April 22, 2015

1024px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise
Earthrise by astronaut William Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission

I’ve encountered Pagans who say, “the earthy Pagan stuff isn’t for me”. They’re not interested in having their practices have an earth focus. And as much as I respect each individual’s choice in deciding how they practice, you can’t separate yourself from the earth no matter how hard you try. To decide your practice is not concerned with the earth is selfish. You are saying that you are disregarding how your actions impact those you are interconnected with. Along the same line, I see people who say, “oh but I do care” who don’t see how they treat all their possessions as disposables or collect all the things and not realize how they are contributing to the problem. You can’t help but wonder if they actually do care. I’m not say these people don’t, but there remains a cultural barrier to creating a cultural shift for the better. The idea that we’re separate from the environment is so culturally entrenched, even those who are self-described environmentalists fall prey to this separation effect.

By taking a really close look at our thoughts, actions, and words we can see how this separation effect takes hold.

What Am I Thinking?

Whenever we contemplate an issue we often frame it in how it is in reference to ourselves. The language tools for that are in the pronouns “I/me”,”you”,”we/us”,”she/he”,”her/him”,”it”, and “they/them”. How we reference each other would go along like this,

“There is Jim, I can’t see the rest of them. Do you think they will hear us if we call to him? She isn’t in sight but you might still get caught. She has really good hearing and is very fast. ”

Now when we talk of wildlife it usually sounds like this,

“I am going to climb this tree to get a better view, it has sturdy branches. ”
That is a huge bug! Lets move away from it.”
“Did you see that bird fly over us? It was so fast!”
The salmon are migrating upstream. I went to watch them and saw a big one, it was moving quickly past all the others.”

We often use “it” or “that” just because we are unsure of their gender, but this wouldn’t be tolerated if you called a fellow human or even a known pet “it” or “that”. No matter their gender you don’t use “it” or call someone “that”.

e.g. “It was a big human that was running through the area. It looked like it was running for a marathon.” V.S. “There was this big guy that was running through the area. It looked like they were running for a marathon.”

“Our old human was cleaning its home, then it made a meal when it was done” V.S. “Grandma was cleaning her home, then she made a meal when she was done.”

“The dog had been leaving its bowl full, then we found out why. It had discovered how to get into the fridge.” V.S. “Our dog had been leaving his bowl full, then we found out why. He had discovered how to get into the fridge.”

We don’t use ‘it’ because that is considered too impersonal, and is seen to be demeaning them to the status of a mere object, something that can be owned and exploited. It means ‘it’ doesn’t matter. The use of ‘it’ increases with the degree to which the speaker views an object of speech as impersonal. Sometimes being used to intentionally emotionally distance ourselves from ‘it’. For babies and other animals, once gender is known it is automatically used in place of it. For those familiar to us it is considered immensely rude to not to use the preferred pronoun once it is known.

An effect of the use of ‘it’ is perceiving things of nature as something to possess, conquer, or tame. “Taming the wild beast.” “Conquer the mountain.” Or, “staking claim of this land.” The objectification of the natural world allows us to believe that our species is somehow more deserving of what comes of the world than over 8.7 million species we share the planet with. Using “it” convinces us that we have no moral responsibility and can exploit the world at will.

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Luna Moth (actius luna). Photo by Rua Lupa

Another aspect of the separate effect in thoughts is how we use the word “animals”. When used as a descriptive word it is derogatory, “He is such an animal!” Everywhere else it is used it is to reference non-human animals, such as “animal pictures” – we don’t expect humans when this is looked up, unless it is derogatory or behaving like a non-human animal. As a society we keep talking as if humans are not animals. Ignoring the fact that we are part of the animal kingdom. We have to overcome speaking as if we are not a member of the animal kingdom and start talking of other animals as beings worthy of respect if we are going to give them any respect at all.

In many indigenous cultures other lifeforms and even inanimate forms are referred to as persons, a relation, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather. And many indigenous languages never refer to these relations as an object. Something that we can learn from. This is not to say that indigenous peoples have all the answers, though I believe they have many. There often are oversimplifications of the complexity of creatures different from us via symbolisms, and attempts to take spiritual meanings from our encounters with them. This disregards their self interests, reduces the unique characteristics of the individual and the overall complexity of the kind of animal they are down to a stereotype which is likely something that isn’t even true. This is common in all cultures where we project our ideas of what we want something to be onto them and convince ourselves that it is true. Being wary of this idealized projecting will help in creating better relationships with other living beings.

One person who decided to tackle this pronoun problem through indigenous language was Robin Wall Kimmerer, doing so through the Anishinaabe language of their heritage that they’re trying to reclaim. Robin explains well how changing our way of addressing other beings can bring us closer together in her article “Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching “It” ” pointing out that rephrasing our grammar of other beings as the distant relations that they are can make it feel like being part of a bigger family “…that includes birches and beavers and butterflies… We’d be less lonely. We’d feel like we belonged.” She goes on to say, “We don’t need a worldview of Earth beings as objects anymore. That thinking has led us to the precipice of climate chaos and mass extinction. We need a new language that reflects the life-affirming world we want.”

Through the help of fluent speaker and spiritual teacher Stewart King, Robin learned that the proper Anishinaabe word for beings of the living Earth is Bemaadiziiaaki. Recognizing that this word wouldn’t so easily replace “it” in the English language, Robin decided to use a piece of the word at the end that means ‘land’ – “ki” – to signify the living earth. “Ki” being used in place of “he/she”. And using the word “kin” like how “him/her” is used and when referring to a kind of animal such as “beaver kin”.

“I am going to climb this tree kin to get a better view, ki has sturdy branches. ”
Ki is a huge bug! Lets move away from kin.”
“Did you see that bird kin fly over us? ki was so fast!”
The salmon kin are migrating upstream. I went to watch them and saw a big one, ki was moving quickly past all the others.”

This can help overcome the first part of the Separation Effectphrasing and thus seeing other lifeforms as objects. By speaking of our fellow beings as the fellow beings they are.

What Am I Doing?

