Naturalistic Paganism’s Spectral Challenge – Part One: A Haunted Landscape, by Emile Wayne

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don’t,” said Scrooge.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”

“I don’t know,” said Scrooge.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Scrooge,” a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

A Christmas Carol, Chapter 1

Charles Dickens


Ghosts and gravy. Visions and venison. Spooks and soup. Perhaps, like Scrooge, our view of specters is too literal. Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx engages the image of the specter as legacy, as that which lingers across time, rooted in the past yet “haunting” the present time, casting its shadow over the horizon of the future to limit our visImage result for ghost of christmas yet to comeion and our hopes. I find myself thinking on specters in this season. There is something about winter in the northern hemisphere which invites reflection; when the leaves fall, the bones are laid bare. Old scars are revealed.

Specters are haunting all modern pagans we attempt to engage more deeply with and live in communion with the land. Whatever our descent, religion, language, or history, those of us who seek to cultivate what Tim Ingold calls a “poetics of dwelling” find ourselves haunted by legacies which hover over the shoulder of the present moment, introducing into our visions of the present and future a sense of what Derrida called “The disjointure in the very presence of the present, this sort of non-contemporaneity of present time with itself.”  These hauntings disrupt attempts to be present, localized, attuned to the vibrant life of the world, because like angry ghosts, they remind us that the precondition for our many ways of being present is the lingering presence of an absence – an absence of justice, absence of harmony, absence of peoples. Some of us stand into this absence as interlopers, others as stubborn survivors. In either case, the absence lingers, leaving tracks in the land itself – mass graves, loss of biodiversity, faces of presidents carved into mountains.

Legacies of trauma refuse to be buried like the dead; instead, they are buried as seeds which sprout up again and again, year after year, a continual crop of pain, harvested by communities who blunt their teeth on what is, in the end, as much a legacy of survival as of injustice. Of course, those working for ecological justice and a deeper relation to place stand in many different relations to these legacies of trauma; our specters are not a homogenous collective, a unified chorus speaking out of the past, but rather a wild storm of furies, a disparate haunting of personal daimones, each manifesting differently as we, the inheritors, stand into our present-past relations in diverse ways.

“Time is out of joint,” Derrida quotes Hamlet, and reminds us that doing justice “can only come after the crime, or simply after: that is, in a necessarily second generation, originarily late and therefore destined to inherit. One never inherits without coming to terms with [s’expliquer avec] some specter, andmmd therefore with more than one specter.”   We are all a “second generation,” inheritors of a host of specters from the past, calling out to us, demanding that we “set right” some wrong that preceded us. We inherit conditions, memories, and broken relationships between people and places.

These specters are of the past which continues to haunt the present; past and present fuse into one another. As we name them and explore their effects, we must remember that, according to Yael Danieli, “Multigenerational transmission of trauma is an integral part of human history. Transmitted in word, writing, body language, and even in silence, it is as old as human kind.” Our words, practices, memories, ways of being, social structures, and built environments are all haunted, the abode of specters who do not announce their presence, but rather hover on the edges, ephemeral but potent. If it is possible to make present these specters which dwell on the edges of presence, then it may be possible to properly mourn them. But first they must be invited, propitiated, and understood, if we are ever to dwell in full, present, artful, meaningful cohabitation with each other – land, creatures, and specters.

An exhaustive historical account of each specter’s origin and emergence is beyond the scope of any article. Part Two, rather, will invoke the most potent specters in the American experience: call them by name, describe their qualities and haunts, recognize their powers, and invite them to be present. Before we call the specters, we must know something about our current path; what haunted task do we seek to accomplish?

“Dark Green Religion”

Naturalistic Paganism fits into a broader category sometimes called “Nature Religion,” but aptly described by Bron Taylor with the term “Dark Green Religion.” DGR is slowly growing in the United States, if not as a religion, then as a mode of spirituality which intersects broadly with the “New Age,” environmentalism, native decolonization, modern paganism, holistic health movements, and established religious denominations seeking to explore a “greener” vision of their own traditions. Taylor distinguishes between “Dark Green” and “Green Religions,” but the specters haunt both. In both cases, the “green turn” involves a desire to cultivate a relationship with nature, seek inspiration from it (as a supplement to, or critique of, an established religion’s textual tradition), and generate momentum for beneficial ecological action among its adherents. Naturalistic Paganism leans toward the “Dark Green” side of the spectrum, and emphasizes developing a “deep relationship” with nature which requires “a deep sense of belonging to and connectedness in nature, while perceiving the earth and its living systems to be sacred and interconnected.”  While it may be argued that Taylor applies the term “religion” too broadly in his survey of Dark Green Religion in the United States, the wide array of examples – and coherences among them – show that Taylor has identified a religious impulse, stretching as far back as Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, which has a legitimate place in the American religious milieu.

