You’ll notice that in the graphic at the top of this post I made my own modifications to the original meme. I state that both nature and psych meds are “one of many tools for managing mental illness.” When it comes to living with an illness–any illness–I believe it’s important to make as many options available as possible. That means that I see the nature/meds situation as a both/and one, not either/or.
When you need to pray, go down to the sea. Breathe with the rhythm of the wind and the waves. Become the sun, the tide, the salt marsh. Dig your toes into the soil of your locus, rooting your spirit into the oikos of Earth. 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.
Breathe in, breathe out, and breathe in again and again and again…when you are finished, when you are ready, you will find your way back to yourself. Cleansed of the stain of society’s expectations from your soul, embrace your true self. Walk back into the world of men and carry forth the heartsong of the egret. Know that you can return anytime, because you are only one small thought away from sacredness.
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). Listen to the poetry of the meadow, the protest song of dandelion-growing-in-sidewalk, or the soliloquy of the earthworm. Feel the rhythm of prairie grasses in the wind, the dance of fireflies in the spring, and the long, slow slumber of the winter garden.
It simply begins with loving where you live as an act of devotion.
In ancient Rome, the goddess Pietas (in ancient Greece, eusebeia/Eusebeia) was the personification of piety, a core personal and public virtue. The concept of pietas encompassed the obligations of the individual to the gods, to the city/empire (of Rome), to their community, to their family (the family station/reputation, the household and the family itself, both living and dead), and to themselves. This word represents the entirety of one’s responsibilities to fulfilling these social contracts. For those of us whose religion includes a relationship with the Earth, whether it be through the gods or through the literal dirt of our bioregion, this starts with the pietas erga terram–the piety, reverence, or service that we owe towards the immanence of Nature and to its representatives (if one believes in them literally) and its inhabitants–including ourselves.
The pietas erga terram references the sum of our personal and public duties, both magical and mundane, from the greater Oikos of Earth to our respective bioregions to our own backyards. If (as I have long asserted) a bioregional spirituality calls upon us to worship in those ways that bring ecstasy and reverence for the very experience of living while honoring the cycles and stages of the bioregion and its inhabitants, touching the earth (literally, symbolically, and spiritually) as we reclaim our wildness and reconcile it with our civilization through a reexamination of our relationships within the web of life, then the pietas erga terram describes the obligations of such relationships, and is rooted in two key ideas: biophilia and ecosophy.
Biophilia–Biologist (and personal hero) E. O. Wilson popularized the idea of biophilia (a term coined by psychologist Erich Fromme) to refer to what he hypothesized was an intrinsic human tendency to affiliate with (and to take it one step further, to even empathize and bond with) other forms of life. In ancient Greece, “Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them.” (source) Bio-, then comes from the modern context (like in the word biology) of living organisms, or organic life (the original meaning of the word is somewhat different). Biophilia, as expressed in our individual and communal kinship with the earth and its creatures, declares human AND non-human life is intrinsically valuable, and that the worth of the latter is not dependent on its use by the former (item #1 on the Platform for Deep Ecology).
Ecosophy–The word ecosophy originally comes from the work of Arne Naess (the Father of Deep Ecology, who used it as a brangelina of ecological psychology) and Felix Guattari. Its meaning has deepened somewhat, and can be aligned more closely with the two Greek words that it originates from–oikos and sophia, home and wisdom (the home in question here being the greater Oikos of the Earth itself). I think the best conceptulization of ecosophy can be found in this quote by Raimon Pannikar, “Much more than a simple ecology, ecosophy is a wisdom-spirituality of the earth. ‘The new balance’ is not so much between man and Earth, but between matter and spirit, between spatio-temporality and consciousness. Ecosophy is not simply a ‘science of the earth’ (ecology) and even ‘wisdom on earth,’ but the ‘wisdom of the earth itself’ that occurs when a man knows how to listen with love.” Ecosophy, according to Druid John Michael Greer, is a worldview that “makes sense of human life not in terms of some imagined conquest of nature, but of our species’ dependence and participation in the wider circle of the biosphere.”
Next time, obligations of pietas erga terram…
I don’t talk about contentious topics all that often around here, not because I lack views on them, but because I figure they aren’t the focus of my blog. And quite often I don’t feel qualified to do so. Occasionally I break that pattern. This is one of those days.
