Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Sin is an interesting thing to consider in modern Paganism. With many believing that, “all acts of love and pleasure are Her (the Goddess’) rituals” (taken from Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess) , is there room for a Pagan concept of sin? Sin is perceived by many to be either sexual or violent in nature. Since many Pagans feel that to ignore your sexual needs is to do yourself a disservice, the common Christian “original sin” is not applicable to modern Paganism; and while such things as adultery may be frowned upon as emotionally damaging, we have no scriptures telling us to stone those that cheat on their spouses. Violent sin has been secularized into laws; murder and assault are typically seen as amoral regardless of religious background (or lack thereof) .
So do Pagans have sin? I would say they do, but first, let’s look at the role sin plays.
Humans thrive on hardship (and guilt) . If humans decided to live near an active volcano (which is a hardship, as well as a boon) , they then feel guilty when it destroys the village (they somehow angered the gods and must atone for their indiscretions) . If humans did not thrive on this cycle, we probably would not have civilizations that grew in some of the most unforgiving environments. So humans need some feeling of guilt. Where do many modern Pagans get this guilt they require? Eco-Guilt.
Eco-Guilt does have homes in the secular world; there are plenty of non-Pagans that try to live as “green” a life as possible. However, I have not seen another creed outside adherence to the Rede that can make a Pagan look down at another Pagan as somehow “not walking the Pagan walk” as much as this one does. There are different factions within it as well (vegan/PETA, home-steaders, etc) .
There’s this fantasy that ancient Pagans all lived in harmony with nature; that because they depended so much on the natural cycles that they never did any damage to the earth, ever. Because of this fantasy, many modern Pagans want to get back to that “deep connection to the earth” that has been lost. I can respect that. I myself fantasize about living Pagan-Amish style; growing my own wheat, brewing my own mead and raising my own goats (fainting goats, specifically, they’re so wonderfully silly) . I do buy into the Eco-Guilt mind-set myself, I just think that some Pagans get up on soap boxes and try their hardest to prove they are “Greener (and therefore more Pagan) than Thou.”
The problem is that ancient Pagans were guilty of harming the earth in their own way. If you go back two thousand years, you would find Roman strip mines. The only difference is how deep they could go with the level of technology they had. The Bronze and Iron Ages would not have existed without human impact upon the earth. As a race, we’ve never been too kind to rivers; in towns, human waste lined the streets. Land was cleared to farm, meaning trees were cut down. Even in Celtic society, who really loved their trees, woodland had to be cleared for building and farming. In fact, we know so much about ancient peoples, not just from their tombs and buildings, but because they left huge trash heaps that give us insights into their diets and daily living. Mining, landfills, deforestation: This was all part of life as much then as it is now. Granted, they may have done these things with more respect than what is typically given now, but they would not have felt guilty for bettering their lives through food, shelter, tools, art and commerce.
Let’s look at the organic argument. Not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers may be better for the environment, but such farming methods take more work and have a lower yield. This (as well as having a smaller buying market) is why organic food is more expensive. If you have four children and enough money to buy either four non-organic apples or two organic apples, which would you buy? The hard-core Eco-Pagan may suggest giving your children half an organic apple (which tend to be smaller than non-organic apples anyway) , arguing that they will get better nutrition from it (this argument has never been proven) . A more practical person would think it much better to wash the non-organic apples well, but buy those to ensure that each child is well nourished. This is the problem with trying to enforce your view of green-ness on someone else; they might not be able to afford the luxury you have. Starving people in Africa need food that will grow there consistently, and current organic methods just won’t work there.
How about recycling? Not every town in this country has its own recycling center/program. Sometimes, in order to recycle, you may have to travel pretty far to do so. At which point do the emissions from your car counter-balance the act of recycling? Not to mention that recycling itself creates its own carbon footprint. You could drive yourself crazy nickel and diming every moment of every day to find out just how much damage you are doing.
So, what about those little extras Pagans often need? Stones (quartz, citrine, etc.) have to be mined. As does the iron used for cauldrons and athames (and, most recommend that the blade be new to ensure it never let blood, so no reduce, reuse, recycle there) . The silver and gold used for our daily and ritual jewelry is also mined. Books require paper, paper comes from trees (granted much paper is recycled or comes from farmed trees these days) and there is (apparently, I never heard of this rule until recently) a rule against buying used Pagan books (I buy most books used, but I’m a very frugal Pagan, and I don’t think books can hold much of your energy unless you write them yourself, like your Book of Shadows) .
Now, you can use plastic for prayer beads rather than those made of real gemstones, but the argument can be made that this is worse since A) plastic is made from oil (and we all know the hazards of oil drilling) and B) fake stones (similar to synthetic fragrance oils) will not work like the real thing; why use something that will not work as well that creates as much or more harm to the earth than using the original would be?
You can decide to be Pagan, but worry so much about every little thing you do that your spirituality suffers. You can’t read books because that harmed trees; you can’t get information from the Internet because that uses electricity, which might come from sources that harm the environment. You can’t even attune to the earth in your own home because the stones you might use to do that may have been unfairly torn from Momma Earth’s womb.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be mindful, we should be, and we need to be. There are a lot more humans inhabiting Earth now (I would hazard to say too many, but that’s my opinion) and we live in a consumer-driven “disposable” society. Maybe, as Pagans, we can get used books; we don’t need a different athame for every Sabbat and we don’t need twenty-five pieces of the same type of stone. That does not mean that we can’t have one athame and a few stones (granted maybe only one or two stones per kind) ; spiritual growth shouldn’t stagnate because of Eco-Guilt.
Do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself (or anyone else) up over slip-ups. No one’s going to prescribe you to say five “Our Gaias” and three “Hail Horned Ones” to gain forgiveness from the gods. You have to forgive yourself. You can’t hold yourself to an unrealistic ecological ideal; you’re not always going to have the option of doing it the “green” way.
So never mind how bad Eco-Edna and Green-Gary might try to make you feel, be confident that you are doing your best and following your path. If they think you use too much and don’t recycle enough, take that criticism and see if you are capable of doing better. Just remember, sometimes you have to choose between what might be better for you and yours and what might be better for the earth. Don’t feel guilty about choosing you and yours.
Facts on organic farming and recycling taken from interviews with experts as provided by Penn and Teller’s Bull****!