Should Pagans Be Survivalists?

Nothing in excess. We all know the Delphic Maxim. All things in moderation. Consumerism is, in principal if not always in practice, antithetical to the Modern Pagan movement. Although we are not anti-material, we are not lulled by acquiring and consuming. Most of us reject the American Dream. Or do we?

As a child I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I had them all and read them through several times. My favorite, the one I read obsessively, was Farmer Boy. It’s the book Wilder wrote about her husband’s childhood. Almanzo Wilder must have recounted stories in the evening of how his father’s farm ran and how his mother worked her loom to clothe her family. It’s more detailed than her other books about how a farm works and how people used to live. What the American Dream used to look like, before the Industrial Age.

Today the very same practices engaged in by Almanzo Wilder are termed survivalism. What was once part and parcel of every day life has now become eccentric behavior. Of course, most survivalists seem to be concerned about the crash of industrialism. Since the bomb shelters of the Cold War, people engaged in survivalism have been preparing against some dire apocalypse. Although Pagans are as likely to be concerned about industrial/consumerist society experiencing some sort of crash due to it’s unsustainable trajectory, they lack an apocalyptic mindset. Even Ragnarok isn’t a doomsday to stock up against.

maureen_sill via CC license

When Pagans practice survivalism, stocking up food and non-electric equipment, it’s generally for two very sensible reasons: it’s what their ancestors did, and it’s insurance against an uncertain economy. We watch the news. We know what the unemployment rate looks like. We know how bad the job market is, we all know people who are out of work and we all know people who are struggling.

Paganism is about examining your life, being realistic about your material, spiritual and emotional needs, and honoring the past by looking towards the future. While I don’t think Pagans should build bomb shelters and start reckoning against a possible doomsday, stocking your pantry to give yourself some added security in an uncertain economy sounds pretty Pagan to me.

Exercise prudence, foresee the future, do not trust fortune, be well off as a mortal, do not be discontented by life, do not trust wealth, pursue what is profitable, benefit yourself, and despise strife are also all Delphic Maxims. One thing to remember is that having a full pantry is not a selfish pursuit. Despite the differences between ancient Pagan cultures, and the differences between modern Pagan religions, it is a universal truth that being able to give a meal to a guest is a deed worthy of honor.

I think survivalism is a bad way to phrase the common sense ways of our ancestors. They viewed such activity not as survivalism, not as subsistence, not as some desperate act but as acquiring wealth. We think of wealth today as how much money you have in your bank account, and that had some part to do with wealth in the past, yet it wasn’t everything. Someone’s full pantry was a mark of their wealth. Their garden was a mark of their wealth. Their stockpile of fuel for the winter. The bounty they gathered with their own hands. The charity they were able to give from their own stores marked their wealth.

I’m starting over in a new apartment, and I’m thinking a lot about starting to build my pantry stores. I’m reading up on food storage, nutrition and preparedness. Not just because the economy is scary, not just because I want to be prepared for what the future has in store for me, but also because I always want to be able to give hospitality. No one ever left my grandmother’s house hungry. She remembered the Great Depression, those “Hoover Days,” and though she had a limited income she canned, cooked and kept a full freezer. She simply followed in the footsteps of the women before her, and I think it would honor those women, as well as my household guardians, if I made stocking my pantry a priority.

Here are a few resources I’m looking at:

Love To Learn is a Christian homeschool supply company, but if you’re a discerning customer you can find a lot of useful items, and you help support a small family-owned business.

My friend Fern sent me to The Survival Mom Blog. Although she does seem to be pushing the products she sells, she does have good advice.

As a teenager I devoured Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette. She has a lot of good sense ideas, and her values are expressed secularly, although they are very much in tune with Pagan values.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Anonymous

    I think the word you are looking for is “prosperity.”

    Survivalism is a minimalist approach to living — what do I need to survive, to keep body and soul together? How do I get by in the wilderness with a loincloth and a sharp knife? Do I really need the knife?

    Prosperity is a more expansive concept. To prosper — to thrive. To do well for yourself and for kith and kin. But there is still a humility and restraint to the concept, and if there is excess, it is best shared lest it spoil.

    Wealth takes us into extravagance and hoarding. Accumulation of excess, rather than sharing. You cannot build wealth while giving away the excess. You have to keep the excess, so that it can become wealth.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I didn’t choose the term. I used the term that people who practice this form of preparedness use to describe themselves.

