The challenge we face as a country in the face of peak oil and climate change is getting back to a more human-sized society. A large part of the issue of getting things back to a manageable size is twofold: 1) we have a very poor concept of wealth in this country, and 2) convenience has eclipsed resilience in a big way.
In regards to our unhealthy view of wealth in this country, to start with, wealth is not money in a bank account. It is an abundance of things of value. Money is not value, but a measurement of value agreed upon as a representation of work. Work is of value; money is given value to represent the value of goods, services, products, and labor rather than someone having to directly trade as in a barter system. A good way to look at this is the Rune Fehu.
Fehu means ‘money, cattle, wealth’. Cattle require land, and so, land is also a form of wealth, and the maintenance of a good herd of cattle is a means of sustaining wealth in the forms of cattle and land. Likewise, the means to feed the herd, and so, the health of the land itself, is a form of wealth. Resilience is bound up in wealth in many ways. The first way is that resilience requires more investment and maintenance up front than convenience requires. Another is that resilience provides a way for wealth itself to be maintained and grow in ways that sustain the production and maintenance of these sources of wealth. Resilience in cattle-based land is making sure the herd does not overgraze, but eats its fill, and that it has enough nutrients in the soil and vegetation to provide for many generations of cattle, not just one. Resilience in cattle-based land may require rotation of the animals, crops and foods sources. Certain forms of resilient cattle-raising dispense with rotation, and cultivate the manure as a form of fertilizer, while working with the herd to maintain the integrity of the land. Resilience may also require a culling every now and again to keep the herd manageable. By contrast, convenience would require as many cattle as possible to be raised then slaughtered in a given timetable to maximize production and profit regardless of the destruction to the land, the pain to the cows, or the overproduction of the meat itself.
Resilient cattle-raising is not as convenient as on-site feedlot operations, but then, convenient ways of cattle raising come with deep drawbacks that have to be accounted for. Convenience brings a great deal of challenges with it that resilient methods do not. Among them are logistical challenges, sourcing, and securing the various production pipelines that assure that convenience remains so. In CAFO operations the maximization of profit is extended at the risk of increase of infection in the animals. To counteract this, animals are given antibiotics, both to increase resistance to disease, and increase muscle mass so there is more meat to sell come the slaughter. This has a knock-on effect in two ways, since 70% of the recipients of antibiotics are farm animals. One, it increases the rates of mutation and development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and two, each layer of complexity provides an extra kink in the system that can develop deep problems. Enough cattle get fed an antibiotic at a low dose, and it can make the whole damned herd develop an antibiotic resistant bacteria that overcomes the treatment. That bacteria could then kill parts of or the entire herd, and should that spread, could overcome other herds. If it passes transmission to humans, it can than affect the local, and then State, and possibly national population. There are people dying now because there are bacteria that have become resistant to last-effort antibiotics.
Resilient methods of cattle raising do not have this issue of breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria. While antibiotic free cattle may succumb to disease, they do not have a constant low-level dose of exposure to antibiotics in their food or through regular injections that a given bacteria can become resistant to. Would or will bacteria develop that will kill cattle? Sure, but not at the rates we see with antibiotic resistant strains, pushed forward by the cattle and other meat industries use of antibiotics in everything from feed to direct injections. While resilient methods sacrifice money upfront for this, in the long run they provide a safeguard to herd and human alike. Other points of failure in this system is the supply of antibiotics themselves and all the infrastructure and support systems that go into manufacturing them. Another point of failure is the feed itself, with the fossil fuels that are used in growing, spraying, and transporting it to the cattle. Other points of failure can be found in all of the infrastructure and support systems that go into producing and delivering the feed upon which CAFO and other industrial meat operators depend upon to be profitable.
