Fuel keeps our lives moving. We use it to get from place to place, heat our homes, and get our food. At least in most of North America, much of our food is grown using fossil fuels, from fertilizer and fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, to the harvesters that allow agribusiness to thrive. Many of our homes are heated by coal or natural gas. Many of us commute to our jobs, from a few miles to several hundred, by car, train, or bus, using some form of fossil fuel. It is safe to say that most of Western civilization depends on the cheap, abundant fossil fuels that power our lives.
The hardship that will be imposed if we do not adapt to its lessening availability cannot be overstated. Many jobs would disappear or have to be drastically localized without cheap, abundant fuels. It would be a real hard question as to whether we can feed ourselves if they become scarce, as so many of us are not growing anything at all. Yet these questions are before us. Experts on oil estimate that Peak Oil, the point at which demand for oil eclipses the ability for the industry to provide for it, to already be here, or to be coming in the none-too-distant future. Documentaries such as The End of Suburbia and A Crude Awakening, to websites such as The Oil Drum, The Crash Course and The Coming Global Oil Crisis, make it clear that Peak Oil, as well as other related peaks, such as natural gas production, are coming. It is not so much a question of if, but of when. The question will be, regardless of whether we are simply delayed in feeling the effects of Peak Oil now, or will feel it in the near future if more conservative estimates are right, if we are able to survive. The questions following that will be related to how we survive. Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer has dug into a lot of different parts of Peak Oil and its impact in his blog, The Archdruid Report in far more deep and diverse ways than I. I am definitely a fan of his, both in his analysis of the situation, and especially how he lays out the challenges we face, the thinking behind these challenges and avenues for solutions. His analysis of the history of where we are and how we got here, and where we may be going makes for enlightening reading. This is equally so for his reader-base and comments section.
How can we, as Pagans, bridge the gap into this new world of shortening availability of fuels? What is the point of a Pagan blog commenting on our use of fuel and its decline? Is it all downhill to doom from here?
To the last question, no. Or, rather, it does not have to be, and I will get to that.
I am writing on fuel for the Pagan Blog Project because I see my religion as being tied in with Earth, with Midgard. This place, and all who dwell within Midgard are holy Beings. From the magma core of Earth to the outer reaches of Her atmosphere and beyond, this realm is holy. I see the Earth within my path as Jord, a Goddess-Jotun. Many know Her as the Jotun who gave birth to Thor. The Earth, then, is a Goddess, and to treat Her well is a holy act. I do not feel that we, especially in the United States, have treated Her well at all. From the fracking that poisons Her rivers and people, to the Gulf Spill of April 20, 2010, we can see clearly how our mistreatment of Her harms not only Her, but ourselves and fellow animals. In our quest for cheap fuel we are killing ourselves. This is true whether viewed from the oil-drenched waters, Peak Oil, or climate change. Our effects upon this world are proving disastrous for ourselves and people we may never lay eyes on. Whole island nations are being or are at threat of being swallowed by rising seas. The mistreatment of our Mother is pain that is coming home to us. So much of the pain we are causing Her, and thus, ourselves, is in this rush to get more fuel.
There is a separation that is common in many religions that I feel has no place in modern Paganism: the separation of the physical and the spiritual. The physical is spiritual. When I say this realm is holy, I mean that both in the immanent and transcendent meanings. In connecting this world with the idea of holiness, it is one of a great many revolutions of thought that Pagans can inspire to bridge the gap from the old ideas of separation and ease of exploitation of the Earth, into the new ideas of interconnection and living with Her. This is not some hopeless idealistic notion; such things are already being put into practice with permaculture and forms of organic gardening. We all are part of this world, and each individual contributing to treating the world better, by extension, all benefit. It is Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, coming to us in positive terms in an age of decline, rather than running screaming off the edge and taking our society, and all of its many accomplishments, with it. The idea of interconnection works whether you see this from the micro-scale, such as a family unit, or the macro, such as our nation.
