Nature Awareness

I wrote this today. I’m not sure it’s quite right for the DP documentation, but I think it’s a nice essay and I thought I’d share it here. Thoughts, those of you who have finished? Will this work?

Intimate awareness of nature follows naturally from a religious practice that venerates nature, and respect for the spirits that share our world arises from that awareness.

But action is easier said than done, I think. It’s easy to feel respect, but it’s an entirely different thing to make that respect tangible. Sometimes making sustainable choices is hard, and I know: I chose not to replace my car when it was totaled in 2010. Still, I found that after joining ADF and becoming truly aware of the spirits surrounding me, I felt a desire to change some of my actions to make less of an impact on the world I live in. I also felt a keen interest in learning about the lands I’ve called home in the past two years.

While I’m tempted to jump into the, “I’ve done this and that,” inventory of my accomplishments, it seems appropriate to begin at the beginning. For as long as I can remember, much of my creativity has come from the world around me. I sat, as a child, on the banks and in the caves along the Roaring River in the Ozarks of Missouri, and imagined unicorns and elves in the woods lining like sentinels the river’s the rocky banks. Long before I ever even thought about religion, I loved the land I loved in. The Ozarks were my heart’s home.

I’ve moved a lot since then, living in seven states and on two continents, and when I began the Dedicant Path, I lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. I drove home through the pink-tinted badlands and stopped in silence to revere the Rio Grande and Santa Cruz Rivers. In rural New Mexico, nature rules: we were subject to the elements in a way I never had been before, driving over washed-out roads and watching the diverted river run through the acequia literally right under our doorstep. In early 2011, though, we moved back to yet another place I called home: Bloomington, Indiana, in the midst of the hardwood forests on the limestone karst deposits of southern Indiana.

Upon moving back here in May 2011, I wrote the following:

Throughout my childhood, through college and the last few years, when I’ve lived in four different states in four years, Indiana has been the constant, the one place I came back to almost every year. My older brother is buried here. It has, somehow, become home.

I can feel the very land refreshing me. Perhaps it’s because I’m an open pagan now, but I’m very aware of the land spirits and the spirit of the land. Returning here is returning to my roots. It’s like homecooking, the recipes your mother made and your grandmother made: you can live without it, but life lacks a certain richness and comfort. I feel my spirit drawing strength from the tall, straight trees, the greenery, the little streams, the rolling hills. I am at peace again.

That’s all pretty ethereal, though, so perhaps I should describe something practical. I love and have loved the Earth, and it was time to make some decisions to make Her life easier.

After starting the Dedicant Path, I evaluated many of my choices. At first we couldn’t afford to replace my car, but as I considered it, I decided I could afford not to replace it. I work from home and my husband visits the office only three days a week: a second car is an unnecessary luxury, one that would pollute the earth merely by resting upon it. The second realization I made involved my monthly cycle—I truly hope I’m not “TMI-ing” my reviewer right now, but I started to think of the vast piles of plastic tampon applicators that litter the beaches of our planet, and I quickly switched to a reusable method of menstrual maintenance.

The final decision I made was a more definitive lifestyle choice, and one that has proved more difficult than the car or the menstrual difficulties: I became a vegetarian. While the choice was, for me, mostly an ethical one (I don’t want to eat another living being), the effects of factory farming on our environment played a role. I have no desire to eat another mammal, for example, but the raising of the mammals that fed me probably did more damage to the environment than my underused car ever did. It’s been rough, and my omnivore husband (who has digestive issues) and I have had a few rows about what to cook and how to cook, but I feel happier and healthier for living purely off vegetable life.

I’ve also made a few smaller lifestyle choices: cooking with cast iron instead of nonstick cookware; switching to more natural, homemade cleaning chemicals, shampoo, and conditioner; making an effort to by local and organic foods. I am a member of our local co-op grocery store, and, though I live in an apartment I’m even growing a few of my own vegetables this year. I am trying to make my footprint smaller. I would still like to make a number of changes, though. We don’t recycle, for instance, because we don’t have the space or the facilities at our apartment complex. I’d also like to find a more sustainable method of birth control, since science has shown that I’m leaching hormones into the water supply. I would also like to grow still more of our vegetables and even expand my container garden to include some cold-weather crops.

