Where is the Ground?

This is continuing the thoughts I have been thinking about the religious implications of sustainability and Peak Oil, prompted by Archdruid John Michael Greer’s blog The Archdruid Report.

Americans live in a time and place where sustainability is a catchword more often used by politicians and companies to describe an endeavor whose return on investment places them in a comfortable area.  It is, for almost all of us, no longer a part of our daily lives.  It is, for those of us who dream of living better within this world, a word that expresses a goal.  This word does not describe so much an end point as it does a way of life that we are, by small measures and great, willing to work to build ourselves toward.

Sustainability is the concept of living within the world rather than upon it, to work closer in concert with one’s surroundings, and in better concert with what Earth can provide us without destroying the environment, habitat, that we live within.  What this does not mean is we give up on technology.  Even the Amish, who are often pointed at as premier Luddites, have had to grow with the times.  Many drive cars, operate modern technology, and otherwise live lives in which modern technology plays a good part.  What it does mean is we are much more judicious about what technology we employ, what it does for us, and, weighing every piece of technology by what its impact is on the environment, which includes not only the ground, trees, natural resources, animals, insects, etc. but us as well.

The question of ‘can we live in sustainability?’ is not a hard one to answer.  If, by this question you mean ‘can we live in sustainability and still consume as we do?’ the question is a big, hard, fucking NO.  Not with statistics like us consuming 25% or better of the World’s goods when we are 5% of its population.  Not when we are willing to trash our wild places for another gulp of oil that we’re sucking off the pipeline like Hexus at the end of Ferngully, desperate to keep the consumption monster growing.  This is not even addressing the basic human rights issue of Native Americans’ lands being under threat by projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline.  This is not even addressing the four to six new ecological disasters unleashed in places like Arkansas with pipelines that have failed.

The key problem that I see with any question of national sustainability is that our nationwide systems are anything but, especially since our economic model is predicated on a model of exponential growth.  Until this model is discarded there is little hope that exponential growth will stop.  After all, if you had a spigot of money with which to fill a bucket every day, and you knew there was no end to the flow, what would keep you from filling the bucket?  It is not as if the idea even exists in your mind that you might actually, as a person who hits the end of their well, run out of money.  Unfortunately, this is the state of the economy, with the Dow Jones having just posted another record day.  Many of those who helped engender the 2008 economic crisis have made out like bandits and have no reason to stop supporting the system that produces a continual cash flow that they can freely tap into.  To anyone aside from the top earners the crisis is still going on, with roads and bridges going without needed repairs, and other basic infrastructure beginning to crumble.

So how can we think of sustainability when all the systems we may have relied upon are starting to teeter, if not collapse, be sold off, or otherwise compromised?  It is, in short, the only way forward if we wish to live.

I follow Archdruid John Michael Greer’s fabulous blog, and this, among other related topics, is something he has tackled in far more detail and far greater scope than I could ever hope to.  His posts are very well written and I highly encourage you to check them out.  As Mr. Greer puts it: “one of the central tasks before Americans today, as our nation’s imperial age stumbles blindly toward its end, is that of reinventing America: that is, of finding new ideals that can provide a sense of collective purpose and meaning in an age of deindustrialization and of economic and technological decline. ”

There is an end point to all growth.  Sustainability’s challenge to us Americans is for us to bow our head to that end point, and especially to stop our consumption well short of it for our survival, and continued livelihood.  Sustainability is more than ‘living simply’, it is living with respect to the limits of this World to provide for us, and within respect of what our needs are, and tamping down on excessive wants.  How can we do that when we live in apartments?  Suburbs?

Given that the nation has yet to actually address the economic mess it is in, let alone the unsustainable fuel consumption we have, it seems to me that working locally is the best option.  As much as possible we have to diversify our neighborhoods.  That sounds nice, but what it means is work.  It means that wherever possible we grow our own food and produce our own goods.  It may mean taking care of a community garden so that we do not have to shuck out hundreds just to eat healthy food.  It means pushing landlords to get solar panels on the roofs, or to make those roofs able to support food growing.  It means turning our balconies and similar places into miniature gardens if we are able.  Apartment, suburb, or a place with plenty of land, the motto is consume less, grow more.  There are so many solutions that I could not possibly name them all, and your own situation may provide unique ones.

