The Art of Taking as an Offering

The Art of Taking as an Offering June 24, 2013

Over on my personal blog, Therioshamanism, the concept of giving things has been on my mind quite a bit as of late. Early in the month I talked about the concept of “giving” plants and animals (usually in the form of food) as offerings, and wondered what we would give the spirits or totems of those species in recompense. Then, for the Pagan Values Blog Project, I wrote about service, particularly service to this physical realm we inhabit.

All this centers around giving an offering, either an item or an action. But what about offering through taking? To take something away means to reduce its influence. This can be a negative choice, such as taking food from someone and reducing their access to necessary nutrients–not a very good offering for anyone! But there are other things we can take away from someone or something that ends up being a beneficial action.

There are two main ways I can think of in which taking can be an offering

Take away something harmful already in place: One of my favorite offerings to give to the spirits of a place, as well as the Genius Loci itself, is to remove garbage and other pollutants. It reduces the strain on the place–animals don’t get their heads stuck in yogurt cups, plants don’t absorb toxins from discarded bottles of engine oil. It also makes a place more attractive to humans, which brings to light the need to care for it, and fosters a sense of responsibility for it. (Yes, it also means more potential polluters, but they’re balanced out by more caring people, and those who learn to love the outdoors simply be spending more time in it.)

This sort of offering is fairly easy for most people. It can be as simple as picking up a few candy wrappers or soda cans, or as elaborate as staging a wide-scale cleanup effort in your area. Either way, the effects are long-reaching. It’s almost impossible to clean up the tiny bits of plastic floating around in the ocean gyres worldwide, simply because there’s so much of it and the areas affected are so vast. The problem needs to be addressed primarily on land, and it all starts with proper disposal of plastic and other waste.

The issue with that, of course, is that when I take something away from one place, I have to put it in another place. If I pick up a piece of unrecyclable plastic wrap on my beach on the Columbia, it’s going to end up in the dumpster back home, and from there to a landfill. This is where we get into judgments of the worth of different places. Nobody particularly likes landfills, except maybe seagulls and other scavengers in for an easy meal. And every place that now holds garbage, nuclear waste, and other refuse was once a pristine natural vista, untouched by human influence. Are these now sacred defiled places, as described by Glen Gordon earlier this month here on NUP? And, furthermore, are they lesser than the untouched wildernesses and carefully sculpted gardens we value so easily?

What can we then do as an offering to places to which we have given so much of our detritus and desolation?

Take away (some of) the demand: You notice how the three R’s of eco-friendly living are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, in that specific order? They’re arranged in descending levels of effectiveness. Recycling materials is a good thing, because it lowers the demand for new materials, but it still requires some energy and its byproducts can be pollution in and of themselves. Reusing items as they are is better, because it doesn’t require the processes needed to completely break down, rearrange, and reform the component materials, and it reduces the need to consume new products–an empty milk jug with the bottom cut open works just as well for scooping sand at the beach as a brand new plastic shovel. Still, this requires that the items be in circulation in the first place, and upcycling has become a consumer movement in and of itself.

Which leaves us with reducing. This is the best option of all, when possible. The fewer resources we draw on, the less strain there is on the environment. Metals, oils, plants and animals stay where they are in the nonhuman world, less energy is consumed for manufacture and transport, and people have less stuff to fuss with in general.

This doesn’t mean we should all make like house elves and wear old pillowcases (nor should an old sock be the best gift anyone has ever gotten, for that matter). But in a world where humans are constantly taking resources away from the rest of the world for our own uses at unprecedented rates, the very act of putting the brakes on that consumption is one of the most effective offerings out there.

These are not instant solutions for what is a widely tangled and complex bundle of challenges we pose to the environment, from pollution to strip mining to the hunting of critically endangered species. But every change we make helps, and in the spirit of this change, I ask you: instead of giving to the spirits, deities, and other beings of nature, what can you take away from their human-created burdens?

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