ourselves.
That is why the Hi Tech solutions to the problem of Climate Change are distracting bull-shit. They maintain the illusion that Man is in charge, is capable of saving himself without outside assistance. It is the wrong attitude. And it is the attitude that needs to change. We need to become humble. We need to tend to the Natural World with care and due deference. It is our teacher, our saviour, our hope.
Now, imagine a world built upon that attitude.
What would its schools look like?
Its systems of governance?
I will be attending to those issues in my final Yule post tomorrow.
I love David Abram’s quote: “We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” Thus we need what is ‘other’ in order to be fully human (which is why I believe that the extinction crisis is so tragic—with each species that becomes extinct, we, as humans, are diminished).
I also think this quote from Aldo Leopold is important to keep in mind: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” If we made this the Law, the world would be a very different, and much better, place.
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This is great, Andy Jukes! Of course, you say what many people are saying. (isn’t that a relief!) but how you say it is so eloquent. I love the approach: Do you want to be happy?
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