We chatted with interspiritual minister Rev. Wendy Van Allen about how the perspective of Nature Spirituality can help heal the earth.
Rev. Wendy Van Allen is an ordained interspiritual minister and counselor through One Spirit Learning Alliance and Outreach Ministries in New York, NY. As a Priestess of both the Afro-Caribbean Lukumi and Wiccan traditions, she is a longtime practitioner of Nature Spirituality. She is also a practicing Spiritist and a trained intuitive consultant.
She is the author of Relighting the Cauldron: Embracing Nature Spirituality for the Modern World, reviewed in our March/April 2023 issue.
S+H: Both the title and subtitle of your book focus on action—relighting the cauldron; embracing Nature Spirituality. We’re urged to honor the sacred, invite the ancestors, create relationships, offer forgiveness, cultivate silence, strengthen energy, and clear out our homes. How intentional were you in choosing this focus on action, and how does it relate to the purpose of your book?
Rev. Van Allen: This is a great question. I was very intentional about focusing this book on action and change. While I do devote an extensive chapter to explaining some of what I believe are the major factors which have caused the multiple crises we face, I wanted to stay solution focused.
The main thesis is that I believe Nature Spirituality is uniquely suited to inspire and guide people towards the personal and collective changes that humanity needs right now to contribute towards a new paradigm that will replace the one that is ending. And we have to take action; we have run out of time.
In Chapter 1, you name five destructive forces—patriarchy and sexism, racism, colonialism, economies of domination, and environmental destruction—as major contributors to diminishing the fire of Mother Earth’s cauldron. Which of these do you consider to be the most insidious, the most persistent, and the least likely to be addressed?
I believe all of these are born from the same root idea which needs to be acknowledged and addressed, and that is patriarchy. Patriarchy creates the hierarchy and the divisions because it elevates one type of human above the other, and then continues to create hierarchies, from the sexes to the races to other life forms, over and over. It also relegates the Earth as inert matter under the power and whims of an anthropomorphized male creator God.
Reactionary thinking will assume I would advocate for a matriarchy to replace patriarchy, but that’s not the answer at all. I think patriarchal thinking is the most destructive and insidious. I also believe it will be the least likely to be fully addressed because it is the one that is most deeply held by many people around the world, both the religious and nonreligious. It is embedded in Western culture, in our laws, economy, business, medicine, and education. It explains why we can reduce our planet—literally Mother Earth—to resources that we are entitled to exploit for power and money.
We no longer realize the Earth is holy and precious, and we depend our lives completely on Her wellbeing. Patriarchy long ago divorced itself from the Earth, seeing this world as something sinful and evil with our goal to transcend it. This destructive idea is why we are in danger of making our planet unlivable to so many species, including our own.
What role do you think misinformation plays in the perpetuation of not only these destructive forces but also negative views about nature-based spiritualities?
This goes back all the way to the papal bulls which condemned earlier nature traditions and folk traditions as sinful and evil. This mindset then provided a handy justification for also condemning the people who practiced the religions of their ancestors as evil and in need of conversion. And since those who practiced folk traditions were viewed as subhuman by Christians at the time, those Christians could then wipe out and take the land of those who wouldn’t convert. The ramifications of this are not ancient history, either, as we have seen in the recent apology offered by Pope Francis to Indigenous leaders regarding the Church's role in colonial harms.
There is a lot of truth in the idea that the people who write the history books define the winners and losers. Forces today are still at it—they are the people now trying to stop the teaching of American history in public schools because it calls into question the myths we have been told that justified European domination of North America; myths that ignore the reality that American wealth was built by slave labor which still benefits white Americans disproportionality, the barbaric reality of the slave trade; and the actual and cultural genocide of the Native American people.
As I wrote in my book, this pattern of colonialism happened wherever Europeans oppressed and marginalized Indigenous people, as in New Zealand and Australia. One of my interviewees, Puwaii Ormsby, was of the generation of Maori that was raised to suppress and forget her language, culture, and heritage. She was forced to attend what we would call the reservation schools.
Then there is what happened to religions like Vodou, which was and still is demonized and misunderstood intentionally to otherize and denigrate a very ancient and beautiful Nature Spirituality system that is far older than Christianity.
