Pagans and the Earth - Active not Apathetic!
This article was originally
written for 'Pagan Dawn', the magazine of the UK Pagan Federation.
I was rather dismayed when I read the short but pointed article, ‘Does Mother Earth Deserve Better of You?' by Geoff Lilley (Pagan Dawn 151). It’s for each of us to answer his question in our own way, but the fact that he felt called to write it at all saddened me. In fact, Paganism and environmental action have a long and honourable history. Starhawk's ground breaking books The Spiral Dance and Truth or Dare were my call to act: ‘Will you dare to stand up for what you believe is true?’, she asked. My response was to help set up the Dragon Environmental Network. Dragon was created in 1990 to bring together Paganism and environmental action. Magical and spiritual work for the environment (‘eco-magic’) is central but is often accompanied by more grounded activity – conservation, campaigning and non-violent direct action.
In the early 1990's Dragon was instrumental in saving Oxleas Wood, an ancient woodland in South London. More campaigning followed: We were active at the M11 Link road protests, at Twyford Down and Newbury. To many these names will bring no more than a vague memory of news stories of protest camps. But for some they were sites of power, places where all that Pagans hold as sacred were threatened by greed and the desire to shave a few minutes from a car journey.
Twyford Down was apparently 'the most protected site in Britain'. Its chalk downland was an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' dotted with ancient barrows. As a habitat for rare species, it was designated a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest'. Unfortunately, Twyford Down was on the route of a proposed bypass that would cut minutes from a driver’s journey. So it was trashed. Huge machines made a vicious cut into the chalk downland and what was once a place of stunning natural beauty became a building site and then yet another new road.
A similar story has been replayed again and again, for example at Newbury, Fairmile and more recently at Blackwood in South Wales. Were Pagans apathetic about this desecration? No, thank Goddess, they weren’t! We fought hard with body and blood and soul, and though we lost many a battle, the largest road building programme since the Romans was finally halted. Pagans have helped win other battles too, including saving Lyminge Forest from becoming a theme park (see Pagan Dawn 125 and 127). Have no doubt that but for the efforts of campaigners many more acres of our ‘green and pleasant land’ would have disappeared under tarmac and concrete. Nor have we been idle over GM crops. Pagan activist Martin Porter reported a successful protest against a GM crop in Imbolc 2001 (Pagan Dawn 138) and other Pagans have been weaving effective magic against this aberration for years.
Over the last year  Pagans have been involved in peace work, opposing the mass fluoridation of drinking water, fighting to save Blackwood woodland and protecting the Nine Ladies stone circle. Most recently Pagan Dawn (151) helped inform people about the danger of Sudden Oak Death and what practical steps we can take. Meanwhile Pagans worldwide have been working magically to prevent the spread of the disease. Pagans are also active conservationists: I know of two woods managed by Pagans - Ravenswood and Venus Wood, cared for by the Olgar Trust. There may well be more. We have also been involved in tree planting, woodland management and many tidying up projects around the country.
With all this activity it seems odd that Pagans can still be accused of apathy. Perhaps it’s just a small and vocal minority who do all this work. If so, those of us who are involved need to be more proactive in encouraging and empowering other Pagans who might want help. Well, as Marion Green points out in her last editorial, environmentally active Pagans have our work cut out! Fortunately there is a deep well of resources to draw on. The Dragon Network website offers a rich variety of eco-magic ideas, rituals and campaign news. British Reclaiming, part of the witchcraft Tradition founded by Starhawk’s Coven, runs camps and seasonal celebrations with an ecological emphasis, while Ravenswood and Olgar Trust have a more specific focus.
So there are many ways you can contribute to protecting the natural world that we all hold sacred: Eco-magic, conservation and campaigning all work together to mend the damaged web connecting us with the Earth. If you feel drawn to help weave your energy into this beautiful tapestry, please get in touch!