Beware of the people who worship
Mother Earth By Ed West
Perhaps the greatest scientific discovery of the last few years will
turn out to be VMAT2, a part of the human genome relating to emotional
sensitivity that has been labelled “the God gene” – proving, it is
claimed, that men and women need a belief in a higher power to sustain
them against a world of hardship or consumerist nihilism.
Whether one believes that this proves He moves in mysterious ways, or
is merely a necessary tool for the survival of an intelligent species,
anecdotal evidence seems to back the gene’s existence. For in secular
Europe the emptying of churches has not been accompanied by a growth in
atheist rationality but rather by more new-age mysticism, television
channels devoted to astrological mumbo-jumbo, and Mind, Body and Spirit
shelves in bookshops – all accompanied by a steep increase in the
paraphrasing of G K Chesterton’s most famous non-quote. Yes, given the
choice, people will believe in anything rather than nothing.
But one pseudo-religion in particular has attracted the bulk of these
lost souls, and I am not referring to the quarter of a million people
who declared themselves “Jedi” in the last census. For a fair amount of
the devotional energy previously spent on the spiritual fossil fuels of
saint-worship or evangelical Protestantism has been converted into the clean, hot air
For many people the green movement has
become more than a question of saving the planet from climate change –
it is about “being one” with it. Like the great ideologies of the 20th
century, tree-hugging has developed a
semi-religious identity of its own, drawing heavily on both
Christian and pagan traditions.
What are the tenets of this new green creed? That nature is good and
humans wicked; that primitive man was in harmony with nature, while
modern, Western man is myopic and selfish; and that Mother Nature will
soon wreak a dreadful vengeance that even the Old Testament God would
find excessive – and that we probably deserve.
At the core of earth-worship is hostility to civilisation, and in that
sense it shares much with paganism. This modern fusion is a reaction to
both capitalism and Christianity, somehow looked upon as
co-conspirators against Mother Earth.
We should remember that Christianity was a city religion, spreading
from Jewish communities to the urban centres of the Roman Empire.
Christendom created a distinctive civilisation (the Latin word is
civitas) while the word “pagan” comes from the Latin for countryside,
where the followers of the old gods still dwelt with their forest
Where Christianity sees civilisation as God’s way of lifting us closer
to the angels and away from the beasts, for the back-to-nature crowd
there is no original sin, only the carbon dioxide-ridden stain of human
For this reason, the environmentalists have a soft spot for
pre-agricultural societies: the fact that almost all surviving nomadic
groups have a savage but less-than-noble murder rate does not seem to
darken their rose-tinted view, any more than the fact that their
“harmony with nature” is a result of their inability to increase their
populations thanks to gruesome levels of infant mortality.
But none of this really matters, any more than the obvious failures of
every single Communist state in history will dissuade a committed
The same goes for another tenet of belief, that “traditional” Third
World life is better than that of the terrible West, or “North” as they
would have it. The Gaia Trust claims that those in the “Global South”
have a better quality of life because they have “community”, but that
“they are threatened by urbanisation and in need of modernisation”. How
they expect to achieve the one without the other two is anyone’s guess.
We couldn’t, but good luck to them.
The Trust is part of the Gaia movement,
an ideology born of the 1970s that sees the earth as a living being,
and named after the Greek earth goddess (strictly speaking, grandmother
rather than mother earth). One group, the Global Awareness
Interdisciplinary Alliance (which, I suspect, thought of the acronym
first), even objects to the term “environment” because it implies that
nature is in the background and humanity in the centre. Of course what
the Gaia Trust and their fellow travellers lust for in the Third World
village – a sense of community, certainty and family life – are those
same things that Christianity tried its best to maintain in the West.
There is no surprise, then, that the earth-worshippers have aped the
Judeo-Christian tradition, just as Christianity stole the clothes of
the paganism it usurped. There is the Garden of Eden, the beloved
rainforest that is dying not because of God’s wrath but man’s avarice.
