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Three Cranes Grove is hosting an Earth-Along to honor Earth Day this year. It’s three days of individual practice that we all do “together” (in our separate ways) to honor the Earth Mother.

Earth Along - Day 1

You can find a full liturgy of offering to the Earth Mother at the Three Cranes Blog today as well.

I was planning on doing some garden work, and some meditation with my plants, as I tend my bit of earth and remember that I am the Druid of this Place… except that it just started pouring, and I am absolutely slammed at work. Perhaps tonight’s walk can be specifically dedicated to the Earth Mother (assuming it is not still pouring rain), and I’ll say hello to the trees I’ve planted in our neighborhood over the last few years. (My neighborhood does a tree planting day in February every year, to replace trees in the common area who have died or been damaged.)

I encourage you to find your feet on the Earth sometime today if you can do nothing else.

Hail to you, Hertha, Mother Earth
We ask that you support and surround us
For this rite, as you do for all rites,
For this day, as you do for all days.

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Last year I pondered the relevance of Earth Day at all, and the importance of Unless. I think those thoughts are relevant again this year, though with a slightly different slant.

This year I opted to participate in Three Cranes Grove’s “Earth Along” – From Saturday to Tuesday, I did something in honor of the Earth Mother as a devotional practice in celebration of Earth Day.

And maybe that’s not the same spirit that most of America approaches Earth Day with. It’s certainly not how I’ve ever celebrated in the past. In the past, Earth day has been about hard questions but token gestures, or reading The Lorax but taking home tiny potted trees that will surely die in the quickly approaching summer heat. (It’s 85F today.) In that light, Earth Day seems futile in the face of climate change, peak oil, fracking, pollution, and all the myriad ways that humans are exploiting the planet’s supply of non-renewable resources.

If nothing else, today really is a good day to reread The Lorax – it seems increasingly relevant in our increasingly consumer oriented culture.

At the far end of town, where the grickle grass grows,
And the wind smells slow and sour when it blows,
And no birds ever sing, excepting old crows,
Is the street of the Lifted Lorax.

(Do you need a thneed?) But I digress.

Earth Day as a religious observance seemed to make sense to me this year, so I squeezed in tiny devotions all weekend (while redecorating half my house). It was a very different experience – much less about token environmentalism and much more about devotion to one of the beings I honor as part of my religious and spiritual expression. (I did not honor Nerthus, choosing instead to honor the generic Earth Mother with no name. I can’t say exactly why I did my rituals this way, but it felt right so I went with it.)

I’m also feeling called to make this a regular part of my practice. I am not sure when I will fit in an additional offering, but perhaps I can just make watering my (newly planted) front beds a devotional practice in and of itself. Not having a garden this spring means I’m feeling out of touch with my bit of earth, and that’s never a good feeling for a Druid.

I hope you find meaning in today’s celebration of the Earth, however you honor her. The prayer below is from the Earth Along, which I liked and I hope you like as well.

earth

And may your Earth day, and all your days walking on the Earth, be blessed.

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Well, I wrote up a whole post about the Earth Mother earlier this week, and scheduled it for Tuesday… and then wordpress apparently ate it. So now I’m going to try to recreate it, which will probably be substandard to the original. But anyway, you get two E posts today, thanks to WordPress not paying enough attention to my earlier post! (Grumble…)

Rev. Ian Corrigan shared a post the other day on the Three Centers of Paganism – Deity Centered, Earth Centered, and Self Centered (not in the “selfish” sense but in the “development of the self” sense). I found it to be really thought provoking in how it reflected the divisions in contemporary Neopaganism (and how those divisions often end up with people getting mad at each other. To quote Rev. Corrigan, “In ADF terms we are good at Deity Centered, hound ourselves about being Earth Centered, and are just starting to develop stuff for Self Centered.” I’d argue that the Initiate’s Path is largely a Self Centered practice, which is part of what draws me to it, but I like that it takes place within ADF’s greater context, which strives to make a place for all three centers of thought.

