Archive for the ‘ecology’ Tag

1851, 2018? Still the Quest   Leave a comment

The Summer 1973 issue of “Vermont History, Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society”, preserves a letter from a young Vermont woman who went to Clinton, MA to labor as mill-worker. She was determined to enter Oberlin College, and mill-work was one path she could take to advance towards that goal.

Dated June 29, 1851, the letter from Lucy Ann (no family name known) to her cousin Charlotte derives from a period where people wrote each other frequently, and this surviving letter clearly stems from a history of lively exchanges between the cousins.

Cousin Charlotte–,

Your letter was joyfully received last Thursday evening, and this morning I take my pen with a right good will to answer you. This is Sabbath morning, and can I spend it better than writing to you?

After some light social gossip about her roommates in the mill-town, she continues:

Perhaps I am offending you to write such things on the Sabbath, so I will change the subject. — You say, “I am afraid you do not love the house of God”. The house of God, what do you mean? Our churches? And can you call such a place of desecration a house of God? If you can ’tis a place I cannot worship. I can only listen to truths or untruths, as the case may be, and ponder on their importance or unimportance, but to worship there, there is no feeling of devotion–no it would seem mockery to worship there amidst that crowd of well dressed idle gazers. Once perhaps the house of God was a place of worship, but it has degenerated into a place of vain idle show …

When Hemingway was asked if there was one thing essential to being a good writer (and, I would add, a free human being), he remarked, “Yes, a built-in, shock-proof crap detector”. Lacking that, we get scammed, conned, taken, had, bamboozled, misled, tricked, fleeced, robbed, used. And we give it up voluntarily, because as another writer — this one Roman — said, Mundus vult decipi — “the world wants to be deceived”. Yet our inner integrity will not relinquish our best interests so easily. It does not surrender the innermost citadel of the self, and our personalities will feel the unavoidable conflict till we resolve it — however long that takes. The longer we resist, the more the inner disharmony flails about to express itself in bad temper, illness, dysfunction, hypocrisy, projection on others, etc.

Lucy Ann perseveres:

There are places where even I feel devotional. Wherever this feeling steals over us there is our church. Mine is in the wild-woods. I never walk alone amidst nature’s solitudes without that same indescribable sensation of awe & devotion, & how inexpressably holy, calm and happy are such feelings. Then our thoughts are raised to something higher & nobler than the days dull routine, then do we feel that we have a Soul-immortal, & shall I say only then?

And so we see the Forest Church movement, one among its many more positive contemporary forms, arising from the middle of the Christian neglect of and even paranoid suspicion toward (see “Resisting the Green Dragon” and one useful counter-view from the UK’s Guardian) the physical world and ecological awareness. The sweetly saccharine song “I know a green cathedral” (lyrics by Gordon Johnstone, music by Carl Hahn).

Having forsaken so many keys, paths, practices and perspectives that for long helped keep humans in harmony with their planet, many seek to rediscover them anywhere and everywhere but where they have long existed — in earth-religion and earth-centered spirituality.

The Druid and Pagan sensibility doesn’t go away merely because the dominant culture disapproves of it, punishes it, mocks its deep hunger for true devotion and its proper place, or misunderstands it and offers in its stead a mad grab for a host of poor substitutes that con us into thinking they’ll answer our need, and which only enrich the pockets and egos of others.

How very many have felt this but struggled to ignore it? “There are places where even I feel devotional. Wherever this feeling steals over us there is our church. Mine is in the wild-woods”.

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Rules for the Game   Leave a comment

One of the formative books of my adolescence is R S de Ropp’s The Master Game. First published in the late 60s, long before some of the shadier margins of the New Age self-help movement earned a few hustlers some big bucks (you can see his “names for their games” in the third paragraph below), de Ropp flattered, cajoled or profited from nobody’s ego as he examined what we spend our lives loving.

If I had to sum up his book, I’d cite this from the first page: “… what people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem, but games worth playing” (pg. 11; italics in original). We witness, to say it tactfully as I can, many dysfunctional life-choices that arise from lack of worthwhile games.

lehmanSome of the less commendable games de Ropp names are “Cock on Dunghill” and “Hog in Trough”. We’ve seen plenty of players of both those games over the last few decades. The 2008 global financial crisis resulted directly from “Hog in Trough” players. “Verily”, said a long-ago Galilean Druid, “they have their reward”.

