Journalist Lectures on Nature Religions

Kelly Cattano

On Monday, March 30, Margot Adler, a broadcast journalist with National Public Radio, gave a lecture titled “Contemporary Nature Religions in the U.S.” in Lathrop Hall. In her lecture, Adler intended to demystify preconceived cultural notions about rituals and practices of contemporary nature religions. She also stressed the importance of a healthy balance between spirituality and reality.

Adler began her lecture by defining “paganism” and “nature religion” and by providing their histories. According to Adler, “Paganism” is derived from the Latin root “Paganus,” which means “of the country.” It is a religion based not on a book, but rather on seasonal and agricultural cycles. Instead of believing in a higher spirit and praying that something will happen, pagans take action and do it. For example, instead of praying for food, they feed off crops that they plant themselves. They are a religion of no necessities, meaning they do not need a church, temple or tools to practice; all they need is to create a circle, and their rituals generally consist of soft or ecstatic chanting and singing.

“The personal passway to spirit is through song,” Adler said.

After the lecture, Adler led the audience in a Pagan ritual of meditation, song and chant. Hand-in-hand, the group praised the Earth, the wind, fire, our ancestors and the imminence of Spring.

Adler noted that Paganism is the nineteenth most popular religion in America, but it isn’t normally regarded with much prestige because of its negative reputation and the stereotypes associated with it. She stated that all of our ancestors were pagans involved in Earth-based religions. Since Christianity came to the cities first, Adler asserted that people who did not receive the good news were considered “hicks.” They were also referred to as “non-believers who will rot in hell.”

Along with the belief that Pagans will rot in hell, many people directly relate Pagans with witches. Adler debunked this myth by explaining the controversial nature of its etymology. While some Pagans do believe in witches, it has also been a word that the movement has used as a ploy to attract curious people to Paganism. This makes it difficult for society to take the word “Paganism” seriously.

In addition to the belief in witches, the use of magic is associated with the Pagan culture as well. Adler admitted that she has never conducted magic, nor have many other Pagans. She believes that magic is something psychological and naturalistic, something which only certain artists have the ability to achieve.

An interesting aspect of Paganism is that there is no concept of right or wrong. It may be considered a religion, culture or spiritual movement.

“Ms. Adler talked about how words like ‘Pagan’ and ‘witch’ have many associations; the word ‘religion’ is the same way,” sophomore Margaret Sweeney, who identifies herself as a Pagan and witch, said.

“To me, religion implies something formal and organized — a religion of the word, as Ms. Adler said. Something like Christianity with a scripture and clergy. So while certain, more organized forms of Paganism (Gardenarian, Wicca, etc.) could be considered religions, I think Paganism as a whole is more of a spiritual movement,” Sweeney said.

Although the practices of Paganism may appear overwhelming, Adler admitted that even she hasn’t been as spiritual as she should be, and acknowledged that in order to live a healthy life, one needs to have a balance between being a member of a community and practicing religion.

Adler believes that it is important to be viewed first as a person who just so happens to be a Pagan, and not use Paganism as a defining characteristic. She accepts her realistic role as a mother, but acknowledges her dedication to her faith. She encouraged young Pagan leaders to “have your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds.”