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On Ritual Praxis -Hearth Cultus

October 21, 2018 1 comment

In the Beginning to Worship post I asserted that polytheisms the world over are first based in the home. This is referred to as engaging in hearth cultus and are often contrasted with state or communal cultus. The word cultus itself relates to “care, labor, cultivation, culture; worship, reverence”. The root of this word in Proto-Indo European, *kwel-, relates to “revolve, move around; sojourn, dwell”. The hearth cultus and temple cultus, then, are places where culture and religion come around to live and be cultivated, and are among the centers where worship and reverence take place.

Because a hearth cultus forms the heart of polytheist religions, it must have the backing of a solid worldview as to what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are, and what and how these Holy Powers are offered to, the hearth’s relationship with the Holy Powers, and how the hearth relates to the cosmology of the religion. Sacred space within the home is established through the acts of cleansing a hearth and setting up a vé, a sacred place for the Holy Powers, whether it is on a physical hearth such as a mantle, the only dresser in a dorm room, or in the heart of a home on an altar. Hearth cultus is engaged in the hearth in both formal and informal worship, and in engaging in divination to determine offerings, questions related to development of personal and hearth cultus, and communication between the Holy Powers and the hearth. All come together in the establishment, carrying out of, and passing on of a hearth cultus.

The center of the home has switched a bit for modern America. In the interim since actual hearths and their fires were the center of the home, literally, metaphorically, and spiritually, the role of the hearth has been split in most modern American homes between the living room and the kitchen/dining room. The living room tends to be where we enjoy one another’s company, socialize, engage in festivities like Yule gift-giving or New Year’s celebrations, and play. The kitchen/dining room is where we prepare our daily meals and eat, talk about our day, and spend a good deal of time together as a family. When the table is cleared sometimes we use this space to do homework, pay bills, play boardgames, or engage in feasting festivals like Thanksgiving or one of our harvest holidays, i.e. the Haustblot. It is unlikely any two hearths look alike for cultural/religious reasons or for the physical layout and needs of a given hearth. Still, most share commonalities of function for the hearth and its members.

The Microcosm and the Macrocosm

A given hearth’s sacred space is both its own space and a reflection of how a hearth relates to its cosmology. This is why a firm understanding of worldview and sacred stories is needed for any polytheist’s development, let alone any cultus. How we relate to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits of our cosmologies are important questions because it forms the core of who we are and why we do what we do. The worldview of the hearth is how the hearth is formed to begin with, how the members conduct themselves within the hearth, and how the vé of a hearth are made and maintained.

In setting up a hearth some questions need to be answered. Many of these questions were asked back in the post On Ritual Praxis -Beginning to Worship and serve as guides going forward.

The first question of any hearth is: What is a hearth’s place cosmologically, both in terms of representation of the larger cosmos and in terms of on-the-ground worship, reverence, and life for those who gather around it? How do members of a hearth relate to Fire Itself? How do the members of a hearth relate to Gods of the hearth? All of these are powerful questions, as each is intimately related to the kind of place the hearth itself occupies in the heart of a given home.

What Holy Powers are worshiped, revered, and called to in a hearth and how its cultus is shaped depends on how these questions are answered:

What are the Holy Powers and how do we relate to Them? Are there certain directions that are sacred to a given Holy Power, and if so, what are they? What Holy Powers belong in or to the hearth vé? How does the religion relate to Fire and Holy Powers of Fire? Are there established ways to light Sacred Fires within the religion? Are there Holy Powers that should not occupy the same spaces or be close to one another? Should some Holy Powers occupy certain places in a hearth not on the vé at the heart of a hearth, but in some other place such as above the stove, near the front door, near a source of running water, etc.? Are there specific ways each family member relates to the hearth and its keeping?

How the hearth and any vé besides the hearth itself are made and maintained depends on these:

What are the vé or equivalent sacred spaces in the religion? Are there traditional methods in existing sources as to how they are erected, or will new traditions around constructing one need to be made? Does the making of a vé differ whether it is an altar, shrine, hearthfire, and/or mantle? What are the right ways to treat the places where vé are kept? What offerings are good for making in vé? If a vé is at the heart of a hearth, such as above a fireplace or stove, or in the living room or kitchen, does it hold a special place for the family and in the culture/religion of the hearth? If so, what role does a given hearth member take on in relation to the vé?

These are how my own hearth answers these questions.

What a Hearth Is

The hearth is the heart of a family, or writ larger, a Kindred, tribe, or other similarly organized community group. It is where cleansing and purification begins, whether through Fire Itself or through the lives of sacred herbs such as Großmutter Una. It is where sacrifice takes place such as through the offering of Grandmother Mugwort or other burnt offerings, offerings of food which are consumed by the hearth fire or made outside, or where sacrifices and/or tools to make sacrifices are made sacred for their work.

The hearth is placed in an enclosure of Earth, whether it is outside in my family’s sacred grove firepit or in my Kindred main meeting home in a fireplace. The lighting of the Fire brings to mind the sparks that melted Nifelheim, and so, made our lives possible by allowing Ymir and Auðhumla to move about. The lighting of the Fire is also one made in honor of our Ancestors. Once kindled, the hearthfire is the boundless energy of Fire given bounds by Ice, in this case the entropy that occurs as heat and light is given off in the burning of fuel, and contained by Earth in which the Fire is housed and whose fuel Fire burns. Water results from the Ice melted and pushes to the surface of the burning log/Tree, and wisps of smoke from the log and any offered herbs continue the sacred burning of Fire Itself and Air from the smoke of the log and/or herbs. Each Fire is related to Muspelheim and each log to every tree, so we engage in the cycle of Fire that burns the Earth from which we come so that heat and light can warm us and shine on us, take in our offerings, and take up our prayers to the Holy Powers, including Fire Itself and each individual Firevaettr that comes to rest in our hearth.

So, each hearth made and each hearthfire lit is a living recreation of the Creation Story. Each hearthfire lit is itself connected with the First Fire and is a vaettr, a spirit, unto Itself. Each log burned is itself an offering of the Earth and we give offerings to Fire, Earth, and every other element involved in its lighting. In the midst of all this, a hearthfire is also a signal of cleansed, holy space to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and an invitation for all of us to come closer.

Personal and Sacred

Hearth cults are diverse, whether due to personal relationships a hearth has with its Holy Powers, the land one lives on, or any number of personal factors. A hearth cultus for a lone college student living on campus will look utterly different from that of a family on several acres of land. This diversity should be embraced.