I’ve wanted to talk about race for a while.
But, I really don’t know how, and so, I have been silent. I actually started this blog post months ago…
After all, what can a middle class, white, transplanted midwestern woman living in the South say about race (and that hasn’t been said better by people far more eloquent and qualified than I am to say it)? Other than to apologize pre-emptively because I am probably guaranteed to say something that is racially insensitive, and that is wrong or hurtful even though that is sincerely not my intent or objective.
I know what it is like to be discriminated against and harassed for being a woman, I’ve lived it…I feel qualified to at least discuss my experiences there. I know *those* men that like to think they aren’t sexist because they “love their sister/mother/wife/cousin” in one breath and spout of some nonsense about “women drivers” or “women in the military” or “she had it coming” in the same way that I’m guessing some white people like to think they are “color blind” because they have “a black friend” and so on to do/say some terribly inconsistent and questionable things. Racism isn’t something that I am confronted with regularly, its probably not something that I notice in my obliviousness when it is silent and subtle, it may even be something I’ve done without knowing, and the sheer fact that I don’t talk about it–that white people don’t talk about it–is part of the problem, in the same way that men not talking about sexual harassment and gender inequality is a problem.
I didn’t really stop to think about that truth–about how silent I’ve been on the matter until last week, when I was looking at the pictures of Monticello that I had taken in November, and I was reminded of how very nonchalantly the white group of college students before us proclaimed “oh, well this isn’t that bad–like that cabin where we go camping” and “sort of like a tiny house” as they assessed the rebuilt one-room slave cabin located where the Hemmings cabin had been, and how very awkwardly the white father with his two very young children tried to explain that “the people that lived here could never leave and had to do what they were told by the people in the big house or they would get in big trouble.”
Camping in a a tiny house of life-long time-out.
Are you fucking kidding me?
The problem with white people can be summed up in that one sentence. Thinking about it now makes me just as livid as I was that day, when I kept my mouth shut because I “didn’t want to make a scene” and “I did’t know what to say” and “I didn’t even know these people” and “I’m not really a fan of confrontations”. If my kids had been there, I might have pointedly and loudly engaged them in a discussion of one of our nation’s greatest sins–because Scott and I do Civil War reenacting, the reality of the tragic and terrible institution of enslavement is one that our children are as a 9 and 7 year old can be.
Excuses. All true, but still, all excuses.
And then yesterday I had to listen to the Southern “good old boy” bullshit about the Dallas shooting and how it’s some sort of validation that Black Lives Matter being some sort of reverse racism conspiracy theory to “get our guns” and distract us from Hillary’s emails. Because all lives matter and blue lives matter and WTF…
I’m really depressed (not in the clinical sense) about the human condition and human proclivities right now. Because the same things that make us beautiful, generous, creative, compassionate, inspired and inspiring, kind, hopeful–those things are oh, so easily twisted. We are, all of us, to the core, beautiful and monstrous, defined by our love and our hate in equal measure, and the one that wins is the one that we give the world.
I’m part of the problem.
I get it white people. It makes you really damn uncomfortable to address the systematic kidnapping, rape, brutality, subjugation, torture, and murder that we call slavery. It makes you really damn uncomfortable to address the decades of the systematic denial of civil and social rights that we take for granted as white people. It makes you really damn uncomfortable to confront the fact that somewhere in your ancestry, your relatives (maybe as recently as your parents, maybe even you) were assholes. It makes you really damn uncomfortable because you know, you know, even if you ignore it or deny it that there is something rotten in the state of American society with regards to race and that rot festers from us–from our ignorance, our apathy, our complicitness, our silence.
I get it because it makes me really damn uncomfortable.
As it should. If you are not made uncomfortable by the historical reality of slavery and segregation and how that history echoes into the reality of being black today and the perpetuation of individual and institutional racism, whether overt and conscious or subtle and unconscious, then you are part of the problem.
But part of my path means wrestling with the things that hide in the abyss. And the most dangerous things in the abyss are those parts of ourselves that we refuse hold a mirror to and confront. The most dangerous things in the abyss are silent and insidious, cloaking themselves in the everyday minuta of our lives, so that we do not even notice that they are there unless they come out to affect us directly.
Because I have a choice.
I still don’t know how to talk about race, but I’m going to say something anyhow.
