When the Frogs Begin to Sing

When the Frogs Begin to Sing

We hear the song long before we reach the pond itself ― the rolling, rhythmic voices rising up from among the grasses all around us as if we have entered the halls of some vast monastery during evening prayer. The thrum washes over us in the darkness.

We step carefully, sweeping our flashlights back and forth across the path. The kids are tense with eager excitement for the hunt, whispering questions at each unfamiliar noise, flicking their flashlights over every stray stone or lump in the grass hoping to catch a glimpse of movement ― the flexing muscular limbs or the bulging throat of a frog.

But there are too many of us. By the time we’ve reached the water’s edge, the low chanting voices have dropped away and the whole place has fallen into silence.

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What the Robin Saw: Anthropocentrism & Subjectivity (Part 1)

What the Robin Saw: Anthropocentrism & Subjectivity (Part 1)

I was still pretty young the first time I heard an animal speak.

It was a lazy summer morning, and I was curled up on the back porch with a book in my lap. All around me in the yard, the birds were singing… and then I saw, only a few feet from me, a robin. I tried to still every part of me — heart, body and mind — quieting even my thoughts so that I wouldn’t startle him away. Then the voice spoke, precise and articulate, nonchalant, almost amused.

It must have all happened in less than a minute. My reasoning mind struggled to make sense of what I’d experienced. But the words still echoed. Had it all been in my mind? No more than the stars are in the sky.

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Apprentice to Winter: Snowshoeing in an Old-Growth Forest

Apprentice to Winter: Snowshoeing in an Old-Growth Forest

Snowshoeing opens up possibilities for exploration that ordinary hiking can’t. With a sturdy pair of snowshoes and eight feet of snow, winter is the perfect time to rise above ordinary obstacles and move deeper into the heart of the forest.

To walk is itself a kind of ritual, a practice that changes us in subtle and significant ways. To move through the land, we have to be attentive and responsive to it. To survive these cold months, it’s not enough to stay hunched in front of our computer screens all day long theorizing and debating. We must become apprentices of this goddess, Winter — to truly know her and her work, we must go out to meet her beneath the trees.

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Anthropocentrism and Animal Instinct

Anthropocentrism and Animal Instinct

Where does our anthropocentrism come from? Some scientists cite evolutionary pressures as one possible influence among many. But others point to instinctual cognitive processes to explain just the opposite, suggesting that the anthropocentric worldview is actually a rejection of the human instinct, not its inevitable consequence.

Even if anthropocentrism isn’t instinctual, for many of us it is deeply ingrained. To a man with a shovel, it can be hard to imagine any other solution but to keep digging our way out of this anthropocentric hole we find ourselves stuck in. Western society has spent a long time convincing us that the shovel is the only effective tool we have. Are there alternatives? How do we learn to think beyond the biases of anthropocentrism and reconnect with the more-than-human world?

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Defining Anthropocentrism

Defining Anthropocentrism

What is anthropocentrism?

Turns out, there is no single, simple answer to this question. (Just among the nearly fifty books on environmental ethics and deep ecology that I have, only one actually offers a definition of the term, despite almost all of them referring to it in their discussions. As with many words, its meaning often has to be teased out and inferred from context.) In my earlier post I hinted at the beginnings of a definition when I referred to an approach to ritual that “takes for granted a worldview in which humans are the only measure of what is real.” The question of how our idea of “the real” and our practical responses to it (for instance, through ritual activity) influence our underlying values and where we locate (or create) meaning is a complex conversation in its own right, and it is in this particular theological meadow that I’ll do much of my lingering and bee-gazing in the following posts.

But for now, it’s probably more helpful to sketch out a basic definition, one we can use as a kind of measure against which we can hold up more complex, fidgety ideas later in the conversation…

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Talking about Anthropocentrism in Modern Paganism

Talking about Anthropocentrism in Modern Paganism

On the same day I published “Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mists,” Irish animist Traci Laird also shared a piece in which she confronted the issue of anthropocentrism in modern Western Paganism more directly. She points out, very rightly I think, that “the belief that human-persons are the most significant species on the planet, plays out within paganism in subtle and tricky ways.” The response to our two posts has been incredibly varied, with writers across the Pagan blogosphere grappling with notions of anthropocentrism that range so widely at times it seems they’re hardly talking about the same thing at all.

The more responses and reactions I read over the past couple weeks, the more I realized that the issue of anthropocentrism in Paganism is incredibly complex and at times very confusing. Subtle and tricky ain’t the half of it! And so I wanted to spend some time teasing apart some of these ideas about anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism in Pagan ritual and theology.

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