With all of the wacky weather we have been experiencing the globe over, one could get the impression that Mother Nature is royally ticked-off with us. Can you blame her? She's been so often abused, neglected, and taken for granted it is a wonder that we still have a planet fit to live on. What we can do is let her know that we care. Think of it like honoring your own mother on Mother's Day. I am a big fan of building strong energy and channeling it through ecstatic dance and music. I used to attend a great dance in Evanston back in the day, and there's no reason why you couldn't hold your own. For Earth Day this year, try organizing a Trance Dance. As in Transcendental. No, we're not talking about Rave 'Til Dawn. Your mission: find a great space, and create mood lighting. Low lights, candles on the outskirts (safely out of the way), pretty electric glowy lights and lava lamps, would all do the trick. Do you or someone you know have access to a large basement, church space, or school gym? The most important factor is that the space is wide open and that no one has to worry about colliding with objects or each other in it. Elect someone to play DJ for the eve. Make sure in advance that you have a decent sound system. Get a good-sized, unselfconscious group to come on out and let the party begin.
The main idea that everyone should be let in on from the beginning is that you are holding a dance with intent. To send out nurturing energy to help heal our Mother Earth. Send her your love with the energy that you create through your dancing.
Ideally, you move like crazy to a steady mix of New-Agey, Electronica, World music for one to two hours straight. You dance with total abandon, literally stomping your ya-yas out until you are dripping with sweat and reach the equivalent of a runner's high. If you need to cool it down in the midst of your twirling, feel free to strike some good yoga poses in the middle of the circle and catch your breath. See the clear unpolluted waters, protected forests, recycling programs, solar and wind power all happening in your mind's eye. Believe that it can continue to happen– that it is not to late to do our part to have a beneficial, lasting ecological impact on our planet.
Wear good loose layers of exercise clothing that you can really move freely in and lose pieces of as things heat up. Keep very well-hydrated. Agua, agua, and more agua should be incorporated. Vitamin-infused water with some added benefits to replenish those electrolytes is always a wise move. Bring a towel and a yoga mat for when things wind down. End on a meditative and calming tune. Does someone in your group know Reiki? An especially appropriate way to wrap up this event would be to invite them to perform a little quickie energy work on those who are willing. Have them go to each participant as you are all seated on the floor, coming down from the energy-raising. Be sure to stretch out all of your muscles fully, breathe, and bring your heart rate down. Most importantly, ground yourself. Let people leave when they are ready and consider having a few bowls of grapes or fresh berries out for them to grab a handful of on their way out the door. Not only will it bring some welcome nourishment, but the fruit just might taste a little sweeter from all of that good energy that you helped raise.
Photo, "Silhouette of Young Women," by Sujn Jetkasettakorn from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
I personally straddle the amorphous line between the first and second. As an Hellenistai, I see the world as infused with animating spirits. Nymphai inhabit trees, rivers, mountains and meadows. Great Gods such as Artemis and Dionysus and Hekate and Persephone walk about in the world. Indeed, the Earth herself is a Goddess, Gaea.
This sense that creation, nature, the earth, was something wonderful and amazing was instilled in my at an early age. I played hide-and-seek beneath the apple trees in my backyard, spent hours building snowmen, and did my best to protect every spider, bird, cat and dog that crossed my path.
Nothing can replace a hands-on experience, a true immersion in nature. There are a few books, however, which can supplement those experiences, help children to articulate them, and even help form the foundation of an earth-appreciating Paganism.
At the top of my list is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. I adore this book. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in gardens or urban farming. In this picture book, little Liam lives in a smoggy, overcrowded city of concrete and steel. When he comes upon a struggling garden, he decides to care for it. As the garden grows, so does Liam. Together, they mature and venture further and further out into the city, turning the rust-and-concrete cityscape into a beautiful metropolis of flowers and parks and vegetable gardens. Very inspirational.
