An interesting book of essays, focusing on questions relating to Paganism, animism, environmental concerns/causes, and a response to anthropocentrism. While I did not find a lot to relate to in most of the essays, there were a few stellar standouts for me:
“The Ethics of Paganism: The Value and Power of Sacred Relationship” by Emma Restall Orr
“Of Worms, Snakes, and Dragons: Can Magic Lead to an Ecological Worldview?” by Dr. Susan Greenwood
“I am the Mountain Walking: Wombats in the Greenwood” by Dr. Douglas Ezzy
“Wild Spirit, Active Love” by Dr. Sylvie Shaw
Each of these essays provide not only a perspective on ecology, ethics, animism, and Paganism that I had not considered – each also sculpted even deeper questions that I generated as follow-ons for myself to answer, while I was reading them. For me, these four essays were the meat of the entire book for me.
A word or two of caution for the reader though… The material presented here is in written (for the most part) in academic style, thus the readability can be some really rough terrain to pick through at times. Also, if you are looking for a Paganism 101 or Ecology 101 or Animism 101 book – this ain’t it. The writers make some really large assumptions as to the knowledge base of the reader – and thus another rake edge to potentially step on while traversing this territory.
Recommend? Highly so. This is a book that you need to take your time with – much like a strong conversation on topics concerning ethical perspectives…its worth your time to read it. Just set aside the time to do so, where you are not trying to race through the material.
Anthropocentrism. Before I had read Alison Lilly‘s post on it, I had heard this term a total number of times of…well, zero. After reading her blog post on the topic, as well as some of the accompanying links that she had added – I have to admit I am still somewhat scratching my head. So, let me start off by using the definition that she had in her blog:
Anthropocentrism is the philosophical view that human beings are separate from and superior to the rest of the natural world, possessing intrinsic value that other beings and entities (such as plants and non-human animals) lack.
It must have been the lack of coffee. Perhaps it was my lack of focused concentration, as I was preparing a lecture for three classes on competitive advantage in Business environments by utilizing Information Systems. My brain just was not going to get around the concept. Thus, this entire post sat – untouched – through the entire day yesterday. But this morning, with my caffeine addiction fed, the hamster that keeps the neurons firing in my brain managed an early start to the day, and I realized where I had read this before.
Published in the journal Science (1967), White proposed that medieval Christian attitudes were the root cause of the impending disaster. The Church’s declaration that mankind had a divine right of dominion over nature both predated and underlay the mechanism and materialism that went on to inspire the social and environmental upheaval of the Industrial Revolution.
The principle of Christian dominion. The idea that the everything was created by God to serve the human race. Or as put in Genesis 1:28:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
A principle I wholeheartedly reject. So in looking for a way to define the concept of anthropocentrism, I would not only agree that the definition she provided in her post is a good one, but I would also hold up the principle of Christian dominion over nature as an example where it occurs in a religious belief system. But that’s an easy example. Alison asks another question that potentially drives even deeper into the question:
Where do you see it in happening in Paganism?
Whoa. This is a really tough question. First, I would have to make an assumption as to the base of my knowledge of other Pagan beliefs. And I will admit, its woefully inadequate to answer this question from any competent perspective. So I am not sure I can answer that with any degree of clarity, other than to echo my own personal experience and perspective.
I am a single individual, tied to no coven, grove or group – aside from my studies as a Bardic grade student in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I see myself as a part of Nature – not as a Lord over Nature. At one time, I had a view of myself as a “protector” and “healer” of Nature….but that perspective smacked too much of me being separated from Nature. Besides, Mother Gaia is far better at doing both of those jobs than I could ever dream of being. Instead, I find myself trying to fulfill my role in my own environment. I try to keep my area clean, and try to live in as much harmony with all that is around me as I possibly can.
Alison moves on in her blog post towards a concept of value towards everything around them. And I find myself seeing my perspective as being equal to the animals and Nature around me. Here in Corinth, we have a herd of wild deer that roam the outskirts of Lake Lewisville. Essentially trapped by the sudden spurt of urban development, the herd has a tendency to move through the local urban sprawl in the middle of the night, when far fewer people are about. In my mind, they have as much right – if not more – to be here as we suburban dwellers do. After all, they were here first. There have been moves made by the local city councils to allow hunters to eradicate the herd, and other calls to move the herd. But there have been enough people who show up at the city councils to point out that the herd hurts nothing except some potted plants and exposed gardens. They tend to avoid areas of high vehicular traffic, and pose no threat, unless threatened. They are, after all, just trying to find a way to coexist with the new, sudden addition of human beings in their instinctual area of habitat.
To be fair, I am not sure I have managed to answer Alison’s questions here, but I have certainly attempted to give it my best shot. I am not nearly the eloquent blogger that John Beckett, T. Thorn Coyle, and John Halstead are – I do, however, know my own perspective on a topic. Even when my brain will not completely wrap around the concept presented. I do believe that there are values that each person places on the concepts all around themselves…and I place the same value on Nature, animals, plants, insects and other aspects that I do on myself or any other human being. For me, human beings are not above Nature, it is not there for us to arbitrarily use and then toss over our shoulder like a used McDonald’s cheeseburger (yech) wrapper. Unfortunately, the fight against that mindset is a long one – given today’s uber-materialistic and consumer-driven environment. It will be a difficult road to travel, but I do believe that changing that anthropocentric mindset…I actually like “dominion-oriented” much more….can be done. And I do believe that a lot of the problems that we see in the world today is due to the fact that human beings do not strive to live in balance with their environment.
Perhaps that’s just the Libra in me pushing its way to the forefront…