What We Did Yesterday:
Everywhere we go, the elements of life, of magic, are present. Long before we had microscopes and models of the atom, the ancients of many cultures distilled the world down to what they felt were its most essential components. For the (pre-Aristotle) Greeks, this was Air, Earth, Water, and Fire (Aristotle added aether, or spirit). While we now know that the elements aren’t scientifically accurate constructs, they are still enormously useful tools for separating out the different aspects of ourselves and our environment. This is particularly true when it comes to learning more about our bioregion.
Getting to know Water: What watershed do you live in? How much area does it cover? Where does your watershed start? Where does it end? How much precipitation do you get where you live? What time of year gets the most precipitation? What wildlife lives in the water part of your watershed (lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands)? How do you interact with those species? How many people reside in your watershed area? What species are native? Non-native? Are any of them economically or culturally important? How many can you identify by sight? What do people in your watershed use water for (agriculture, industry, residential)? If you live somewhere where water is plenty, is there a dam or mill, is the economy dependent on commercial fishing or recreation such as boating or fishing, is there a naval base or coast guard station, or a port? If you live somewhere where water is scarce, how is water use managed? Where does your water come from, and how is it treated? In your home, what do you use water for? How much water do you use? Where does it go after you flush or pull the plug in the drain? Historically speaking, how were the waterways of your watershed used by earlier in habitants? Are there folktales or myths associated with them? How do they impact the culture that lives there now?
Getting to know Earth: What geologic province do you live in? What is the soil order of your bioregion? What is your biome? Your ecoregion? What are the geological processes that shaped where you live? What fossils can be found in your area? Was your land once a mountain, a desert, an inland sea? What rocks and minerals are prevalent? Where do you live in comparison to sea level? What’s your latitude and longitude? When does your growing season begin? When do the first trees change color? When does it end? How has this changed over the years? What wildlife lives predominantly on the land portion of your bioregion? What species are native? Non-native? How many of them can you identify? Who are the historical inhabitants of the land where you live? Are any of them economically or culturally important? What did their homes and towns look like? How did they live in relationship to the land? Where there battles fought where you live? What stories and myths are told about the land where you live? Do you get forest fires? Earthquakes? What sort of land was your modern home, neighborhood, and town built upon? How many people live there now? How does the local population impact the land? What is consumed by humans from your area–food, livestock, minerals, coal, something else? What is the biggest environmental challenge that the land you live on faces?
Getting to know Air: What is the prevailing climate where you live? What is your climate zone? What is the coldest month of the year by average temperature? What is the hottest? What is the coldest historical temperature? The hottest? What birds in your area are invasive? Where are you in relation to the jet stream? What is the major driver of weather in your bioregion? What direction does your weather come from? If you live in the same area as your family, how has the weather changed since your parents or grandparents were children? When do birds in your region begin to nest? When do they leave on migration? What birds in your area are threatened or endangered? Where is the best place to fly a kite? What wildlife lives predominantly on the land portion of your bioregion? What species are native? Non-native? How many of them can you identify? Who are the historical inhabitants of the land where you live? Are any of them economically or culturally important?? How are bees doing in your region? Do you get tornados? Hurricanes? Do you live at an unusual altitude? What sort of interaction do people in your area have with air–is there a local airport, a military base with jets?
Getting to know Fire: What is your latitude? At the Summer solstice, how much daylight do you get? At the Winter solstice, how much daylight to you get? Can you see the aurora from where you live? What constellations can you see on a summer night? In the Winter? How has fire traditionally played a role in the health of your ecosystem? How have humans changed the role of fire in the health of your ecosystem? How do you use fire–directly, or indirectly in your home? If you have a fire pit or fire place, where do you get your fuel from? Where does your electricity come from? What do you use your electricity for? Where else do you use fire (or a byproduct of fire, like electricity or an engine that relies on combustion) in your daily life? What products do you use that require fire (or “fire”) in its manufacturing? Do you live somewhere that the fuels for fire (such as coal, oil, natural gas, uranium) is extracted or produced? How is your bioregion effected by these processes? How much air pollution in your community comes from the byproducts of combustive processes–cars, factories, etc?