Convenience is more a method of exploiting wealth than it is of ensuring its survival or growth. Methods such as on-demand services rely on entire networks of services to support them in the first place. Look to any on-demand service whether it is Uber, Createspace or Lulu, Amazon.com or online food delivery services like Grubhub, OrderUp, or fisheries like this one. All of these require massive amounts of fossil fuels. All of these services rely on built up infrastructure from the electrical grid, the roads, bridges, and other aspects of the highway system, the vehicles themselves, and the cheap labor that allow these things to be affordable. All of these factors in turn require inputs of energy, whether oil, coal, or natural gas for initial construction, maintenance, and use. Even the means to make renewable energy sources such as windmills, solar panels, and the like, require great inputs of oil and rare earth metals, like neodymium and gold, all of which in turn requires inputs of energy to mine, extract from the rock/silt, and refine. By their nature, these systems are brittle. They become more so the more complex they are.
Let’s say, for instance, that gas goes back up to $4 per gallon for the average consumer. Uber would either get more expensive or fold. Createspace, Lulu, and Amazon.com, and the other online delivery services make their business with direct delivery. Gas prices cut directly into the delivery services’ bottom line, requiring a price increase. If any segment in the supply line fails, whether paper manufacturers continuously failing to meet a quota for Createspace or Lulu, the delivery servicers unable to maintain their fleet as well as they need to meet demand, or the fishery unable to make a profit via online sales, entire industries oriented around the on-demand service will go down. While it may take a while for the supply chain problems to come home to roost, sooner or later they will, as increasingly larger pieces of the economic pie are devoted to handle the rising costs associated with their business.
Let us go back to the example of cattle-raising. If a rancher relies upon online on-demand meat sales to keep their business going in such a scenario, they will find themselves paying for a hell of a premium with such a drastic rise in gas prices. This is true not only for the delivery of the meat, but is also felt by little nips and bites from the monthly bills for services, like their electricity and internet, that allow them to make their money in the first place. They have a choice after a certain point: they can increase costs to their on-demand consumers, and/or try to pivot and seek out a new customer base that is more local, or voluntarily go out of business. One would hope the rancher would have local reciprocal relationships already active and established. However, for those who rely on these internet sales to drive their business, convenience bypasses a lot of the resilient methods of developing relationships with customer and the land in favor of upfront profit driven by demand. When that demand goes down so too does the business. In the end, convenience for the producer and consumer alike costs a lot more than developing and maintaining a resilient system and reciprocal relationship with the consumer. It may not produce money as quickly, but it maintains wealth, value and money flow with a great deal more care and certainty.
Coming up is Part 3, which explores why convenience is preferred over resilience, and how it makes systems that rely upon it weak. It will also explore the avenues I and others are taking in addressing peak oil and climate change where we are.
Part 1 of this series is here.
For other explorations of this topic, look here:
“This world rips at you” I have heard it said. But it is not the world. It is our American culture. It is the culture of stuff, of things, of valuing these things over our human experience. It is the appreciation of the photograph over memory. It is the rise of things over connection. It is the map becoming the territory.
Animism and polytheism as I understand and live it as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen, requires us to live engaged lives. Stuff is not just stuff; it is enlivened. The computer flows with firevaettir and the earthvaettir that make up its body. It was built by countless hands and shipped by the death of countless plants and animals. Whether we’re talking about the human and environmental cost of making the laptop I am typing on, or the infrastructure and energy that keeps the power flowing through it and connects it to the Internet, it required a vast amount of resources just to bring this product into my hands and keep it functioning. Consumerism and capitalism kills not just the bodies of the countless billions who suffer under its yolk, it kills their connection to the land, to their Ancestors, and the Gods of the places they live. It kills the culture of those it touches by valuing all at the extent that money can be made off of it. It kills the soul of the consumer by denying relationship to that which is consumed. It denies, at its root, a living reciprocal relationship with one’s world, and one’s communities.
Note, that I am not saying that markets, trades, industry, etc. are doing this. We’ve always, in some way, shape, or form, had these things, whether the flint-knapper trading for skins, or the gatherer trading for meat, the farmer trading for cloth, and the weaver trading for grain. What we have not had is such a strident divorce between ourselves and the things of daily life, for the things which make our lives possible. Even my parents grew up farming and gardening. I am the first generation in my family where my hands were not directly involved for the start of my young life in the production of food, industry, or crafts, and I am poorer for it. I am having to relearn these skills now, and am seeking to learn more, because of how deep the divide is between my grandfather, my father, and my own generation is.