      Sure you can build wealth while engaging in charity and hospitality. Look at Bill Gates or Oprah.

      • Anonymous

        Oh. Fair enough, though I still think “prosperity” is the better word. When I write MY book, I’ll use the “proper” term. ::grin::

        Neither Bill Gates nor Oprah built wealth by giving it away: that’s an oxymoron. I don’t know Oprah’s full story, but Bill was well-known in the industry as very tight-fisted until he met his wife, Melinda. By the time he started being a philanthropist, he was either the richest man in the world or close to it.

        I’m not meaning to nit-pick on this point: there’s something very fundamental here about both the nature and concept of “wealth,” and it’s tied up with some inevitable changes coming down the pike having to do with growth capitalism, exponential curves, finite resources, and the soul. But it’s too big to treat in a comment. If I can make a coherent essay on the subject, and I can find this post by then, I’ll post a link…

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shannon-Moore/1493071867 Shannon Moore

        The survivalist movement today uses the word “prepping”.  Check out “The survival podcast”, whos’ tag line is “helping you live that better life, if times get hard or even if they don’t”.

        Response to the title question; “What is the alternative?”
        Great post and thanks!

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    I think the word you are looking for is “prosperity.”

    Survivalism is a minimalist approach to living — what do I need to survive, to keep body and soul together? How do I get by in the wilderness with a loincloth and a sharp knife? Do I really need the knife?

    Prosperity is a more expansive concept. To prosper — to thrive. To do well for yourself and for kith and kin. But there is still a humility and restraint to the concept, and if there is excess, it is best shared lest it spoil.

    Wealth takes us into extravagance and hoarding. Accumulation of excess, rather than sharing. You cannot build wealth while giving away the excess. You have to keep the excess, so that it can become wealth.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I didn’t choose the term. I used the term that people who practice this form of preparedness use to describe themselves.

      Sure you can build wealth while engaging in charity and hospitality. Look at Bill Gates or Oprah.

      • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

        Oh. Fair enough, though I still think “prosperity” is the better word. When I write MY book, I’ll use the “proper” term. ::grin::

        Neither Bill Gates nor Oprah built wealth by giving it away: that’s an oxymoron. I don’t know Oprah’s full story, but Bill was well-known in the industry as very tight-fisted until he met his wife, Melinda. By the time he started being a philanthropist, he was either the richest man in the world or close to it.

        I’m not meaning to nit-pick on this point: there’s something very fundamental here about both the nature and concept of “wealth,” and it’s tied up with some inevitable changes coming down the pike having to do with growth capitalism, exponential curves, finite resources, and the soul. But it’s too big to treat in a comment. If I can make a coherent essay on the subject, and I can find this post by then, I’ll post a link…

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shannon-Moore/1493071867 Shannon Moore

        The survivalist movement today uses the word “prepping”.  Check out “The survival podcast”, whos’ tag line is “helping you live that better life, if times get hard or even if they don’t”.

        Response to the title question; “What is the alternative?”
        Great post and thanks!

  • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

    Excellent article! We do the same thing here. Even though we buy a few extra cans of food each week, we’re already finding people with needs and giving a food box to a hungry family is already a need in today’s economy. Not everyone gets an unemployment check and it takes a while to get welfare approved. I find wealth is in the heart.

  • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

    Excellent article! We do the same thing here. Even though we buy a few extra cans of food each week, we’re already finding people with needs and giving a food box to a hungry family is already a need in today’s economy. Not everyone gets an unemployment check and it takes a while to get welfare approved. I find wealth is in the heart.

  • Gypsie Carlson

    This is a fantastic posting! There are many things i’ve wanted to get into. I also think that Prosperity is a great term. Im always looking for ways to save and stretch what i’ve got for my family. I don’t think it’s just pagans going back to basics. many of my christian friends are doing the same. I won’t say it’s simpler or easier, as it’s much much more work, but reconnecting, and living a more sustainable life. 

    I’ve recently been trying to teach my children to work for what they want, and that handmade / homemade gifts are always better than the store bought ones. The gift portion i’ve been doing with them since they were really young. 

  • Gypsie Carlson

    This is a fantastic posting! There are many things i’ve wanted to get into. I also think that Prosperity is a great term. Im always looking for ways to save and stretch what i’ve got for my family. I don’t think it’s just pagans going back to basics. many of my christian friends are doing the same. I won’t say it’s simpler or easier, as it’s much much more work, but reconnecting, and living a more sustainable life. 

