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Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

Ghost Flowers at Otter Creek Preserve.  Once upon a time, I had no idea what these were.  I didn’t merely shrug and forget – I took photos and looked them up after a hike.  Now I can easily identify them.  It’s a great feeling. – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

I read an article today that captured the spirit and concern of one of my recent posts.  It relates to Britain specifically, but I see a similar disconnect between people and nature in the United States.  It amazes me how many adults (who have lived in Upstate NY all their lives) don’t know the difference between an oak and a maple tree.  These are some of the most common trees around!  Or they can’t name any of the wildflowers that grow near them.

It’s really… strange to me, I guess, but then I think of all the other skills I’m surprised people lack.  Like…hearing that someone intends to throw out a shirt because a button fell off…  Say what?  Reading the article linked above made me realize how lucky I was as a child to learn about the nature around me.  My parents and even grandparents were very involved and passed down their wisdom – the names of plants and animals, how to garden, what not to touch, and even some wild edibles.  I’m always trying to add to that knowledge and pass on more to my own daughter.

There’s definitely some privilege there.  I understand that I was very lucky to have involved parents.  They could afford for my mother to stay home and raise my sister and me.  My father had a good job with benefits so he didn’t need to take any more employment.  My grandparents lived close and were able to retire, giving them plenty of time to teach me and my sibling how to sew, paint fences, weed, press flowers, etc.  Not only did we have access to green space, but we were surrounded by it and actively went on weekend excursions into the Adirondacks to learn more.  We went to the library and museums.  I realize not everyone is able to do those things for a variety of reasons.

I’m thinking about how I can help improve the situation.  Continuing to talk with my daughter about the plants and animals around us is a huge priority to me.  Reading and getting outside as I discussed in that recent post to improve my own understanding, for sure.  Perhaps I should do more with my own grove?  Going on a nature walk together and pooling our collective knowledge would be a great activity.  (Honestly, I want us to get out more together anyway.)  As a teacher, perhaps I should take my students outside.  Perhaps we’ll take advantage of the wooded trail on campus and keep a weekly or even monthly nature journal to improve their writing skills…  Simply getting outside and taking the time to observe can be so powerful*.  There are many possibilities.  Every little bit counts.

What are you doing to improve your connection to nature?  What else could you do to pass on your knowledge to others?

*I once took some little kids out on the playground with magnifying glasses just to observe the insects and spiders.  After calming them, they were entranced by a bumblebee, admitting that they never actually looked at one up close before.  It was one of the most amazing, humbling, and emotional experiences to me as a teacher.

 

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I posted this on my private FB feed today, but I decided that I wanted to share it here too.  If you are a friend or you happen to follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been very supportive of the Water Protectors in North Dakota.  You know I’ve been sharing news stories that, otherwise, many may not be exposed to on television.  I have not done anything on my blog, so I wanted to share this because, every year, I seem to do an annual grumble about Thanksgiving.  So ’tis the season!  Seriously, though, I feel very strongly about this.  It feels hypocritical.

I shared this link to “The Women of Standing Rock are Midwifing a Global Movement” and said this on it:

“A nation isn’t defeated until the hearts of their women are on the ground.” Powerful words. Watch the videos in the link.

Going into the month of November, ideas swirl in my mind. I think of Thanksgiving, something that has, symbolically, become more unsavory as I grow and learn. Autumn Equinox is when my immediate family and my people get together to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest – literal and metaphorical. This other day of gratitude in November is so tied up with the dominant culture’s damaging lies, perpetuating the idea that everyone got together and it’s all okay. I don’t think I can do that this year, not anymore, not even as a facade to make family happy, when this is happening. Even if it only gets my family to think about it more… but imagine if more of us said no. We didn’t go to or tune into Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade; we didn’t buy all those turkeys and canned sweet potatoes; we didn’t fuel the greed machine by participating in Black Friday. Imagine the message that would send… I think that’s something I need to consider doing and sticking to this year. If not now, when?

