November 3, 2014

Being a Metis (from northern Ontario, Canada) had left me wanting to know more about my heritage. And along with that I wanted to learn about cultures that have harmonious relations with the ecosystem they developed from. This has led me to volunteer and participate in a fair number of related ceremonies.

I’ve enjoyed my experiences with these ceremonies and have learned a lot on various approaches to encouraging harmonious living with our environment, relations, and home through them. I have a few favourite kinds and still am learning from them, especially as different teachers lead them and share the different things they know. One thing that needs to be remembered for native ceremonies is that ceremonies can be vastly different from each other between individual teachers within the same cultural sphere. Most of my experience is from the Anishnabe (Ojibway) culture, as it is a prominent culture in my region, and is one that I was drawn to because I am directly related to it through my ancestry.

One of my favourite things to learn are the stories. Stories can tell a great deal more than direct instruction. Stories told to entertain often have subtle messages about how to go about things in life. One theme I have noticed in some Anishnabe tellings is that whenever the main character – often the cultural hero – has encountered some peril they learn from a relation (the prevalent worldview being animistic, so it could be from a plant, animal – including human/humanoid animal, water, stone or others) how to recover, usually through respectful action or medicine. And because this is a crucial point (often one among many) that may make or break the character and/or their journey, you definitely remember how they got past it – and therefore reinforces the memory of that lesson so that you end up doing it yourself if you ever meet the same sort of peril. By the way, Cedar is Awesome!

There is another thing that is also very important. To learn the true depth of a teaching you need to suspend any judgement until well past it (unless one’s physical safety is of concern). Now as a naturalistic individual this may seem odd, and it is to a certain degree. Being naturalistic may mean that I disbelieve supernatural explanations, but as a naturalist I do believe all things are natural phenomenon. As an example, magnetism and electricity was seen as a supernatural phenomenon for quite some time. But once it was studied, tested, and peer reviewed, numerous times over, it was found to be a natural phenomenon. There are likely still things like that today that we could benefit from understanding better but is currently seen as supernatural superstition. In other words, I think all things that are prevalently understood with supernatural explanations shouldn’t be dismissed by researchers – All phenomenon are worthy of study. And so I have a preference for claims to have some thorough scrutiny, preferably with a few runs of the scientific method before I make a final judgement on it. Until then I try to keep an open mind on what is going on. These days the frontier appears to be within the realm of psychology and quantum physics (as understood by physicists, otherwise its liable toward pseudo science that does a disservice to the subject). So our understanding of various mental states and the physical world could very well drastically change and end up changing our perceptions of things currently considered superstitious by many. Meditation and yoga being an excellent current example.

My interests tend toward how religious elements effect our mental states and what we could learn from them for the betterment of society as a whole. Again, meditation and yoga have come to be found to be beneficial to society as a whole for mental and physical health (although I consider mental health to be inseparable from physical health). I still consider someone’s experiences of the supernatural to have been experienced, I just perceive it to be a form of natural phenomenon, likely a psychological one, we’ve yet to fully understand – like dreams. So currently I file such topics under, “I don’t know.” but would like to observe it more if I find there is an apparent benefit to participants. I think that is why there is a growing number of Humanistic Churches – they’ve found some aspects of religion to be beneficial to society and see it being counterproductive to toss out the whole thing for what bad they’ve found and end up loosing what was good too.

Even with an naturalistic outlook I remain able to and have fully participated in sweat lodges, various women’s ceremonies, as a helper for fasts, and a Yuwipi (Lakota Tie-up). I find that in all these kinds of ceremonies there can be prevalent sexism. Namely the requirement of women to wear long skirts and sit in certain ways, and gender segregation overall in roles and ceremonies. Men, for example, cannot attend Moon Ceremonies. While women cannot attend most any ceremony while on their ‘moon time’. Both men and women cannot play drums at the same time and some drums can only be played by certain genders. There are various reasons for this divide, either way my point is that sexism is there no matter how you feel about it and would need to follow suit in order to participate. Curiously, early settler encounters record native clothing of women being knee-length skirts or dresses – which makes sense for practicality in woodland settings. I keep tripping over mine. The ankle length skirts and a number of various other female expected roles that are encouraged today likely stem from European, especially priestly, influences for perceived modesty. There certainly remains a number of gender conventions that stem from within native cultures too. Even with these expected gender roles some traditional teachers have decided that they want to be progressive and allow certain things to be changed in their own teachings. There can be quite a bit of strife from within communities for such divergent approaches, but they exist.

Thunder Mountain. Image Credit: Rua Lupa
Thunder Mountain. Image Credit: Rua Lupa

Out of all of these ceremonies I most enjoy the sweat lodges, and the women ceremonies – which I believe would be beneficial to men as well. I’m not so keen on the fasting since it involves deprivation of food and water, and you are expected to stand and expose yourself to the elements – all being stressors that can trigger hallucinations, which I suppose is the point. I am concerned about my personal health so such an experience is not for me. I still do enjoy helping for fasts and learning from others there. I personally believe that some elements of these fasts would remain beneficial outside food and water deprivation, and the hallucinatory experience. Primarily the isolation in a wilderness setting for long periods of time without the distraction of preparing meals and the like. Having done solo camping before I can anecdotally attest to that. Without distractions you are forced to listen to your own thoughts and deal with what issues you have going on. The wilderness setting is the ultimate classroom for learning. Most fasters come down from the mountain with stories of how their environment or the wildlife, no matter the kind, had something to learn from.

I wasn’t always so keenly naturalistic. I used to lean much further toward agnostic – being much more uncertain on what I believed about supernatural stuff. Looking back, I believe one ceremony experience was the motivator toward a more naturalistic stance for me. The Yuwipi.

