Paganism is not “Nature-Centric”

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The definition of Paganism is often misconstrued as “nature-centric spirituality,” and correspondent to the term “Earth religion.” In truth, the concept of “nature worship” is by large recently-manufactured, being the product of the heavily Christian-entrenched Romantic period and the nature-centric movements which developed out of it; the same movements which also sprang out contemporary Druidism in the 19th century (Nicholas Roe 2010, 26), which, suffice to say, isn’t anything similar to the ancient Druids of Antiquity. This idea, which is so ingrained in contemporary conceptions of “nature worship,” had not existed in ancient Pagan religions, and is often perpetuated by typically the least academically-minded types of apparent “Pagans” whose practice is much more identifiable as New Age than anything. There are plenty of Pagan religions– including ones where there are divinities holding jurisdiction over the forces of nature– which aren’t concerned with the worship of nature, it often being seen as a hostile force as frequently as a beneficial one (Hrafnblod 2018, 23:56:58). Vulcanus may be a God of fire and its fertilizing aspects, but His cultus often centers around protecting the home from the ravages of flames (Plutarch, 47). To simply define Paganism as “nature-centric” is, ultimately, a misconception.

This isn’t to claim that Pagan traditions don’t have ceremonies or calendars which center around nature or natural cycles in some form. However, most religions do this to some extent. An agrarian society is going to have ceremonies centered around the fertility of the land; however, that doesn’t mean that they’re “earth-based,” no more so than any other religion is. While Kemeticists celebrate the flooding of the Nile River, for a long time Coptic Christianity celebrated this event as well (Febe Armanios 2015, 78). And while many Pagan religions observe holidays based around the cycles of the moon (e.g., Hellenism determining when to celebrate Hekate’s Deipnon), the religions of Islam, Judaism, and some sects of Christianity also do this to observe their holidays (James Shneer 2016, 4-5). Yet, these religions are undoubtedly not seen as Pagan religions.

Often this application of vague “nature-centric” spirituality to Paganism will lead people will assume that Pantheism, the belief that the divine is identical to the material universe (William Mander 2016), fits into the movement. This is problematic because the pantheistic conception of the divine is functionally identical to atheism, with the divine merely being “the passive manifestation of [material] reality” (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34) rather than an entity with a distinct agency (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34). This lack of agency obviously means it does nothing to inform any religious devotion, and because of that you cannot engage in do ut des with it. And while plenty of Pagan traditions do recognize the cosmos as something that’s divine in its essence, they also hold that other Gods and Greater Kinds exist seperately either externally from it or internally in it, thus aligning closer to Panentheism rather than Pantheism (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34) (John Culp 2017).

Pagans do not seek the mediation of the Gods to worship nature because nature is not the objective of Pagan traditions. The unmistakable focus of Paganism is the worship of Pagan Gods who hold a distinct agency. Because of this it’s wiser to categorize Paganism using Michael York’s book Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion: an umbrella term for many different contemporary religions that are either inspired by (e.g., Wicca or Druidism) or revivalisms of (as in reconstructionist polytheism, e.g., Heathenry, Kemeticism, Hellenism, etc) the ancient cultures in the European-Mediterranean-Near East cultural basin that were displaced by Abrahamic religions (Michael York 2005).

Defining contemporary Paganism this way serves a purpose of distinction, allowing Paganism to be separated from the largely Protestant imperialist use of the term and distance Pagans from the appropriative New Age movement, in preference for religious expression that is more logical and consistent.

 

(Special thanks to Hrafnblod for inspiring this article)

 

Bibliography

Armanios, Febe. Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Culp, John. “Panentheism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. June 03, 2017. Accessed March 06, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/.

Dragicevich, Peter, Etain OCarroll, and Helena Smith. Lonely Planet Wales. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2014.