In day to day life we tend to bring our concerns down to immediate needs and desires. Hunger/Thirst, Shelter, Companionship, Health, Comfort, Status, Aesthetics etc. So we often don’t think of all the interconnections of our actions when we strive to satisfy those needs and desires. But that is what makes our decisions ever so important. Every decision that every human being makes has an impact on our environment. Strumming the strings that interconnect us to all other things, living and non-living in our little corner of the cosmos we call Earth. That is why its called an Ecosystem – living beings interacting with each other and the environment they depend on.

Because of our cultural thinking that has us believe we are separate from the rest of Nature, we act like it whole scale. We say things like, “Lets get out into Nature.” Forgetting that we are already in Nature – All. The. Time. Your home? Made with lumber from a forest, minerals from a mine, and petroleum products from Oil wells and mining. Your clothes? Fibers from sheep farms, cotton fields, silkworm farms, and petroleum oil fields. Your electronic devices? Are minerals from mines, and petroleum from oil fields. Your food? Grown in farms, usually monoculture fields or feedlot factory farms, and often with overworked and underpaid workers to keep it cheap. In fact, most of where we source our resources have poor working conditions and worker rights all throughout the system. Not to mention seriously lax industrial regulations that permit pollution. So look around. Ask the important questions of where your things come from, how they became what they became,  how it got to you, and what happens when you are done with it. That is how to combat the second part of the Separation Effect – having no sense of connection to something until the point of when you obtain it, believing that it has had no history until you start making your own memories with it.

The History Behind ‘It’

ISS013-E-77965 (5 Sept. 2006) — A setting sun and Earth’s horizon are featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 13 crewmember on the International Space Station.

There is always a history to everything, even before it was the raw material that was harvested. From the very first plants that drew nutrients to itself from its surroundings and harvested the energy of the sun, over many generations changing and adapting to its environment, colonizing the oceans then the rest of the earth’s surface on land in the Ordovician Era over 465 Million years ago; Organisms developing alongside and consuming plants and each other, themselves adapting and changing over many generations in response to their own ever changing environment;

Fossil of the plant species Annularia stellata, Upper-Carboniferous Collection of the Universiteit Utrecht by Woudloper
Fossil of the plant species Annularia stellata, Upper-Carboniferous Collection of the Universiteit Utrecht by Woudloper

Petroleum being ancient plants and animals that were unable to decompose once they died because the organisms that did that weren’t existent yet during the Carboniferous Era ~358 million years ago. And so became buried and compressed under millions of years worth of debris; Minerals being from the remnants of an ancient exploded star coalescing into a planet that itself collided with a smaller planet to form the earth and moon in the Hadean Era 4.5 Billion years ago. Since its formation having contributions from meteors striking the planet, along with the tectonic churning of earth’s crust combining with what life had produced on its surface. All this had happened before becoming heavily utilized by humans over many generations to today. Cultivating these plants and other animals in a way so that they meet our desired production, later mining minerals, coal and oil. First for heat, then metallurgy, then power. Over many generations these resources were harvested and altered in increasingly refined ways, to now where we still have them manipulated and transported by many hands to reach the form and place it has. Everything you interact with very much has a history before you even had your first breath.

This item with its history of which itself in its journey to that first moment you have it could have impacted so many lives in your own life time. Your choice in supporting for it to exist has in itself supported the process that brought it to you. Any and all impacts, from deforestation, erosion, habitat loss, and pushing indigenous peoples from their lands for access to resources; To forced or impoverish labor, pollution as an industrial byproduct in its cultivation and manufacture, further deforestation, habitat loss and pollution to build roads and for transportation of the product out to the businesses that themselves repeat deforestation and habitat loss to sell them in a shop with underpaid staff. All this and more is potentially supported by your purchase of this product. I think that such a decision shouldn’t be taken so lightly.

Image Source: RageAgainstTheMinivan.com
Image Source: RageAgainstTheMinivan.com (click image to view article on addressing this issue)

Your choices can support ill or good in the world, even with the purchase of a product, but especially if there are many people who do so as well. So I encourage people to openly discuss these questions so that a momentum for and of better interconnections can be made.

“It’s” Future

Even if you made the conscientious choice in obtaining a product, there is also the matter of what happens after you are done with it – including when you yourself disperse. Everything you possess is your responsibility, but many feel that responsibility ends the moment they let go of it when they are done with it – be it in the trash or on the streets. The fact that our streets are so littered should offend. Why? Because its one of the most blatantly inconsiderate thing a person can do. You’re making your responsibility someone else’s problem to deal with and maybe even continue to be your problem if no one decides to cover for you. In essence you are trashing our home. You wouldn’t expect someone to walk into your home and leave their trash there would you? Then there is no justification for leaving your trash in our shared space. The least that can be done is act the responsible person you are perfectly capable of being, not a toddler – and some toddlers act better. The other thing is the notion that all your no longer desired items are now nothing more than trash in itself is flawed.

All “trash” is in actuality “by-products”. Just like how the manufacturing process that made it had by-products that can pollute or be remade into something useable. Like how petroleum industries invented plastic bags that was until then a useless by-product in the process – but lets just keep that stuff in the ground because it all doesn’t end well. And that is the point of considering the future of the things we are done with. Just because you are done with it doesn’t mean it won’t still impact you or others. All things have to go somewhere, they don’t just disappear. This is the third part of the Separation Effect. The belief that the moment it leaves your hand when you are ‘done with it’ makes it no longer your responsibility and no longer have connections to it. The reality is that its end impacts are directly because of you with no one else to blame for it.

When making the decision to bring something into your life you have to also consider the outcome when its no longer being used by you and influences others. Unless a conscientious decision is made from the beginning, it can be very difficult to make a choice that isn’t causing negative impacts later on. If all its materials are made from biological components (plant or animal) then it can easily become reiterated into the ecosystem via compost – a by-product that can be reused in gardening. If all its materials are made from metallurgical minerals then it can reduce the demand for mining more by having it remade (recycled) into another metal object or as a metal component. Otherwise it will either be buried again over geologic time, or rust away.

Image Source: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is a 2002 non-fiction book by German chemist Michael Braungart and U.S. architect William McDonough.
Image Source: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is a 2002 non-fiction book by German chemist Michael Braungart and U.S. architect William McDonough.

