Urban Earthwitch: Needful Trees, Life and Limb, and Urban Warriors

Urban Earthwitch: Needful Trees, Life and Limb, and Urban Warriors May 19, 2017

”We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
       -Henry David Thoreau-Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Our unspoiled wildernesses are unfortunately disappearing. Swaths of forested land are felled so abundantly and quickly as to be immediately observable from space. As the resulting climate disruption unfolds and temperatures rise, fires further the destruction and belch more climate-changing CO2 into the atmosphere.

"Living Wall" photo by Citrix Systems via Flickr.  Slightly modified by the editor.  CC 2.0 License
“Living Wall” photo by Citrix Systems via Flickr. Slightly modified by the editor. CC 2.0 License

We seem to be grasping at straws for solutions to repair the damage and the means to stop the forces exacting the destruction. As difficult as it is to come to terms with, we are powerless.

Or are we? Can we summon the power as a collective to stop the destruction and appease the spirits of the land?

More and more policy makers involved in city planning are pushing for the inclusion of more parks and trees, even vertical gardens, or living walls on building faces, to offset the carbon load of traffic and buildings in dense urban environments. It’s only a dent, really, into the problem of the burgeoning CO2 in our atmosphere, but it is one of many solutions to bring us into a carbon neutral existence. However as quickly as we naturize our cities, trees are coming down all over our planet in faster numbers. For every petunia planted on an apartment or office balcony, an acre of trees is chewed up by machines and robots.

As an urban-living Earthwitch I have come to see these small cultivations as my genus loci. And we’ll hear no scoffing about that! Hybrid trees and flowers need love, too, and certainly a good dose of sympathy for being placed surreptitiously in an environment of concrete … I digress. Not only do I appreciate both the biological and spiritual health it infuses into our cities, it keeps me spiritually healthy to perform the magic I work to defend our planet’s ecology. I am an Earth defender, an Earthwitch and, if you insist on the label, yes, I am a tree hugger.

(I’m frankly alarmed at the numbers of pagans who are not environmentally and ecologically conscious, saying they don’t need to be a liberal tree hugger to be pagan.)

Photo by Marina del Castell via Flickr.  Modified by the editor.  CC 2.0 License
Photo by Marina del Castell via Flickr. Modified by the editor. CC 2.0 License

If you look up tree hugger in slang and standard references, you’ll find the term is considered pejorative. In this day and age when the benefit of trees in our world is well known from everything as simple as shade, food and medicine to the complex interaction of trees with the CO2 in our planet’s atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would think badly about people concerned with their welfare. The impact of deforestation is an issue that at least rings a bell with most people, if not looming in the minds of most people even slightly concerned with climate change. (For me it produces feverish nightmares.)

Granted the tactics of protestors chaining themselves to trees (the activity that helped coin the term) to keep loggers from proceeding with their work, seemed a little over the top. I’m in line, generally, with people who do intelligent activism by contacting lawmakers, boycotting makers of consumer goods, etc. The other really abhorrent resistance tactic that came out of that period was that of tree spiking, putting loggers at risk of literally life and limb. That will definitely give a tree hugger a bad name. But usage of the term tree hugger has seemingly expanded to include anyone who has a concern for our planet’s ecology, and in most cases has to do with more than just trees.

The archeological records of earth-based cultures the world over show great reverence for trees, adopting them into their archetypal mythologies, even in some cultures raising their status to deity, such was their critical importance to the very existence of people. The importance of trees was not lost on our ancestors, but our post modern, industrial culture takes this importance to a level of pernicious greed. Trees are exploited for resource to serve an exploding globalist economy.

I shudder every time I see the benefits of a tree product rise to popularity. Coconut and palm oils are simple examples. The deforestation of Indonesia is the tragic result. Ecosystems become disrupted, climates shift at alarming rates and fires rage out of control, causing further deforestation. Vast numbers of species are displaced to extinction. Soil erosion occurs at such an alarming speed that even attempts to cultivate the trees to make their use sustainable are for naught.

Izapa Stela, photo by James Q. Jacobs via WikiMedia.  CC 3.0 License.
Izapa Stela, photo by James Q. Jacobs via WikiMedia. CC 3.0 License.

Images of the damage to the boreal forests in Canada where trees considered in the way are removed to excavate tar sands, proliferate on the internet. Photographs of displaced baby orangutans from the felling of trees in Pacifica roll past our eyes daily. No, that’s not a just wheel barrow of cute monkeys you’re seeing, it’s a load of baby orangs who’ve lost their parents and siblings to sickening, dismembering deaths. If the animal extinctions don’t do it for you, consider the dismembering (yes, dismembering) and displacement of First Nations of homo sapiens who occupy these forests, sacred to them as ancestral lands. The land is needed by ranchers. The trees are in the way, and so are the First Nations.

The raised awareness serves to raise our anger to the good of vast, intelligent activism. People boycott manufacturers, write letters to political leaders and manufacturers and sign metastatic petitions … often, and sadly, to no avail. (Are we beginning to understand the heroics of the tree huggers of the 80s now?) The machines rage on, and the deforesting continues.

