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Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

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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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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Today is Earth Day – a holiday I have serious mixed feelings about.

On one hand, hooray Earth Day! Let’s all be responsible to the planet! Let’s recycle! Go Druidry! Go Earth Mother! Yay!

On the other? Is this kind of popular activism actually changing anything? Somehow I don’t think so.

Earth Day really strikes me as a big fat cop out a lot of the time. Like Earth Hour (where you use no electricity for one hour on one evening in March), it’s a day where people can pretend to do things that are good for the Earth and feel good about themselves, and then go right back to doing whatever they were doing before. It’s about the warm fuzzy feelings, and not about meaningful change.

For example, today in celebration of Earth Day my office “environmental team” is handing out “Earth-colored” cupcakes and cookies. That’s how we’re celebrating. Who knows what kind of dyes are in the coloring for the cookies and cupcakes, or where they were purchased, or if they come wrapped in plastic.  It’s Earth Day! Any excuse for baked goods is a good excuse! Oh and there’s a contest for the best Earth Day poster, created by the child of an employee.

Still, the sentiment is a good one, and so I’m torn about it. It’s good to do even little things to help the Earth. But I don’t want to overstate the importance of things like Earth Day in the face of very real activism and the very real changes that need to happen to reduce our impact on the planet.

If we keep going how we’re going, we’re going to quickly run out of planet to take advantage of. We’re already pushing close to (or past) peak oil – the point after which the amount of oil we can get out of the ground can no longer continue to expand, but after which our desires for oil and electricity aren’t going to go down. It’s a scary thought, but one that is bolstered by alternative and nontraditional energy sources (of which I think there won’t be “one star savior”, but it will take a combination of energies and conservation attempts and changes in our lifestyle to make work).

In the face of things like that, or the rash of oil related disasters, or the floating trash “islands” or the constant degradation of our wetlands (like the swamp near which I live), it’s hard to be really positive about Earth Day, because I don’t feel like it provokes meaningful change. It’s a great thing to teach kids, but as adults, it loses some of it’s oomph for being just another social excuse and day of pointless social-media-activism.

Of course, I have no better ideas about how to provoke meaningful change from people who aren’t interested in changing. In fact, I think that exercise is pretty fruitless, so maybe it’s through campaigns like Earth Day that we find little handholds and footholds for bigger environmental projects.

And I’m always drawn back to the words of the great Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

The whole point of the Lorax is individual change, and the impact that one person can have – good or bad – on the world around them. And maybe that’s the whole point of Earth Day – maybe it’s fruitless and silly and superficial, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t personally take it as a challenge to myself as a Child of the Earth.

In short, I want my own Druidry to be a recognition of Unless. I’m going to take up the mantle of Unless, and use today as a reconfirmation of the things that I CAN do to protect the Earth and reduce my footprint, even as a cubicle-working, long-commute-driving, suburb-living Druid.

I CAN compost, and plant trees, and garden organically, and turn lights off, and use LED bulbs, and recycle as much as I can (and try to buy less plastic too). I CAN re-use produce bags and bring my own grocery sacks. I CAN combine errands so that I’m not doing unnecessary driving, and make sure my car is in good working order for my long (70 mile round trip) commute, so that I pollute as little as possible. I CAN work from home when I’m allowed, to save gas. I CAN work on hobbies and crafts that promote reusing things, repurposing things, and valuing the hard work that goes into them. I CAN donate my clothes to goodwill when they no longer fit, instead of throwing them away. I CAN work to value people, time, and experiences over things, money, and stuff. I CAN spend time with my landbase, and support organizations that take care of it and the wildlife who live here.

I can’t change how other people react (or don’t) to Earth Day or Earth Hour or whatever other pop-culture, warm-fuzzy environmentalism that gets tossed around on Facebook but doesn’t create any progress. In the face of the overwhelming mess that we’ve made of the planet, something like Earth Day can seem silly – and maybe it is.

The changes made for one day are only useful if they truly become changes made for every day. A tree planted on Earth Day, but left untended, will die of lack of water in the Texas heat.

I can’t change what Earth Day has become, and I can’t make other people change their habits or live up to the cute graphics they post on social media.

But I can take up the mantle of Unless for myself.

Will you?

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I was working on my Ostara ritual last night and just not finding the connection I wanted. I’m going to be using the full SDF ritual this time, instead of trying to piece together my own (more Norse flavored) rite, and I just couldn’t find anything that seemed to be working, from any of the Kindreds, for the ties to the awakening of Spring that I wanted to bring to my offerings.

So I went outside to my gardens and tried to find inspiration there, and it sort of hit me all at once.

Honey bees.

