Growing food and connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir related to it is an area of life that, as a shaman, I have only recently had the time off to devote to it. In previous years my schedule was so up-and-down or constantly changing that getting out and helping with the garden consistently was damned near impossible. Last year we could not even maintain a garden outside of the yearly asparagus harvest due to our home’s varying schedules. This year I have a far more stable schedule, so now I can give the time to get in the garden and learn from the Holy Powers and my living family. I did not realize it till sitting down and writing it, but that is one hell of a burden lifting off of me. I have enough hours to keep up with bills and enough time off consecutively so I can get things done.
We actually have a good deal of plants in the ground this year. Lots of tomatoes, green beans, and beets. We also planted squash, zucchini, and a few herbs. Provided the birds lay off of them for a bit, we should have a good harvest. In past time where we have planted equivalent amounts of tomatoes, green beans, and similar plants, we’ve had a good-sized stockpile even after giving away some of the harvest to family and friends. It’s one of the reasons I am looking forward to the fall harvest.
There’s more to connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside than just my garden or the local parks, though. As I mentioned in the previous post, Skaði has charged me to learn how to hunt, to skin and dress a kill. I have a wonderful Aunt with a standing offer to teach me to bow hunt after I take a safety course. I am also blessed with a good friend who has offered to teach me the same. With the amounts of time I have off every week I am actually far closer to making this a reality and fulfilling the rest of the obligations I have with Skaði.
The fertility of the landvaettir is a blessing, one that I believe we carry as an obligation to keep in partnership with Them. It feeds us, nourishes us body, mind, and soul as surely as we help nourish the landvaettir by living well with Them. The soil, the plants, and the animals all deserve their due, their respect. Whether we are hunting, fishing, gardening, farming, ranching, or foraging, without the Gebo of honoring the cycles around us and taking care in our work, we do deep harm. We can see the effects of this breakdown in how neonicotinoids are harming honey bees, how fracking is poisoning the water we drink, and how the elimination of predators has deeply upset the balance in regards to deer and similar animal populations.
Paying attention and honoring the cycles of life and seasons brings us into closer alignment with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Given a good number of the surviving holidays we have are directly tied to seasonal and harvest cycles, it also helps to place them into a context that makes a good deal more sense than celebrating because a date rolls around. I think as polytheists, Heathens and otherwise, carry traditions forward even more variations will emerge based on the climates where we live. Truly partnering with the Holy Powers in our lives is working with the cycles we have rather than the cycles we are told by a book we ought to be imitating. Many of us live in places where the seasonal cycles are different from, or simply do not match those that have survived in lore and archaeology. If we are to live in good Gebo with the Holy Powers we will need to adapt to the way things are.
Part of living in better Gebo with the Holy Powers also requires us to look at how we live outdoors. What do our practices like gardening, farming, ranching, and the like have on the soil, the plants, the animals, and the water? How does water flow? Are the lands our homes rest on full of one-species non-native grass? Why? How can we better encourage native species to flourish? How can we encourage the fertility in land, plant, and animals that makes life possible? How do we live in good Gebo with the world around us?
I found myself seeing a lot of these answers in person at the Amma Center Amrita Farms in Ann Arbor and from the MI Folk School. More importantly, Sylverleaf and I were able to get hands-on experience with these answers. We spent a day at the Amma Center with the people working on the farm area, permaculturists who have worked a great deal to help the land distribute water more effectively, and to utilize the space to greater effect for food production without using pesticides or insecticides. We explored the creation of berms and swales, hugelkultures, crater gardening, the use of a keyline plow to make small keyline swales, the creation of compost tea, and small-scale orchard creation.
For those unfamiliar, here are some links for what berms and swales are, and how they are made. This PDF explains berms and swales in pretty simple terms with explanations of when they are and are not good design ideas. This link has a good overview and video on swales. This link shows berms and swales in action on a project for a front yard rain garden. The work Sylverleaf and I did at Amrita Farms’ main area for berms and swales was to help transplant some apple trees out to areas better suited to them. The staff led us on a survey of the berm and swale systems, and how it solved the Farms’ water flow problems.
What I want to stress here is that this is not fighting the landscape or imposing a system the land rejects. Rather, it is helping the land to better work with water runoff to help solve water allocation issues one might have. In many cases the berms serve not only as physical landscapes for the water to run over, but also a gathering point for plants to help combat soil erosion, helping to increase the ability of the land to keep its shape and provide fertility to the soil. The swales give the water places to go without disrupting the landscape, and it helps catch water in the soil in a way that is efficient and works with the land rather than dumping all the water into a low point where it can attract mosquitoes and other insects.
In another section of the Farms, keyline plowing was used. This link has a good overview on the technqiue. It was done in an area where full-blown berms and swales would not have been desirable, and allowed for water to flow into the cut channels in directions that helped maximize water retention, and guided excess water to a pond. Again, what was emphasized was this worked with the flow of the earth, with the keylines acting as guides for the water to flow. While the Farms used laser-guided equipment and had a tractor come out to do the keyline work, we were shown that land surveying can still effectively be done by hand using simple survey techniques, and that (depending on the soil and one’s resources) having animals do the keyline plowing would not be out of the question.
The last, and for me the most fun I had at Amrita Farms, was when we made a hugel. Hugelkultur is a beautiful way to compost wood, and a description of it is here. Since we have a decent amount of deadfall at our home I am looking at making a hugel, though far smaller than the one we made at the Farm. That’s the beauty of methods like these: most can be made to suit far smaller pieces of property than farms, and the projects that required mechanized equipment like the berms and swales, can be done by hand with a shovel or pick.
What I bring home from these workshops, again and again, is that there are far more healthy and wise ways to live in Gebo with Jörð than what capitalism and agribusiness continues to push at and on us. These ways are far more accessible than one might think at first; permaculture can scale with one’s home and land (even if that land is, say, a community garden space), and hugelkulture can use great dead trees, or twigs as needed. These ways, found in permaculture, gardening, various types of natural home-building, and so on, are ways we can live upon Her that helps us as people live more whole lives, and in doing so, bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If we take in these ways and help to foster them in others, we can help our future generations survive and thrive. Taking these steps to restore our connection and relationships with Jörð and the landvaettir takes the vital connections that were sundered in and between our communities, and seeks to tie them together even stronger, I can think of precious few gifts we could give the next generation than a lived, healthy, powerful relationship with the Holy Powers, and lived, healthy, powerful, relationships with our communities, both grounded in trust, respect, and honor.
As I mentioned in Part 1, as I become inspired (or pushed, as the case may be) to write, I will add to this series of posts.