I mentioned Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson and Leo and Diane Dillon a few months ago in my discussion of Goddess Spirituality texts. It qualifies as an eco-spirituality book, too. In this beautifully illustrated, simply-written fable, children will learn that everything in nature has its place and serves a purpose. What may be an annoyance -- or an "evil" -- to one is a benefit or necessity to another. I particularly love the fact that Earth Mother is portrayed as a lovely and serene black woman
Two poetry/prayer books which work well together are Earth Prayers From Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations From Around the World edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon; and Mother Earth/Father Sky: Poems For Our Planet by Jane Yolen and Jennifer Hewitson. Earth Prayers is technically aimed at adults, but I could easily see children using these poems in their personal devotions or in rituals they design for holy days. It may well inspire kids to look into the cultures of origin of these poems, to wonder how other peoples view the world. Yolen's book, on the other hand, is aimed specifically at children: lamenting the extinction of species and the devastation of the biosphere, this collection is both a celebration of the beauty of the world and a call to live up to our responsibility to treat creation with respect.
The Lorax by Dr Seuss. 'Nuff said.
Two graphic novels by Claudia Davila -- Luz Sees the Light and Luz Makes a Splash -- offer children specific examples of how they too can help care for creation. Luz is a typical twelve year-old urbanite chica, more interested in the latest shoes and cool tech toys than the state of the world ... until rising gas prices, power outages, and a water shortage force her to adapt. Spirited and spunky, Luz is a great role model.
Myths of the Sacred Tree by Moyra Caldecott was one of the first Pagan books I purchased, probably not long after I picked up When God Was a Woman. I was beginning to make connections between the oppression of women and the destruction of the environment, I loved the Greek conception of the nymphai, and I was still prone to hanging out beneath the apple trees in my backyard. Caldecott's book was a natural fit. Within, I found tales from Sumer and Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria, China and Japan, Arabia and Russia, from the Sioux and the Seneca, from Jainism and Buddhism and Christianity. Perfect for bedtime.
Two graphic novel series which older children will enjoy are the manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki and the manga-inspired Neotopia by Rod Espinosa. Both qualify was post-apocalyptic science fiction, but they offer different visions of the future. In Miyazaki's series, Nausicaa is the princess of a small nation on the edge of a poisonous fungal forest, the Sea of Corruption. When war threatens, Nausicaa must protect both her people and the monstrous insects in the forest, who are serving a purpose no one else understands .... Espinosa's Neotopia centers on Nalyn, the body double who stands in for the Grand Duchess Nydia of Mathenia. With its eco-friendly, sustainable agriculture and technology, its ritual and diverse population, Mathenia has learned from the mistakes of the past -- but the Krossian Empire has not. When ancient weapons of mass destruction are uncovered, Nalyn must save her people without betraying her principles. Great Earth Day reading.
The Owly series -- currently two picture books and five graphic novels, with a sixth set to be released in October 2013 -- is perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners; and, little kids at heart. Owly follows the adventures of a peaceful, friendly, generally happy owl who loves nothing more than to garden and help his fellow creatures. In the first book, for example, he befriends an earthworm named Wormy, and helps two hummingbirds migrate for the winter. With their pictogram dialogue and important life lessons, these gentle tales are highly recommended to all parents and educators.
Finally, there is Bill Peet's delightful The Wump World. The wumps live content lives on a small world of meadows and forests and clear, cool streams. Then great metal ships belching smog and flame descend from the sky. Having used up their own world, the people of Pollutus are looking for a new home ... and they have found the perfect planet to exploit. Guaranteed to make you angry -- but, don't worry, there is a happy ending.
In addition to the above, I also recommend that children get a solid grounding in evolution and geology. There are a lot of books on these subjects aimed at kids. Just about everything written by Gail Gibbons is good, as are the A True Book series from Scholastic, the Eyewitness books from DK, and the National Geographic Kids series.
So, do you have any favorite eco-spirituality or earth-centered books? If so, let me know!
Happy Earth Day, all! I have always had a special place in my heart for this celebration. For one thing, it shares the same birth year as me, 1970. For another, the idea originated with a Wisconsin U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson. (This courtesy of the Earth Day Network™, http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement) Finally, if you love nature– what better way to revere our Mother Earth than with a hike and a picnic?