Having been on both sides of this, restrictions can abound for college students that don’t exist for folks in a home. A prohibition against candles will mean that, instead of turning to a lighter or matches, one will probably turn to LED candles to represent the glow of a hearthfire. There is nothing inherently wrong in this; after all, electricity is a form of Fire. Some folks live in homes where size restrictions means that at most LED or tea lights will be the only sources of fire beyond, perhaps, the stove. Whatever the location of a hearth’s vé, the place will need to be undisturbed by animals and respected by those who will be in its presence. If the vé needs to be temporary, only pulled out when actual ritual is going on, then its holding place should be one held in sacred regard.

What matters for a vé is not the size of it, but that it is a place of good and sacred contact between a Heathen and their Gods. Even if the container for one’s hearthfire is a small tin, containing only an image of the Holy Power(s), a tea light, some matches and a small bowl for offerings, this will be enough so long as the Holy Powers are pleased and the cultus can be carried out with reverence. When I first became a Pagan I had a vial with five salt crystals to represent the Five Elements in my rituals. My altars grew from these small beginnings into the altars over time seen here, here and here. My mobile vé for conventions tends to be my collection of prayer cards, an offering vessel, and maybe a few representations of the Holy Powers otherwise. What matters it that you have the means to cleanse the vé, make some kind of offering, and have a container for the vé itself. This is where the map of lore meets the territory of being for Heathens. We bring forward as much as we can, learn as much as we can, and it is here, in hearth cultus, where we put all of this into lived relationship with our Holy Powers.

Making a Hearth

Cosmology, including what directions are sacred and why, what Beings related to the hearth, Fire, etc., need to be known in order for a hearth to become established. A hearth is the culmination of the macro and the micro of a cosmology, the welcoming in of Holy Powers, and establishment of sacred space. Without understanding why it is important to establish a hearth, what establishing a hearth itself means, or the importance of cosmology, myth, and how we relate to the Holy Powers, especially Fire Itself in the creation of a hearth, there is no structure for establishing a hearth nor how to do it. Without these bones there is no point to a hearth, no sacred direction to place it or space one may make it. Without the foundation there is no point to making a hearth. Without meaning behind it, then, there is no hearth.

A hearth is the central sacred space of a home.  For many of us, having a physical hearth is an impossibility.  So how do we bring in the hearth for hearth cultus without a fireplace?  Candles are one way, whether they are burnable or LED.

Are there traditional methods we can see in how to erect a hearth? We can look at how the ancient cultures Heathens erected their homes, and what information remains to us from how their own hearths were established. Most of the information useful to this goal will not be blatantly stated. Given that most of what is available to us in lore is relevant to rulers, not the average ancient Norse, Anglo-Saxon, etc, and given the sources are mostly for skalds and poets to read aloud or for instruction, much of the establishment of modern hearth culture will need to be derived from what we can find for the hints at mindset and worldview in the sources, and from there our own intuition and interactions with the Holy Powers.  A simple example is the centrality of the hearth from lore and archaeology. What remains to us is acknowledgement that the path of the Sun was sacred, and so East is a good candidate for a vé to face or be placed in.

As with a great many things, where lore and archaeology tell us little or hint at things, modern Heathens will need to make our best guesses, do divination, and be willing to correct ourselves when new information rises.  Likewise, the practical needs of any given space will need to be taken into account as well.  Even though the East is a good candidate for a vé to face in, my family’s Gods’ altar stands in the North before the only window in the room.  This table has the best space so our Gods’ representations and offerings are not crowding one another and best fits in front of the window.

Since we do not own the home we are living in and our altars are all upstairs, our vé hold primary places for us in the family, namely our bedrooms.  Were we to be living on our own I imagine the different vé we worship at would be spread over the home.  The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we hold the closest cultus to might be in a central vé, such as above a literal hearth on a mantle, or on an altar in the center of the living room.  The making of a vé does differ, as a literal hearth at the center of our home would invite variations of ritual that our current set up does not.  If our vé were on a mantle we might not have an altar cloth, or if we did it might be made of very different materials such as pelts/fur and/or heavier cloths.  Our current Gods’ vé is adorned with different colored cotton cloths marking the different seasons.  Sometimes we change our Ancestor vé cloth colors as well to mark the seasons.  We have small heat-resistant stands for when we burn candles, incense, reykr, or offerings.  Given we are in bedrooms and the smoke alarms are very touchy we do not tend to light candles or burn much in the way of offerings or reykr.   This would this change with having a hearthfire, and so would the care of the ashes.  Living on our own, we might collect the ashes of the hearthfire to use in crafting sacred things, such as soaps for cleansing or in leatherwork for fur removal.

Our hearth cultus centers around the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we are closest to.  For each of us that differs with our individual relationships, but for both our family and our Kindred it is Oðin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, Gerða, Loki, Angrboða, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Mimir, and Hela for the Heathen/Northern Tradition Gods.  Other Gods of our family hearth are Brighid, Bres, Lykeios, Lupa, Bast, and Anubis.  For our Ancestors we give cultus not only to our blood Ancestors, but also to the Ancestors of our lineages, such as the spiritworkers who came before me, and to those who have inspired me over the years such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Among the vaettir we hold cultus for are the landvaettir and housevaettir.  Each of us also tends our own personal vé to different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  We engage in our hearth cultus daily, including night prayers and offerings at the hearth, and at the dinner table with meal prayers.  We also occasionally share in ritual celebration of different holy days around our hearth, or with the Kindred around its hearth.

An Example of Daily Hearth Cultus

My family’s daily hearth cultus tends to be quite simple. Most of our hearth rites are some variation on this:

