Q&A: What will Druidry look like on Mars?

"Mars," (CC) Cyril Rana

Just in time for the last Tuesday in March, Jeff writes in with this intriguing question:

With recent discussions in the news about human beings one day traveling to Mars and setting up colonies there, I was wondering: What would Druidry on Mars look like?

If Mars isn’t terraformed, you basically have to stay inside all the time. Can you do Druidry if you’re stuck in a bio-dome? If so, how? What is the relationship between the gardens and stuff that are keeping you alive, and the frigid lifeless desert outside? If Mars is terraformed… well, is that even “allowed”? Is it moral to terraform a planet? And the Earth-life that takes root there will inevitably be changed, and start evolving down its own path. What should our relationship with that life be? And what about the spirit of Mars itself? Does Mars, the planet, contain some spirit like the one it appears to have in astrology? If so, will the people who live there inevitably become warlike or destructive (at least, compared to the people on Earth)? Why or why not?

Thanks for the great questions, Jeff! My initial reply is pretty simple: Druidry on Mars will probably look like folks on Mars asking these same questions.

These someday Martian Druids will probably seek answers to those questions the same way Druids on Earth do today, through the spiritual practices and techniques that Druidry teaches: meditation, mindfulness, music and dance, poetry and storytelling, divination, prayer, totemic and shamanic work, scientific and philosophical study, service to the community, etc. What the answers to those questions might be, it’s hard to say. After all, Druidry is about living in relationship — not setting down doctrines and rules ahead of time! At its simplest and most beautiful, Druidry is about learning how to ask the right questions and then how to listen for the answers in sacred community with the more-than-human multiverse. Meanwhile, we strive to live with honor, grace and gratitude in the midst of mystery.

But let’s slow down. Jeff is already making giant leaps for mankind by asking these questions, but let’s start with some smaller steps. Can you even do Druidry in space? (Cue DRUIDS IN SPACE theme music…)

Some folks say no. I once came across someone online mocking the very idea of Paganism being nature-centered. His argument was, to paraphrase:

Paganism has to be deity-centered, not nature-centered! Someday soon, we’ll be traveling across space and colonizing other planets. The gods can go with us anywhere, but how are you supposed to worship “nature” in outer space?

To which I snarkily replied, “Oh no! I’ll have to alert all the astrophysicists that ‘nature’ doesn’t exist outside of earth’s atmosphere. Won’t they be disappointed!” (The conversation also prompted me to write about gods in exile, and whether or not our gods really can go with us anywhere and remain unchanged.)

This is why I sometimes prefer to call my spirituality “nature centered” rather than “earth centered.” Make no mistake: nature is everywhere. The word nature can mean not only the particular rivers and rocks, oaks and otters that share this blue-green planet with us, but also the very weft and weave of reality itself, the being-becoming of existence, the way things are — what we mean when we talk about “the nature of things.” Sure, the nature of an artificially-constructed starship traveling through the depths of space will differ in important ways from the nature to be found among human settlements in the dusty red deserts of Mars. But a nature-centered spirituality attends to these differences, acknowledging that as embodied beings, we are woven into the spaces, places and material communities that surround us. Our relationships with matter… matter.

Allow me to get philosophical here, and point out the problems with talking about “nature” and “space” as empty abstractions, ready to be filled with our human presence and bent to serve our human needs and aspirations. Sometimes I wholeheartedly embrace the term “earth centered” to describe my spiritual path, to acknowledge how I’m rooted in and grown from this planet, this very soil beneath my feet. Biophilia is in my bones. My relationship with the rivers and rocks, oaks and otters of this planet is an essential aspect of who I am — would I even be me without them? Or would my sense of self, “deprived of its bearings,” as biologist E.O. Wilson puts it, “drift to simpler and cruder configurations”?

One of the lessons that Druidry teaches is that every apparently empty “space” is already a place even before we arrive, brimming with its own qualities and communities that will inevitably draw us into relationship and change us. If the Star Trek: Original Series declaration to boldly go “where no man has gone before” is overtly sexist, the Next Generation‘s revision to go “where no one has gone before” is equally problematic, because it implies that non-humans are nobodies and outer space can be “discovered” even when there are folks already living there.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before. From the colonialist visions of Europeans setting out for the “New World” to the Manifest Destiny of early American history, we are already living with a legacy of imperialism and its devastating consequences. Today’s conversations about colonizing Mars have a disturbing amount in common with these earlier narratives, as biologist Dr. D.N. Lee examines in a recent post. In response to Elon Musk’s dire warnings about humanity getting “stuck on earth,” she writes:

Stuck?! Stuck implies left behind in a bad situation. […] I began to question, first in my mind then out loud – Whose version of humanity is being targeted for saving? And with the language of proposed interplanetary exploration and settlement using generous references to Christopher Columbus and New World Exploration and British Colonization and US American Manifest Destiny, I was halted. I’m not on board for this type of science adventure.

Which brings us back to Jeff’s question about Mars in astrology. In modern astrology, the planet Mars symbolizes our initiative and personal power, those things that spark our courage and arouse our passion. But Mars out of harmony, either repressed or over-indulged, can become disruptive, violent and harmful, to others and ourselves. Human history is full of explorers who drew on their initiative, passion and courage as they set off into the unknown; but it is also full of the human and non-human beings that such adventures have left trampled in their wake. Psychologically and spiritually, it’s no coincidence that the exploration of Mars evokes this ambivalence, with some people imagining a new, empty world in which to “start fresh” and “get it right” this time, while others question how we expect to do any better when inequality and prejudice are built in to the very ways we talk about that goal, and who we include in the conversation.

If Druids ever make it to Mars, they will have to grapple with issues of justice, empowerment, inclusivity and diversity within living communities confronted by a potentially harsh and unpredictable environment. But these are the very same challenges that Druids today must rise to meet, before our feet ever leave the ground.


Have another question for the Q&A series? Leave it in the comments below, ask me on Tumblr, or email me.


Photo Credit:
• “Mars- We are coming!!!!!” by Cyril Rana (CC) [source]

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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