I had been very open with my very diverse believing friends, who brought me to and shared their wonderously various practices (Most being exactly the sorts I was hoping to learn from – the ecosystem friendly kinds), that I was quite agnostic about it all. I was assured that it would all be laid to rest with the Yuwipi that we were going be privileged to experience as a healer who does it is coming through the area to do it for the island community. At the ceremony the healer spoke with those who needed healing to find out their needs, then was wrapped in a ceremonial blanket, bound and laid onto the alter as an offering to the spirits. The alter had consisted of an alter blanket, a set number of tobacco ties with a set of specific colors oriented in a specific way (four colors to each cardinal direction), buffalo skull, and a few other things that evade my memory. I mostly remember the ties because I helped make them – there were a lot! Once this was all set up, no light would be permitted in the room. Anything that could bring in light was to be removed. Keylights, phones, lighters, etc. All the windows and doors were covered up too. Then the ceremony would begin with a talking circle, where each person present would have a turn to speak their desires for the ceremony. After the talking circle the healer would call out for the spirits to come to our aid. Offering their soul as a sacrifice to enable this, shortening their life for the benefit of the community. In this case a hawk visited – you could hear it fly down onto the alter. It had a message for the people present. Then there were children spirits who had a message. Both the hawk and children would do what they could to heal the people.  Then there is drumming, chanting and dancing in the pitch dark. When this began the children spirits danced too – you could see a blue glow and hear the shaker they used from the spirit world. The hawk would fly through the people present and give healings and blessings. The children would do the same with their spirit shaker. You were to respectfully keep from touching them because they may become scared off before people could get the healing they sought. I was elated to see what was before my eyes and hear with my ears. We danced for what seemed an hour or more. The spirit shaker had come before me once already, as it passed I felt a leather dress brush past me. I found it curiously similar to the healer’s spouse’s dress. It was the second time that my curiosity got the better of me. I thought, “If the spirit could see me just fine then they would move away from me if I got too uncomfortably close for them.” So I slowly reached my hand toward it, and I touched a very human hand holding a very man-made shaker. I recognized the hand that I shook earlier as the spouse to the healer. They were unusually small, short fine fingered hands when I shook them. As was this hand that I had just touched, and so the leather dress made sense too. I was extremely disappointed and sat down on my chair. Only to find the shaker jabbing me in the face. Then a right hand touched my face, as if to find it. It had a hawk wing bound to it. They seemed to have thought I was still standing and intended to instead jab me in the chest defensively. The hand with the hawk wing strapped on it brushed the feathers of the wing over my face and head a few times. Then moved on.

It seemed to have gone on for another hour. In that time I recalled some of my studies in bioluminescence which led me to stumbling across mechanoluminescence and its related parts. One of the parts described how quartz would emit a blue light when struck against one another and was common in Lakota ceremonial shakers for this purpose. How did I not remember that when I first saw it! I was even considering making one myself! I might still in fact. That luminescence study spree led me away from that sub-subject onto other things I wanted to learn more about in the subject, and it was some months ago. So forgetting was understandable. It was pretty neat to see it in action right in front of me in a way it was traditionally used. Not something many people who like to study such things get to do. The ceremony was coming to a close. The spirits were ready to go and were given leave and a piece of soul they required for the work, and the healer requested that they would be permitted to stay in this world. As they left there was a swoosh sound as if from a blanket on the alter, and the lights came on almost instantly after, revealing the healer standing, unbound, and unwrapped by the spirits. Following that people were welcome to make flesh offerings. I don’t remember much of the details that went into that. What I do remember is that those who decided to make flesh offerings would have their upper arm cut and have a thread with a feather tied onto it pulled through. From what I recall it seems that every individual who did the offering had it done on both arms, and some had it done twice on each. There was dried sage leaves that I had helped with preparing earlier that were used to stem the blood flow after their prayer dance on the alter.

Afterwards there was a potluck feast. It was in the early hours of the night at this point. As a helper I brought out the dishes and laid it in the center of the seated circles, then brought each dish around so everyone can pick from it. There were a great many wonderful dishes present. I always appreciated wild game and it was there in abundance. Notably not for long. As a helper I served myself last. Then I washed the resulting dishes and kept to myself in the kitchen for the rest of the late night. I noticed that the healer, their spouse and child were deliberating quite animatedly in a corner since the ending of the ceremony. I was just getting my own thoughts together on how I felt about it. As scenarios go, this one got interesting, since we had shared a ride there, we would be sharing a ride back. On the way back they spoke little and seemed stiffer than they were before. Then the spouse put out the question, “what did you think of the tie-up?” I answered quickly with, “It was wild.” To that their child had said, “See, she doesn’t know.” and was quickly hushed by their parents. When we got out of the vehicle we shook hands and hugged goodbye and wished a good journey for the travelling healer and their family. They were obviously still uncertain about what I knew, and still I don’t plan on saying anything about this healer or their family to cause them grief. I see no good from it. I do see good from telling this story so that people have scrutiny when it comes to experiences like these, so long as the privacy of this family is preserved. Malice toward anyone does nobody any good.

It was after speaking with my spouse when I got home that it became abundantly clear that this was a seance, just one of aboriginal origin. This was quite some time ago. Likely well over a year or two. No matter the experience I have in these ceremonies I partake in, I try to learn how such a ceremony may arise and what good it could have on the people involved. This is just one rare time when I knew there was nothing supernatural behind it, but it doesn’t mean there was nothing of value in it. Other people present didn’t know like I did, and I had kept it to myself and my significant other until this was written. So those reading this will be the first to know outside my spouse and me. Why hadn’t I told my friends? I truly don’t know. I don’t want to cause strife between us, they are too dear to me to let something like this to come between us. Part of me wants them to read this as a way of telling them. Another part of me hopes that writing this gives me some firm footing on how to breach the subject and do so in person. Either way, I couldn’t keep this to myself and would have shared it in a public sphere like this one eventually. It felt wrong to keep it to myself and so it needed to be said. For the people who were there and didn’t know what I knew, for the most part they appeared to be feeling uplifted. It was certainly a confidence booster and likely worked much like a placebo for ailments. I can’t tell much else from that experience, other than it reaffirming or establishing a belief in the supernatural by providing faux evidence with sounds and light. It was indeed a wild experience. But unfortunately, I think outside of getting some fantastic tips on setting the ambiance for ceremonies, there isn’t much benefit to it. Unless you think the placebo and confidence boost are worth the lies needed to make it work.

