I know in my own practice that increasingly my work has turned to mastering skills of various sorts: I’ve been building pop-up books and working on my sewing machine, practicing calligraphy and geometry, and doing a fair bit of graphic design; the carpentry/cabinetmaking is rarer, but it’s there. And lately I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. Sometimes the work is phenomenally dull, other times it’s deeply interesting — but then the artwork and the mental acuity that comes from artisanship kicks in when I’m working for someone else. I find I solve problems better, sort out potential solutions more quickly, and settle on one faster. So, the topic I’d suggest is… write a series of posts about how your shamanic practice informs other specific parts or your life, or how skills like cooking or driving inform your experience as a shaman?
First off, thank you Andrew. This is a great question.
There are skills I have connected back to and brought into my religious life, like cooking, woodworking, leatherworking, pyrography, and drawing. There are others which were part of it to begin with, such as raising my son, teaching, listening, and divining. Where I saw raising my son as part of my duties not only as a parent, but especially as a Northern Tradition Pagan, shaman, and priest, I had to work a little bit to bring cooking into my religious life.
I am not a great cook. When I first went off to college and lived in a dorm I managed to burn ramen quite well. I have learned a bit since then. I at least don’t set food on fire much anymore, and can make something halfway decent when I have good instructions and stay on target. I was looking around at one point last year for recipes to connect with my Ancestors. I had not made a full-on meal on Their behalf, and wanted to have a go at a recipe from on the places my blood relatives came from.
So I looked around online for traditional German recipes. That was when I found a potato leek soup with mushroom recipe. I wanted to pair it with something else, but by the time I got around to cooking it, it seemed it would be enough on its own.
Here is what it looked like step-by-step:
When it was finished I took some of the soup out to the tree outside to share with the Ancestors. Doing this not only put a good recipe into my hands and a good offering before the Ancestors. Cooking pushed me to connect to my Ancestors in a very straightforward and simple way. This process of cooking for my Ancestors also taught me something else: don’t forget one group of Ancestors or favor Them so strongly above one another. I had done so much research looking for a recipe for my German Ancestors that I neglected my French Ancestors. They got my attention and let me know in no uncertain terms They were not pleased with this. Mercifully, They were pleased and much happier when I made Them an omelette using the same kind of mushrooms as I had for the leek soup above. I thought perhaps I needed to make a more complex dish, like on the order of the leek soup, but sometimes the Ancestors just want a simple staple that They would have had in life.
This life skill is a powerful way of connecting to our Ancestors, and the Dead in general. Family cookbooks and recipes are, to me, precious heirlooms we pass on to our loved ones whether we have children or not. It is one more link in the chain between one’s family members and its descendants, and can be as strong as family stories, genealogy, and history. Above and beyond being a necessary life skill, one which I am grateful my Ancestors have pushed me to cultivate, cooking is a powerful way of keeping the connections with Them alive for all of those who come to our table.
To be continued in part 2.
I was asking around for something to write on, and my friend Rhyd Wildermuth of Paganarch asked me to write on the landvaettir.
Landvaettir are spirits of the land. They can be as large as a whole city, stretch as large as a valley, or be as grand as a mountain. They can be ancient trees and boulders, or small rocks and spots of land. They are the living spirits of the land itself. We share each inch and each moment of our lives with landvaettir. They are in the farms, the wild places, and the cities. They are our homes, and the wide variety of materials that went into them; I call these housevaettir.
I have found that landvaettir can present us with close, intimate interactions, such as through direct messages or omens. These I tend to get around my home and in local parks. Landvaettir may also be distant, barely noticing us or not desiring interaction with humans at all, which I have felt in a city and in a forest. They may also be more subtle than a direct message, such as a feeling of awe and presence that I felt standing on Mount Beacon in New York or standing beside an ancient oak tree on a friend’s property. The landvaettir on a single bit of land may be more or less inclined to interact with humans; on my friend’s land the ancient oak is quite friendly, whereas the old willow is not as much.
Being a good ally and neighbor with the landvaettir is in our best interests. When we live well in and on the land, we live well with the landvaettir, and so, the environment and our lives are better for it. Living well with the landvaettir can be as simple as keeping the land clean of things like harsh chemicals and trash, or more complicated such as the regular offerings I give to the housevaettir. Just as each person’s relationship will be different with a given God, so too with landvaettir. They may more readily like or interact or bless certain people, especially those who live well on Them and live well with Them.
When I enter a city I try to find the central vaettr or vaettir (spirit or spirits respectively) and make an offering. Sometimes it is something small, such as a pinch of tobacco or mugwort, and others a bit of a drink if I visit a local coffee shop. This is not only polite, as a guest within the vaettir’s home, but it also means I am living in conscious awareness that when I walk within the city, I am walking within a vaettr, and that It is as alive as a forest, or my home’s land. There is also a practical side to a good relationship with landvaettir: They can give us a head’s up, even if it is something small like hairs standing up on the back of our neck or a sense of foreboding if we should not go down this street or to that area. I once found myself lost in a city local to me, and after about an hour of wandering, I made an offering of some coffee to the city’s landvaettir. Shortly after I found my way. By opening myself up to a good relationship with the city’s vaettir, and then following through and listening I was able to find my way.