So, this is my message to white people: “All lives” have “mattered” since Columbus didn’t discover the Americas. And by “all lives,” I mean the white ones. The reality is that “all lives matter” is really just code for the fact that the lives of people of color have not mattered. And don’t tell me you don’t understand that–if I rephrased this entire conversation to be about the entitlement of wealth or fame, you’d not be claiming such ignorance on the subject.
The phrase #BlackLivesMatter matters because the status quo–that “all lives (should) matter” means, in reality, that black lives, right now, right this minute, don’t.
Yes, it should rankle–the very fact that you think “oh, how dare they think their own lives should matter” should be a clue to your own bias. Complaining when another group demands the same rights that you already enjoy, implicitly or explicitly, civil or societal, makes you the problem.
#BlackLivesMatter because they’ve been living in a world where “all lives matter” for decades and the reality of “all lives matter” is that black men have a higher chance of being shot by police. Black lives matter because black people are more likely to be arrested for dealing drugs even though white people are more likely to be dealing them AND even though they use drugs at the same rate, white people are less likely to get arrested or go to jail. Black lives matter because NYC’s stop and frisk is targets minorities (and the idea that it “is working” is highly debatable when crime is declining anyhow). Black lives matter because black defendants are offered plea deals with prison sentences more often than whites, because they have cases dismissed more often than whites (due to lack of evidence), because they are less likely to receive reduced charges and more likely to be jailed before trial (because bail is generally higher for black defendants than white defendants accused of the same crime–one more example of how a jacked up system all-together is more so if you aren’t white). Black lives matter because white people are less likely to receive the death penalty. Black lives matter because we have a “justice system” where black lawyers are extremely underrepresented as elected prosecutors, black potential jurors routinely get dismissed, and because when a black judge who knows how the system works dares to fix it in his courtroom, the white commentary gets stupid.
And pointing out the egregious flaws and abuses in our judicial system and in law enforcement is NOT saying the “blue lives” don’t matter. Playing one off the other is a false dichotomy. It also creates a weaker and more distrusted policing system that is more prone to the escalation of violence in a dangerous feedback loop of fear and misunderstanding. And no, pointing out that there are very real problems in how police are selected, trained, utilized, in the methods they use, among other problems, does not mean that there aren’t good cops or that one is “anti-cop”. ”
There was never any doubt about the mattering of cops’ lives in this country. To say Blue Lives Matter is to falsely assert that the cops’ lives are undervalued and systematically discarded. They are not — no life should be — and the shootings in Dallas do not change that fact.”
Black lives matter because when black children go to the emergency room with the same level of reported pain for the same condition get prescribed pain medication less than white children, because women and blacks (and especially black women) are less likely to offered cardiac catheterization, because black patients receive worse care than their white counterparts in general (because racial bias makes us ignore pain), and because black patients are less likely to receive parity in preventive care.
Black lives matter because people (not just cops) are more likely to shoot quicker at a black person “target” than a white one. Black lives matter because when there’s a riot, the very worst offending white people get a pass from the media, from the police, and from the public as being “revelers” while black people (including the peaceful majority) get painted as “thugs”. Black lives matter because when a black person gets the idea to run for office in a chance to address these issues, and others, its harder for black people to get campaign funding to run for office.
Black lives matter because white people have less black friends than black people have white friends but somehow think that one black friend means they aren’t racist or that they are an expert on blackness. And the fact that white people have fewer black friends matters because when white people are taken out of their homogenous white neighborhoods and upbringing, white people are more likely to appreciate diversity when choosing a place to live…which essentially ,means we aren’t such assholes, even though it shouldn’t be black people’s responsibility to have to teach us that we shouldn’t be racist.
Blak lives matter because black people get screwed more when buying a car, screwed when they are prospective black home buyers buying a home (home ownership being a major component of the racial wealth gap). And as a result of all this getting jacked over by banks and sales people, black families are less likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder than their parents in comparison to white families.
Black lives matter because our society values my daughter’s life more than that of her “very first bestie ever”…and if you don’t believe it, then think about the names of missing children that you know from the media. How many of them are black?
Black lives matter because my husband’s coworkers were pulled over for driving while black after getting off of a 14-hour overtime shift (on a trip for Uncle Sam) through a nice (white) neighborhood (which happened to be where their hotel was) and the cops were assholes til the white guy in the back seat asked for their badge numbers. Black lives matter because a friend’s son got pulled over three times in his hour commute in as many weeks for being black and owning a new truck.
