Recently I wrote a post called – What Pagans can learn from Asia. It was a summary of the things I discovered about people’s religious ideas in Asia. Since then, I have traveled to Australia and as my time here comes to a close, I am reflecting on what I have learned here. Interestingly it appears that others are having similar thoughts.
For the past two months in Australia, I have taken a particular interest in the Aboriginal cultures. The aboriginal peoples have been here over 70,000 years and are one of the oldest surviving cultures on earth. Despite the best efforts of European colonisers to convert and “civilise” them, a lot of their culture has survived. I believe there are several lessons we can learn from them as Pagans and apply to our own religious practice.
The aboriginal people’s believe that in a period called the “Dream-time”, a time before time, ancestral beings such as the rainbow serpent traveled across the land and created the different parts of it – the land and rock formations, the rivers and seas, the plants and animals. Because they are created by the ancestral beings, part of the spirit of the ancestral beings remains (in fact they turned themselves into them) and these places are therefore sacred places.
Lesson 1 – Stories
There is a lot of talk in Paganism at the moment about “re-enchanting the land.” The question, of course, is how to do so? In my opinion the Aboriginal people’s offer the answer – tell sacred stories about the places around you. The aboriginal people’s tell stories of how each aspect of their landscape was created by ancestral beings/ gods. These stories not only contain the laws of the tribe, thereby preserving their culture, but also are the literal scriptures of the people – their stories are their scriptures and reading the land is reading the scriptures. So, as modern Pagans, what can we learn from this? The importance of stories! Research and find out the stories of your local area, of the significant events and places there, but more importantly, think about the gods, ancestors and nature spirits who were worshiped on this land, and look for the interesting features of the landscape, then write stories about those places. Write stories about how those places came into being. Did Thor fight an ice giant and throw that big hill down on top of him? Did that river come about because a goddess wanted to give water to her human lover who was struggling to farm? Did the sacred fox teach an important moral to his cubs under that tree? Meditate and write stories about the gods and spirits you worship, the local animals and plants, and the interesting places in your land. Then put them up on the internet or share them with your pagan communities. Connect with the land through discovering or telling new stories. Make the land an enchanting place again.
Lesson 2 – Land Management
The aboriginal people’s had a very close connection to the land and managed it very well for tens of thousands of years. Part of that is down to various religious practice they had. First was the principle of reciprocity (a very important one to modern Pagans too). The principle of reciprocity is give and take. It is asking plants/ trees/ animals before we take anything, but also giving something back in return. And giving thanks. If we get something from the land, or we want something from the land, then it is only fair that we give something back in return – it is simple “resource reciprocity.” Ideally something of equal or greater worth, which helps to ensure the land survives and benefits in perpetuity. Like the aborigines, we must realise that we belong to the land, that our story is written in the land, and that because we belong to the land, we are responsible for it’s well-being. There is also the aboriginal saying that “if you look after the water, you look after the land.” In other words, we should prioritise looking after our local rivers, streams and springs. It wasn’t for nothing that the ancient Celts saw their rivers as their mother goddesses, and their springs as inhabited by special spirits worthy of worship. We must look after our mother earth, and the best way to do so, is to look after the waters that sustain us. A third aspect of land management for some aboriginal tribes was giving each person a local totem plant or animal at birth. This helped them to connect with the land, but it also helped ensure that particular thing was protected and not over-harvested. Maybe this is something we can do too?
The aboriginal people’s have a lot of wisdom to share with us if we will listen. They can teach us how to re-enchant our land and how to manage it sustainably. We don’t need to appropriate their culture, we just need to learn a few of their wisdom lessons and it will help us in the rebuilding of our western Pagan religions once again.