    I’ve recently been trying to teach my children to work for what they want, and that handmade / homemade gifts are always better than the store bought ones. The gift portion i’ve been doing with them since they were really young. 

  • Greenflame

    The term I love is “prudence.” There is such a wisdom inherent in that term, a sense of considered moderation and choice.

    In 1996, while living in a semi-urban area and working in the computer industry, I began almost obsessively to learn about native plants. “Learn their uses, their medicines, their food values,” said a distinct Voice in my head, “one day you will need to know this.” In those days, I did not have Voices in my head at all, so it rather took me aback. But I listened, and learned, and now I am a pretty decent lay herbalist and could forage for a nutritious meal if I had to. 

    I did it because that Voice told me that This — All That We Are — could not last and probably would not last. However, I have never believed the future is written in stone, and I believe all doomsday predictions can be modified. Yet it felt prudent it listen: nothing to lose, and potentially valuable knowledge to gain. What the Voice did not tell me was what joy I would have in knowing these plants, and also the joy that having a few chickens for fresh eggs would bring; the satisfaction of a freezer stocked with local food; the ties I would develop with the Land and with my neighbors who are working it.

    Maybe we should call it not Survivalism, but Thrivalism.

  • Greenflame

    The term I love is “prudence.” There is such a wisdom inherent in that term, a sense of considered moderation and choice.

    In 1996, while living in a semi-urban area and working in the computer industry, I began almost obsessively to learn about native plants. “Learn their uses, their medicines, their food values,” said a distinct Voice in my head, “one day you will need to know this.” In those days, I did not have Voices in my head at all, so it rather took me aback. But I listened, and learned, and now I am a pretty decent lay herbalist and could forage for a nutritious meal if I had to. 

    I did it because that Voice told me that This — All That We Are — could not last and probably would not last. However, I have never believed the future is written in stone, and I believe all doomsday predictions can be modified. Yet it felt prudent it listen: nothing to lose, and potentially valuable knowledge to gain. What the Voice did not tell me was what joy I would have in knowing these plants, and also the joy that having a few chickens for fresh eggs would bring; the satisfaction of a freezer stocked with local food; the ties I would develop with the Land and with my neighbors who are working it.

    Maybe we should call it not Survivalism, but Thrivalism.

  • Sophia Catherine

    The term ‘prosperity’ has baggage from the Christian ‘prosperity gospel’ for me – which often (though not always) is prosperity comes at the expense of others. I love the idea of prudence or self-sufficiency that comes along with a generous spirit, though. Community prosperity works better for me, as a concept!

  • Sophia Catherine

    The term ‘prosperity’ has baggage from the Christian ‘prosperity gospel’ for me – which often (though not always) is prosperity comes at the expense of others. I love the idea of prudence or self-sufficiency that comes along with a generous spirit, though. Community prosperity works better for me, as a concept!

  • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    I would like to recommend two blogs:
    Apartment Therapy – sometimes it’s surprising what it reveals (along with its sister blog Kitchn) and WiseBread. These two have led me to some great ideas and comforts in the small space/comfortable living department.

    It can be beyond Pagan values – I go through my apartment year by year, and give each room an “audit.” What do I want to do in here? How do I want to use that time? What can I do to arrange the space fulfill those needs?

    I’ve also found Clean House and any program by Brini Green (find her on Youtube) extremely inspiring in making the most with what I have.

  • http://dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    I would like to recommend two blogs:
    Apartment Therapy – sometimes it’s surprising what it reveals (along with its sister blog Kitchn) and WiseBread. These two have led me to some great ideas and comforts in the small space/comfortable living department.

    It can be beyond Pagan values – I go through my apartment year by year, and give each room an “audit.” What do I want to do in here? How do I want to use that time? What can I do to arrange the space fulfill those needs?

    I’ve also found Clean House and any program by Brini Green (find her on Youtube) extremely inspiring in making the most with what I have.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Anyone interested in this subject should be reading John Michael Greer’s blog:  The Arch Druid.