The location of where this happens can have lingering effects to the life around it, so its best to avoid toxic metals to being with, then keep it going via recycling for as long as possible, then ensuring it is deposited harmlessly into the environment when it can no longer be beneficial. If it is made with petroleum, then the only by-product option is to perpetuate it for as long as possible, including recycling but only if nothing else can be done with it. This is because plastic doesn’t rot or rust away. All the while many of these plastics leech its components into our food and air, capable of quickly reaching levels that negatively influence our biology in multiple ways. Be it changing our hormones, causing birth defects, asthma, allergies, and cancer.

Message from the Gyre By Chris Jordan
Message from the Gyre By Chris Jordan (click image to view related video)

No matter what you do with plastic it lasts for hundreds of years and can choke out a lot of organisms in the process – deteriorating the soil ecosystems which we depend on for the well being of the plants that provide food, shelter, medicine and air; and are disrupting the aquatic ecosystems by shading out the oceanic vegetation that the rest of ocean food chain depends on and becoming consumed by creatures directly thinking it a source of food, poisoning and killing them in the process. Even if you are inland your petroleum based product can break apart so small that is not easily seen by the eye. From there it can become washed into the watersheds and move through the river systems until it reaches the ocean. More easily so when you use it with water, like micro-plastic beads in facial washes and toothpaste, or when you do laundry with petroleum products – a prime example being fleece. As when you wash with these petroleum based products it drains that petroleum particulate directly into the water system. So its not just the coast line populations contributing – everyone is.

Unfortunately even when sent for recycling, it often gets sent overseas where its cheaper and unregulated. Leading to open air burning of plastic to get access to the metals. Image Credit: National Geographic.
Unfortunately even when sent for recycling, it often gets sent overseas where its cheaper and unregulated. Leading to open air burning of plastic to get access to the metals. Image Credit: National Geographic (click Image for related video)

When it comes to objects that combine metal and plastic and you decide to recycle it, it usually goes somewhere where health and safety regulations are lax, and then the plastic is burned in the open air to get to the metals – poisoning the workers, their community, and the ecosystem we all share. This is a common outcome for electronics, especially computer devices (link also shows how you can establish beneficial connections with your electronics).

The best choice is to have it made from biological sources because it has the least detrimental impacts on the ecosystem from source to end. The next best thing is reusable metals, it has more of a detrimental impact on the ecosystem but if its use is prolonged and at the end recycled, then there is less demand for mining and thus less impacts overall. Refuse plastic and other petroleum based products because they are severely detrimental from beginning to end – the leading cause to global warming and its plastic by-products will continue to negatively impact generations far into the future. Your influence doesn’t end the moment you decide you are done with it, so take the time to make sure that choice is a good one.

 

A Call For Change

Earth-Photo_Blue-Marble_Dec7-1972
The Blue Marble, taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft

If you, like me, want to be part of a cultural shift toward a future that has its interconnections beneficial to our ecosystem, then I invite you to add your name to A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment officially open to signing today on Earth Day.

For more information on how to establish positive connections within our ecosystem, explore this blog by clicking through the information in the tabs provided, clicking through the categories and tags at the bottom of articles of interest, and use the search bar at the side of this page for specific topics.

April 20, 2015

“What good is religion anyway” is a question that was posited to us writers here at Patheos, more specifically inquiring whether our traditions have provided some good to the world. For this question to be answered it ultimately depends on the mental frame it is hung in. Is this a question about faith – which I have none, in that I simply say “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so”  instead of filling in the blank with what cultural pressures tell me to believe. Or is it about our actions in the world, where we take a serious look at our physical impacts on those around us? If it is the later then we are on the same page, and I would say that the tradition I follow would be very good in that regard. But wouldn’t anyone say that about their own practices? I think here is the real important question underneath it all – Have we genuinely analysed our practices and were vigilant about ensuring that they are actually good? I can honestly say that I have, because I routinely find flaws and respond accordingly to fix them, and that has meant realizing that some practices were not for me and leaving them all together because they were fundamentally unfixable. The foundation was itself harmful and found that I didn’t want to be part of that as I truly wanted to cause good in this world.

The names of these past practices I was involved with are of no consequence, its their impact that actually matters. I don’t care who you are or what your practice is, if it is not concerned with improving the quality of life of those in this time and place, its bound to do harm. Lets be honest, as there is no empirical evidence for an afterlife, then we shouldn’t put so much stock on it existing as the only means to justify our practices. I’ve found that the best way to measure worthiness of a religious practice is to see the physical results of it in lieu of supernatural elements. From there you will quickly find whether or not it is genuinely good or harmful.

There are religious practices that are certainly not harmful, but most I’d say aren’t doing a whole lot of good either by this form of measurement. There remains some that do a lot of good from their founding into today. One such example are Quakers, whose history is that of non-violence and as steadfast advocates for human rights. It would be hard to argue that this religious practice isn’t doing any good. This is just to show that supernatural elements are not required to find whether or not a religious practice is good, and yet still be considered good while having the supernatural as a core element.

In my journey I had moved further and further away from believing that ghosts, demons, angels, God, other deities, and spirits in general exist. That was directly due to having, not just seriously questioned, but actually seeking out answers through practice. As a result, I found that there is no evidence for such things and decided to then live accordingly. Which leaves little by way of camaraderie, and the closest I could get to the reflection of my worldviews was in Paganism, because Paganism included earth-based practices and is the most open to individualized practices. Through my individualized practice unexpectedly arose a tradition that was inclusive to diversity (any belief system can incorporate the philosophy, including Christian, Buddhist, Druid, Hindu, Muslim etc.) with the foundation of living harmoniously within Nature. It was called Ehoah (meaning “complete harmony within Nature”) with practitioners called Saegoahs (Saeg as the root word for ‘seek’, meaning “Seeker of complete harmony within Nature”), and all it is, is agreeing that the Saegoah’s Three Basic Tenets are true and living with respect to that:

Saegoah's Three Basic Tenets. Image Credit: Rua Lupa
Saegoah’s Three Basic Tenets. Image Credit: Rua Lupa

When approaching the world with this view you would inevitably alter your way of life so that all your interconnections ensure a healthy ecosystem, and encourage healthy interconnections within your community. The fact that diversity is a core value makes it even better because it enables resilience, avoids stagnation, and promotes the cultivation of solutions – we accept that one solution doesn’t fit all and thus end up respecting our differences instead of quashing them. Such quashing of opposing views is a major problem in a great many religions and is undoubtedly harmful.