Some play nobler games, like the Householder Game — raising a family. Some opt for the Art Game (beauty). We have the late Stephen Hawking as a premier example of a player of the Science Game (knowledge). Many go in for — and here de Ropp shows a monotheistic bias — the Religion Game (salvation). None of these are completely mutually exclusive, but people sort themselves by the games they play as much as by anything else. As you might expect, though, the game de Ropp favors, and calls the “Master Game” of his title, is awakening.

Being “woke” is very small part of it.

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If WordPress’s stats for this site over the last three days can be trusted, you are residents of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK and USA.

So what do you know, how have you learned it, and how do you apply it in your lives today?!

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Denise observes (commenting on the previous post), “There is only one rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. When I remember that ‘others’ doesn’t only mean human others, the rest falls into place” [punctuated for clarity–ed.].

The law of love deservedly tops many lists of rules, sometimes in surprising ways. If you’ve raised children, you’ve probably deployed some version of tough love. That can mean letting others learn the hard way, or directly from consequences, if they’ve disregarded repeated warnings, instruction, examples, and loving requests. It can also mean not letting sentiment get in the way of responsibility. We do few favors by enabling bad behavior. But oh, it can be hard to put into practice!

Yesterday I removed a dead mouse we’d caught that had been living in and crapping all over our car for the past year. If you’ve listened and attended to the non-human world that chooses to live in close proximity with humans, you know the remarkable negotiations that can happen — on both sides. Ask spiders to leave a bedroom, and sometimes they will. Contact the moles in the yard and request they leave the garden alone, and sometimes they will.

It works both ways. Clean up the trash the previous owner left in our woods, came the message shortly after we moved in. Leave the undergrowth along your property lines, for habitat. Let the backyard weeds flower and go to seed. Then you can mow — just later in the season.

Sometimes we can reach an accord and live harmoniously. Sometimes one or the other side steps across, and learns the hard way. The non-human world has been asking us to clean up our messes for quite some time. We haven’t bothered, for the most part, and the payback continues to come due with each passing year.

Is this love?

Like you, like us all, I’m a work in progress. Love is a gift of attention and work, energy and time. You might call this the law of reciprocity, or balance, or harmony. Maybe a law guiding us on the way to love.

Other rules for this game of living arise in the world’s wisdom. One that’s bandied about a lot in New Age and Pagan circles, but too often without adequate exploration, is “As above, so below”. From what I’ve seen, it often works the other way, too, in ways I’m still discovering: “as below, so above”, insofar as what I do today has a definite effect on other planes, not just this physical one. Cultivate a negative habit, and it spills over into the quality of relationships, into opportunities missed, into other self-defeating behaviors, into dreams, and so on. The universe builds in multiple directions, not just top-down. It may be a uni-verse, a single turning, a whole in itself, from a certain perspective, but it’s poly-valent, too.

The law of paradox has also taught me a lot. “The opposite of an ordinary truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth”. I’ve carried that one around for decades, and it’s proven its value. It seems like a harmonic linking us with another plane, part of “as above, so below”. It teaches me to look more deeply at my own life, to mine it down to the marrow for meaning. And it’s a helpful first rule of thumb for testing a truth in the first place. (Do its opposites generate corollaries?)

Then there’s the law of unity, appropriate for a uni-verse — not any of our superficial, political unities, or a politically-correct drive for equality (limited and partial harmonics as they are), but a demonstrable unity, at work whether or not we believe in it or enforce it with merely human laws. It precedes us; it’s a thread in the pattern, part of the Web. It means, among so many other things, that the human sense of isolation and loneliness, of separation, doesn’t mirror the truth of things, but is rather a deception, a learned and self-reinforcing lie. It also means that whatever we do has consequences. We matter in so many ways to the whole and to each other, beyond our capacities to comprehend. The Hindu mystics put it in theistic terms:

The one Godhead, secret in all beings, the inner Self of all, presiding over all action, witness, conscious knower and absolute … the One … fashions one seed in many ways (Svetasvatara Upanishad).