Black lives matter because my son gets an IEP with specific behavior modifications and goals for his ADHD and OCD but if he were black, he’d probably just as likely get suspended or expelled—even in preschool. Black lives matter because race plays a huge role in how teachers judge misbehavior in the classroom. Black lives matter because and black children have less access to advanced coursework being offered in their schools. Black lives matter because more families are turning to homeschooling as a way to avoid the institutional racism of the education system–a system that sets black children up by cutting them out of the system and sending them into the injustice system as adults in far greater numbers than white children.
Black lives matter because maybe some of the problems that their children face in school are a result of economic disadvantage in addition to racial bias. And guess what–that economic disadvantage is also racial. Black parents are less likely to work standard hours, which affect their children and their children’s education. And maybe they have to work the shitty job because ‘white’ names are more likely to get an interview for identical qualifications over a ‘black’ name (politicians are similarly less likely to respond to constituents with “black” names), white men with a record are more likely to be offered a job than black men without one, and once they have a job black employees receive harder scrutiny than white employees.
Racism may be often unconscious on an individual level, but that doesn’t mean there is less of it, just that it is less obvious. And when racism is perpetrated on an institutional level, it is a serious miscarriage of the justice we claim, as Americans, to believe in. Black lives matter because generations of slavery and discrimination have created an economic underclass that is disproportionally composed of minorities and has burdened them with conditions that would be difficult enough to get out of if it were just a matter of poverty. Black lives matter because its easier for white people to be upwardly mobile. This country’s default is white (and male) entitlement.
If one can’t examine their own bias and work to change it, then they are part of the makers of that travesty. The monster in the abyss is not wearing white sheets and burning crosses, the monster in the abyss is the racism that wears a suit and a smile, shaking hands with their one black friend at the dinner party on Friday but throws away the resume of a prospective employee with a “black name” Monday morning or fails to prescribe the same amount of pain medication that they’d give to a white patient presenting with the same symptoms…or that looks the other way when slavery is turned into a tiny house and lifelong time out.
I still don’t know exactly what I’d say or how I’d say it to that dad or those kids. I’m not generally comfortable with the random confrontation of strangers or with public shaming (to be honest, I think both are far more likely to cause denial and division and serve to entrench the original opinion rather than enlighten). But something needs to be said. And it starts with the elephant in the room–the monster in the mirror that is every single one of us.
We cannot claim to respect equality or individual achievements when we can’t even acknowledge that our society is based grossly in inequality and that individual achievement is easier for some than for others on the basis of melanin production. Black lives matter because some white people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that black lives (finally) getting to matter doesn’t negate the fact that white lives have always mattered.
Black lives matter because 2000+ words isn’t even the tip of the iceberg in describing the reality that all lives don’t really matter. Black lives matter because when black lives actually matter, all lives will finally matter.
Connecting With Community
For a while, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach this topic. Of the Four Centers of Paganism, this is probably the one I engage with the least in a formal way. And then, I read a book. It wasn’t a Pagan book, and heck, it wasn’t a book I would normally ever read. I can’t even say that I truly *liked* the book (thought I gave it 4 stars on Amazon because it was easy to read, unique, and rather interesting). But anyhow, I got a hold of a copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore on my Kindle, and read it in about 2 1/2 hours (I read fast) one night, sacrificing about 2 hours a sleep to finish it.
The heart of the book is a message that true “magic” is what we do with our own two hands, that immortality comes from what we make than endures, and that the answers we are looking for are usually not what we find. It achieves this through the narrative of an out-of-work failed start-up guy (with relatively successful friends) that gets the night shift at a bookstore front for the library of a cult-like secret society of bibliophiles trying to find immortality in the coded book of a 16th century Italian typesetter. And (without any real spoilers in terms of plot, because I’m pretty sure you can figure out that there is no immortality magic bullet to be found in the coded book of a 16th century Italian typesetter) the real immortality is in the connections we make with one another, and in the things we make with our own two hands, that endure. Which is sort of a big fat “duh”, but until reading that, I’m not sure of how I would have articulated it…and why I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a hot minute.
