Thursday, July 3, 2008

A video for you all

This documentary studies the unique combination of Judaism, Environmentalism and Vegetarianism to profound effect. While I hope you all watch it, I would warn you that about 45 minutes in, the footage becomes disturbingly graphic for a short while. It runs for just over an hour.

With love, from Laura.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Explore the practice of the “Wilderness Experience”. Explain why some Wilderness Experiences are more successful than others.

by stephen s4078770

Greenway (1995:184) writes that the Wilderness Experience is not a new phenomenon- people since antiquity have journeyed from civilization to nature for “peace and quiet, perspective, resolution of difficult choices, empowerment, vision, realignment with deities”. The scope of this paper is to examine why people today embark on the wilderness experience- what are their motivations and what do they hope to get out of their encounter with nature. This paper will also delve into the notion of the ‘transformational’ possibility of the wilderness experience. Davis (2003) argues that prior to the industrial era the wilderness was a place for the carrying out of ‘rites of passage’ that transformed a person allowing them to make the transition from one phase in their lives to the next phase. Such rites of passage are almost entirely absent in today’s industrial societies; according to Davis this explains many of the problems that people face as they are unable to make phase-transitions. In addition to the wilderness experience’s transformational potential it has been used as a therapeutic place both for physical and spiritual renewal- contact with natural environments can be hugely beneficial to humans’ general well being (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989). This paper will examine what sorts of wilderness experience programs are successful and why so; it will also examine what practices are less likely to succeed. The framework that this essay will adopt is that which is forwarded by Greenway (1995). Greenway argues that many people’s wilderness experiences are not long lasting because they do not change the way that they view humans’ place within nature but continue to see humans as separate and by implication somehow above nature.

An understanding of the importance of the wilderness experience in people’s lives should be grounded in acknowledging the many and diverse reasons why people seek such an experience. There is neither one archetypal ‘motivation’ nor a ‘typical’ participant. Without an understanding of people’s motivations and expectations though, it would be difficult to know if the participants achieved what they sought to achieve; additionally it would be hard to formulate strategies for successful wilderness experiences in the future. Organizers of wilderness experiences should try to get to know the motivations of the groups they are leading, however understanding people’s motivations and then measuring success is difficult because of the subjective nature of the inquiry. Driver et al (1996:5 cited in Ashley 2007:57) acknowledge the difficulty in defining just what constitutes a nature-based spiritual experience but they say such an experience may include:

Introspection and reflection on deep personal values; the elements of human devotion, reverence, respect, wonder, awe, mystery or lack of total understanding, inspiration, interaction with and relationship to something other and greater than oneself, sense of humility; and sense of timelessness…connectedness and community.

While this view suggests a spiritual journey other experiences are grounded more in the ‘everyday’. Some of the reasons people participate in wilderness experiences include: it’s a journey of self-discovery; the wild is a place for health/rejuvenation; recovery after an illness; giving up addictions; death of a loved one; birth; menopause; a search for a deeper meaning to life; a commitment to environmental protection and connectedness with nature; divorce/the ending of a relationship; romance; a sense of adventure; seeking female bonding/seeking male bonding, leisure and tourism. Many organized wilderness experiences involve troubled youth and this is where the notion of the experience as therapy comes to the fore. Davis, Berman and Berman (1994) write how the wilderness experience is used by youth educators in programs that seek to build up the vulnerable kids’ self esteem and to become connected members of society able to contribute to their community. The wilderness is a place that is sought specifically because of its distance from the negative and ultimately self destructive influences of society. Any ‘design’ of a wilderness experience would need to be cognizant of the important fact that the experience being sought and the motivations behind it will probably be different for each individual member of the group.

Davis (2003) and Foster and Little (1989) argue that the wilderness experience has great potential to be a site for the enacting of rites of passage that would allow people to move through life’s phases. Seeking a wilderness experience argues Davis is a manifestation of people’s deep need to connect with the cycles of life- this is something that modern society has either forgotten or tried to reject. Davis says that the movement away from the familiar into the unknown, from the solidarity of the group to individual reliance with the aim of reflection and self-development was often employed in diverse cultures all over the world. The journey constituted a rite of passage; a liminal or threshold experience was vital to complete one phase of life and to commence the next:

Cultures throughout time and in an enormous variety of places have designed rites of passage to mark life transitions. The rites of passage serve several functions; relieving tension on the social group, framing the transition as an opportunity and a blessing, assisting the persons in coping with the inevitable distress and deepening the meaning and significance of the change. (2003:3)

When such rites of passage do exist today they have lost their deeper connections and a disconnection exists between the event itself and the life of the individual. Thus ‘we are left with incomplete transitions’ (Davis 2003:3). Davis argues that teenagers’ difficulties with drugs and alcohol often stem from misguided attempts at a rite of passage. This is also argued by Foster and Little (1989:15) who say:

in traditional cultures changes in life stations were celebrated by rites or ceremonies of passage. Everyone participated in these ceremonies. If they did not, they did not gain entrance to the next stage of their lives. Without rites of passage individuals could not have understood their life transitions nor could they have been capable of assuming…social responsibilities.

In this paper I argue that the wilderness experience can be harnessed not only by troubled teenagers but by anyone who seeks it- as a useful if not imperative part of phase-transition in life. However it is important to understand that there are criticisms of the whole notion of a wilderness experience.

A body of research that questions the sincerity or truthfulness of the wilderness experience argues that in post-industrial societies the journey into the wilderness has more to do with leisure and tourism than any spiritual awakening or transformation. Following the work of Baudrillard (1998) and his concept of the simulacrum, the wilderness experience is argued to be nothing more than what many writers today call ‘wilderness based tourism experiences’ (De la Barre 2005:92). Such adventures are designed for tourists’ purported growing desire to ‘engage with nature’ even if it may be on the most superficial level. The type of experience sought, the spiritual profundity and the longevity or transformational success of it will, according to Greenway (1995) depend on the participants’ fundamental view of their own relationship with (and in) nature. Greenway argues that ironically as wilderness areas diminish the desire to have a ‘wilderness experience’ is increasing. He argues that Western society is blighted by a deep culturally constructed mindset which views Humans as separate and distinct from Nature. It is a dualism which accords to nature an inferior position; this Greenway argues inhibits our ability to experience a deep, meaningful journey. The interconnectedness of all life is not acknowledged, instead the wilderness is used a kind of theme park where ‘you pay an entrance fee and expect [sic] a certain amount of adventure or weight loss or improvement in a relationship…some campfire songs like in the movies’ and not much more.

If the aim of the wilderness experience is to bring about a spiritual awakening or to come to terms with loss, grief or to pass through a life-phase-transition then the sorts of activities that a program includes have to be as diverse as the participants. Heintzman (2007) discovered that if participants are forced to partake in activities then the journey may be experienced as contrived or not sincere. In his study of a wilderness experience of ten men on a canoe trip in the Canadian Rockies Heintzman noticed that many of the organized spiritual activities such as talking around the campfire, sharing ideas and life experiences were perceived as beneficial while others based on spirituality that were initiated by the organizers were not. One participant quoted by Heintzman said:

It was kind of a hodge-podge, a little Christianity, a little Buddhism…a little native American…a little Canadian it just felt like a bag of tricks and quite superficial…the real spiritual power of the trip was completely there if no one had opened their mouths’ (cited in Heintzman 2007: ).

This highlights the notion that the program organizers have to be careful to guide the participants but at the same time to be aware that taking the group in directions that they may not be comfortable with may end up as counter-productive.

In this respect the role of the group organizers/leaders is very important. Sharpe (2005) highlights the role and the need of sensitivity on the part of organizers/group leaders in order to bring about a successful wilderness experience. Sharpe works within the framework established by Turner (1969 cited in Sharpe 2005:256) and the idea of the development of comunitas. Comunitas according to Sharpe should be the aim or at least one of the aims of the experience. The notion of comunitas refers to the bringing together of diverse people and promoting ideals of co-operation, mutual respect, trust, compassion and acceptance of diversity. Sharpe looks at the wilderness experience from the point of view of the organizer, arguing that they are in a unique position to actively shape the social dynamics of the group. Sharpe says that the organizer plays a crucial role in how the participants will view the experience:

The interaction with the natural environment, elements of danger and level of uncertainty are actively constructed during the trip through situational and interactive processes. Interactions between trip leaders and trip participants can make the surroundings seem more or less natural, more or less dangerous…more or less certain (Sharpe 2005:258).