Were Eden around today, they would probably tell us that a chunk the
size of Wales is disappearing every year. Or take the recent Stern
Report, an alarming document for the green ideologists and Gordon
Brown’s tax serfs alike. With its prophecies of millions dead, punitive
floods and Biblical drought, the report seems to have drawn as much
inspiration from the Left Behind novels as from Al Gore. Could we be
living in the End Times that less rational ages have dreaded and
predicted? Perhaps; but, this time, the followers of the doomsday cult
come not from the illiterate peasantry but from Independent readers.
None of them could touch Christianity with a barge pole, but
earth-worship as a religion does have an advantage. The Romans did not
care who you worshipped as long as you twinned your favourite god with
an imperial equivalent (and refrained from human sacrifice). Likewise,
green pagans of the modern variety can pick and choose their own belief
system, so long as they vaguely declare their love of nature (and avoid
the temptation of sacrifice, fairly easy even in our culture) – far
more easy-going than Christianity, with all its rules and dogma. This
is not to dismiss the issue of climate change; those who deny its
existence are in a small minority and almost certainly wrong. But no
scientific conviction should ever become finger-wagging orthodoxy, for
that way lies fundamentalism, intolerance and cures that kill more than
The thriller-writer Michael Crichton, one of that aforementioned
minority, makes the claim that removing harmless pesticides in the
Third World in the name of nature has “killed somewhere between 10 and
30 million people since the 1970s”. And, last year, Lord May of Oxford,
outgoing president of the Royal Society, said that the anti-nuclear
power lobby based its opposition on a “fundamentalist belief system”
rather than facts. Just as the intrusion of religion into politics can
end in disaster, the elevation of legitimate opinion into articles of
faith can equally end in human suffering. Pity the radical secularists;
despite their near-hysterical attempts to tell us otherwise, it seems
that people cannot live without God or Gaia.
© 2006 The Catholic Herald Ltd
Looking Into the Pagan Phenomenon
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, NOV. 26, 2005
Witchcraft is moving into the mainstream in the Netherlands. A Dutch
court has ruled that the costs of witchcraft lessons can be
tax-deductible, the Associated Press reported Oct. 31.
The previous month, the Leeuwarden District Court confirmed the legal
right to write off the costs of schooling -- including in witchcraft --
against tax bills. The costs can be substantial, according to one witch
interviewed for the article.
Margarita Rongen runs the "Witches Homestead" in a northern province.
Her workshops cost more than $200 a weekend, or more than $2,600 for a
full course. Rongen claims she has trained more than 160 disciples over
the past four decades.
In England, meanwhile, Portsmouth's Kingston Prison has hired a pagan
priest to give spiritual advice to three inmates serving life
sentences, the Telegraph reported Nov. 1. The prisoners have converted
to paganism and, according to prison rules, are allowed a chaplain in
the same way as those with Christian or other religious faiths. Denying
them a pagan chaplain would infringe their human rights, said John
Robinson, the prison governor.
Earlier, on Oct. 17, the London-based Times newspaper reported that
pagan priests in all prisons will now be allowed to use wine and wands
in ceremonies held in jails. The Times noted that under instructions
sent to prison governors by Michael Spurr, the director of operations
of the Prison Service, inmates practicing paganism will be allowed a
hoodless robe, incense and a piece of religious jewelry among their
The governors were given a complete guide to paganism, based on
information supplied by the Pagan Federation. Prisoners will also be
allowed to practice paganism in their cells, including prayer, chanting
and the reading of religious texts and rituals. It is not known how
many pagan prisoners are in jails in England and Wales, the Times added.
On the rise
The practice of witchcraft is attracting ever-growing numbers,
particularly among young women. A recent attempt to understand its
appeal is the book "Wicca's Charm," published in September by Shaw
Authored by journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders, the book stemmed from
a magazine article she was commissioned to do. Initially dismissive of
Wicca, during her subsequent research Sanders came to appreciate that a
genuine spiritual hunger was leading people into neo-pagan practices.
Sanders, a self-professed Christian, defines Wicca as a "polytheistic
neo-pagan nature religion inspired by various pre-Christian Western
European beliefs, which has as its central deity the Mother Goddess and
which includes the use of herbal magic."
