It was always easy for me to connect with The Nature Spirits. Upon reflection, I must confess that it was the Nature Spirits who originally helped me decide to turn to Paganism. I’ve always been an environmentalist. At a very early age, I started to learn about animals, ecosystems, and the huge amount of damage humans were inflicting upon the Earth Mother and her children. At the age of five, I was making “Save the Rainforest” posters with crayons and construction paper. I hung these at the local ice cream and candy shop. At the age of eight, I became a “beady-eyed vegetarian” and only ate white meat. At seventeen, I became a full-fledged vegetarian and am still one to this day for environmental reasons.
My parents raised me to care about nature to some degree or another. My mother taught me compassion for all living things. I was warned to never to step on an ant because, one day, I might be that ant. I learned very quickly that animals do have a soul and emotions.
Even now I can’t help but put myself in their place and imagine how they feel. My father taught me how to grow gardens full of vegetables. Out of his interest in camping, he taught me simple survival techniques such as fishing, boating, and how to make fires. He always did so with reverence. He was a volunteer fireman and taught me that nature, like fire, was to be honored and respected because, just as it could give life, it could also take it away.
I took the teachings of my parents to the next level and came to the conclusion that nature was worthy of worship. I discovered Paganism around the same time I was becoming a full-fledged vegetarian. I was amazed that there were contemporary religions in existence that not only honored but worshiped the Earth Mother and her creatures. I felt like I had come home. This went along well with my maturing environmentalism and vegetarianism. While I will be the first to say that Pagans aren’t required to be vegetarians (nor should all vegetarians be Pagan!), I do think that environmentalism and, therefore, conscious eating, should be a requirement. This also isn’t to say that all environmentalists must give up eating meat – simply that it’s important for us to consider where our food comes from. This train of thinking carried me to vegetarianism, but if it carries others to hunt for or raise their own meat, I believe that those are also conscious, eco-friendly approaches to eating.
Eating local vegetables and fruits has also become important to me. While it’s harder to do so in the winter, I do my best to purchase organic food to avoid chemicals. My goal is to one day eat locally and within season. Some environmentally-minded friends and I are going to learn how to can and preserve food this autumn so that we can eat local food in the winter. In the meantime, I’m working on a small vegetable garden. Working with the soil, water, and sun to bring life out of little seeds has helped me to connect to the life cycles of nature. Politically, I’ve started to write letters concerning agriculture and the environment to my representatives, and I am currently working on a letter to send to a local Pagan Pride event in regards to the food offered.
I feel lucky to have grown up in a largely rural area. While I’m certainly not a scholar on the local flora and fauna, I’m always surprised when Pagan authors suggest that a good way to start forming a relationship with the Earth is to learn about such things as what type of birds live in one’s area, what the first flowers to appear in the spring are, and what plants you can eat. I sometimes take it for granted that I was able to observe these things first hand or learn about them from knowledgeable adults. I’ve always been a student of nature but I still have much to learn. I have an interest in sustainable living and thus I would like to learn about the many edible plants in my own yard. I’ve purchased some books and have gone to some workshops, resulting in some interesting experimental salads!
In addition to healthy, conscious eating habits, my fiancé and I are also trying to be conscious consumers. We do our best to recycle, research products, and find eco-friendly merchandise. I’ve switched to eco-friendly deodorants, shampoos, makeup, and toothpaste. We are also trying to switch to eco-friendly cleaning products. At the same time, we know it’s important not to waste and so we continue to use those products that we already own. We have also made an effort to reduce the number of plastic bags we use by limiting how much we purchase, carrying products without a bag, or using reusable canvas bags. As far as cars are concerned, we share my little Saturn and get 30-35 mpg. We try to carpool or walk to as many places as possible. It’s difficult where work is concerned, but I believe that every little bit helps and that even baby steps are a step in the right direction.
I said that I still have much to learn. Some of my latest lessons in nature have come from the city. My fiancé lives in the city of Utica and I spend a lot of time at his apartment. These past few years have presented new lessons – lessons about the flora and fauna of the city. I’m now learning that people in the city aren’t as cut off from nature as I once believed. In fact I think that urban Pagans who are able to find a connection in a city are probably more appreciative than those of us who live in the country. The more time I spend in the city, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value of my parents’ forested backyard. I’ve started to consciously look for examples of nature within the city so that I can maintain my connection. I pay attention to what the trees are doing, I notice and praise the dandelions poking through the sidewalk, and I smile when I see a skunk ambling across the street at night. Nature spirits are everywhere and one need only look.
My practical experiences are very spiritual. When I first started to read about ancient Pagans, I remember reading about how they didn’t categorize activities as either spiritual or mundane – they were all spiritual in some way. I feel myself entering that frame of mind. When I am in my garden watering the seedlings, I am engaging in an age-old ritual and connecting to the spirits of the land. When it rains, I thank the rain because it is helping everything to grow. When it snows, I pray that the snow spirits will be kind to me. I think that, while I’ve always had animistic tendencies, Druidry has helped me to develop them to the point where I really do feel that everything has some sort of soul or energy. I feel intertwined with it all and it makes me even more aware of the delicate balance that exists on Earth. My conscious efforts to be an eco-minded consumer are ways of affirming my connection and devotion to the Earth Mother and her children.
Of course I also feel happiness simply existing in nature. I love to go for walks in the forest behind my home. I have a little shrine set up by a tree – a boundary marker, really. I feel that it is the true entrance into the forest. I make offerings there from time to time and visit often to feel the presence of the unseen world around me. I love to meditate outside, to feel the wind through my hair, to make offerings to the fairies. I feel more alive in the forests, mountains, and lakes. In many ways, the Nature Spirits are my first love and it only makes sense for me to dedicate my life to them as a priestess. However, without the acts of conscious eating and consuming, the offerings and nature walks would be little more than empty gestures. ADF has helped me to see that my life’s work is, above all else, to honor, worship, and serve the spirits of Earth.