Know that I will not judge those of you who still want to gather with your family. Being with family is always a good thing. Giving thanks is always a good thing. Do use the time to discuss and meditate on the cultural symbolism of the day, though. You cannot ignore that, especially with everything going on. I can’t leave my home, my family, and my job to join the protest – even somewhat local gatherings.  I have responsibilities in the form of loans and rent to pay.  I keep lamenting that I don’t have enough money to send the Water Protectors to help them maintain their camps and pay their legal fees, but what if we didn’t spend some money on factory farmed turkeys (or Tofurkeys in my case) and, instead, sent that to the camp?  What if we all did that act?

Either way, if you support the Water Protectors like I do, let’s send a strong message this November and show our Indigenous Brothers and Sisters that our love of the Earth, the Nature Spirits, and Ancestors of Place is not just lip service.

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Dandelion Cookie Offering. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

I seem to post about food an awful lot, and I hope you’ll forgive me. Harvesting, making, and preserving food plays such an important role in our religious traditions and holidays.

I recently recognized what has become a family tradition in early May – harvesting and cooking with dandelion flowers. In fact, I know we had a huge harvest of dandelions around Mother’s Day last year because I have an adorable photo of Bee, dressed up for the day, sitting in our backyard surrounded by lovely yellow dandelions!  It was around that time that we made dandelion cookies.

On Saturday, after treating myself to a fabulous hot stone massage, we returned home, then Bee and I gathered some dandelion flowers.  Day by day, I’m teaching her to respect nature, how Mama Earth provides food for us, how we work with other creatures like the honeybees, and how to express our gratitude.  Seeing her grow in her knowledge and vocabulary is just magical.

When the cookies were done baking, I saw that one looked like a heart.  Immediately, I knew I wanted to give that one back as an offering to the Earth Mother.  Bee picked a few too many flowers, so we gave those back as well.  Between the birds, the ants, and the rain we had last night, the cookie is indeed going back into the Earth Mother.

Land, Sky, and Sea.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Land, Sky, and Sea. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

I’ve had such a lovely Mother’s Day today.  We had breakfast in my favorite cafe in Clayton, NY, then spent some time at Grass Point State Park.  We put our feet in the river for the first time this year, and it felt amazing.  It was like a homecoming.  While Bee and her father played on the slides, I sat under some willows, where the land met the river, and meditated for a little bit.  I watched the honeybees pollinating the flowers all around me, watched the terns swoop through the air, listened to the St. Lawrence River whisper against the sand.  Nearby, plants grew, an otter carcass decayed, and seabirds sang over the small, rocky islands.  Everything, everyone, was part of the Earth Mother, and I was there with them.  Just as she nourishes me, I nourish my daughter.  One day, we will nourish others in the great cycle…  I sang to the River Spirit who is part of the Earth Mother.

It is just so beautiful and ineffable.  Cookies, flowers, songs, and prayers are but a simple expression of my love and gratitude.  Later, I did the work – I mixed new, organic potting soil with homemade compost.  Filled the pots, preparing them for homegrown veggies and flowers for our pollinator allies.  Working with the Earth Mother, working to improve my involvement with the Earth Mother, with my brother and sister Nature Spirits…  Still so much to do, so much to learn…

Whenever I do a devotional, I pray:

Earth Mother, may my greatest offering be my daily attempts to walk lighter upon you…

Every day, I learn more and grow more in my understanding, just like my daughter…

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Sugar pod peas poking out to say hello to the world! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

 

My daughter and I took a walk around our home to celebrate Earth Day. Granted, we do this regularly, but why not do something outside today? It was chilly, so, regardless of what season the calendar says it is, we took our winter coats out.

First, we visited the container garden in back to inspect the newly planted onion set and the bed of dwarf sugar pod peas.  As you can see from the photo, the peas are germinating!  I’m hoping that their reputation for cold hardiness gets them through the low temperatures this week.  I may need to tuck them in for a few days each night!