Were I the one to name the Four Centers of Paganism, I think I’d rename “Community Centered as “Humanity-Centered”, and on the topic of “connecting with spirit” (from the To Walk a Pagan Path read along I’m doing), I think I’d call it “connecting with humanity”, rather than community. While community makes more room linguistically for non-humans, I think we choose to do so because of the incatracies of what it really means to *be* human, as our best selves (and sometimes as our worst).
Community centered Pagans find the Divine within the family and the tribe – however they choose to define those groups. Ancient tribal religion was (and is, in the few places where it still exists) about maintaining harmonious relationships and preserving the way things have always been. Individuals are secondary to the family, and immortality is in the continuation of the family, not in the continuation of the individual.
It usually includes some form of ancestor worship, and may include offerings to the Agathos Daimon – the “good spirit” or guardian spirit of the household.
~John Beckett, The Four Centers of Paganism @ Under the Ancient Oaks
A humanity-centered Paganism that incorporates on a connection with spirit through our human-ness most certainly incorporates a certain level of humanism (religious or not). It often includes kinship (whether kin-by-blood or kin-by-choice) as a type of spiritual bond, and will likely include ancestor veneration. But it can also include the idea of humanity itself (or aspects of humanity) as an active, even deified, force working in the Cosmos (in the same manner as nature spirits).
AV is often called ancestor “worship” and I think this gives many people unfamiliar with the practice the wrong impression. Most of us who practice AV don’t worship their ancestors as higher powers that require bended knee or think the dead attain godhood. AV is a way of recognizing and remembering those who came before us. It’s honoring and thanking them, asking for help or advice, or just sharing time and remembering shared history (if there is any) – much like we would with a respected member of our living family. For those, like me, who practice AV, the dead don’t leave us behind. They are still present in our lives and can help in times of need. We take comfort from the belief that one day we will be ancestors to whom our descendants will (hopefully) pray, so that we, too, can watch over our family from the beyond and help strengthen the family wyrd* (or whatever a particular religious tradition calls the linking of one generation to the next).
from The Pagan Princess, “Ancestor Veneration–A World Tradition
I choose to honor non-biological ancestors as part of my tradition, but I don’t practice a traditional veneration of my biological ancestors. So, rather than explain something I don’t do, I’ll share some words and wisdom from a couple of folks that do practice ancestor veneration (and you might notice that, while similar, they offer some very different persectives.
The first thing to consider is that not all ancestors are blood relatives:
It’s not all that unusual to have unrelated “ancestors” become part of your ancestral house. Some indigenous traditions actually have specific names for the various types of ancestors: blood vs. affinity. Besides, friends, teachers, and mentors who have died can and should also be honored as respected ancestors. I don’t think that one is more important than the other. If we go far enough back, we all share common ancestry and I think it’s good and proper to honor them all, regardless of whether the association is one of blood, adoption, or affinity.
John Beckett (blogger @ Patheos), in a post entitiled “Who are our ancestors?” breaks down ancestors into 4 groups–the ones we know (in our lineage), the ones we don’t (in our lineage), ancestors “of spirit” (teachers, neighbors, mentors, civil leaders, etc), and our “ancestors most ancient” (from our human ancestors on back down the evolutionary line). I like this, in that is acknowleges that kinship is complicated and that it involves more than genetics and more than just humans. Galina Krasskova also acknowleges other-than-human ancestors of a different sort–the gods themselves, the elements, etc. When you look at ancestry in this way, well then, yeah, I venerate my ancestors…but in my experience, most people aren’t venerating Water as an ancestor. But…when you look at what people are actually doing on a routine basis, ancestor veneration is mostly about hominids, and usually ones we are related to or consider close to us in some way.
When we honor these ancestors, we subtly affirm an important fact: most of them weren’t Christians. If I assume my ancestors in the British Isles converted to Christianity in 500 CE (it could have been earlier – it also could have been much later) then I’ve got about 50 generations of Christians in my heritage. While the “out of Africa” migration date is highly contentious, even using the conservative date of 70,000 years ago I’ve got about 2300 generations of non-Christian ancestors – and that’s in addition to thousands more generations of human ancestors who lived in Africa.
Yes, in leaving Christianity I have rejected the religion of some of my ancestors. But I’m working to restore the polytheist, animist, and pantheist religions of many, many more.
