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+!