Humanistic Paganism

Ten years after 9/11: World politics is an existential condition

Muslims in Mumbai protest terrorism, by Bird Eye

Muslims in Mumbai protest against terrorism.

image enhanced from original by Bird Eye

– by B. T. Newberg

Ten years after 9/11, what place has politics in your spirituality?  Are you doing rituals outside your state capitol?  Or do you separate politics from your spirituality?  Or do you just say to hell with it all?

Please take part in the poll below.

No doubt a great variety of answers may come of this question.  Spirituality strides the gulf of opinion from activist to cynic, and always has.

Yet I wonder if it is genuinely possible anymore to not have an opinion.  There may have been a time when isolation, whether by mountain ridges or suburban picket fences, blessed us with the luxury of indifference.  Recent events make that no longer possible.

The fact of the matter is that today, world politics is an existential condition.  Each and every one of us cannot help but confront it sooner or later.

The attacks of September 11th showed the world, especially those of us who thought we were safe in our backyard pools and SUVs, that there is no more isolation.  Like it or not, the dilemmas of world politics are our dilemmas.

It only makes sense, then, that any spiritual path worth its salt must reply to world politics.  Whether it be civic duty, civil disobedience, or anarchic unrest, some response is demanded.  How will you respond?

To put the question in perspective, we may do well to consider it in the long view of history.

Politics and spirit in the ancient world

There was no one dominant view toward politics in the ancient world.  Spiritual traditions ran the gamut from political engagement to studied detachment.

It must be recognized, first of all, that although today we have separation of church and state, in the ancient world there was little or no distinction between the two.  The mysteries of Isis developed from rituals for the sole benefit of the Pharoah, and politicians in Greece and Rome regularly consulted the Oracle of Delphi for advice.  So it was not easy to sort obligations to government from those to gods.

Yet that did not mean all were politically engaged.  A wide variety of opinions obtained.  We could survey a vast span from Druid lawyers to Indian ascetics,  but let’s just take two examples to illustrate the range: Stoics and Epicureans.

From the death of Alexander the Great till the fall of Rome, two of the most popular spiritual philosophies were Stoicism and Epicureanism.  These had radically opposing views on politics.  Stoics were deeply involved, Epicureans, detached.

The Stoic View

The Stoics considered themselves cosmopolitans, or citizens of the world.  They felt an obligation toward their brethren, and advocated clemency toward slaves.  The turbulence of politics was weathered with indifference, and all satisfaction lied in performing with virtue.  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a personal diary never intended for publication, betrays a thoughtful emperor striving to do his duty amidst the harry of constant war with tribes to the north.

The Epicurean View

In contrast, the Epicureans felt politics a stormy sea best avoided.  The good life minimized suffering and maximized tranquility, and the best way to do that was to steer clear of the unpredictable tides of fortune.  Instead, they lived lives of simplicity.  Epicurus maintained a garden home outside Athens – not a monastery, but something close to a commune – to which he invited friends for meals of bread, water, and conversation.  Within his social circle he was a radical proponent of change, admitting both women and slaves to his school.  Yet public politics he studiously avoided.

These opposing poles of involvement and detachment represent the gamut of the ancient world.  A ready parallel from China can be seen in the involved Confucian and the detached Taoist.  Other ancient traditions can be located somewhere along this spectrum.

Politics and spirit in the modern world

A similar span can be seen today.  There are both Thai forest hermits and engaged Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh.  Within Neopaganism, there are such dedicated activists as Starhawk as well as those who eschew politics altogether.  There are also anarchic views like this one.

As for Humanism, there has long been a political streak.  Humanist Manifestoes I, II, and III lay out broad goals of world peace and prosperity.  The American Civil Liberties Union enjoys few greater supporters than Humanists.  Yet political office remains largely closed to them.  At present, there is only one openly-nontheist politician in the United States Congress.  This no doubt leaves many Humanists understandably jaded.

The spectrum from involvement to detachment remains the case even in today’s global village.  Yet the events of September 11th re-open the question.

Spirituality ten years after 9/11

It is now a decade after nearly 3000 people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Towers.  In the time since, more than 100,000 civilians died in America’s war in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan.  With the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, the fall of Osama bin Laden, and the revolutions of the Arab Spring, it may seem that the storm is finally over.

But that is not the case.

The stage is set for the next act in a theater of war.  Al Qaeda remains, and U.S. armed forces are now rehearsing for possible action against cells in Yemen and Somalia.