In walking this path a great many ideas and methods of approach are shared to aid one another in our quest for Ehoah. So the expressions of Saegoahs can diverse wildly, but all of them are a reflection of our ecosystem, and that is where we find commonality and camaraderie.

This philosophy is also considered a religion by some because of some of the forms of expressions that have arisen (rituals & ceremonies). Either way you take it, the form of approach remains a non-exclusive, simple, straightforward concept that encourages good in the world. And so it can be said that this is what good religion is.

March 19, 2015

Saegoah Year Wheels. Image Credit: Rua Lupa
Saegoah Year Wheels. Image Credit: Rua Lupa

Equilux is seen as the dawn of the year because it is the point where the balance of night and day tips over into longer days. Hence the name which means ‘Equal Light’. For many people there is the common custom of house cleaning and its no different for me. I get the cleaning itch and when I get started it it is very difficult to stop – it is a very thorough clean that I make sure is conscientious every step of the way. And here is how you can too!

 

Method To The Cleaning Madness

As a Saegoah (Seeker of Complete Harmony within Nature) I take my possessions and their end of life seriously. Even before owning an item I always ask the *important questions* and so by the time it comes to the end of that item’s utility for me, its destiny is already planned for – making the process that much easier to complete. House Cleaning is usually when most objects find their end point in their journey in my life, as I am a strong advocate of only keeping what you use. If one of the objects I posses aren’t being used they move on.

To make this even easier I have a system.

1) Empty the room of everything
(I do leave beds and other large pieces of furniture if I am using those items – I do have some inherited dressers that are in dire need of finding a home, dressers are serious space hoggers that are not really needed)

2) Clean room (dust, sweep/vacuum, wipe walls & ceilings with warm soapy water, clean windows with damp cloth with vinegar and water)

3) As you return each item to the room thoroughly check it over – for cleaning, mending and to take the time to think on whether you actually use it.

4) If you use it and it needs mending, set it aside to mend; If it can no longer be mended, dispose of it (take apart and compost or recycle its components); If you haven’t used it within a year and is in good shape Donate it, if in poor shape dismantle and compost or recycle it components. (Note that décor and sentimental items are used whenever it is seen, if it hasn’t been looked at for over several months, then donate it.).

Sentimental items can be re purposed into something that is used. Such as T-shirts that no longer fit or you simply don’t wear any more but can’t donate because of what is on them you can have sewn together as a quilt throw for your couch – adding snuggle value and creating a conversation piece.

Image Credit: Andrea T. Funk, Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

5) Once every item has been gone over and found its end place, mend items that were previously set aside for mending, put them in their place, then repeat for next room.

The reason why I do a full room sweep is because items are always found in unexpected places. They seem to like to go to these unexpected places to get ‘lost’ and think it a very fun game to play at extreme lengths. This method of cleaning has the intent of downsizing which slowly diminishes the risk of playing the ‘lost’ game with your stuff. I swear the more stuff you have you are bound to get a few conspirators to convince your usually docile and compliant items to play.

I’m also a strong advocate of open storage as it decreases the likelihood of losing things, buying more than what you need, and keeping things you don’t actually use.

 

Patches For Mending & Fiber For The Birds

When it comes to mending I keep some well worn fabrics for their segments that I can later use as creative patches (incorporating embroidery) for other items that can yet be salvaged.

I also take the no longer salvageable clothing, tear it apart and offer its fibers to the returning birds to use in their nests.

And after all that cleaning, I enjoy a long awaited spring walk (perhaps with a feather ribbon wand and a flute) and sing a tune to greet the new day*.

*This greeting of the New Year can also include Seeding Eggs, Egg Messages, and taking a bit of cloth with a new year’s wish for a wishing tree.

Flower Patch From Old Linen Trousers and Embroidered. Patch by & Image Credit: Rua Lupa
Patched Children’s Pants. Patch From Old Linen Trousers and Embroidered As A Flower. Patch by & Image Credit: Rua Lupa
Old Unsalvageable Clothing Turned Into Nesting Fibers Offered To Spring Birds. Image Credit: Helen, Curly Birds: The Art of Play
January 5, 2015

Where I grew up. Family Owned Photo.
Where I grew up. Family Owned Photo.

Whenever I look back on where I grew up I end up saying that I was spoiled because I was surrounded by forests that I could wander to my heart’s content. Not only did my family own large acreage as a farm, much of that surrounded it was Crown Land (translation: Canadian for ‘public land’ held in trust by the crown). Growing up in this fashion all the structures were just part of the land and were incorporated into our play, and in the distance were our neighbours who would journey over and we would play at each other’s places in the same way. It wasn’t until I was an older kid that I learned that it isn’t like this everywhere and town was where I learned that. In my childhood town was just were I went to school, doctor or dentist, and for food stuffs we couldn’t grow or make at home. When I was older I was able to visit town on my own. In one of my first town forays (this being later in the year so night was most of evening) there were schoolmates about that I finally had an opportunity to play with so I decided to be my mischievous self and sneak around startling them with noises but never knowing what caused them for a while, building up the tension for when I would be suddenly in front of them out of nowhere. Just being able to pull it off without being caught was fun to do. I happened to be with someone at the time and coaxed them into joining the fun, but they were really apprehensive about the approach and I couldn’t fathom why. It was only when we were midway our game did a police car drive by and mentioned suspicious activity going around in yards and warned the kids to keep out of them if it were us. What a deflator! Town kids can’t play around buildings, trees and grass? Even if there was no one working in the area at the time? How lame is that!