But we all have sensed it, fragmented it may be, refracted, momentary, transient, flickering past — or sometimes longer, depending occasionally on a chemical or alcoholic lift, yes; or in meditation or ritual, or arriving unlooked for, unawares; or at the birth of a child, the death of a parent, in love, wonder, awe, deep emotion. Given all our many backgrounds, perspectives, filters, worldviews, we understandably give it different names, explain it variously. But it’s a near-universal in human experience.

mtftle1In 2012, on the centennial of the anonymous 1912 publication of the Kybalion [free pdf/public domain], J. M. Greer published a reworking of the seven spiritual laws it explores in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. In Greer’s latter version, the seven laws re-emerge as statements of an ecological spirituality. [See here for posts examining each law].

Note that these aren’t things anyone is called to believe: they’re scientific facts, that much-abused word. One of the things that means in practice is that anyone can witness them in action, and draw their own conclusions from them. Turns out what we need to know has been around under our noses for at least as long as we’ve been here.

Other laws or rule for the game? If you took up my suggestion in the previous post to write down your own rules, you have some in hand. Denise did: for her, love tops the list.

Our understanding of life has the greatest impact when it’s put in terms we can grasp — especially when we put it in those terms for ourselves. Mine won’t work completely for you, simply because they’re mine. Yours are for you. We need individual understandings, because we’re individuals.

It’s because of the law of unity that we’re each individual, each one. For this reason we can also (learn to) value another’s freedom, even as they acknowledge ours. So the law of freedom also ranks high on my list. Grant others the freedom to be who they are, in accord with their granting me my own. This one much of the planet is still learning, to judge by daily headlines and our widespread experience of life in this world. “Your freedom ends where mine begins”, goes one popular formulation, and vice versa.

Tomorrow, to round out this discussion, I’ll post “Eleven Strands of Educational and Life Philosophy”, which I composed as part of my application with a teacher’s placement agency some two years ago.

Love, unity, reciprocity, paradox, and freedom — some of my rules. And my game? Druidry helps to keep waking me up, though I still drowse a lot.

What’s your game?

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Images: Lehman Brothers;

Margot Adler: NPR Reporter & Pagan Author, 1946-2014   Leave a comment

madler04

Margot Adler in 2004. Picture: Wikipedia OTRS, by Kyle Cassidy

Quietly, steadily, Margot Adler helped Paganism gain wider understanding and respectability. Her passing at 68 from cancer this last Monday, 28 July ’14, also leaves a gap on the airwaves.  Often people seem to know her either for her work as a veteran reporter and correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), or for her seminal book on Paganism and her involvement in Wicca, but less often for both.  Yet the combination is a key to her life and significance, and helped to give her and what she had to say particular impact, harder to ignore because of her reasoned and thoughtful public voice over the decades.

The NPR website provides a couple of short audio segments acknowledging her work and her passing.  This one includes brief mention of her involvement in Paganism toward the end, around the 3:40 mark, and includes a link to the other segment.  Both segments include written transcripts as well.

Adler’s signature book, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, to give its full title, was first published in 1979 by Viking Press. The Amazon page for the 4th revised 2006 edition enthuses:

Almost thirty years since its original publication, Drawing Down the Moon continues to be the only detailed history of the burgeoning but still widely misunderstood Neo-Pagan subculture. Margot Adler attended ritual gatherings and interviewed a diverse, colorful gallery of people across the United States, people who find inspiration in ancient deities, nature, myth, even science fiction. In this new edition featuring an updated resource guide of newsletters, journals, books, groups, and festivals, Margot Adler takes a fascinating and honest look at the religious experiences, beliefs, and lifestyles of modern America’s Pagan groups.

ddtm1sted2005 article in the Religion Journal of the New York Times, “Witches, Druids and Other Pagans Make Merry Again in the Magical Month of May,” observed that “the book is credited with both documenting new religious impulses and being a catalyst for the panoply of practices now in existence.”

My 1981 Beacon Press* paperback edition has begun to yellow with age.  Paging through it as I write this post, I remember how I read and re-read it, fascinated by practices, perspectives and beliefs that variously called to that 20-something me from a place both familiar and strange, echoed my own experience, or surprised me with their outright oddness.

