It’s tricky to identify what makes someone Pagan, since Pagans hold neither concept of divinity nor creed in common. Pagan practices and community structures vary. However, most self-identified Pagans would likely endorse a deep reverence for nature. But what do we mean, when we say we revere nature? The word is commonly reserved for that which is separate from humans, or at least not man-made. Clouds, trees, and wild animals come first to mind as examples of nature, for example. What about our cars and paved streets? Although they’re not what comes first to mind, for those of us who fancy ourselves to be monists, they can’t possibly be anything other than nature.
Grounded eastern screech-owl fledgling that I recently transported to a local wildlife rescue organization.
Distinguishing the terms nature and wilderness helps clear the confusion. Nature is everything, all that there is, the physical universe. Wilderness is that which is wild, relatively free from human influence. What I think most big-P Pagans actually revere is wilderness, not nature. See, for example, this recent passage by Pagan theologist Yvonne Aburrow on her wonderful blog, Dowsing for Divinity.
A lot of European literature is about the distinction between wilderness and civilization. The wilderness is characterized as “pagan” and civilization as “Christian”. (There’s a reason why fourteen popes took the name Urban.) Naturally the Pagan Revival ran with this distinction and inverted the value system associated with it to mean “wilderness good, civilization bad”.
Now I’m as guilty as the next Pagan, of making pilgrimages to places that I imagine to be more “wild” than my own backyard or the clinic where I work. (My family and I are planning a backpacking trip to Enchanted Rock this fall, yeah!) I also understand that, especially in the present era of human overpopulation and anthropogenic climate change, there’s no such thing as pristine wilderness free from human influence. Wilderness as a concept is a dualism.
As a little-p, animistic pagan, I hope to revere nature as it is, where I am, whether that’s walking through the wilderness or standing in my suburban driveway. The world as it is, where I am, is all I’ve got. It’s where I know for certain I can exert influence, where I can’t help but be a co-creator of change.