Finally, to return to my spiritual life, I’m trying to learn the land I call home. I’ve learned that our water comes from the White and Jordan rivers and that our lakes are reservoirs, not natural features. I’m learning the trees of the area, and while I miss the aspens of New Mexico and the eucalyptus of California (which, while non-native, is everywhere and speaks to me of the land), I love the sycamores that adorn our land with their white mottled bark and golden autumn leaves. The hardwood forests speak to me of woods that will long outlive me, and I take comfort in their upward-reflection of the bones of the earth. My grove does much to honor the Earth Mother, more, I’m told, than many groves do, and that practice has trickled into my home practice: my representation of the Earth Mother never leaves the main surface of my altar.

Holey Stones

I went hiking with a friend and her three-year-old son on Sunday. We got out of the car and had one of those half-conversations friends can have.

“Look at all the lovely rocks in the creekbed,” I said. (I wish I’d had my camera!)

“Yes—maybe—I really want to find—” my friend began.

“One of those holey stones!” I finished.

“Yes!”

“I’ve been hoping to find one too!”

And boy did we ever find some. Here’s my half of the haul:

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We live in a very special place, and I’m not just speaking figuratively, or referring to what some people call the enchanted forests of southern Indiana. We do have extensive hardwood forests here, but we also live on a significant karst plain—this area is unique literally from the ground up. You can take a walk and pick up geodes from the dirt. All those in the photo, I found exactly as they are, though I suspect some “good Samaritan” had come along and broken a few of them before I arrived.

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As you can see, I’ve already strung one of my holey stones and have been wearing it.

But why, you ask?

Well, common folklore says that naturally drilled stones, called hag stones, fairy stones, witch stones, adder stones, or just plain old holey stones, are protective and even healing objects.

Stones with naturally occurring holes produced by erosion, wind or wave action, sea creatures, and by other means have long been prized as protective objects.

There are numerous folk uses for these stones. They were hung on the bedpost to prevent nightmares. In England, holey stones were tied with red ribbon and hung over the bed for the same purpose within recent years…

As a magical protectant, holey stones were worn around the neck, placed in the house, or hung from the front door (Cunningham 119).

My friend said that if you look through one, you can see fairies, and that must be a fairly common folk myth—the internet is rife with it—but I have yet to find a source. This particular magical trait was the first one my friend mentioned, so I believe it must be local folklore. Cunningham also says that if you look through the stone under the right conditions, you will see visions of the future (120).

Other lore says you can look through it to improve eyesight (Cunningham 120) or use it to draw out sickness or absorb pain (Eason 129). Although the healing properties are arguable at best, like any magical working, I’m sure the intent does as much to dispel the negativity as the stone itself.

The Goddess/feminine-accordance and fertility aspects of the stone are maybe obvious (a hole?), but that’s the first aspect that comes to mind for me: an association with femininity and the Earth Mother herself. The stone represents both the strength of the earth and the power of the water, which alters but does not destroy the stone. It is a product of two elements, which, working against each other, have created a unique and fascinating object.

But, to me, the most interesting aspect is the liminality of the stone. “They were considered a gateway to other dimensions and large (stones) were set near the entrance of Neolithic burial chambers to bring rebirth or easy passage to the Otherworld” (Eason 129).  If we can see the fairies through the stone, and it protects us from nightmares, and it can show us the future, and it demonstrates both the power and the weakness of the Earth, by its nature, it demonstrates aspects of dual existence in both this world and the Otherworld.

And anything that brings me a connection to the other realms is welcome to take a place in my home.

I have big plans for the stones: I have two more I intend to string, though I feel quite attached to the one I’ve been wearing, and I will place additional stones on my fairy altar and on my general altar.

The geodes, though, are a topic for another blog post.

Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic. 2nd ed. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2002.

Easson, Cassandra. The Complete Crystal Handbook. New York: Sterling, 2010.

Patio Pagan

I’ve been thinking a more appropriate title for this poor, neglected blog would be “Patio Pagan” these days. I’ve been frightfully busy and fighting off a sinus infection to boot, but I’ve been spending hours working on my patio garden.

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but it’s coming along. My balcony faces south/southwest, so we get sun on it from about noon until sunset… perfect for growing some medicinal herbs and, yes, a tomato plant!

So what do you see there? Left to right it’s a tomato plant, my lilac bush (planted last year), basil, a tea rose given to me for my bridal shower, chives, lavender behind the chives, a window box with two types of mint, and another lavender. In the foreground you can see my “upcycled” planters made from cups delivered with pizza; the draining tray is an old kitty litter box. The cup-planters contain green onion, thyme, and (somehow–oops!) more lavender. The little box closest to the camera contains borage, hollyhocks, and violets sprouting from seeds. I still have chamomile to plant, and I’d like to get a few more herbs and vegetables.

