The idea that humankind, or to be more accurate mankind, is apart from nature seems to be one that is deeply rooted in western civilization. In contrast to the 'animistic' religions of many indigenous peoples, which, to use our terms, see culture in nature and nature in culture, Judaeo-Christian traditions tell of an origin in which man was given dominion over the beasts. Indeed, even the most ancient of the world's epics, the Tale of Gilgamesh, recounts the primordial struggle between kingly civilisation and the forests, the source of all evil and brutishness.
In ancient Greece, untamed nature was perceived as the domain of wild, irrational, female forces that contrasted with the rational culture ordered by males. In this world view, not only was nature a dangerous threat to the city state, but the wilderness beyond was peopled by barbarians, the epitome of whom were the Amazons—long haired, naked, female savages who represented the antithesis of Greek civilization.
These precepts endure to this day. In Europe's middle ages the image was sustained of an ordered world of culture managed by civilised men, bounded by a chaotic wilderness peopled with savages, the abode of pagan warlocks and witches who drew their power from the dangerous, evil forces of nature, the realm of Beelzebub himself. Similar images continue to sustain the views of fundamentalist Christian missionaries who perceive the shamanism of indigenous peoples as 'devil worship', and believe that as 'Commandos for Christ' they have a God-given role to 'reach the lost until they have reached the last', in 'Satan's last stronghold'.
Pioneering Christian fundamentalists brought these same views of nature to the New World where they found them strongly reinforced. Beset from the first by naked, long haired 'salvages' who knew nothing of Christ or modesty, their precarious frontier world depended on a taming of nature as they sought to wrest a living from a hostile 'wilderness'. As one local poet wrote in 1662, the forests of the New World were:
A waste and howling wilderness,
Where none inhabited
But hellish fiends and brutish men
That devils worshipped.
The notion that their society had a 'manifest destiny' to tame the wilds became for them a fundamental truth and political imperative.