I don’t can. My mom has in the past, but she never taught me how. I borrowed a big book on canning from her once, and it sat in my kitchen for an entire Autumn, unopened.
I don’t pickle. My grandma did, on my father’s side. She was from the South, a land of pickling strange things. I didn’t ask her much about pickling before her mind went, and she passed away a few years back. She took that knowledge with her.
I don’t harvest, in any literal sense. We have the frames for raised beds in our backyard, but we’ve yet to fill them with dirt. We’re thinking about doing it in the Spring, or possibly this Autumn if we can put a plan together. We may plant kale, if we can learn what kale needs to survive. Water, I gather, and light. The basics. But there are other details, I’m sure.
I write about all of this because it occurs to me that in spite of my Pagan practices and my Druidic studies, I’m extraordinarily disconnected from the land. My food arrives on semi-trucks, my clothing is shipped in from overseas and my gasoline is the stuff of global conflict. It may be more accurate to say that I’m connected to many lands, and a consumer of all of them. But I don’t get dirty in order to eat… literally, I mean. There is something dirty in the way I get my food, for sure.
I’m feeling a disconnect, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
Survival of the Pagans
Star Foster wrote about survivalism, and what some would consider the practical, and others the reactionary practice of storing stockpiles of food in the basement. I think she’s onto something. She writes:
Paganism is about examining your life, being realistic about your material, spiritual and emotional needs, and honoring the past by looking towards the future. While I don’t think Pagans should build bomb shelters and start reckoning against a possible doomsday, stocking your pantry to give yourself some added security in an uncertain economy sounds pretty Pagan to me.
There is a spiritual component to all of this, too, and it is one that I believe Pagan’s have a responsibility to consider. After all, we pay lip service to the land throughout the year, picking up our ritual items at Big Box stores, serving our pre-packaged food on plastic plates at the end of our rites. We are not always the bastians of environmental responsibility, or aware of our direct connection to the land, for that matter. We fall short as often as anyone else.
The difference is, we talk about the land all the time. We tell stories about Old Gods who governed over the fields, but we rarely step foot in the fields ourselves. In some ways, it would be more appropriate for us to worship gods who govern the produce aisle, or the food processing plants, or the deities of the drive through.
Environmental awareness is theological awareness. That is a cornerstone of Pagan Theology, is it not? The Earth is sacred, alive, and sentient. There are unseen forces that influence and shape the physical world, and if we choose to worship them should we not also seek to honor them by being discerning about how we make use of the physical world? Perhaps it isn’t so much a question of survivalism, but rather one of responsible and ethical relationship to the land on which we live and worship.
How Are We Relevant?
I was struck by the absence of any mention of the global environmental crisis at a recent Lughnasadh ritual I attended. There was great emphasis put on the story of Lugh, but none put on how the idea of “harvest” is connected to the state of the land, or how the weather is literally affecting the crops, or how the story of an ancient Celtic God is in any way relevant in a modern society that is, as John Michael Greer might put it, on the long descent toward the end of the Industrial Age.
As a person who is relatively new to Paganism, and who is seeking to understand the relevance of these traditions and practices in a modern context, I was troubled by the disconnect between the old stories being told and the current realities we face. That may be one of Christianity’s great strengths; its ability to contextualize the central messages of the faith into a modern context. Hope, love, redemption, forgiveness — these concepts and experiences are constantly brought into a modern perspective in order for them to remain relevant to the religion’s followers.
Are Pagans doing that? If our central message is that we are more relevant than Christians because the roots of our religious practice extend deeper into the past than theirs, we’re not destined for a very long shelf life. Who cares about how ancient your practice is? A tradition isn’t relevant because it’s old. It’s relevant because it speaks to something that is happening in the world right now. And we should be asking ourselves — how does our tradition speak to the state of the world at this moment in history?
Pagans, in my view, along side anyone who holds the Earth as sacred and central to their religious practice, have a distinct opportunity to step forward and offer the world a message that is relevant to all people at this moment in history. We are in the grips of an ecological crisis, one that influences all aspects of our life. Economics, health-care, food scarcity and the distribution of wealth — It all starts with the Earth. If the Earth is in disrepair, by extension all the living things and active systems on the planet will, too, be in disrepair.
Getting Back To Basics
So, I look again at my backyard and at my pantry. There is space for dirt back there, and space on the shelves for jars and cans, should I choose to do the hard work. A backyard garden is a long way from sustainable farming, but it’s a step in the right direction. Even engaging in a discussion about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it arrives on our dinner plate brings us into a state of awareness of our relationship to the land.