I question my perceptions and experiences all the time, and I do prefer not knowing over blind certainty any day. I feel that unless the supernatural subject (or any subject for that matter) is being thoroughly scrutinized, it is liable to be a distraction from what I can be more productive with. I fear that to believe in the existence of the supernatural and live according to that belief when there is no scientific evidence of it being real, would end up with me living inconsequentially. That is why I focus on the tangible things I can do, that way I know the actual impacts I’m making. I don’t hold it against others that decide otherwise and wouldn’t discourage them from their spiritual pursuits. This is just the way I feel about it for my own life and felt the need to share my experiences. Hopefully what I shared could be helpful to others in their journey.

 

October 2, 2014

A few years back I was at a retreat on a mountain sacred to the Anishinabe (Ojibway) called Thunder Mountain and a couple of us wanted to go see the water falls in the area. In the same area was a forestry operation harvesting the trees, so there were patches of cleared forests on our way to the falls. The person I was with had remarked on how horrible that was. I myself, had grew up harvesting trees on our property, had been in logging work parties with relatives, our town was a paper mill town, and when I went to college we had some forestry courses as part of the Wildlife Technician Program I was in. So the subject was close to home for me. The person making the comment hailed from southern Ontario, Canada, where it was mostly urban and suburban and had stated that they haven’t seen this sort of destruction before.

I almost laughed. I decided the better of it and pointed out how this was what a sustainable harvest looked like. “See the single standing trees marked in blue? Those trees are intentionally left to propagate the open areas and as habitat, and see how there are patches of intact forest within the cutting area? Those are doing the same thing but allow it to happen faster, otherwise its keeping special habitat areas intact. Its essentially mimicking a wildfire.”

The response was that there is no need for cutting these trees. I then asked if they use toilet paper, notebooks, writing/printing paper, read books/magazines, have wooden furniture, and so on. They, like most of us, did and still do. So I told them, “then you are a part of this.” It caused a bit of a shock and concern. The ride to find the falls was quite for a time after that.

This is the sort of thing I continually find when people get angry about “the destruction” they see. Sometimes its not as bad as it looks because the process is so foreign to them – they really don’t know how the things they use get made and there had been leaps and bounds in progress in sustainable resource harvesting. Other times, it really is as bad as it looks. But the truth is, you are a part of it. Wearing jewelry? Thank the people digging in mines with no safety regulations, no living wage, using child labour and are in life threatening conditions. Eating chocolate? Same thing, the difference is that it is in a cocoa plantation instead of a mine, using extremely toxic treatments. With workers having no protective gear inhaling and absorbing these toxins it is not uncommon to see workers seizing in the fields and get no compensation. Both have had kidnappings and forced labour. And the same sort of thing can be found in most things commonly used in conventional society. You buying something because it is cheaper than the competitor? Question why it is cheaper.

Many people don’t even want to know that they are connected to these atrocities – out of sight, out of mind. So its business as usual. But guess what that means? It means that it keeps happening and with increase demand comes increase in this kind of resource extraction. The only way to stop this sort of thing is to take a serious look at what you are buying and using – are you encouraging this sort of resource extraction? If you really want to know what your impacts are and how to improve them, here is an article that has the questionnaire you need. By seeing our interconnections laid out in front of us we can see how we can make it better and put public pressure on the right points to get it going in a better direction. The easiest is making fair-trade Eco-conscious decisions – by buying Halloween candy from business that uphold these practices. Unlike Nestle, Mars, Ferrero, Hershey, and Cadbury (US division). If we choose to willfully ignore our interconnections with harmful practices, we are no better than the people committing it on our behalf.

August 25, 2014

Bionic, simply put, is a biological organism that has electric or mechanical parts. In other words you are fused with it and it is inseparable and a great many homo sapiens are then, by definition, bionic.

Yes, it is plain there are those who fit this label well according our expectations – primarily with amputees. With these examples I find no problem and it is good that through this technology people are able to have  a high quality of life that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Where I do find a problem is with normally functioning people being unable to function without being constantly connected with technology.

Image Credit: Sellingpix
We are attached to our technology. Image Credit: Sellingpix

The ultimate current example being the smart phone. People become panic stricken and severely distressed when ‘the battery dies’ or it gets lost or damaged. In personal experience, we nearly hit someone who had accidentally dropped their phone that then had rolled right in front of our moving vehicle. And then there is the disregard for other people’s lives when texting and driving. The only time that such attachment and distress should make sense is if you were expecting a call for a job interview or when there was a family emergency (there are possibly other things I have missed, but you get the idea). In any of those cases driving wouldn’t even be considered.

People are now finding it difficult to cope with being alone with themselves – for any length of time. Its quite the affliction our population is having. Normal social behaviours are being deteriorated through this technology dependance – being able to tell someone troubling news, asking someone on a date, breaking up with someone, and other socially challenging scenarios are more frequently resorted to an electronic message. People are walking in a group and all staring down at a device instead of actively engaging with one another. As more and more direct, in person, socializing drops, neurosis spikes.

photo by Andrew Spearin
photo by Andrew Spearin

We’ve essentially created a little bubble around ourselves and disengaged with the physical world to an extreme. We are experiencing entire generations that know more about fictitious creatures on favorite television shows than what lives right outside your door, that know the fast food menu like the back of their hand but can’t recognize fresh vegetables.

Processed goods have become more normal and recognizable than the raw ingredients that make them. You have pine floor boards? What does that tree look like? Your shirt is made from rayon? What is rayon? You’re eating pasta? How is pasta made? Drinking pineapple juice? What does a pineapple plant look like (not just the fruit), and where is it from? Pretty basic questions really, and if you can answer all this from the top of your head without looking it up you are at the far end of the bell curve.