  1. Begin by cleansing.
    1. Most nights we do this by deep breathing three times, expelling the dross of the day out of ourselves and away from the vé, and breathing in good, clean air so we concentrate on the prayers and offerings we are going to make. If we have had a particularly hard day, if we are in a time of powerful transition (such as after a funeral or during a holy tide), if a ritual calls for it, or if it just seems time to, I make a Sacred Fire with Großmutter Una, making reykr over all of us, and the vé. We may pass a lit candle in a similar fashion to working with Grandmother Mugwort, or work with both Fire and Großmutter Una together, passing them over the vé once or three times in a clockwise fashion around the altar. The number 3 is one we recognize as holy, and clockwise works with the turning of Sunna’s journey and the seasons She helps to bring.
    2. Cleansing by Reykr
      1. Make a prayer thanking the Fire, a simple one such as “Hail Eldest Ancestor!” or, a more elaborate one like “Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Firevaettir! Hail Eldest Ancestor! Ves ðu heil!”
      2. Lay down the herb to be burned, in this case Mugwort. Make a prayer of thanks, simple like “Hail Großmutter Una!” or “Thank You for Your gift, Großmutter Una, that cleanses us and brings our prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir!”
      3. Light the match, lighter, or strike the flint and steel. Waft the smoke around once, or three time around yourself, any attendants, and the altar and its contents. If there are items you would like the Holy Powers to bless, waft Them through the smoke before doing this so the item comes into the vé cleansed.
  2. Make prayers.
    1. Most of our prayers are fairly short and to the point. We have a Night Prayer we follow, which is a rote prayer my wife and I developed for our many Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It serves two purposes, the first being is a unifying prayer of thanks for all the gifts our Holy Powers give us throughout our lives, and it also helps our children to come to know the Gods through at least one attribute that They gift to us, and to be thankful for it. We take this time to give any other prayers, whether thanks to Thor for protecting us in the latest thunderstorm, or to Frigg for peace in our home.
    2. Prayers at the Vé
      1. Following the format of our Night Prayers, you could use the simple formula of “Thank You <Holy Power> for <Blessing/Gift/Function>! Hail <Holy Power!>”, for example “Thank You Freyr and Gerða for the World around us!” Another form of prayer would be to gather at least three heiti for a Holy Power you are close to, have fondness for, or are trying to get to know, and pray in a format like this: “Hail Oðinn, the Inspirer! Hail Alföðr, the All-Father! Hail Rúnatýr, God of the Runes! I seek to know You better!”
  3. Make offerings.
    1. It is not enough for us to only pray. We exist in a flowing relationship with our Holy Powers, receiving and giving good Gebo, gipt fa gipt, or gift for a gift. Given we have several altars we dedicate one day to each group of Holy Powers, the first to our Gods, the next to our Ancestors, and the third to our vaettir. Each God has some kind of vessel in front of Them. Our mainstay offering is water. We also make special offerings, such as whiskey, mead, coffee, or food. If we make a special offering that could spoil before our next round of offerings, we respectfully dispose of it in the sink if it is liquid, giving a prayer to the God it is for and a thanks for Their blessings. If the offering is food or herbs we do not burn at the altar, we place it outside in our sacred grove’s Yggdrasil representation, or wait until a Sacred Fire to burn it. We count food offerings among our special ones because we live on the second floor of a shared home and respectfully disposing of the food offerings as described above once the Holy Powers are done with them is harder to do, especially since most of our offerings are made and disposed of at night.
    2. Making Offerings
      1. As our usual offerings are water, herbs, and on occasion stick incense, I will use these as examples.
    3. For Water Offerings
      1. Since our worldview is polytheist steeped in animism, we recognize the Elements Themselves as part of our Ancestry. In recognizing this we thank the Elements Themselves and the vaettir Who we are offering to the Holy Powers. We might offer a prayer like “Hail Water, Elder Ancestor! Hail Watervaettr! We thank You for the gift of Your body, that we offer to the Holy Powers!” Good offerings to give in turn to Water and the watervaettir would be care for our sources of water, prayers of thanks and recognition of all that these Holy Powers bless. Honoring Water and the watervaettir are other sources of good Gebo in our daily conduct with water, including conserving and care for water sources we rely on and/or come across.
    4. For Burnt Herb and Incense Offerings
      1. Follow the structure above in the Cleansing by Reykr section 1, and in 2, change the language to reflect an offering is being given. Something like “Hail Grandmother Una! Thank You for the gift of Your body in offering to our Holy Powers!” or “Hail Mugwort! Hail to You for being our offering! Holy Powers, we offer this Gebo to You!” or “Hail Holy Powers, we make this offering of Mugwort in gipt fa gipt with You!” When addressing the Holy Powers directly, simply saying “Hail <Holy Power>!” or “This offering is for You, <Holy Power>!” or “I make this offering for You, <Holy Power>!” can be enough.
  4. Divination and Follow Up Work
    1. If divination has been called for, whether due to some accident like dropping an offering or knocking over an idol, divination having been requested earlier, or just a prompting from intuition, we usually do it here after prayers and offerings. Some folks regularly practice divination as part of their daily work in heart cultus. I generally do not, since much of our daily cultus takes place at night not long before I have to go to work and I haven’t gotten the message or intuition to incorporate this. Your needs as a hearth and your ability for/access to divination will be the best guide here.

Maintaining Hearth Cultus

The first step to maintaining a hearth cultus once it has been established is to care for the vé physically and spiritually. Cleaning the space regularly, including the disposal of offerings and changing out cloths, and keeping the icons of the Holy Powers clean promotes mindfulness and reverence for the place it holds in a hearth. The next step is to make prayers, offerings, and to do whatever other daily work needs doing at the hearth regularly.

If the vé is in a fireplace then the cleaning of it serves a practical function in keeping the chimney clear of debris and in good working order. This idea is equally true whether the vé is a fireplace, a mantle, a desk, or even a mini altar-tin.  Since the practical is part of the spiritual work, understanding the hearth and the process of cleaning the hearth from a cosmological standpoint makes the work take on deeper meaning. In setting up the vé you are asking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to help you make an ordered Sacred Space.

The fireplace is no longer just a fireplace; it becomes the hearth, the spiritual heart of the home. The mantle, the desk, the tin is no longer just a mantle, desk, or tin.  In cleaning the vé, the hearth being the micro to the cosmos’ macro, you are helping to bring cleansing and order to this cosmos. It is the where you develop contact with the Holy Powers, worshiping Them and making offerings. As your hearth cultus goes on it may grow or shrink, (or in the case of tins maybe you will make/collect more) and so may the qualities it comes to represent and the meaning the place holds in your home and religious life. No matter your source of Fire for the vé, whatever you put into the Fire or set with It needs to be safely burnt.  Treating the Fire with utmost care is paramount. Every Fire is connected in our understanding, whether the smallest match, the electricity in an LED, or the largest star, and as the hearthfire itself represents Fire Itself, the care each Firevaettr is given should reflect on that relationship.

Whether it is five minutes a day, a half an hour or longer, many times a day, or as we do, cycling prayers and offerings different days of the week, the point here is to maintain a regular practice of devotional work and care for the hearth. Integrating the hearth into one’s life and keep it at the heart may be a struggle for many folks who have never grown up with this. Regular engagement with the hearth physically and spiritually will help this become part of one’s life. Keeping it front and center in one’s home centers the Holy Powers around which the hearth is based, and right along with it, the cosmology and its worldview.