Citing the work of Jonas (1999) Sharpe says that trip leaders could make river experiences seem:

adventurous and dangerous (but not too dangerous) by telling stories…and using humour to defuse anxiety…guides influence and shape the meanings participants ascribe to their interaction with their fellow trip mates’ (Sharpe 2005:258)

Sharpe notes how the integration of different people from different backgrounds can have the result of helping to mold a sense of shared experience, ‘community’ which is rather different to the idea of the individual going on the solo quest that Davis (2005) speaks about. Sharpe talks about how the organizer (the person and the organization) can pursue a social agenda for example addressing problems of social inequality and discrimination and encouraging ‘participants to implement such a way of life in their home environments’ (Sharpe 2005:264). Trip leaders are more than just route finders and safety monitors they are ‘the key players in shaping the appropriate social and experiential dynamic for the trip’ (Sharpe 2005:265). This involves the leaders setting the tone for the experience by giving expressive cues- they themselves open up and discuss their inner feelings with the group, leading by example.

Greenway (1995) underlines the importance of ritual to a deeper and long lasting experience. Greenway has organized wilderness trips for many years and argues that the ritualisation of ordinary actions is vital in assisting participants to achieve deep and transformational outcomes. In order to:

encourage participants to leave behind the props of culture…as much as possible everything prior to and during the trip would be ritualized-driving to the trailhead, dividing the food, weighing the packs, distributing community equipment then later everyday activities such as…walking or cooking (Greenway 1995:124).

Greenway says that as every group is different in terms of dynamics it is better to make communal, consensus decisions not only because it reduces stress but also because it allows people to relate to the wilderness in ways ‘closed to groups of strangers, casual friends or individuals’ (Greenway 1995:125). Fear of a fast flowing river that is to be crossed or a narrow mountain pass that is to be negotiated, the fear that can emerge side by side with awe after contemplating the grandeur and mystery of the natural environment can be mitigated through building rapports of trust between members of the group.

An issue that is sometimes overlooked is possibly one of the most important. Gender and ‘expected’ gender roles can be a variable in the wilderness experience that may affect the type and intensity of the experience especially for women. In an interesting study of the experiences of women who participated in adventure activities such as rock climbing, Little (2002) noted that many women expressed fears that as women they were out of their depth. One female participant said in reference to her husband, ‘I have felt guilty about going and leaving him at home’ (cited in Little 2002: 165). Little argues that the socialization of homemaker roles for women has meant that adventure into the wild has ‘been perceived to be a male dominated area requiring masculine qualities of strength and risk taking’ (Little 2002:159).
An idea explored by Foster and Little (1989: 77) and by Davis (2003:5) relevant to the discussion of gender is the notion of the trip into the wild being an analogy of the mythical hero going on a quest to transform himself. McDermott (2004:286) cites Warren (1985:14):

The participant undergoes a real life experience in the wilderness that parallels the mythical quest of the hero. The student hears a call to adventure, leaves home, encounters dragons on the way and slays them, reflects on his conquest and returns home as a hero with a clearer understanding of himself.

McDermott (2004:286) argues that this model holds little appeal for many women. She suggests that men and women are conditioned to different relationships with nature which necessarily means the structure of programs would be different. Should wilderness experiences thus be sex segregated? McDermott’s argument says that they probably should and trip leaders should provide a supportive non-competitive all female environment for learning new physical skills. Quoting a female participant who decided to do an all female trip:

I wondered about the dynamics of a mixed gender canoe trip. What if I end up with a bunch of macho dudes trying to boost their manly egos? I wasn’t out to prove I could keep up with the boys and didn’t want to risk being patronized or resented if I didn’t (cited in McDermott 2004:287).

Heintzman (2007) however in his research on an all male canoe group in Canada noted that the men he interviewed did not feel that a male-only wilderness experience gave them a deeper or more meaningful experience or that it was necessary in order for the experience to be meaningful. In designing wilderness programs organizers need to be careful not to ascribe essentialist ‘anatomy =destiny’ roles to all women and to all men- some women are highly competitive and some men are not and an awareness of this reality on the part of wilderness adventure organizers is necessary.

Greenway (1995) makes an important point when he says that participants of wilderness experiences often have trouble fitting back into the lives they previously had. He says that ‘the initial euphoria upon returning to the comforts of civilization would give way with hours or a few days at most to disruptive dysfunctional behaviour’ (Greenway 1995:133). He argues that perhaps the reintegration into the society from which the participants came should progress at a slower pace, perhaps this could involve going to a sort of half-way house. In addition he recommends yoga and the support of the group as ways of maintaining what was learned in the wilderness- the contact with the same group keeps open the possibility of future trips with trusted people who have shared similar experiences. Debriefing, which can take place a day or a couple of days after the experience is vital for people who may lack the strength to maintain their new course and instead fall back into bad old habits.

This paper has argued that people go on wilderness experiences for many diverse reasons. There is no one motivating factor. In designing wilderness experiences, organizers need to be aware that there is no one blueprint for a successful experience that can be replicated every time and in every place. For some people the wilderness represents nothing more than a physical challenge, something to be conquered, similar to a mythical quest. For others the experience is one of a (re)connection to Earth and the cycles of life. Others still seek resolution to relationship issues in their daily lives or health issues- the wilderness is the place that they choose to bring about a positive change. Some seek a complete transformation of their lives and their relationship with Nature. More successful wilderness experiences foster group trust, respect and acceptance of diversity; Sharpe (2005) refers to this as the making of comunitas. While physical challenges can be a big part of the experience, I argue that a long lasting spiritual transformation can be achieved through activities such as meditation, story telling, sharing experiences with others and community-building. Heintzman (2007) warns against contriving activities or forcing them on a group that is not ready. Ultimately the success or not of a trip into the wilderness is hard to measure because it is a highly subjective experience. Organizers need to facilitate a range of activities and be aware of the dynamics of each group.


Ashley P, 2007, Toward an Understanding and Definition of Wilderness Spirituality, Australian Geographer. 38 (1): 53-69.

Baudrillard, J. (1998). The Consumer Society- Myths and Structures. London: Sage Publications

Davis, J. (2003). Wilderness Rites of Passage. Initiation, Growth and Healing. Available online at accessed 30 May 2008.

Davis, B., Berman J., Berman D. (1994). Wilderness Therapy: Foundations, Theory and Research. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

De La Barre, S. (2005). Not Ecotourism: Wilderness Tourism in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Journal of Ecotourism. 4 (2): 92-107.

Foster, S. and Little, M. (1989). The Roaring of the Sacred River. The Wilderness Quest for Vision and Self-Healing. New York: Prentice Hall Press.

Greenway, R. (1996). Healing by the Wilderness Experience. In D Rothenberg, Ed., Wild Ideas, Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 182-193.

Heintzman P, 2007, Men's Wilderness Experience and Spirituality: A Qualitative Study. In Burns R, Robinson K, Proceedings of the 2006 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium; 2006 April 9-11; Bolton Landing, NY. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-14. Newtown Square, PA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 216-225.
Kaplan, R. & Kaplan S. (1989). The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Little, D. (2002).Women and Adventure Recreation: Reconstructing Leisure constraints and Adventure Experiences to Negotiate Continuing Participation. Journal of Leisure Research. 34(2): 157-177.

McDermott, L (2004). Exploring Intersections of Physicality and Female-Only Canoeing Experiences. Leisure Studies. 23(3): 283-301.

Sharpe, E. (2005). Delivering Comunitas. Wilderness Adventure and the Making of Community. Journal of Leisure Research. 37(3): 255-280.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Final Essay Andrew Bone

The earth is home to many species great and small. Paganism is a rural religion that wants people to reconnect with the earth, the need to reconnect with home. This essay proposes to discuss how a nature religious practice can also be deemed an environmental or ecological practice. Also this essay will consider whether there is a difference between Eco-paganism and paganism. This will be achieved by analysing the historical nature and nature beliefs of paganism, the ecology aspect of paganism, paganism’s eco-magic and an example of a ritual. Paganism is a religion that is often misunderstood. Understanding this religious practise might be worthwhile to get back in touch with our roots. Paganism is an umbrella term for many old European-rural religions. These old religions worship gods and goddesses. These groups include: Wicca, Witches, Druids, Odinism, Celts etc. These old religions go back to pre-Christian times and use their own pagan doctrines and rituals. Therefore, this essay will ascertain whether Paganism religious practises are beneficial for the environment.