ADF ritual is, primarily, about sacrifice to the Three Kindreds, but each ritual takes a space at the beginning and end to honor and thank the Earth Mother. In a way, she transcends the Kindreds – she is more than just a Goddess (though many approach her as such) and she is certainly more than just a Nature Spirit (she is, perhaps THE Nature Spirit?).

I usually approach the Earth Mother as Nerthus, the Vedic Earth goddess of the early germanic peoples. She isn’t a happy flowers and rainbows kind of goddess – she is intimidating, a goddess of community peace and sovereignty, and her historical practices reinforce the kind of devotion that her people had for her. From Tacitus:

By contrast, the Langobardi are distinguished by being few in number. Surrounded by many might peoples they have protected themselves not by submissiveness but by battle and boldness. Next to them come the Ruedigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarines, and Huitones, protected by river and forests. There is nothing especially noteworthy about these states individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth, and believes that she intervenes in human affairs and rides through their peoples. There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she designs to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, all objects of iron are locked away, then and only then do they experience peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of human society and the priest brings her back to her temple. Afterwards the chariot, the cloth, and, if one may believe it, the deity herself are washed in a hidden lake. The slaves who perform this office are immediately swallowed up in the same lake. Hence arises dread of the mysterious, and piety, which keeps them ignorant of what only those about to perish may see.
A R Birley Translation

When Tacitus says “swallowed up by the same lake” he likely means “ritually drowned”. The only people who could look upon the face of Nerthus were then killed. She’s more than a little bit intimidating!

The Anglo Saxons also had reverence for the Earth as “Mother”, as referenced in several charms, the most famous of which is the Aecerbot – a remedy for a fallen field. It contains both Christian and Heathen elements, but is a good suggestion that for the Anglo Saxons, the Earth Mother idea was strong enough to survive Christianization.

But I don’t just approach the Earth Mother as a goddess. I also approach her as an idea, as an inspiration for environmentalism and “right living” by the land around me. Having a good relationship with my landbase, and being a Druid of this Place – stuff I’ve talked about here before. It’s all important. It’s also hard. It prompts hard questions like “Should I be trying to find a new job (that might not be as good as my current job) so that I drive less and burn less gasoline every week?” and “Is it more important to have a garden or to have sanity and downtime?” and “I want to have an organic lawn, which means it will have weeds – what do I do if I get a letter from the homeowner’s association about the weeds in my yard?” or even “Eating lots of animal protein isn’t the most sustainable way to live, but I lift heavy weights regularly and my body needs lots of protein to recover from my workouts adequately.” Being in communion with your landbase often means tackling hard questions about your energy use, the sustainability of the way you eat, and many other things.

Who is the Earth Mother then? To me she is something bigger and more critical than “just” a Goddess – I relate to her AS a Goddess, but I also relate to her as the Earth itself.

Hail, Earth, mother of all;
Be abundant in (the) Gods’ embrace,
Filled with food for our folk’s need.

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An account of the Dedicant’s efforts to work with nature, honor the Earth, and understand the impacts and effects of the Dedicant’s lifestyle choices on the environment and/or the local ecosystem and how she or he could make a difference to the environment on a local level. (500 word min)

I’ve had a personal relationship with nature since I was a small child, when I had a “Nature Sanctuary” in the woods behind my house (there was a goodish sized clearing with an old stump), and I would have nature rituals there. How this managed not to attract the attention of my very Christian parents I will never know, but I treasure those memories, and when I go to nature in visualization I often start from my memories of that place. I like to meditate outside, and while I’m fortunate to live in a place where it is temperate except for during the summer (when it is miserable to be outside), that means I live with the Cult of The Eternal Yard Work, and during pretty much any daylight hours I can hear the sounds of yard machinery. During the week, weekends, evenings, mornings – it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve even tried going to the local park to meditate when I get extra time, but there I am regaled by the sounds of the local airforce base.

I feel an especially strong connection to nature at the beach. There is a magic to the ocean (and a feeling of being very small in the face of a very great power) that I find is both soothing and discomforting in a very good way. I try to get to the beach as often as I can, even if it’s just to sit on the seawall for an hour or two and listen to the waves. I love to meditate on the beach, where the sound of the waves becomes almost trance-inducing, and where the combination of warm sun, gentle waves (it is the gulf coast), the sea breeze, and the sand between my toes is like a healing balm for my soul. I have seen the truly powerful effects of the sea as well as the peaceful ones, so I am under no misconceptions about it being a force to be reckoned with. The sea I usually encounter is a gentle one, though, and I truly enjoy those moments of connectedness that I feel there.

