The roots of plants host a bacteria, with which it has a symbiotic relationship. The bacteria fix nitrogen into a form that the plant can take up and use. Roots also take in water and other nutrients necessary for the plant to thrive. The roots of many species can store those nutrients for later use. Roots hold the plant fast, different types of plants have adapted different sorts of root systems to different soil types. They are capable of splitting stone and transforming a harsh landscape into usable soil, given enough time. And some roots can even grow an entirely new plant, should the parent plant be damaged or fall.
Roots are pretty amazing…consider this:
- The roots of the mangrove tree tolerate salt levels that would kill other plants and filter out much of the salt that would even kill the mangrove itself
- The roots of the quaking aspen give rise to new ashen, forming enormous colonial organisms–one of these, named Pando, have the honor of being the oldest (80,000 years old) and the largest (by mass).
- The roots of the bald cypress grow verticals projections called “knees” that are thought to act as a sort of buttress to anchor the tree, which has a shallow root system in stagnant, swampy waters (it was once thought that they played a role in providing oxygen, but experimental data isn’t supportive.
- The roots of the black walnut leach out a substance (actually, every part of the plant does, including the fallen and decaying leaves) that acts as an herbicide for most other plant species, reducing competition, so the plant can thrive.
- The roots of the banyan tree transform themselves from ariel roots into supportive trunks, able to survive the loss of the original trunk.
Our roots matter, just as if we were a tree.
The breadth and depth of our roots are our anchor and our support. They sustain us in times of plenty, and most especially, in times of hardship. They offer us a way to renew ourselves when we’ve been damaged by the storms of life and trials by fire. Roots can take unpalatable and uncomfortable surroundings iand make something better, something enriching. It is only with roots that we can grow.
Often, roots are allegorically understood to be “where we come from” in the sense of people or places, but I think that are roots are something else. Our roots are those values and ideals that filter what we get from our surroundings, and that pull the meaning from an otherwise meaningless existence. They are shaped in part by our experiences, but once we are conscious of them, we can manipulated how and where we are rooted. We can transform our existence by filtering out more of the muck, or butressing ourselves in unstable soil. Properly rooted, we can flourish.
The Delphic Maxims mention “evil” twice, first as something to be hated, and secondly as something to be abstained from.
But what, precisely is evil?
Old English yfel (Kentish evel) “bad, vicious, ill, wicked,” from Proto-Germanic *ubilaz (cf. Old Saxon ubil, Old Frisian and Middle Dutch evel, Dutch euvel, Old High German ubil, German übel, Gothic ubils), from PIE *upelo-, from root *wap- (cf. Hittite huwapp- “evil”).
“In OE., as in all the other early Teut. langs., exc. Scandinavian, this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike or disparagement” [OED]. Evil was the word the Anglo-Saxons used where we would use bad, cruel, unskillful, defective (adj.), or harm, crime, misfortune, disease (n.). The meaning “extreme moral wickedness” was in Old English, but did not become the main sense until 18c. Related: Evilly. Evil eye (Latin oculus malus) was Old English eage yfel. Evilchild is attested as an English surname from 13c.
source: Online Etymology Dictionary
According to Merriam-Webster, evil is an adjective to describe something as “morally reprehensible” or “causing harm”, and a noun for “the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrong doing” or the something that causes it. Extreme moral wickedness…or just the stuff we don’t like. What is or is not evil seems awfully personal.
Back in November, I discussed Delphic Maxim #136, Gratify without harming, and touched on the idea of evil:
Evil tends to be an interesting subject in Pagan communities. Views of what constitutes “evil” as a definition and as an action or behavior vary, but tend to emphasize the “I know it when I see it” subjectiveness of the idea of evil. Of the many discussions (online and IRL) that I have encountered on the topic, my favorite definition comes from an essay on the Wiccan Rede from Proteus Coven–evil is a rip in the fabric of empathy.
All of this really leads me to sometimes think that either everything might be evil (either that, or nothing is)–after all, everything has the capacity to directly inflict harm and misfortune on someone, somewhere. No one lives in a vacuum and even the most altruistic of acts is going to have a downside somewhere down the line (Newton’s Third Law–every action has an equal and opposite reaction, sometimes I think it applies to more than physics). And if everything is evil, perhaps it all cancels out, and nothing is more evil than the next, except in the context of the beholder.
When I ran these two maxims through Google Translate, the result I got was “hate wickedness” and “abstain from wickedness”. Wickedness certainly is implied in the dictionary definitions for “evil”, and indeed, definitions of “wickedness” include the description of “evil”. But I like the word “wickedness” better than that of “evil”–it isn’t as loaded of a term. When we think of evil in its usage, it often to carry an additional subtext–either as an absolute that is part of a moral dichotomy (good vs evil), or as some Supernatural Big Bad Being.
Ultimately, I have to say that evil isn’t supernatural. It isn’t a moral absolute, or the opposite of good. Evil isn’t a specific action or person or event. Evil can’t be defined. But it does exist. Evil happens, and it isn’t everything, or nothing.
Evil is a rip in the fabric of empathy.
Now…I guess I just need to take the time to discuss what the heck that means!!
I’m not a big fan of “balance”, at least not as the term is typically used. If you look at the many meanings of the word balance, from weights and measures to accounting, most of them mean to make equal. To add or subtract from two separate and different amounts until each side has come to a middle amount, or to find a something in between one extreme and the next. I think this is a flawed idea, when applied to ourselves and how we should feel and act, and here is why.