Somalia in particular hits home for me.  Standing on my street corner in Minneapolis (nicknamed “Little Mogadishu”), I can see several Somali restaurants.  And as a teacher of English as a Second Language, many of my students are Somali.  It is more than an idle fear for me that a war in Somalia could turn the American public against them.

While I’ve never been an activist per se, it’s hard to stand by while people you know are under threat.  This has led me to raise awareness about admirable Somali figures.  There’s Hawa Abdi, for example – Somalia’s first gynecologist and current leader of a camp of 90,000 refugees.  There’s her daughter, Deqo Mohammed, who fights against the practice of recruiting child soldiers.  And then there’s Sada Mire, the country’s only remaining archaeologist still braving the chaos.

The American public is now far more educated about Islam than it was ten years ago.  One might think this would lead to better interfaith relations, but that may not be the case.  Muslims in America are divided on whether all their efforts at education have done any good.

Yet that is not the death knell for peace and understanding.  Interfaith efforts have increased, a summit of religious leaders is underway in New York, and a 9/11 Unity Walk is marching in Washington, D.C.  The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is holding an interfaith community service event.  And many Pagans across the country are no doubt lighting candles at this moment, as in the 9/11 Ritual for Tolerance and Remembrance.

Are these efforts meaningful, or all in vain?  Should we engage politics like the Stoics, or intentionally retire from the circus like the Epicureans?

One thing is certain: post-9/11, we’re all a lot more aware of the immediacy of the problem.  No longer can we rock in our chairs at home while wars rage on foreign soil.  September Eleventh brought it to our front door.  For good or ill, we no longer enjoy the luxury of indifference.

World politics is an existential condition.  There is nowhere left to escape it.  In the year 2011, no one does not feel its effects, and no one can afford to be ignorant of it.  As such, it makes sense that any spiritual worldview must take a stance on world politics.  Whether we choose to respond to it with involvement or detachment, a choice is necessary.

And the choice can be strikingly counter-intuitive.  Take, for example, Patti Quigley and Susan Retik.  These two women, both pregnant, lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks.  Stricken with grief, they decided the best way to make sense of it all was to raise money for war widows in Afghanistan.  Rather than seek revenge, they empathized with those facing the same crisis but on the opposing side.  How’s that for a contemporary answer to world politics?

To be or not to be… political

So, ten years after 9/11, what do you say?  Do you stand by the Stoics, weathering tribulations with virtue and striving for justice?  Or do you take to the Epicurean garden in search of serenity?  Or is there a third way?

I would love to hear where you stand.

– by B. T. Newberg

Upcoming work

This Sunday

B. T. Newberg
Tomorrow is not just the Harvest Moon, it’s the 10th Anniversary of September 11th.  Ten years later, what place has politics in your spirituality?  Post-9/11, world politics has become impossible for spirituality to ignore.  Check it out:
Ten years after 9/11: World politics is an existential condition, by B. T. Newberg

Appearing September 11th on Humanistic Paganism.

Next Sunday

John H. Halstead

This piece rattles me.  John H. Halstead’s subtle essay, worthy of a journal like the Pomegranate, is revolutionizing the way I think about gods.  Put on your thinking caps, boys and girls.  You’re not gonna wanna miss this one.

The archetypes are gods: Re-godding the archetypes, by John H. Halstead

Appearing September 18th on Humanistic Paganism.

Big News on the Equinox

Shouting in the storm, by Lanier67

Finally, some BIG NEWS is coming on the autumn equinox.

One part is a big event in my life, and the other is a big event for Humanistic Paganism.

What’s in store?  Find out on the equinox!

Revealed on Friday, September 23rd, on Humanistic Paganism.

Recent Work

Balance within nature: An interview with Rua Lupa

What does your practice look like?  by Eli Effinger-Weintraub

Balance within nature: An interview with Rua Lupa

Pa Kua

The Pa Kua of Ehoah

image enhanced from original by Rua Lupa

This week we interview nature spiritualist Rua Lupa, creator of the naturalistic tradition called Ehoah.

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa

B. T. Newberg:  First off, what is Ehoah?

Rua Lupa:  Ehoah is a philosophy and tradition that is based on being balanced within Nature. The word Ehoah is used to describe being completely balanced within Nature. Individuals who follow this tradition are called Seekers of Ehoah. Seekers of Ehoah feel that there is need to live more actively within Nature instead of exclusively focusing on the spiritual aspect of Nature.  Images associated with Ehoah are made to symbolize this balance.

BTN:  Is this a theistic tradition, with gods, goddesses, and so forth?

