Our story begins only a few weeks ago, as a desperate soul posts on a Pagan forum looking for guidance from her fellows.
“I am a Pantheist,” she explains, “and I believe that the Earth is our goddess. But lately, I’ve noticed so many bad things happening, like storms and droughts and earthquakes that hurt people, and I’m starting to wonder how she can really love and care for us when all these bad things keep happening.”
The answers that followed, for the most part, struck upon a singular theme: Nature lives in perfect harmony, but people have disrupted that delicate balance, and so ‘bad things’ happen.
Some of those answering even went so far as to suggest that monsoons and earthquakes and the like were Gaia’s punishment upon mankind for our collective transgressions against the natural world.
However surprising it may be to see so many self professed Pantheists borrowing lines from Pat Robertson (Hurricanes as God’s wrath against the sinners, really folks?) it’s the whole “nature loves us” thing that I always find so astonishing.
Have any of these people ever been outside?
I mean, have they really, REALLY been outside, to where the wild things are, and not just some quick jog around their perfectly groomed little neighborhood?!
Because, whatever one’s beliefs about the divinity of the natural world, the one thing that should be abundantly clear after even a casual observation of the natural order of things, is that Nature is NOT nice and it does not love you. Most of that ‘perfect harmony’ stuff that folks keep talking about, involves this critter working overtime to kill and eat some other critter, and on, and on, right down the line from whales to the most microscopic of organisms. If the Earth is a goddess, she is a hungry one who consumes her own children with a relish that would make even old Kronos blush.
Now, as a Celtic Polytheist, I see a world where the Land, Sea and Sky are inhabited by many spirits of one kind or another. Our ancestors worked hard to placate the less friendly of these, and to venerate the more cooperative ones. It should come naturally, to one of a polytheistic mind, to understand the natural world as a multiplicity of sometimes opposed and competing forces.
But leaving aside the mythology for a moment, if you want to really understand our relationship with the natural world, I suggest reading Michael Pollan’s ‘The Botany of Desire’.
Early on in the book, Mr. Pollan urges us to observe history from a plants’ point of view, suggesting that instead of viewing the rise of agriculture as one of the great achievements of Humankind, “It makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees.”
And THAT is the nature I see when I look outside my window, and that’s what I find when I go hiking through the wilderness. A nature that is so conniving in its manipulation of the human animal, that the vast majority of us live our entire lives under the illusion that WE are the ones in control.
And for all that, I still love it. And it is an honest love, without all the pretense of a peaceful and harmonious world that loves me back. Sometimes, it is the unrequited loves that are the best.
Now get out there and breathe some fresh air.
Take a hike through the woods.
Swim in the ocean.
There are spirits in the Earth.
And you can be one of them!