Dark Green and “greening” expressions of religion offer communities, spaces, resources, and trajectories for those wishing to bridge the gap between spirituality and science, those concerned by the increasing rate of ecological destruction, those inspired by the lifeways of native peoples, and those, including non-theists, who are seeking paths to spiritual depth outside of established traditions to which they may have no sense of connection or communal obligation. Especially for this last group, dark green religion makes “religion” a term accessible to people who have no desire to engage in conversations about “beliefs,” and yet wish to give voice to their pursuit of a kind of “inter-species etiquette,” a path of negotiating lovingly, respectfully, and responsibly between and among the Beings alongside whom we experience daily life.

Part of the appeal, of both the Green and Dark Green forms of religion, are the psycho-spiritual benefits of ecological connectedness, especially in the development of a relationship to one’s local context. This path integrates not only ways of seeing the world – critical and spiritual – but also works to integrate one into the world. It is a spirituality that builds deep connections between and among all the Beings with whom we share our breathing, dancing, changing planet, whirling through space. If there is a set of tools that offers us insight into those lives with whom we share a deep kinship, from our fellow primates and mammals all the way into the depths of the sea, then it is useful and essential, hence the desire to reconcile spirituality and science among green religionists. Those who practice nature religion also (re)claim religion as a fundamentally human endeavor, one that speaks to the depths and heights of human experiences, without necessarily imposing a super-naturalist or “revealed” framework.

Nature Religion’s Spectral Challenges

Those practicing various forms of Dark Green Religion endeavor to “get back to the land” and “develop a relationship to place.” But whose land? Whose place? I’m sure many modern pagans will reject this language of ownership, yet it is an unmistakable part of our material condition. We can’t ignore the facts of ownership and access. And “the land” doesn’t occupy the same place in the social imaginary for people of different socio-economic classes, ethnicities, and collective histories. Mdddany of those people who talk about “getting back to the land” have never had to work the land a day in their lives, nor have they ever experienced the land as threatening. Unfortunately for many, “the land,” is itself an abstract concept in the end, and invoking it in ritual, prayer, and poetry does nothing to cultivate relationship or address ongoing ecological devastation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lingering shade of the western division between nature and culture, as identified by William Cronon, can lead to apathy about human issues of injustice, whether expressed in a radical environmentalism which may ignore the reality of environmental racism, or as a form of nature escapism.

If we wish to be re-bodied, made subjects, and called-into-being through our relationship to place, we must do so with the knowledge that the land holds the memory of suffering bodies, of exploitation, dispossession, abuse, lynching, poverty, and a whole host of other specters, all of which arose out of the wounds that are our collective history. We must be ready to listen to the voices of the specters haunting the land and our histories, even if those voices call out to some of us in rebuke.



Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness; Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” In Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, edited by William Cronon, 69–90. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995.

Danieli, Yael. “Introduction.” In International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, edited by Yael Danieli, 1–17. New York: Plenum Press, 1998.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: the state of debt, the work of mourning and the new International. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York; London: Routledge, 1994.

Harvey, Graham. “Religion Is Etiquette in the Real World.” In Food, Sex and Strangers: Understanding Religion as Everyday Life, 199–220, 2013.

Ingold, Tim. “A Circumpolar Night’s Dream.” In The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling & Skill, 89–110. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Taylor, Bron Raymond. Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

“Γόης – Greek Word Study Tool.” Perseus Project. Accessed December 14, 2016.

Emile’s blog is here.

Emile WayneAmelia “Émile” Wayne has studied the intersections of religion, history, and culture for eight years, and has spent the last two years teaching undergraduates in various Humanities courses as an adjunct professor. Émile’s personal spiritual quest flowed along lines of inquiry laid out by research, and eventually led them to seek out a form of religion which could counterbalance Émile’s tendency toward intellectual abstraction through a radical affirmation of lived experience. It was through participating in Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) style rituals that Émile came to embrace Paganism. Émile will be pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and Theology at Drew University in New Jersey from 2016-2019. Their goal is to construct a naturalistic pagan philosophy which engages Queer Theory, Process Philosophy, and Ecstatic Naturalism, while remaining firmly rooted in actual soil and actual lives. While not studying or teaching, Emile enjoys horseback riding, mystery dramas, and craft beer.

Read Emile’s previous posts here.

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