On “Earth-Based Religions”

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now, a few people have told me that I should, many others have told me “Oh Gods, please don’t.” The latter concerns have been pushed aside, because a blog post that I read today struck me as having missed the mark so badly that I could not remain quiet about it. Fair warning: I have no pretty pictures to share and my formatting is gonna be lackluster ’til I get used to this.

Cara Schulz recently made a post on the Wild Hunt pertaining to Wade Mueller, a commune leader understandably presenting his way of doing things as the only right way of doing things. Her post opens with a quote from Mueller, part of which I agree with:

“We’re not really Pagans. We have a Pagan veneer over the top of a Christian and secular life.”

Unfortunately, it immediately goes off the rails by addressing the problem with a swinging hammer rather than with nuanced reason, when he follows with:

“Until we have permanent lands that we live on, are born on, and die on, we won’t be Pagans.”

The problem with this statement is that it hinges on the worst, most asinine tropes of modern paganism, and sidesteps the very real issues that have hamstrung the development of modern pagan traditions in favor of a quasi-libertarian fetishization of property-ownership-as-human-worth. The problem is that Wade Mueller, rather than stepping away from Victorian Romanticism, dives headlong into it.

The issue of addressing the problem that Mueller presents with the solution he offers is that it’s tantamount to solving a termite problem by getting a trampoline in the back yard for the kids. This becomes evident when it’s mentioned that Mueller opened his presentation by reflecting on the alleged “paradox” of earth-based religions meeting in a hotel.

I am going to say something that seems to me to be self-evident, but might run afoul of conventional wisdom: Modern Paganism is not comprised of an assortment of earth-based religions. The idea of Paganism as a collection of earth-based religions is built on the same Romanticicsm that created modern Druidry which, whatever one may think of Druidry, is nothing at all close to the Druids of old. “Earth-based religion” is an attachment to the aesthetics of nature over the substance of religion.

That is not to say that pagan traditions do not follow calendars based on natural cycles, or that they don’t have aspects that relate to nature in some way, but virtually all religions do this to one degree or another. Jewish and Muslim holidays are determined by lunar cycles, but these religions are not pagan, and no one I know would argue that they are.

On the other hand, let’s look at religions that do fall under the scope of Modern Paganism. Wicca, of course, is the largest of these, but its roots are in High Magic Occultism more than any overt veneration of nature itself. It operates under certain natural cycles, but it also focuses on the use of magic to help impose our wills on events that might naturally take another course.

We also have traditions like Heathenry, where one struggles to reconcile concepts like “Inner yard/Outer yard” with the conventional view of “earth-based religion” at all. In Heathenry, the wilds are dangerous, rather than inviting. They are bountiful, but they are the residence of capricious and amoral entities that are at odds with the order imposed by human habitation. While this may in some way play into Mueller’s narrative of land ownership, nothing about this necessitates living in separate, entirely pagan communes, unless you ask a Theodsman.

It is not a lack of homeland that prevents us from being “pagans.” It is a lack of conversion. This has little to do with owning a plot of land or living on a pagan-only commune; this is not to say that I’m disparaging people who do associate with fellow pagans, or who are homesteaders or communal livers. But you can be self-sufficient, among other self-professed pagans, and still have a fundamentally non-Pagan religious practice.

Where Mueller was right is in saying that we, most of us, have a Pagan veneer over a Christian and secular life. The solution to this is diligence, first and foremost; a personal, internal diligence as much as an external, communal accountability. We have to leave behind Romanticist notions, which first laid that “Pagan” veneer over a Christian worldview, and resolve to educate ourselves on the worldview of our respective traditions.

We who are Wiccans must learn the worldview that Wicca entails, of closed ritual, of annual rhythms, of quasi-karmic law and magic, rather than shallow self-service and appropriation mingled with Christian morality. We who are heathens must internalize the concepts of frith, maegen, wyrd, the inner-and-outer yard, of luck and piety, rather than bravado, machismo and a disdain for subservience. We who are Kemetic must cling to the principles of Ma’at, the processes of heka, and the natures of the Netjer rather than anachronistic occultism or shallow reductionism.

If we are to be Pagans, and are to come before and earn the attentions of our multitude of Divinities, then we must study our traditions, act upon our studies, and give due acknowledgement to our Gods.

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8 Responses to On “Earth-Based Religions”

  1. helmsinepu says:

    I think “Earth-Based” is an attempt to make pagan things less threatening to atheists and non-pagans in general. It gives the impression of “They like trees and playacting, and are harmless.”
    There’s a huge difference between a vague “sacredness of nature” and finding the destruction of environments foolish and offensive.

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    • hrafnblod says:

      I think that’s probably accurate. I really do think it’s also in large part a matter of stunted theological development with most pagans. While must pagan traditions aren’t orthodoxic, they do tend to still have done very solid foundational aspects that many people never seem to become familiar with, even within their own practice.

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      • helmsinepu says:

        The other approach is to make the definition of “Earth-based Religion” to be “Religions that are currently practiced on the planet Earth, instead of Jupiter or Saturn.”

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  2. I agree with you that a lot of contemporary Paganism is not “earth-based” but rather a Romantic “’Pagan’ veneer”. I also agree that land ownership should not be the sin qua non of Paganism. But I disagree with your conclusion that we should abandon attempts to create a truly earth-based Paganism in favor of only deity-centered Paganisms.

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  3. Pingback: On Polytheism: Thoughts and Clarifications | Grennung Hund Heorþ

  4. Pingback: The Marginalization of Polytheists in the Public Sphere of Paganism | Of Axe and Plough

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