The hearth is one’s cosmos in miniature even if one doesn’t have all the representations of the Holy Powers yet. As I wrote earlier, there was a time when all I had was five salt crystals no bigger than my pinky nail. Now, my family has statues for some Gods and representations for others. Some folks may find they cannot get or afford statues of the Gods. We have statues of Odin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, and Thor by Paul Borda of Dryad Designs that we bought from different Pagan/Pagan-friendly stores. For Gerða we have a corn dolly with a rake in Her hand we found at a thrift store. Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn’s representations are a slat of red fox skin for Loki, a badger claw for Sigyn, and wolf fur for Angrboda, each representation gifted to us. Sometimes the Holy Powers are looking for different ways for us to come into Their representations because the representation has something to say or it exposes us to worshiping Them in a new way. Sometimes a representation is what we happen to have at the time; during Many Gods West I had to leave a lot of representations and spiritual tools at home and ended up printing off pictures of the Gods for the event altar and my own.  At the end of the day, use what works to connect your hearth with the Gods.

If one’s hearth cultus is mainly in the kitchen your relationship with the cultus may change, and the Holy Powers one worships there, calls to first, or maintains the boundaries during prayer, offerings, and ritual. One might start a ritual in the fireplace by first calling on the Gods of Fire and then Gods of the Hearth, Hearthkeeping, and/or the Home. A ritual in a hearth’s vé located in the kitchen may do it the other way around, first calling on Gods of the Home and then Fire Gods, as the set up and priorities for the hearth may differ from a fireplace’s hearth.  One’s way of offering might change from Fire being the primary element into which offerings are made to Water.  One’s focus of the hearth cultus might be on the Wells rather than Fire, since the main tools one practically uses in this space shifts from containing and maintaining Fire centrally to containing and maintaining Water.  It does not mean that Fire’s importance is lost, only that the focus of the hearth cultus shifts.

For our family, our relationships with the Gods of family, social order come ahead of Fire given we generally do not work with Fire as much in our daily rites.  We involve Fire when we light candles, turn on the light for night prayers, or sit down to a meal, but the centrality that would be there were our vé on a hearthfire or on a mantle is not present.  Something that was suggested to me by my dear friend and Brother, Jim, is that since the namesake of our Kindred comes from Mimir and the Well of Wisdom, and that so many of our offerings and work involve water and water-based offerings, that while Fire Itself is still recognized as the First Ancestor, that Water, the Well, and honoring Mimir takes priority.  Our family is still working this out with our Holy Powers.

Understanding the role of Fire as central to the hearth does not change, nor does it shift the cosmological importance of Fire.  Without Fire we do not see, our altars are not illuminated, our food goes uncooked, our reykr cannot smoke.  What does change is how we relate to these Holy Powers and how these relationships unfold in our vé.  The cosmogenic unfolding from Fire and Ice meeting still is a powerful source of understanding, one that informs how the Waters that are more central to our familial hearth come about.  The Gods of our home will still be central to our hearth cultus even if Mimir and the Well of Wisdom are honored ahead of Them.  The fixed points of cosmogeny and cosmology do not change, only our points of relating to Them and the place they hold in our rites with the Holy Powers.

Differentiating Hearth Cultus Rites from Other Rites

What differentiates hearth cultus rites from many other polytheist and Pagan rituals is the general lack of altered states of consciousness and its focus on devotional worship and reverence. There is no ulterior goal or motive in daily hearth cultus. You’re worshiping and revering the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of your hearth. That is its goal and its focus.

When I was doing the #30DaysofMagick challenges I set the times I did my work with the Runes apart from my hearth cultus work. Not only did this keep my focus on the rites at hand, it also kept my family’s focus since we do hearth ritual as a family and I am the only one among us that does Runework. In keeping the rites separate I kept the kind of ritual focus needed for good hearth cultus in its place, and Rune work in its own. I do have a daily devotional rite I do with Runatyr and the Runevaettir, but again, that is separate from my hearth cultus because that is personal cultus and work I hold with Runatyr and the Runevaettir. Because neither my wife nor our children have initiated into doing Runework that buffer also protects them from collecting obligation or entanglement with Them beyond my family’s already existing ties.

I differentiate hearth cultus from other rites in the use of altered states since, broadly speaking, the focus of the rites which use altered states are generally to another end beyond devotion, worship, offering, and prayer. Altered states like deep trance work tend to operate as uncontrolled liminal spaces even if they are guided. Unlike a hearth rite, in which there are very clear steps, a focus, and end steps in a methodical way, once one enters into even an altered state, let alone contact with a Holy Power in an altered state, the directions one can go with it are many. There may be spiritual work one needs to do, initiation work to prepare for, or, the raw and intense experience of just being in a Holy Power’s Presence among the possibilities.

Gathering Around the Hearth

Hearth cultus can be engaged in by anyone regardless of aptitude for altered states, magical work, initiation, or experience. Its focus, steps, goals, and means to achieve them are clear and accessible to everyone. Many other rites require some kind of ongoing study and/or engagement with Holy Powers and spiritual forces, such as one’s hamr or önd. Some rites will require initiation and others will require exclusive focus on a goal other than worship or reverence.

The heart of polytheism is in hearth cultus. Through hearth cultus we come to worship, pray to, offer to, and know our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Keeping hearth cultus accessible to everyone keeps our religions, traditions, and communities alive, vibrant, and engaged. Through hearth cultus anyone can begin, continue, and deepen relationships with the Holy Powers. We bring our traditions from the maps of lore, linguistics, and archaeology into the lived experience of worship, reverence, and engagement. Our worldview is lived through hearth cultus. Through it, our relationships with the Holy Powers is strengthened and enlivened individually and communally. With hearth cultus our religions are not mere abstractions, a collection of holidays or ideas. Through hearth cultus we pass on these ways of life to each generation. With hearth cultus being at the heart of our cultures and our religions, they are part of our lives, immanent for each of us and connective between us. Here, in each of our hearths, our ways of life are made and lived in good relationships with the Holy Powers and ourselves.

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Broken Lines

January 11, 2016 6 comments

Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions.  In some places, those lines are fairly stark.  In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways.  At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture.  We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.

I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family.  No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members.  I was taught a smattering of German words.  There was nothing left by the time I was being raised.  I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual.  Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.

So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them.  As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them.  I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error.  Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life.  She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that.  There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit.  It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things.  While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.

I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact.  What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.

I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:

  • A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
  • A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
  • A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
  • A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
  • A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.

There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.

Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.

Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound.  There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions.  A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here.  One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this.  I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.

Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?

Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.

Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.

Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods.  It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us.  Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow.  It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.

I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis.  There was no temple structure.  I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life.  There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to.  If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you.  If not, it’s a loner’s game.

What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward.  Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine.  For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.

For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities.  Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on.  This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis.  At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple.  While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.

Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture.  In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 5

December 31, 2015 4 comments

Having read, watched, and listened to coverage of COP21, I have to say I am utterly disappointed.  Not only were no binding agreements made, what was agreed upon will not effectively address the issues facing the world.  Per the COP21 website:

In 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

It failed.  There are aims, but nothing binding.  There is plenty of signed paper, but no promises.  There are plenty of goals, but no ambition to see them through.  Further, it gutted a lot of the binding agreements by placing things like this in the preamble.

KANDI MOSSETT: Right. So, there’s an article. When there’s language in the article, that’s legally binding language. And what they’ve actually done is taking out reference to indigenous peoples’ rights from the article and putting it only into the preamble, which is not legally binding. The same for human rights, the same for food sovereignty. There’s just different things that have happened in the text that—intergenerational equity is also in the preamble, so a lot of the youth are very upset as to what’s happening. And I think it’s kind of a shame that we’ve—actually, at the 21st COP, more than a shame, it’s a crime that we’ve taken a step backwards by taking out the rights of indigenous peoples.

 Not only are there no easy answers, there is no plan for addressing climate change on a global level.  So too, there is no global plan for addressing peak oil.  There are only a few places where peak oil and climate change are being actively addressed on a regional scale.  The same with a State or provincial scale.  The most action I have seen and continue to see addressing peak oil, and climate change is within local communities, whether these are tribes, clans, counties, cities, towns, intentional communities, or individual families.

It is incredibly easy to look at this failure of leadership and the impending impacts of peak oil and climate change, to read JMG’s latest piece summarizing what is facing us, and simply fall into despair. I am going to encourage anyone reading this not to do that.

Go to the Gods.  Go to the Ancestors.  Go to the vaettir.  Ask Them for help to do something to address this.  Go do magic.  Work magic to address this.  Go learn and study.  Put your hands to whatever you are able to do.  Organize where you can.  Do what is within your power to do. Do something with those emotions.  Do not let them sit idle.  Use them as fuel.

Grow what you can where you can.  Preserve knowledge wherever you can.  Distribute knowledge where you can.  Learn a skill or learn a trade if you can.  Every single bit helps.

The idea that we will not be able to get out of the Long Descent without casualties has come up a couple of times in the comments in this series of posts.  In every documentary on Youtube I have watched, the idea population decline will, at some point, come up.  It seems expected that we will somehow be able to keep on preserving our ways of life that allow us in America to use 25% of the world’s resources when we are 5% of the overall population of the Earth.  It seems expected that we can just ‘run things on renewables’ when it comes to Q&As at the end of a good many of these lectures, some desperate variation on the bargaining aspect of the 5 Stages of Grief.  When we haven’t invested shit into our infrastructure, into renewables, or into any other way of life but the ones folks are living right now.

People are going to die because of climate change and peak oil, and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it.  Whether because of the hubris and neglect of corporations, the incredibly tight controls or severe lack in industry standards with the government, laziness or panic or inaction on the part of the average citizens, our opportunity to stem the tide of these things passed us by well before Morning in America was the rallying cry of the Reagan administration.  Carter tried to be straightforward and honest with the American people on these matters, and he was a one-term president, mocked and roundly criticized for his stances.  No one has tried this and won since.  We are now faced with a world which will see us in the Long Descent as John Michael Greer calls it, the Bumpy Plateau as Richard Heinberg calls it, or the Collapse, as Chris Martenson and Jared Diamond call it.  The end of cheap, abundant fossil fuel is coming, climate change is occurring, and yet we still can affect change on the local level.

I ran across this idea from Michael Ruppert across several of his lectures:

Let us say that there were people on the Titanic who knew that an iceberg was going to hit it, and the Titanic would sink.  These people know there are not enough lifeboats, but that there is time enough to make some in preparation for the disaster that is coming.  There are three kinds of reactions to these people.  The first are those who say “Oh you’re just a doom-sayer.  I’m going to go back to the bar for a drink.”  The second are those who panic, wide-eyed and run around crying out “What do I do?  What do I do?” but do not address the problem.  Then there are third, who say “Let’s get to work on building some lifeboats” and get started working on it.  As with Ruppert, I suggest we work with other lifeboat builders and not waste our time with the first two groups of people.

This means ceasing to fight with those that think global warming is a fraud.  This means not arguing with those who adamantly do not accept the reality of peak oil.  This means ceasing to waste time on folks who want to talk, but not do.

This means getting proactive wherever you can in your life and community to address peak oil and climate change.  This means doing whatever research, reskilling, growing, learning, accumulating of resources, and making community ties now wherever you are able as you are able.  This means reorienting your life in whatever ways that you can so the Long Descent is easier to deal with.

This means that there are people out there for whom it is not worth your time to try to save.  Not that they are intrinsically better or worse than you.  It means that these people will be an impediment to you doing things to actively work in ways that will better you, your family, and/or your community.  On a practical level, the people not willing to build lifeboats with you are simply not worth your time to try to save.  You can love your family, your friends, your neighbors, and they all can be impediments or allies in the way of where you need to go, and what you need to do, to ensure you, yours, and future generations are able to survive.  These are not easy things to think about, and I appreciate that, but if you have put off thinking about them, now is the time.

What I am not saying is “you should not worry about the non-lifeboat builders” or “you should be totally okay with this”.  I have folks in my family who want to pretend that everything will be fine, or technology will find a way.  You know what?  I don’t stop loving them.  I don’t stop wanting them to end their addiction to oil, to join a community effort, even if it isn’t mine, to address peak oil and climate change.  I don’t stop wanting them to change their mind, but I also realize that, after a certain point, all I am doing is wasting our collective time by trying to get them on board.

Hell, in talking with my grandparents on my mother’s side, both realize just how hard of a time ahead we have.  All I can do at this point is ask as many questions as I can of them for how they got through the hard times in their lives.  To ask them how their parents got through the Depression and how they got through the Oil Shocks.  I pray that I get as many old tools and machines that my grandpa collected from garage, estate, and auction sales, as I can.  It’s my hope to put these still-functioning tools to work again.

I cannot offer hope or comfort, outside of “We have time to prepare” and “Better ways of living with the world are possible, and within our ability to do.”  With the coming Long Descent coming, I find comfort in the words of Arundhati Roy:
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

The work of addressing peak oil and climate change is working to hear these messages, and put them in to action.  We have work to do, and each will need to decide in what ways their energy and time are best used.  I pray that your efforts succeed.  I pray they pave the way for others to succeed, for all of us to survive, and thrive.

