What We Did Yesterday:
When you need to pray, go down to the sea. Breathe with the rhythm of the waves. Become the sun, the surf, the sand. And when you no longer know one from the other, let your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your very soul become one with the world, with the universe.
Don’t worry, when you are finished you will find your way back to yourself. You will have cleansed the stain of civilization from your soul to one again embrace your true self. And you will know that you can come back anytime, you are only a small thought away from god.
If you lack a handy nearby ocean, don’t worry. You can do this anywhere…just shut off your computer or put down your book, open your front door and go outside (shoes are optional, but generally not recommended).
Connecting with Nature—
Earth-centered Paganism would include those Paganisms concerned primarily with ecology, those more local forms of Paganism that I would call “backyard Paganism” or are sometimes called “dirt worship”, and many forms of (neo-)animism which view humans as non-privileged part of an interconnected more-than-human community of beings. The Pagan identity of earth-centered Pagans is defined by their relationship to their natural environment. Authenticity for these Pagans is defined by one’s ability to connect with the more-than-human world.
~John Halstead, Three (or more?) Centers of Paganism @ The Allergic Pagan
Nature Centered Pagans find the Divine in Nature – their primary concern is the natural world and our relationship with it. You may hear terms like “Earth centered” “tree hugger” and “dirt worshipper.”
This may be a non-theistic practice, though not necessarily so. It includes Animism, the idea that whatever animates you and me and the birds and bees also animates the wind and rain and even the mountains.
~John Beckett, The Four Centers of Paganism @ Under the Ancient Oaks
My “Connection with Spirit” is primarily a connection with nature. Yes (as mentioned in the last post), I worship deities, but do so in relation to their relationship to the natural world. My connection with nature is specifically a relationship with my bioregion (but not an animistic one), the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I worship personified natural forces as a way of worshiping Nature Herself (through the Nereids). Land is steeped in sacredness, whether one sees these as individual spirits (what one might call land wights, or nature spirits) or part of a greater (almost pantheistic) spirit is (IMO) beside the point. It has been my experience that the land doesn’t care about what you call it, it cares that you have heard its call (and it doesn’t care whether you believe that call is literal or figurative).
A Nature or Earth centered Pagan may work with only one of these aspects–spirits, nature, and Nature; a naturalistic Pagan might work with nature, an animist might work with their local bioregion, a pantheistic Pagan with Nature Herself, etc. Or a Nature-centered Pagan may work in the area where Nature and the gods overlap (if we think of this as a Venn diagram), or with all three aspects. Either way, the focus for most Nature centered Pagans generally seems to be building a relationship between the various aspects of nature and one’s self. This may mean building a relationship with one’s local land spirits, incorporating service and/or activism as a sign of reverence (which can be as simple as picking up trash at the local park), or creating a tradition unique to yourself and your bioregion. For me, it includes all of the above, as well as things like being ecologically thoughtful about my offerings, being a conscious and responsbile consumer, and striving to teach all of these things to my children.
I found it surprising that Albertsson didn’t address nature worship much as part of “connecting with spirit”, as he comes from an ADF background (though I suppose one could argue that he does address various ways to do so in the rest of the book). ADF considers nature part of the Three Kindred–gods, nature, and ancestors. The ADF Dedicant Path though the Wheel of the Year (a book that can be used to help complete ADF’s Dedicant Path) explains Nature awareness as having three facets–awareness of the physical and material existence of nature, an awareness of the spirits of Nature, and the awareness of the Earth as a sort of Mother deity (akin to what I call “Nature, Herself”). One of the activities incalls upon its new members to find a place near enough to their home that they can visit it at least weekly for at least an hour, and to observe and experience that place with their entire being for the entire year of their Dedicant Path work.
I’m a big fan of the “find a place in nature and exhalt in spending time there regularly” practice as the most effective way to connect with nature. Too bad there isn’t a simpler word for that idea the English lanugage–after all, the Norwegians have the word friluftsliv and the Japanese have the term shinrin yoku, both of which come close… The myriad of physical benefits from spending time in Nature–decreased stress, improves memory and attention (especially for persons with ADHD), an increased sense of vitality, and a strengthened immune system (to name a few) should have Pagans (of all sorts) lining up to go outside on a regular basis. Physical reasons for going outside and spending time in nature aside, Paganism is ultimately a religion steeped in the idea of gods that are of this world–gods that are imminent and accessible, that are the forces and features of this existence.