The history of paganism’s connection with nature is complex with it drawing from many different sources (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). The most important source that paganism draws on is the ancient and medieval literature (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). This is crucial in constructing their identities and their various rituals. Paganism is a nature spirituality (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). Pagans find themselves at home in the wilderness or spiritually alive in the forests, seas and open plains (Harvey 1997). Paganism does not have any doctrines, scriptures or dogma as with other religions (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). Instead, paganism’s primary source is nature itself (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007; Harvey 1997). The natural cycles of the earth, life, death and rebirth, are observed by pagans (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). This is also the cycle of the body. Pagans observe these cycles and celebrate them (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). Nature, to Pagans, is not a model of authority, but it is a web of relationships thus to engage all things (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). What pagans actually believe is very difficult to define, because of the many varieties of pagans (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). There are some pagan beliefs that centre on the idea of nature being the ultimate divine entity (Bonewits 2005). They also believe that there are many other gods/goddesses that are hidden in the natural world (Bonewits 2005). These deities move within the natural world and sometimes reveal themselves to pagans (Bonewits 2005). There is also suggestion that these deities are also threatened by ecological devastation (Harvey 1997). Mother Nature is the divine and we humans are not her rulers (Bonewits 2005). Many pagans accept the Gaia theory, that earth is the Supreme Being (Bonewits 2005). The rocks, ocean, atmosphere, plants, trees, mountains etc are her body (Bonewits 2005). Pagans believe we are her children and are given great responsibility to look after the earth (Bonewits 2005). We live within the Supreme Being and without her we would die (Bonewits 2005). Thus, Mother Nature is need in of worship and respect. Pagans think it is important for them to celebrate the solar, lunar and other cycles for our lives (Bonewits 2005). Most of our lives revolve around the solstices, equinoxes and phases of the moon, in relationship with birth, puberty, marriage, death etc (Bonewits 2005). Therefore, Pagans bond with the earth, they celebrate in it. Thus, it is forbidden for them to try and damage, pollute or exploit the earth (Hardman & Harvey 1995; Davy 2007). According to Davy (2007), the notion of coming home is mostly connected to images of the past and practitioners reclaiming their lands and heritage.

Caring about the earth is crucial to most pagans today. According to Harvey (1995), Paganism’s theology and practice can not only solve the problems for our environment (Hardman & Harvey 1995), but it can usher in a revolution so that our culture can understand this reality (Hardman & Harvey 1995). Paganism brings people back in touch with nature, re-establishing the connection with our physical body with the earth (Hardman & Harvey 1995). Pagans deem that every living thing on earth is holy (Hardman & Harvey 1995). The spirituality between the earth and the body is celebrated and central to them (Hardman & Harvey 1995). Pagans encourage awareness of being at home here on the mundane but sacred earth (Hardman & Harvey 1995). Some pagans use meditation for the wealth fare of the planet, and some use the energy raised in rituals to save the trees from destruction (Hardman & Harvey 1995). Meditation can occur individually or in groups. Pagans radiate thoughts of well-being and peace towards mother earth. They join together to send these vision outwards to affect the world (Hardman & Harvey 1995). What happens in the mind of the individual is connected to the universe (Hardman & Harvey 1995). It changes the universe. Thus, when a pagan or pagans think of good thoughts for the earth, it begins to affect the natural world (Hardman & Harvey 1995). Paganism demands a change with the human and nature relationship (Hardman & Harvey 1995). They expect people to learn from listening to the earth. We cannot go from the imperfect here to the perfect there because we are already home (Harvey 1997). Earth is our home, there is no place else to go. Paganism respects the living here and now of ordinary lives (Harvey 1997). Pagans listen to the trees, because the earth does speak, you just have to learn to listen. The Pagan deities tell people what needs to be done, what is wrong and how to fix it (Harvey 1997). Festivals are where pagans learn to listen, speak and celebrate the earth (Harvey 1997). Pagans see the earth as a living organism, as it looks after her children; her children must look after her (Harvey 1997). It is easy for people to lose this connection with Mother Nature Harvey 1997). These interrelationships with all living things can be lost forever. According to Hume (1997) many people are being lured out of the cities and into the wild environments to establish their connection again with nature. They come back to fill the void that nature has left. These people become conscious of their own involvement with the ecosystem of Australia Hume (1997). They also gather an understanding of what the Australian Aboriginals hold sacred with the land Hume (1997). They have a mystical link with the land and others come out to witness and comprehend this attachment Hume (1997). The land is culturally rooted in the Aboriginal history Hume (1997). Thus, the ecology aspect of paganism is very prominent in their activities. Pagans want to reconnect with the earth. They listen to the earth and celebrate in it. Pagans know this home needs looking after and they are the ones who can show people how to.

There are many different rituals which pagans perform for the earth. Pagans use rituals for intent and purpose (Harvey 1997). The rituals within Paganism are performed to celebrate the season, honour the deities, attune with nature, attain self-realisation, initiate other participants and for magical healing purposes (Harvey 1997). There are many rituals that involve symbols, aromas, colours, music, costumes and body movements, chanting etc. These rituals are performed to gain powers other than from the physical body (Harvey 1997). The specific area that is concerned with saving the earth is pagan ecological action (Harvey 1997). These ‘Green’ groups work to solve the problems that are facing nature, such as earth first!. Another of these groups is called Dragon Environmental Group. This group uses ego-magic to affect change (Harvey 1997). They use traditional rituals such as gazing into fire or water, casting runic and other symbols and the encouragement of dreams (Harvey 1997). These acts have given insight and foresight to their activities (Harvey 1997). Dragon and other eco-magical activists work with others in the genii loci areas, the spirits of place, to protect threatened areas (Harvey 1997). Dragon ceremonies start of with casting of a circle and the invocation of the quarters and elements (Harvey 1997). Dragons then use dramatic and mimetic actions instead of verbal actions (Harvey 1997). They use clapping as a way to call fire, clapping symbolising the crackling of the fire and weaving bodily movements imitate the flames (Harvey 1997). This ritual provides the space and time for a conversation with the sacred place (Harvey 1997). These eco-warriors are very energetic, they gee themselves up by dancing and drumming. They can also use specific runes to symbolise protection for the area (Harvey 1997). These rituals are performed by Pagans to protect the environment. Therefore, these practices could be interpreted as religious practises for ecological purposes.

Pagans do participate in tree planting, ‘grass-root’ and other various conservations (Harvey 1997). These movements are seen as herbal treatment for the sick area or landscape (Harvey 1997). Pagans suggest that this herbal remedies, greening process, has a more holistic value to both humans and the earth (Harvey 1997). Pagans have also applied homeopathy not only to animals but also rivers (Harvey 1997). They use this homeopathy arnica to deal with bruises. It is very effective, and also to those do who do not believe in it (Harvey 1997). There is anecdotal evidence that pagans have tried to cleanse polluted rives with dripping spring water into them (Harvey 1997). Even though this evidence is not scientific and not valid, pagans however are the ones willing to try these procedures (Harvey 1997).

In February 2002, Catherine Edwards Sanders participated in a pagan ritual that protested against the raping of the environment (Sanders 2005). This was held in New York City for the World Economic Forum. The pagan ritual was held in a near by park. These pagans were calling on the gods and goddesses to support the struggles of humans and non-humans (Sanders 2005). The group gathered in a circle to pray and receive visions (Sanders 2005). Starhawk was the leader of this group and invited the people at the protest to join in the ritual (Sanders 2005). She began the ritual by chanting. Then other pagans started drumming (Sanders 2005). They began to call on the elements, fire, earth, water and wind. Next, the witches started to dance and chant (Sanders 2005). They chanted “We will never... lose our way, to the well, of liberty! And the power, of her living flame, It will rise, It will rise again!” (Sanders 2005). Around and around they danced, this is called a spiral dance (Sanders 2005). This is used by traditional witches as a cone of power, intended to power the marches and protests (Sanders 2005). Riot police were called and tired to break-up the circle (Sanders 2005). The dance ended with someone starting to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ (Sanders 2005). Starhawk had hoped the ritual had woven magic that would bring about transformation (Sanders 2005).

