Smokey and the Sacred:
Nature Religion,
Civil Religion, and American Paganism

Chas S. Clifton

Colorado State University-Pueblo

ABSTRACT:  In a land without surviving ancient Pagan practices and sites comparable to those in Europe, the "civil religion of nature" became a key element of the American Pagan movement. Pressed to account for themselves, American Pagans in the 1970s began to use the terms "nature religion" or "earth religion" to describe their practices. That they were able to do so, without challenge, is a tribute to the embededness of "nature religion" in the American psyche. In fact, nature religion may be viewed as an unacknowledged form of American civil religion, reinforced by government action and having as one of its central figures Smokey Bear, the cartoon mascot of the federal Forest Service.


Because of the terms of my publishing agreement with the journal Ecotheology, I cannot post the entire text of of this paper on the Web. It will be published in Ecotheology in late 2003, and I will provide a more precise URL at that time for the journal.