Originally published in Immrama magazine, Nov 2004 and Touchstone magazine, Feb 2005
I am a pagan and also became a Bardic Student with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) about 9 months ago. One reason that I joined was that I was strongly attracted by the respect and reverence for the natural world, in particular the tree planting programme, which is a highly commendable and practical way of embodying our spiritual beliefs. With OBOD's financial assistance, I have now planted over 20 trees around my home and saved a dozen or more from certain death. When I move early next year I will have to begin again but I am hopeful that my successor will look after them as I have.
Planting a few trees may seem of little consequence when you consider the wholesale destruction occuring around the world, however, in what has become a war between consumerism and conservation, whatever can be done, no matter how small, is of vital importance. Here in Ireland, the government has paid lip-service to supporting environmental issues e.g. through the Millenium Tree Project (one tree planted for each family in Ireland). Sadly once the initial publicity has died down such initiatives are rapidly forgotten (go view any of the millenium forests and you'll find saplings chocked with brambles and weeds). With the Celtic Tiger still roaring, commercial considerations currently take precedence over all other matters, leaving it up to ordinary people such as us to remind those in power of their responsibilities and promises.
Unfortunately most people in the western world are still under the spell of consumerism, even in their spiritual lives. It is all very well being 'spiritual' once a day or once a week, but it is of little consequence if it is not carried through into the way that we live our everyday lives - in a nutshell we have to learn to walk the talk. Modern paganism often leans towards the academic, inner development and magical work; this is all fine in itself, however as beings of flesh and blood we exist in the material plane and we would do well to remember this, as it is here that our most urgent work is required! I am not a Christian but these words from The Gospel of Thomas seem particularly pertinent for us today - "Those who know all, but are lacking in themselves, are utterly lacking."
A perfecty reminder of this was given by Ecologist Mark O'Sullivan who spoke on environmental issues at Witchfest in Dublin this summer. When you go to a health food store and buy crystals do you consider where they come from, how they were obtained or how much the people were paid for them? In the case of crystals the majority of them are blasted or mined in South America using highly dangerous and environmentally destructive methods, plus the people who risk their lives to obtain them are usually paid a few pennies a day. This kind of ethical conundrum is applicable to all manner of things from the spiritual tools we use to the clothes and food we eat. Obviously, living in modern times we are forced to make compromises somewhere, although we should at the very least be aware of where and why we have done so.
The ancient Druids revered nature as we do but they were less aware of the distinction between ourselves, nature and the divine, as is the common perception of people today; fortunately for them they did not live in an age of plastics, heavy industry and mass production. As modern pagans, I believe that it is our greatest challlenge to try to reconnect ourselves, and the whole of humanity to our environment before we destroy it (including ourselves). As Mark O'Sullivan pointed out, we stil have some way to go in fulfilling our ideals of respect for the earth; each of us owes it to ourselves, our ancestors and to future generations to question our actions and ask ourselves "Do I really live in accordance with my beliefs?"
A wealth of information on alternative ways of living can be found at www.cat.org.uk, those interested in the Sacred Grove Tree Planting Programme or OBOD can contact them through www.druidry.org