One theme that emerges from some people practicing ancestor veneration is that it restores a pre-Christian mindset. Some more extreme views here (as mentioned in the elsewhere blog post I previously quoted by Galina Krasskova), considers those ancestors that converted (and lets be honest, it was probably forcefully) to Christianity to be a sort of traitor, and not worthy of worship until they renounce their choice (which sounds oh-so-Christian to me…hey, lets engage in this spiritual shunning because you didn’t do what I think is right). Others (like John Beckett, above) are quite reasonable, and perhaps admirable. But I personally think that this view depends too much on fallacy of antiquity–its right because its old and we were doing it longer as a species (maybe that’s also part of my person hang-up on ancestor veneration).
People are animals like any other species, and the religions that developled in antiquity are as much a byproduct of biological and cultural evolution as any other adaptative technology (like clothing) as it is part of the *something else* that separates us from other animals. I personally think that we should be looking at our ancestors as lessons as *what not to do* as we do inspiration for *what we should do*. In this same vein, many of us will have issues to address when it comes to “Honoring our Toublesome Ancestors”, a wonderfully thoughtful blog post by John Beckett. (Hey, just because I don’t do something doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate someone else’s views!)
Humanity isn’t a chain, one generation linking to the next; it is a river, flowing and overlapping.
What matters to me is remembering the lessons of history and humankind that have impacted our lives in a general sense, and in a more specific and personal sense. Sometimes those people are our relations. Sometimes those people are friends. Sometimes those are people that we’ve never even met. Sometimes, they might even be fictional.
me, from here
On Memorial Day, our family holds a ritual of acknowlegement and thanks to the men and women that have died of war. On Samhain we honor those that we loved and have lost–relations, friends, and personally influential individuals to us. On Darwin Day, we celebrate the tool of inquiry known as science that offers another layer by which to encounter and interact with the world, a tool that has (thanks to Mr. Darwin) given us great insight into our place in the Tree of Life. On “Columbus Day” we hold a mirror to the great injustices perpetrated by Columbus and the genocide that followed, one of our great sins of our modern history. On Martin Luther King Day, we do the same for the second (in terms of commencement, not in terms of magnitude or importance) of our great sins of modern history. There are others–for example we celebrate Demokratia (aka Libertas)–a deity that exists from a human ideal, on the 4th of July. Additionally, I regularly remember a number persons from Ben Franklin to Wangari Maathai and dedicate certain activites to their memory.
After all, the greatest mystery of life is what happens when we die. The only sure bet for the parts of us that remain are the memories we leave behind, the actions we inspire in others, the stories that are passed on, and the material legacy that we can’t take with us. I know that elephants mourn their dead, and that other animals show signs of stress and perhaps even grief when offspring die, but as far as I know, we are the only species that contemplates our ending with a mind to legacy as a method to find immortality. I don’t know whether that tendency is good or bad…though I am certain there are bits of both in there. But ultimately, it is who we are as a species, and I would rather honor the things that make us human in the best way than reject them because some choose to use them in the worst.
For me, connecting with community can be something practical–seeking a community of similarly-spiritual folks to socialize with, perhaps to do ritual with, to exchange ideas and support and take action together for the betterment of our wider community (even those that surely believe I am hell-bound), as with the Midsummer ritual and beach clean-up my daughter and I attended last weekend. Connecting with community can be a matter of embracing or confronting those ideas and ideals (and the gods that represent them) that are a part of what makes us human–democracy (Demokratia/Libertas), retribution (Nemesis), justice (Dike), retaliation, (Poene), victory (Nike), Adicia (injustice), etc. (a list of the Greek minor deities that “preside over the human condition”). It might mean volunteering or giving to charities that assist those in need in honor of a loved one, venerating one’s ancestors as a regular religious practice, or something else all together that I’ve not thought about.
The question is, what do you do to connect with community as a part of your spiritual practice?
Welcome back to the Read Along of To Walk a Pagan Path by Albert Albertsson–Catch up here with Chapter 1 (part 1), Chapter 1 (part 2), Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 5 (I’m still skipping Chapter 4 for now), and Chapter 6. Today’s commentary will be for Chapter 7, “The Birds and the Bees”.
