Pagan Activism - Faith in Action!
One of the clearest & simplest definitions of Paganism I have found is in 'Witches & the Earth’, by Chas S. Clifton:
"Live so that someone ignorant about Paganism would know from watching your life or visiting your home, that you followed an Earth religion"
Most Pagans believe that the Earth is sacred, and it’s even been said that Paganism is the ‘spiritual wing of the environmental movement’. (Letcher). But many of those who call themselves 'Pagan' are no more ecologically aware than the rest of the population.
Should our lives be an expression of our spirituality? The question comes down how much we act upon their ideals and beliefs. Paying an annual subscription to an organisation like GreenPeace is a lot easier than changing your lifestyle!
One answer comes from Pagan activism, which isn’t a new tradition but a way of life. Pagan activism includes people from all Traditions and from none: Witches, Druids, Shamans and Chaos Magicians can all join in our rituals.
Pagan activism, often called ‘eco-paganism’, is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to stopping greedy corporations and politicians from destroying the environment. As you read this, there are dozens of environmental activists across the globe, many of them pagans, working to build a better world.
Eco-Paganism is most visible in the direct-action movement. At anti-road campaigns and on global justice protests Eco-Pagans weave ritual, cast spells, and celebrate the sacredness of the Land with a sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears.
Direct action has certain glamour, but isn't the only - or even the best - answer. It's confrontational, tends to focuses on single issues, and it's hard work!
Many people don't have the temperament for such confrontation, and it's not just the front-line activists who count themselves as eco-pagans - There are quiet and personal ways in which we can honour the Earth.
Growing organic vegetables, planting trees and living with the spirit of the Earth everyday is also the path of the Eco-Pagan. Some express their beliefs in a deep awareness of the local ecosystem: Where does your water come from? Where does it go after you’ve used it? What species live in the area? What are the patterns of life and death around you?
Are those who can't be bothered with all this "not true Pagans?" Perhaps it's just that they have yet to fully express the implications of what they believe. To some extent that will include most of us - I do 'walk the talk' to some extent, but could do more. None of us is perfect: Staying aware of our ongoing spiritual growth helps keep us grounded.
Eco-Pagans often weave magic into their activism. ‘Eco-magic’ as it’s called can take many forms, but always involves a deep body connection. Such a connection might mean contacting the genius loci, the spirit of the place, so that we can work together on protection magic.
Just like any magic, eco-magic works best when it’s grounded, so we aim to combine our spell work with practical action; non-violent protest, marches, writing letters, planting trees or conservation work.
Eco-magic is constantly evolving but some principles remain central. We always work closely with the spirits of place and aim for non-violent, non-hierarchical, holistic solutions. Starhawk speaks of an ‘ethic of immanence’. Such an ethic recognises that all things are connected, and we choose to make that relationship one of love. (Starhawk 1982).
We work without hierarchy, creating rituals that are accessible and intuitive. We rarely have anyone acting as 'High Priest/ess' as everyone is equal in the circle and everyone is involved.
Creating simple but powerful rituals that engage everyone means working with the body, and Eco-pagans often use drumming, dance and chanting. Instead of wordy invocations of the sacred elements, we welcome them with sound and dance. We call the inspiration of the element of Air by whistling. Inviting the passion of Fire means sharp clapping, dancing like the flames we adore, and whooping loudly if the dance inspires us. Water comes by making the sound of waves or dripping water while swaying slowly as if you were at sea. Earth is honoured by revelling in the muddy ground: "Getting down on your knees & slapping the earth with your hands is a great way to connect with the element." (Quote from the Dragon website.)
The Dragon Tree Rune
The Dragon Tree Rune is multi-functional eco-magic tool - a kind of magical Swiss Army knife. It’s been used as an amulet, scrawled on walls and bulldozers, face painted, and drawn onto letters, leaflets and envelopes. In addition, chalk stones marked & charged with this runebind are buried all over Gt. Britain & Ireland.
The Dragon Tree Rune
The rune is used in all kinds of magical work and campaigning. Typically, it has been used like a battery, being 'charged' in ritual or meditation, and 'discharged' in campaigning.
It originated as an ancient Norse runebind representing the World Tree, linking the earth with upper and lower worlds. The eco-pagan Dragon Network adopted it and it has become widely known as the 'Dragon Rune'. The runebind is a combination of six runes (Laguz, Fehu, Tiwaz, Kenaz (Kaunaz), Elhaz (Algiz) and Isa) and has been used at many successful protest actions over the past 10 years. It brings strength, deepens intuition, sharpens focus and inspires solutions to problems.