In conclusion, a Pagan’s home is earth, the natural world. Nature to most pagans is the most important thing. The earth is home to many living beings and pagans are the protectors of this home. Some of the religious practices within paganism can be deemed ecological and environment practices. Paganism heritage is deeply rooted in the natural world. Pagans feel at home in nature. This is because nature to them is a spirituality and their primary source. They believe the earth is a Supreme Being, Mother Nature. She gives all things life and thus needs to be respected and worshipped. The ecology of Paganism is special; they have a reciprocal relationship with the earth. They are able hear the earth crying out, feel it, connect with it and then celebrate in it. Ecology is important to most pagans, because they know how to adhere to the earth. Pagans can use rituals to heal the earth. There are many different rituals they perform, concerning life, death, birth and growth. There are green groups within Paganism that fight on behalf of the earth. They chant, drum, dance, glare, meditate etc, thus to protect the sacred areas that are endangered. This is mostly done by the green groups within paganism. Pagans use different homeopathy techniques to try and heal the earth. The example of the pagan ritual is to bring about transformation of people’s thoughts on the environment. Thus, it can be said that there is a difference between Pagans and Eco-Pagans. Since you can be a pagan, but not necessarily have to be an eco-pagan. Therefore, Paganism is a religion that cares and protects the environment. There are groups within Paganism that perform religious practices that are beneficial for the earth.


Bonewits, I 2005, The Pagan Man, Citadel Press Books, New York.

Hardman, C & Harvey G 1995, Paganism Today, Thorsons HarperCollins Publishers, London.

Harvey, G 1997, Contemporary Paganism: Listening People Speaking Earth, C. Hurst & Co, London.

Hume, L 1997, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Davy, BJ 2007, Introduction to Pagan Studies, Altamira Press, Lanham.

Sanders, CE 2005, Wicca’s Charm, Waterbrook Press, Colorado.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Final Essay

Pilgrimage - Past, Present and Future
By Tara Ruffles

Pilgrimage is a sacred ritual and rite of passage for many, which has more recently become of the fastest growing areas of tourism. This essay will define and discuss the phenomena that is pilgrimage, explaining possible reasons for such significant modern growth. Secondly, this essay will examine both Muslim and Christian examples of pilgrimage, using theory to determine how the process of pilgrimage affects the individual. Finally, this essay will consider what role the natural environment plays in terms of offering pilgrims an affective and spiritual experience.

According to Ambrosio, the concept of pilgrimage based on spirituality is essentially defined as an encounter between man and God (78:2007). This unique connection between man and God is constantly evolving, with human beings often seeking out the Divine in their everyday practices on earth. Many humans rely on religion and spirituality to make sense of their life, with the primary purpose of religiosity and spiritual belief being to help people make sense of the past and anticipate the future (Bouma 18:2006). Durkheim states “Religion and society are inseparable and – to each other – indispensable (in Pals ed. 1996:89)”. This statement is important as it implies that religion is something eminently social, and essential in existence within modern society.

There are many sacred sites renowned throughout the world for their attraction to religious pilgrims. According to Bouma, for something to be considered sacred it must be “special, precious, protected, shielded, or other than the ordinary (2006: 25)”. As described by Eliade, “Sacred seems to be something overpoweringly great, substantial, sublime and truly real (in Pals ed. 1996:89)”. Sacred things and places are not sacred unto themselves, but become sacred through association with “powerful, numinous or meaningful otherness (Bouma 2008:25)”. Sacred sites hold their significance with pilgrims as they represent a link between the Divine and this world, representing a deep spiritual connection to the earth that is out of the ordinary. When something is sacred it’s considered to be owned be the whole, not the individual. A sacred object or place is Divine, and beyond man’s control. In early civilisation, the first possessions were regarded as not individual but communal in character, “…starting with the sacred ground that early peoples regarded as belonging not to the priest or any single other, but to the whole tribe (Pals ed. 1996:94)”.

With the international growth of commercial tourism, it has become easier for modern day pilgrims to make their journey. Gendron defines the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim – the tourist tries to find him/herself, whilst the pilgrim departs in an attempt to find and be closer to God. Ultimately, pilgrimage is a journey taken with devotional intentions (in Pals ed. 1996:82/3). This is in connection with Ambrosio’s concept of pilgrimage - that it is essentially an encounter between man and God. Although tourism and pilgrimage have similar characteristics, they are in essence different phenomena. Particularly in Western nations, the concept of pilgrimage is now often referred to as religious tourism. Religious tourism is defined by Mu (et. al) as “A special tourist tradition based on distinctive religious traditions and cultural backgrounds (2007:98)”. Religious tourism refers not only to the form of tourism with strong or single-minded religious motivations known as pilgrimage, but also to religious though non-pilgrimage tourist activities, such as travelling to religious sites for recreation, cultivation and sightseeing (Mu et. al 2007:99). In many cases, journeys are no longer taken wholeheartedly with the intention of making a pilgrimage. With ease of access to traditional pilgrimage sites and high travel expenses, time-poor visitors are now able to incorporate additional travel experiences and leisure activities in their itineraries, meaning the sole purpose of the voyage is often no longer for a purely religious experience.

Traditionally, pilgrims were not people of substantial educational or economic resources, and were constrained by barriers such as culture and wealth (Tomasi 2002:3). Where once the journey was equally as important as reaching the sacred object or site, there is now less importance on the journey and more emphasis on the final destination. Modern travel methods, as well as the fact people generally have more disposable income and leisure time, are contributing factors to the rise in pilgrimage and religious tourism. Participants still partake in pilgrimage for many reasons, including the ability to feel closer to God or the sacred, religious tradition or expectation and also in the hope of obtaining personal healing (Rountree 2006:46). For the pilgrim, reaching the sacred site often involves crossing a threshold, where one hopes to experience the sacred through miraculous healing or transformation (Rountree 2006:46). The desire to travel to and be a part of something Divine or sacred is essentially a part of human nature.

The Islamic prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ in Christianity have both inspired acts of pilgrimage as part of their establishment as the two major world religions today (Mu et. al 2007:98). According to statistics from UNESCO, over 50% of the world’s population follows one of these two major religions (in Mu et. al 2007:99). These large numbers of religious believers are indeed a driving force of modern pilgrimage and religious tourism. The journey to Hajj, or the sacred city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is required of physically and financially able Muslims at least once in their lifetime, in keeping with the Five Pillars of Islam. According to Raj, “The Hajj is considered as the culmination of each Muslim’s religious duties and aspirations (2007:127)”. Whilst a visit to Mecca is encouraged at any time of the year, the pilgrimage must occur during the Dhu al-Hijja, or the last month of the Islamic calendar, to fulfil the requirements of the Hajj (

The Hajj is commanded in the Qur’an, - "And pilgrimage to the House is a duty unto God for mankind, for him who can find the way thither" (3:97 – from The Hajj is known to be one of the last acts performed by the Prophet Mohammed before his death ( The journey commemorates stories of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, but has also gathered many other important meanings and traditions over the centuries. Upon approach of the city of Mecca, pilgrims enter a state known as Ihram, or purity (Raj 2007:129). One is required to wear sandals and two white sheets wrapped around the body. This act represents the state of holiness the pilgrims are entering into, but also serves to exact a sense of equality and impartiality amongst all pilgrims ( Every year, more than one million pilgrims from over 70 countries make the journey to participate in Hajj, making it the largest religious event in the world. Furthermore, Mecca attracts three million religious tourists who travel to see the sacred city during this time of pilgrimage (Mu et. al 2007:100).

Importantly, the Hajj is not just a tourist phenomenon: it is a requirement of the Islamic faith for Muslims to perform Hajj as stated according to the Holy Qur’an. As explained by Raj, the pilgrims who perform Hajj are not simply tourists; they are individuals carrying out a religious act with great humbleness and devotion toward the pilgrimage (2007:138). The pilgrims spend the majority of their journey in the act of worshipping God, with “…nothing quite preparing the pilgrims for the sheer beauty of the experience and the overwhelming feeling of humbleness that overcomes one during the pilgrimage of Hajj (Raj 2007:139)”. This quote is significant, as it indicates that it is in fact the journey of a lifetime for an individual pilgrim to visit Mecca and partake in Hajj.

