Over the years I have found myself in the position of creating earth-centered ceremony for my Unitarian Universalist congregation. The intent of these events was to fuse a naturalistic sense of place with a loose Wiccanate structure, in order to appeal to humanists and Neopagans in attendance. One product of this work has been this regional direction devotional designed for the Pacific Northwest.
Called by impulse to survive, the salmon lay eggs in the east, the mountains give birth to sacred rivers, cutting pathways in the earth. The [region name] stretches into the east where the sun bursts each morning.
Called by impulse to survive, the geese fly from the north. The north brings us the snow -wrapped within the sacred darkness. The [region name] stretches into the north with the cold embrace of transformation.
Called by impulse to survive, the salmon swim from the west. Clouds come from the west, carrying sacred rain in their bosoms. The [region name] stretches into the west where the sun sinks each evening.
Called by impulse to survive, the geese flew to the south. The south awaits patiently for the return of the sacred brightness. The [region name] stretches into the south with the warm embrace of transformation.
We mourn with the land as our industry confuses the seasons;, as our neglect threatens the survival of many species, as our ignorance has blinded us from our deep humanity. We gather here to touch our deep humanity through celebrating the land as our flesh and the sky as our breath.
One thing the keen observer might notice is that I start in the east and go counter-clockwise instead of clockwise as some might expect. The reasoning behind this is to follow the path of the earth around the sun and not the perceived path of the sun in the sky. Given our understanding of the earth’s gravitational pull around the sun, I feel counter-clockwise is more appropriate.
Anyone with knowledge of Pacific Northwest ecology might identify with the imagery I’ve invoked:
• On this side of the Continental Divide, rivers flow east to west.
• Salmon are a vital traditional food staple of local indigenous people, and restoring salmon population is an important conservation effort.
• The geese have prominent migration patterns during the changing of the seasons.
• The warm winds often come from the south, and the cold winds often come from the north.
• Cold air on the west of the Cascades pushes warm air eastward.
I felt it necessary for the closing to speak directly to the impact of humanity on the environment, but to end with a positive focus of re-cultivating humanity’s sacred place within the ecosystem.
I hope this serves as a practical example of how sacred ecology builds new rituals, ceremonies, and traditions from the landscape and local ecology where one lives. Also, it can be easily applied to already existing traditions. The idea is to ground religious events with local ecological awareness.
I would be delighted to hear others’ comments on:
• How do you integrate local ecological awareness and identity into your ceremonies, rituals, traditions, and celebrations?
• If you were to use the above example as a template ,what features of your life-place’s unique landscape and ecology would you be compelled to include and why?
• What role does local ecology play in your personal spiritual identity? (Whether it be Wicca, witchcraft, Neo-druid, Asatru, religious naturalist, Unitarian Universalist, deist, polytheist, Neopagan, or any other philosophy or spiritual system.)
For me, the key is to combine creative inspiration with practical knowledge of your surroundings. If you feel so moved and inspired, be free to take my words and rewrite them to be specific to your life-place and your relationship with its unique ecology. Or share a unique short sample of poetry, prose, or prayer you have created to express the intimate relationship you have with the land around you.
A version of this essay was first published at No Unsacred Places on Dec. 17, 2012.
Glen Gordon was introduced to Paganism by friends while living overseas in Europe during the late 90′s. He underwent both Wiccan and Neodruidic training during his formative years, but had not self-identified as a Pagan when his path diverged into land-centered spiritual naturalism ten years ago. His focus has been on cultivating beneficial relationships with the natural living world surrounding him wherever he lives. During this time, he discovered Unitarian Universalism and has been active in his local congregations for many years. Since 2007, he has worked on varied projects regarding BioRegional Animism, including this 5 minute video, the words of which came from a short UU sermon he gave. He has spoken on the topic of ecology and the land on a few occasions for his local congregation and facilitated a now-disbanded group of UU Pagans and spiritual naturalists. In the past, he maintained the blog, Postpagan, and is excited to share some of that material at HumanisticPaganism. Currently, you can find Glen writing occasionally for No Unsacred Places and helping achieve Green sanctuary status for his beloved UU community, where he helps create and lead ecological aware earth- and land- focused ceremonies for the solstices and equinoxes.
See other Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology posts.
I love the incorporation of local region names and migrational patterns.
The rationale for going counter-clockwise is interesting. I don’t quite get it though: it seems like the question would turn on whether you were looking at the solar system from somewhere above the north pole or somewhere below the south pole, with the former appearing counter-clockwise but the latter clockwise. No? (of course, the traditional deosil/widdershins rationale is equally arbitrary!)
I like this a lot. I think it is important that Pagans move away from the conceptual quarter calls to more experiential associations. I created the following associations for the spring equinox ritual with my family. Where we live, Lake Michigan is just to our north, farmlands stretch to our south, and the winds blow in from the west.
East : sunrise : Fire : emotion
South : farmland : Earth : body
West : wind/storms : Air : intellect
North : Lake Michigan : Water : deep wisdom
“From the East, where the sun rises, we call the Spirit of Fire, wild like the fierce lion. We feel you in all the emotions of our hearts. We feel your roar in our anger. We feel your leap in our joy and our passion. We feel you protecting us, like your cub, in our sadness and fear.
“From the South, the land of dark earth and growing fields, we call the Spirit of the Earth, strong like the black bear. We feel your strength in our arms and legs. We feel you in all the sensations of our bodies. From our fingertips, to the roots of our hair. From the soles of our feet to the secret places of our bodies.
“From the West, from whence the winds blow, we call the Spirit of the Air, high soaring like the eagle. We know you in all the thoughts of our minds. We see you soaring in all our ideas. We see you diving in our imagination. We see your wings in all our brightest visions.
“From the North, where the great water rises and falls, we call the Spirit of the Water, deep knowing like the wise serpent. We know you in the wisdom of our souls. In the root of us, we feel your connection to the earth. In the core of us, we know your strange power. In the back of our mind, we meet you in our dreams, when the eagle sleeps.
“Now turn to face the center. Fierce Lion, Strong Bear, Soaring Eagle, Wise Serpent: (A) You are us and we are you, many seeking to become one.”
I have gone in a different direction, and with friends am developing a tradition we are calling Atheopaganism: a religion without any supernatural component at all. Our rituals do not call quarters; rather, they invoke *qualities* we hope to bear in mind and to imbue our actions, and as we close them, we express gratitude for all that contributes to our lives in this area, including those qualities.
If anyone is interested in learning more, we have a Facebook page–just search for “Atheopaganism” and request to join the (closed) group.
This is very inspiring! Well done!