Do Earth-based spiritualities belong in Modernity?
It’s a little disturbing watching the news these days. Dominated by reports of the new president Donald Trump, and his coterie of climate change deniers and fossil fuel executives, it causes me to pause and reflect about kind of future that lies ahead for my sons. But to be fair, the serious environmental problems likely to associated with the new Trump regime are not so new. They actually began long before this past American election. The existential problem faced by humanity, and indeed all life-forms on Earth, can really be traced back at least two hundred years to the Industrial Revolution, and perhaps even further back still, to the forced imposition of Christianity onto my own Indigenous Northern European ancestors at the point of Roman swords. These events inaugurated a process which has completely changed humanity’s relationship with the biosphere. Centuries of intolerance, church-sponsored violence, inquisition and murder of those who practiced the ancient knowledge of the forest, nearly ended the time-less wisdom of European indigenous ancestors and their integral relationship to the natural world — a magical cosmology into which humans were immersed both materially and spiritually for untold millenia. Well, I did say ‘nearly’. Across the Western world, re-constructed nature-based religions such as Druidism and Wicca, (lumped together as Paganism) have experienced a dramatic resurgence, particularly in Britain since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951.
In a September, 2010 a landmark decision made by the Charity Commission for England and Wales granted legal charitable status and constitution of the Druid Network. For the first time in Britain’s history, legal status was granted to a Pagan organisation, the Druid Network. The Charity Commission accepted the constitution of the Druid Network organization that, among other things, construed Druidry as a religion. Here are two key statements taken from Annex 1, page 17, describing both the definition of Druidry and key attributes of indigenous British spirituality as articulated by the Druid Network:
1. Druidry was the native spiritual tradition of the peoples who inhabited the islands of Britain and Ireland, spreading through much of Europe. It is increasingly understood, and within the Network acknowledged, to be of an older indigenous, ever-evolving religion sourced within these islands.
2. As an ancient pagan religion, Druidry is based upon the reverential, sacred and honourable relationship between the people and the land. In its personal expression, modern Druidry is the spiritual interaction between an individual and the spirits of nature, including those of ancestry, together with the continuities of spiritual, literary and cultural heritage.
The document granting legal recognition of the Druid Network provided a foundational definition of Druidry, while rejecting the popular misconceptions of Druid involvement in ritual murder and Satanism, as importantly critical points in the Commissions decision. However, as much as change in the nature of religion seems inevitable, the line which once separated mainstream institutional religion and Earth-based spirituality appears to be an inconsistent and opaque one. Among the foremost academic authorities on pre-Christian religion in both modern and ancient Britain, historian Professor Ronald Hutton points to the inconsistencies around mainstream Christian religion in recent times stating:
“In practice a Druid component functioned as an expression of modern Welsh Christianity. Most of its Arch druids in the early and mid twentieth century were clergy including Methodists, Congregationalists, a Baptist and a Church of Wales minister. It was entirely in accordance with this tradition that the Welshman Rowan Williams was initiated as an honorary Druid in 2002, with the name Rowan ap Neirin, after being made Archbishop of Canterbury” (Hutton, 2010).
But I wonder if the nature of this change could take the form of a melding between an, ‘institutional’ and ‘non-institutional’ world-view in the genesis of a new form of social hierarchy — a melding that that rejects the mass-socialisation of dominant neoliberal doctrines so firmly entrenched within modern economic theory? Can Earth-based religion re-invigorate modern imaginations and spirituality, from the timeless self-perpetuating wonders constituting our natural ecology, from the planetary movement of the Sun, Moon and planets? It would seem so, at least to some extent, as the comeback of indigenous Earth based spiritualities seems to represent a viable spiritual alternative to growing numbers of people. These are people perceiving the spectre of imminent and suicidal degradation of our finite biosphere by the dominant institutionalised forces of capitalism, and who seek to find meaning in their lives outside of captive consumer cultures. English anthropologist Dr. Susan Greenwood points out that it was Darwin himself, who restored the idea that human beings are part of a totality, that we are part of nature Greenwood (2005), in her essay “Of Worms, Snakes and Dragons”, she suggests religion has an omnipresent existence in humanity, and that the nature of and substance of religion is in a state of constant evolution.
The epistemological conceptions of Druidism, as with all Earth-based spiritualities, may appear ‘radical.’ But provide a framework and foundation that could, perhaps, help catalyse future socio-economic alternatives to re-dress some of the worst excesses of rampant consumerism, as just one hallmark of Western industrial society.
Conceptually, Earth-based spiritualities may actually facilitate new and innovative socio-economic human pathways by viewing Earth’s research rich ecology and less as a commodity, and more as shared community space. Such a space might be enriched by an infinite variety of goods made (once again) by small-scale crafts people building their housing, food, and livelihoods from materials local to their region. The continuing world-wide growth of Earth-based, animistic spiritualities may help bring about real change to a failing Eurocentric socio-economic narrative, by catalysing an enriching alternative to the monotheism of ‘progress’ and neoliberal globalism. Perhaps humanity can have the best of repairable technology while finding its back towards renewed notions of community and oneness contained within it. In the face of climate change, growing resource scarcity we must ask ourselves the serious question if religion will return again to its ancient, but universal earth-based roots, in time?
J. Lovell END 983 words.