RL:  Ehoah tradition and philosophy is a Nature Spirituality and therefore has no focus on any Gods, Goddesses or any ancestral culture, i.e Celtic or Norse. With no focus on these things, you as an individual are free to decide which God(s) and/or Goddess(es) to praise and worship, or none at all, and what ancestral culture to follow in your personal search for Ehoah.

The Three Basic Tenets are the basis of everything in the Ehoah Tradition.  To be a Seeker of Ehoah you need only believe that these Three Basic Tenets hold true.

BTN:  What are these Three Basic Tenets?

RL:  Ehoah is an offshoot of Reformed Druidism (RDNA) by way of revising their Two Basic Tenets and adding a third tenet to the Reformed Druid’s Basic Two. Ehoah’s Three Basic Tenets are:

  1. ‘One of the many ways spiritual fulfillment can be found is through Nature’
  2. ‘Nature, being one of the primary concerns in humanity’s life and struggle, is important in spiritual quests’
  3. ‘It is important to be balanced within Nature as to live unbalanced within Nature is destructive physically and spiritually’

The added tenet is considered important because Seekers of Ehoah feel that there is need to live more actively within Nature instead of exclusively focusing on the spiritual aspect of Nature. Like that of the Reformed Druids, to be a Seeker of Ehoah you need only believe that these Three Basic Tenets hold true. In believing this, naturally you would actively work toward being completely balanced within Nature, physically and spiritually.

BTN:  Could you explain a little of the significance of the Pa Kua mandala?  What does it mean to you? How do you use it in your practice? What prompted you to create it?

RL:  I was fascinated with Feng Shui and the Pa-Kua which is essentially a compass for organizing your life. So I decided to make my own.

The Ehoah Pa Kua in its early development naturally had the elements and the calendar incorporated into it. As I wanted Ehoah to revolve around Nature, I added the lunar changes, life stages, and the cardinal directions. The virtues seemed appropriate to add as I felt that everyone should benefit from trying to better themselves.

BTN:  How did you choose the virtues?

RL:  I chose those particular virtues, through asking myself what I wanted to instill in my own children. What nine things did I want to see in the generations after me? Through much thought and debate, I decided these were the best and aligned them with what seemed the most appropriate direction considering what was seasonally occurring and the stage of life represented.

Not to mention that I had researched in depth different cultural views of virtue and noted that it was considered a high valued element in any society.

As for the elements, when looking into the subject I had found that the when individuals were categorized as one of these four elements, some of them were really in between yet there was no place for them. So I made a place for these few between people.

Between Air and Fire is Stars, which also incorporates the Galaxy; Between Fire and Earth is Magma, which also incorporates metal; Between Earth and Water is Vegetation, which incorporates wood; Between Water and Air is Storm (Fog, Clouds, & Lightning). In the center is Spirit. To express this I designed the emblem so that the structure is better understood. This final elemental design is the foundation of the Ehoah Pa Kua.

BTN:  What about the subjective feelings you experience working with the Pa Kua?  And how has it helped you grow as a person?

RL:  Human habit is to categorize and organize the world around you. The Ehoah Pa Kua does just that. Making the Natural World easier to understand and conceptualize. Using the Ehoah Pa Kua, rituals can be devised in respect to how Nature functions. Reminding us how interconnected we are in Nature and how we are very much a part of the big picture. This is what it has done for me as well.

Year Wheel for the Southern Hemisphere
Year Wheel for the Southern Hemisphere

image enhanced from original by Rua Lupa

BTN:  What about the Year Wheel calendars?

RL:  Before the Ehoah Pa Kua, I made the calendar. The calendar began from the Pagan Association contemplating creating a calendar for themselves because our climate did not work with the Celtic Calendar used to mark important dates, as the times spring was celebrated in the Celtic Calendar it was still dead of winter here.  So I took it upon myself to make a calendar that worked, mostly because I could never understand why we use the Gregorian Calendar as it is a Solar year, but didn’t recognize the solar changes in its design.  I had counted the days between solar changes and divided these days into months so that the solar change would remain at the beginning of the month. I had found that the months did not look anything like the Gregorian Months as the summer half of the northern hemisphere had 31 days a month and the winter half 30 days a month.

For a bit of creative fun, the colours from the emblem were then put on the calendar. It was found that the colours were accurate to the seasonal changes and complimented each other and were left with the final version.

All three calendars took about 2 years to complete.