Even the use of the word “pagan” is steeped in fear for some people, as it’s a term used in the Bible to identify people who are enemies of believers. Yet, this isn’t true at all. Misinformation is still very active today, trying to erase the truth of what Nature Spirituality is and isn’t.
What one word or phrase would you use to sum up what the different nature-based spiritualities featured in the book have in common? And could you give us an example of how this common element shows up in the practices or rituals of different nature-based traditions?
The word I would use is immanence, versus transcendence. Whereas Judeo-Christian belief systems are transcendent, God is literally “out there,” nature-based spirituality is animistic; Spirit permeates and pervades all of creation.
An example of this would be the Earth herself being recognized as a living being by those who practice Nature Spirituality pretty much around the world, throughout space and time. And this is not seen metaphorically but literally. It is also not a primitive idea, as many who don’t have this understanding might condemn it to be. It is very much in line with the Gaia hypothesis.
In terms of the immanence, people who practice Nature Spirituality recognize that Spirit and spirits are present everywhere and we are connected to this great field of being, not separate from it. Our spiritual practices provide us with tools to recognize, connect with, strengthen, and work with these natural forces.
What spiritual practice or ritual do you find to be the most powerful in rekindling or deepening your own sense of the sacred? What is it about this practice or ritual that makes it so powerful?
That would be the practice of ancestor worship. This is an essential aspect of all the nature traditions that I have investigated, practiced, and explored. It is powerful because every one of us is here because of who our ancestors were; we would not exist without them.
By honoring and venerating our ancestors—ancestors of blood, ancestors of lineage, ancestors of our culture or people—it changes us. It allows us to continue and heal relationships with our ancestors and ancestral patterns going forward and backward in time. We can invoke their blessing.
Also, by remembering them, we remember ourselves. We begin to deeply know who we are and where we came from, our personal strengths and resiliencies, and the weakness that we are here to heal and overcome.
You call for humanity to awaken from its destructive trance of environmental destruction and disconnection. Is there a piece of knowledge you can share that might trigger a “jolting awareness” to speed up the process?
I believe that nature is speeding up the process for us in the form of global warming and climate change. All anyone needs to do is pay attention.
Nature is reflecting back to us the disconnect, the disharmony, the danger that we have created with the severe imbalances we humans have in the dominant world paradigm. Some may say, there have always been destructive natural events, which is true, but it has never been at the accelerated pace it is today.
World temperatures have never been so high, and we are in the middle of a mass extinction event of nonhuman life forms. I think most people realize that unless they are in complete denial.
For those of us who do realize this, we are left with two choices: Either accept hopelessness and disconnect from the responsibility to do anything about it, or start making more conscious and compassionate choices now that may not always be comfortable, but that prioritize a healthier relationship to resources and one another.
How hopeful are you that humanity will turn towards a more sustainable paradigm? What fuels this hope?
I have to admit that I often get discouraged when I see how polarized we have become; how there are still a small group of humans ruled by greed who are dominating economies and resources around the world. Or how so many people are still blinded by racist hate or patriarchal ideologies that create division.
But then I see what the youth are already doing. This is why I open the book discussing the activism of millions of young people around the planet who are stepping forward as Earth activists. This new generation, my children’s generation, see the world very differently. They are less rigid and more open-minded about a lot of thinking from the past; not just spirituality but even about things like sex, gender, and ability. They are more inclusive especially when it comes to rejecting racism and sexism. They are changing the workforce as they enter into it, creating new types of work.
They do have a lot of strikes against them, including gun violence in school, poverty, drug addiction, mental illness and despair, homelessness, lack of resources for education, and facing widespread environmental destruction. But as we have seen in the last election and also around the world, they are socially engaged.
This new generation gives me hope, and they are the ones who will inherit the paradigm change that we are creating now. By that I mean, those of my generation will not live to see the new paradigm, but by shifting the way we live now, in worship, practice, lifestyle and community, we can lay the seeds for a better future that we can only hope their children and grandchildren will enjoy.
Read our review of Rev. Van Allen's book here.