Sticking close to the hedge, Bee and I wandered a little further  from home to look for signs of spring despite the chill.  Right off the bat, we heard a chorus of frogs in the marsh behind our home.  Each day we go out, I tell Bee that the sound comes from frogs, and she knows what they are due to lots of reading and animal-oriented shows.  She got down on all fours and proceeded to bounce, chanting “hop, hop, hop!”  That had to stop when we reached muddier terrain.  “Squish, squish, squish!” I said, picking her up.  Her boots aren’t as waterproof as mine.  Mud boots are on Bee’s birthday wish list!

I pointed to the white oak, but the buds weren’t as obvious on him. The maples had glorious, red buds that were bursting open.  Bee liked looking at them more.  I was able to hold her up so she could carefully touch them.  “Gentle, gentle,” I cooed.  She knows that word from interacting with our cats and my lemon tree.  “Twee.  Twee,” she said.

We reached a green hill, lovely and green after the rain we received, and Bee gleefully ran up with me.  She loves open spaces to race and explore.  We didn’t linger there long because the cold wind whipped our faces.  Bee held her hat as we gingerly climbed down.  We decided to go home.  Chilly wind equals snotty noses, and Bee needed a handkerchief.  Silly mama!  Why didn’t I pack one?  They’re necessary when out and about.

Between work and toddler care, I wasn’t able to do anything traditionally associated with Earth Day.  I didn’t attend a rally, pick up litter, or plant trees.  If my husband had been home, it would have been easier to manage a bag of litter (one parent handles the bag and the other watches the tot), but it’s hard when you’re on your own.  Earth Day was simple for me this year: a walk around our little patch of home, observing the natural changes.  We made offerings of birdseed to the local spirits and Earth Mother.  I said a prayer of thanks and Bee babbled, obviously trying to join in.  She solemnly blew a kiss to the trees when we were done.  Engaging in such activities today and every day will help raise a child who places value in the Earth, a child who is more likely to be intrinsically motivated to attend rallies, plant trees, and pick up litter when she’s older.  I’m laying the foundation.  Even if she decides that Druidism (or Paganism in general) is not the path for her, I will consider myself successful if she grows up to love and honor the Earth, and every being she shares her home with.

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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With each ritual, with each prayer of thanks before a meal, I reflect on my relationship with the Earth Mother. Honoring her in word and deed is an integral part of my Druidic path. During prayer I often say, “May my greatest offerings be my daily attempts at living in better harmony with you.” The more I grow, the more I learn, and the harder I try. Baby steps; persistent, pious baby steps. To me, changing behavior or working in an attempt to do less harm to the Earth Mother and my brother and sister Nature Spirits, is akin to offerings and sacrifice.

But sometimes I make mistakes or I’m not as mindful as I could have been. For example, I accidentally left a gadget plugged in to charge at work. It will continue to waste energy until I return. I felt my “green guilt” all day…

As I hung my daughter’s cloth diapers to dry before bed, I reminded myself how much I am trying. Further more, I realized I shouldn’t let guilt weigh me down. I need to learn from my mistakes, sure, but I need to honor the Earth Mother with my hard work and joy. Guilt can be debilitating. There is no sense wallowing in it. I picked myself up and thought, “I’m persevering, honoring the Earth Mother in the way I can right now.” With that, I realized I should turn off the porch light that I had forgotten. (One forgets a lot with a toddler running around…) Those small extra bits of effort all add up, and that taking control of something restored my joy and faith in myself as an evolving priestess of an Earth-centered path.

Tomorrow is Earth Hour. It’s a symbolic way to show devotion to the Earth Mother through a willingness to make small changes. It should not merely end with you turning the lights back on after an hour meditating in darkness. What can you do, in your current circumstances, to live in better harmony with Nature all year? Can you persevere and piously continue? Can you do it with joy in your heart, knowing that you’re taking a much-needed step in the right direction?

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The poet, Shane Koyczan, takes a more “rationalistic” and archetypal view of the Gods, but I find his view on the Titan Atlas, particularly his modern relevance, to be fascinating. Just as interesting is his retelling of the age-old story of the Earth Mother and Sky Father. How is ancient myth relevant to our currant environmental crisis?  Just watch.  Koyczan’s poem is very moving and gives hope in what can otherwise seem like a hopeless situation.

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