As to locations, look into your city, county, or state parks and see who has the best trails. If you are lucky enough to live in a rural or woodsy area and own your abode, blaze a trail of your own. When you return for some hearty fare, stoke a fire pit in the backyard if it has cooled off.
Picnic goodie list:
Baguette of good bread, french or sourdough
Variety of cheeses like parmesan, blue, gouda
Thermoses of hot coffee and chocolate
If it is warm where you are, go with some nicely brewed herbal iced tea with sprigs of mint
For dessert, hunks of dark chocolate. Mix it up with varieties that have sea salt, chile peppers, or just plain 80 percent of pure noir goodness
Or if you are feeling more ambitious, try this healthy cookie recipe (per the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres):
SIVANANDA OATMEAL COOKIES
Makes about 20 cookies
3 1/2 cups oatmeal
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup of ground almonds, hazelnuts, or *breadcrumbs
3/4 cups oil
1 1/2 cups honey
3/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp baking powder
Mix wet ingredients. Mix and sift all dry ingredients (except nuts or breadcrumbs) into the wet ones. Now add the ground nuts or breadcrumbs. Shape cookies 2 to 3 inches onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes. *Recipe substitution for nut allergy folks made by author of this blog.
Hiking basics checklist:
Comfy hiking shoes or boots
Layers– depending on your region
Use picnic benches if available
Good old comforters or army blankets
swiss army knife
lightweight cups (1 each)
Plan for a group size of 5 to 15, but do know the walking limitations and ambitions of your guests ahead of time. Load up, pick your trail and head out to enjoy the sights and sounds around you. Be kind and pick up any trash or recycling along the way to dispose of when you are done. When you are ready to rest, pick your spot and settle yourself in. There are some worthwhile chants and exercises at Gaia meditations: http://www.omgaiamusic.com/meditations.php
Feel the rooted connection with our Mother Earth and show her some love. When you are finished, break out the supplies and feast. "Om mani padme om."
As a graduate student, Abram hoped his skills as a sleight of hand magician, and consequent heightened appreciation for how perception worked, would give him special entry into the worlds of traditional shamans. He traveled to Indonesia and Nepal to do his research, and found they were indeed interested. He also, as he put it, got in way “over my head.”
His second book, Becoming Animal, delves more deeply into the implications raised by his first, but for Earth day in some ways Spell of the Sensuous is the most important. (See here for my review of Becoming Animal. )
In Spell Abram asks a basic question “How did the earth fall silent to the modern mind?” Using the ancient Greeks as an example, Abram points out that while the world was alive for Homer, by Plato’s time people’s attention was turned towards the city, the polis, while the earth itself had become an increasingly silent backdrop to the human drama. This shift was not as complete then as it is today. For example Socrates was possessed by a nature spirit in the Phaedrus. But it was far along.
Why? If Abram is right, that I am writing an essay asking this question, and you are reading it, points to why.
Literacy as magic
Literacy, he argues, is a profoundly powerful magic, one so powerful it drowns out more subtle forms of knowledge and perception as we fall under its enchantment. At his talk Abram emphasized “If we don’t recognize writing as a magic, we tend to fall under its spell. It’s not accidental that ‘spell’ has a double meaning.” And writing’s spell is powerful. “Everything speaks,” Abram said, “but for us letters speak so loudly we don’t listen to anything else.”
To experience this fact for yourself, take this test where you are asked to name the color and not the word.
If we were to look at a text in an unknown language using an unknown script it would mean nothing. But when we can read the script, black lines on paper bring forth the most amazing results. We can be delighted or angered, taken to visions of beauty or suffering, be able to feel the wind against our skin on a beautiful hillside in spring, or shiver with its bitter blasts as we read of a struggle through a night time blizzard. We can taste chocolate, or spinach. We can encounter ideas that change our lives, and much more. All through the medium of little lines on a page. And here too, perhaps the double meaning of “medium” is appropriate.