If we truly believe this, whether we do so literally or figuratively, I would hope our worship would include getting to know those forces and features beyond the personality said to represent them. Spend an hour in nature (at least) each week. Learn about your bioregion, your ecosystem, your backyard. You don’t have to do anything crazy or go anywhere fancy, though activities (like flying a kite to get to know your local Air or planting a native garden to attract your local animal spirits) can absolutely be a part of this process. Pick up a field guide or two, go on a plant walk with your local Native Plant society, volunteer for a bird count with your local Audobon, pick up trash at the park where you walk your dog. Talk to your garden, sleep in your woods, swim at your beach. And do them all with reverence. But no matter what you choose do, let your feet greet the earth and get to know your bit of land, in both the mundane sense and the spiritual sense.
Once you’ve gotten to know your bioregion, make an offering to it or to an aspect of it that you are interested in working with, or to a particular spirit of your region, or to a deity or entity that you feel is representative of your bioregion at large or a particular aspect of it. Whichever one of these options you choose (or which ever one chooses you) is, in my experience, largely unimportant–it is my experience that the land doesn’t care what you call it or how you relate to it (provided it is in keeping with its features and forces), it “cares” that you are called. Beyond that, the process of getting to know a landspirit can be much the same as the process in getting to know any other deity. I would also hope (and here’s where I will take great effort to stay off my soapbox as to not get off topic) that if our spirituality includes the idea of these forces and features as sacred that our everyday actions would reflect that concept of sacredness…particularly once we get to know them.
*The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature by Emma Restall Orr
*Biophilia by Christopher Marley
*My “bioregional awareness” post, as well as a post on bioregional witchcraft, and another on spiritual bioregionalism
*The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram
*Bless the Waters Thrice: Making Environmentally Sustainable Offerings, What Will Druidry Look Like on Mars?, and Talking About Anthropocentrism in Modern Paganism (blog posts by Alison Leigh Lilly)
*The Song of the Land: Bioregional Animism, Land Guardianship, and How to Create a Genius Loci Profile (blog posts by Sarah Anne Lawless)
*The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
*The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough
*The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell
*A Pagan at Donner’s Pass, The Collapse of the West and the Future of the Human Species, and (blog posts by John Beckett @ Under the Ancient Oaks)
*Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie
*Deconstructing Local Mythologies, Only Connect, and Lost Watercourses and Resacredization (blog posts on Gods and Radicals)
*How Earth-Centered is Neo-Paganism Really? (blog post by John Halstead @ Humanistic Paganism)
*The World in One Cubic Foot: A Portrait of Biodiversity by David Liittschwager
*Depth Ecology (an essay by David Abram)
*A Natural History of the Senses and The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman
*The Meaning of Human Existence, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Future of Life, On Human Nature, Biophilia, The Diversity of Life, and Conscience: The Unity of Knowledge, all by E. O. Wilson
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.
After work tea: Moroccan Mint by Stash (hah! even my TEA starts with M)
Note: Please forgive randomly odd typos…about 2/3 of this was written on my smartphone with the evil autocorrect. I may not have caught all of the odd things it did to words.
There are many things in the various Pagan communities, IRL and online that I find annoying…but none is quite so annoying as the use of the word “muggle” to describe people that don’t practice magic and/or aren’t Pagan.** If you are one of these people, you might want to skip this little rant, because I’m going to jump all over you and those of your ilk for a few paragraphs.
First off, if you actually use this word to describe yourself, you look like a smug, pretentious, and sanctimonious twit. If you find that offensive (because you didn’t take my advice to skip past here), good. Using a derogatory term for someone not in your in-group is offensive. And yes, the term is derogatory–otherwise, you’d just say “non-Pagan”, or better yet, call them what they self-define as–Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc. If you find yourself needing to turn to what is nothing short of a religious slur, it says more about you than the people you are talking about. Its not cute, and its not trendy. It is just as offensive and just as derogatory as calling someone a spic, a jap, or a mic. If you use this word not having thought about it,
Secondly, if you use this word you are delusional and/or idiotic. I loved the Harry Potter books, they were creative and engaging; the world that J. K. Rowling created is simply wonderful. But we don’t live in it. I don’t care how witchy you are IRL, you are no more a witch or wizard in the Harry Potter universe than the Dursleys are. Defining your non-Pagan or non-magical peers as “muggles”, as if you are something better, is hypocritical. In the real world, we are all just people. Religion is a choice, witchcraft and/or magic (which ever term you prefer) is a discipline (and art and a science, if you will)…it is not something you are *born* to, it is something anyone can learn (just like ice skating), and there is nothing wrong with choosing not to.
Third, (to be quite frank and tactless) it makes you look like a nut. I’m not afraid of doing nutty things, of being eccentric or even slightly dotty. In most cases, I’m proud of it, because the eccentric and nutty things I do are at least important, creative, and inspired. There is nothing important, creative, or inspired about calling your mom, your cousin, your neighbor, your teacher, your doctor, your bff a religious slur. When you do something that is both insulting and dotty you draw more and more negative attention to an already marginalized group that gets enough negative attention as it is. Some of us have to live, work, and raise our children undoing the damage users of this word (and worse, this attitude) have created.