Dragon is an Eco-Pagan network that links environmental action with magical practice.
Our name comes from the subtle 'Earth Dragon' energies that are particularly strong along ley-lines and at megalithic sites. In European mythology dragons are closely related to serpents, which symbolise wisdom and the dark, hidden power of the Earth.
Dragon has organised many open ceremonies at UK road protest sites, at illegal ‘Reclaim the Street’ street parties and even in nightclubs. Public events like these blur the distinction between religious ceremony, performance and political action.
But it's not all rituals and chaining ourselves to diggers! Dragon has organised several fund raising events for Conservation and campaign groups.
Dragon is now part of a global movement and instead of membership we hold a register of people who want to work eco-magic with others. Joining the Network is free and open to all. Contact details are below.
To encourage the development of eco-magic Dragon has organised conferences and workshops and has a web site with a selection of eco-magic workings and an e-mail discussion group.
Coming soon - The G8 Global Summit
The G8 summits are where the 8 most powerful economic nations meet in secret to decide what sort of world we’ll live in. We've seen the results: our environment is sacrificed to profit, our health service is run down or privatized and millions of people continue to die for want of clean water and basic medicine.
The G8 is works closely with the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. These are the institutions where the world’s most powerful people (mostly men) gather to decide the world’s fate.
Starhawk writes: "The UN estimates that 6 million children a year die because of policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank." - Webs of Power.
At the G8 meeting in Genoa in 2001, an estimated half a million protestors turned out to voice their disapproval.
By consolidating their power, disregarding people’s autonomy and plundering the global environment, they are setting themselves up in direct opposition to what pagan activists stand for; honesty, protection of the environment and human rights.
The next G8 protest will be in Scotland in July 2005. Many big names will be involved including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Many grass roots activists will be too, including Pagans!
Only one long-term strategy can effectively oppose the G8 and all it stands for: We need to change the mindset that underpins it. And that means empowering people so that we can create another world. Pagans have the tools to help heal and empower people physically, psychologically and spiritually. Such action is more deeply revolutionary that any oppositional protest.
Healing in Action
Some pagan activists work with the healing arts and there are always pagans involved in the “Medic Bloc” of a protest action. These ‘medics’ deal with healing wounds, calming protestor’s nerves and provide safe space for activists who need to take time out.
The Tribe of Brigid is a team of Pagans who choose to bring their healing skills to the heart of the G8. Many of us have skills in massage, bodywork, counselling skills, Shamanic healing, Reiki, Light Work, etc. We can use those skills to help with depression, mental health, addiction, conflict resolution etc.
We believe that another world is possible, and we intend to show people what that world might look like. In the days before the G8 Summit we plan to run drop-in healing centres and run workshops for the local people. Getting involved in long term healing may not be possible for most of us, but there is still a great deal we can do, even if we are only there for a few days.
As people who change consciousness, who connect to the sacred, and who heal, Pagans are in an ideal position to simultaneously treat the symptoms of our global crisis and help to mend the broken culture that oppresses us all in different ways.
Brigid is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smith-work. The Tribe of Brigid will use healing and poetry to help forge new tools for positive change.
The G8 conference itself is from Wednesday 6th to 8th of July 2005, but G8 activists will be in Scotland for weeks before. During the protest the front line activists will need as much support as we can give, so we will commit most of our energies to them during that time.
Some activists will choose to engage in very challenging and confrontational actions and will need support after the event. Front-line activists can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or physical injury, so the Tribe may offer on-going support locally. Contact details are below.
Eco-Paganism has achieved a lot over the last ten years or so. We've helped encouraged a better public perception of pagans through very positive media coverage, especially during the mid-90’s road protests, and been active in interfaith work around environmental issues.
What of the next ten years? We'll keep evolving, keep exploring
and hopefully, with your help, keep growing!
Contacts and References:
Tribe of Brigid:
Some of this article is adapted from the booklet, Introduction to Pagan Activism, written by Adrian Harris & Sean Scullion, October 2004. The full booklet is available for free download from the Dragon website:
Clysdale, Ian, The Encyclopaedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Shelley Rabinovitch and James Lewis. Citadel Press, New York, 2002
Letcher, Andy, 'Virtual Paganism or Direct Action? The Implications
of Road Protesting for Modern Paganism.
Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark, Unwin, 1982
Starhawk, Webs of Power, New Society Publishers, 2002