What bothers me most about this, in looking at all of this in the face of peak oil, climate change, and the rising costs of living, food production, and health care, is the sense of loss of inter-generational knowledge and skills. While knowing how to treat basic illness with herbs, tinctures and the like may not have been common, it was well-known enough that you could get a few basic remedies from the simple growing of a few herbs. Knowing how to kill, clean, and prepare one’s meat, how to grow and produce one’s food was not simply a greener practice, it was tied up in how we lived our lives. Knowledge and skill in how to make the things we ate, wore, and used was a daily part of life. Not everyone did every trade or skill, but there were enough people doing varieties of these things that communities could get by interdependently. There are skills and knowledge that I and future generations will need to relearn, not out of a sense of ‘getting back to the land’ or some other sentimental notion, however well-placed, but because of basic survival needs.
It bothers me, deeply, how utterly dependent I am as a diabetic on the convenient, disposable system of food and healthcare. I use needles that I use once and throw away. My insulin is only able to be produced because of massive farming operations and/or labs requiring a hell of a lot of energy and resources. The pills I take come in plastic bottles that, if I or someone else weren’t reusing them or recycling them, would likely go into a landfill. The sheer amount of stuff that it takes to keep me alive is egregious. Not because I am not worthy of life, but because of the mountain of stuff that is required in order to keep me alive, on a baseline.
This really gets to the heart of the challenge of peak oil, though: if so much stuff is required to keep me alive, at what point does it become too expensive for me to live? Take this to mean me personally, or the capitalist/consumer culture at large, and the question of ‘at what point can we actually maintain this?’ becomes a question that is about life or death. If the apparatus by which I retain my ability to live starts to dry up, what do I do? My response to peak oil is not just a sentimental notion, then. It is about answering this question on a practical basis. If I can no longer get insulin or metformin, can I live? Well, in the short term the answer is no. However, as Archdruid John Michael Greer notes in his interviews on Legalize Freedom, overnight collapse of a civilization happens in Hollywood movies, while it takes 100-300 years for it to fully run its course historically. I and future generations have time to put things in place so that, while I may not have as long a life as a non-diabetic, the disease doesn’t kill me outright or over time through kidney failure or diabetic ketoacidosis. I can’t count on the cure for diabetes to be found, affordable, or resilient enough to survive the Long Descent. So, I won’t.
My response, then, isn’t to expect some cure or treatment to come forward and solve the problem of diabetes. It also isn’t to expect the consumer culture to change; there is too much money wrapped up in keeping people in perpetual debt and consumerism. The monetary system itself is sustained by exponential growth, and as we should have learned from the 1970’s oil shocks, the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980’s, the dotcom bust of the 1990’s, 2008’s housing/financial crisis, there are hard limits to that. Booms and busts are a feature of our economic landscape, rather than a flaw in it. The system goes on because it keeps getting inflated. The exponential ballooning of the cost of living vs. actual earned income of the average American worker should show us that this way of life is unsustainable. The increasing cost of heating at a time when natural gas in the midst of a glut should show us that. The consumer culture, and those who profit from it, have no vested interest in doing things another way. Those who suffer under such a system do.
Part of the response I am engaging in is to go through the hard lessons of relearning a lot of the skills my parents and grandparents took for granted. It is to learn how to live with the land, how to live with a lot less, and learn how to live a powered-down life as much as I can now, and do more towards this wherever I can. As JMG says, “Crash now and avoid the rush.” That is what I am working towards. I won’t stop taking my diabetes medication , but I will be looking for ways to reduce their use in a healthy way, with the long-term goal to get off of them entirely.
Another part of my response is partnering with folks who will or already live in a way that supports this, whether it is forming communities, alliances, business relationships, or personal relationships, or tapping into ones I have already established. It is weaving community ties together in a way that supports my family, my community, and myself while encouraging others to do the same. It doesn’t mean a loss of autonomy, either, and it also doesn’t mean a loss of hierarchy. It just means that, like a lot of things that need to, things get brought back down to a human level.