And I don’t care if you identify as Pagan or not — we’re all living on this land, and we’re all a part of it. Deifying it isn’t necessary in order to live on it… but it, too, is a step in the right direction.
If this post sparked some ideas, please post them in the comments. And, as always, I’m grateful for you sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!
This is a very good post. My partner and I have just recently moved in together and we've finally been able to put into practice some things we've wanted to do for a long while — get our food from farmers' markets and a local creamery; learn some gardening and food storage so we can eventually grow our own and keep it through the winter; and develop some skills at handcrafts so we can make things for ourselves and friends and family. It's being very rewarding and fits our ethical sense.
That's wonderful, Michael, and congratulations to you and your partner. Those skills, I believe, will help you weather the coming changes in our culture. I hope you write about the process — I'd love to read about that!
I think this is a very important connection to make, I arrived at druidism and pagan spiritualities from environmentalism, that is why it speaks to me. It is, in my mind, very natural to mark the changing of seasons, the phases of the moon; because these cycles are measurable and unmovable. But what is the effect this has on our lives? We no longer welcome the full moon because it's light gives us more time to work or play, be have light switches for that. As pagans, in fact as citizens of this planet, we must learn to see the rain as more than a passing bother – somewhere nearby it is nourishing a farmers field, and thus nourishing a human being. Sunshine is not just a bright light, it is a sustaining force. Perhaps we all need to visit the fields a little more often and really take in what Lugh gifted us.
Right on. I appreciate what you wrote, Pink, and I think you're exactly right. Thank you for sharing a little about how you arrived at Paganism here on the blog.
I think there's a real importance to being rooted in spiritual practices that are in direct contact with the land, the celestial bodies, and real, flesh and blood people. Theory is good, and ideas are fun to parse and build on, but there's something irreplaceable about getting dirty.
The main thing keeping me from raising a large proportion of my food is that I'm stuck in an apartment with a tiny porch and no yard. And yet I persist in sustainable practices anyway. The porch is covered in pots of vegetable plants. And I do have a canner, and intend to at the very least make my pizza sauce from the tomatoes I grow this year.
Just wait'll I can someday buy a house. Then? There will be YARDENING.
I love it! Thanks for the comment, and for sharing your experience. I think it's great that you've found a way to make the most of your circumstances. You've got some skills that I'm sure your neighbors would do well to learn!
There is very much a trend of this generation and then some, going back to sustainable living. I've seen it through my self and several friends whom aren't pagan. I've tried hard to teach my children about homemade gifts, that gifts of the heart are far more valuable than the commercial gifts that can be purchased.
Honestly, we started a couple gardens this year.. and only one made it. more out of not taking the time to tend it properly. The flower garden in front of my parents house is the only one that made it. the flowers that i planted are huge and beautiful. The vegetable garden out back, well..there's a few plants still fighting, but it got run over by grass. live and learn.
Thank you for your thoughts. it's definitely great to see more and more people trying to live sustainably, or even talking and learning about it.
Thanks for the comment, Gypsie! I think the messages that you're teaching your children are wonderful. That will go along way to keeping them connected to what is really important in the world.
You're right — we live and learn, and those lessongs come often especially for city dwellers who are trying to reconnect to the land. The good thing is that you're giving it a go. Perhaps next year you'll have a better go with the vegetable garden!
I appreciate you sharing your story here. Thanks for being a part of the conversation.
I gathered berries, fruits and grains from local hedgerows this year. I actually harvested the apples in my front garden this year (instead of letting them fall to the floor and rot as I usually do). I thought about my vegetable garden to be this year. I actually made some progress. Now all I need is a gardening fairy to show me how to create the veg garden and not end up with rotted plants instead of lush produce. Anyone got one spare?
Loved this post.
Thanks for the kind words, Gill. Your practice of gathering sounds wonderful. It's making me hungry!
Perhaps you can reach out to some other gardeners in your neighborhood to help learn better gardening techniques. Or, maybe there's a community garden that you could be a part of. Improving your gardening skills may end up helping you build community around this earth work.
Blessings to you!
I agree completely with this well written post, & think it is not only an important point for pagans but also for everyone embracing 'the new frugality'. It's about being responsible, & walking the talk. Bravo.
