I am the fresh, rain-washed soil of Spring,
nectar to the nostrils, in which all seeds flourish;
I am the sun-drenched fields of Summer,
warm to the touch, the bed of lovers;
I am the forest floor in Autumn,
carpeted with leaves, I shelter what lies beneath;
I am the frozen land in Winter,
barren seem I, but in me is life.
–Vivianne Crowley, Earth Charge
For me, Fall is the season that resonates most with the element of Earth. Around our house in rural France, fields have been stripped bare of the golden wheat of summer. The earth is ploughed and rich with manure for winter crops. The maize stands ready for harvesting, dried out and brown. The leaves underfoot in the woodlands are dried and brown too, and strewn with rich brown chestnuts. The smell of earth is rich in the misty dew-laden mornings.
Fall can be a time to honor the Earth
We have celebrated the grain harvest, now it is time to celebrate the harvesting of the fruits of the Earth. We honor the land that gives us such richness and plenty. The Earth is still producing enough food for most of us, but as our populations grow so too does our appetite for foods such as animal protein that consume more of the Earth’s resources and create greenhouse gases. We become increasingly aware of the fragility of the global agricultural economy that keeps us all alive. We worry about seed biodiversity and the decline in bee and butterfly populations that pollinate the crops we need for life. We discover that large corporations have taken possession of seed resources and are seeking to copyright and control them. The interlocking global economy means that it can seem incredibly hard to know what we as individual Pagans or even as communities of Pagans can do. It is easy to feel so disempowered that we believe that nothing we can do can make a difference.
We are the Children of Earth
Not all Pagans are eco-Pagans. We have Temple Pagans and wilderness Pagans. We have those who find their most spiritual expression alone under the star, moon, or sun; and there are those who find the intensity of the Divine in ritual in a sacred temple space. Not all of us want to occupy Wall Street, but all of us are children of Earth, the children of Gaia. One of the unifying strands of the multicolored tapestry that is contemporary Paganism is our love of nature and of the Earth. It is simplistic, but true, that if we are to be worshippers of nature we must have a nature to worship. The success of our species is wonderful on many levels, but it comes at a high price. The Earth and the other beings that share this planet are paying that price. The loss of our natural world is a disaster for all Earth’s species, but for Pagans the pain has an additional painful dimension; for to us the Earth is a sentient being with consciousness and purpose.
Repairing the Ether
One piece of good news that has given hope in the last few days is that one part of the element of ether at least is beginning to recover from the damage we have done to it. News from the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme is that implementation of the 1987 Montreal Protocol to cease manufacturing CFC gases for refrigeration and aerosol sprays is beginning to reverse the damage to the ozone layer. The bad news is that atmospheric greenhouse gases have reached a record high.
There is much more to be done and it will need all our energy and pressure on governments to do it. When problems are so great, we can feel overwhelmed. If we succumb to the size of the problem we can react with denial, or even with despair. We can even come to hate and despise our own species, and to forget that we are creatures of beauty and ingenuity as well as of destruction.
I will sing to Gaia
I will sing to ancient Gaia,
Mother of All, eldest of creation,
you feed all the beings of the world,
all that dwell upon the land,
all that swim beneath the seas,
all that fly —
all are fed of your bounty.
Through you, we are blessed with children
and our harvests ripen,
you have the power to give life – and to take it away.
From Homeric Hymn to Gaia, 7th century BCE
To honor the Earth we can perform rituals for her, we can pour libations to her, we can leave gifts and offerings at her sacred places. All these acts of devotion help remind us of what is important and sacred and of what we value. And as our Pagan forebears did, we can sing to her. But we can also transform devotion into action. We can honor Gaia in the choices we make about energy use, the food we eat, the goods we buy, and the organisations we support. Greening the planet, also greens the spirit. Making right choices gives us energy and is empowering. When we feel empowered we have the courage to act and to do more. We create a spiral whereby one action inspires another.
Taking refuge in the small
What often comes to mind when I think of these issues is the ancient Chinese system of philosophy and divination, the I Ching, The Book of Changes. Hexagram 9 of the I Ching is Hsiao Ch’u.
Older English texts translate this as ‘The Taming Power of the Small’. Newer texts talk about ‘Attention to detail’ or ‘Small harvest’. It often appears when we are in a position of weakness and we need to focus on small cumulative changes in order to achieve the goal we seek. When it comes to achieving sustainability on our planet, if many of us make small changes, they add up to bigger changes. Small actions become big actions when the actors are many. We might also say that when the journey is long, it can be hard to begin, so begin with small steps – and just keep going.
At the Equinox many of us around the world will be coming together in New York, Rio, Bogota, Santiago, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Berlin, Warsaw, Delhi, Melbourne, and in other great cities and small towns around the around the world for the People’s March Against Climate Change to demonstrate that ordinary people want action on climate change. Those of us who live in democracies where public demonstration is permitted are in an enviable position. Many others cannot protest, cannot lobby, so we who can must speak for the rest. But walking for Gaia is also not enough. We can make changes in our own lifestyles, but can we also persuade others. Words can be powerful but symbolic actions such as community rites can also be powerful ways to inspire others. As Pagans, we can make use of what we do best, so let us make Fall the season of Earth and with words, deeds, song and ritual move ourselves and others just a few small paces forward.