I’ve gone a little nuts with it, but it’s really helping me connect with nature this spring. I can’t have a house anytime soon, so I’m trying very hard to bring nature in closer to me. I even find myself greeting each new sprout and just spending time with the plants. There’s not an altar out there, but the entire little garden is my altar to nature.

Now if only I could figure out how to hang a bird feeder…

Show-and-Tell Monday

It’s late, but it is Monday, after all, and that means it’s show and tell day!

Today’s photo comes to you courtesy of… my phone!

Stream

This is the little stream in the forest near my home. There’s a flat white rock that extends a little bit out into the water, which I like to sit on and study the forest as part of my nature awareness training. I think most of the water in this stream is stormwater runoff, but there’s a fairly steady amount of water moving through it at all times. It gets vicious sometimes, this little stream, after heavy storms, and right now there’s a trail-marker post in it, carried downhill by floodwaters.

This is a slightly frivolous post in the midst of the many “How do we–or do we–define ourselves as Pagans?” posts out there. In some ways, it’s right, though, and expressive of my opinion on the subject. Sometimes we just are what we are, whether we like it or not. This stream is composed mostly of runoff, and it probably ends in a retention pond. Despite that, though, it’s fearsome and winsome and many other -somes in between.

Whether we like it or not, to much of the world, including some of ourselves, we are Pagans. Do I think of myself as Pagan? Sure. Is that good? I’m not sure. Is it bad? I don’t think so. Why not own what we are, or at least what we’re called, and flow into the ocean (or the retention pond, whichever the case may be) with grace and power? Here’s a quote from Anne of Avonlea, which I think speaks to the issue:

“I think her parents gave her the only right and fitting name that could possibly be given her,” said Anne. “If they had been so blind as to name her Elizabeth or Nellie or Muriel she must have been called Lavendar just the same, I think. It’s so suggestive of sweetness and old-fashioned graces and ‘silk attire.’ Now, my name just smacks of bread and butter, patchwork and chores.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Diana. “Anne seems to me real stately and like a queen. But I’d like Kerrenhappuch if it happened to be your name. I think people make their names nice or ugly just by what they are themselves. I can’t bear Josie or Gertie for names now but before I knew the Pye girls I thought them real pretty.”

“That’s a lovely idea, Diana,” said Anne enthusiastically. “Living so that you beautify your name, even if it wasn’t beautiful to begin with… making it stand in people’s thoughts for something so lovely and pleasant that they never think of it by itself. Thank you, Diana.”

Yep, I just quoted Anne of Green Gables. Some may quote philosophers, others may quote sacred texts… I quote novels, be they childrens’ books or great literature. Why? Because I take wisdom where I find it.

Let’s beautify our names, shall we? Even if we can’t agree what it means or even who it means, let’s agree that it stands for something good.

Nature Comes to Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about nature and the nature spirits lately.

A male house finch lives very near my apartment. He sits on the rail of our balcony and sings his heart out for long stretches of the day. He’s a tiny fellow, with a cheerful red breast and bright eyes, and he fills my home with music, for which I am grateful.

Today he brought his lady-friend to our porch, where she hopped around investigating all of my plants. I think she was looking for something to eat, but sadly I had nothing to offer today… Next time they visit, hopefully I will. I would like to encourage their residence at my apartment and see if I can persuade one of them to build a nest here next spring. In spite of my efforts to find it, I’m not sure where their current nest is, but I hope it’s safely away from the highway.

There’s a lot of discussion about “urban druidry” out there, a lot of concern about practicing nature awareness when you live in an urban environment, but I’m beginning to see how unfounded so many of those fears are. It’s easy enough to turn your apartment’s outdoor space into a bower, even if it is a little balcony overlooking a highway like mine. Simply by virtue of four plants on my balcony, it’s already the chosen haven of some neighborhood birds.

It’s a matter of observation, too. If you look you will find. On a recent run, I spotted an indigo bunting flying in the trees, like a tiny rogue speck of sky darting from limb to limb. A baby rabbit fled my steps on a path. A butterfly lit on my shoulder.

I’m lucky to have a forest so near my home… but then, we’re all lucky to have nature in our lives, no matter how small a piece it is. Respect your potted herbs, treasure the trees lining the streets near your home. As we offer life to them, they offer life to us.