Sunday Session One

Kimberly Kirner “Environmental Paganisms: Affect and Action in Right Relationship to the Earth”

This is jumping off of research that Kirner has been doing for some time. She presented some initial findings at last year’s conference and more complete analysis at the American Academy of Religion in November 2014.

She has found that there is no correlation between animist belief and greater environmental sustainability. On the other hand, there is some correlation between “nature-centered spiritual practice” and somewhat greater commitment to sustainability compared to the general population, but not to actual household sustainability. To measure sustainability she asked questions about diet and goods and energy consumption.

She found that there was a breakdown between commitment to learning about nature and sustainability and action to increase sustainability.

The only variable she measured that correlated with positive sustainable action was political (rather than spiritual) commitment to environmental activism. She notes that Paganism, “by its distributed nature, lacks” community support for sustainability that political commitment often fosters.

She notes the differences between the broad categories of indigenous animist systems and “contemporary Euro-centric animisms” (greatly generalized here). Most importantly for environmental action are the individualistic and globalized ethics of Euro-centric systems compared to more community- and locality-oriented indigenous systems. Euro-centric systems also have more generalized ethics with few if any modes of enforcement, compared to often detailed codes of behavior with specific consequences in indigenous systems.

For most Pagans nature is an idealized concept with which we engage in ritual. It is “controlled and contained,” and can be invoked and dismissed with low personal stakes. On the other hand, action-centric spirituality is “embedded in everyday relationships,” and interacts with nature on its own terms as “an active agent.” She supposes, but needs to further research, that whether individual Pagans practice more ritual- or action-centric spirituality has to do with how they enter Paganism in the first place.

Wendy Griffin “Crafting a Voice from the Archetypal Darkness”

“Pagan studies academics remain largely absent” from the discussion of climate change.

Griffin calls for a new narrative about humanity’s relationship to environments and itself. She advocates turning away from the idea of capitalism as the source of salvation. She tells us about a workshop she attended by Starhawk, in which group and individual discussions were very vague and often didn’t address climate change at all, although that was the stated purpose of the exercise.

Francesca Ciancimino Howell “The Other-than-Human and the Dark: A Pagan Deep Ecological View”

Deep ecology “is an interdisciplinary and inter-faith path.”

Her paper combines deep ecology, Gaia theory, New Cosmology, and others.

“What is a Pagan view of the dark? And what is a Pagan deep ecological view?” Do Pagans truly celebrate the dark or do we also other it along with the rest of western society? Howell proposes that we do other the dark, just as we other nature, and we deny ourselves as part of nature. This creates in us an imbalance, and “cuts us off from all that is.”

“We share this planet with lots of other people,” some like us (like other primates) and some with no bodies at all. Communion with nature produces joy in human beings and the desire for more communion.

The human soul is “dark, chaotic, primal.”

Our ancestors did not have the luxury of denial of darkness. They did not know about black holes, but they knew about death, illness, and destruction, and they integrated it into their cosmology and their daily lives.

Humanity is literally made of star stuff, the remains of the deaths of cosmic bodies (Tiamat).

Living Systems Theory posits that “it is in chaos that living systems grow and evolve healthfully. In bifurcation we actually move towards more healthy growth.”

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