By treating this world, and its resources as sacred, we can entrust greater care with what we have remaining, and engender better relationships within and without our local communities. This can ripple out, affecting the whole. No large-scale movement, from Civil Rights, LGBTQI Rights, Women’s Rights, etc. began large-scale. They were grown in little seeds, in soil that supported them and nurtured them, until their bloom, spreading their seeds further. Sometimes it took quite a while for the new generation of seeds to grow at all, but it did grow. We as a society, from local communities up to our federal government, can treat lessening dependence on fuel in the same way provided we stop dancing around the issue. The Transition movement is clear indication that we can do this. Declining fuel does not need to mean the death of our society, merely the idea that our society can expect exponential growth like we are accustomed to. It does indicate that, even if not all of us accept the idea that this world is inherently sacred, we do need to accept and respect the hard limits of nature to provide for our wants.
Pagans can also bridge the gap to this new world by respecting our Ancestors, and calling on Them in a myriad of ways. Going back to our roots, and, for example, learning how our Ancestors may have plied a trade, will have two great benefits: 1) It connects us to Them by learning about their life. 2) It can provide a practical way to provide for ourselves, engage a new hobby, or develop practical skills that may be necessary when fossil fuels are too pricey for us to afford. Even if you do not personally use a skill you learn about, it may help another to share that information. It is a source of comfort, to me, that my Ancestors would have faced life without fossil fuels. Even if They don’t give me all the keys (or any!) to understand how to survive in such a time, that They have been through a time at all and lived so that I would eventually be born is comforting. Our Ancestors made it, and so can we. Some of our still-living Ancestors may have valuable skills, life lessons, and so many things that They could teach us if we just listen. I realize this isn’t available for everyone for any number of reasons. That we can glean wisdom from the past and use it in our present is a powerful thing, especially in a time where many of our modern conveniences will, without fuel, become obsolete.
Pagans can also help bridge the gap between our people and our government. The Founders of the United States, for instance, were in no small part inspired by ancient Pagans and Native Americans in the formation of many of our government functions and structures. Like them, we can look to many ancient Pagan peoples for ideas of civic duty, such as those of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, Germany and Ireland. We can debate the usefulness, the scope, and other aspects of these ancient ideas and their relevance to our society. What we can glean from each of these peoples is an idea of how to be a better citizen, or how to be a citizen at all. How to conduct ourselves within private and public life. Am I saying let us abolish the Constitution and set up a Althing instead? No, but Things of one kind or another may well be useful for local communities, especially as fossil fuel leaves us and we are forced to settle things more locally. Would adherence to the state, as emphasized in various generations of Roman rule be ideal for our Republic? Maybe, maybe not. What does Roman rule have to teach us? What can we gain from seeing how our (physical or spiritual) Ancestors may have done things? What have we forgotten how to do that we used to know so well? What can we bring into our lives that can make our local and national communities be more effective and resilient? Are there more effective methods of self-governance that we have given up for dead that may be more useful in a powered down future? What habits, rituals, modes of operation, ways of educating, etc. can we bring into our future generations that will enable better survival, community trust and cooperation?
Pagans can bring the sacred into everyday life. We have Gods, if not spirits, in most any Pagan religion, that are dedicated to some aspect of life and function of home, society, and the world around us. From Gods of the home to Gods of state, from Gods of fertilizer to Gods of fertility, and many other facets of life, our Gods can help us to understand the sacred inherent in our world, in ourselves, and in our everyday existence. We can, in turn, honor our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors by inviting Them into each bit of our lives. This mindfulness is dynamic, and by bringing the sacred into our everyday lives we can change our entire outlook on the worlds around us, and how we live our lives. Work that strikes as drudging becomes an offering, perhaps to the Gods, the spirits, or just to the community itself. Times of trouble can inspire us to come closer to our communities rather than distance ourselves or ‘handle it alone’ in a mindset where the community itself is a sacred extension of oneself and more of a welcoming family than a collection of people who happen to live near you. Death no longer becomes a fear-filled thing to desperately be avoided for fear of punishment in eternal hellfire. We may die in peace, perhaps being more a friend to Death rather than a scared victim of a cruel Being. To reengage the sacred in the smallest times of life gives ground to get through the hard times. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be hard times when the Age of Oil comes to an end. It is how we handle those hard times that may mean the difference between life and death.