    I buy a can or two of whatever is organic and on sale each time I’m at the grocery store.  I’ve also got a few weeks’ worth of water on hand.  Beyond that, IMHO, it’s a true Pagan value to live well within your means.  More and more difficult in these economic times, but, at the same time, more and more necessary.  And if that means fewer plasticine statues or “just” using a kitchen knife as your athame, well, that’s Pagan to me.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/fernwise Fern Bernstein-Miller

      Yes, JMG’s blog, http://www.TheArchDruidReport.blogspot.com, is one of my favorites.  And he shares our watershed, living about as far upstream of me (in Avalon-on-the-Potomac) as I am of you (in Ionia-on-the-Potomac). 

  • Anonymous

    Anyone interested in this subject should be reading John Michael Greer’s blog:  The Arch Druid.

    I buy a can or two of whatever is organic and on sale each time I’m at the grocery store.  I’ve also got a few weeks’ worth of water on hand.  Beyond that, IMHO, it’s a true Pagan value to live well within your means.  More and more difficult in these economic times, but, at the same time, more and more necessary.  And if that means fewer plasticine statues or “just” using a kitchen knife as your athame, well, that’s Pagan to me.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/fernwise Fern Bernstein-Miller

      Yes, JMG’s blog, http://www.TheArchDruidReport.blogspot.com, is one of my favorites.  And he shares our watershed, living about as far upstream of me (in Avalon-on-the-Potomac) as I am of you (in Ionia-on-the-Potomac). 

  • http://www.120squarefeet.blogspot.com Laura M. LaVoie

    Thanks for the post. I don’t choose to use the term survivalist, but I am working toward being able to be completely self sufficient (and sustainable). I think there is a great sense of freedom in being able to live outside of the economy or within a different more local economy – trade, barter, agriculture.  It is empowering.

    I’m currently in the process of building a tiny house in the mountains and soon it will be done and we have a plan to move in next year.  I am very excited about this next chapter. 

  • http://www.120squarefeet.blogspot.com Laura M. LaVoie

    Thanks for the post. I don’t choose to use the term survivalist, but I am working toward being able to be completely self sufficient (and sustainable). I think there is a great sense of freedom in being able to live outside of the economy or within a different more local economy – trade, barter, agriculture.  It is empowering.

    I’m currently in the process of building a tiny house in the mountains and soon it will be done and we have a plan to move in next year.  I am very excited about this next chapter. 

  • Allyson Szabo

    Our goal over the past few years was to become as self-sustainable as possible. We were doing pretty well (imo) until our intentional community imploded. Now it’s me and hubby and sis and the kids again, on our own and doing what we can. We’re looking at a house that has only a little land (about a half acre) rather than the hundreds of acres we’ve become used to. It’s made me change how I think about a lot of things. Now, instead of thinking about and planning an acre of garden, I’m investigating container gardening, raised beds, square foot gardening, and other space/weed saving techniques. I can’t wait to restart our composting, recycling, etc. We’re hoping to build a rainwater gathering system for watering the garden (and hosing off muddy children), so that the water we have to pay for isn’t wasted. 

    We also prep. We have canned goods, though they’re bulky for both storage and carrying in an emergency. We have freeze dried goods (better for storage and carrying, as well as length of goodness). We have home canned stuff. We circulate it so that it gets used in a reasonable amount of time. We know what we need to survive… and what we can and cannot produce on our own. Do I think the world is coming to an end? No… I just know that buying food for storage now is going to be cheaper than buying it next month, because prices always move up, not down. Some month if I can’t afford to buy food, I know there’s stuff in the cupboard that will keep us going just fine.

  • Allyson Szabo

    Our goal over the past few years was to become as self-sustainable as possible. We were doing pretty well (imo) until our intentional community imploded. Now it’s me and hubby and sis and the kids again, on our own and doing what we can. We’re looking at a house that has only a little land (about a half acre) rather than the hundreds of acres we’ve become used to. It’s made me change how I think about a lot of things. Now, instead of thinking about and planning an acre of garden, I’m investigating container gardening, raised beds, square foot gardening, and other space/weed saving techniques. I can’t wait to restart our composting, recycling, etc. We’re hoping to build a rainwater gathering system for watering the garden (and hosing off muddy children), so that the water we have to pay for isn’t wasted. 

    We also prep. We have canned goods, though they’re bulky for both storage and carrying in an emergency. We have freeze dried goods (better for storage and carrying, as well as length of goodness). We have home canned stuff. We circulate it so that it gets used in a reasonable amount of time. We know what we need to survive… and what we can and cannot produce on our own. Do I think the world is coming to an end? No… I just know that buying food for storage now is going to be cheaper than buying it next month, because prices always move up, not down. Some month if I can’t afford to buy food, I know there’s stuff in the cupboard that will keep us going just fine.