Josie Smith, 7, lets go of a vine as Asher Montgomery, 9, left, and Morissey Montgomery, 7, right, watch her land during a recent adventure. Photos by CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times
Freerange Kids. IMAGE CREDIT: CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

It took me a while to understand land ownership and that people owned those areas. At the time I ended up thinking town people are picky snoots who don’t know how to share and adults should know better. As I got older other nuances to the concept of land use and ownership became known to me and usually ever more perplexing, but it also explained a lot about peoples attitudes that I didn’t understand before.

There were a number of occasions when friends looked at me strange and had to explain what is and isn’t permissible when it came to another’s private property – even if they weren’t ever there. They also had to explain why and how its a good thing. We seemed to both think each other’s outlooks to be very foreign, as if our own way of thinking should be naturally ingrained. The thing is a lot of these ownership concepts had to be taught, usually at such a young age it seems as if it were always known. I wasn’t taught anything on it because it didn’t need to be. What I was taught was wilderness safety, especially when it came to bears and wolves (In my experience wolves tend to have better things to do than to bother pesky humans. Bears on the other hand think of you differently depending on the time of year, because when they are hungry in spring and autumn it don’t matter which creature you are – you look like a meal. In summer when food is plentiful, hunting prey is usually not worth the work for what you get out of it – bears are lazy, mostly because they have to keep the weight on to sleep through winter. But I digress). So my learning came a lot later than normal because I didn’t experience when these things applied until then. Because of this experience I tend to think the whole land ownership thing to be more harmful than good, but would that thinking change if I had encountered that later as an adult? Is my information biased toward a child’s experience of things? Yes.

When learning more about the history of the native side of my ancestry, land ownership was at the crux of pretty well all the conflicts with European settlers. Cultural misunderstanding, and then intentional manipulation of cultural understandings of land use is what formed our shared history. The inhabitants prior to European settlement mostly held land in common among their community, and with smaller population numbers the people didn’t have issues with lack of land to sustain themselves. Europeans, having come from places of high population density, saw land ownerships as the norm and continued that approach when they settled here. But it wasn’t long ago in European history, especially in the United Kingdom, that land held in common was the norm too. What changed that? As you may have glimpsed from my previous phrasing, population is a major component to this. The more people you have the less land there is to go around and people start to hoard, “I’ve got mine, you get your own.” and such thinking continues today. As history continued to play out, the indigenous peoples came to understand this concept of land ownership the hard way and found that with so many people settling, less land is available and in order to keep their land they have to own it. So today we still have land claims that need to be settled and even between different indigenous peoples in the same area.

CrownLandCamping
Rules for Camping on Crown Land In Canada. Image Credit: Hilary Duff/CBC

Crown Land is held in trust by the crown and is publicly used. The decedents of the inhabitants prior to European settlement also use this land as they would have prior to settlement, and have more freedom of use than the decedents of the settlers – mostly with how much wildlife can be harvested. Mixed bloods, called Metis – like myself – have a bit of the same freedoms as the native decedents, but that is often determined on a court by court basis. As a result most Metis Crown Land use issues often aren’t addressed by police as a way to avoid complications from the findings of court, and it can get confusing. As a Metis, do I or don’t I need to get a fishing license? I still would abide by the fishing regulations because I am concerned about the health of the fish populations, but if its legitimately for sustenance and not just recreation where is the line drawn? This is where I feel sorry for Conservation Officers who are really just trying to do their job and truly care about the well being of the forests, lakes and rivers. That is what makes private property appealing. It prevents overuse of resources and resource abuse by the general populace, and it makes it easier for the law to be enforced because there is less grey area to deal with. This grey area is also commonly referred to as The Tragedy of The Commons which is part of why Europeans moved away from common land. There are those who would argue that such law hinders proper human living and the right to organize ourselves as communities by our own choosing.

But even in anarchistic community set ups there are unwritten codes of conduct – a subtle law that is enforced with social stigmatism. But it can become fully enforced “for the greater good” if stressors on that issue gets high enough and it does when the community population gets too large to enforce it with social stigmatism. Anarchistic or not, all small communities throughout history have used the social stigmatism tactic to
"For The Greater Good" Screenshot from the movie Hot Fuzz
“For The Greater Good” Screenshot from the movie Hot Fuzz

enforce social compliance and this can, and has, led to human rights abuses because the community is valued more than the individual. You must maintain the expected behaviour in your community so the community continues to operate efficiently. And that is why “for the greater good” is a common line of thought in smaller communities.

 

So the choices end up being Common Land with a small community with strict social stigma if an individual does not comply with the community organization; Common Land without the social stigma of a smaller community structure because population numbers are too high to organize in such a way and end up with The Tragedy of The Commons; Or because populations are too high for everyone utilize the land to sustain themselves, have Private Land that lacks more intimate community structure and is more individually organized – hence large towns and cities. Such private land structure unfortunately leads to increased social stratification – the higher in the social ladder the more land you can own, the lower in the social ladder you are the less land you can have, and usually you are borrowing the land from someone higher up – also called renting. As it is, our human population is immense and private land ownership looks to be here to stay in order to prevent land abuse and keep enough land unoccupied for agricultural use to feed our population. But isn’t there a different way we can do this? Some in the past have already thought this and created public parks as a result which is a really good thing. But these parks are usually underfunded by the public and often remain inaccessible to those who are living from paycheck to paycheck. I think there can be a better middle way with a bit of both private and public and it seems communities are already organically organizing toward this.