I do not pretend to know if we Pagans hold every answer to climate change, Peak Oil, or the myriad other challenges we are facing. What I do know is that Paganism gives us hope in solving these problems, and in doing so, maintaining a good mindset about why we are doing this. It may even give us the drive needed to see these problems through to their resolution.
Seeing as how I’m not quite sure when I’ll get a zap of inspiration to write on this topic, I thought I would start now.
Eating is sacred. Something, whether plant or animal, is consumed by me so that I can continue to live. There are different debates we could have on whether this is a ‘sacrifice’ the animal or plant gives willingly. For now, I’m going to sidestep that. We consume life in some variety or another so that we live.
I, and many Pagans, do not separate the holy from the body. So, that, to me, follows that eating is a sacred act. You are taking in the body of something that once lived, whose spirit may still be in the food you are eating. Think about that: if I am eating a chicken, I am taking the outward representation of its Being into me. The same goes for broccoli or carrots.
This is not some abstract concept; something lived, was killed, and is becoming part of me, so that I may live. So how do I honor that life, whether it is a chicken, a cow, broccoli, or a carrot?
I would say the first thing is mindfulness. Understanding that you are eating another Being, where it comes from; how it got from a field, farm, or crate to your plate. Understanding how much suffering that animal or plant may have gone through to come from the farmer, rancher, or producer, and the journey the food made to get to you from those people. Understanding that your food may or may not be grown or made in an ethical, humane way for either the food or the producer. Many people suffer indignities and trials just to be able to grow many of the foods we eat, not to mention endure working conditions that many of us could or would not endure. As the recent post here exposes, people in logistics, getting the food from the farmer/rancher/producer to your table, can be treated quite poorly.
The next would be thankfulness. Acknowledging that, willingly or no, the sacrifice of their life allows you to live. That they may have undergone suffering and travel to arrive at your plate. To be thankful not just for their sacrifice, but for the hard work of all those, from the farmer, rancher, or producer, through the logistics that allow you to pick up that bag of chicken or carrots at your local market. To be thankful that others killed an animal or plant in your place. To be thankful that you have food at all. To be thankful that the Gods are in your life, that They, your Ancestors, spirit allies, and the spirits of these animals and/or plants would share in this meal with you.
Finally, it is showing appreciation. This, to me, differs from thankfulness in that thankfulness can be “Thank you” or a prayer, something that says we have gratitude. Showing appreciation, to me, is doing things to show that gratitude. It can be an offering to the spirits. I think that the offering can be more than an offered prayer or some mead poured out. While I find expressing appreciation like this holy and good, an offering can be something that is more concrete, affecting change on a lot of levels such as a change in attitude towards your food, a change in eating habits (i.e. eating locally sourced foods or humanely-killed animals), or even growing/raising your own food.
I first got turned onto this whole notion by Lupa. Sometimes I pray to the overarching spirit of whichever food animal I am eating, but I try to make a special point of thanking the specific animal whose body I am consuming. Now that I think about it, I should do the same for the other Beings that make up my plate. Mushrooms have sacrificed no less than pigs for being on my pizza; they’ve both given their lives. Will the pig suffer less for being on the pizza? No, but I can reduce inhumane treatment to hir brethren by being mindful of where I get my food, how much I eat, and so on. Just to be clear, I am not in any way, shape, or form starving myself nor would I expect this post to be taken as espousing that. There are other ways to being mindful and making choices about eating habits. Some may simply not be able to make the choices we would like because of our economic situation. So, make change where you can and don’t bury yourself in guilt. I’m not a purist; I don’t have this all down pat. I do what I can where I can, and honor the spirits whose bodies I consume as best I can.