If modern Druids and Pagans more generally have relied heavily on books to launch and sustain them, that’s because it’s often principally or solely through literacy, books, and reading that many Pagans learn they aren’t alone after all, that others like them really do exist, and that the spiritual energies they finally must acknowledge are at work in them deserve expression rather than repression — that the way opening before them is possibly even worth the risks and hardships that may come with it. The brave Solitaries in their personal practices, and the Pagan groups that have formed and continue to form, resemble those of many other new religious and spiritual movements that coalesce and arise, and have arisen historically, within cultures typically oblivious, resistant or actively hostile to the opportunities, perspectives and critiques such movements offer. Where else, after all, would you expect Pagans to begin?!  Where and how else do any new spiritual and religious movements begin, but by those with a shared experience or vision recognizing each other, and drawing nourishment from the common ground between them?

That original book cover of Drawing Down the Moon looks tame today, but it made me want to hide it from casual view, even from my parents who were very accepting of whatever their bookish son was currently reading.  So what happened next with me?  Very little, outwardly.  But the book and its many voices, together with its author’s reflections on the Pagan movement, fell onto fallow ground.  I can trace its impact directly to my involvement in Druidry now.  And from what I’ve heard, I surmise this proved true for many others as well.  Roots and branches of many lives.

So all this is to say thank you to Adler for her book and also for the questions she raises in it, most of which remain valid.   While various streams and strands in Paganism have grown and strengthened since the time of the first edition of Adler’s book, the challenges she perceives for Paganism persist.  I’ll close with an example:

Neo-Pagans, Adler asserts (pp. 385-386*)

have so many different visions that together they seem broad enough to sustain the human need for beauty, freedom, and growth.  They contain a vision of the earth that is a noble one, a reverent one.  I am still inspired by it.  These ideas seem capable of stirring great ferment; they seem capable of ending human alienation from the planet.  But will they?

… It also seems clear that those who choose to be Pagans do so to nourish and sustain a Pagan vision already inside.  This vision exists as a painting exists, or a piece of artwork.  And Neo-Pagans are the artists.  But the relationship of artists to living on the earth has always been uncertain.  Perhaps it is important to emphasize the visions of Pagans rather than the realities of their lives, the poems they write rather than the jobs many are forced to keep, the questions the movement asks rather than the goals already attained.  The goals sometimes fall short of transcendence, and Pagans are often imprisoned by the very civilization they criticize.

Of course, that’s partly WHY they criticize it.  Plant a dream, and it may well take time to germinate, if conditions are less than welcoming.

“You’re much too journalistic,” Michael told me again and again as we walked around Craftcast Farm in the winter of 1976.  “I want to know what people feel like in the circle.  That’s what I want your book to tell me.  That’s what I want to know.”

Along with her good thinking, and the words of many who have become our Pagan elders, Adler’s book definitely conveys both that atmosphere and the challenges Paganism continues to grapple with.

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Images:  Margot Adler; book cover of Drawing Down the Moon, first edition.

*Adler, Margot.  Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

Edited 4 Aug 2014

Earth Mysteries — 3 of 7 — The Law of Balance   Leave a comment

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

Here, in the third of this series on J. M. Greer’s principles from his book Mystery Teachings, we come to the Law of Balance:

“Everything that exists can continue to exist only by being in balance with itself, with other things, and with the whole system of which it is a part.   That balance is not found by going to one extreme or the other or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.”*

The Dao de Jing (Tao Te Ching), another keen guide to the natural order of things, observes, “Extremes do not last long.”  After storm, sun.  After destruction, rebirth.  But what are we to make of natural disasters?  How in hell, literally, are we supposed to “live in harmony” with an earthquake or hurricane or tornado?

Our science, which is just another word for knowing or wisdom, has only begun to recover some of the nature wisdom of our ancestors and spiritual traditions.  And perhaps too much time, at least in some of the “hard” sciences, is spent in pursuit of a grand theory, where close observation might serve our immediate purposes better.  But we’re recovering lost ground as we can.

The horrific tsunami of December 2004 in southeast Asia makes for a good study.  Here and there, among the human and natural devastation in its wake, are curious and instructive stories.  The case of 10-year Tilly Smith, vacationing with her parents in Phuket, Thailand, merits recounting.  According to the Telegraph‘s article, Tilly saw the tide drop unnaturally, remembered a recent geography lesson about tsunami warning signs from her school back in the U.K., and alerted her parents.  They were wise enough to listen to their daughter, warned the hotel where they were staying to evacuate inland, and over a hundred lives were saved as a result.