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    I like the term “prudence”, as well.  One of my goals is to become at least moderately self sufficient.  Completely self-sufficient / off the grid / homesteading isn’t in the cards for my household… we love our coffee and computers just a little too much.  Increasing our self-sufficiency, though, is totally within the realm of “possible”.

    I definitely find it to be part of my spiritual path.  In part, it is honouring my ancestors, many of whom were farmers.  In part, it is striving to live more softly on the Earth.  In part, it is making my home a sanctuary, whatever the economy, climate or politics bring our way.You might like a book I picked up a while ago: “The Urban Homestead” (the authors have a blog here: http://www.rootsimple.com/ ).  How can you not love authors who write about guerrilla gardening?  :D

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    I like the term “prudence”, as well.  One of my goals is to become at least moderately self sufficient.  Completely self-sufficient / off the grid / homesteading isn’t in the cards for my household… we love our coffee and computers just a little too much.  Increasing our self-sufficiency, though, is totally within the realm of “possible”.

    I definitely find it to be part of my spiritual path.  In part, it is honouring my ancestors, many of whom were farmers.  In part, it is striving to live more softly on the Earth.  In part, it is making my home a sanctuary, whatever the economy, climate or politics bring our way.You might like a book I picked up a while ago: “The Urban Homestead” (the authors have a blog here: http://www.rootsimple.com/ ).  How can you not love authors who write about guerrilla gardening?  :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    We also have in our own community Rhianna Stone of the Pagan Homesteader Podcast: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pagan-Homesteader/222301567783127

    Also great examples would be the Dervaes family in Pasadena, California: http://urbanhomestead.org/

    Also my personal favorite seed supplier (non-GMO of course) Baker Creek Seeds: http://rareseeds.com/

    As someone who grows her own food and has to suffer through the ridiculous food and gas prices imposed on Hawai’i, I can’t even describe the weight off my mind once I started growing my own food and getting our own crop.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fernwise Fern Bernstein-Miller

      The Dervaes …. well.  Right now they seem to have a business plan based on trying to get copyright on the term ‘urban homesteading’ and suing all those who have used it over the years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    We also have in our own community Rhianna Stone of the Pagan Homesteader Podcast: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pagan-Homesteader/222301567783127

    Also great examples would be the Dervaes family in Pasadena, California: http://urbanhomestead.org/

    Also my personal favorite seed supplier (non-GMO of course) Baker Creek Seeds: http://rareseeds.com/

    As someone who grows her own food and has to suffer through the ridiculous food and gas prices imposed on Hawai’i, I can’t even describe the weight off my mind once I started growing my own food and getting our own crop.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fernwise Fern Bernstein-Miller

      The Dervaes …. well.  Right now they seem to have a business plan based on trying to get copyright on the term ‘urban homesteading’ and suing all those who have used it over the years.

  • http://www.blackpagan.com blackpagan

    I wouldn’t call it “survivalism” I would call it common sense. The economy isn’t going so well, and just as it might be a good idea to have a little extra in the bank for a rainy day it doesn’t hurt to have some extra food around too. Not just for the zombie apocalypse but also for the possibility of more mundane occurrences — such as a job layoff or a huge medical bill — where one’s cash flow may be negatively affected.

    My husband and I have been working towards self-sustainability for years. We bought an old farmhouse, built up a sizeable pantry, heat with wood, grow some of our own food, and have gotten rid of most of our debt. Also, unlike many good liberal pagans, we have a small gun collection.

  • http://www.blackpagan.com blackpagan

    I wouldn’t call it “survivalism” I would call it common sense. The economy isn’t going so well, and just as it might be a good idea to have a little extra in the bank for a rainy day it doesn’t hurt to have some extra food around too. Not just for the zombie apocalypse but also for the possibility of more mundane occurrences — such as a job layoff or a huge medical bill — where one’s cash flow may be negatively affected.

    My husband and I have been working towards self-sustainability for years. We bought an old farmhouse, built up a sizeable pantry, heat with wood, grow some of our own food, and have gotten rid of most of our debt. Also, unlike many good liberal pagans, we have a small gun collection.


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