The hubby and I have re-purposed a number of things from our Christian childhoods with our own kids…to toss out a few examples–Jesus Loves Me became The Goddess Loves Me*, Twas the Night Before Christmas became The Night Before Yule, and our family’s manger scene hosts a baby Sun King, Mother Nature, and a herald fairy. Another one that we have adapted was a favorite of mine as a child, I figured I’d share because apparently they are “getting too old for bedtime songs”.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
Nature made them all.
Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
Selected for their glowing colors,
Evolution made their tiny wings.
All things bright and beautiful…
The purple headed mountain,
The stream running by;
The sunset and the moonrise,
That brightens up our sky.
All things bright and beautiful…
The cold wind of the Winter,
The zebras as they run;
The lizard in the desert
Warming ‘neath the noontime sun.
All things bright and beautiful…
The heron fishing in the river,
The bears emerging from their dens,
The hatching of an egg
in a nest full of baby wrens.
All things bright and beautiful…
The redwoods in the forest,
The ocean where dolphins play,
The sunset across the prairie,
Bees gathering honey every day;
All things bright and beautiful…
Selection gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How wonderful is Evolution,
That has made things tolerably well.
All things bright and beautiful…
*If you were wondering the words for The Goddess Loves Me (which could easily be adapted to any number of deities), they go something like this:
The Goddess loves me this I know, my heart and soul tell me so. In her arms I’ll safely stay, as I walk the path we’ve laid. Yes the Goddess loves me, yes the Goddess loves me. Yes the Goddess loves me, the whole world tells me so.
Ecosophy, or ecological wisdom starts with one’s wisdom about their own bioregion. As a Pagan, and a person that feels quite strongly about their bioregion, I think it our duty to get to know our personal loci and how interacts with the earth as a whole. As a witch, I think a useful way to do this is to look at the elements of our ecosystem as…well, as Elements.
If you have other activities or ideas that you can think of, particularly anything pertinent to a different ecosystem than mine, feel free to chime in!
Water is the only substance found naturally on earth in all three physical states–gas, liquid, and solid. In a 100-year period, a water molecule will spend 98 years in the ocean, 20 months as ice, about 2 weeks in lakes and rivers, and less than a week in the atmosphere. In terms of volume, if Earth were the size of basketball, its water would be the size of a ping pong ball. Water covers some 72% of the Earth’s surface, and 96.5% of it is ocean. Another 2% is frozen in permafrost, glaciers, and ice sheets. Most of the rest is groundwater, more than half of which is saline. The world’s rivers are the most used source of water, but if all the water in the world were “boiled down” to a single gallon, the world’s rivers would only be about 9 drops of water.
1) What is the water cycle and how does it work? Draw a picture of the water cycle.
2) List the Earth’s major oceans and river systems. How much is seawater, freshwater, landlocked, in the icecaps?
3) What watershed do you reside in? What type of pollution is the water in your watershed exposed to? How many people reside in your watershed area? How much area does it cover? What are the usage pressures on your watershed?
4) Where does your water come from, and how is it treated? In your home, what do you use water for? How much water do you use? How much water is used in household activities? Can you reduce the water you use?
5) Learn 5 species of native fishes. Are they common or are they threatened or endangered? What are their lifecycles? Do they face any ecological challenges? What role do they play in their ecosystem? Are they edible or useful to humans? What can you do to help to help their ecological success? If it is possible, go out and find them.
6) Learn 5 species of native aquatic plants, algae, or plankton. Are they common or are they threatened or endangered? What are their lifecycles? Do they face any ecological challenges? What role do they play in their ecosystem? Are they edible or useful to humans? What can you do to help to help their ecological success? If it is possible, go out and find them.
7) Learn 5 species of other native organisms such as shellfish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, etc that primarily reside in your area’s waters. Are they common or are they threatened or endangered? What are their lifecycles? Do they face any ecological challenges? What role do they play in their ecosystem? Are they edible or useful to humans? What can you do to help their ecological success? If it is possible, go out and find them.
8) What species in your watershed are invasive? Where are they found? How did they get there? What are the challenges of getting rid of them? How are they being combated? What species do they threaten and/or problems do they cause? What can you do to help remove them from your ecosystem? If it is possible, go out and find them.
9) How does the local population interact with your watershed? If you live somewhere where water is plenty, is there a dam or mill, is the economy dependent on commercial fishing or recreation such as boating or fishing, is there a naval base or coast guard station, or a port? If you live somewhere where water is scarce, how is water use managed? What are the challenges for farming or ranching or other water dependent activities?
