Alaine Low and Soraya Tremayne
Myths, rituals and spiritual beliefs and practices in different traditions include many references to measures taken by humans to conquer, appease, maintain or create a harmonious relationship with nature. These beliefs and practices are articulated in ways as various and as numerous as the societies themselves. To nurture and protect their relationship with their environment, societies have developed a number of belief systems which manifest themselves in the worship of gods, objects, monotheistic religions, and, as the contributors to this collection demonstrate, more recently a return to paganism, and revivals of shamanism and witchcraft. Anthropological literature is abundant in demonstrating that ‘rituals, practices, beliefs and spiritual values are often adaptive responses (not consciously) to the ecological environment’.1 The concern for the environment is not, therefore, a phenomenon restricted to the last part of the twentieth century, but awareness of the global scale of the problem is obviously new.
People in the West are increasingly disillusioned by what they commonly perceive as the failure of rational and scientific explanations of their relationship with the natural world and this has led to a search for new ways of understanding. At the same time, late twentieth-century dissatisfaction with the inability of traditional, organized religions to provide a more harmonious way of life, has led to a search for alternative ideologies for spiritual fulfilment. The dualistic approach of Western culture in separating mind and body, male and female, spirit and matter, culture and nature, and placing the former above the latter is questioned. In the West popular interest in the spiritual values of ‘traditional’ societies, and in Eastern philosophies and religions, has been based upon the assumption