Ecopsychology edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind
Edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner
Sierra Club Books, 1995
334 pages

So you might wonder why I’m reviewing a book on psychology here. It’s not just because there’s an essay on ecopsychology and shamanism in it (though that’s a definite talking point). Rather, it’s because (outside of neopaganism) ecopsychology is the closest thing to animism that the dominant culture in the U.S. has at this point. I found numerous parallels between this book and my own beliefs as a pagan and (neo)shaman, and I think that any pagan who has animistic beliefs and/or has a commitment to the world around them (environmental or otherwise) should take a good, long read of this book.

One of the editors, Theodore Roszak, coined the term “ecopsycholoy” in his 1992 book The Voice of the Earth (which is on my want list). This anthology is a continuation of that current. It contains over twenty essays from therapists, ecologists, and other folks on the psychology of connection with the world around us–and seeing ourselves as a part of that world, not separate from it. I’m not going to go through every single essay; I will say that I enjoyed every single one–this is a very solid collection. I do want to highlight a few of the themes covered:

–Ecopsychology as a way to make the boundaries between Self and Other more permeable, but not to the point of the complete dissolution of Self. One of our biggest problems is that we’re too independent, to the point of ill health on numerous levels. Ecopsychology finds healthy balances that address both the needs of Self and of Other.

–Another theme, related to that, is ridding ourselves of our hangup on dualities–for example, not assuming that reducing the rigidity of one’s boundaries of Self will automatically result in a complete loss of Self. Instead, ecopsychology promotes a different way of looking at the world.

–Social issues are another theme. Ecopsychology is brought into conjunction with feminist theory in a few of the essays. The domination and controlling headspace of men enacted towards women is directly linked to the domination and control of the natural environment by humanity, particularly in the Western world. Additionally, there’s a brilliant essay on confronting racial issues in ecopsychology, as well as the concept of “deconstructing whiteness” and what that means for psychology and ecology.

–The current destruction of the natural environment is explored as being the result of pathologies, to include addiction and narcissistic personality disorder. These are some of the most powerful essays in the collection, and as they’re early on, they’re a hard-hitting opener.

There’s plenty more to this meaty text. For pagans, there’s plenty to chew on. Besides the parallels between ecopsychology and animism, and approaching the world as an interconnected whole populated by spirits, deities, and a living Earth, there’s also a neat essay about combining core shamanism and ecopsychological practice. And one of the essays delves deeply into indigenous shamanisms and what the author brought out of an experience halfway around the world from where he lived.

This is not an easy text to read, and not just for the writing style. It thoroughly challenges many of our assumptions about how the world is put together, and how we as humans (especially those of us in Western cultures) approach it. If you feel like it’ll be preaching to the choir, read it anyway. If you think it isn’t relevant to anything in your life, read it anyway. And if you think you’ll disagree with every bit of it–you got it, read it anyway. There aren’t that many books that I would consider absolute required reading for neopagan folk, but this is one of them.

Five pawprints out of five.

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5 Comments

  1. Erynn said,

    October 6, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    I found this book to be excellent when it came out. I have quite a few of Roszak’s works and have always admired his style and his broad knowledge. If you have not already looked into them, topics of deep ecology and voluntary simplicity hook into ecopsychology very well and I think you’d benefit from exploring them as well.

  2. lupabitch said,

    October 6, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Erynn–Oh, definitely! I feel like I’ve got information overload right now, with all the new books I’m discovering attached to ones I’ve been reading. I read one, and end up with a dozen more recommendations. I need more time to read!!!!

  3. syncreticmystic said,

    October 7, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Ah, it has some ecofeminism as well. Very interesting to note. Lupa, you might want to hunt down a book called Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism.

    I took a seminar in college long ago called Buddhism, Feminism and Ecology. The book I mentioned was one of our required text, and the class was my first exposure to deep ecology and ecofeminist ideas. Another one from that class which I am itching to read again is Thinking Like A Mountain.

  4. mauvedragon said,

    October 31, 2008 at 7:31 am

    I’m going to have to read this one. Thankfully the library of my closest uni has one.

  5. treegod said,

    November 5, 2008 at 3:11 am

    Read it, and found it very good. Ecopsychology is a field that is being developed in many different ways and so the book reflects well the different approaches to the relationship between psychology and ecology.
    I think for neo-Pagans it could be quite grounding, putting this modern expression of nature-based beliefs into a modern perspective.


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