The point is that we are so entrenched in technology that we don’t even realize that we are dependent on it to function normally. Everything from harvesting, manufacturing, transporting, and selling a product happens unawares to the most of us – we just see the end of the line. And in our mundane activities we are constantly connected to it.

Would you be able to go for months without having a cell phone on you? A couple of weeks without the internet? Could you go on a road trip without relying on a GPS? Would you be able to navigate your whole neighbourhood by foot – without your phone? If unable to do these things, then maybe we need to reconsider how we relate to our world.

I think a bit of routine disengagement from tech, processed foods, and controlled indoor environments; and getting outside and being surrounded by other than human lifeforms is good keep our sanity on principle. But it has also been found to do wonders for your health overall…

get-outside-infographic-cottagecountry1

So do yourself a favour and regularly give yourself some time without that phone, without that ipod, fastfood, or car, and spend that time getting food from a farmer’s market /community garden, going on a forested hike, having a picnic in the park, or just sit under a tree for a few minutes or more and soak it all in. Let what thoughts come and deal with them while you are not distracted – we need to take the time to get our thoughts together on life to be better prepared to deal with what comes ahead. Alternatively, or along side that, you can empty your thoughts and experience the moment in full – again because we are so often distracted from the now that we never really take the time to experience life fully in the moment.

This is also an important message for students who are about to begin the school year. Extra curricular stuff is all well and good, just make sure you or they (if you dear reader are a parent) have some direct Nature Time without all the structure, doodads, and tech – you’ll much happier and healthier for it.

If you want to do more than that, follow our blog and read what we already have shared to learn more on ways to establish a better nature connection.

 

Continue this specific topic with Worldview Connections: A Meditation on Our Worldviews and their Impacts

August 8, 2014

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is a United Nations awareness day on August 9th. It is meant to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population, and recognize the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues. In this article we will discuss the important issues that impact indigenous peoples and how that relates to you.

Indigenous. What does Indigenous even mean?
Considering that we are organisms that are related with every other living thing on this planet, a hard and fast dividing line is more likely than not arbitrary, especially between fellow humans when it comes to calling someone indigenous.

Paleocraneo - Atlas, by Fernando Vicente
We All Share The Same Human Origins. Paleocraneo – Atlas, by Fernando Vicente

What really makes the distinction isn’t necessarily through genetics, but through generational livelihoods off of the land and sea. This is about peoples who have been living off of a region for many hundreds of generations if not more.

IndigenousCulturesMap
Note: Image is not completely accurate as a great many indigenous people are within the unmarked areas. Click Image To View Full Size

These peoples who have been dubbed Indigenous Peoples are all over the world, and express themselves in a great variety of ways, but all share the same root identity – the land. Everything that makes these peoples who they are is through the very land they stand on. They are born, raised, marry, and give birth to following generations on that very same land. Their stories, clothing, mannerisms, are all formed through engaging intimately with their land. They are the way they are for a reason – the land has shaped them.

Everyone should be able to agree that communities should be able to decide their future. But for some reason this freedom of choice is routinely ignored for indigenous peoples. Their livelihoods and very lives are at risk. The common threats stemming from those of resource extraction based livelihoods who want the resources on their lands. If anything there should be more say from these indigenous communities. But no. That is not the case. Peoples who have livelihoods that are resource extraction based have ended up forcing their livelihood onto them. They make the associations to the members of those land based communities derogatory terms, such as tribal or more commonly, primitive, when there really is nothing wrong with these things.

The Aché, Paraguay: in a landmark case launched in April 2014, the Aché tribe took Paraguay’s government to court over the genocide they suffered. The Aché were decimated after colonists launched killing raids, captured tribespeople and sold them as slaves during the 1950s and 60s. Photo Credit: A. Kohmann/Survival
The Aché, Paraguay: in a landmark case launched in April 2014, the Aché tribe took Paraguay’s government to court over the genocide they suffered. The Aché were decimated after colonists launched killing raids, captured tribespeople and sold them as slaves during the 1950s and 60s. Photo Credit: A. Kohmann/Survival

With the emphasizing on differences, fear and hate is cultivated within the surrounding resource extraction based communities. This has led to ingrained racism, hate crimes, murder, and genocides. And it is still going on today. Indigenous peoples have had their land forcibly taken from them and in turn have lost everything that makes them who they are. They are given the message “conform or become eradicated”. This is an affront to human rights and somehow has become considered acceptable, otherwise it wouldn’t be here. How can this be happening? Sadly the answer is simple, but to change its outcome is a major challenge. It is because of all of us. Our resource extraction based society demands it. There is demand for wood, meat, grain, soy, palm oil, minerals, oil, gas, drugs, and “progress”. And as a result we have people who are willing to supply it to make their living by logging, ranching, farming, mining, drilling, traffic drugs, displace and develop. And to be able to do that they are pressured to invade and take the lands of indigenous peoples. We are causing this pressure through our commodities.

If this is not tragic enough, these same peoples have contributed to our society’s well being by sharing their knowledge. Through medicines, skills, and trade with the initial settlers. If it weren’t for those human connecting relations a great many people today would instead be suffering from illnesses they knew how to treat, be dead without those medicines or because of lack of skills to support ourselves in their region, or non-existent. Whole family lines wouldn’t have existed today if it weren’t for that initial support given to settlers throughout history and the world. My family line would have certainly perished, as it is directly connected to the trade relations between my ancestors – fur traders and first nations. And I suspect a great many reading this, possibly unbeknownst, share a similar background when looking far back enough.

So What Can You Do?

Admittedly our economy is a major part of this problem – it is set up to get as many resources as possible, from concentrated source, and make a profit from its extraction. This has caused, and still causes, slavery of the indigenous peoples and environmental destruction on their very own lands. If not straight up slavery there are no worker’s rights with scant pay that can barely support the worker themselves, let alone a family. Because its cheaper, because our society has demanded cheaper goods and have disregarded how that is done.