Hrafnblod, Reddit post “Interested But Unsure”, February 26, 2018 (23:56:58 UTC p.m. UTC), accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/802rrb/interested_but_unsure/duvo8cr/

Hrafnblod, Reddit post “Interested But Unsure”, February 27, 2018 (13:07:34 UTC p.m. UTC), accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/802rrb/interested_but_unsure/duwj1tu/

Hrafnblod, Reddit post “Interested But Unsure”, February 27, 2018 (11:43:22 UTC p.m. UTC), accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/802rrb/interested_but_unsure/duwg8ke/

Hrafnblod. “On “Earth-Based Religions”.” Grennung Hund Heorþ. April 5, 2017. Accessed March 3, 2018.https://grennunghund.blog/2017/04/05/on-earth-based-religions/.

Hrafnblod. “Paganism Isn’t Dying; It’s (Finally) Maturing.” Grennung Hund Heorþ. May 21, 2017. Accessed March 3, 2018. https://grennunghund.blog/2017/05/21/paganism-isnt-dying-its-finally-maturing/.

Mander, William. “Pantheism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. July 07, 2016. Accessed March 06, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pantheism/.

Oosthoek, K. Jan. “Romanticism and nature.” Environmental History Resources. August 1, 2015. Accessed March 03, 2018. https://www.eh-resources.org/romanticism-and-nature/.

Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanes, 47. via the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2008.01.0212%3Asection%3D47

Shneer, James. The Jewish Calendar and the Torah 3rd Edition. S.l.: Lulu.com, 2016.

Roe, Nicholas. English Romantic Writers and the West Country. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

TheLettuceMan. “Paganism as a Religion.” Of Axe and Plough. June 18, 2017. Accessed March 3, 2018. https://thelettuceman.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/paganism-as-a-religion/.

York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

About HeliosTheDemiurge

Proud Pagan and polytheist. Reconstructing Late Antiquity-Early Medieval Hellenism based on the teachings of Julian the Philosopher and Iamblichus, referred to as "Julian Hellenism."
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23 Responses to Paganism is not “Nature-Centric”

  1. Mark Green says:

    A gross overstatement. At best, you can say that YOUR Paganism is not nature-centric. Mine is, and I like it that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Mark,

      From what I see your “Paganism” has nothing informing your devotion that is markedly derived from ancient paganism (non-Abrahamic religions that were displaced by Abrahamic Religions in the Europe-Near East cultural basin). Instead, your beliefs are primarily derived from the Protestant Romanticist understandings of nature that I discussed, and nothing more. This, coupled with your outspoken promotion of atheism (which is of course something influenced by these Protestant ideas you’ve been raised in) make your claims of being Pagan dubious at best. After all, you have no reason to identify with a religious movement if you hold a notion that there is no deity with agency, because evidently, you cannot engage in do ut des (a reciprocal relationship of gift exchange) with something that lacks this fundamental quality.

      Your appreciation for nature and self-development can be expressed in many ways. But that shouldn’t come at the cost of hindering a religious identity that’s making an effort to be taken seriously. To continue to call it Paganism is at best appropriative, as people who are actually reviving or taking inspiration from these faiths are trying to reclaim the word.

      I know you probably won’t take this comment in and reflect on it, but luckily you don’t have to. Paganism is moving ahead and leaving you behind.

      From,
      Klayton

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mark Green says:

        Rootedness in the ancient is in no way intrinsic to modern Paganism.

        You are correct: I do not “take your argument in” because it is rooted in specious premises. My Paganism is every bit as Pagan as is yours. Everyone who appoints himself a gatekeeper of who is a “real” Pagan can be dismissed out of hand as someone who has little grasp of the modern meaning of the term.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Mark,

        I must repeat: your claim is heavily entrenched in a background of Protestant Romanticism. Coupled with the denial of Pagan Gods, there is nothing notably Pagan about it. The reason for “gatekeeping” is because your “modern meaning of the term” is an extention of and defined by Protestant overculture, and hence appropriative.

        Again, it’s more than fine if you want to express an awe of nature or focus on self-improvement. It just shouldn’t come at the cost of being a pestilence on a religious movement.