The book, which is limited to examining the situation in the United
States, admits it is difficult to estimate the number of Wicca
adherents. Sanders cites an estimate from one group, the Covenant of
the Goddess, which claims around 800,000 Wiccans and pagans in America.
A sociologist, Helen Berger, in 1999 put the estimate at 150,000 to
Wicca is made up of many diverse elements, yet Sanders identifies some
common beliefs among its followers. They are: All living things are of
equal value and humans have no special place, and are not made in God's
image; Wiccans believe that they possess divine power within themselves
and that they are gods or goddesses; their own personal power is
unlimited by any deity; and consciousness can and should be altered
through the practice of rite and ritual.
What is important to Wiccans, Sanders explains, is the experience of a
spiritual reality, and not truth or a body of knowledge. There is no
orthodoxy, defined text, or core beliefs. And, while it has ancient
roots, Sanders notes it is attractive to modernity since it can be
freely molded to fit the spiritual consumer's desires.
Spell-making is another key element of Wicca. But Sanders notes that of
all the Wiccans she spoke to, none entered it in order to use spells to
harm people. Most choose Wicca because they are dissatisfied with
churches and organized religion and are looking for a spiritual
experience they are unable to find elsewhere.
Another common trait in Wicca is environmentalism. Modern life has lost
its connection to the land, Sanders argues, and Wicca, with its
emphasis on nature, seasonal calendars, and the celebrations linked to
the changing of the seasons, is both a way to recover this connection
and also to spiritualize the relationship with the earth. Many Wiccans
also reject the materialistic (but not spiritual) consumer culture.
Pagan and Wiccan groups, in fact, have been present at some of the
anti-globalization protests in recent years. Sanders describes some the
ceremonies she witnessed in 2002 during the World Economic Forum
meeting in New York. They drew attention to such matters as
environmental damage, animal welfare and preserving the purity of the
The ecological aspect of Wicca draws inspiration in part from the
so-called Gaia spirituality. Gaia was the earth goddess of the ancient
Greeks and in neo-pagan circles she is now transformed into the idea of
the earth being one living organism, also called Gaia.
Feminism is another important element attracting people to Wicca.
Sanders observes that Wiccan women feel as if Christian churches treat
them like second-class citizens, limited to teaching Sunday school.
Sanders estimates that around two-thirds of neo-pagans in the United
States are female. Many of them practice a form of goddess worship,
commonly in the form of a mother goddess who is a metaphor for the
earth. The Wiccan rituals also emphasize the concept of empowerment,
and the female biological functions are accorded a respected role.
Added to this is the belief that what today's goddess worshippers are
doing is reclaiming the heritage of a primitive world in which a
peaceful matriarchal society dominated. This "matriarchal myth" is
short on any historical evidence, notes Sanders, but is nonetheless an
affirmation that is commonly repeated.
In fact, Sanders devotes a section of the book explaining how the
Wiccan rituals and spells have no roots prior to 1900, and are the
result of inventions and adaptations by a group of men, notably
Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner. Far from being a revival of some
ancient paganism or matriarchal society, Wicca is a modern, male
The desire to experience spirituality in a more direct and intense way
is another factor attracting people to Wicca. Some teen-age girls,
Sanders notes, are unsatisfied with the superficial teen culture and
are looking for something to give a deeper meaning to their lives.
But, instead of turning to traditional religion to satisfy this need,
an increasing number experiment with Wicca. Sanders argues that in part
this is the fault of some churches, which have lost sight of the unseen
world and the reality of a relationship with Christ and the indwelling
of the Holy Spirit, reducing their activities to just a social exercise.
Other churches provide little in the way of serious nourishment for
inquiring teen-age minds, particularly females ones. Another factor
leading adolescents to Wicca instead of Christianity is a desire for
rituals and ceremonies. Modern church culture, observes Sanders, has
reduced the importance of religious rituals and solemn celebrations,
leading people to look for alternatives that offer more tangible
In concluding Sanders affirms that her investigations made her more
appreciative of the spiritual hunger leading people to experiment with
Wicca. At the same time she argues that Christianity offers all of what
neo-pagans seek: a message true 2,000 years ago and still valid today.