So in the very least you can be conscious of what you are buying and using. Keeping in mind indigenous rights, worker’s rights, and environmental regulations (follow link to find relevant questionnaire and to learn more about our resource connections). Fortunately there are organizations that are dedicated to responsible labelling of goods to show that these things are upheld. There are a lot and won’t get into them, but I will point out the major categories: Fair Trade (goods that support worker’s rights, providing a living wage), Sustainable Lumber (environmentally conscious logging), and Organic (environmentally conscious farming). All of these label categories have fallen victim to “greenwashing” where the product may have the label but it simply isn’t true. So I recommend that you look into each label you are considering to rely on before purchasing based on it.

Following that you can go to your banking institution and divest from businesses that commit these atrocities. The simplest approach is not associating with multinational corporations. A better approach is to move your banking to a Credit Union who are completely invested in your own region.

You can also support organizations that themselves fight for indigenous rights. One of the biggest ones being Survival International, who focus on supporting and fighting alongside the most endangered peoples.

Image Source: Survival International
Image Source: Survival International

What really needs to happen is an overhaul on our economic system that inherently encourages these atrocities. How to go about that has a lot of various propositions. Which of these are the best way is something that I think is up to each person to determine for themselves. What would be useful is a gathering of professional economists that support an overhaul to correct the problems of the current system, work together to make one, and present it to governing bodies. Especially the United Nations who had began International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

July 23, 2014

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Pagan community here.


For this summer series the Pagan Channel is tasking the question of the Pagan reaction to Climate Change: Did we fail in our Pagan Environmentalism?

I am a Saegoah (seeker of Ehoah – Complete harmony within Nature) wherein I follow the three basic tenets of Ehoah.

The Three Basic Tenets of Ehoah (Complete Harmony Within Nature)

So my lifestyle is constantly striving to establish, maintain and improve upon harmonious connections with what I interact with, in everything I use and do. Through this process customs develop that are an expression of this way of life. These customs help in reminding us of our interconnections, and encourage the development of healthy interconnections. It is through this nature-based practice that I relate to Paganism, having begun on this journey in 2009 and am in my mid-twenties. So the question ‘Did we fail in our Pagan Environmentalism?’ is an odd one for me. Being a young practice its hard to consider it to have failed when it only has just begun. The question of how it relates to Climate Change itself is almost irrelevant. This is because we seek Ehoah regardless of the circumstances, and any environmental challenges we face can naturally be solved through seeking Ehoah and reaching out to share what we’ve learned. It may seem that such a practice would have come about in response to Climate Change, but it hadn’t. It came about through a desire for a healthy interconnected relationship with our biosphere. The life of earth. And it is through such a way that we would all have a better quality of life.

So if we were to have a nuclear exchange and had somehow survived past the first few years, it wouldn’t be considered too late, we failed. It would be considered the point in which we build up from. Even if we reach a relatively ideal state that has established a vast network of harmonious interconnections, it wouldn’t be considered a done deal either. It would be considered the point in which we build up from. Always improving that of which is considered to have worked. There is always more to learn and more ways to grow and diversify. It is through such diversity that we avoid a number of problems i.e. Monoploy of resources, monocultures susceptible to disease and environmental catastrophes, and a mindset of “one size fits all” which is never truly the case when dealing with ecosystems.

Through what has been said, a Saegoah’s response to Climate Change may now be clear. It is from this point that we build up from, whichever point that may be.

Many of our current problems seem to stem from an ignorance of the real consequences of our lifestyles (even though we may be aware of the overarching problem and are trying); a sense of disbelief with the response of business as usual; or the thought that “It’s too late. Why bother trying.” And that’s all pretty damn depressing, and I’m too much of an optimist just to accept such a state of affairs. I’ve even came across a term that is quite an appropriate description for me: Apocaloptimist, “someone who knows its all going to shit, but still thinks it will turn out okay.”

I think this is because I’ve seen how others who share a similar outlook are working to make sure we come out on the other side. Ehoah is so strongly connected to a particular set these outlooks and practices that I’ve went and got certified as a designer in it – Permaculture. I guarantee that you will not meet a bigger group that would be appropriately described as Apocaloptimists. Those that have founded and have become teachers themselves carry a strong vision of a world that has reached complete harmony within Nature. This is because they have seen a glimpse of it. From the small scale properties that, through this holistic landscape design, are lush and water bountiful, while their neighbours are brown and dry;
Jordan Valley Permaculture Project (click image to read more about this project)

To the large scale of hundreds of thousands of kilometers of the Loess Plateau, China (an area the size of Belgium) that has been rehabilitated from brown desert to lush abundance.

Before and after the Loess Plateau ecosystem restoration project (Click Image to watch a Documentary on Large Scale Ecosystem Rehabilitation all over the world, including this one)
Before and after the Loess Plateau ecosystem restoration project (Click Image to watch a Documentary on Large Scale Ecosystem Rehabilitation all over the world, including this one)

And there are a great many examples of these amazing changes worldwide. All you have to do is use a search engine with the keywords “permaculture” to find them – I especially recommend anything that is by Geoff Lawton, the head of the Permaculture Research Institute.

Through this holistic interconnected approach, and enough people doing it, Climate Change can be managed and we can all come out of this challenge far better than where we were before going into it. A lot of our current lifestyles are not helping ourselves, but it doesn’t mean sacrificing our quality of life. On the contrary, our quality of life would improve, increasing our physical health and it even lessens the labour needed to maintain it, simply because we would be working with how Nature works, instead of against it. That is one of the reasons why I write here at Patheos – to provide hands-on Do It Yourself information on how we can accomplish such a lifestyle.

The posts most relevant to this topic are Worldview Connections, Cultural Quandaries: Water, Cultural Quandaries: Soil, and The Ehoah Bioregional Quiz. These provide information on what you can do today, and experience the end results within the next five years, and possibly in even less time. This is the kind of fulfillment I seek in my journey, and I am more than happy to share it.

Where there is life, there is hope to promote more life. As much as we can cause problems, we can just as well be a catalyst for life.