I think, though, that by having a better relationship with our food, how we eat, we encourage better relationships over all. As a diabetic, I have to be especially careful of the foods I let into my life. My relationship with sugary foods, for instance, was bad for me, and if I indulge too much may ruin my kidneys or screw me up in other ways. So by having a healthier relationship with food, I have a healthier relationship with my body. This ripples out into my life at large. By letting in more fruits and especially vegetables into my food relationships, I gained a better body balance, and my sugars calmed the down.
Our relationships with eating can be very positive for our lives. We might have the one special recipe that reminds us of home, or loved ones. Eating a family recipe may be just one more link back to our Ancestors. Eating cakes and ale during a Wiccan ritual may be another way of connecting to the Goddess and God. Sharing a meal with the Gods may be the most intimate way we can thank Them for the blessings in our lives, or invite Them in deeper. For me, nothing quite brings the Ancestors and I together like sharing a meal. I don’t think there’s anything quite like eating a meal with good friends, especially when they’ve made it themselves.
Eating can bring us to a place of receptivity. Eating can bring us joy, comfort, even ecstasy. Eating can bring us blessings, contentment, and balance. Eating can be just one more way we can connect to ourselves, our Ancestors, our spirits, and our Gods.
So eat, drink, be merry, and be blessed.
One of many tragedies of our time is that we have lost connections many of our to our past. Whether one looks to agriculture, to handicrafts, to the stories from the past, or even to just knowing basic information of our Ancestors, many of us have lost these connections.
Some of these connections we are happy to lose, and others we lose to our detriment. I, for one, am happy that women are not considered second-class citizens, are able to hold a job, vote, and make their own way without a man. I am happy that LBGTQI rights are in the forefront of discussion in America, and our society is, albeit slowly, moving towards adopting them into full protections that any citizen can expect.
I have lost many connections with my Ancestors. I am only recently learning how to grow crops with my Dad, I am rediscovering handicrafts for myself, and I know very little of my family outside of the last generation or two. I am missing some very vital ties back to my older Ancestors, from knowing how they were able to provide shelter, to how they grew/raised their food, to my own genealogy.
Why would I consider these vital ties? Providing shelter is a basic survival tactic, one that many of us, myself included, do not know how to employ. Providing shelter also brings together people, whether they are communities or families. One need only mention a ‘barn raising’ and what instantly comes to mind is a community coming together to build together. When I think of agriculture, I remember the stories my parents told me of how they got up every day before the sun and grabbed eggs, milked cows, and sometimes weeded the crops before heading out to school. They did most everything as a group, as a family. In short, my Ancestors were far more collectivist than individualist, and this seeped into everything they did, even after the Industrial Revolution. It is only the recent generations that have really forgotten how to rely on one another, and with the forsaking of these connections, we find ourselves in communities we barely understand, let alone with people in them that we know.
Handicrafts, whether sewing, leatherworking, woodworking, sculpture, etc. often provided ways of telling stories of the Ancestors, whether through stone sculpture telling myths and legends, or quilt-making that brings people together to celebrate the lives of AIDS victims. They can be functional, as well as decorative, and losing these crafts has meant many stories are simply not passed on. So many stories are told through the simple building of a thing, such as the Lushootseed people’s construction of their homes. Losing these connections has sundered many people from their own creation stories. We can recreate these with our Ancestors, and make new connections to our future generations. We just need to reach out, learn, and do it.
Agriculture and other forms of self-sustaining lifestyles are ways that many Americans have simply never connected to. There was a time when most Americans farmed. There was a time when most of the human population farmed, foraged, or hunted for their sustenance. Cutting ourselves off from food production has put many of us, myself included, in the thrall of whatever is cheapest to buy and/or make for our meals. By reintegrating our Ancestors’ ways, perhaps alongside ways that work better with our modern world, such as permaculture and transition towns, we can reconnect not just to Them, but to the landvaettir as well in a deep way. As much if not more than barn raising and similar practices, the growing and harvesting of food brought communities together. It helped to feed the heart as well as the body and soul.