You should look into layer gardening your vege plots, it's really easy. 🙂
Thanks for the comment, Mrs. BC. I agree — being aware of what you consume and how you conserve is valuable for everyone, regardless of your faith tradition.
I'm interested in "layer gardening" — I'll have to look that up!
Sorry to say that I really still don’t see any connection between Paganism and survivalism.
I do see a connection between Paganism and homesteading, but homesteading and survivalism are not the same thing, although you seem to be using the two concepts interchangeably.
I may not have been totally clear. I'm not really advocating survivalism, although that is how I framed the post on Google+. I'm also not saying that Paganism is connected to survivalism. Survivalism is an extreme response, I think, to what I think of as a slow, steady decline in industrial society. I am saying that there is a benefit in preparing for the future, and that Pagans have a leg up, in a way, because of our tradition's emphasis on aligning one's self with the land. Does that make sense?
Perhaps I should explore the idea of homesteading, especially as it is connected to Paganism. I'd be interested in your view on how the two relate to one another.
Thanks for the comment, Kevin.
This is something I am currently wrestling with in my own practice. I live in a townhouse, in an urban environment…I drive an SUV, have no yard to speak of, buy my groceries at the grocery store and the only animals I come into contact with on a daily basis are my two Corgis. So the Sabbats on a basic level confounded me. How do I resolve my spiritual path as a child of the Earth when I live in such an urban place? I don't have the means to maintain a sustainable living, to grow crops or raise cattle.
In an effort to resolve this dichotomy, I have begun to "re-vamp" the traditional Pagan holidays into my own spiritual calendar. I am looking at seeing the Earth Mother in the city….how does the turning of the Wheel affect me in my present environment? I may not understand the gathering of the harvest at Lughnassadh, but in Alaska, August signifies the ending of summer and transition to fall. It is an end, a time to reflect on goals and a time to take stock of what the spring/summer has brought.
I tend to the Mother how I can….I recycle, every month I pick up trash in my city, I donate clothing, I gather my pagan community together and provide spiritual support, I buy organic when I can and shop at the local market during our short windowed summer. My husband fishes and hunts respectfully during the summer and we are provided with food for the winter. The birch trees in my small grassy communal yard accept my offerings happily. I walk down to the park and enjoy the wind rushing through the trees and the birds chirping.
These things help keep me connected to the land, regardless of whether I live on a farmstead or in a townhouse. The traditions of old are not exactly relevant to how I currently live, but I can still learn from their history and experiences and adapt those paths to my own unique brand of city spiritual living.
Anyway, I apologize for going on and on! 🙂 But this is an excellent topic for thought and I want to thank you for the post 🙂
No need to apologize — I'm grateful that you took the time to comment! This is great!
I think you're doing something very valuable by attuning yourself to the seasons, and by doing whatever you can to live in balance and harmony with your surroundings. There may come a time where you have the opportunity to live in a state of even greater connectedness to the land — their through you own choosing or through a major shift in the society you live in — and the awareness work you're doing now may well prepare you for that time.
Blessings to you in this time of August reflection!
Another excellent post! I came to paganism from a mixture of buddhism/taoism and environmentalism. Naturalist is pretty high on the list of adjectives I use to describe myself and "suburban American with homesteading fantasies" is another 🙂 I follow the seasons because I can't help it… I followed the seasons even before I knew the names of the sabbats, festivals or moons. I follow the seasons because I watch what is going on in the parks, yards and roadsides around me.
I agree with you that care for the earth and acceptance of the earth's gifts need to be a part of pagan practice if it is to be relevant. Just telling the old stories is not the point – the point is to use the old stories to see and know the earth as a divine force. There is lots of nature all around you, I promise. Even if you aren't gardening or living in farm country you can still watch the spring green up and the autumn brown down. You just have to watch 🙂
Have you ever seen Annette Hinshaw's Earth Time, Moon Time? I got a paperback copy for three bucks 15 years ago and its lunar calendar is the main basis of my spiritual practice these days. Check out my blog, but find the book too.
Thank, Alyss. I'm glad to see you reading back into the archives! I haven't read that book before, but it sounds fascinating. I'll see if I can find a copy in my local bookstore.
I can relate to the way you feel about the seasons; that's how I feel about the Moon. For years I've felt connected to the cycles of the Moon, mostly on an emotional level but physically as well. I think it might be useful for me to make a more deliberate practice out of ritualizing the Moon cycles. My body and spirit seem to move in that direction already.