Environmental Ethics for Pagans

Environmental Ethics for Pagans

Being members of a nature-based spiritual path, Pagans tend to try and hold rituals in the outdoors whenever possible. But what happens when our activities come into conflict with environmental principles?

This page is based on a workshop a friend and I gave at Rites of Spring one year. The outdoor ethics proposed here are based on Leave No Trace principles, and I encourage you to read the Leave No Trace page for more detailed information than I will give here.

Outdoor Ethics

Know and Respect Your Setting

Be mindful of where you are. Are you in an urban park? Your backyard? A heavily travelled recreation area? A fragile wilderness setting? Although you should always be careful to respect the environment, the setting will certainly affect the amount of care you need to take. If you are going to set up a tent on your lawn, you don't need to worry too much about its impact. If you are going to be travelling in a protected wilderness area, you'd better take some time to know the regulations and guidelines for camping there, or you may inadvertently damage the natural resources.

Seek Out Durable Surfaces

The most durable surface is rock, followed by sand, then bare earth, then areas of plant life and vegetation. You might be surprised how easy it is to damage the plant life in an area simply by walking across it numerous times, especially if you are in a wilderness setting. Keep this in mind when you plan your activities, and think about the impact your activity will have. Higher impact activities might include:
- Any activity performed by a large group
- Dancing
- Bringing a lot of supplies
- Making a fire (it is crucial to be aware of safety as well as local regulations on fires; more on fires here)

Pack It In, Pack It Out

If you bring something with you, it is best to bring back everything that is left. Just because something is biodegradable doesn't mean it is all right to leave it behind you. In general, you should not leave something behind unless it naturally grows in that area; e.g., don't leave your orange peels behind unless you are in a region where orange trees grow. It is not good to introduce new species into an area, and it is not healthy for animals to be exposed to our food and garbage.

Similarly, be mindful of what you take with you. Sometimes we Pagans like to take a small stone or other natural object from a site where we've had a spiritual experience or done an important ritual. Again, think about your setting (how fragile is it?). One person taking a rock away may not be a big deal, but if multiple people take rocks away each day, there could be adverse negative effects on the area.

Plan Ahead and Be Responsible

Know where you are going, and have maps of the area. Tell someone where you are going, and stick to your plan. Remember the rock climber who was pinned under a boulder and cut off his own arm to survive? If he had just left a message informing a friend of the area where he would be climbing, he would have been rescued earlier. Probably your ritual activities won't take you into such a dramatic situation, but you never know what may happen: unexpected weather, getting lost, etc.

Dress properly - wear appropriate layers. Flowing scarves and ritual cloaks may look awfully pretty, but they may not be practical when you're climbing up a narrow trail, and they may not keep you warm and dry. Stop by any outdoor store if you need advice on what layers to wear; the general rule is: for the first layer, synthetic fabrics that "wick" moisture away from your skin are the best (cotton does not dry as quickly and you can get very cold once the cotton is wet with sweat, which puts you in danger). Second layer, fleece or wool to keep you warm. Outer layer, rain gear to keep you dry.

Make sure to bring enough food and water with you. Don't assume you can drink water from any spring, creek, or pond you find - it may not be safe.

Respect Wildlife

Try not to leave behind unfamiliar food and smells, as these disrupt the natural habitat. Do not feed animals. Be aware of sensitive times of the year, when animals may be mating, nesting, or feeding their young.

Ritual Situations

These are some situations that are likely to arise for Pagans where we may want to take special care in considering the above ethics.

Magickal Implications

On a magickal level, it is also important not to leave behind negative energy. If you are going to do intense grief work in an outdoor setting, for example, it is a good idea to cleanse the area afterwards so that traces of your emotions do not remain behind and affect others. Magickally, too, it is always nice to leave a place better than you found it. Just as you might pick up trash and carry it out of the woods, you may also want to consider cleaning up negative energy you find. This does not mean you should go waving your incense around in every clearing that seems unfamiliar to you - you don't want to disrupt the natural energy flow of the area; but you may want to clean up energetic messes others may have left. For example, I used to be part of a group which sometimes held rituals in the woods behind a former state asylum. The energy there was pretty clearly unpleasant, and we did what we could to improve it.

Take a look at my Honoring the Earth page, suggestions on everyday ways to be more environmentally friendly.

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