There are many reasons to despair of this loss of connections to our Ancestors, but so many more to reestablish these connections. In my experience, when you come to understand your Ancestors you can better understand yourself. We are Ancestors-to-be, the iteration of all our families bloodlines. Our Ancestors are part of our makeup, from DNA to soul. In addressing our relationship to the past, and to our Ancestors, we can be better equipped to not make their mistakes, and to take strength from and in their strengths. In addressing our Ancestors, we can also better address ourselves. In addressing our Ancestors’ wrongs, we can heal old hurts, and teach our children and those who share this world with us better ways of being. By reaching back we can relearn old skills that will help us survive both in our everyday life, and in times of trial. One of the best things, in my view, that results from reintegrating one’s Ancestors into their life is all the learning you can do. For the Ancestors, in my experience, it is the relationships they forge anew with you, and the ways of passing Themselves onto the next generation in ways that may have long been denied to Them. Whether you are doing basic genealogy research, or integrating Ancestor worship and veneration into your everyday practice, each reach back brings Them that much closer.
I am not for a moment saying that those who have left from abusive family situations must reestablish those connections in the flesh. I am not even saying that they should do that in the spirit; that decision is between them, their Ancestors, Gods, and other spirits with whom they work. Yet, it may be helpful to perform elevations with their Ancestors, helping Them rise out of past pain and anguish. Again, that is a decision up to each person, their Ancestors, Gods, and spirits. For more information on this kind of work, please look to Elevating the Ancestors by Galina Krasskova here.
Losing our Ancestors’ connection creates a hole in our lives. It is not knowing where we come from. It is not knowing where we’ve been, or how we came from there to here. It is a vacuum which will fill itself where it can, in a search for identity. Taking nothing away from all humans having the same Ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve, our more recent Ancestors, even those from a thousand or better years ago, inform our lives in deeply intimate ways. How has your ancestry shaped your life?
My great-grandfather came to America during WWI when he could hear boat guns off the shore. He could have stayed in the Netherlands, and rather than become a citizen of America he could have stayed a Dutch citizen. I can’t begin to think of how very different my life might be if he had not gotten on the Rijndam on April 14th, 1916, leaving the only home he knew, and sailed into Ellis Island on May 3rd, 1916. Yet this is only one of thousands of stories that distilled into me.
Each and every one of us is a distillation of these stories, legends, myths, truths. Reconnecting to a story helps to fill a hole in my memory, my understanding of where I come from and what has happened so that I am here. Listening to my Ancestors in meditation and prayer has helped fill others, brought lessons on how to do things, such as making a fire, into my life. The Ancestors can reach out to us, as surely as we can reach to Them. Whether we recognize Them reaching out to us is another story. Some of the many ways Ancestors can reach out to us is by giving us a feeling of Their presence, reaching to us through dreams, working with us in our magic and other spiritual work, helping to effect change in subtler ways (i.e. ‘coincidence’, coming into contact with their graves/things by chance, etc.), a story of Theirs being told, or even inheriting things from Them. Our Ancestors can use each of these ways, and more to grab our attention, give us a clue, communicate with us.
The biggest challenge I faced when I started seeking out my Ancestors was reaching out at all. In most of America, even mentioning you want to speak with your Ancestors will get you odd looks, if not outright anger. In this Protestant-dominated discourse on religion, it is sometimes difficult to talk about mystical experiences, let alone actively seek them. Yet, seeking our Ancestor’s is a mystical experience, even if it is not Earth-shattering. It leads us back, and by following the paths back to Them, we can follow new paths forward. We can invite Them along, or They can come as They will, with us on our journey through life. Simply sitting and meditating, perhaps with a photograph, or looking through old records can be connective. It can be a walk through the forest in contemplation of our Ancestors, it can be building a fire. There are innumerable ways to invite our Ancestors into our lives. We just need to invite Them. Even if we don’t recognize all the faces, voices, or figures, They will come, and They will work with us to understand Them.