Furthermore, there is also an extensive and diverse history of Christian pilgrimage. According to Hunt, there should be no such thing as Christian pilgrimage as the God of Christians did not live in shrines built by men. Rather, he was not “isolated in specific and preferential holy places, but dwelt everywhere in the hearts of all the faithful (1999:27)”. Nevertheless, Christians often feel connected to sacred sites and decide to make the pilgrimage to these locations in an attempt to feel closer to God. In the town of Knock, Ireland, an apparition of the Virgin Mary took place on 21 August 1879. This was approved by the Church in 1879, and re-approved in 1939 (Ambrosio et. al 2007:141). Our Lady appeared accompanied by St Joseph and St John the Baptist, and at their right hand side was an alter with angels hovering over a lamb and a cross. A group of 15 people of varying ages witnessed the apparition at the rear of a small local church (Ambrosio et. al 2007:141/2). This apparition from the Divine was interpreted as a sign of “heavenly assistance”, and an appeal for the Irish to remain faithful to the Catholic Church. The vision helped reduce social tensions and anger amongst individuals toward the English, who were ruling Ireland at the time (Ambrosio et. al 2007:142). An additional church next to the original church was constructed in the 1970’s, and consecrated in 1979. The present day basilica holds
10 000 people, and is visited by over 1.5 millions tourists annually, many who make the specific pilgrimage to visit the site (

In contrast, the town of Lourdes in France receives over five million visitors annually, where 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary were recorded between 11 February and 16 July 1858, with approval from the Church in 1862. The Virgin Mary appeared asking people to pray and complete penance, also requesting that a chapel be built and processions held (Ambrosio et. al 2007:142). She also drew attention to a natural spring at nearby Massabielle. Many pilgrims having travelled to the Massabielle spring over the years, as it is widely known for its healing properties. Ambosio et al. states that “The simplicity of the message and the atmosphere of this place (Lourdes) have turned this sanctuary into a spiritual centre for the entire Catholic world (2007:142)”. This quote is important as it outlines the significance of Lourdes for the Catholic pilgrim, and describes the close connection many Christians have to the area. As opposed to Muslims, the decision of an individual to embark on a Christian pilgrimage is often a personal resolution. It is not a result of obligation, duty or expectation, as there is no definitive text within the Bible instructing Christians to make an official pilgrimage within their lifetime.

The natural environment plays an important role in terms of offering pilgrims an affective and spiritual experience. Most sacred places are found amongst natural and picturesque settings, and the environment plays a significant role in the overall experience for the pilgrim. Eliade finds the main supplier of materials for symbolism and myth to be the world of nature (in Pals 1996:170). He goes on to state that symbols and myths rarely exist is isolation – it is their purpose to link up with other Divine images and myths to form the sacred. Blackwell however, claims that humans often define both natural and built environmental as sacred sites, habitually endowing both sites with supernatural qualities (2007:35). Another dimension of spiritual pilgrimage is that pilgrims are often seeking self-transformation, and this has traditionally come through a close relationship with nature and the natural environment. Rountree highlights the hypocrisy of modern day pilgrims who travel in air-conditioned buses and stay in luxury hotels, stating that they have lost their true connection to the sacred (2006:43). It is true that to truly embrace pilgrimage one must have a certain level of personal connection with the natural surroundings. To differentiate between pilgrims and tourists, a pilgrim must interact with nature to a certain extent, experiencing all that a sacred area has to offer.

To conclude, this essay has defined and discussed the phenomena that is pilgrimage, explaining reasons for its continued and significant growth. Secondly, this essay has discussed examples of pilgrimage in both a Muslim and Christian context, using theory to determine how the process of pilgrimage affects the individual. Finally, this essay has surmised that the natural environment plays an important role in terms of offering pilgrims an affective and spiritual experience. Globally, religiously motivated travel is increasing, and more pilgrims of varying cultures and economic backgrounds are certain to embark on their own personal pilgrimage in years to come.


Ambrosio, V. (2007) ‘Sacred Pilgrimage and Tourism as Secular Pilgrimage’, in Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (eds.) Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management – An International Perspective, CAB International.

Ambrosio, V & Pereira, M. (2007) ‘Case Study 2: Christian/Catholic Pilgrimage – Studies and Analyses’, in Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (eds.) Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management – An International Perspective, CAB International.

Blackwell, R. (2007) ‘Motivations for Religious Tourism, Pilgrimage, Festivals and Events, in Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (eds.) Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management – An International Perspective, CAB International.

Bouma, G. (2006) Australian Soul. Cambridge University Press, Melbourne

Durkheim, E. (1996) ‘Society as Sacred’, in Pals, D. (ed.) Seven Theories of Religion, Oxford University Press, New York

Eliade, M. (1996) ‘The Reality of the Sacred’, in Pals, D. (ed.) Seven Theories of Religion, Oxford University Press, New York

Hunt, E. (1999) ‘Were there Christian Pilgrims before Constantine?’, in Stopford, J. (ed.) Pilgrimage Explored, York Medieval Press, York.

Mu, Z. Li, H. Jian-hong, W. Ji, L. Yan-geng, J & Xiting, L. (2007) Religious Tourism and Cultural Pilgrimage: a Chinese Perspective’, in Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (eds.) Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management – An International Perspective, CAB International.

Raj, R. (2007) ‘Case Study 1: The Festival of Sacrifice and Travellers to the city of Heaven (Makkah)’, in Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (eds.) Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management – An International Perspective, CAB International.

Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (2007) ‘Introduction: Establishing Linkages between Religious Travel and Tourism’, in Raj, R & Morpeth, N. (eds.) Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management – An International Perspective, CAB International.

Religion Facts. (2008) Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca, viewed 2 June 2008,

Rountree, K. (2006) ‘Journeys to the Goddess: Pilgrimage and Tourism in the New Age’, in Swatos, W. (ed.) On the Road to Being There – Studies in Pilgrimage and Tourism in Late Modernity, Brill Academic Publishers, The Netherlands.

Tomasi, L. (2002) ‘Homo Viator: From Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism via the Journey’, in Swatos, W. & Tomasi, L. (eds.) From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism – The Social and Cultural Economics of the Piety, Praeger Publishers, Westport, USA.

Sacred Destinations Travel Guide. (2008) Our Lady of Knock, Ireland, viewed 2 June 2008,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How can modern animism, through the idea of ‘personhood’ and ‘giving, morality, and relations’ lead to a more effective care of the Earth?

Word Length:2000

Due Date: 02/06/2008

Lecturer: Dr. Sylvie Shaw

Raymond Lam


The ‘personhood’ of non-human entities is a concept common to many traditions of animism. A common theme emerges when applied to the context of modern environmental earth care. This essay will put forward an approach that abandons the commonplace anthropocentric worldview, and re-engage with the Earth and its beings in three different aspects of being: giving, moral, and relational. What is offered is not a mere bastardization of animist values, which in itself offers nothing truly innovative or daring, but a re-imagining of the personhood of non-human subjects (I intentionally do not use the word ‘object’), which not only brings neglected animist ideas back to the forefront, but has the potential to even transcend cultural boundaries. The understanding of all beings on Earth as ‘persons’ is not limited to one people; it belongs to all. For lack of a better word, humans (people) and non-humans (animals and other non-human subjects) are all ‘persons’ in the truest sense of the word: worthy of care and protection.

Through a new understanding of this ‘personhood’ , the animism of the future becomes an ethical contribution that awakens us to our oneness with Earth and non-human subjects. Human beings have potential to care for non-human subjects by generously giving to them, encompassing them within the moral sphere, and establishing relations with them like the animist of old. This essay attempts to demonstrate the validity of ‘personhood-based’ animism as a modern environmental approach, and then build on the three animist concepts (giving, morality and relations) to present a modern ethic of care through which people can put into practice.