Just say no to calling people “muggles”. Its not cute, it’s not clever, and its definitely not cool.
**Or other, similar terms such as cowan, mundanes, etc
Herb of the Week: Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
Marshmallow is an herb with a long medicinal history dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It is best known for its demulcent properties, for soothing irritated and inflamed throats and upper respiratory tracts, and for use as a poultice on the skin for insect bites, boils, and abrasions. In combination with peppermint, it makes a great tea for heartburn relief. The tea is also kind to a sore throat, and as a mouth wash. (For more info on dosages, contraindications–its a carb-y plant and diabetics should be cautious using it, and medicine interactions, click here)
Marshmallow is a mucilaginous herb, and is best prepared in a cold infusion (which protects its mucilaginous properties) by allowing the root to infuse in room temperature water (~1:4 ratio for coarsely chunked-up root) for at least 4 hours (overnight is better). And, of course, the treat we know as “marshmallows” started out as a confection designed as a medicine. While marshmallows today don’t actually contain marshmallow, there are some recipes out there for marshmallow marshmallows (like this one, which I’ve not tried…somehow, I see a project coming on!).
The plant itself is native to Europe (some sources say N. Africa) and naturalized in North America (thanks to those pesky colonists and all their plants they brought over). Its original habitat includes salt marshes and estuaries, but it will grow almost anywhere moist, with full sun. Marshmallow flowers from July through September and can grow to some 3-5 feet tall. The flowers and young leaves are edible in salads, and the leaves and woody root are useful medicinally.
Magically, marshmallow is associated with water, the moon, Venus (the planet and the goddess), Aphrodite, and Althea. It makes a good herb for celebrating Beltane. It is best used to induce compassion and tolerance. Marshmallow is good for healing, relieving stress, and bringing forth love.
Backyard Bioregionalism: Mammals
In school you may have learned all sorts of mammalian traits, but really there are only three that are truly unique to mammals. Two of these you might guess quite easily–hair and teeth (not that we have teeth–other vertebrates have teeth, but the variety of types of teeth that we have). The third though, might take a bit more time to suss out. The most common answer is probably “live birth” or “producing milk”. But not all mammals give birth to live animals, and there are a number of other animals that lay eggs internally and give birth to live young (some species of sharks, for example). And while all mammals make milk, there are a few other animals make a milk-like secretion to feed their young. Since its tricky, I’ll give you a hint…
Mammals have 3 ear bones. Seriously, along with hair and teeth, three ear bones are the unique traits present in all mammals.
And that live birth thing? Mammals are actually divided into three groups based on how they give birth.
The first group are the monotremes. They actually lay eggs. Monotremes secrete milk from a milk patch, much like sweat is secreted through our skin. There are a handful of species of monotremes, the duck-billed platypus, and four species of echidna. The platypus and one species of echidna are native to Australia, while the other echidna species are located in New Guinea. In my backyard, we ain’t got no monotremes!
The second group of mammals are the marsupials. Marsupials give birth to very underdeveloped young which generally live in a pouch after birth. Most marsupials are native to Australia, New Guinea, and some nearby islands, though a number of species are common to South America. But if you live in North America, there’s only one species that is present pretty much everywhere–the Virginia opossum. This critter is native to the Pacific coastal region of the US (and into Vancouver), and from the Eastern seaboard into the midwest, south of the Great Lakes region.
The third group of mammals are the placental animals. That would be us. Us and elephants and dolphins and mice and moose, to name a few. Placental mammals, obviously have a placenta. The number of species around the world are too many to list here, but in my “backyard”, I’ve come across raccoons, river otter, skunks, bats, deer, dolphins (obviously not actually in my “yard”, but they are in a local area that we frequent), and foxes (and that’s leaving out the fairly common stuff like rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, etc). Locally, we also have porpoises, seals, black bears, and red wolves (you have to go a bit further afield for those last two).
Monthly Forage: Mulberries!
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, mulberries. Sweet-tart, melt in your mouth, purple-staining, mulberries. Mulberries for pies, for cobbler, for smoothies, for jam. And the best part is, its we are probably about halfway through mulberry season, with 6 mulberry trees along the creek behind the apartment…and even more across the street, bordering the park. It astounds me that no one else knows what they have here! Right now I have two gallon-sized ziplock bags in my freezer, filled to the brim with mulberries. I’d have more, but there wouldn’t be any room for groceries (note to self: look for chest freezer on craigslist).