My other main connection to nature comes from caring for the little bit of Earth around my house. While I spend a lot of time outside, and am an avid gardener, I don’t meditate in my yard much because of the machinery noise, so I sustain my relationships either through active cultivation or through visualization inside where it’s quiet. My strongest connection to nature is probably through my garden and my yard, where I can have a direct impact.

Gardening helps me to connect with the Wheel of the Year (even though I live in a place with odd growing seasons compared to those in Northern Europe) and to the powers that drive that cycle. It also puts me in touch with the Earth herself. While I more frequently address the power of nature (and the cycle of life and death) as masculine, I feel the Earth itself is strongly feminine. I honor my connection to the Earth as her child: as the saying goes “from you all things emerge, and to you all things return”. I suppose that means I honor the Earth as a Goddess in her own right, though in my rituals I sometimes give her a name (often Nerthus, but sometimes Jord, or Danu). I am just as comfortable with her just being Earth, or Gaia, or the Earth Mother, and I actively seek to make my presence here one of respect and honor. I know that the modern lifestyle is not always conducive to Earth-friendly living, and that dichotomy is something I truly struggle with.

In light of that struggle, there are a number of things I do on a regular basis that seem mundane on the surface but are a crucial part of my Druidry. I compost as much as I possibly can – and buy compostable containers when I can as well. I use that compost to feed my garden, which I do not put chemical fertilizers on (though I do use an abundance of manure and supplemental compost, as the land here is almost entirely red clay). I also do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in my yard – with one exception: fire ants. Both my husband and I are ferociously allergic to fire ant bites, so they are my one pesticide exception. I also recycle as many things as possible, and try to buy recyclable packaging as much as possible. I use only re-usable bags at the grocery store, including some mesh produce bags that have drastically reduced the amount of plastic that comes through our house. We are also slowly replacing the light bulbs in our home with LED lights, as they use almost no electricity. Also, I keep the thermostat set very high in the summer (80-82 degrees in the house) to reduce our air conditioning usage. I try to buy cleaners that are biodegradable (or use things like vinegar and baking soda), as well as using personal care products that don’t use plastic containers or contain petrochemical-derived ingredients.

What could I be doing better? Lots of things. My recycling efforts are notable, but I haven’t taken a stand against purchasing things that have nonrecyclable packaging entirely. I also sometimes get lazy and throw things away instead of cleaning them out to be recycled. I would also like to be a better advocate for my landbase. I live in a threatened area – the coastal wetlands. These wetlands are disappearing rapidly, due to a combination of human encroachment and changes in the waterlines, and while my area was not personally affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the plants and animals in this ecosystem are still threatened. I would like to look for some local conservation organizations to support, though that support will primarily need to be financial for now.

Overall I feel like I’ve had my connections with nature pretty solidly created before I started the Dedicant Path, so over the last year I’ve spent my time reinforcing and thinking about those connections that I had already made. I also stepped up my efforts at living responsibly. This is one of the aspects that drew me to Druidry, and while I haven’t always thought of it as honoring the Earth Mother as a Goddess, caring for the planet – especially the little corner I’m responsible for – is something I’ve found important for a very long time. I hope as I continue with Druidry that these connections will only deepen, especially as I make more relationships with the Nature Spirits as a Kindred.

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Recently, alongside all my scholarly reading, I’ve been indulging in a bit of what I’ll call “brain candy” reading. Fun, fast fiction reads that I can sit back, eat some popcorn, and just devour for the sheer pleasure and entertainment of reading. Some of that has been at the behest of friends who are authors (being a beta reader is a LOT of fun, you get to watch good stories turn into published novels), but the rest of the time I’ve been making my way through Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles – so far I’ve read Hounded and most of Hexed.