What this all means is answering the question of “Where is the Ground?”  Where is it?  Where is the ground by which future growth is possible?  What is future growth in a world where exponential growth is unsustainable?  Where is the ground of new life for our communities?  Where is the ground for where we can grow our communities in sustainability?  Where is the ground where we can grow enough food to sustain our communities without relying heavily (if at all) on imports to feed us?  Where is the ground we can find to develop our communities into better places to live for ourselves and generations to come?

How do we abandon the outdated models of life and living so that we may, once we have found it, embrace the ground on which we are to build the future?

While each person must find their own solution, here are a few of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Each of us must find a way to live in better concert with our local ecosystems.
  • Each of us must consume less, grow more, and reuse everything to its capacity.
  • What we consume must have some kind of long-term use.
  • Land, both the sustainable preservation of and growth on arable land, and the preservation of wild places must be at the top of the priority list.  No viable environment, and it will not matter what kind of future we try to make.
  • Our communities need to bring its fundamental functions back down to a local level wherever possible.
  • Our communities must support its local workers.
  • Our communities must, in every way possible, learn to live with LESS: Less Energy Stimulation Stuff.

None of this is easy, but that said, neither is waiting for Peak Oil to take full effect and you, as well as your neighbors, loved ones, friends, and so on, are left scrambling with no real plan to tackle the challenge at hand.  Far better to get through the theories and on to practical application while there is still some time left.  There is also the thought of ‘do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good’.  Do I do all of the above?  No.  I do not own the land I live on, nor do I have a lot of control as to what comes into or out of the home, but I do what I can, where I can.  Even raising awareness of Peak Oil is doing something, though the hard work, as mentioned earlier, will still need to get done sooner or later.

Paying Respect to My Ancestors

In my way, I’m not just related to people by flesh and blood; their spirit, whether we’re talking about the Wyrd they’ve passed on to me, or the kinfylgia, (the spirit-guardian of a family, or the spiritual energies of a family line) or their soul, is part of me.  They made me who I am, whether I am talking about my blood Ancestors or Odin, my spiritual Father.  In paying respects to my Ancestors, I cultivate a closer relationship with Them.  Why wouldn’t I?  They helped to make me; I owe Them that much respect at least.  They gave me the life I have.  That, and several of Them are really personable and cool once you get to know Them.  My great-grandfather emigrated here just before World War I, leaving behind the life he knew and entering into a world he really didn’t.  He joined his family in Michigan, and much of my bloodline on my mother’s side ended up settling there.  My folks haven’t left Michigan, so I have about two or so generations of roots in Michigan depending on where you look.  Considering the economic ups and downs the state has been through, that’s pretty good.  Damned brave, I’d say, especially when times got really rough in the Great Depression.

My great-grandparents and grandparents figured out how to tough it through hard times; my grandfather had to be put in a shoebox in my great-grandfather’s chest of drawers to keep him warm as a baby.  There’s a lot to learn from my Ancestors, not just survival, of course.  How to thrive as a family when you disagreed, especially when times were tough.  How to keep love alive and burning bright when everything else was so cold.  So many beautiful lessons, and so many beautiful relationships to have.

There are, of course, some Ancestors who want nothing to do with me for my religious choice, but my Ancestors’ religious affiliation in life or death does not stop me from honoring Them, or, in my experience, from Them speaking back to me.  There are simply some Ancestors who don’t agree with me and won’t speak to me, and others who do not care.  Like any other family, sometimes you reach an impasse and don’t speak about certain things.  Yet, there is a baseline respect I have for Them, because we are related.  I might not mention Them by name, but They still get offerings all the same.