Another story comes from off the coast of India, in the Andaman Islands.  One of the aboriginal peoples living there is the Onge, who still practice hunting-gathering.  When the sea level dropped abruptly, the tribe responded immediately.  After a quick ritual scattering of pig and turtle skulls to propitiate the evil spirits they perceived at work, they retreated inland.  Unsuspecting tourists and local fisherman walked the exposed beach and gathered the fish floundering there, only to perish in the approaching monster waves.  The National Geographic account from about a month afterwards includes commentary from Bernice Notenboom, president of a travel company specializing in indigenous cultural tourism and one of the few westerners to have visited the area.  She observed of the Onge, “Their awareness of the ocean, earth, and the movement of animals has been accumulated over 60,000 years of inhabiting the islands.”

While this isn’t exactly expert testimony, every member of the tribe did survive, and her reasoning is sound.  The commercial influence of Western culture has uprooted many tribes, and this is something Notenboom does know, since she’s on the forefront of it with her tour company.  She remarked that one day in another nearby village, an old man approached her and said, “It is great to have you here, but let’s not make it a habit.”  There can be a cost to careless physical ease and the acquisition of material abundance, and if we “gain the whole world and lose our souls,” to paraphrase the renowned Galilean master, we may be swallowed up, figuratively or literally.

Balance doesn’t mean stagnation.  Many Westerners have felt the stirrings of a vague dis-ease with their own lives.  We point to this or that cause, shuffle our politicians and opinions, our allegiances and subscriptions to cable, but to reuse the almost-cliche, it’s another version of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  When the problem is systemic, tinkering with symptoms won’t help.  The “solution” is not one single thing to apply like a band-aid, but it will indeed involve changes of heart, which will come in different ways for different  people over time.  Anyone who has a single prescription for the troubles that ail us is frankly talking out his ass. Getting the ____ into or out of political office won’t budge the problem.

The “self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint” of the Law of Balance sound so innocent.  But whenever the balance shifts, the corrections come just as predictably and inevitably.  Whether we like them or not, welcome or resist them, is another matter entirely.  We forget that we’re not “in control”:  there’s no helm to manage, no boss to prop up in place so that “things keep going the way they always have.”  Already they aren’t, and they won’t.  We’re part of a whole:  whatever happens to the whole happens to us, and what happens to us happens to the whole.  This is good news for those who work with the whole, and bad news for those who think this particular rule doesn’t apply to them.

There is such a thing as natural “justice” — it’s another name for rebalancing — but not always as humans would have it.  There’s no court of appeal when we’ve fouled the air and water, destroyed local economies with mega-corporations, junk-fed ourselves sick, fought our way to a glutton’s share of the world’s resources which are running out, and tried to rationalize it all. Now we have to find ways to live through the re-balancing.  What tools do we need? The inner resources are still available, though we’ve burnt through so many outer ones. The classic question of “Where is wisdom to be found?” really needs to be answered individually.  It’s a fine quest to devote a life to, one that I happen to think is far better than anything else you can name. Right now especially, money certainly doesn’t look like it’s worth the game. I know that I feel more alive looking for wisdom, and finding a piece of it I can test and try out in my own life, than I do swallowing anybody else’s brand of fear and paranoia and cynicism.  This blog is a piece of that quest for me.  Whose life is this, anyway? Make of life a laboratory for truth.

In the end, balance really is a matter of the heart. One Egyptian image of the after-world that’s stuck with me is the Scales of Anubis. The jackal-god of the Underworld places the human heart of the deceased in his scales, to weigh it against the feather of truth, of Ma’at, the natural order, cosmic justice or balance.  (For inquiring minds, that’s Anubis to the right of the support post.) Only a light heart, literally one not weighted down by human heaviness (you can fill in the ____ with your favorite kinds), can pass muster. One distinguishing quality of the truly holy or wise ones that we encounter in their presence is a lightness of being, a kind of expansion and opening up. There is always possibility, a way forward. Whatever happens, we can face it better with that kind of heart beating in our chests. Look for that, in others and yourself, in your quest.

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Image: scales of Anubis.

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Edited/updated 11 October 2017

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