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 of environmentalism.

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 spirits.

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 settlement.

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 Marxist.

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 disease.

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


Wicca's World
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 personal possessions.

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 Books.

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 200,000 pagans.

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 water supply.

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 invention.

Spiritual hunger

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 supernatural experiences.

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.