The technology being deployed to do this is mind bogglingly efficient and horrifying. Take a look at this. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in economics to see the kind of revenue that must be generated by these marauding deforesters to develop and use technology like that. Entities with that amount of resource wield weighty influence with policy makers who would otherwise hear our pleas. If you find yourself musing that deforestation has gotten out of control, you’d be right. What are people to do? What can be done to stop the war between machine and land?

Tree huggers, the physically disruptive kind, have become more sophisticated and subversive now. Green Peace, the folks who brought us the tree spikers of the 90s, look peaceful, compared to groups like Deep Green Resistance. Their tag line: Decisive Ecological Warfare. I didn’t have a lot of money to send at the time I heard of them, but I was eager to help by taking action in whatever way I could. After reviewing their information packet it didn’t take long for me to figure out I was not the “right stuff.” I mean I was in my mid-fifties with arthritis in every bone in my body. These people are serious and savvy ecological cowboys risking life and limb to be project saboteurs, occasionally spending time in jail.

Types of resistance reported by Deep Green’s News Service include such acts as sabotage of rail lines dedicated solely to delivering raw fossil fuel product to export terminals on the coast. Resistors will pour concrete over an impressive length of track and call ahead to warn train operators of the hazard. It will be ages before the resources can be procured to repair the track, taxing an already languishing fossil fuels industry which relies on exports.

(At this point I should tell you that such acts of infrastructure sabotage may or may not have anything to do with Deep Green. Their news service simply reports these instances. It’s quite more savvy than even that, if you get what I mean. And I should be clear I am not recommending my readers engage in their own heroics.)

Other resistors have made it their business to defend the Earth in court, making ecocide a real deal. Attorney Polly Higgins is my frigging hero! She will bring these environmental despoilers to international courts to be made to pay for the wounds inflicted on our planet. Check. It. Out! Mother Nature has a lawyer, and she is fearsome! Send her money! Tell other people about her and ask them to ask their friends to send them money. Hold bake sales and send the proceeds.

And send them magic. Yes. It’s powerful. Here’s where the armies of warriors, armed with the ability to make change happen, can make a difference. (One such of these magical warriors, Sarah Anne Lawless has become a leader in a growing contingent of ecological and human rights magical warriors. Read the blog post and read her cited references if you need fire in your cauldrons.)

I engage in full on rites of magic to assist these people. I enlist the powers of the spirits of the land, be they petunia and snapdragon and carnation or tulip or violet, my ragtag fleet of urban anima. I enlist and command them to enliven my magical rites with their spirits, knowing that all life is connected, and knowing that their powers are the same as their kith and kin, mandrake and digitalis, and the mighty trees. I keep myself alive spiritually by communing with them.

You see, I happen to believe those non-native locust trees down the street have deep stories to share of the spirits of the land. I also believe you needn’t tax the infrastructure by purchasing root of mandrake and crystals or a magically crafted candle, to be delivered to your door by a gas guzzling UPS truck. I believe you don’t need a nearby boreal forest to harvest magical goodness when you can use the herbs and spices in your kitchen cabinet, and I believe the gravel and dirt from across the street can be used to raise the power you need to direct energy to these fierce protectors of the flesh of our planet.

As much as you urban pagans might angst about living in the concrete jungles of the world and seek solace from the trinkets and crafts of other witches on the internet, while you read on the internet and watch on TV about species extinctions and oil spills and deforestation and oligarchy and human trafficking, you can do something about it.

Step away from your devices. Switch off your TV. Go outside. Feel the heat from the sun. Let the air raise the hair on your arms. Let that power enliven you. You can connect to earth energies in your bare feet, standing in the dust on your balcony. You can perform powerful ritual with a chime candle anointed with olive oil and dressed with herbs from your kitchen. The gravel you find in the gutter can be elevated to being your sacred stones to call upon the element of earth. A joss stick from the corner gas station can enliven your circle no matter the scent. Purify and imbue your sacred city gravel and dust. Call upon it. Command it. Give it a sacred mission.

You Don’t Need that pentagram affixed candle holder or cauldron. You don’t need those exact types of tumbled crystals. You don’t need that medieval styled dagger or that crystal-tipped wand. Don’t, please don’t participate in the further globalization of industries by buying things from the internet. Stop! You have your hands, your fingers and your mind to be a warrior in this battle.

"Weeds in Waterloo, Ontario" by Lupin via WikiMedia.  CC License 3.0
“Weeds in Waterloo, Ontario” by Lupin via WikiMedia. CC License 3.0

All things are sacred and connected. All forms of life have power and spirit, even the blades of grass in the park and the weeds in the cracks in the sidewalk. Feel their presence. Honor their existence. Include them in your sacred rites.

Connect to earth energies wherever you are. You don’t need to live in a pristine nature preserve to accomplish your highest good. You don’t need to angst and wish away your magical power while you watch witches in Glastonbury celebrate sabbats in what is arguably the witchy, magical energy cauldron of the planet.

You can become an ecological warrior, an Earthwitch, where you are.

Time is of the essence.

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