A different “middle-way” approach would lean toward a structure that would continue to have the security of a private home and a bit of land that is your own, but be organized as “Pocket Neighbourhoods” in order to maintain a close community where you know your neighbours and look out for one another. All the while there is a designated area of Public Land within that neighbourhood that includes a forested space and community gardens – ideally it would be both in the form of a Food Forest Garden. Pocket neighbourhoods already exist and are often laid out so that cars park on the outside and there is an open area for the kids to play in the center. Such layouts can be done to incorporate large populations of people, including cities, being laid out in a fractal-like manner, much like a tree branch with each leaf representing a neighborhood. The larger the population, the

Todmorden Incredible Edible
Todmorden Incredible Edible. Image Source: http://www.incredible-edible.info/?p=2579

more density is needed so vegetated cities would be done where the streets grow food and buildings have vegetated walls that double as food gardens, all of which can be picked by the public. Verandas then become private gardens and rooftops become community gardens. The ground levels would be businesses, and people can live where they work instead of commuting. Transportation can shift to become a network of short and long distance hubs of public transit from bike sharing (+paddle sharing) to trolly (tram, light rail, buses, ferries) to train/ferries then plane/ship. Renting can transition to being home ownership (including condos) with prices according to their size with both town houses and condominiums having mixed sizes in each neighborhood or building for equal access to living, and access grants for those with lower incomes that wouldn’t normally provide home ownership access. Public education would thus be uniform regardless of backgrounds. This way generations following would then have equal opportunity. Land management regulations can move in this direction and often already have. Planning Boards have made it so sprawl is heavily discouraged and encouraged communities to develop and improve their core, instead of leaving them to decay from within and spread outward. With the proposed application I’ve made here for community layouts and home ownership there is more incentive for those living there to invest in the place because its not just welfare housing you’re renting that you want jettison the moment you can to move to a better neighbourhood. Its not just the woods where you can leave your trash and its someone else’s problem – its where you and your kids play and feed themselves and have a stake in its well being because you own part of it. These places then change over to being cared for by the entire community as a whole, not abandoned as ‘not my problem’. This sense of community is something we are dearly lacking and demanding for our future. There are already architects, activists, community organizers, city councils, schools and permaculture designers who are moving forward with these concepts and are organically coming together in such a form, and there are already decades old case studies out there. I believe this is the better way.

 

How to Make a Food Forest Suburb-HD from Permaculture Research Institute on Vimeo.

 

December 8, 2014

The holiday season is here. For most people, this means Christmas shopping. For some, Solstice shopping (is that a thing? I’m…honestly not sure.). Regardless, this time of year seems to cause a sort of crisis of sorts in our culture. On the one hand, advertising and social expectation conspire to drive us into shops, malls, and increasingly websites to buy gifts for friends and family. On the other hand, advice from spiritual leaders and philosophers urges us to reject consumerism and find the “real” spirit of the season.

The rejection of material wealth (in theory) isn’t unique to any particular religion or philosophy. It’s quite common among Christians to bemoan how commercialized and materialistic Christmas has become. Buddhism has, as its basis, a rejection of desire that must include desires for material goods. Hinduism has a long tradition of asceticism among its hundreds, of sects. To be holy, we must be poor.

And yet…

The message of many of these religions is conveyed through religious texts – often beautifully made with expensive materials. In times before the printing press, monks would labour over copies of the Bible for long months (or years), not only copying the text but illustrating and decorating it, making it a thing of beauty. These spiritually inclined-men, often bound by vows of poverty, spent a huge amount of their time actively creating material goods. The rich man could read about his chances of entering heaven (to wit: nil) in a leather bound, gorgeously illuminated manuscript.

Faced with the admonition by Christ himself to sell all their possessions and follow him, almost no one does it. Faced with messages of getting back to basics and nature, many pagans spend hundreds of dollars on exquisitely crafted ceremonial objects. Faced with messages about the ecological dangers of rampant consumerism, the dubiously ethical leatherworker spends a hundred dollars on a new sewing awl haft ( made of Cocobolo, an exotic hardwood of questionable sustainability) and blade (hand forged carbon steel).

Yeah, that last one is me.

This isn’t meant as a condemnation of any particular worldview or group. Something is happening here beneath the surface of all the rhetoric and theology. There’s a commonality here.

Maybe stuff IS important.

Humanity is not the only tool using species. Ravens, Chimpanzees and Octopi spring to mind. But we are without a doubt the most prolific. We spend almost our entire waking lives making, using, inventing or purchasing tools. Clothing? A tool to keep us warm, out of the sun, or make us attractive to the opposite sex. Shoes? A tool to protect our feet. All of our methods of transportation, aside from walking, involve the use of complex tools.

There is no human culture on earth today that does not create and use tools. So what would humanity be without stuff?

Here is my morning routine: I’m woken by my alarm clock at 7:00 AM. I roll out of bed, get dressed, then head to my daughter’s room to visit the indignity of wakefulness upon the poor child. Then I head to the kitchen and start making her lunch for school, using a bread knife and a cutting board, and utilizing food from the refrigerator. I then make breakfast using those same tools, eat it off of my plates, then put on my shoes and coat and walk to work, where I will use various high end electronics to do my office job to earn money.

This money will be used to guarantee the eternal salvation of my rather shoddy soul.

Just kidding, I’ll use it to buy stuff.

So. Stuff is, at the very least, a necessary evil (at least for humans).

This is the refrain from those who reject any kind of materialism and wealth, especially on spiritual grounds. If you must have stuff, get by with the bare minimum, utilitarian tools, shelter and clothing. For best results, have these in common.

This is, by and large, roundly ignored. In sub-cultures that actually strictly enforce these standards, such as monasteries, near constant discipline is needed to prevent members from acquiring small luxuries – and these often fail. There are many parallels to the attempts (often unsuccessful) to enforce celibacy on clergy members and monks. Ultimately, it seems, human theology is flogging the tide of human nature.

Who amongst us does not have a favourite mug? Name an artisan without a favourite tool. Try and convince a sailor his boat doesn’t need a name. Tools are part of how we make our way in the world, integral to our survival, and its natural to impart a sense of possession over things we use every day.

Tools and possessions become extensions of ourselves. Look at the carpenter, their rack of tools razor-sharp, the handles worn smooth and shiny by constant use. They are simple, but excellently made and cared for. Maybe, in the corner, they have one exquisitely made mallet, the handle made of exotic woods with their name engraved in the side. You could find out more about this crafter by examining their tools than you could by speaking to them for an hour. People do not always say what they mean, but they nearly always live what they mean.

So, stuff is not merely a necessary evil. It shapes our thoughts, philosophy and culture. We decorate our clothing with slogans, inside jokes and the faces of cultural icons. They are an outward expression of identity. Our material goods shape our cultures – how many discourses on the evils of materialism have been written from behind the shining screen of an iMac? Look at the emergent Internet culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, so shaped by the nature of networking technology and computers, and by the resulting sense of anonymity.

