I have a problem, and that problem is the conflation of “Pagan” and “Earth-centered” that seems to pop up everywhere I go.
The Unitarian Universalist Association, for example, in its Sources of the Living Tradition, makes it clear that they see the two terms as synonymous. Every beginner’s book on magic or paganism seems to have nature worship at its heart. And it seems that a great amount of people see the feeling they get when they go outside on a clear night as a form of Pagan spirituality in itself. I have nothing against those who are spiritually connected to this world, and I have nothing against Earth-based religious practice as a concept. But I really, really wish people would stop pretending it’s what all Pagans do.
Although the worship of nature has always existed, the idea of all pre-Christian religions as animist fertility cults is mostly idealism and romanticization of the past. This is evident in William Wordsworth’s sonnet “The world is too much with us,” laments humanity’s disconnect from nature during the Industrial Revolution and feels that, had he been raised in a time when people saw the divine in nature (It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be/A Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn), he would feel more inspired by the natural world than he currently has the ability to be.
It’s true that the natural world did play a part in some pre-Christian religions, but in others, it really didn’t factor in that much. In Norse Paganism, for instance, Midgard was regarded as one of the lower and less important of the Nine Realms in the grand scheme of things, and in Roman religious life, the social order was often emphasized to greater importance than the natural world. There were pre-Christian animist religions, but the idea that all pre-Christian religion revolved around nature worship is mostly an invention of people within the last few centuries who have been left unsatisfied by modern monotheism. This can be seen in many of the first modern Wiccan and Druidic traditions, which drew spiritual inspiration from the seasons, the cycle of fertility, and the natural rhythms of the earth and attributed this information to nebulous ancient practices with little to no archaeological evidence backing their claims.
Historical validity aside, there are a number of problems that I, personally, have with Earth-centered practices, both as a queer person and as someone who does not actually believe that their soul originated on this planet. These can be summed up thusly:
- Inextricable connections drawn between nature’s fertility, sexual pleasure, binary gender, and cisheterosexual intercourse.
- The idea that the rock we live on is inherently more sacred than any of the numerous other rocks in the universe just because we happen to live on it.
- The idea that a need to look beyond the natural world for transcendent spiritual experiences is necessarily a product of social indoctrination.
These points aren’t applicable to every nature-centered practice by any means. Earth-centered practices don’t have to be noble-savage stereotypes of quasi-primitive sacred (hetero)sexuality (one of my systemmates bases her practice, which she calls Agarthan Paganism, on the life cycle of bees rather than that of mammals, thus getting rid of a lot of the masculine/feminine binaristic aspects of Wicca-influenced practice) and they don’t need to be anti-technology either (said Agarthan Pagan also describes Gaia as a fusion of organic intelligence, magic, and advanced technology) but they often are, and that’s the popular image of what Paganism is, both within interfaith circles and Pagan community groups.
My practice draws from a couple of different sources—
- Recovered memory from the many past lives I’ve lived, several of which have taken place in other civilizations that do not exist on this planet.
- Pop culture counterparts or equivalents to those civilizations, when they exist.
- The application of narrative structure to the struggles and triumphs of everyday life, as a form of casual pathworking.
- Experiences of nonhumanity, plurality, and neurodivergence, which are given meaning by myself and those sharing space with me.
I know planetary magicians who draw energy from the solar system, fellow pop culture pagans whose practice is based on the worlds of Lord of the Rings, The Elder Scrolls, or Star Wars, technopagans who venerate the synthetic world and the natural world in equal measure, and others who do not fit into the simple 1:1 equivalency of “Pagan” and “Earth-centered,” whether that is because they choose to center their religious practices around a single entity or group of entities or because they just don’t feel like this is their ultimate home.
As someone whose soul is not from earth, I do not feel connected to it. I respect it, as the planet on which I am living at the time, but I do not revere it as my home. I don’t feel the need to build rituals around its seasons, or to pretend that I am in any way a part of it besides by mere coincidence of birth. Celebrating the rites of Earth-centered religion feels like celebrating the 4th of July—it can be a fun community activity, but there’s no pride or reverence for what I’m celebrating. In the end, I just live here, whether “here” in any given situation is Earth or America.