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Sacred Landscapes: solastalgia and spirituality in a melting world – Soul Search

This episode originally aired on Sunday, 17 October 2021.

Glaciers matter to the people who live near them – but how do these communities respond as more and more ice melts away?

Iceland is home to hundreds of breathtakingly beautiful glaciers that cover more than one-tenth of the island’s landmass – but they’re shrinking, retreating, dying. In 2019, Iceland marked its first-ever loss of a glacier with a funeral ceremony in the place once covered by the Okjökull glacier in western Iceland.

Jóhanna Harðardóttir is a priestess of Ásatrú, an ancient Icelandic pagan religion. She lives in the south-west of the island on a farm by a fjord just outside of Reykjavik.

“It’s the first religion of Iceland,” she says, and it orients her towards nature in a powerful way.

“We are, of course, nature,” Jóhanna says, “we are born from nature and we will go back there – and while we are here in between, everything we have and everything we will ever own comes from nature.”

“We need to nourish it, otherwise it will not give us anything.”

Dr Elizabeth Allison is the founder and director of the California Institute of Integral Studies’ graduate program in ecology, spirituality and religion. She’s also part of an international consortium of researchers exploring ‘Life Without Ice: Consequences of the extinction of glaciers in temperate and tropical regions’.

The environmental social scientist believes we need to pay more attention to the religious aspects of climate change.

“It’s important to pay attention to how people interpret these events and what meaning they’re getting from them because it will shape how they live their lives,” she says.

“I do think this attitude of veneration is missing from the global discussion of climate change. We know that people around the world do have these attitudes of veneration, and that’s very important to their understand of their lifeworld, their construction of meaning, their way of life, their understanding of what it means to be human.”

For Jóhanna, her Ásatrú faith, even her understanding of Ragnarök (the end of the world), gives her courage and hope to keep going in the face of climate change and environmental disasters.

“We have economic problems, we have COVID, we have wars,” she says. “It seems to those who are living in that moment it’s the end of the world – and it takes a lot of courage to go on.”

“This teaches us that the world will collapse in some way, but it will always be back because we believe that the world and life is ongoing, it’s a circle, it’s a ring, it’s eternity.”

Sacred Landscapes: Part II explores the coldest regions of our world covered in snow and ice, to suburbia – the areas that outline our cities but are central to our collective spirituality and sense of the sacred.

Catch up on Sacred Landscapes: Part II where we go to the church forests of Ethiopia, the mountains of Chinese Daoism, and the seascapes of Pacific theology.


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