University of Winchester

ABSTRACTS /Adrian Harris

Bodies of Faith

Humans are no longer in harmony with the world. Amidst the orchestra of nature we try to play a different tune, a discordant sound of a billion voices each trying to shout louder than all the others, an ignorant choir of discontent. Instinct and nature have become defined as a threatening 'otherness', which must be tamed and a key expression of this is our denial of the body. Western history reveals this in a shift from the 'open' to the 'closed' body, creating a dysfunctional myth that divides and degrades. In seeking a new myth that honours and makes whole I have explored the wisdom of the body and the power of ritual.

Ten years ago, in an article on Sacred Ecology (1995), I proposed that we possess a `somatic knowledge', held in our bones and muscles. I felt that this wisdom of the body was the key to healing the broken bond between humans and the natural world. I've since concluded that such `body knowledge' is more fundamental that the cerebral understanding our culture holds in such high esteem and that this embodied awareness is the wellspring of environmental spirituality.

In this paper I focus on contemporary 'Eco-Pagans' who express their spirituality through environmental activism and rituals of resistance. I propose that rituals that work with the body can overcome the Cartesian split between body and mind, self and other. Jone Salomonsen believes that: “Ritual may be seen as a legitimate means of knowing in its own right, as an embodied, incarnate means of knowing…” (2002:161)

I conclude that such embodied rituals offer a path to heal our relationship to the Earth, so that we can come to know deep in our bodies, that we are part of all that surrounds us, part of the sacredness of the Earth.


Harris, Adrian, `Sacred Ecology' in Paganism Today, ed. Harman and Harvey, Thorsons 1995

Salomonsen, Jone, Enchanted Feminism. Routledge, London, 2002.

Biographical Statement

A fascination with spirituality and ecology led me to Paganism, which I discovered while working for Friends of the Earth. As a result I founded the Dragon Environmental Network (1990) which draws together paganism and practical environmentalism. My PhD research at the University of Winchester focuses on embodied knowledge in eco-paganism and my key interests at the moment are Bourdieu, cognitive neuroscience, Feminist epistemology, and the 'somatic modes of attention' explored by Csordas.

I manage the e-mail discussion group on embodiment and The Green Fuse environmental philosophy site.


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