I venerate my Ancestors because, beyond being worthy of that respect, I want that relationship.  I floated for awhile without that as a Pagan, and given I’ve cut a lot of my roots off after leaving Catholicism, it helps ground me with my blood and spiritual families in ways I would not have credited it.  I didn’t do Ancestor veneration until Odin called to me about four years ago.  During the first year I read a lot of books, and again and again the concept of Ancestor veneration kept popping up, especially in books by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova.  Well, I thought, There’s got to be something to this.  I’ll give it a shot.  Soon after I was offering incense and some water, and I think, some bread to Them on my altar.  I could feel my Ancestors as I prayed for Their Presence, and something like hands on my shoulders, and beyond that, a feeling of welcome.  I didn’t have a representation of Them at the time.  I just had my heartfelt prayers, a slice of bread, and a brass chalice full of water.  Yet I felt Their Presence as strong as I do when I offer incense nowadays.  Maybe They’re just happy I’m paying homage and paying attention; either way, They are happy, and willing to talk.  Sometimes a lot.  Other times They’re really quiet and we sit together in that quiet just enjoying one another’s company.  Overall my relationship with Them is pretty peaceful, and good-natured.  I’ve only ever really encountered anger when I stopped talking to Them and stopped doing right by Them.  Having your Disir (powerful female Ancestors) sit down and give you a what-for can be scary, considering not only is this your family, but these women in particular have a good deal of pull in it.  Some were shamans themselves, others simply strong-willed women whose echo through the family lines reaches right down deep into mine.

Part of the challenge I have found doesn’t come so much from my Ancestors, but from Hyndla, the Jotun Goddess of Bloodlines and Geneology.  One of them is that I need to find out more about my Ancestors, and another is to learn from Them vital skills.  During my Nine Days on Yggdrasil, I had an ancient Ancestor contact me who taught me how to use the fire-bow method of making fire.  It looked like the Rune Naudhiz as I looped some braided yarn around it, and set it into a dry log.  I have never set a fire like this before, and never was in Boy Scouts or anything else that would have trained me for it, so I was coming at this fresh.  Under her guidance, my Ancestor helped me to make the start of a fire three different times.  I didn’t have any dry fuel, so I wasn’t able to actually keep it going, so I have no idea if it would have caught and built, but I felt accomplished for having done that much.  If my Ancestors can impart this bit of knowledge to me in the course of about three hours, there is so much more They can teach.  This is a survival skill, one that could some day be necessary to saving a life, or making it one more day in a bad situation.   Perhaps that in and of itself is humbling: my ancient Ancestors know more about the bare necessities, the absolute basics, than I as a college-educated adult do.  I can only imagine what else my Ancestors have to teach me.  I look forward to learning, though.

When I say I honor Odin as my Father, it is because that is what He revealed Himself to me as.  I denied it for a long time; I found it unnerving when He first told me shortly after we began to work together.  I thought This isn’t real; how is that possible?  I’m just bullshitting myself.  The Old Man wouldn’t let it drop.  He challenged me to examine the lore, to examine my own heart, and why I was denying what He was telling me.  To go out and get confirmation for myself.  After a number of Rune readings, and readings from totally unaffiliated people to my practice at the time, and some introspection and reading of the lore I eventually came around.  I freaked out about this for a full year before I finally settled down and accepted it.  Something that calmed me down was reading The Lay of Rig, and of the experiences of other people who, like me, were told of or found their connection to a God or Goddess.  Granted, a good chunk of these people that I have read about are God-spouses, but some have found lineage with different bloodlines of the Northern tribes.  Sometimes, not being alone can be a great comfort.  You feel a bit less crazy.  There are still times where I look at it and go How fantastical does this sound? but then I think to the Lay of Rig and all those people.  It helps, too, that not everyone will simply write you off as nuts.  After all, how many religious people say “We are all sons of” this-or-that God/dess?  Odin was supposed to have breathed the breath of life, Önd, into our Ancestors.  Spiritually, He and His brothers gave us life in the first place.  I am always tied to my son by the life I gave him; how is Odin any less with me?  Sure, my son may fight with me some days, may do things I don’t like, but I love him and he is still my son.  Perhaps the Gods know us this way too.  I no longer have an issue with calling myself a Son of Odin, but that is because I took the time I needed to accept it.  Odin, mercifully, gave me the time I needed to accept it.  I am sure that many more are out there, sons and daughters of Gods who have only to embrace their relationships with the Gods.  In honoring that, we can honor ourselves and our deep connections to the Gods.  In honoring our Ancestors, we fulfill what I feel are some of the best lines of the Hávamál:

Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, —
fair fame of one who has earned.

Source:  University of Pittsburgh