In the next century, the sixth mass extinction is foretold to be a human-caused catastrophe. However, the endeavour to preserve the world so that humans can continue to benefit from it or be ‘spared nature’s wrath’ remains trapped in anthropocentrism. A higher, deeper end to this cause is required. But ignorant of this reality, modern discourse has continued to exclude animals from the domains of self-awareness, intention and communication, which have been held to be the exclusive attributes of the human race. This denial not only cuts away at little remaining time humanity holds, but continues to foster indifference and ignorance to the plight of the Earth. This is almost an unnecessary problem, because even now archaeologists and palaeontologists can only make their judgments about what constitutes a ‘human specimen’ within the limits of material evidence. Thanks to new evidence, the line between humans and ‘primates’ is thinner than ever. There is no clear-cut line between humanity and animals – in fact, there is none. Without the scientific justification to claim human difference and superiority over animals, some have appealed to emotions and prejudices by appealing to our self-awareness, intention, and self-reflexiveness, which are traits apparently exclusive to humans.

However, in current scientific studies much of the results are indicating that this convenient illusion can no longer be upheld. Such research has shown that different animals possess different unique qualities that are ‘human’: self-motivation, communality, and degrees of individuality and solitude. The British philosopher Anthony Grayling gives a powerful example of apes: ‘dehumanized’ in literature and media as ferocious or stupid, apes are in fact ‘inquisitive, affectionate and sociable, with capacities for suffering and grief that match our own.’ Animists observe that animals are not simply ‘living beasts’ but persons because they relate, communicate and perform actions that are directed toward humans. Animals exercise choice, intention, and purpose, towards each other and towards humans. Seen this way, it becomes unreasonable not to treat an animal as a ‘person’ with ‘personhood’.

Accepting animals’ essential ‘personhood’ also helps us to understand animism (at least, the animism which is potentially relevant to a modern ethic of Earth care). Derived from the Latin anima, or literally, ‘breath’ and later some form of soul, animism sees the spirit or soul as a personal entity, which is ascribed to humans, other animals, and objects alike. It must be clarified that animism does not draw a distinction between animate or inanimate objects. This personal soul, which ‘animates’ any physical entity, possesses human characteristics of perception, feeling, and thought, and is also capable of producing influences or effects in the physical world. Having replaced the lifeless ‘object’ with a relational ‘subject’ for everything on Earth, the understandings of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ suddenly becomes more diverse. The spirit can be understood as an additional component apart from the material composition which enlivens, individuates and socializes them, or as varieties of elusive persons who could have no material form, or shift between apparent physical manifestations. Or, in the Ojibwa worldview, there is an idea of metamorphosis, where both living and dead humans can assume the bodies of animals. This indicates that as far as appearance is concerned, there is no hard line between animals and humans. These diverse opinions are all in agreement with the current discourse on non-humans’ personhood because there is now awareness of the acute degree of ignorance with which we have treated the ‘unaware’ subjects of the world. Therefore, with an understanding of ‘personhood’ and a humbled approach to the problems Earth faces, the animism of old becomes an aspect of ‘sacred science’. A sacred science is different from common perceptions of science because it entails morality and action, something that conventional science looks to the moral philosophers for advice. But to a ‘sacred scientist’, nature becomes a ‘cosmic book’, where a person’s very actions within the natural immediate world speak of her morality. With a foundation in animism, a human’s ethic of ‘personhood’ becomes a science wed to sancitity. Now it remains to apply this ethic of care to a wounded world.


The first step in humanity’s plan of action is the generous act of giving. Often this giving is a countergift, a return for favour already bestowed. For example, plants, like humans and animals, give parts of themselves to other creatures. They contribute to the Earth, whether through wood or tobacco. Animism does not simply demand an reciprocal obligation to animals, but to all non-human subjects. Yet the respectful and gentle communion with plants such as trees is ridiculed in superficial circles of society because the conventional treatment of trees is to cut them down to use as timber, not to tend to them or to raise them. It is a similar reason as to why it is seen as ludicrous to commune with cows; because the common interaction with such creatures is to milk or kill them for their nourishment. Therefore ‘giving back’ to the Earth that has sacrificed so much for our existence is a spiritual imperative. The reflective animist understands that the trees and the cows have given her life and health, and it is her turn to return a part of herself as an offer of reconciliation. It is through gift and countergift that relations of friendship are established and maintained, whether among men or between man and god. To re-establish our friendship with Earth and Earth’s beings, then, a modern animist also must give freely to the natural world in whatever way she can.

Another powerful manner of ‘giving’ is verbal in nature and a common study in academic research of animism: the shifting of language use. As demonstrated earlier, it becomes important to speak of all beings as ‘persons’, of all non-human things as subjects as opposed to objects, and give equal consideration to both animal and human as persons with capacities for suffering. Mutual obligation is present in much of animist thought, including the Ojibwa. As hunter-gatherers, humans depend on beings who are under the control of ‘masters’ or ‘owners’ who, as other-than-human persons, must be treated with respect, and ensure that there is no unneccessary cruelty involved. The change in language use is not big, but it is a modern foundation of applying, in principle, what ‘giving’ can constitute in animism, because animists offer gifts to subjects. They give away to those who will receive gifts within a relationship. Furthermore, gift-giving creates order and stablizes these honour-bound relationships. From an objective perspective, the Earth nourishes humans and has done so for thousands of years. For one to ‘offer’ oneself in return (every gift implies an expectation, or even obligation, of a countergift ) is to fundamentally re-establish order between the spirits of Earth and humanity. Order is an idea that so many humans outwardly value, but possess little awareness of. Giving is very practical activity that can lead to a deeper understanding of how we should tend to the Earth.

Aside from the order that is re-established through generous giving, humanity must engage in an ‘expansion of the moral sphere’. Grayling is correct when he remarks that we would be horrified to eat our own pets, non-human creatures whom we accept into the familiar domain of our own family, as quasi-citizens of the human world. The relationship between a householder and a pet is, in fact, a relationship between two persons because human treatment of pets is premised on the same manner of concern for other humans. Logically, it is not only pets who deserve attention, affection and care, though the concern for pets (who are almost certainly close members of the family) may be understandably more immediate. Many moral philosophers talk of extending care beyond one’s familiar sphere to encompass all humanity, and this has practical consequences. For example, humans share half their genetic makeup with worms and fruit-flies. To extend our sphere of to these non-humans would entail that the reflective person eventually decides to abstain from fishing practices that require her to spear said worms on fish-hooks. This brief instance undercuts the idea that once the moral sphere is enlarged, there is no rational reason to stop it from expanding. It makes no sense to stop the ethical expansion in relation to pets and animals in general. This conscious aesthetic can be cultivated by all peoples, because it is intellectually understood that the world is an intimate family, both for scientists and for animists. Scientists become engaged in a ‘sacred science’ once they adopt animist principles of treating everything on Earth and the Earth itself as ‘persons’, capable of love, sacrifice, and suffering.

Through examining the spiritual significance of Nature itself , the modern animist also discovers an opportunity for ‘relational re-enactment’. Superficially speaking, it is applying animist principles from animist belief to one’s treatment of the natural world, but the relational aspect entails a much deeper engagement. An animist is not simple a moral philosopher who rationalizes forth a universal love for all sentients, but is personal in her approach. For example, in the analysis by Tawhai about Maori religion, spiritual activity is closely tied to the violence and conflict-resolution between humans and non-human neighbours. The idea of genealogy, or ancient ancestry, connects us all and it manifests in kinship, guesthood and even relations between enemies which, for Maori belief, is expression of mana or tabu, which can be compared to electrical forces or souls in operation. These forces, quite literally, form us – from immanent persons to ancestral persons and future progeny whom we wish to populate the Earth with. We are formed also by the interplay of seasons, climates, places, and many other conditions. Although this is a gateway to understanding Maori life in a relational universe, a more general, starker reality is revealed: an animist is not simply ‘broadly’ compassionate towards the entire Earth, although that certainly contitutes part of her approach. A more detailed and sustainable ethic is through the relations between oneself the individual human subject and the Other non-human subject. Re-enactment of these complex yet essential relationships helps us to come to terms with the problem that to live is to take life. This forms much of the impetus to animist activity. Relational re-enactment is directly related to the practice of ‘giving’ and the extension of the moral sphere because Maori do not predicate the right to use Earth’s natural resources on claims of difference or superiority, and emphasize greatly the etiquette of relationships. Offerings are made, gifts are given, and excess profits are returned. This is the correct way to treat life-givers.