I forgot to add how the Pagan Association reacted to the calendars (as they helped me kick it off).They loved it and found that it worked very well, but by the time it was complete, they had felt that it would be better for individual use rather than for the group as a whole. They explained that the point of the Pagan Association was to be inclusive to all paths and felt that this would create a feeling of exclusion to those who followed a different calendar. And therefore had left that idea of creating a new calendar behind them as a result. So instead of using the calendars I made, they put all sacred days and events onto the common Gregorian calendar for each different path that was involved so that everyone could celebrate the diversity. This I felt worked very well for what the group had wanted. I then asked about what I should do about the calendars I made, as they were completely nature-based and still useful (and after spending 2 years on making them, you do kind of get attached). They simply pointed out that I was making my own tradition and that I should keep doing so as they felt it was a very complimenting path to their group (at this point I hadn’t really put together the fact that I was creating a tradition and this was a bit of a new realization for me).

BTN:  How do you use the calendars in your life, or your spiritual path?

RL:  I use the calendar to make me aware of what is currently happening in Nature. Right now we are in Mensis Hinnuleus (month of the fawn), which instantly makes me aware that a) that is the constellation currently in the middle of our night sky (in the northern hemisphere); b) that fawns are currently being born or have been recently born, which also reminds me that I can keep an eye out for them when I see does; and c) It is the first red month so Lux is near (summer solstice for northern hemisphere) and we are in the summer half of the year.

BTN:  How do you see a specifically naturalistic spirituality embedded in Ehoah?

RL:  In terms of Naturalistic Spirituality, the stepping stones specifically address that, as each stepping stone has a physical and spiritual aspect. As well as the Ehoah Silva (not yet up on the site, but watch for it soon!).

BTN:  You offer an unusual training program called the Stepping Stones.  At first glance, this looks like a simple gardening program.  But is it more than that?

RL:  First off, I’d like to ensure that it is understood that the stepping stones are a completely voluntary option to follow and are not mandatory in any way; and that each individual can go about pursuing Ehoah in their own way.

That said, yes, at first glance the stepping stones would certainly look that way as the first portion of each has you do some physical activity and the second is more spiritually linked.

In the physical portion, the reasoning behind encouraging someone to find seeds from a wild plant and then grow it in your home is first – to realize that nature is always there and doesn’t have to come in an animated form of a mega fauna. And second, that without plants nothing we know on this planet would exist, so it is key to begin your learning with the primary life form. Not to mention that your local environment is completely determined by your local flora.

By understanding the needs and forms that your local plants grow, you gain much knowledge on why they grow where they do, how other life forms utilize it and how fauna activities revolve around it. Not to mention the direct benefits we have from them for air, food, water purification, medicine and aesthetics.

BTN:  What about those who rent, move from place to place, or otherwise cannot keep a garden.  How can they complete the Stepping Stones?

RL:  Simple answer – an outdoor space is absolutely not necessary for you to follow the stepping stones. In fact, it explicitly states to utilize a pot and grow indoors. Most plants will do fine in a small pot in its first few years of life and someone in a life of continual moving shouldn’t feel encumbered by this. (I have two pots that each fit within one hand that are currently growing a white spruce and scots pine. The scots pine is over two years old and can stay in it for its entire life)

When it comes to the time when the plant requires to be planted in the ground a yard seems a mandatory thing, when it really isn’t the case. I myself live in an apartment and have planted several trees already since I moved here in the winter.

One option is to ask someone who has a yard if they would like to have your plant.

Another is to sell it at a market, i.e. Farmer’s Market, for a small price. A free give away sign wouldn’t be a bad idea either, but would likely get less experienced individuals that may not be good care takers or lead well experienced people to think your plant is somehow diseased or inferior (if you are moving that might be a good thing to add to the sign and lead more experienced people to take it off your hands).

A third option (and an admitted favorite of mine), is to guerrilla garden. For those not in the know, guerrilla gardening is pretty much what it sounds like. You plant your vegetation in rebellious areas, such as parks, alleys, vacant lots – pretty much anywhere soil isn’t used. You can easily learn more about it by looking it up online. There are a surprising amount of methods to accomplish this. I mostly do this either at night, or during the supper hour when it gets quiet outdoors. This is mostly because I can’t do the “wear a orange vest and hard hat” method (which works wonders I’m told, especially in urban areas) as I am in a small community where people would recognize that I am not a municipal worker.

So yeah, its a pretty simple process that in reality doesn’t require much from you, just an eager mind, a willing hand, and a little patience.

BTN:  Last question – If you could sum up your path in one sentence, what would it be?