10) Using the information in questions 2-9, re-vist question 1 and recreate the water cycle as it occurs in your specific watershed. Include yourself as part of the water cycle.
Action Bonus: List the things that you can do to protect your local watershed. Look up local organizations doing this work and volunteer and/or do some of these things on your own. Make this a regular part of your life, whether it be helping with the annual beach clean-up or taking a trash bag with you and cleaning up a local creek-side trail as you hike once a week.
Activities to try: (some ideas, which may or may not be applicable to your ecosystem) Swimming, fishing, boating, catching frogs, taking a visit your local water treatment plant, foraging for aquatic edibles, collecting shells, surfing, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, skipping rocks, visiting an aquarium, tending a home aquarium, volunteering with stranding rescue, cleaning up your local waterways, teaching water safety, etc
With kids: A dip net and a coffee can (to make an underwater view-finder) will go a long way. Add a bucket, a magnifying glass, and a field guide, and things get even more fun. There are any number of teacher’s guides online (like this one for 6th grade or this entire program) that offer lesson plans on stream ecology and stream sampling–many of these can be adopted for a family (heck, you don’t even have to be a kid to get something from it!). If you are willing to spend a little bit of money, a kit like this can be tons of fun!
Blessing of Air
May the blessings of the air be upon you,
A soft breeze to refresh you,
A strong wind to lift you up,
Great golden wings to enfold and heal you.
– blessing from a Pagan handfasting ceremony
(via The Blessing Files)
The strongest quality of air is truth. Air is an element of intellect, of thoughts, and of the mind…whether bright and clear or dark and clouded. In ancient Greece, the element air was sometimes associated with one’s spirit.
Scientifically speaking: What we call “air” is really our atmosphere. Our atmosphere is mainly composed of Nitrogen (78.1%) and Oxygen (20.9%). The remaining 1% (due to rounding, it looks like 1% with the numbers I’ve used, but really its more like 0.97%) are Argon (0.93%) and Carbon Dioxide* (0.035%), as well as even smaller amounts (in order) of Neon, Helium, Methane, Krypton, molecular Hydrogen (H2), Nitrous Oxide, Carbon Monoxide, Xenon, Ozone, Nitrous Dioxide, Iodine, and Ammonia. Another component of the atmosphere is, of course, water vapor (its not included in these calculations of percentage, though it makes up an average of 0.25% of the atmosphere by weight, ranging from 0.oo1%-5% locally). (source)
Our atmosphere is divided up into layers, a bit like a cake. There’s a mnemonic to remember the 5 principle atmospheric layers–The Strong Man’s Triceps Explode (or Thoughtful Schools Manufacture Terrific Experiences…or Terrible Sun Melts Tiny Eskimo!) , which stands for (from the surface of the Earth, out) Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Exosphere. The atmosphere, in some ways, behaves like the oceans, in that there are tides, and currents, and waves, that move energy and molecules.
The troposphere is where weather happens–it contains about 80% of the atmosphere’s mass (including 99% of its water and other aerosols) and extends 4-12 miles above earth (the heights it reaches depends on a location’s latitude and altitude). Nearly all weather occurs here
In the stratosphere, the coolest temperatures are found closest to Earth, and the highest temperatures are the furthest away. Other than airplanes (people) and birds, which can fly in the lower parts of the stratosphere, bacteria is the only life form that can be found in the stratosphere. Also, the stratosphere is quite dry, and it is home to the ozone layer, which protects us from the Sun’s UV rays.
Scientists don’t actually know much about the mesosphere, compared to the other layers of the atmosphere–its too low for satellites and too high for planes and weather balloons (between 31 and 53 miles high). One thing we do know, though, is that it is the place where meteors burn up in the atmosphere…but its really cold, around -90 degrees C or -130 degrees F (they burn up because of friction with the gas molecules in the mesosphere). Its also home to a couple of neat phenomena–noctilucent clouds (wispy, almost glowing clouds visible around and after sunset) and sprites (a type of lightning that occurs over thunderstorms, glows red, and is best visible from sky).
The thermosphere, in contrast to the mesosphere, is hot. Really hot. It increases in temperature the further from Earth one travels, and the temperature varies between night and day and what is known as the solar minimum and the solar maximum (which has to do with sunspot activity), but the average temperature range for the upper thermosphere is 500-2000 degrees C (932-3632 degress F). Space shuttles and the International Space Station orbit Earth in the thermosphere…this is also where the aurora happens!
