Adventures in Natural Polytheism: A to Z

Campsite AltarWhat is natural (or ecological) polytheism?

I spent a lot of time this past year asking myself that question. After a week-long drive across the country, through mountains and forests and farmlands and deserts, I found myself celebrating Imbolc last year on the opposite side of the continent from where I’d lived all my life. I was in an entirely new place, with snow-covered mountains looming on every horizon beyond an unfamiliar city skyline. At dusk, I saw the sun sink into another ocean for the first time.

I’ve written before about the sense of exile many of us feel these days, trying to honor our ancestors in a multicultural world, embracing diversity while trying to reconnect with our roots, living in a land that both is and isn’t ours, in which we are both conquerors and wanderers. That sense of disconnection was especially intense for me this past year.

But it also inspired me to get my hands dirty. To get the earth of this new place under my fingernails. To let its rain soak into my skin. To breathe in its cedar-scented breezes, and sit for a while in its sunlight. I spent a lot of time this year, especially the first few months, missing my old stomping grounds. But the only way I knew to get grounded was to make like a tree, and dig in.

So I studied. I grabbed a handful of books on the ecology and natural history of the area at the local bookstore. I left them scattered around the house, reading snippets now and then over breakfast or just before bed. I’d flip through the indices or table of contents until something caught my eye, and then I’d head over to google to see if I could find out more. I asked a lot of questions, and I did a lot of really bad sketching and diagramming.

I also signed up with the local city parks department, and after more than a hundred hours of training, I became a volunteer naturalist, teaching programs on plants, animals and natural history, tromping through urban green spaces and talking with strangers, some who’d lived here longer than I’d been alive. But if I wanted to meet the spirit of this new place I called home, I needed to get to know its people, too. I needed to ground in human community as well as the more-than-human one. (This may sound obvious to lots of you, but for an introvert like me, it was a challenging lesson.)

During this whole time, my spiritual practice played second fiddle to my more mundane activities. Life was full and busy, with so much to learn and so many things to do. I still felt rooted in my Druidry, but it had become more like a stable foundation than an unfamiliar path that begged to be explored. Like a tree in springtime, my energy was pouring into all these fresh new shoots and buds I was trying to grow. I knew eventually autumn and winter would come around again, and it would again be time to let some of that new growth die back and put my energy into growing my roots again, digging even deeper so that they would be strong and sturdy enough to support me and I wouldn’t topple over with the first strong wind. But for the time being, I felt like my task was to learn how to be a Druid in the World.

One thing, though, is that when you’re barreling along full-speed, it can be hard to hit the breaks or change direction. Little questions start to nag at you.

Like that question — what is ecological polytheism? That was the question that I knew I’d eventually have to answer. There was something going on in the root-webbed dark, some new kind of way of being Pagan that was starting to take shape for me. I tried to answer this question, or at least articulate it, in a couple of posts over on No Unsacred Place, and they became two of the most popular posts on the blog. I wasn’t the only one interested in asking these kinds of questions, it seemed. Lots of other people were wondering the same thing. What is natural polytheism? How does ecology inform my theology? How can I bring science and religion into conversation for a more grounded and earth-centered Paganism?

Around the same time I started asking these questions more consciously, a new goddess entered my life. A goddess of wilderness and wildness. A goddess I’d known when I was a child in the dreamlike way that children do, but I’d lost sight of her as I grew up and left the woods and fields for libraries and university lecture halls and coffee house poetry nights. Suddenly she was back in full force, and she was urging me to move in a new way.

So it’s time to pick up my walking stick and start down that path again, exploring this new place that’s calling. It’s time to see yet again what the wisdom of dark places has to teach me. My gods are telling me this year is going to be a year of steady work, humility and dedication. It’s a year of water and earth, dark, heavy things that linger close to the land, that make their way down in between the rocks and the tree roots. It’s not going to be glamorous or polished or refined. It’s going to be messy and wild and tangled and rough. But the journey is on, and adventure is calling…

A Journey from A to Z

This year, my hope is to blog each week about some topic related to the question, “What is natural (or ecological) polytheism?”

These posts will fall into three main categories (which, because I am a Druid after all and I like triads, I’ve roughly corresponded to the three realms of sky, land and sea). Those categories are:

  • Ideas;
  • Activities; and
  • Companions.

The first category is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: I’ll be exploring ideas and concepts from ecology, and how they inform or connect with my spiritual path as a nature-loving, tree-hugging dirt-worshipper. The second category, Activities, will include posts about my practices, rituals and other attempts to “walk my talk”; in other words, what it is that I actually do to turn my ideas about ecological polytheism into a thriving spiritual practice. The third and final category, Companions, will be about the guides and guardians I meet along the way. Some of them will be your typical gods and goddesses, but there will also be the plants and animals who share the land with me, not to mention the land itself and the rivers, mountains, forests and all sorts of other beings who shape and make the land what it is.

If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know that I tend to blog in fits and starts, some months cranking out a ridiculous number of posts, other months hardly blogging at all. I’ve decided to join in the Pagan Blog Project in the hopes that the structure and community support will encourage me to write more regularly. (This is part of the lesson in steady, consistent work that I have to learn this year.) Last year, nearly 450 bloggers participated — including yours truly, though I got a late start and petered out after letter G…. This year, we’ll see. But I figure if I can hold on for a year, next year will be even easier, and after three years, I might just have one entry per category per letter, which would make a rather nice “Glossary of Natural Polytheism,” don’t you think?

But there I go being all fire and air again. So I’m making no promises, except the promise to try to stick close to water and earth and the root-webbed dark, no matter how messy and muddy it gets me.

So consider this my first post for Letter A.

Stay tuned this Friday for my next post, “Anatomy of a God“…


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. Why not join in?

Alison Leigh Lilly
Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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  1. Food for Friday « musings of a kitchen witch - [...] Adventures in Natural Polytheism: A to Z  [...]
  2. Pagan Blog Project: Loving Where You Live « musings of a kitchen witch - [...] new–it overlaps in some ways with concepts such as deep ecology,  bioregional animism, or ecological/natural polytheism.    The choice of…

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