Nature and the Mystic — why your local walk is sacred
For anyone who experienced the lockdowns that came with surges in the coronavirus pandemic, it comes as no surprise that any time spent outside of the house can do wonders to put you at ease. Even things as simply as a weekly trip to the store or a simple walk in the neighborhood can free up the mind and prevent a Jack Nicholson-esque breakdown from the constant cabin fever and self-isolation. But the benefits of leaving the house to spend some time in nature are even more pronounced and well-documented, as researchers and spiritualists alike have noted the vast impact the natural world has on our wellbeing.
According to an article from the University of Minnesota, time spent in nature or observing natural scenes is generally associated with positive attitudes and reduced stress. The article also notes that while effects are most profound when time is spent directly in nature, even the addition of a new plant was found to have a significant impact on stress and anxiety .
Studies even indicated that people living in public housing that had more trees and green spaces had a reduced risk of street crime and lower levels of violence and aggression, whereas less time spent in nature correlates with higher levels of depression or loss of empathy.
Jordan Beard is a local pagan priest at Fort Collins’ local Covenant of the River. Beard, who is Taoist, described the local pagan circle as an eclectic group that includes various different faiths, such as followers of Norse paganism and Wicca. However, he defined paganism as an umbrella term that applies to all nature-based faiths, or faiths and spiritualities that are based on nature and natural cycles.
But, paganism isn’t a definitive category for any faith or religion, and many people of different faiths may identify themselves as pagans while others may not. One example Beard gave is that many Buddhists are conflicted about the designation of paganism whereas others are not.
“Almost all of their allegories and a great deal of their faith is about respect for life,” Beard said. “The Buddha spoke a great deal about honoring animals and plants and being kind in the way that you harvest, and encouraged vegetarianism in order to prevent taking an animal’s life.”
All of these things, Beard said, can lead many to believe that Buddhism falls under the designation of paganism because it is grounded in respecting life and harvesting responsibly. Beard also mentions that Buddhism uses the example of the water cycle to help explain the karmic cycle within their faith.
Even still, for members of the Covenant of the River, many root their faiths in natural cycles, with even atheists attending circle meetings due to the emphasis on respecting nature and the living world. Beard also went on to say that many of the traditional holidays celebrated by pagans across faiths are based upon natural cycles and the changing of the seasons. The holidays, or Sabbats as they are called in Wicca, are based upon the equinoxes. Pagans often celebrate the beginning of the year with Yule at the Winter Solstice, followed by Ostara or Easter at the spring equinox, Litha at the summer solstice and Mabon at the autumn equinox.
Beard said that spirituality and nature have always been interconnected and many early conservationists wrote on the sacredness of nature and the magic of natural spaces. Beard included examples of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in Walden how he escaped into the wilderness to escape the burdens of modern society while also reconnecting with the land and himself.
“Every nature space is absolutely sacred. I honestly let my backyard go a little wild with wildflowers, I don’t water it and I let nature do its thing,” Beard said. “Since then we have seen a return of the insects and the squirrels… and sometimes things you wouldn’t expect like rabbits, foxes, because it’s a natural space.”
Beard said that he lives in Fort Collins because of the access to walking trails and open spaces, and that he tries to spend much of his time in nature, whether on his regular camping trips or even by foraging for his own food to reconnect with nature.
“Teddy Roosevelt spoke often about how these spaces are preserved and kept natural are absolutely essential for the human spirit,” Beard said. “I don’t think you even need to be pagan or under this idea that nature can inform our choices, to look at nature as something special.