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 4

December 21, 2015 9 comments

I had not planned a fourth part to this series, however, I was hit by something as I was sitting and experiencing this beautiful rendition of The Sound of Silence.  I went back to thinking about the series of posts that I have been writing lately on consumerism and peak oil.  I was thinking in how my father and I were sitting in the basement while he was smoking after he teared up while listening to it on Youtube.  He explained to me that he had had a lot of friends buried to that song, and it occurred to me to ask him a few things, among them, what songs he wanted to have at his funeral, and if it would be okay if I kept his skull.  This song and yes were among his answers.

We have such an odd relationship with death and endings in this country.  While there is a cyclical nature to my religion, there is a linear one in my father’s, and the predominant mythological/cultural narratives American society tells itself are, likewise, linear, for instance, the myth of progress.  It is very hard for folks to envision things past a certain point.  It’s not the main reason I connect The Sound of Silence to my work with peak oil, though.  No, what I connect with is one the overarching messages I get from the song.  That our things overtake our sense of self, connection, community, even the place of our Gods.  The lines that stick with me the hardest are these:

And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared, and no one dared
To stir the sound of silence

and this one:

And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made
And the sign flashed its warning in the words that it was forming
And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence

This song sticks in my craw, especially lately, especially because of the dearth of silence I see in the needed conversations on peak oil and climate change.  That we have become overtaken by our things, that our need to have things have supplanted our need for connection.  That the very means by which we enjoy this very song, or as you, the readers read the words, or I as I type them, is all part of the collective death knell of modern human civilization.  This is so discomforting, that, like conversations on death, it is a taboo, a thing we dare not speak or give word to, lest we sound crazy or we dare to step out of line and suggest that another world is not only possible, but absolutely fucking necessary.  It is taboo, echoing in the well of silence.

The other reason this post kind of spoke up and said “Hey, write me,” is because of a comment from PSVL on Part 3.  While I did address e in the comments, between being prompted by The Sounds of Silence and the comment itself, I felt that e was right.  We do need to talk more about folks who aren’t able-bodied facing a future in which cheap, abundant fossil fuels are no longer available, and as a result, neither will our life-dependent medications.  Some of this will be retread of the comments, and some will be me responding having stewed on things a bit.

I wanted to respond to eir’s first and last points to start with:

While I think this is all good, I’m still utterly unimpressed with–and am downright horrified by–the attitudes of JMG, and certain other anti-capitalists we know of in refusing to address the situation of folks like yourself and myself who rely upon medications produced by corporate capitalism for our very lives, that (at least in my case) I won’t ever be able to wean myself away from, short of a miracle, and those are thin on the ground these days. By JMG, when I brought this up, I was told “Well, everyone has to die sometime”; and by the other, I got outrage that I’d ask that question, was told I’d be taken care of, and then was given no details or anything on how that would actually take place in his self-congratulation over how caring and compassionate he was toward poor non-able-bodied sods like me (in ideal, anyway).

and

The amount of privilege that those who practically glorify this matter and their “responsible” lifestyle in response to it enjoy by being able-bodied (at least for the moment) in these discussions is quite frankly disgusting.

I wish someone would actually address that.

No one from the Peak Oil movement that I know of or consistently refer to takes any kind of pleasure or glory from this being the future.  We can, however, enjoy the processes we go through to prepare for a power-down future, and make the Long Descent as pleasant as we are able in the meantime.  We can connect with community, create art, learn skills, write books, teach, and pass on knowledge.  To my mind, it would be better to glorify this responsible lifestyle than to pretend that the one that is touted by American society as ideal is at all sustainable or has a future.

I more or less stand by my original answer to em in this regard.  There is no answer for us coming from established sources.  Since we cannot control funding, research, dialogue, or the larger-scope top-down issues of addressing peak oil and climate change, or the associated complications of peak oil, climate change, and the therapies, medication, and other things that keep us alive, there are only local-level answers I could hope to give. Unless we do work on trying to find replacements for our medications now, or if we can attain some kind of homestasis in a sustainable manner that allows us to live in a powered-down future, a good number of us are outright screwed.  The truth of the matter is, that I don’t think anyone in the Peak Oil communities, or the anarchists, the permaculturalists, the government, researchers, or anyone else for that matter, has an answer for people who are this dependent on medication, therapies, and so on that are only available to us because of the energy output of fossil fuels, and all the industries it is used to run and make products for.  What methods there may be to address our needs in the face of peak oil and climate change, such as alternative therapies, herbal medicines, and tradition-specific medicinal approaches, may well have to be approached from a trial-and-error perspective rather than a rigorous scientific one if things speed up quicker than I am anticipating.

Addressing this from a different angle: what happens to the home healthcare industry (of which I am a bottom tier worker) when the downward slope of the Long Descent makes itself apparent?  It will disappear.

The result of that is nothing short of horrible.  There are clients, consumers, and patients within this industry that fully rely on people like me to give them care, to feed them, clean them, and so on.  What happens when the means by which we are employed vanish?  Some folks will soldier on, doing what they can until they have nothing left to give.  Most will leave.  This will leave the government and families a couple of options, assuming these folks have any family alive.  They can take them into their homes, set up institutions or like apparatus again, at least for a while, or leave them where they are.  Not an easy thought, and certainly not something I like to write about.  However, there we are.  Unless communities start coming together and addressing climate change and peak oil now, and addressing the issue of access to healthcare, this is the horrible reality we will be facing.

I’m paid about a dollar above what a crew member at McDonald’s is paid.  When I/my community gets land and we’re established, my plan is to leave this industry.  Not because the people I served don’t deserve the services, not because they are lesser than I, but because my tribe, my people come first, and the kind of work that will be required to make such a thing work, much less be successful, is a full-time job.

For those who stay in this industry, with as little investment as there is in health care, things will get even worse if communities do not actively come together to bolster and improve these services.  Many of the local movements I addressed in Part 3 may be able to address needs on a local level if they plan for it. I don’t, however, think they will be able to address all needs.

Please, though, do not think I am giving folks a pass on this.  This does need to be addressed.  Taking care of the folks who cannot care for themselves is a humane thing to do, and it requires our consideration for how best to do so.  It is also not a cruelty to say “These are our limitations due to budget, space, etc. What can we do to solve this problem?  Who can we look to for help?  How can we best serve these members of the community?  If we lack the means to serve these people effectively, what can we do?”  That, I think, is key: these aren’t just clients when this goes from a company and its employees doing a job into a community coming together to work on how best to serve these people.  They’re community members.  They have Gods who care for them, Ancestors who care for them, and live among the vaettir.  I am no less than an able-bodied person for my diabetes.  Likewise, those I serve in my current job capacity are no less a person than I.