October 21, 2013

The third and last question of this series, and my favourite to answer for myself – What do you do? (The previous two segments can be read here – Part 1, Why I do Ceremony & Ritual; Part 2, When and Where I do Ceremony & Ritual)

Rua Lupa, Searching for Apples
Rua Lupa, Up in an Apple Tree

There is a whole lot I can cover here that could very well make up a book. As I was writing this piece I had to remove large portions as I went because it was getting too in-depth and much too large; So it will be more of a glancing summary instead which I feel doesn’t really do justice to what is covered. Over time I hope to present each one in full proper detail.

From here, what is viewed as ritual and ceremony can differ greatly, which is mostly why I prefer to refer to it as customs. I don’t really go for pomp and pizazz when it comes to personal acts. I find that sort of thing is most appropriate at major events for keeping a crowd’s attention. For when it is just me, it is simple actions and acknowledgements in my mind in that dedicated moment. Most simply as a basic meditation where I just take a moment and let it all sink in. Sometimes words or gestures come to mind that seem the most appropriate and do them. Over time this can get refined, but I try not to let it become a solid set of actions or routine as I feel that can take away from the experience of the moment. Having things come up unexpectedly and going through as it comes makes it always feel fresh, new and as a result am more awake and aware of what’s involved. In so doing I get a greater sense of connection, relevance, and fulfillment. That way I avoid the “going through the motions” rut that many rituals and ceremonies can find themselves in over time. Meaning is often lost in rigid rituals and reasons for doing them can then become lost too. More fluidity and adaptability to new encounters is something that I feel helps a tradition grow and blossom. That is where customs come in.

What is found to be a small consistency becomes a custom that can come to be expected, but not mandatory. As examples here are some of my daily customs: Moving snails, worms, caterpillars, and june bugs off the sidewalk;

Hornet Nest on Stairway. Photo Credit: Rua Lupa
Hornet Nest on Stairway. Photo Credit: Rua Lupa

For my morning walks, sitting a moment in the bend of the creek taking in the surroundings in an awareness meditation; Document my local environment through the seasons and weather events with photographs and journaling; Collecting dead specimens found during my excursions and presenting them in a shadow box to share in the diversity of life around our immediate area; Picking up trash on our way to school is a custom my child and I partake in, as well as looking into the creek and seeing what we can find on our way back home later in the day; Observing the hornet nest each time we go by it to see if anyone is home and counting them (They’re quite friendly. Had even pet one – it seemed to have thought the act undignified. So long as you don’t disturb the nest or try to harm them hornets can co-exist with humans, just like honey bees, with the exception of ‘aggressive’ species i.e. Killer Hornets. These non-aggressive hornets are great as they’ve kept pest species down in our little garden and pollinated the flowers). But these customs are not always done, just more often than not and sometimes are expressed in different ways. Such as doing a walking meditation or leaning against a tree for my morning meditation instead of sitting, or looking for the hornets in the garden instead of in their nest.

The biggest custom I have is following The Three Basic Tenets of Ehoah,

The Three Basic Tenets of Ehoah (Complete Harmony Within Nature)
The Three Basic Tenets of Ehoah (of Complete Harmony Within Nature)

Thus I actively endeavor to ensure all my connections within Nature are harmonious; in everything I do and use; maintaining an awareness of and respect for our interconnections; and creating a lifestyle that reflects this. It being a process that is continually improved upon with no end point. The expression of The Three Basic Tenets can develop in various ways and gradually change over time, but the prevailing undercurrent would remain as a recognizable custom. With respects to this I’ve recently acquired a Permaculture Designer Certificate so that I can better accomplish harmonious connections within Nature. (See Cultural Quandaries: Soil, Cultural Quandaries: Water, Saegoah Pursuits: Rainwater Harvesting Earthworks, Growing A Forest Garden, and Cultural Quandaries: Home Design)

Energy of Fire. Photo Credit: Rua Lupa
Solar Energy of Fire. Photo Credit: Rua Lupa

Energy transfer, as mentioned in the second segment of this series, is a prominent moment for ritual and ceremony. One such moment that is highly valuable to us is fire. Fire is a popular representation of energy because it is itself the release of energy originating from the sun. For when I’m about to start a fire, if the participants are unfamiliar with energy transfer, I like to have a small unscripted teaching on the energy pyramid, ending with, “This wood that is about to burn was once a living tree that harvested the energy of the sun. So when this wood burns, it is not the fibers of a dead tree being consumed. It is the fibers of a dead tree releasing the energy of the sun.” Once the fire is lit I like to say this little poem that expresses how we are connected to what we are witnessing, “Light from wood is light from sun. This energy, within everyone.” So yes, we are in essence solar powered.

The most direct way we personally experience this energy transfer is eating – taking in solar energy to power ourselves. But prior to eating is much opportunity for ceremony. The first being harvesting/foraging.

Picking Apples Up In An Apple Tree.
Climbing Apple Trees to Pick Apples

So a garden (potted indoors and raised beds outdoors) and maintaining that garden is part of my ceremony and ritual. Along with that is forays into wilder areas where I can hunt and forage as I go, incorporating an awareness meditation throughout my excursion.

In peak season I often go out just for that purpose – lately being apple and choke cherry picking. For foods that I am unable to grow or forage for I skip to my local farmer’s market buying what will be soon eaten and stock piling what I can for off season.

Just the search for local, sustainable food sources is part of my ritual, and always continue that search to replace what is of yet not local or sustainable. This comes with experiments in homemade goods, another ritual of mine, of which goes into the second opportunity for ceremony prior to eating – preparing food.

While working with each ingredient (I also do this for everything else I make, such as clothing and equipment. For clothing I’ve been experimenting with local alpaca and sheep fibers) I meditate on where each comes from, how it was grown and gathered to end up in front of me, and how it will soon be very much a part of me.

Following that is Eating. Before every meal you can say or do a little something to acknowledge the energy transferring from what is dead before you to be energy you use. Below are two examples of words that can be said before a meal, one more casual, the other more involved. The scraps from food are then incorporated into another ritual – composting and Inoculative Libations

Appreciation Of All

“Before we eat, lets embrace in a web of life in a moment of silence to appreciate this food, where it came from, the effort taken to prepare it, and those we’re sharing this meal with.” … “Let’s Eat!”

