Earth Day, the largest secular holiday, is today. Those who feel their spirituality is tied to the Earth may feel, as I do, that Earth Day is an important day of action.
How did Earth Day get started?
Concern for the environment became pronounced around the time of the Industrial Revolution. The rise of factories and coal consumption created an unprecedented level in air pollution and associated health risks. City life was made even harsher because of the growing problem of untreated human waste. Awareness slowly grew about the importance of the environment, creating the conservation movement in the early 19th century.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the United States Environmental Protection Agency was born. The watershed moment that spurred both the EPA and the modern environmental movement was the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969. The river was at one time one of the most polluted waterways in America. Raw sewage and metals were dumped without precautions into the water. Yes, Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it literally caught on fire — not once, not twice…but 13 times, the first fire occurring in 1868. The photos below speak for themselves.
Civilians were outraged that companies and corporations were allowed to toxify the Earth with few legal repercussions. 20 million Americans — 1 in 10 — showed up for the first Earth Day. It was used as a rallying cry for people who believed that our only home shouldn’t be a trash can; from their activism, laws such as the Clean Water Act [and the Endangered Species Act] were passed, and now Earth Day is a holiday celebrated by millions of people all over the world. As for the Cuyahoga River, it is cleaned up and remains an inspiring story of how dedicated individuals can make a difference. Today, the river is home to 60 species of fish and other critters.
Pagans and Earth Day
Earth Day is not a Pagan holiday — it’s origins are rooted in activism and concern over the health of the environment and, by extension, people and entire ecosystems. But many Pagans feel a deep connection to the Earth, going so far as to say their religions are “Earth-based.” For that reason, they may feel a spiritual call to environmental activism.
Rituals on this day should focus on healing Mother Earth, on issues such as rain forest destruction or the tragedy of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the intersection of environmental degradation and other forms of oppression such as classism and sexism. Just remember to supplement magic and ritual with real-world action, such as vowing to recycle more, to eliminate plastic bottles from your life, going meat free for a day, or organizing a neighborhood trash pick up.
This year, Earth Day coincides nicely with the Lyrid meteor shower, so perhaps make your rituals nocturnal to take advantage of this once a year celestial show! Let’s not forget NASA’s cute Global Selfie event — will you be participating?
Of course, Earth Day is everyday. Here are some of the simple things I try to do to help make the Earth a greener, happier place:
- When it’s warm and sunny, I hang my clothes to dry outside instead of using the dryer
- I turn off lights when I’m not in the room
- I use a reusable water bottle instead of plastic ones
- I recycle aluminum cans
- I seek out locally-grown produce
What simple things do you do? Tell us in the comments, and have a blessed Earth Day!
- Earth Day: How it All Began (nationalgeographic.com)
- History of Earth Day (earthday.org)
- Cuyahoga River fire 40 years ago ignited an ongoing cleanup campaign (cleveland.com)