        From,
        Klayton

        Liked by 2 people

      • Mark Green says:

        A “pestilence”? LOL.

        Your definition of Paganism is far too narrow. It is not the definition generally accepted by the broader community. It doesn’t matter what the “roots” of my belief and practice are: they are Pagan. Nor are they remotely rooted in a Protestant paradigm, which appears to be nothing more than a sideways slur.

        You can kid yourself all you like that you are doing “real” Paganism and others are not. But seriously: that’s all you’re doing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Mark,

        As stated in this article, this more concise definition of Paganism serves a purpose of separating Paganism from Protestant imperial use and thus creating distance from the New Age movement. Perhaps this ostensible “broader [“Pagan”] community,” which probably participates in the issues I bring up, is not a good fallback to invoke argumentum ad populum.

        The roots of your beliefs and practice do matter. People aren’t raised in a void, nor do their ideas formulate in one. Your ideas of what Paganism is, which are patently not rooted in ancient paganism, inevitably means you root them coming from a contemporary Western background. This is especially apparent in your vocal understanding of nature and outspoken adherence to pantheistic atheism.

        From,
        Klayton

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Bob Paxton says:

    No, I’m sorry. You don’t get to latch onto an entire movement and say “mine”, and punt out people who don’t fit in your reconstructionist worldview. You’re about 40 years too late to try to grab hold of that term.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bob,

      Throughout this post, I did not put forward a notion of limiting Paganism to “Reconstructionism” (P.S., This is a tool of methodology; not a denomination). You are arguing against a strawman. I explicitly made it clear that those who take inspiration from ancient paganisms (e.g., Druids and Wiccans) are included in Contemporary Paganism.

      What is actually presented in my article is that vague nontheistic nature worship has more to do with Christian romanticism than anything actually inspired by ancient pagan religions. Defining a religious movement to be inclusive of atheists who expound themselves with a Protestant worldview is counterproductive.

      From,
      Klayton

      Liked by 4 people

    • By that logic, you’re roughly 1700 years too late to grab hold of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark Green says:

    So you say. I say your premises are baseless and arbitrary. Good thing there is plenty of room in the Pagan community for both of us, despite your wishes to the contrary.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. fatcatspats says:

    You make a reasonable point in stating that paganism should not be DEFINED as “nature religion,” full stop, by indicating that many non-pagan religions are nature-centered and many pagan religions are not. It’s difficult because the ancient world was so (comparatively) low-tech that we seem to consider anything similar to or inspired by ancient actions to be “nature-based.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Xuchil says:

    Paganism is not only “nature-based”, but it can be a focus on that. Further, there are ancient religions that do focus on that. I do not agree that “Paganism” is defined by worship of pagan gods since not all pagans even believe in gods and all religions even have gods. Also, nothing exists outside of nature, scientifically speaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Llewellyn James says:

      “Paganism is not only “nature-based”, but it can be a focus on that. Further, there are ancient religions that do focus on that.”

      Such as?

      “Also, nothing exists outside of nature, scientifically speaking.”

      Nonsense! Considering Nature[identifiable with the universe] had a finite beginning, what existed before nature existed?

      “I do not agree that “Paganism” is defined by worship of pagan gods since not all pagans even believe in gods and all religions even have gods”

      Err yes it does those you don’t believe in pagan gods are to put it bluntly; not pagan

      Liked by 1 person

      • Xuchil says:

        Nature focused religions:
        Shintoism, which does not really even have ethics.
        Various Native America religions.
        Some sects of Hinduism, the oldest surviving religion. Especially, the more Vedic forms. Ancient Hinduism focused on nature much more than some modern forms. That’s not even getting into the whole PIE [Proto-indo-European] religion discussion.

        Nature has always existed. Even us being able to make tools is natural. Other animals do it as well. We are part of the animal kingdom, a part of the food chain. We do not exist “outside of nature”. Nothing exists outside of it. The Big Bang is still nature, and everything before it.