The blanket condemnation of material culture is a poisonous idea (though possibly spread with the best of intentions). It is true that our escalating consumption is destroying the global ecosystem. It is true that our desire for material luxuries at cheap prices forces people into slavery half a world away. It is true that people can become preoccupied with material wealth, to the detriment of personal relationships.

But when we degrade the value of all material goods, we degrade the humanity of our fellows. Every single item you see around you has been built by someone. Someone spent time and effort to make it. In many cases, they have tried their best to make it well. Given the opportunity, most people will try and make something beautiful.

So here we are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, our consumption of food, energy, and material goods is driving ecological destruction and contributing to the suffering of our fellow humans. Our personal and cultural identities can be buried in a flurry of cheap consumer goods and mass culture.

On the other hand, it is apparent that the drive to create and use tools and goods is integral to our nature and identity. No amount of spiritual flagellation is going to scour it from our civilization – in the end it just causes people anxiety and stress.

So what can we do?

The first thing I would suggest, especially if you haven’t done it in a while, is to try and make something useful. Knit or crochet a scarf. Forge a knife. Mold a pot or a mug. Think about the time it took you, the materials that went into it, the things that had to be done so that you could make it. Research the history of the craft you chose, even if it’s just a cursory review. If it’s any good at all, keep it for yourself and wear/use it proudly – if it turned out poorly foist it off on some relatives. They’ll love it anyway, even if you make crappy scarves (or leatherwork, as the case may be).

Once you’ve done this, do it again. Winter is on the way and everyone needs a scarf.

(Don’t make anything out of leather, though – you wouldn’t like it and anyway I don’t need any more competition.)

When you’ve done this a few times, you may find you’ve got a new perspective on stuff.

That’s what happened to me, anyway.

A little over a couple years ago, I was adamant (especially to my crafty wife) that I lacked the crafter’s spark. I had no desire to make things (so I said), and that no amount of badgering could overcome such a temperament. Then, one Christmas, as my wife was making felted toys as presents for our daughter and her nephews, I thought about how cool it was that she could do that – take some raw materials and turn it into meaningful gifts. She spent hours and hours on them. Inspired, I cast around for something I was interested in making – and leather caught my eye. With minimal preparation, and far too much money spent on tools and materials, I jumped headlong into leatherwork.

Those first items were awful. I mean, they were objectively bad. I cut thick leather with bad scissors and oh boy, could you ever tell. I used cheap suede lace and the dyes didn’t work and there was no hope of me actually sewing anything. But they were gifts and my parents and brother didn’t look too closely at them (that’s how you know people love you – they see the work and not the item).

The next year, I did better. And seeing how people reacted to the things I had made for them was part of what inspired me to start a side business doing leatherwork. I began to think that people should have well made, beautiful things. Not too many – maybe just one or two, things they used every day, that became part of their routine, that made their day a little better, or their life a little easier. Isn’t that why we invented tools in the first place?

After I started leatherworking, I started looking at things and marvelling at the amount of work that must have gone into them. I wondered where it had come from, and who had made it. I began to think more critically about what I bought and where I bought it from.

I think, perversely, that the message that stuff isn’t important makes it easier to over-consume. After all, if stuff isn’t important, we can just buy it and discard it as we feel like it. We don’t think about the skills, infrastructure, and engineering that goes into every item we buy and use. We just say that stuff isn’t really important, that the material is inferior to the spiritual, and we can keep on ignoring the real issues presented by what we buy and what we make.

Conversely, when you start thinking of stuff as a reflection of your own values, you may become less wasteful. You may be more discerning in your buying habits. You’ll be more willing to mend and repair your stuff because it represents an investment of not only money but also thought. You might be less likely to impulse buy an item you don’t need.

This outlook is fraught with difficulty. When something says Made in Canada, what does that mean? Were the parts made overseas and assembled here, or was it made from scratch? Should I buy something local, or something made internationally, in a country where people badly need employment? How can I find out what the labour practices are of the company that made it? When something says 100% Genuine Leather, is that real leather? (spoiler alert: not really). And what on Earth does hand made even mean, anyway?

Consuming deliberately does not mean basing your entire identity on the things you buy. But it does mean acknowledging what the things you buy mean, what they say to others and how they impact the world around you. I would say that buying fewer things, and enjoying them more,is probably better for you than buying a lot of stuff that just takes up space.

Consumption isn’t the end of it, either: it’s the beginning. Making stuff deliberately is just as important (if not more so). If you work in a manufacturing setting, try and find out more about the entire process, the raw materials and the finished products. Make sure your part in the process is well-done and thoughtful. If your job is like mine (office work, with few tangible, physical end products) try taking up a constructive hobby. There’s nothing wrong with office or service work (a lot of it is quite important) but for me, the leatherwork I do is often more satisfying than my day job. Maybe there’s something in the human brain that just wants to make something and hold it in their hand, something real and beautiful.

I’m not going to say this type of thing is not for everyone. It is for everyone. Every single one of us has an ancestor that made and used tools of some kind. Thousands of years ago, one of your forefathers took a few extra minutes with his antler striker to make sure that flint arrowhead had a pleasing symmetry to it. One of your foremothers took an evening by the fire to carve intricate designs into her spear-thrower, for no other reason than to make it beautiful.

It may be true that we’re all consumers. But then the following is also true:

We’re all makers, deep in our bones. And this time of year, we should remember that.


Jake Diebolt - Leatherworker ArtisanJake Diebolt lives and works in Gore Bay, Ontario – office worker by day, and leather worker by night. He writes when he can wring out a little bit of time in between. You can have a look at what he is up to at Sparrowhawk Leather.

 

November 16, 2014

First off, lets clear the air of any ideas of what this author is and is not – I am an atheist, though I prefer naturalist (as in naturalism). I also fall under the Pagan umbrella due to my nature based practices. So I am speaking from a shared perspective and not of being on one side critiquing another.

Secondly, I would like to acknowledge that there are a great many atheists who are not vocal about their worldviews and prefer to keep to themselves on the subject. This is about the more vocal members of the atheist worldview – especially those who debate in the public sphere and are out to prove everyone else is wrong. Pagans are certainly not immune to this, but there are much fewer incidences by comparison, by a long shot. And this article is to look at how that is, even though this sphere holds a lot of very different and often opposing views.