We Are The Land

“When we eat food, we are eating of the land. What we take in becomes part of us and in turn we become part of the land our food comes from. We are not separate from the land, we are the land. When we speak it is the land speaking. Each, one voice among many, singing the land’s song. Let us all respect ourselves by respecting the land, remembering our connections and being grateful for them.”…”Connected to All”

 

This solar energy is continuously transferring from one organism to the next, and that means organisms are continuously dying in the process of sustaining the living. I live in a cold climate that has a short growing season, so I can’t grow or source vegetative food locally year round and neither am I able to obtain all my sustenance solely from vegetation.

Therefore I consume some meat now and then to be healthy and I take my part in that process very seriously. I grew up on a farm that raised and butchered its own meat; I can’t do that where I am now so I get my domestic meat from a local farmer who has free-range livestock, and is just as serious as I am about the matter. My significant other hunts – I have yet to obtain my hunting license and plan to rectify that as soon as reasonable, but we both shoot traditional bows, having little interest in guns.

Hay bale Winter Target Practice. Photo Credit: Rua Lupa
Haybale Winter Target Practice. Photo Credit: Rua Lupa

From the words of my spouse, bow hunting forces you to engage in greater depth to be successful in your hunt. You have to learn the behaviours of the animal you are pursuing and be ever more patient and skilled just to get close enough to have a shot (unlike in gun hunting where none of this matters so much). My spouse feels that this is very connecting to our part in the circle of life – you are now a direct participant, instead of just a consumer disassociated with where your meat comes from.

It can easily be considered a sacred act and very involved ceremony, where you have to change your sleeping pattern to be where you need to be at dawn and dusk; You dress in your ceremonial garb to better perform your part; You’ve practiced your role in order to execute the ceremony with propriety and there is the classic sacrifice at the end. The sacrifice of one life to sustain another. For hunting or butchering there really are no words that can be said when directly participating in this part of the life cycle. There is just silent acknowledgement of what is done, a very solemn moment.

This subject of death relates to our own life stages. For the easily determined life markers I’ve only so far developed two of the five – Bonding (Wedding Ceremony), and Dispersal/Burial.

In the Dispersal/Burial Ceremony the body is buried – no cremation, no embalming, no metal casket, nothing to prevent decomposition – as to allow the energy in the body to be consumed by other life, just as the person that had lived had consumed the energy from other things that once lived – continuing the cycle. Having the body wrapped in a shroud, or in a simple wooden or wicker casket, or buried as is are simple (not to mention affordable) ways to bury the dead that allows for the body to disperse. The words of the ceremony elaborate on this cycle of life and death and how without death there would be no life. Instead of a tombstone a tree is planted in memory – ideally of a species the departed was fond of. If a marker with a description is still desired a small engraved boulder or a small pillar can be used along side the tree. Burial grounds would reclaim old fields and reforest them.

The Bonding ceremony involves planting a tree at the ceremony and a year after it where you live to commemorate your love and watch it grow as your love grows beyond the ‘honeymoon’ phase. The focus of the ceremony itself is on the teachings of the seasons as a reference for the events in a relationship: The warmth and long days of summer, as love coming easy; The fruits and harvest as the bounty of sharing a common goal; The cold and long nights as the trials and struggles that need to be overcome; and new life and play of spring, as rejuvenation in the love for each other. For the Bonding Ceremony there is a public and personal option to choose from.

The ritual and ceremony of the other easily determined life markers, Birth, Puberty, and Conception, are not yet developed in my practice and tradition when it comes to personal events. But is forming gradually as I personally experience and study these events through what is revealed through science and the different customs and cultures throughout the world. Even the Dispersal and Bonding ceremony are liable to change as new information arises along with developing for global function.

Each of the eight solar ceremonies touches on one of the life stages for public ceremonies.

For public ceremonies I have no “closing the circle” or other such forms of beginning a ritual or ceremony. And without that there is an interesting effect – there is no inside or outside, and with that there is little of “us vs them”. There is a lot of the sense of inclusion and openness to passer-bys. So my ceremonies and rituals are always striving for that open and inclusiveness, which being in such a way makes it have the potential for a great deal of variety. The most common form is a loose gathering with either a central or polar focal point.

As mentioned in the previous installment the solar events are described as the cycle of night and day along with involving the life stages most applicable to these events. The following is a summary of these interrelations and what is done during these solar events:

Symbolism (Symb) and Actual Activities (Act)

Equilux: Birth & Infancy

Symb: Day and night is equal and going into longer days symbolizes the dawn of the year. Dawn itself being symbolic of new beginnings making it a moment to celebrate those experiencing new beginnings. Especially expecting mothers/parents and possible new arrivals.

Act: Providing nest building materials for Birds and small mammals having offspring. For humans, baby clothes and other family products are gifted to expecting parents to prepare homes for family life. People with new homes have house warming parties, and those who are renovating may receive care packages that assist in the project.

Translux: Children

Symb: The morning of the year, when the day is young and life is abundantly active. This is reminiscent of young life.

Act: Most every other animal who hasn’t already given birth are doing so at this time. This would be the time when human infants would be born in the Kalendar for most regions of the world if procreation was commenced after Transequinox. It is encouraged to take quality time with children by together learning through discovery – of surroundings, the environment, the world, and beyond.

Lux: Puberty & Youth

Symb: The year’s noon. The brightest part of the year with the longest days, evoking the energy and fervor of youth. This being the moment of most light in the year, themes on light and what we can see are abundant such as optical illusions and rainbows.