I have a vested interest in seeing non-able-bodied and disabled folks taken care of.  I’m a disabled person (diabetes, asthma, ADD), and so is my son and my wife.  People I care deeply for, who are chosen family and friends are non-abled and disabled.  Hell, if my tics (which I’m now taking an anti-seizure medication for) get any worse, I may need a lot of help someday.  It’s in my interest and that of my families’ interests, and going outward from there, in my community’s best interests to have a vibrant, viable, and sustainable community that can care for its own.

The basic questions of infrastructure, and the points I raised in the previous three posts will still be factors that will need to be addressed in some manner.  Without these addressed, the job of those who remain or become caretakers, home healthcare workers, and so on, will be that much harder.  Transportation, medication, and compensation will all need to be looked at on a local level.  The same with the costs of healthcare, short and long-term.

We will have to take a hard look at what we can afford to do with what we have where our communities are.  We will need to do this now and in the future in a world where resources are already hard to find, becoming harder and more environmentally and financially costly to find, refine, and produce. We wouldn’t be seeing companies looking to hydraulic fracturing, deep-water drilling, arctic oceans, or tar sands oil if we had a whole lot of low-hanging fruit left.  The EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) doesn’t make sense without high oil prices, and all of them are incredibly environmentally destructive to boot.  Look at the BP Oil Spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, the ongoing damage to Alberta, CA with the tar sands strip mining and extraction, and the ongoing damage being done in the Marcellus Shale area of PA.  The only reason any of these more expensive, and thus lower EROEI methods of fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and use, have gotten any traction was the incredible explosion of oil prices and dropping supply.

When/if a big crash comes during our lifetimes, we’ll be some of the first casualties, as soon as the last of the insulin in the fridge runs out. Simple as that, unfortunately. Nothing anyone has ever said on these topics convinces me of any other possibility, because no one has ever floated any other possibility (other than the idiots I heard several years back who said “That’s why we’re raising cattle, so I can go on beef insulin.” Uhh…unless industrial levels of beef slaughter are taking place, not enough insulin will be produced, dummy, to sustain your life, and your little herd of twenty cows will not last you even a year for that) which is remotely viable.

As I said in my comment, I’m of the opinion/understanding it is not a matter of if, but when. I see one of two general outcomes.  The first, is that the economic house of cards comes to crash and all the lack of investment our country has collectively made in its infrastructure comes home to roost, as we’re seeing in places near where I live such as Flint, MI or the poisoning of the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy.  The other is that peak oil will slowly suck what life remains from the country via increasing energy costs exacerbated by our lack of investment in infrastructure, and lack of preparedness for a powered-down future. I believe a combination of these two scenarios over a period of 20-50 years, maybe longer if more folks get on-board, is most likely, since the economy is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels to do anything.

The only way that massive volumes of insulin are able to made is because of the meat and medical industry.  We can only do so much on a local level, especially in a powered-down future where the fossil fuels that helped a lot of folks to live goes away.  There’s only so much folks are going to be able to do, grow, or make.

And that you, I, and all of the polytheists in the U.S. and the world can’t actually do anything to stop or change this situation, no matter how local and active and right-relational we get with other things related to this situation might be, makes me absolutely angry and hopeless over this situation.

I liken this situation to Fimbulvinter and Ragnarök.  This is a situation that may have once been preventable, but it is one that we now face without that ability.  We can look forward, grim or joyful, but It is coming to meet us and we, It, through the weaving of Wyrd.  The big difference between The Long Descent and Ragnarök is that the Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir are with us should we be willing to ally, and will help us face this future if we are willing to do what we can where we can.  We’re not just living for our survival.  We will help to leave a world in which Lif and Lifthrasir can survive and thrive in.

So, I make of my anger, and times where hopelessness hits me, an offering to my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. I make of my education on how to live better with and upon Jörð and my other Gods, my Ancestors, and the vaettir, as an offering.  I make of the work I put my hands to as an offering.  I will keep going on, and do what I can to this end for as long as I can.  It is my duty.

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 3

December 20, 2015 14 comments

It is easy to understand why convenience is currently winning the hearts and minds of American consumers.  This has much to do with lower upfront cost to the consumer, while the consumer is able to put it out of their minds that much of the convenience we expect and pay for comes at the cost of someone else’s life, livelihood, home, and abysmally low pay or slavery.  Follow any given ‘cheap’ product, and you will find a pipeline of suffering for the animals and plants involved.  Look at any major clothing line or electronics company.  The neodymium mining poisoning Inner Mongolia, the gold in Nigeria in which there are children going blind and infertile, countless countries whose citizens labor for Nike, Gap, and Apple at slave wages or are slaves.  Lots of people are dying just to get a bit of the stuff out of the Earth, make a piece of clothing, or make another electronic gadget that feeds into these systems that keep products cheap for the consumers while costing a lot of people their lives, land, and sovereignty.  It happens here, too, whether you look at New York City’s garment district, falling wages for what once were solidly middle-class jobs, or the paltry amount, around $39,000 or less, that a lot of chicken farmers make per year.

The costs are hidden from the American consumer in terms of jobs, too.  Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a cobbler?  When was the last time you knew the person or the people who made your shoes?  Your clothes?

Resilience does not just mean that the system is preserved in a healthy way, but that people, and the environment are too.  Resilience in our own relationships, economically and personally, mean that we need to reweave our interdependent lives with one another here.  Recognizing that the child labor of a gold mine is wrong; it is another thing to divest ourselves from it as consumers.  Recognizing that there is blood on the diamond trade is one thing, but refusing to buy diamonds at all is a whole other story.  Recognizing that we do not want to support sweatshops or we want to buy American is easy to say, but it is in supporting better ways wherever we can that real change is made.  Resilience requires actions to preserve not only our relationships, but our own integrity as well.  Resilience is an active choice, an activity, and a way of living.  So too, is convenience.

This issue comes up quite a bit when the conversation is about something like the consumption of meat.  Most of these conversation are, themselves, red herrings.  What all of these various issues boil down to, is that so much of human labor and what used to be a lot of animal labor, are now done by increasingly convenient, complex machines which are able to be made because of cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

Think about it.

