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This work investigates what motivates environmental action through developing a case study on how ecological conscience forms in the ritual practices of a new religious movement. I conducted a two-year ethnographic study with a community of contemporary Heathens in eastern and southwestern Ontario to investigate how ritual practices are related to the formation of conscience in the group. I used participant observation and interviews to investigate how ritual is related to conscience formation, and how it can generate a sense of obligation to others, including nonhuman others. I draw on social psychology (especially terror management theory), cognitive science, anthropology, ritual studies, and philosophy to describe and interpret three ritual practices, each of which involve some sort of gift giving. First I discuss high sumbel, a ritual of sharing drinks and giving gifts, then Dísablót, an example of ancestor veneration in which offerings (a type of gift) are given to the dead, and finally the procession of Nerthus, in which offerings are made to a figure participants understand as a power of nature associated with a particular bioregion. I find that giving gifts and expressing thanks in ritual inspires a sense of gratitude and a desire to give in turn in participants. Among these Heathens this gratitude and felt sense of obligation extends beyond human relations to include the more than human world. When one gives a gift one develops an appreciation for what one has already received, and when ritual activities include things that make participants aware of their mortality, the values that come to mind during the activity can be operationalized. In this case, values of inclusion, gratitude, sharing, and generosity are reinforced through ritual practice and influence participants’ dispositions, attitudes, and habitual behaviours.
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Barbara Jane Davy (2021). Wyrd Ecology. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17250