We talk a lot about honoring specific deities in ritual, but it’s always seemed to me like we could do the same with any of the Kindreds (or with a Kindred as a whole, like we honor the Ancestors at Samhain). So while I will still honor Eostre and make offerings to Frey as his energy returns to the earth and brings forth the first plants that will later become his harvest, I am going to make a specific offering to honeybees.

First, because I like bees. I’ve always thought they are cute and fascinating, and I grew up in a family that frequently kept bees for honey and pollination.

Mostly, however, I’ll be making offerings because right now the bees are in trouble (this article is a good starting point if you’re unfamiliar). Whether it’s from a fungus, a virus, a combination of commercial pesticides, climate change, or some massive combination therein, honeybees are in decline, and that’s bad. They’re a crucial part of the food chain, as one of the major pollinators that we have for flowering plants to become the vegetables we eat.  There are a number of theories for what’s behind Colony Collapse Disorder – a phenomenon that has been sharply on the rise for the last decade, where honey bees leave their hive and just disappear, leaving behind a queen and ample storage space and honey. The answer could be any, or some combination of all, of the factors – but the final result is that bees are hurting, and our environment is threatened by the lack of bees. CCD, combined with the devastating effects of a particularly nasty mite that sucks the life out of the bees, is just bad news all around.

So as a response, I’ll be doing both honoring of honey bees as part of the Nature Spirits that are important to this holiday (especially in my area, where everything is blooming *sneezes*), I’ll be offering some of the blessing to them as well. I’ll also be making sure that my bee garden is up to date and planting some new bee-friendly plants to help attract them. My main offering will, of course, be mead, but I’ll also be offering local honey and some sweet smelling flowers from my garden.

It may not be a *historical* way to celebrate Ostara, but to my modern sensibilities, it only makes sense to combine my offerings with my intentions and actions to help the honey bees.

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I’m pretty plugged in to being the Druid of this Place. I think it’s important to connect to the Earth – both as a global construct and something we should care for, and as a specific thing that we are entrusted with. My yard is my sacred space, and I can make an impact there even when my impact on the global world is so much smaller. I’m intimately connected with the land around me, and I work to make sure my connection to local spirits is strong and respectful.

For example, my yard is pesticide and herbicide free, and chemical free as often as we can manage it (with the exception of fire ants, which my husband and I are both terribly allergic to. I usually try the grits trick first*, but if that doesn’t work, they get poisoned).  As often as possible, we plant native or semi-native plants, to feed and attract native bugs and birds.

Because of the lack of stuff-that-kills-things, my yard is FULL of spiders, toads, lizards (especially lizards), and the occasional earth snake, brown snake, and even sometimes a snapping turtle, as well as having lots of squirrels and birds in the winter. I love opening the door and seeing the baby lizards sunning on the sidewalk.

I also love to garden. I grow vegetables and herbs, and I have a garden specifically designed for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. While it’s much harder with my new job to plant a profound and interesting and finicky garden, I can almost always get tomatoes and green beans to grow without much prodding. I love the act and art of growing things (though like any gardener, I occasionally kill plants), because it connects me so strongly with the forces of Earth and Life and Death. This year for Lammas I was able to cut down the corn stalks (long dead, but left for that purpose) and it was a really powerful reminder of the cycle of sacrifice and rebirth.

This is one of the points where my Wicca training and Druidry conflict a bit, because in BTW, the God is a God of Nature and the sacrifice of Life and Death and Rebirth. While some variants of Wicca (specifically the non-initiatory traditions) often spend a lot of time with the Earth Mother, I’ve learned to identify the energy of growing things, and their life cycle, as an aspect of male divinity.

Still, the Earth itself is easily something I can identify with as female, even if that particular piece of the agricultural cycle is something I associate with a specific God.

Of course, the Nature Spirits and Land Spirits are of mixed genders, so there’s no problem there. I like leaving offerings for them in my yard. I have an old stump piece from one of the trees we lost after Ike, and it sits up like a table in the back near the fence, so that’s where I leave my offerings. Usually I leave bits of food and drink, as often as possible things that I’ve made myself. If I’m going to live here, I think it’s important to have a good relationship with the other spirits who live here, and make offerings to them in return for their blessings on my house and gardens.

I am, after all, the Druid in this Place, as opposed to That place, or Some Other place. This is where I make my home, so this is the piece of Earth I need to truly connect with. Of course it’s important to take care of the whole earth, to be aware of my footprint on it and make sure I’m doing all I can to honor the life I have here. It’s just also important to me that I specifically plug in to my little corner here in the swamp.

*The Grits Trick: Take grits and sprinkle them liberally around an ant mound. This frequently causes some of the ants to get sick and die (as they eat the grits and then die of bowel impaction), which will cause the mound to move elsewhere. This really only works on relatively small, unestablished ant mounds.

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