They’re especially fun, as Urban Fantasy goes, since Druids don’t usually feature much in those stories, and this one is focused on one Druid (Atticus O’Sullivan, but that’s not his real name). Specifically, he’s the last Druid still remaining, and the books chronicle his many adventures and misadventures with creatures, witches, demons, faeries, Gods and Goddesses, a talking dog who wants to be Ghengis Khan, and his team of lawyers (who happen to be a vampire and a werewolf). It’s silly, snort-with-laughter fun, but at the same time there have been a few poignant moments that really resonated with me as a “modern day” Druid.

First, his connection with the Earth is amazingly powerful. It’s where he gets all his magic and power, and he clearly returns that favor with love and care. I am inspired by him to be a better herbalist, and spend more time with my connection to the Earth Mother.

Second, his relationship with his Gods and Goddesses is based on the same rules of hospitality and worship. He keeps the old ways, and they keep him. Hearne’s portrayals of the Tuatha de Dannan are really something else, and especially the Goddesses are powerful forces of action and change and movement in the novels. They’re also clearly acting out of their own interests, and are not above pulling a fast one on their favorite Druid if they think they can get something out of him.

But third, I was reading last night, and he said something offhand while trying to get away with yet another one of his shenanigans that really stuck with me. I don’t have the full quote, but when his lawyer was arguing about his ability to climb up into his neighbor’s tree, he turned to him to reassure him with the words “That tree loves me.” He then went on to talk about how he spends time tending and talking to it, and making sure it’s well cared for and loved back, and how it would keep him safe.

And I thought to myself… do the trees in my yard love me? Have I really taken the time to get to know those trees on the level that they’d say they cared for me, as much as I profess to care for them?

Of course, I hold no illusions that I’ll ever be an Iron Druid out of a fantasy novel, weilding powerful Irish magic and living for thousands of years, battling witches and evil fae and demons and all that. (Though, admittedly, I’d sign up for the 12 years of memorization and the ritual tattoos for the privelege, but that’s what wish fulfillment fantasy novels are all about, right?)

But I have trees I can care for, and a garden full of vegetables and herbs, and a piece of land to tend.

And maybe, just maybe, my trees will love me back.

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Where is the Ground?.

Another excellent post from Sarenth Odinsson about the future, which seems to me a nice tie in to yesterdays post about the bees.

We are coming to what seems like a turning point in the environment – whether that’s the loss of pollinators, the eventual running out of oil, the eventual burning out of the land we live on, the detriments of monocultured crops, the catastrophically changing climate, the droughts, the fresh water shortages and waste, the pollution of air and waterways, the mountains and mountains of trash… the list goes on and on.

I found this especially poignant:

How do we abandon the outdated models of life and living so that we may, once we have found it, embrace the ground on which we are to build the future?

While each person must find their own solution, here are a few of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Each of us must find a way to live in better concert with our local ecosystems.
  • Each of us must consume less, grow more, and reuse everything to its capacity.
  • What we consume must have some kind of long-term use.
  • Land, both the sustainable preservation of and growth on arable land, and the preservation of wild places must be at the top of the priority list.  No viable environment, and it will not matter what kind of future we try to make.
  • Our communities need to bring its fundamental functions back down to a local level wherever possible.
  • Our communities must support its local workers.
  • Our communities must, in every way possible, learn to live with LESS: Less Energy Stimulation Stuff.

None of this is easy, but that said, neither is waiting for Peak Oil to take full effect and you, as well as your neighbors, loved ones, friends, and so on, are left scrambling with no real plan to tackle the challenge at hand.  Far better to get through the theories and on to practical application while there is still some time left.  There is also the thought of ‘do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good’.  Do I do all of the above?  No.  I do not own the land I live on, nor do I have a lot of control as to what comes into or out of the home, but I do what I can, where I can.  Even raising awareness of Peak Oil is doing something, though the hard work, as mentioned earlier, will still need to get done sooner or later.

I talk a lot about being the Druid of This Place – that our Druidry needs to take care of the local land as much as it does the whole Earth. Do I always succeed at being a good steward of that land? Absolutely no. My garden is small (only 10ft by 12ft, on a very large lot) in a large yard, and my corporate job means I spend less time caring for it than I probably should. I won’t grow more than enough food to be tasty and occasional for a short period in May/June, not enough even to store for the rest of the year.

