Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Special Discussion: Nature and Pagan Religions

At TC, we've had many discussions over the years about "nature-based" religions. A major point of contention within the Pagan community involves attempts to define ALL Pagan religions as "nature-based," which simply does not work. However, emotions tend to run so high that discussions rarely advance beyond "ARE SO!" "AM NOT!" In all that, nobody ever really gets around to talking about what we *mean* when we say "nature-based": while everyone seems to agree that Wicca is nature-based and Christianity isn't, there's not much discussion of what we mean by "nature-based," of the various ways that "nature-based" can work within those religions that identify as such, of how nature is conceptualized in religions across the entire spectrum, and so forth.

Since this is a Special Topics discussion, there are stricter rules for participation in this thread, especially regarding thread drift: while thread drift is perfectly fine within TC at large, in this folder discussions are to stay on topic. If you want to pursue a side issue that arises here, feel free to start a thread in the main forum. For more information on the special rules for this folder, please see here:

In addition to the above rules, we have created some rules specific to this discussion. Since this is a highly emotive topic, we wanted to avoid the discussion getting bogged down in the usual places; here at TC, we have a real opportunity to have a genuinely meaty discussion about concepts of nature in Pagan religions, because we have such a wide variety of beliefs represented here -- including a large number of folks who do *not* identify as nature-based. So, to keep the usual problems from happening, here are the additional rules for this topic.

1) Paganism is not A religion, it is MANY religions, most of which have very little in common with each other. Pagans as a whole do not all believe any one thing. Understanding this is necessary to participate in this discussion.

2) Telling others what their religion really believes about nature when you are not a member of that religion is *expressly* forbidden. Don't make assertions about religions other than your own unless you have a demonstrable in-depth knowledge of that religion. This discussion will be difficult without some room for comparison between religions, but it needs to be done very, very carefully. When comparing other religion's practices/beliefs to your own, you *must* indicate that a) you are not a member of X religion, and b) where your information is coming from (prior involvement, dominant in your area, read some books (scholarly or otherwise), encountered a crazy at a festival, etc.). Sweeping statements are discouraged. And remember: you may be wrong. And since we have practitioners of a wide variety of religions here, you will almost certainly be called on it. Take correction gracefully, and refocus on your own religion.

3) Keep the focus on YOUR religion, not on others' misrepresentations of it. This is a discussion about the concept of "nature-based," how the idea of nature functions within your personal path, and the like; the purpose of this discussion is to move beyond kneejerk responses, and really explore what "nature-based" *means.* As annoyed as you may have been when that NeoWiccan told you that your (non-NeoWiccan) religion WAS SO nature-based, or when that Recon snarked that you don't really worship the gods, this is not the place for those stories. Put them aside, and think about what nature means TO YOU within the context of YOUR religious beliefs and practices.

3b) At the same time, also remember that, if you identify as a member of a particular religion, you are not the spokesperson for that religion as a whole. There's a lot of potential for variation within many religions, so frame your responses accordingly. For example, "Greek Paganism, in general, is not really nature-based" is a fair and reasonable statement. "No Greek Pagans are nature-based" is not -- GPs whose personal practices focus upon Demeter, Pan, or Artemis in their nature-y aspects are likely to object.

Without further ado, then, here are some questions to think about; you don't have to answer them all or in any order, certainly -- they're just some thoughts to get the ball rolling.

* How important is the idea of "nature" within your religion?

* How is nature conceptualized within your religion?

* How does nature -- concepts, imagery, attitudes toward -- function within your religion?

* Where do things like agricultural festivals fit into your religion overall?

* If you practice magic, how is nature figured -- is it *the* source of power, *a* source of power, totally irrelevant, what?

Etc. etc. etc.

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