Act: In youth comes puberty, the mark of entering adolescence – becoming a young adult, making it a moment for discovering and celebrating self expression in whichever form it may take, especially gender expression. Youth are provided opportunity for self discovery and preparing for adulthood responsibilities. Trick of the light/optical illusions are presented to challenge young minds to question everything they see before accepting what ever is presented in front of them as reality. And therefore be better prepared to engage in the world, learning about the world, and not falling victim to those who would take advantage of ignorance. Because even if ignorant would be capable to engage in such a way to enlighten themselves without assistance or having to learn the hard way. Dressing up in a rainbow of colours is a fun expression for this time of year.

Transequinox: Young Adult

Symb: The year’s evening, and the warmest part of the day and year, bearing the first fruits and maturing life. Represented as the evening it is considered to be a moment for togetherness, companionship and wooing; as well as celebrating the development of strengths and skills of young adults – those maturing in life.

Act: Competitions are held of various skill sets and strengths – involving creative, physical and mental challenges. Fledging youth “test their wings” by “leaving the nest” and striking out on their own; Courtships are had during the competitions; Young adults are encouraged to take these moments to bond with a significant other, and there are Bonding Ceremonies (weddings) for those who find themselves ready to announce their commitment to each other. Those prepared for starting a family actively procreate between Transequinox (Young Adult) and Equinox (Middle Age) in order to have child around Translux (Child) when the weather is more gentle on the young.

Equinox: Procreation & Middle Age

Symb: Half daylight, halfway through life. The Dusk of the year.

Act: Those prepared for starting a family actively procreate between Transequinox (Young Adult) and Equinox (Middle Age) in order to have child around Translux (Child) when the weather is more gentle on the young. Individuals of this age group celebrate achievements and hard-earned knowledge by passing what they’ve learned down to others. Sharing knowledge (tales of skill gaining, and learning through failure) especially for the Nox Mensis (dark months), engaging the younger in mind games so that they may gain wit, and providing a knowing hand in preparing for tough times. Apprenticeships can be started and those with the experience house and teach students.

Transnox: Old Age

Symb: The days are shorter with nights growing longer – the late night of the year and late years of life.

Act: This is a moment for acknowledging old age (‘Getting mossy around the edges’) and beyond. The skeletal character Virid-os (“Green Bones”), its bones overgrown with vegetation and colonized by small creatures, uses dark humor to bring up uncomfortable topics such as death and decay. The character is somewhat apathetic, but takes pleasure in its potential to nourish other life, sometimes offering up parts for use. Transnox encourages discussion about typically uncomfortable topics; to consider those who have come before us and what they have imparted on the next generation; and for really thinking about things that you may have not considered before – this is done to think and act on things you want to do before your death. Elders reminisce and youngers listen to learn what they can. Prepare for your own death with funeral plans and wills. Celebrations focus on the death phase in the circle of life by having the harvest feast themed on how the nourishment from them is sourced from what has died.

Nox: Death & Conception

Symb: This is the longest night of the year, and death is considered the “darkest time” in life. This is also when the days begin to get longer so new life is celebrated as well. The subject of death and conception connects to the subject of deep ancestry, the origins of life and the celestial bodies that life depends on.

Act: This is a solemn moment to remember those who came before us, whose bodies have provided the earth with nourishment. That nourishment providing a richer environment for new life. Those who have successfully conceived since Transequinox, now being past the first trimester when pregnancy is most at risk of miscarriage, announce the news and are celebrated along side those who have dispersed. The cycle of life and death renewed. The Cosmic History is retold and celebrated during these longest nights of the year when you can take a moment to look up at the night sky and appreciate what is before you.

Transequilux: Gestation

Symb: The days are getting longer, making it a moment to prepare for new beginnings of the up coming symbolic dawn of the year – Equilux.

Act: As the year is about cross into the ‘day’ part of the year, there are many themes on preparing for the new beginnings. Households begin to thoroughly clean out the old and unused to donate, reuse and salvage as well as downsizing in how much you own to what is truly used and needed. This is especially done for those that have conceived, preparing their home for the new member of the household. The arts are celebrated with art shows, performances, and craft fairs to fill in the still long nights, and is an opportunity for apprentices to show what they’ve learned in the past few months and sell some of their products. This is also a good time for crafting items for expecting parents.

A lot of the details are exempt from this summary, and some are still in development – being slowly tweaked and built upon over time to function on a global scale yet be open enough to adapt to regional differences. Hopefully I’ll be able to express each of these in greater detail through the coming seasons so that those interested would be fully able to participate as the solar event comes around.

When it came to making rituals and ceremonies it forced me to ask myself a few things beyond the five I’ve presented in this series that really helped me come to be comfortable in my skin, grow as a person and act on my beliefs. I still ask these questions and I still learn from their answers and develop from them, and sometimes those answers change in unexpected ways. I also think its important for everyone to ask them too.

What do I believe? How and why did I come to those beliefs? Should I reconsider what I believe? Do my actions reflect my beliefs? If they don’t, what beliefs do my actions express? Should I change my beliefs to reflect my actions, or should I change my actions to reflect my beliefs? (if changing actions) How can my actions be meaningful? What would the desired outcome look like? Do I need to reconsider both my actions and beliefs toward something else entirely?

 

What really motivates me to not only do this, but to share it has been well summarized by the last set of quotes from the short documentary “OVERVIEW” by Planetary Collective which I’ll close with,

“We are seeing very clearly that if the earth becomes sick, then we become sick. If the earth dies, then we’re going to die. People sense that somethings wrong, but they’re still struggling to go back and find what the real roots to the problem are. And what I think needs to come is a realization its not just fixing an economic or political system. But its a basic world view. A basic understanding of who we are that’s at stake.” “…and a part of that is to come up with a new story, a new picture, a new way to approach this, and to shift our behaviours in such a way that it leads to a sustainable approach to our civilization as opposed to a destructive approach.” “On a grand scale basically we’re all living in this one ecosystem called earth, and everything you do on one side of the ecosystem effects the other side and that is a new way of living for most of humanity.” “We humans are responsible for ourselves and we are endangering our future. Then we got to learn how to do it differently and to go forward into a sustainable period; And right now that seems very difficult, very difficult to see how that’s going to be. But we got to work on it.”

 


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