Whether the fumes choking cities, the heating of our planet via CO2, the plastic choking the oceans, the mounds of human, animal, and plant grief in places all over the world, the only thing that allows these cogs to move at all is cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

The only reason the meat industries are any kind of threat to the environment are because of the fossil fuel powered trade, transport, and machines that allow for the CAFOs and other industrial food/feedstock/animal raising/slaughtering operations to remain economically viable. The entire life cycle of the meat industry, the agricultural industry, and countless others, including the aforementioned on-demand delivery services, depend on tenuous, fragile systems.  From the truckloads of meat, plants, etc. that crisscross the country, wrapped in petroleum-derived plastics, shipped using incredible amounts of diesel delivered on petroleum-derived/made asphalt, kept cold using natural gas, coal, or oil-powered refrigeration technology in the holding areas, distribution centers, supermarkets, and consumers’ freezers/refrigerators, then cooked by means usually powered by coal, natural gas, or oil.  Keep in mind as well that the gas, coal, and oil that keeps the economy and trade moving, that lubricates the countless machines of capitalism, consumerism, trade, and industry, are all looked for, found, extracted, mined, processed, and refined, then transported and burnt, largely by diesel-powered machines.

Meat production itself is not the problem.  Rather, it is the means by which this incredibly wasteful cycle of goods, services, and means of production are kept afloat. That doesn’t mean that our meat consumption isn’t a problem, but it pales in comparison to the things that make such consumption economically viable and reduce the ability of smaller farmers, ranchers, and growers to support themselves and their communities. It’s the same cycle that enables the wholesale destruction of the environment in places that mine for rare earth minerals, like Nigeria and Inner Mongolia for things like gold and neodynium in order to continue cycles of consumption of things like the very laptop I’m typing on. None of the components that make this thing up, nor the power it uses to remain on, or the Internet itself, is without deep costs to the environment.

If we want a healthier relationship with meat, some peoples’ options are to simply stop eating it. That’s fine. Some simply cannot do that. A healthier relationship with meat doesn’t mean that all meat eaters just wholesale stop eating meat, it means developing better relationships with it, supporting local farmers/ranchers, and businesses that employ folks close to home and close down more of that big cycle of consumption I mentioned above.  If I want be healthier, my option is not to stop taking my medication right now.  It means I need to develop healthier relationships with my body and food, and work to get off the medication I can.  If we want healthier relationships between farmers, ranchers, markets, crafts, industries and the people they are made for and use them, we must make the effort as people regardless on which part of the relationship we are, to make things better so we all are more resilient, and our communities more stable.

Convenience today is predicated on cheap, abundant fossil fuels.  Peak oil won’t just bring challenges to our economy, it will stop its ability to move and expand.  Given how brittle our international economic and trade systems are, back in 2008 what nearly took down the house of cards was a housing and financial bubble combined with the soaring price of crude oil. That was a warning that should have shook all of us out of the mindset that we could avoid dealing with the problem of capitalism’s need for exponential growth to sustain itself, and the resultant use of energy to make that happen.

Peak oil is the bar that sets the hard limits to growth.  You cannot grow an economy at the scale we are used to if the economy cannot be empowered to function with cheap fossil fuels.  Peak oil is especially problematic for the United States, since we’ve given over almost all our transportation needs to diesel and gas powered vehicles, vehicles which deliver all of our goods, from food to medicine, from surgery supplies to toilet paper.  Our train system is deeply underfunded and barely adequate to deal with what is already on its rails.  Our bridges are falling apart, as are dams like this one, which is holding back water from 431,000 people in Texas.  We have basic infrastructure problems that need to be addressed.  My point here is not that we cannot address peak oil, but that top-down approaches from the federal government will not be adequate, and any response would be slow, at best.

What about regional responses?  With basic road funding here in Michigan taking the better part of a year just to approve funding (about half of this based on tax cuts, mind you, not raising revenues) on basic maintenance, there is little hope that there would be a top-down response commensurate with need, let alone enough to handle an emergency.  It is not that top-down approaches are not desirable, but that in all likelihood they will be too little too late, piecemeal, or simply lacking in their ability to deal with the situation.

So many of us who have chosen to deal with the problems of peak oil and climate change do so on the local level because that is where we can affect change the best on a practical scale.  It’s the permaculuralist that sets up shop down the road, growing food on their 2 acre plot.  It’s the charities, like Growing Hope and the Fair Food Network in Detroit, that increase peoples’ access to good, healthy food while teaching them how to grow it.  It’s the Transition Town Network, Reskilling Festivals, and Strawbale Studio that works on teaching folks how to do things, from arts and crafts, to making our own homes and growing our own food on a more local level.  These provide folks opportunities to make contacts who will sell to others who do not have the skills or space to do so.  It is not that peak oil is insurmountable, but that the ways our economy, industry, markets, crafts, and food production functions are inadequate to addressing the issues peak oil presents to us.

Peak oil represents a very stark choice.  We can keep trying to make this unsustainable way of life work for a little while longer, or we can learn to live with LESS (a term coined by JMG meaning Less Energy, Stimulation, and Stuff) and work towards a future in which our generation and those after have the abilities, skills, and resources to meet the challenges peak oil and climate change are going to bring.

This choice is why I am looking to engage in another way of living.  I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview to live in good Gebo with the world, with Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir.  I am inspired by my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to live better with this world, and to live with Them, and alongside Them, and help to bring forward a better future.  I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview and religion as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen to align myself within this world and to this world in a way that benefits us both.  I am inspired by my work and role a Northern Tradition and Heathen shaman and priest to do these things as part of my duty to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities I serve, and the generations to come.  To not only be different in how I consume, but to be different in what I do, and how I give back to this world.

I view it as my duty to my best in this regard.  Duty to my Gods, to live well in the world, and within a community of folks dedicated to doing well by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Duty to my Ancestors, to live well and help raise the new generations with care, and with the skills necessary to face peak oil, climate change, and the challenges they present us.  Duty to my vaettir, including the landvaettir with whom we will live upon, align and work, live with and build good relationships.  Duty to the Warrior Dead who gave Their lives so we could live, the Military Dead to honor Their sacrifices and to teach the future generations their stories so They are not forgotten, and the other vaettir with whom we share this world, that we may come into better alignment, and relation.

I have no illusion that I alone, or even a small community can stop climate change or peak oil, but we can address it within our spheres of influence.  My hope is that it inspires action in others, and ripples through the communities we touch and weave with.  At the least, the next generation we raise, inspire, and welcome will be better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, peak oil, and the challenges we have yet to see that will come from them.  At the most we can inspire and promote local resiliency and ties, a refocus of national action on these things, and perhaps worldwide change in how we address peak oil and climate change.  If nothing else, we will improve our small community’s lot while honoring and working in better concert with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this work.  I can think of no better reason to pursue these goals than that.

 

Part 1 of this series is here.

Part 2 of this series is here.

For other explorations of this topic, look here:

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

Where is the Ground?

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 2

December 17, 2015 9 comments

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.

FehuFehu 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:

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

Where is the Ground?

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 1

December 16, 2015 10 comments

“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:

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

Where is the Ground?

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