I live in a semi-rural area; the blessings of the landvaettir are not only apparent on the farms I pass, but in our own backyard. The asparagus season has started, and the first week of May many stalks have grown large and tall enough to cut. Before I go to harvest I make a small prayer, saying: “Thank you landvaettir. Thank you Freyr. Thank you for this harvest.” Then I might say “Ves heil!” or “Hail!” before or as I cut. The landvaettir allowed my family to eat well last night, and provided enough that I could eat tonight at work. As I associate the asparagus with Freyr I hail Him as well, for He has blessed the asparagus as the landvaettir have, helping them grow well.
The old maxim of ‘politics is local’ very much applies to my politics in regards to the landvaettir. Because the landvaettir are not given a voice in today’s mainstream society, part of our role as people is to be their voice, advocate, and/or activist. That’s right, everyone that works with the landvaettir signed up to become the Lorax. How could you not? If these vaettir, these partners in our lives, are to perpetuate and grow, and keep on being living ecosystems it is on us to help protect them from ourselves, whether it is picking up trash in a park, keeping chemicals off of our lawns, growing native plants wherever we can, and/or direct action to protect the wild landvaettir. In reshaping our relationship with the land itself as not only ecosystem and habitat, but also a very real relationship with the land as one between us and other very real and present spiritual beings, such a relationship requires action to maintain and grow well.
This relationship extends, when you unfold it, to everyday decisions such as what we purchase, and how we treat the remains of what we buy and consume. When I began living at home again and really working with the landvaettir a few years ago, I began composting all the organic waste that I could in our home. It is amazing how much of it there is, and how it enriches the soil, this loamy black soil, that then helps the plants grow. What is also amazing about it, is how it makes me feel when I take the 5 gallon bucket out to the compost and hail the landvaettir, Niðogg, and Hela. It makes me happy, it makes the landvaettir happy, and it helps my family become more self-sufficient. Now that I have my own vehicle, because of how many animals I see by the side of the road unable to be eaten by carrion eaters, I am preparing to pick up animal carcasses and save and use the hide and bones wherever I can. I am just learning how to do leatherworking and rather than buy from a provider, where I can I would like to produce my own. There are a lot of miles for the leather alone (not to mention the transport, slaughter, and so on of a cow) to come from a distributor like Jo-Ann Fabrics or direct from Tandy just so I can make a bag. Just as the compost heap we have began with a single bucket, so every decision we make to better our relationship with the landvaettir grows.
Living with the landvaettir is not just the giving of offerings or planting native plants, it is the entire mindset in which one approaches Them, the land we live on, and the way in which we live our lives. This is why I mention earlier people who live on the land and people who live with the land. Living with the landvaettir requires us to engage these beings on Their level, physically and spiritually. It is to enter into a living relationship, one in which there may be a push and pull, and one which will definitely require Gebo, gift-for-a-gift. The landvaettir offers Their bounty with the asparagus harvest; what gift can I give Them in kind? How best can I give the gift in return for Their gift of good food? When my ability to live comes out of the ground, for both water and food (we have a well system) what gifts can I give in return for all that sustains my life? If I were only living well on the land these questions would be straightforward and practical, such as taking care of the soil, using natural means of pest control, keeping the water clean, etc. Since I am living with the landvaettir these points still matter, and carry additional meaning and spiritual weight. I also have to consider, in living with the landvaettir, what They want. So far They are happy with the composting, the prayers, and the offerings we leave by Their trees. They may have more requirements in the future, and in maintaining a good relationship with Them we will do our best to meet Them. After all, we are guests on what has been and always will be Theirs, and Them.
We belong to the landvaettir rather than They belong to us. They are the Beings by whose bodies and partnership we are able to eat, breathe, drink, shelter ourselves, and live well. We live upon Them and within Them; Their bodies are the means by which we clothe ourselves and build our homes. Their spirits resonate all around us, whether from beneath our feet from the carpet, concrete or dirt, the wind in the willows, the pages of a book, or the plastics and metals that form your computer or mobile device and allow you to see this post.
In understanding this, we can understand too, that we are Ancestors in the making, as well as landvaettir in the making. The lich (the body) is a part of our soul, and it stays behind while other parts of the soul matrix move on. Our body then becomes part of the land, wherever it eventually ends up. What land we become part of, how we become part of that land, what we do to that land when we become part of it should be something we think about. When we die we become embodied in the land we are put on and/or within.
Becoming one with the landvaettir is unavoidable; how we live and if we die well with Them is up to us.
I have always been working poor.
When I was growing up I lived next to meth labs. Addicts walked around where we lived; I got to watch one around age 7 or 8 go through DTs on the street. We had drug dealers with child drug mules as neighbors, one that was kiddie corner from where we lived. The police and the administration for where I lived was on the take. The cops used to watch the local would-be gangers beat the living shit out me. They would watch the local kids pile around a car, and get high as kites before getting on the bus.
During this time I was a young Catholic. We still made time for prayer. We still went to Church. We didn’t leave our religion at the door because the neighborhood was tough; we clung to it because it helped us live.