Reading necessarily narrows our focus. To read easily we isolate ourselves so as to concentrate on the text. And we pour ourselves into it. We are not in the moment of the world around us, we are in the moment the text elicits for us. As I write this essay I sit alone, in front of my computer screen, a radically simplified external environment compared to the world outside, in my yard. The world of nature is silent.
Normally we do not notice what we might give up all unknowingly so enchanted we are by the gift of literacy. And it is a gift. I am arguing for awareness of the need for balance, not rejection. It’s that old Pagan theme of harmony again.
A while back I gave some exercises that suggest just how much we might be missing as we walk through the world, an exercise that would enable most of us to see and feel the energetic connections between ourselves and everything around us. Once learned, with only a little effort it is easily brought to our awareness. But most people never notice. They know such connections do not exist. They know the world is silent, a backdrop to the important human things.
This brings me again to Earth Day.
The Significance of Earth Day
Earth Day constitutes a remarkable turn towards the value of the immanent by a culture that has spent over 2000 years progressively losing the capacity to truly see the world. And I think that the rise of Pagan spirituality is connected to the same currents of thought and intuition that gave rise to Earth Day.
Earth Day stands as perhaps the first time a major modern culture established a day to celebrate our capacity to care for what is unlike ourselves simply because of its own intrinsic value. This insight was long known by hunting and gathering peoples. It has often been recognized by our greatest thinkers. For example, Leonardo daVinci wrote, "The virtues of grasses, stones, and trees do not exist because humans know them. . . . Grasses arenoble in themselves without the aid of human languages or letters." But this truth had been forgotten by nearly everyone even in Leonardo's time, and more so today.
But with Earth Day millions of modern people recognized what Leonardo saw. And chose to honor it.
Earth Day marks a turn towards the earth as our true home, the womb of relationships that makes us the beings that we are, by America’s most perceptive citizens. Those of us who continue along that turn will find our connections to the earth are deeper and more subtle than most Americans have yet imagined. Our Wheel of the Year offers a continual meditation on the earth’s cycles and the cycle of life and death. As we learn to listen, to take time away from our books, our computer screens, and our immersion in the human world, to immerse ourselves in the more-than-human world within which we live, we experience at least occasionally Abram’s observation that “Everything speaks.”
And with these remarks I want to suggest a ritual you might want to initiate on Earth day. One that will help clear your ears to the song of the earth.
A Ritual to Connect
Over these past few weeks I have been moving. On Earth Day I will build an outdoor altar in my new place and make my first offerings to the spirits of that place. I know from experience it will take some time to revive the energy of a place towards its human inhabitants. But with attention and good will, the revival will happen. The place will speak to me. Earth Day 2013 is symbolically a good day to start, but any day is better than none at all.
I suggest those who are interested do likewise. For this to work well at enlivening your connection with the earth, make offerings at least weekly. You are building a relationship. And be patient. Ideally build your altar next to a part of the yard you do not do much with to bring under your control. At the very least do not spray poisons there. It is a place for other powers to prevail with as little interference as possible. This area does not have to be large.
In an apartment you can group some of your house plants around your new altar (or your old one). Light a candle weekly, and give and ask for blessings for the earth and for yourself and your loved ones. No house plants? Do the same at your main altar, but at least have a glass of water there. When you go outdoors later pour the water on the ground before a plant you like.
Outdoors or in, once a week I suggest also making an offering of a little liquor that seems appropriate to you. In years past I have used dark rum and accompanied it with a sprinkling of good tobacco. I will this Earth day as well. Whatever you use, do not use that bottle for anything else, which is why liquor is better than wine. It keeps. The contents of that bottle are spirits for the Spirits.
As you make your offerings, ask for better connections between yourself and the spirits of your place. Thank them for the good things about where you live. Show sincere gratitude. Ask for their blessings. And again, be patient.
Our culture has spent over 2000 years separating itself from awareness with the spirits of place and we can begin taking some important steps to reconnect.