Debating remains a vital part of human discourse and shouldn’t be discouraged. It helps challenge long held beliefs that have come to be expected to be true just because that is the way it always has been – or so it appears to be from your lifetime experience. Such debates can help us shake off things that we find to be not good, and thus help us move in a better direction in life. Debates cease being good when it no longer acknowledges what the other side of the debate has to say and are essentially speaking to yourself. Even if the other side may have a valid point. As far as my own experience goes, most sides have a valid point and we mustn’t forget that the other side is human too and should avoid demonizing or belittling the person who hold views different from you. And yes, even if they started it. Its the subject that should be debated, not a person’s character. Who ever enters a debate attacking someones character does a great disservice to the debate and to themselves.

Being naturalistic myself while moving through the Pagan sphere has me rub elbows with a LOT of worldviews that greatly differ from my own, and that I simply don’t agree with for various reasons. But we maintain a human respect for one another all the while. In fact, Pagans and Atheists have worked together on a number of issues already – especially when it comes to religious rights, freedoms and particularly the separation of State and Religion. And unlike what a lot of Christians think of these two groups, we’re not out to get Christians. Its about treating everyone equally and respecting each others human rights, as opposed to having any one religion be favored over others in government. Whether it be Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, Buddhism, or Pagan. That’s it. We’re normally more interested in our own affairs and have little interest in influencing Christianity itself. Likely just as much as Christians would have interest in influencing Jainism.

There is the impression that atheists are out to oust all religious beliefs – particularly the belief in gods. How else are people supposed to interpret atheism with the denouncing religion in media debates, and putting out displays of “God Graveyards” and the like. Most public dialogue has to do with critiquing the beliefs of others and very little to do with their own. Some atheists have eventually got to the point where they state that they are weary of it and “are over it”. Pagans sometimes do the same thing too. Mostly this arises from ex-Christians who are discovering their personal beliefs and are upset with the beliefs that they once held. In a way its a personal purge of our belief systems, removing all the things we find icky. It just so happens that it usually is Christian because that was the only way we saw the world before and so inevitably that purge would involve nothing else. The same sort of things happens to anybody who changes long held beliefs from any belief to another.

After such a purge, or having been raised within the beliefs of Paganism or Atheism, the difference between Pagans and Atheists tends to be the approach to our own beliefs and how it is reflected on others. Many atheists tend to keep trudging on the conveyor belt of critiques, picking up what morsel of interesting religious tidbit that rolls on down and then go on to annihilate it to the best of their ability. Sometimes it is because it is felt that there needs to be continued, sustained opposition to the ties between religion and state in order to over come them. But often there ends up being more and more discussion on the religions themselves instead of the specific religion and state issues. Other times it seems that there is nothing else to do and so you keep doing it. Then there are those who want to move on to other things and start working on an atheist community, culture, and way of life. This has sometimes manifested in the form of atheist churches, which receives a lot of criticism within the atheist sphere. It is these atheists who are trying to construct an approach to their own worldview that have the most similarity with Pagans, and this is where Atheists can learn a lot from Pagans.

What Pagans tend to be most interested in is constructing practices and community, and maintaining a healthy community. We want a lifestyle that reflects our beliefs and thus have come up with a great many ways of doing that. It is because of the diversity of beliefs that enables such creativity and ways of expression. The fact that we hold differing beliefs goes as far as learning what those beliefs are, then going on to work together on the things we share in common. Pagans are not all Liberals, Greens, Conservative, Communists, Anarchists etc. Pagans have all of the above and then some. This makes Paganism a fantastic resource of ideas and approaches to life, you are bound to find something in common with someone here.

If you are interested in creating ceremony for different events in life you find to be important to you, look them up in the Pagan resources. Be it blog, book or interview. For any one kind of ceremony you could find 30 different approaches to it, each designed around the core held beliefs of those who do them. Most have been tweaked over the years and generations toward a formula that has found to work best in the purpose of that ceremony. Funeral ceremonies have been developed to enable the full process of grieving; Birthing and Naming ceremonies have been developed to increase the bond of child to family and community; Ceremonies of the Seasons have developed to draw ourselves and community closer to its rhythms and become better able to live according to the realities of our environment. This and more is accessible by anyone who is interested, and Pagans are usually more than happy to share. The main exception being that some practices are only learned through being a member of initiation based paths. The other main reason that sharing doesn’t occur is fear of ridicule, misinterpretation and then misrepresentation, as has happened often in media. But by showing an genuine interest by doing your homework on the beliefs of the practices that you have most interest in learning from, prior to engaging with individuals or a group to learn more, can make you a very welcomed guest to the table.

When it comes to atheists who have little interest in creating a practice for themselves or community, you can still learn a bit from Pagans. As I already mentioned, even though Pagans hold differing beliefs it usually goes as far as learning what those beliefs are, then going on to work together on the things we share in common. This approach can apply to any belief outside the Pagan sphere. A lot of people may read this and say that they already do that, but do they really? What is usually meant with that sort of response is that they respect other people and are civil to one another. Sure, but that leaves you open to a whole slew of problems. Namely unintentional disrespect through ignorance. By learning the beliefs of others enables better relationships through understanding where each other is coming from. You wouldn’t want to be unexpectedly served lamb’s head would you? This is of a similar scenario of serving a Muslim pork – neither of you would like to eat it. If you were to travel to a foreign country, you would likely like to learn the ways and culture of the people there to better operate respectively while you were there. The only difference I am suggesting is doing it where you are already, but focusing on the different beliefs that are held within your region. Where I am I already grew up learning French and English of Canada, being raised in a Quebec French family that spoke English. What I didn’t grow up learning was the indigenous beliefs of the area, which I have been rectifying in the last few years by participating in education and other retreats held by the indigenous community. I have also been learning the ancestral beliefs of various Europeans that manifest as various forms of Paganism in North America. Through this process I have avoided a great many “foot in my mouth” moments and held on to things that I ended up finding to be good things from these different beliefs, growing as a person in the process. Something that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept to my own beliefs.


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