Of course, the practice of this principle may be different between a Maori and a modern Westerner (the Maori will, with appropriate invocations, placating and requesting of permission, take wood from trees to craft into a culturally recognised and celebrated treasure). The modern citizen living in an urban apartment in a bustling metropolis will, by necessity, will approach giving, morality, and relating in different ways. She will have to be creative in imagining methods to ‘give back’ to the Earth, especially in a city that has taken much from the Earth. But it is a progressive step when one ‘asks for permission’ from the Earth, the sea, or the forests. When the transformation from tree-things to tree-persons is complete, the unfolding of further events is within the relationship of the human and the tree-person. Animism is concered with the unfolding of potential in relationships. New relationships entail new personhood rather than the mere discovery of life in certain non-human subjects. The respectful treatment of nature whether in a ‘benign’ or ‘hostile’ relationship can now unfold.


The approach of an animist towards other persons, not just people, is through an ethic of relation, empathy, and oneness. This is the foundation for genuine ecological awareness and action. Understanding the severity of humanity’s impact on the world is one important perspective of the current crisis. But another important perspective is from the non-human world: that is, the suffering of animal and plant persons; along with the person of the Earth itself. Giving back to the Earth oneself as a ‘gift’, extending one’s moral reach to non-humans, and ‘relational re-enactments’ are three ways to remedy their suffering. This model of care will not only bring the animist spirit into a light relevant to the modern world, but provide some frameworks in which for human beings to enact change. Although the movement back to peaceful coexistence is an urgent one, seen positively, there has also never existed a better time to re-establish harmony. The time to give, extend one’s hand, and enter into relationship is now.


Bleakly, Alan (2000) The Animalizing Imagination: Totemism, Textuality and Ecocriticism. Great Britain, United Sates, Macmillian Press Ltd.

Burkert, Walter (1996) Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions. Cambrdige, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press

Clodd, Edward (1905) Animism: The Seed of Religion. London: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.

Dunlap, Knight (1946) Religion: Its Functions in Human Life: A Study of Religion from the Point of View of Psychology. New York, London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.

Grayling, A.C. (2002) The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life. London: Phoenix

Harvey, Graham (2006) Animism: Respecting the Living World. New York: columbia University Press

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1993) The Need for a Sacred Science. United Kingdom: Curzon Press Ltd.

Smith, Theresa S. (1995) The Island of the Anishnaabeg: Thunderers and Water Monsters in the Traditional Ojibwe Life-World. Moscow: University of Idaho Press

Tawhai, Te Pakaka (1988) ‘Maori Religion’ in Stewart Sutherland and Peter Clarke (eds) The Study of Religion, Traditional and New Religion. London: Routledge, pg. 96 – 105. Reprinted in Graham Harvey (ed.) (2002) pg. 237 – 249

A. Irving Hallowell, ‘Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View’ in Tedlock, Dennis and Barbara (1975) Teachings from the American Earth: Indian Religion and Philosophy. New York: Liveright, pg. 141 – 178

Trompf, Garry (1990) In Search of Origins. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Ltd.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

by stephen s4078770

Religion 2010
Ethnographic Research Project
With Marge Entermann
Seventh Day Adventist Church, (SDA) Ipswich QLD


Mary (not her real name)
Exclusive Brethren (Plymouth Brethren)
Brisbane QLD


This research project is made up of two interviews. The first, I conducted with Marge Entermann, an Adventist in her late 60s who has been a believing and practising member of the SDA Church since birth. The second was conducted by Carla with ‘Mary’ a member of the Exclusive Brethren Church since birth. The theme of this research is to explore how the interviewees’ religious background has informed their attitudes to the environment in general and how what they have observed or experienced in nature may have informed their religious beliefs


My interview was carried out over one and a half hours on Sunday April 20 at the home of Mr and Mrs Entermann on the rural outskirts of Ipswich. The interview consisted of about 20 prepared questions which were added to during the interview as the topic of conversation shifted and as time allowed. The interview was tape recorded. Marge kept a copy of the Bible beside her on the armchair from which she quoted liberally throughout the interview.
Carla’s interview was conducted in Brisbane at Mary’s workplace. Mary is a receptionist for an accountant on Brisbane’s southside. This interview was carried out during Mary’s lunch break in order to ensure that other Exclusive Brethren Church members did not find out.

The interviews

Carla’s interviewee Mary reveals opinions that are very similar to those expressed by Marge. The natural world has been provided by God for the nourishment of the human race. Humans are permitted indeed expected to dominate over the land and all that dwells upon it because it is ordained by God. This notwithstanding, both interviewees did express a concern for the way that the environment has been exploited and destroyed by humans. Mary, Carla’s interviewee expressed a feeling of concern for the extinction of many ‘beautiful creatures’ which have been put here for the ‘aesthetic improvement’ of the world. Marge expressed the same by saying that all the plants and animals were put here by God for ‘me to enjoy’ and their extinction, which she conceded was sad, is due to our Original Sin. Even though both Mary and Marge do express the view that the environment has a value that is separate from any value that people may give to it, nature is still subordinated to the sustenance of the human race.

Marge was born ‘sixty something years ago’ in Ipswich. She was born an Adventist and has been one all her life just as Mary was born an Exclusive Brethren and has always been one. As a child in Ipswich she once found a baby leveret in a shallow ditch in a paddock, she brought it home. It died. She became distressed and her father told her that it had died because she had taken it out of its native environment. While she remembers this after more than fifty years, it was not any sort of ‘turning point’ in her attitude to nature. Marge said that in her childhood she was aware of the presence of God all around her. Although she never had a particular, favourite place she did like to go outside and walk in the garden or in the bush- a place where she could feel God’s presence by looking at creation all around her. Her father had come from a dryland farming background in South Australia and was very aware of conservation- something she absorbed by listening to him. Marge said: “We SDA believe when God made Adam and Eve and put them in the garden He told them to care for it and we have a responsibility and this has been part of my upbringing”.

This notion of ‘looking after the environment’ comes out clearly in Marge’s interview. Her view is one that could be described as a sort of human ‘stewardship’ over the earth. White’s 1967 Thesis on “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” however claims that the duality in Christianity that separated Humans from Nature placing us above the rest of creation has been the cause of today’s environmental catastrophe. White argues that Christianity is a highly anthropocentric religion that has given humans a divine justification to exploit nature with indifference and impunity. The implication being that the further humans were from nature the closer they would be to God. However this view is highly contested. Harrison (1999:86) says that White’s arguments of a cause-and-effect relationship between Christianity and environmental degradation are false. In history there has been environmental destruction without Christianity and at the same time many Christians have been more environmentally aware than adherents of other faiths.

Sanitarium Health Food Factory, Warburton, Victoria- Marge lived in the Adventist Community here for 8 years

Marge trained as a nurse, got married and went down to Warburton, Victoria which was and still is known for its large Adventist community and the famous Sanitarium Food Factory. She lived in Warburton for 8 years. Later she moved to Newcastle and worked in Newcastle Hospital. She was always honest and up front about her religion. She always observed the Sabbath and practised and preached vegetarianism as God’s plan for humanity.

We then focussed on vegetarianism. For SDA nutrition is very, very important. When SDA say that their body is like a sacred temple, they mean it. The centrality of ‘good food’ is inescapable- it’s part of worshipping God. Marge quoted from Genesis 1:29-30, God said:
“Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree, in the which (sic) is the fruit of a tree yielding seed: to you it shall be for meat”.

And so God’s original diet for Humans was nuts, grains and seeds. This, Marge told me was what we were designed to eat- we were designed to live forever on that diet. After Adam and Eve sinned they could no longer leisurely pick seeds, nuts and berries, they would have to cultivate the earth and only by the sweat of their brow (agriculture) would they eat. It was only after the Flood that God allowed humans to eat flesh. Marge quoted Genesis 9:1-3:

"Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all of the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands”.

Not just any flesh could be eaten- only animals that both chew the cud and have a split hoof- cows, goats, and sheep. But not pigs- they have a split hoof but don’t chew the cud- and not camels, they chew the cud but don’t have a split hoof.