Lastly, we have the exosphere. Depending on where one gets their information, it is either the last layer of Earth’s atmosphere, or the first “layer” of space…some sources actually consider “space” to start in the thermosphere (How high is space anyhow?). Either way, this region is where the lightest elements wind up, still bound by Earth’s gravity…but tenuously.
Traditional Correspondences: East, flying, sound, yellow, mountaintops, wind-swept plains, cloudy skies, knowledge, recovering lost items, fragrant herbs and flowers, light stones (such as pumice) and transparent stones (such as mica), wind instruments, birds and winged insects, airplanes, balloons, bubbles, spring, dawn, wands (magical tool and tarot–but beware the “controversy”, in some systems swords are associated with air, and wands with fire), feathers, incense smoke, divination, concentration, visualization, wind magic
In the natural world, Air is associated most closely with the sky, wind, and clouds. Mountain peaks, which seem to touch the sky, are also Air. Birds of all kinds belong to this element, and hawks and eagles are especially associated with Air because they fly so very high and make their nests at such high altitudes. A stork or duck, by contrast, is a less powerful symbol of Air because, although these birds fly, they live in and near the water.
In a person, Air is associated with thought and with the intellect, corresponding in the Witches’ Pyramid to “To Know.”1 Ideas are said to come from Air, as is inspiration, a word that also means “to breathe in.” Logic and scholarship are Air functions, which is perhaps why academics are said to live in ivory towers as opposed to ivory basements. People who spend all their time thinking “have their heads in the clouds,” and if they’re “airheads,” they mistake imagination for real life and are impractical (because practicality is an Earth quality, which they lack).
The direction of Air is the East, and since the Sun rises in the east, Air is associated with the morning, with the spring (the beginning of the agricultural and astrological year), and with beginnings of all kinds. Anything that “dawns” is a thing of Air. The things in our lives that dawn, be they projects, creations, or careers, dawn with an idea. Often inspiration feels like the sunrise; a bright beginning full of promise and possibility. Since seeds are beginnings and are associated with the spring, seeds, too, belong to Air.
Deborah Lipp, The Way of Four
Getting to know air:
How I do it differently…Adapting Correspondences:
If you’ve been a reader of my my blog for awhile, it comes of no surprise that I’ve made some changes, adaptations, etc to the conventional correspondences that fit my practice and beliefs better. I’ve mentioned many times over that I’m a big believer in witchcraft being an extension of one’s geography–that part of our job is to *grok* the forces and cycles that are native to one’s location and to work with them, forging our own relationship, rather than some formula from some book by some guy (or gal). Now, if it just so happens that those correspondences work for you, that is awesome…and if you aren’t sure, try on the traditional correspondences for a bit, and shift them as needed for your environment. I promise, you won’t break anything!
So, for me, air is now. Its an end-of-summer, fall thing (hurricane season), its a North correspondence, and air, as an elemental force, reaches its peak around Samhain…
Through ignorance and carelessness we have poisoned your clean air. For monetary gain we have reduced verdant forests, the lungs of our world, to barren wastes. In our craving for more we have plundered your beloved creation and driven many of our fellow creatures to extinction. Only recently have we begun to realize the dangerous future into which our current patterns of consumption and waste are driving us, especially in relation to earth’s climate. Only recently have we begun to see our need to find a wiser and better way of life, before it is too late and our choices are limited by the consequences of inaction. Lord of the Winds, in your mercy, hear our prayer.3
I pray that I may draw a lifesaving breath. This is the most important element of health, to breathe clean and unpolluted air.
(from my Prayer for Clean Air)
Plant a tree. Stop smoking. Plant another tree. Drive less. Plant a tree. Turn off your lights and wash your clothes in cold water. Plant a tree. Write your representatives to support limits on air pollution by industry and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and alternative energy. Plant another tree. Stop buying furniture made from rain forests. Plant a tree. Stop buying ANYTHING made from rain forests, unless it is ethically sourced and fairly traded in a way that supports local peoples. Plant more trees. Plant sea grass. Let your lawn grow as high as you can without getting a citation. Plant a tree. Get rid of your lawn, and make it a certified wildlife habitat, and a place for birds and bees and butterflies. And for goodness’ sake, plant another tree!