This holiday is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. In Latin it is called Pascha, the French call it Paques, the Spanish say Paschal, and the Swedes say Pask. The only two languages that have preserved the name of the goddess who was once praised and honored in mid-spring are German, which names this holiday Ostern, and and the English language, where it is known as Easter.
Very little solid information about the goddess Eastre (or Eostre) has survived. Her name is cognate with our word east, and so we can surmise that she is a goddess of the Dawn and, because of her feast date, of the spring–a goddess of beginnings. Her moon marked the beginning of Eostre’s month, which later became to be known by its Roman name, April. In the pre-Christian era, Eostre’s feast was one of the three great festivals of the Germanic world.
Now, I’ve not read A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick (the book that the author references for at least the last portion of the above quote), but I’ve read enough in my 20+ years as a Pagan to have some doubts about Albertsson’s choice of openings to this chapter. Of all the Wheel of the Year holidays, Eostre is the one whose provenance has always been a bit thin:
Our sole authority for Eostre is Bede, who says that she was the Anglo-Saxon goddess after whom the month of April is named. He did not associate her with hares, and modern scholarship finds her name cognate with many Indo-European words for dawn, which presents a high possibility that she was a dawn-goddess, and so April as the Eostre-month was the month of opening a new beginning which makes sense in a North German climate.
So, we have a holiday whose first historical written reference is by the Venerable Bede in his 8th century De ratione temporum, later followed by some commentary by Joseph Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie from the 19th century–these two bits of source material seem to the reference material for all modern claims of the goddess Eostre. We also have a preponderance of folk-festivals and custom involving bunnies, eggs, and other spring things. And last, but certainly not least, there’s the proposed proto-Indo-European (PIE) root word (a reconstruction of a theorized goddess name), Hausos (also *h₂ewsṓs, Aeusos, or Xáusṓs). My problem with this introduction to the chapter is my problem with how this holiday is generally addressed among Pagans–as fact.
There may have been a goddess of the dawn named Eostre that was largely lost to time (I find this odd, when so much of Germanic myth was preserved) but can still be found through the tracing of linguistic evidence back to the cultural group from which most Pagan religions descend. There were definitely a number of springtime festivals throughout Pagan Europe, and bunnies and eggs certainly play a role in the symbols and customs of a number of European folk traditions that undoubtedly have Pagan roots. And, most certainly, the Eostre-as-goddess idea is true by simple fact that itis what (most) Pagans celebrate–its what we do, what we believe, etc. My objection to it is treating it as historical fact when, in fact, we don’t know that it is historical fact. We hope it might be, we believe it might be, and we think we have evidence that supports it…but there are other plausible, evidenced (and more parsimonious) hypotheses out there*.
The problem is this–when one belongs to a tradition that has often used inaccurate or outright manufactured claims for as a bid for legitimacy, I think its fairly safe to say that one loses their credibility. This, like many things in Paganism, becomes a conflict over authenticity vs. validity. We like the idea of Eostre, Goddess of Spring, because she “fits” our narrative–but what we “know” of her (everything but her possible name) as been our creation to fill avoid in that narrative. Since this is a topic I’ve already broached, I’ll leave my criticism with one last general thought, as it has effectively become longer than the two paragraphs it is addressing: Validity without historical authenticity is better than validity with false historical authenticity; with the former, you at least keep the validity…and with the latter, you have neither.
Then came spring’s promise. First came the lambing season, which meant fresh milk as the ewes began to lactate. And by this time, the chickens were produing more than an occasional egg…
…For early Pagan people, the spring eggs were life; they were much-needed sustenance and nourishment after the hardship of winter.
Albertsson continues to draw upon other commonalities and to discuss spring (and the symbols of spring) as a gateway to discuss additional customs, rituals, and activities to incorporate an observation of the seasons and a more natural way of living (the *actual* point of this book anyhow). Among these topics, he addresses the following (not necessarily in order):
- Natural Egg Dying–Of all his suggestions this one (and egg divination) are probably the easiest for people in a variety of living situations. There are actually a number of ways to dye eggs (if you Goggle “natural egg dying” everyone from Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart to CrunchyMomBlog (I’m making this one up as a summary of every “natural” parenting blog ever) has a website about it. Basically, simmer any colored plant matter til it turns a few shades darker than you want your eggs, toss in a tablespoon of vinegar per cup of dye, and then soak the eggs in the cooled dye til they reach the preferred color. You can rub some oil onto the eggs to deepen the color and make them shiney. Albertsson suggests a slightly different method of boiling the eggs and the ingredient for coloring at the same time…but its been my experience dying other things (like cloth and yarn) that sometimes it takes longer than the length of time required to boil eggs to get the desired shade.