This is not without its challenges, and for me, the number one challenge right now is patience. I’ve had my Gods, Ancestors, and a lot of vaettir pushing me hard to get land for several years, and I have been feeling ‘get started already’ quite a bit this year. Couple this with my own impatience with how long that’s taking, and there are times where it’s hard for me not to get down. The other challenge alongside this is resources. Coming together with others, though, is helping for me to work through things.
Coming up is Part 2, which will explore the challenges we face as a country in addressing peak oil and climate change, and why a return to resilience over convenience is the way to address these directly.
For other explorations of this topic, look here:
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.
I just finished reading Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic by Lupa. She takes what can be a heady, hard-to-follow topic and breaks it down beautifully, from working with animal spirits and totems, to practical work in crafting from animal parts. I find her especially brave in embracing and talking about crafting from animal parts, and especially so on animal sacrifice. Her writings online have helped fuel my nascent work with animal spirits and shamanism, even during my time on the Egyptian Way when I was heavy into ceremonial magic. While my practices aren’t revolutionized by this work, they are very-much affirmed, something I needed given I am striking into territory in which most of my work is given to me by spirit rather than reading tomes.
Something that working with Andvari taught me, is that I will probably begin working with animal parts and crafting things by hand more than I thought I might have to. When Lupa wrote about how feeling the fur really helped one connect to the spirit, I immediately heard a mental nudge from the Craftsmith. It looks like I might be visiting some flea markets and similar places in the near future, reaching out to those that know where to get animal parts. It’s one of the few crafts I might be able to do where I live. It will give me a way to both connect to animal spirits in an intimate way, and to give me a new way to focus my free time.
To this end, I’ll be looking at getting Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts. I’ve looked at online guides for leathercraft and animal parts preservation, but I have not run across a book or resource that treats the animal in question as a spiritual being, or in any way how you might honor it while crafting it. I had a taste of that from Fang and Fur, in which Lupa described purifying the parts she worked with via a sage smudge. If I make animal-part crafts of my own, I will probably be using mugwort, the purifying herb of the Northern Tradition.
I owe a tremendous thank you to modern Pagan writers in helping to inform, teach, and push me along my path in Northern Tradition Shamanism. I especially owe the following authors:
Freya Aswynn, who was my first Northern Tradition author that I read and introduced me to the Runes in ways I could get.
Diana Paxson who introduced me to the Asatru community in Essential Asatru and whose book, Taking Up the Runes has deeply informed my Runework.
Galina Krasskova and Swain Wodening, whose work Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites and Celebrations from the Norse, German and Anglo-Saxon Traditions deepened my understanding of the Northern Tradition community, my place and practice within it.
Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera, for writing The Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner, which gave me my first pushes into truly spiritually uplifting devotional work, and methods of prayer I had use today.
Raven Kaldera, for his Northern Shamanism series of books, especially Wyrdwalkers and Jotunbok, both of which have and continue to inform my path as a Northern Tradition Shaman.
Lupa, for A Field Guide to Otherkin which comforted me and gave me insight into the Otherkin community, and of course, Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic which has reaffirmed my practice with animal magic, and is pushing me to explore new boundaries.
I hope that, through my work, I honor all these people, and all the teachers, both physical and nonphysical, who have taken their time, energy and expertise to train and work with me in their own ways. May the Gods bless you all, and may your works be known wide and far for their wisdom, teaching, and celebration of the Gods and spirits, the vaettir and people. Ves Heil!
So the spirits of the fallen branches (mostly oak) have finally spoken up and have had me woodburn runes into a number of them. There are some that are to be fire-feeders, others wands, others to be activated for specific purposes. The spirits will let me know whom to give them to. I can’t deny a feeling of satisfaction at finally having woodburnt some of these pieces. Some have been with me for months with no specific agenda, sitting beside my altar. It’s nice to have them have purpose, and a waiting owner.
Sometimes just sitting, listening, then doing, is the best gift we can give the spirits, even if it drives us a little nuts in the interim.