In my local woods the sunlight glows vivid through the leaves of downy birch and slants, golden, through the gaps between the pines. Where the earth steams and the buzzards call overhead, the spirits I meet have faces but no names. Sometimes they appear as guides, delivering a euphoric moment or a much-needed catharsis. Other times a new sigil appears in the form of a snapped-off piece of twig and I know exactly who has sent it. For me, nature is the source of life, magic and spirit. She is also my greatest inspiration, my safest refuge and my best friend.
Let’s be honest. The human world of the 21st Century has no great love for nature. Whether or not we choose to recycle or use energy saving bulbs in our homes, every day we are forced to interact with the toxic, extractive and wasteful industries upon which our economy is based. As I write, mountaintops are being removed for the coal underneath, people are being maimed and arrested for opposing a dangerous oil pipeline and the Pacific is becoming an irradiated soup of discarded plastic junk. A climate change denier sits in the White House, doing everything in his power to reverse what scant legal protections have been afforded the natural world. We are saturated with surplus and hemorrhaging waste. Humanity’s great battle to tame and reshape the Earth has reached the level of ecocide.
Out of Hiding
Enlightened non-attachment is a fashionable philosophy within New Age circles. However, in this desperate state of affairs, silence equates to compliance. I believe that as pagans, witches, animists and energy workers we no longer have the luxury of fence-sitting. It’s time for us to recognize that drawing power from nature whilst continuing to live high-Co2 lifestyles sustains a one-sided relationship with our sacred planet. The natural world is a place of beauty and the source of our strength, but too few of us are willing to actually step out from behind our altars to defend it. If she’s worth our reverence, she’s worth our allegiance.
It is time to come out of hiding, but for many of us this will go against our fundamental instincts. Globally, pagan and shamanic traditions have never been well-treated by the newer monotheistic organized religions. As a European practitioner I am constantly aware that my culture’s dislocation from its landscape is the product of an ultimately successful campaign of religious and misogynistic persecution designed to fracture rural community spirit, that ultimately paved the way for land enclosure and industrialization. The psychic resonance of our ancestors’ disenfranchisement and the violence directed at our spiritual forebears has left us wary, encouraging private or even secret practice to this day. However, by rendering ourselves invisible we are depriving the Earth and its defenders of our potential as allies and decreasing the likelihood that future generations will have natural energies to connect to. As energy workers we could be a powerful, possibly essential part of events to come.
Towards an Active Ecological Shamanism
From my vantage point in the UK, I am profoundly struck by the role of Native American spiritualities in some of the ecological struggles of North America. Although I have not been able to visit Sacred Stone camp, it is clear that land rights and ecological action are more powerful when backed-up by a genuine shamanic tradition with deep roots in the landscape. When colonizers and business interests get stuck into a place they show equal disregard to the ecology, indigenous access to land and the spiritual resonance between local people and their natural habitat. This applies equally in contexts as diverse as the Industrial Revolution in the UK, the frontier genocide of the Americas and the present-day struggles of indigenous Amazonians against international oil and logging interests. For humans maintaining both a material and spiritual connection to nature, these three issues are actually the same thing and must be dealt with holistically, rather than separately.
For Europeans, even more so. Industrialization, land enclosure and the crusade against paganism all started here. It is crucial that our spiritual practice addresses the alienating effects of our cultural dislocation. For European practitioners, perhaps it is doubly important that we are out there, not just confining our magick to our isolated homes.
However, our economically-enforced participation in the capitalist system keeps working-age adults largely disconnected from all three aspects of the struggle. As a result, frontline ecological movements are often characterized by a turnover of young idealists and a general lack of wise, experienced older participants. In occupied forests and protest camps across the world, we are creating new tribes based on equality between individuals and reverence for nature. But without our elders, we are struggling.
I regret that this article is written from such a eurocentric perspective, however it is mainly the European pagan community that I intend to address. Within that community, we are facing a trap. Many of our more ancient European pagan religions, particularly the Norse and Celtic ones, originate from warlike societies with strong warrior traditions. Increasingly, I am encountering individuals who identify their pagan spirituality with a highly idealized take on their North European heritage and a worrying national-socialist sentiment. Despite having been fully and disastrously explored in the last century, such attitudes are actually missing the point. Supremacism according to race or gender creates a thematically similar hierarchy to the supremacy of humans over nature, which should be fundamentally at odds with any pagan belief system. As pagans we need to guard against any tendency towards nostalgia, ethnic division and violent, fascist leanings. Such elements only divide us from others across the world who are facing the same ecological destruction. Like it or not, we are not Vikings anymore. We are part of an interconnected global humanity.
However, there is still merit in the concept of the warrior. Whether in la ZAD or the Amazon, the modern day tribal warriors are not soldiers, but campaigners. Those who take on the cause of their neighbors and local ecologies, pitting themselves against state and corporate violence in order to affect change. Shamanic and pagan spiritualities can play a stabilizing, strengthening and motivating role amongst today’s warriors by encouraging unity, evoking catharsis, healing trauma and preventing burnout. Equally, for those unable to dedicate themselves in this way for whatever reason, spiritual practice can be used to strengthen the ecological movement as a whole, through intention, ritual and consciousness-raising. However each of us is able to contribute, it is important that we do so.
If we are to continue to exist on this planet, humanity needs a practical magick; a harmonious two-way relationship with the wild Earth. As pagans, witches and shamans we already know this and should now manifest our full power behind the environmental movement. Let’s build an active ecological shamanism, comprising psychic affinity groups of spirit warriors, supported by their elders, allied across continents and embedded in the landscape.
This Connection is Worth Defending
In another woodland one night not so long ago, the tribe was awake. As the red shadow of the Earth crept across the lunar surface high above, cries went up and torches were set alight. Under a gigantic blood moon, silhouettes howled through the treeline and shadows danced to the flicker of flame. Beating the bounds that night, we could not have known how soon the eviction would come. In a few short months, a property developer would unleash devastating violence upon the trees, gardens and scrub; this idyllic habitat of skylark, kestrel and wild boar. Although our wards were strong and our sigils were set, there were just too few boots on the ground. Now we are scattered to the four directions, but for all of us there will be a next time. Perhaps we will see you out there too.