In 2005, Richard Louv introduced an emerging theory that many of our modern children’s ills – obesity, depression, behavioral problems – are caused by their lack of interaction with nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, he brought together research and information from several sources to support the idea that reconnecting with nature was the antidote for many of these struggles.
His work was inspirational and influential in several ways including the founding of the Children and Nature Network, an organization with a vision of creating a world “where every child can play, learn and grow in nature.” This is a stark contrast to the reports of children who spend endless hours inside watching television and playing video games.
Increasing numbers of people, either out of support for the environment, concerns over rising food costs, or the desire to feed their families higher quality foods, are creating urban and suburban gardens and (re)learning how to preserve food, brew beer, make cheese, and raise chickens. Other people, including many who have been inspired by Louv’s work, are doing so for the healing that nature provides. Still others turn to nature in their search for deity and a meaningful spiritual connection to the Earth that we share.
In Cliff Seruntine’s most recent book, Seasons of the Sacred Earth, he argues that in “this artificially rational, industrial era … it is important that folks remember the truth of a deeper reality.”Seasons of the Sacred Earth is a collection of thoughts, stories, and magical experiences that take the reader from the Louisiana bayou to the Alaskan wilderness and, finally, to his family’s Novia Scotia homestead. Seruntine’s storytelling and vivid imagery make the magic of forests, raging storms and even a struggling vegetable garden come alive.
Raised in Louisiana, Seruntine recounts the many childhood hours spent in a “vast, rambling, lazy realm of forests and farms,” losing all sense of time on river banks while deepening friendships on forest floors and becoming mesmerized by the natural magic surrounding him. After leaving this magical environment for college and career, he and his wife moved to Alaska where he learned the ethical hunting of caribou, the way to fish for salmon, and the process for harvesting wild mushrooms.
When his chosen career path as a psychotherapist took a toll on his spirit, he and his family moved to Nova Scotia and began setting up a homestead called Twa Corbies Hollow(“Two Raven’s Hollow). There he “found again the truth [he] knew as a child—the natural world is enchanted, powerful, healing, and ultimately vital to our wellbeing.”
Arranged by months, Seruntine’s book takes us through the Wheel of the Year and highlights the lessons that his family has learned by living close and in rhythm with the Earth. The most important lesson, it seems, is to “live in harmony with life’s weave and Nature keeps you.”
Seasons of the Sacred Earth is rich with stories and ideas that many practitioners of earth-centric religions will appreciate. He does not include spells, scripted meditations, or devotional prayers; nor does he include any history and interpretations of various deities across culture and faith traditions. Seruntine set out not to write a homesteading how-to book, but rather to offer a book about this “knowing,” about finding our spiritual journey in Nature rather than in books. He recalls,
… the more I studied the various paths, the more I realized their essential foundation in Nature was slipping from the experience of modern folk. Most modern witches I had met had never picked a wild herb in the woods. Followers of Norse lore were more concerned with casting runes than wandering the wild mountains in search of wisdom, as their god Odhinn had done. The British druids, who come from a path firmly rooted in the green world, had become an almost entirely urbanized and academic lot. I recall a discussion I once read on an online druid mailing list. A new person asked what he should study to become a contemporary druid. Every person on the network referred him to enormous reading lists on Celtic history and culture. Not one thought to advise him to immerse himself in the green world for a spell. How very odd for a path that is considered a Nature religion to entirely neglect the essential need of Nature.
In many popular seasonally-based, Pagan books and you will find crafts, spells, and meditations for each sabot or rite of passage. The writings often seek to inform us of the harvest of Samhain, the bitter cold and promise of Imbolc, the explosion of life at Beltane, and the hard work and toil of Lughnasadh. Seruntine’s stories take us beyond the meditations and workings that many of us perform in our climate-controlled temples with store-bought bread and wine, which are often followed by a feast of food shipped in from all over the globe.
Through his stories, Seruntine offers the reader the experience of enormous hauls of ripe sweet fruit from Grandfather Apple, blinding blizzards, stir-crazy humans and animals, balefires with friends, home-brewed cider, frighteningly violent electrical storms, and a soggy-turned-wildly-abundant vegetable garden. Along the way, Seruntine weaves in conversations and experiences shared with his daughters on magic and spirit folk, communication with other species, and sightings of the barn bruanighe and the Green Man.
Between the talks of magic are seemingly practical, mundane discussions of archery, soil improvement, and goat milking, through which he brings validity to his belief that “[m]agic comes in many ways, and there is enchantment in so many things. All you have to do is really open your eyes. It’s everywhere.” The few family recipes that he does share, such as making cider, cheese, and cough syrup, feel like spiritual processes full of tradition and the wealth of the seasons.He acknowledges that it may be difficult for many people to leave the comforts (and discomforts) of the cities and suburbs in order to set up a self-reliant homestead like Twa Corbies. He writes:
You don’t have to launch off deep into the wilds as we have done, but you do have to go out your door. The trees and grass, the animals and brooks and sea, and earth and sky have much to teach any who look at them. There is magic and wonder beyond your door, and it is happy to enrich you if you walk its way.
As it is for many Pagans, Seruntine’s relationship with deity and with nature is highly personal. This book is an intimate peak into his own experiences and interpretations. There are times when he has profound epiphanies that will easily stir excitement, despair, and understanding. There are also moments that, in his wanderings through the forest and farm, his explanations are so particular to his observations and experiences that readers may find it challenging to follow his logic. But logic is often not the stuff of enlightenment. Seruntine’s overall message is that, if we take care of the land and its spirit folk, they will take care of us in return. There is wisdom is in the dirt, in the trees, in the animals and in the Great Cycle.
The development of deep spiritual relationships with the land is not a new idea. It was over 150 years ago that Henry David Thoreau built himself a tiny house by Walden pond as an experiment, the experience leading to him famously writing, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” His explorations became an inspiration to many who value and advocate for the environment. Seruntine, like Richard Louv, is newer contributor to a continued movement toward a simple life embracing nature for both health, balance and spiritual connectivity.
Seasons of the Sacred Earth is available through book retailers in paperback and electronic formats. Seruntine’s ongoing musings and activities can also be found on Facebook and on his blog.