Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Do Rivers Have Rights?

One of the important ways in which pagan religions differ from non-pagan ones lies in the pagan understanding that non-human beings, as well as human beings, have rights.

These rights are inherent, not bestowed.

Animals have rights.

Trees have rights.

Rivers have rights.

Mountains have rights.

Oceans have rights.

Planets have rights.

Stars have rights.

The rights of non-human beings, of course, are not the same rights as those of human beings, although there is certainly some overlap. To every people, its own law; to every being, its own rights.

In traditional cultures, the rights of non-human beings would be enshrined in the lore and passed down (generally by way of memory-songs) as a matter of course.

Alas: for the vast majority of New Pagans of the West, this means that our ancestral corpus of jurisprudence on this topic has long been lost.

Reconstituting this body of law will be one of our major responsibilities, as we look to the pagan future. An important first step will be the examination of First Nations lore on the subject.

The parliament of New Zealand/Aotearoa has recently done just this.

Today, the river Whanganui, in accordance with indigenous Maori principles, has been granted, in New Zealand law, the "rights of a human being."

The government of the United States—and of all countries—should have the wisdom, and the humility, to follow this same course of action.

The simple fact is that human rights are not enough.

As the ancestors well knew.

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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