Some years later, I was starving at one point so my son and my fiancee could eat. Our food stamps had been cut, and I was at the end of my rope trying to float enough money to make rent. We still gave offerings. If we could not give food, we gave a cup of water. If we could not give that, either due to time or energy, we gave prayers. Always, we gave prayers. Sometimes it has been only water, sometimes it has been food we made for our family, and sometimes it has been something special I bought just for Them. Sometimes it was just a prayer at Their altar in our little apartment, sometimes it was prayers whispered while I worked a deadend job struggling in vain to make ends meet. In every challenge in my life the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits have been there whether I recognized it or not. The least I can do is offer my end of Gebo.
I can understand the crippling worry about money, the worry around “How will I afford this food”, “this thing”, “this sudden needed car repair”, “Will I make rent?” etc. When I starved was when our food money got cut. I have been achingly poor. The only reason I am not there right now is because I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who are here for me regardless of disagreements we have on religion, and a job that helps to pay for the needs we have. I am lucky, damned lucky, and I get that. My Gods’ altar was a gift, as are most of what are on the shrines and altars I have shown on this blog. What are not gifts, are almost all bought from thrift stores. All else was found, and when we had a little money to splurge, sometimes we bought something nice for our Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. The latest addition to our Watervaettir shrine, three small branches shaped to look like a tie-down for a dock with a little plastic seagull hot glued to it, cost us $0.50 while we were looking for winter clothes. The offering glass that sits on that altar was $1 at a local garage sale we hit up while on an errand. An altar, a shrine, or an offering need not break the bank to be a good one.
A slice of bread, a thimble of alcohol, a palm of water, a slice of apple, a small chunk of meat, puffs of smoke, a pinch of tobacco. These are all good offerings, all given in the tightest of times. The Gods understand suffering, They understand when we have given what we can. So why the resistance?
We can give offerings inside our own home, or wherever we happen to be in a given moment. I have poured water onto a city street to thank the spirit of that city for helping me find my way, and alcohol onto my family tree for thanks to the landvaettir for a good home and food in my belly. If you aren’t absolutely starving and actively looking for food, and even then you can at least give a prayer, then you can give an offering.
If you can breathe well, offer breath. Offer breath whether it is song, dance, words, your poetry or someone else’s, or a hummed tuned if nothing else. I suffered from asthma as a child and it flares up when I get sick, so I understand very well how precious breath can be!
Offer breath, even a hummed tune if you’re a completely hopeless cause at any of the aforementioned. If you can you walk, walk and pray, especially is sitting still is hard/impossible for you to do. There are countless ways of thanking the Gods for what you have. Can you get down on your hands and knees without hurting yourself? Then, if you have nothing else besides yourself to offer, prostrate, kneel, or bow. Make a prayer. Kiss a tree or a stone, or simply touch it with your hand, and whisper a prayer if you are worried about being seen or discovered. There are a million and more ways to make an offering, to show your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you care for Them, that They have blessed your life, many of which may be far more precious to Them than a cup of water or slice of bread.
Yet, that bread, that water, is still a precious offering, even more so when you are poor. At that point a food and water (or other liquid) offering is a personal sacrifice with more weight on oneself than someone who has a good deal of resources. In times of struggle, I believe, is when we need to make these sacrifices most. That physical offering is still a precious thing, one which still needs to be given. There is no substitute for it, any more than there is a substitute for food for you to eat or water to drink. Say to a person who is a guest in your home who wants water “but I danced for you, is that not enough?” and the answer will be a definite no, even if they may be too gentle with you to say so. They may still crave the water, especially if it is something to be expected between one another as guest and host. Now, with the Egyptian Gods this can be a bit different, as the offering formulas for Egyptian Gods (which is the one case I can think of where this applies and even here, the Gods may have Their own preferences) have carvings of food, water, and so on that are allowed to be there in place of offerings. However, I would think that this is probably a more expensive, roundabout way of fulfilling an offering to the Gods: either you have to have the tools to carve the offering yourself, or have an artisan who will make it for you.
There is no reason that I can fathom that a polytheist would have, regardless of their circumstances, where they had nothing to offer the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. There is no good reason that I can fathom why a polytheist would willingly deny their share of Gebo, reciprocity, with their Gods.
Devotion is not just important; devotion is VITAL. It is how a living, breathing religion continues. Acts of devotion keep that bridge between us and the Gods alive in our everyday life, whether it is a glass of water and a prayer, prayers made on prayer beads, food made in their honor, a pinch of mugwort or a small glass of mead offered at a tree, or an act of kindness for a human being. Offerings, in and of themselves, are vital, and have always been vital regardless of which tradition one comes out of.
I put the Gods first because that is where They go in my life. The Gods are first; it is from Them that all good things in my life have come. My everyday (well, night) job is about helping a human being. The reason I can serve this person and meet some of the basics for my family is because the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits gave me life, a good family, a wonderful son, and so many blessings were I to count them all I would be dead and buried long before I finished. So my first attention, my first devotion, is to my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. It must be, in good Gebo for all They have done, and continue to do for me, with me, to me.
Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. May Gebo be kept.
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.