        Not exactly. “Pagan” is not defined by worshiping [pagan] gods. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are religions that do not have gods. Buddhism, in it’s early conception for example and Jainism. They’re titled in sociology as “ethical religions”. Religion is far more complicated than just worshiping stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Llewellyn James says:

    “Shintoism, which does not really even have ethics.
    Various Native America religions.”

    Shinto practitioners believe in nature spirits.

    “Nothing exists outside of it.”
    Yes spirits and Gods exist outside of nature.

    The Big Bang is still nature, and everything before it.
    Wrong. Nature is defined as the material universe.
    “1.
    a. The material world and its phenomena: scientists analyzing nature.

    b. The forces and processes that produce and control these phenomena: the balance of nature.”
    https://www.thefreedictionary.com/nature
    The above definition is agreed by scientists.

    You obviously have a strong adherence to philosophical naturalism/materialism which is probably why you are trying to extend the concept of nature beyond to include that which would be considered supernatural.

    “Buddhism, in it’s early conception for example and Jainism.”

    Since when have these religions been considered Pagan?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Xuchil has been banned for atheistic proselytization due to a new comment they submitted. When you begin to antagonize theists and call the Gods “ideas,” compare anything you disagree with to Christianity, and then endorse western colonial definitions of what “Paganism” is, then you’re basically the reason I wrote this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Aonde ('owl' in Tupi) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tupi_language) says:

    Hi, Helios. I agree with you. I do not see paganism as nature centric. “Nature centrism” is not a requirement for being a pagan, it is just a characteristic of some pagans. I see the paganism that I live as human centric. My pagan faith helps me to live my life in a better way. It helps me to know and understand me deeply. Greetings from Brazil!

    Like

  9. Uticensis says:

    Thank you for phrasing this in such plain terms. This is a point of contention between me and many pagans I’ve met – many millennials come into serious paganism through the aftershocks of their teenage dalliance with Wicca and this is a critical pitfall that they often encounter.

    I sense that the drive to relate to the natural world to paganism in an essential way is rather just a reflex of atheistic energies. It is a rathe simple endeavor to translate your inability to believe theistically into a belief in vague notions of the sacredness of the environmental world. This being all the while one manages to, through slight of hand or acrobatics, maintain a distinct “pagan” identifier.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think it’s a bit unfair to ascribe this to millennials— I mean, I’m one. I think it’s wiser to blame the general Protestant overculture for this line of thinking. It’s been a thing plaguing Paganism since very early on, even before it became distinct from generic Occultism, and I’ve seen seen plenty of older Pagans who have the concept of Paganism as “nature worship” close and defend it rabidly.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sharnie says:

    Hi, I love your article, and can’t say that I fully grasp every detail of your post and subsequent comment replies here, but I am interested in it all. I consider myself Pagan, both human-centric and trying to be nature-centric. I have also found a community of so called Atheist Pagans – which I felt my questioning and scientific side identified with (deities as archetypes, parts of the psyche etc). I just wondered what you would define your paganism as? How do you practice and what do you believe? I often struggle to believe in deities and spirits because I feel influenced by those who laugh at the notion and, of course, apparent scientific research (about which I know little besides what is told to me, I admit). I’m a little lost and I would love some advice. Thank you for the post x

    Like

    • Hi Sharnie,

      I define Paganism as something which must be God-centric, with a literal belief in the existence of the divine. Otherwise, the engagement in rituals is meaningless, since there is no entity to engage in do ut des (recriprical relationship) with. If you’re curious of my specific practices and beliefs, I’ve outlined much of it on this website.

      I advise that you not only partake in a community of so-called “atheo-Pagans,” but also engage in Pagan spaces which are theistic. Perhaps look up various theological conceptions of Gods and Spirits from a variety of traditions and philosophies as well, and see if any particularly resonates with you. But most importantly, try to engage in rituals and offerings to the divine yourself, and try to see if you can engage in a personal relation with one.

      All the best,
      Klayton Silvanus

      Liked by 1 person

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