Sanitarium is an Adventist-owned Australian company with a huge range of vegetarian foods that promote a healthy lifestyle.
Good nutrition is a very important part of the Adventist way of life

In later life Marge also worked as a missionary in India. She worked near Hyderabad and then Bangalore in South India. She gave health talks to villagers on everything from nutrition to promiscuity to the effects of smoking. Here again I understood how for Seventh Day Adventist people their body is like a temple. Marge has never been a smoker or drinker. To do so would be like defiling a temple. And the results can be seen in their life expectancy. Adventists have a longer life expectancy than the rest of the population, Marge said. They suffer less from cardio- vascular disease and lung cancer and are less stressed.

When she came back from India Marge realised that she had accumulated too much ‘stuff’. Her house was full of it. What was it all for? Marge told me that seeing the Indians in the village with a simple life made her realise that she had cluttered her life with too much stuff that had no importance to her.
“Do you think perhaps people in this society have too much?” I asked.
“Of course” she answered. “We’re burdened down by it”. Marge stated that she recognised the environmental ‘unsustainability’ of the present growth-oriented system.

During her life Marge also used her background in nursing to be active in what she called, “health evangelism” using the knowledge that her religious background had given her. She ran get-fit classes for the over-40s in the days when they didn’t have many classes for older people. She assisted in ‘quit smoking’ campaigns starting in the 60s and ran nutrition courses in Ipswich; she did displays at the Ipswich Show and even organised health camps where people could come and eat healthy food and take health walks.

I asked Marge if people can know God by themselves, can they experience God, the divine, the Spirit without being taught it. Marge gave an interesting answer. Yes, of course you can experience God. God is all around us in nature but to know what God expects of us, where we come from and where we’re going we have the Bible to show us. The stories in the Bible show us how to lead our lives.

I told Marge that I grew up in the Catholic tradition but that I wasn’t very ‘practising’ anymore. As the interview came to an end she leaned forward in the armchair. She said something that I wasn’t expecting.

“Not every Catholic will end up in Heaven, you know” she said. “Not every SDA will end up in Heaven either. There are those who want to live their lives in harmony with God’s word. They are God’s People no matter what name is attached to them”.
“There are God’s People in every religion.
This is what we call the Church Universal”.


Cohen, J. (1985). The Bible, Man and Nature in the History of Western Thought: A call for Reassessment. The Journal of Religion 65(2):155-172

Harrison, P. (1999). Subding The Earth. Genesis One: Early Modern Science and the Exploitation of Nature. The Journal of Religion 79(1):86-109

Holy Bible: New International Version. (1978). New York: American Bible Society.

White, L.(1967). The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis. Science 155: 1203-1212

interesting webpages related to christianity and/or vegetarianism:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

River Deities by Sylvie Shaw

The river valley sits shrouded in fog. Outside the valley the sun glows.

In other places, other cultures and other religions, the river is the Goddess. Likewise, the living spirits of rivers are depicted as deities, for instance, as snake, python, anaconda, dragon. Frequently, these deities are female perhaps because the element of water is regarded as a feminine essence embodying 'life, birth and rebirth, creation and creativity, but also with death and oblivion' (Parente-Čapková, 2006).

The question then arises, does the Brisbane River and the downstream embayment Moreton Bay, have a feminine or goddess quality? In a contemporary sense, and in relation to Goddess spirituality, practitioners might honour the River as a Goddess and through this honouring and ritualising, seek protection for the ecosystem and creatures who live along the watery terrain.

In India river Goddesses like the sacred Ganga and Yamuna are under severe threat. I have written previously in this blog about the insightful book with the difficult message by David Haberman, River of Love in an Age of Pollution (2006), which stories the Goddess Yamuna who flows in the upper reaches of the Ganges. The river is both a river of death - and a river of love.

Both the Ganges and the Yamuna are believed to be spiritually pure but both are in appalling physical shape with raw sewerage, industrial and agricultural runoff, toxics and heavy metals flowing through these vital waterways. These rivers are the Goddess. Spiritually they are divine, reverential, beautiful. Devotees worship the Goddess by immersing themselves in Her sacred flow or conducting ritual washing in Her sacred waters. Yet sadly, while doing so, they are facing serious waterborne diseases and the risk of contact with toxic chemicals.

Sathya Gosselin (nd) in her paper Pollution and Ganga Ma writes of the Ganges or Ganga, as the great mother who 'mercifully provides for the people each year with her swelling monsoon ... Indians receive her with great blessings and appreciation; village farmers benefit greatly from the fertile silt and soil that the great Ganga leaves behind. Seasonal flooding leaves small pools and lakes (jhils) that are diverted to irrigate crops in an otherwise dry land ...[She] speaks life, renewal, and fertility...'. But, says Gosselin, she is being assaulted.

Gosselin's article talks about the problems in India of first, defining the term 'pollution', second, explaining what's happened to the vast amounts of funding directed to the Ganges' clean up campaign, and third, the frustration of local residents not consulted about the river's management plans.

She says that the very term pollution is problematic when the river Herself is spiritually pure but suffering from impurities. Gosselin cites the anthropologist Kelly Alley (1994) who grapples with this dichotomy - the spiritual versus the westernised resource management approach. For devotees, 'the Ganga can never be impure' (1994:130). She is a powerful force and can carry the impurities and pollution 'away into the ocean'. In this comment Alley recognises that the Goddess is believed to have the power to transform impurities and offer absolution whether spiritual and/or physical and this includes body wastes. It has thus been so.

This cultural difference in ways of seeing (and revering) sacred water brings me back to the Brisbane River and the contemplation of Goddess spirituality. There are a number of possible modes of thought and action worth reflecting on. For instance, in a (post/most)modern world there is a view that anything (or almost anything) goes. So in this perspective it may not really matter what the river is called as long as it is cared for. Indeed, regarding the river as a Goddess might very well engender an ethic of greater care and concern among residents and if so, acknowledging the sacredness of the water's tidal flow and its downstream embayment can be seen as a positive move.

On the other hand there is the spectra of cultural appropriation. Goddess spirituality as it is practised in Australia is one of a number of emergent religions connected to the spread of interest in earth-based spirituality, feminism, Paganism and the New Age movement. But indigenous cultures including Native Americans and Aboriginal people have rejected these individualised New Age spiritual movements not only because they tend to romanticise indigenous cultures, particularly the spiritual and ecological lifeways, but also due to practitioners borrowing, stealing or misappropriating sacred rituals and sacred beliefs.

Christina Welch (2002) criticises New Agers for buying and selling these precious practices saying that they are simply reaffirming capitalist consumer culture. She comments that they lack an active political engagement in, and understanding of, the plight of indigenous peoples. At the same time she maintains that indigenous people should not be defined solely as the 'victims' of cultural appropriation concluding that: 'The colonialist presentation is refuted by indigenous agency in the dynamic of cultural growth.' In this way Welch tries to steer a balanced path.

My view falls somewhere in between - 'Embrace the River Goddess' at one end and 'Condemn cultural appropriation' at the other. While I would find it difficult to overlay an indigenously-venerated waterway with a Goddess-inspired spirituality from ancient and/or distant lands, I can see that others might revere the local river with a spiritual demeanour which reflects their own cultural heritage.

For example, Bryne et al (2006) in their article 'Enchanted Parklands' cites a wonderful story of a Vietnamese-Australian living around the Georges River in SW Sydney who regards the river as the embodiment of the sacred Dragon and defines locations along the river as parts of the dragon's anatomy.

In this light, the Brisbane River could be re-inscribed as Goddess and worshipped by those whose spirituality is defined as Goddess spirituality.

Alley KD, 1994, 'Ganga and gandagi: interpretation of pollution and waste in Benaras,' Ethnology, Spring, 33, 2.
Byrne D, H Goodall, S Wearing and A Cadzow, 2006, Enchanted Parklands, Australian Geographer, 37, 1, 103-115.
Gosselin S, nd, Ganga Ma, paper prepared for the Goddess Traditions in India and Tibet seminar at Vassar College,
Haberman DL, 2006, River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Parente-Čapková V, 2006, Narcissuses, Medusas, Ophelias...Water Imagery And Femininity In The Texts By Two Decadent Women Writers, Wagadu, 3, Spring,
Welch C, 2002, Appropriating the Didjeridu and the Sweat Lodge: New Age Baddies and Indigenous Victims? Journal of Contemporary Religion, 17, 1, 21-36.
This is a copy of Sylvie Shaw's blog,