RL:  The following quote is sometimes used to summarize the outlook of Seekers of Ehoah,

“There is no one right way, as there are many paths to the same destination, you just need to choose the path that feels most right to you, even if it means blazing it.”

The interviewee

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa is the creator of the naturalistic path called Ehoah. She also founded the Sault Community Drum Circle, The Gore Bay Drum Circle on Manitoulin Island, and has been a board member of Bike Share Algoma. She loves the outdoors and enjoys sharing experiences with others of the same passion. She is a strong advocate of wild spaces with native species instead of traditional gardens because of a growing problem with invasive species and lack of space and sustenance for our native wildlife. She strives to learn and retain as much as possible about the natural world and how one can live in balance with the immediate natural environment. She endeavors to one day live comfortably with all basic needs met within the natural environment.

Check out Rua Lupa’s other articles:

Upcoming work

This Sunday

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa is back!  This time she reveals her visionary naturalistic path called Ehoah.  Don’t miss it: “Balance within nature: An interview with Rua Lupa.”

Appearing September 4th on Humanistic Paganism.

Next Sunday

B. T. Newberg
Then, in two weeks, we’ll have a special post for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.  B. T. Newberg asks: Is there a place for politics in naturalistic spirituality?  What would that look like?  How can we work against fanaticism and toward peace?

Appearing September 11th on Humanistic Paganism.

Recent Work

What does your practice look like?  by Eli Effinger-Weintraub

Encounters in nature: An open-air dialogue in the North Woods, with Celtic polytheist Drew Jacob, Vodou priest Urban Haas, and Humanistic Pagan B. T. Newberg

What does your practice look like? by Eli Effinger-Weintraub

The Aggie Milky Way, by Doug Klembara

When I wake up, I say, “Good morning, Cosmos; good morning, Milky Way.”

photo by Doug Klembara

After posting the question “What does your spiritual practice look like?” to the Naturalistic Pagans email list, I was drawn to Eli’s response.  I knew immediately we had to publish it.  – B. T. Newberg

I have both practice and practice. I practice the small, daily and seasonal rituals that form the face of pretty much all religions, and I also have more long-term habits that reflect the spine of my personal spiritual beliefs.


Every morning when I wake up, I say good morning to place. I say:

“Good morning, Cosmos; good morning, Milky Way; good morning, solar system,” and so on down to “good morning, Eli.”

When I get in bed each night, I say my goodnights in reverse.

I say this grace before meals:

“Thank you to the plants and animals whose lives were taken to feed my body; someday, my body will feed your descendants. Thank you to the people who made this food and brought it to me; may we continue to nourish each other in ways that sustain this beautiful and sacred living planet.”

I have other small practices throughout the day, mostly tied to mindfulness and intentionality, the bedrocks of my beliefs.

And practice

Because we started out Wiccan, my wife and I honor the Wiccan Sabbats and Esbats as logical reflections of natural cycles. Our celebrations range from full-out ecstatic ritual, complete with circle-casting, divination, and power raising to simply going for a walk to appreciate what’s in bloom, what the weather’s like, or what the crazed neighborhood squirrels are up to.

I also try, inasmuch as a black-thumbed urbanite can, to live in balance with the living world around me. I choose local, seasonal, organic foods whenever possible. I compost and recycle. I grow a few food plants. In clement weather, I challenge myself to have as many car-free days as possible – and to expand my definition of “clement weather” to include as many days as possible. I donate my time, money, and energy to organizations whose work aligns with my values.

The place where these two types of practice most overlap for me is in cycling. I recently wrote a whole blog post about the spiritual aspects of cycling. It is a reflection of my deepest beliefs about the nature of the sacred and my part in it, and a ritual in itself.

I get all swoony just thinking about it!

Eli Effinger-Weintraub also talks about her practice of naturalistic spellcraft in a recent interview at The Secular Buddhist.

So there you have it.  Now, readers, how about your response?

What does your practice look like?

The author

Eli Effinger-Weintraub

Eli Effinger-Weintraub

Eli Effinger-Weintraub is a naturalistic Pagan rooted in the Twin Cities Watershed. She practices a mongrel brand of Reclaiming-tradition hearthwitchery influenced by Gaia theory, naturalistic pantheism, bioregional animism, Zen Buddhism, and the writings of Carl Sagan. But she tries not to think too deeply about any of that and mostly just rides her bicycle, instead. Eli writes plays, creative nonfiction, and short speculative fiction, often inspired by the visual art of her wife, Leora Effinger-Weintraub. She is also a mercenary copyeditor. Find her online at Back Booth.

%d bloggers like this: