Reconstructionist Ideas and Environmentalism

“Pagan” and “environmentalist” don’t always go hand in hand, but I believe that a majority of Pagans at least claim to care about the environment.  I am no exception as you should know by now.  I do my best to keep abreast of the latest environmental issues.  As you can imagine, this can become depressing.  There are times (probably some visible through my postings) when I succumb to the alarmist nature of others.  Normally, I try to maintain a balance.  I don’t totally see myself as a luddite and I’m not sure what to think about the Dark Mountain Project, intriguing though it is.  On the other hand, I’d like to think I’m not as materialistic as most people, environmentally conscious, attempting sustainability, and open-minded to drastic but positive change for the betterment of Mama Earth and society.  It’s hard to find a balance between it all, but I make it work most of the time.  I don’t claim to know all the answers or to be perfect.

I think a large part of my attitude has been shaped by reconstructionist methodologies.  And by that, I mean the methodologies put forth by people like Erynn Rowan Laurie of the CR movement – not the racist, sexist, behind-the times version presented by some more “hardcore traditionalists.”  For example, within the CR FAQ (which Laurie helped author), the definition of Celtic Reconstructionism is given as thus: “Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism (CR) is a polytheistic, animistic, religious and cultural movement. It is an effort to reconstruct, within a modern Celtic cultural context, the aspects of ancient Celtic religions that were lost or subsumed by Christianity.”  The key of this definition is the phrase “within a modern…context…”  Whether you are interested in Celtic, Norse, Slavic, or Egyptian culture, reconstructionism is about adapting it for our times while remaining as true to the myths and parent culture as possible.  This means that, even if an ancient practice (such as head hunting) may have been acceptable, important, or even sacred to our ancestors, it is neither legal, appropriate, nor necessary at this time.  The practice becomes left to our ancestors and stories.  Except in extreme cases, I think we all agree that human sacrifice, head hunting, and cattle raiding (excusing, of course, for sport 😉 ) are outdated*.

 There are, of course, some contentious issues among Celtic-inspired Pagans – such as the place of men in keeping Brighid’s flame.  There are also people like me who, despite my love of Celtic cultures, use Reconstructionist reasoning to explain why I don’t have to eat the animals that were such a staple to my ancestors’ diet**.

It’s easy for those of us looking back at a culture that was lost/altered to pick and choose what is and isn’t acceptable to ourselves and society as a whole, but what about living cultures having to do that right now?***

That brings me to an issue I’ve been reading about a lot lately.  There is one environmental issue that has me more worried and more angry than many others – the destruction of our oceans.  To me, it’s one of the scariest things going on right now and several scientists and activists feel the same way****.  Between the BP oil spill, the plastic gyres, and overfishing, it is enough to make me cry and gnash my teeth.  Overfishing, especially, just boggles my mind…

Perhaps you’ve heard of the bluefin tuna and how endangered it is.  Yet countries like Japan reject protecting it for cultural reasons.  Seriously, Japan?  How can you be so short-sighted and, well, stupid?  This is an endangered animal we are talking about – a creature that is linked to many others in the ocean.  We are losing our big fish, people.  The statistics are staggering…  Something like 90% of the world’s big fish are dead.  And yet people continue to destroy all in the name of human greed painted as human culture!  If Japan truly values bluefin tuna and its place in its culture, it would allow the fish to repopulate and support the proposed ban.  Just stop eating it!  Is that really so hard?

Too often we hold culture up on a golden dais as something that is sacred and should not be tampered with or questioned.  Yet history shows us that cultures change – they have to!  It is part of what it means to exist, whether we change by choice or force.  We need to start changing by choice not for any particular culture, but for humanity as a whole and for the myriad of other organisms who cannot speak or vote or protest.  Japan, this a great opportunity to transform what the bluefin means to Japan.  Where are your Shinto beliefs when money is involved?

It’s time for Japan and countless other cultures around the world to do as Reconstructionists have done with so many other outdated practices – leave industrial fishing to the history books.  ***** 

On a more positive note, Kevin Costner may have a way to clean up the oil spill!  It’s people like him that give me hope for our species and the oceans.  Thank the Gods for good news!

* For more thoughts on this, read more of the CR FAQ.
** Not to mention, there are vegetarians who live in modern Celtic countries…  So what if I would rather eat the sacred hazel nuts rather than the salmon who eat them?
*** I’m not trying to imply that Celtic cultures are not living…  They are having to adapt and make new choices as well, but since they are largely Christian and/or secular in nature, their dominant culture is, I would argue, a tad different than the reconstructionist Pagan cultures showing up there and across the sea…  I hope that makes sense…
**** At the very least, watch that last video.  Sylvia Earle is an amazing woman and there is some beautiful footage.

*****I feel that I should mention, lest anyone try to put words in my mouth, that I am very supportive of small-time fishermen who work/sell locally and try to employ sustainable methods.  I just don’t eat their catch. 🙂

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Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

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