- Keeping Chickens–I’m a huge fan of keeping chickens. I know a number of people that do, I love fresh eggs, and when I eventually have a yard, I’m totally down with this. As an apartment dweller, its just not practical. With that being said, if keeping chickens is something you want to do, there are some excellent print and online resources. Albertsson’s synopsis of chicken-keeping is an excellent overview to introduce someone that is unsure or has never thought about it to the idea. For more information (if its something that interests you) I would recommend starting with BackyardChickens.com’s forums, which are full of helpful individuals and some good resource lists (I’ve been lurking there for years). If you want to keep chickens, the big things that I’ve learned that you need to consider are 1) local ordinances, 2) breeds suitable to your climate, 3) suitable habitat for your chickens (you’re gonna need a coop, a place to put it, and a way to keep them safe from whatever your predators are–for me, that’s hawks, eagles, osprey, gators, foxes, snakes, coyotes…also, I like the idea of a mobile coop), and 4) the time to properly research their needs and care for them appropriately. Most of what Albertsson says here is a summary of what you can find more fully developed elsewhere. The biggest novel idea that he presents here is in using magic and ritual to bless and protect your coop and/or flock.
- Egg Divination–“With your own eggs, you can practice one of the oldest forms of divination. It is a practice known variously as oomantia, ovamancy, oloscopy, or oomancy…” Basically, egg divination involved hot water, and cracking one of your freshly laid backyard chicken eggs (just the white) into the hot (not boiling water) and interpreting the shapes it creates (not unlike reading tea leaves). Albertsson is quite adamant about this only being *truly* significant if its a nice fresh egg out from under your own chiken, and not from the grocery store. Personally, I’d hate to waste good fresh eggs like that (they are SO much tastier than store eggs)…unless I was doing oomancy while making egg drop soup.
- Bee Keeping–Albertson recommends bee keeping for honey, beeswax (good for candles, salves, etc), a way of being part of the Earth’s cycles, supporting pollination, and for pure entertainment (also as a social topic of interest). He talks a little bit about bees (from human history to bee behavior), of keeping bees (taking bee keeping classes, hive maintenance), and “making it Pagan” (deities amenable to bee-oriented magic). He also mentions that even if you aren’t going to keep bees yourself, you should plant with a mind to the bees. And this is true–bees are immensely important to our way of life, to our agriculture…and they are in trouble from that same way of life (CCD, or colony collapse disorder, is a terribly threat to honey bees, with a complex etiology). But it is important to remember, whether you keep honeybees or not, that there are other pollinators–pollinators that are actually native to our ecosystems (unless you are reading this from Europe, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not a native species), that you should also be planting for and can also make homes and shelter for. Native bees may not make honey, but they are still important!
Next time, Chapter 8: Making Food.
* I’m quoting Wiki here only because it has the most complete explanation that I’ve been able to find outside of a book (and yes, its footnoted):
In 1959, Johann Knobloch proposed a different etymology. Writing of “the relationship between dawn and springtime, between night – or early morning – and daybreak in the Christian Eastern rituals of the East and the West”, he proposed that the Old High German name for the feast, Ōst(a)rūn, as a Gallo-Frankish coinage, drawn from Latinalbae in the designation of Easter Week as hebdomada in albis and in the phrase albae (paschales). The Germanic word is connected with an Indoeuropean word for the dawn (uşás-, Avestan ušab-, Greek ἠώς, Latin aurora, Lithuanian aušrà, Latvian àustra, Old Church Slavonic za ustra), and Knobloch links this derivation with the word albae in the phrases in Church Latin, with which are associated the French and Italian words for the dawn, and connected it with the dawn service of the Easter Vigil in which those to be baptized faced east when pronouncing their profession of faith. Jürgen Udolph, himself a proponent of a different view, says that, although the theory that the words “Easter” and “Ostern” come from the name of a Germanic goddess reconstructed by Jacob Grimm as Ostara is the most widespread at a popular level, Knobloch’s proposal enjoys most support.