Two extremes are not equal in worth, even if they are equal in validity. For example, being selfish is not equal in worth as being generous. But (without getting into too much semantics) they are equal in validity–sometimes it is “better” to be selfish, while other times it is “better” to be generous. For true balance between generosity and selfishness you would need to counter every act of generosity with selfishness, and vice versa. Which makes no sense–if you live in an environment where you are abused emotionally and taken advantage of, selfishness (done well) can be healthy and healing. And there are circumstances in which generosity can be equally healthy and healing (I’m sure we can easily think of examples).
What matters is not something between generosity and selfishness (which would essentially be nothing, since they pretty much cancel each other out), but rather the interplay of generosity AND selfishness in constant flux, responding to the demands of our environment. What we need is equilibrium.
In chemistry, equilibrium describes a type of balance where a chemical reaction proceeds at that same rate as its reverse reaction. It works something like this:
First, when you have a system made up of a bunch of molecules, those molecules sometimes combine. That’s the idea of a chemical reaction. Second, a chemical reaction sometimes starts at one point and moves to another. Now imagine the reaction finished and you have a pile of new chemicals. Guess what? Some of those chemicals want to go through a reverse chemical reaction and become the original molecules again…
Put those two ideas together and you have equilibrium:
1. Two reactants combine to make a product.
2. Products like to break apart and turn back into the reactants.
There is a point where those two reactions happen and you can’t tell that any reactions are happening. That’s the point when the reaction looks like it is finished. In reality, some of the molecules are turning into products and some are turning back into reactants. You need to imagine that you’re as small as a molecule and you’re watching all of these parts bouncing around and changing back and forth. Just staring at a test tube, you won’t generally notice a change in their numbers. That’s what equilibrium really is. The overall reaction is happy. There is no pressure greater in one direction over another.
When we exist in a state of emotional equilibrium, we allow ourselves to feel the range of our emotions and feelings and recognize that they all have validity, but are not of equal worth for any given situation. There are times in our lives when sadness or anger is more healthy and appropriate than happiness. Where emotions like grief and heartbreak are cathartic, even though we don’t think so at the time. Where failure is necessary to build a character worthy of success…if you let it. Spiritually, there may be times when introspection is “better” than practice, or when practice is more important than thought. Physically, there are times when sitting on your duff and eating a bar of chocolate is more useful and nourishing than running a mile and noshing of a bag of carrots.
In my practice and belief, existing in equilibrium is essential. When we think of ourselves as cauldrons of consciousness, the sensation and experience that define us is in dynamic equilibrium. Equilibrium is the back and forth interplay between that sensation and experience which allows us to meet the Divine; it is the equilibrium between our soul-states that allow us to deepen our understanding of the world around us so that sensation and experience have meaning down to our very core. Equilibrium is about finding the sweet spot where all of these things are acceptable and valued in their own time and set(s) of conditions. Where something in balance topples over at the first sign of stress, a system in equilibrium shifts around until the stress is absorbed into the system and a new equilibrium is achieved (in chemistry, this is called Le Chatelier’s Principle).
In weaving, the warp is laid down first, lengthwise, and generally on a frame of some sort. The weft is then woven, over and under, up and down, line by line, to create an entire piece of cloth. They are so integrated that to remove either the weft or the warp completely destroys the fabric that has been produced, leaving it in a tangle of threads.
As an allegory, I think this describes perfectly how the material and immaterial (definition #2) weave together the fabric of the Universe. So much so, that I don’t see a division (in the final product) between the physical reality of the universe and the non-physical reality of the universe. There is a difference, yes…but not a division.
In a previous Pagan Blog Project post, I talked about a reoccurring theme on this blog, the idea of loving where you live. I worship (and by worship I mean that I celebrate, revere, honor, adore, devote myself to, make offerings to, and regard with awe and deference) nature (and by little-n nature I mean rocks and trees and lakes and ponds and birds and crocodiles and slime mold and slugs) as the physical body of Nature (and by big-N Nature, I mean The Big Mystery, aka The Divine, aka The Universe, aka Nature’s Consciousness) through the language and symbolism of deity (and by deity, I mean individual gods like Zeus or Brigid).
Admittedly, the idea of nature worship can be an idea that is not without its difficulties, difficulties that another blogger has tackled pretty thoroughly (if you click and read any links, read these two!). But this post really isn’t about that. This post is more about how, when I talk to nature, Nature often talks back. And how, when I talk to Nature, nature often talks back as well. And how I have chosen (or been chosen) to interpret deity/divinity in a particular way. How we have all been chosen to interpret deity and divinity in particular ways, rooted in our own independent and individual experiences of them.
D is for Divine
Last time, for the PBP, I talked about consciousness. The ultimate question of consciousness is the question of how the physical processes occurring in the brain (such as those that occur when sensing an event) transform into the subjective experiences of the person? What makes the firing of neurons, the flow of electrons, the transmission of neurotransmitters become something that is unique to each person, that can ultimately be seen differently, felt differently? So far, this is a question that is unanswerable by science–not because we lack the technology or understanding, but because it is largely untestable.
In my post, I talked about ourselves as a “cauldron of consciousness”, that I think that the place where we meet That Which Is Divine, however it chooses to reveal itself to us (or how we are able to interpret it) is here, in the space between sensing something and experiencing it. For me, deity is nature–it is rock and tree and sea and sky. It is also Nature–as Rock and Tree and Sea and Sky. They are separate, but so tightly woven together that they are one. For me, my experience of deity has worn into my brain an idea that isn’t quite animism, or pantheism, or polytheism, but contains elements of each.
When I go to the beach and make an offering to Psamathe, I am honoring the beach itself–the convergence of the physical elements and magical ones, as much as the Nereid of Greek mythology. I believe in a Divine Universe, woven into the physicality of the physical universe, where everything is ensouled.