As a druid, this often bothers me. I feel like with the resources at my disposal, I should be doing more.

But the thing about all of this?

It’s hard.

It’s really fucking hard.

It’s hard to change how you eat, what you eat, how you purchase things, how you spend your spare time, how you live on your land – especially if you live in an apartment. It’s HARD. This isn’t “replace some lightbulbs” this is “fundamentally rethink your lifestyle”.

As much as I try to do, I still drive 35 miles each way to my job every day, I still play video games in the evenings, and I still purchase things I don’t truly “need” (though I try to buy them from small artisans when possible, they’re still not necessary purchases). I don’t cook all of my meals from locally sourced produce, and I don’t even buy organic 100% of the time.

I’m trying to get better at it, but I still fall short of a lot of what I could do to make my “footprint” smaller. I still have lots of skills to learn that would help me be more self-sufficient. Those skills take time though – time that I don’t have a lot of, not least because I spend 2.5 hours a day in traffic.

I don’t really know how to put the two together. How do I continue to live my suburban lifestyle in a way that I can sustain while sustaining the future of the Earth?

It’s a tough question.

I guess I just have to keep working at it, and letting my spirituality help influence my intellectual decisions.

 

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I’ve talked about my concerns about the future of honey bee populations here before, but the bees are in the news again this week, with reports of 31% of colonies not surviving this past winter.

This is bad. Really bad.

If you’re not familiar with what’s happening with honey bees, I highly recommend the links above. They’ll get you the basic idea of this problem, which is widespread (worldwide) and not getting better.

What can we do? Well, there’s not a lot of concrete knowledge, but there are a few tips floating around.

  • Support organic produce – one of the big red flags for a lot of these studies is the presence of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that is neuroactive. It’s probably not the ONLY thing affecting the bees, but purchasing produce that doesn’t use these chemicals helps, in a small way, to reduce their heavy and widespread use.
  • Keep your yard weedy – bees thrive on wild grasses and “weeds”, and a lot of farmland and yard land has done away with the native grasslands that bees need to get the nutrition they need to survive. Reducing pesticide and herbicide use in your yard not only directly helps keep bees from getting sick, it increases the variety of plants they can eat for survival. Cultural diversity in your yard may not look like a golf course, but it’s better for the environment for a ton of reasons.
  • Stop using commercial pesticides – just like commercial herbicides are bad for bees, pesticides directly affect them. Move in the direction of organic garden and yard care. It might be a bit more work, but it’s better for you, for the environment, for your local waterways, AND for the bees.
  • Plant a bee garden – it won’t look as manicured as a rose garden, but many varieties of plants are bee-friendly. Plant them in an area not near your walkways and home entrances (especially if someone in your house is allergic).  This is a good list to start from (there are lots to choose!) if you’re not sure what kinds of plants are bee attractors. Even if you can’t devote a whole garden to your honey bee friends, planting bee-friendly plants, especially native ones, is helpful!
  • Buy Local Honey – this helps keep local beekeepers in business. With so many hives dying out, apiarists are in high demand, and the more we support them, the better their chances of staying in business to help keep our food crops pollinated. If you’re not sure where to get local honey, or your grocer tends to only stock Big Name Brands that aren’t even guaranteed to be from the US, try asking at a farmer’s market or your local hardware store. I buy my honey by the quart at the hardware store, and it comes from about 20 miles from my house.
  • Support Groups that Support Bees – Not everyone on that list gets a true thumbs up from an environmental perspective, but there are several research groups there that accept donations and are actively working to further honey bee research.

It all seems like a drop in the bucket – and it is. There’s not much one individual can do in the face of a worldwide bee collapse that is likely being worsened by our commercial agriculture methods. But as with so many other things, every little bit helps. It is daunting, but I feel like it’s important to try anyway.

So have some honey in your tea, and enjoy your almonds, blueberries, melons, and fresh vegetables. But don’t forget the bees that make those things possible. The bees need our help.

If I find more information on how to help fund honeybee research, I will post it as well.

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