The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Reskilling for Sustainable Living: Ways to Learn New Skills December 27, 2014

Everyone, to some extent, is a product of their culture. Our culture’s formal education system teaches a set of skills that are claimed to be beneficial and practical for functioning in present society. Certain sets of skills are privileged, and others are simply not taught, and in some cases, skill sets that are deemed no longer relevant are lost from the collective knowledge of many communities and families. Unfortunately, many of the skills of the past that are needed to help us transition to a lower-carbon and lower-fossil fuel society have been lost as newer generations weren’t interested in learning them or because these skills are no longer part of any community or family educational system.  This is where the concept of reskilling can come in.

 

What is reskilling?

“Reskilling” is one of the terms that often comes up in the sustainability and permaculture communities. The concept of reskilling is simple–those of us wanting to get ahead of the curve and transition to low-fossil fuel, sustainable living, need broad sets of skills that aren’t typically taught in our education system nor are typically part of growing up in our present culture. Reskilling is really about gaining the skills to provide for our basic needs for ourselves, our families and our communities–the movement is concerned with skills that help feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, provide daily functional items for ourselves from local materials, entertain ourselves, deal with our waste, keel ourselves healthy, and keep ourselves sheltered and warm.  So we can think about reskilling as the process of gaining a set of skills for basic human life in a non-industralized or lower-fossil fuel setting–a setting that future generations and many of us today are heading toward. Typical reskilling may include a lot of the concepts discussed in this blog-natural building, homesteading, gardening, fermentation, herbalism, animal husbandry, candle making, and much more.

Animal Husbandry as an important skill

Animal Husbandry is an important skill

Why Reskill?

I think there are a lot of reasons people start reskilling, and I’ll give you a few of mine. Reskilling has been a really empowering thing for me for a few reasons. First,I found that each time I learn a new skill–from how to properly start seeds or rotate crops to how to deal with an egg-bound chicken or make my own medicines–I was stepping further away from modern industrial and consumerist society. This meant less dependence and financial support for practices/companies/lifestyles that I spiritually disagreed with.  Second, being able to provide some of my own needs, like food or medicine, also made me feel like I was doing something to face the problem directly rather than lamenting over what wasn’t being done by government, etc. Third, reskilling, while hard work, is fun and exciting–and has created a really fulfilling life full of activities and new interests.   Finally, reskilling allows people like me, who were heavily trained in a specialty, to adopt a more generalist mentality, and there is great benefit in such an approach.

 

Since my spiritual path is rooted in the living earth, I see reskilling not only as a sustainable practice, but as a sacred spiritual practice–the earth is honored, I live more sustainably, my needs are taken care of, I learn more about the land, and I live much closer to her rhythms and seasons.  This is a big part of my druidry, my sacred action.

 

Ok.  I’m sold on reskilling. What should I learn first?

I have found that it is important to learn one thing comfortably at a time–when you start trying to do to much, you risk frustrating yourself.  Start slow, read, talk to people, and find out what you are inspired to try.  Also find out what you can learn about in your area–who is around and willing to teach. One of the things you want to think about is if you want to specialize in one kind of skill extensively or learn a bit of everything. A typical community 150 years ago had certain activities that everyone did (e.g. the home cottage industry such as growing and preserving food, brewing, making home cheeses, churning butter, raising some chickens, etc) but then there were those that specialized, such as a blacksmith, wood carver, or herbalist.  You want to think about your interests and see where they develop.

Basket weaving as a sustainable skill

Basket weaving as a sustainable skill

 

How does one reskill?

There are many, many options for reskilling.  I think you’d be surprised the places and things that have things to teach you. It really depends to a large extent on what is in your area, how many like-minded people you have, and how you best learn.  The rest of this post presents ways you can reskill through multiple angles: history, firsthand learning,

 

History

History in its various forms have so much to teach us in terms of reskilling, becuase many skills we are learning when reskilling are skills of our past.  Here are three different kinds of histories that I’ve found are helpful to reskill.

 

1) Living Historical Events/Festivals: The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and other forms of reenactment (civil war, colonial, etc) offer one way to learn traditional skills. Some friends invited to me to their reenactment camp a few years ago, and I was really excited to see how many skills the reenactors were preserving and excited to teach. From these sources, I learned about soapmaking, weaving, spinning, flint knapping, blacksmithing, leatherworking, and more.  While these provided me with “glimpses”; I was able to be inspired, gain some basic instruction, and connect with others preserving these various skills.

 

2) Historical Villages. You can find various kinds of historical villages peppered around the country, and like the “living histories” above, there  There is a wonderful village called Old Bedford Village in Bedford, PA, where all sorts of old traditions are preserved–they have a full fledged print shop, an apothecary, a candlemaker, various woodworkers, a blacksmith, a potter, a tinsmith, and more.  Its an inspirational place and while there is limited hands on, you can learn a lot just studying the old tools and ways of living.  Even seeing a typical house in the colonial era (like where the hearth was placed, the cooking instruments, etc) gives me lots of ideas for reskilling.

 

7) Historical Study: Learning about your town’s and family’s local history serves as another theme for reskilling. Read family historical documents and journals, studyold maps, study what your town or city used to look like also give some hints as to life in centuries past–and the skills that people had.  If you are *really* lucky someone is still around who knows a lot about your town or your family and how people lived.

 

8) Historical shows. If you don’t have any access to the above, the other thing you might check out are a series of “living history” shows produced by the BBC.  These are shows such as “Victorian Farm,” “Edwardian Farm,” “Tudor Monastery Farm.” What I like about these shows is where historians live a year on the farm and practice all sorts of interesting skills.

 

Herbalism as a traditional skill

Herbalism as a traditional skill

Firsthand learning from others.

There is little substitute for learning firsthand.  Here are a few ways that one can learn:

 

1) Classes: Classes are a great way to learn many skills, and one of my preferred methods of reskilling. Since I started reskilling six years ago, I have taken all sorts of classes–natural building (round pole framing, rocket stoves), compost water heaters, rocket stoves, organic farming, winter organic farming, herbalism (year long), foraging, candlemaking, fermentation, mushroom foraging, livestock, and so much more.  These classes were found by reaching out to friends, looking to see what others were doing, and also looking on Local Harvest for classes there.

 

2) Apprenticeships: If you find someone who knows how to do something you really want to learn, consider asking to be their apprentice.  While this might be an old idea, its a really good one. Learning under someone who has a skill allows you to have a mentor, to aid them in their work, and to learn firsthand.  I can’t stress this enough.  I was lucky enough to serve as an organic farmer’s apprentice for a season, and there was no substitute for learning under her.

 

3) Friends: Friends may know all sorts of interesting things.  I learned how to make soap from two friends, and now already I’ve taught soapmaking to other friends.  Friends can learn different skills and then swap skills.  Learning a new skill with a friend is a wonderful experience!

 

4) Community Organizations : I’m lucky that in my area, we have a fantastic amount of organizations and groups that you can learn new skills from in my area. Everything from the Mother Earth News Faire (offered in three locations each year) to a more local events like Ann Arbor Reskilling and our own Oakland County Permaculture Meetup allows people to come together and share skills.  I should also say that if a community organization or group doesn’t exist–consider starting one–that’s what a group of friends and I did with our permaculture meetup, and its going on three years now and I’ve learned so much from everyone.

 

5) Reskilling Festivals: Reskilling festivals are becoming another great way to learn how to do various activities.  Some areas may have local reskilling fairs (there is one that takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about an hour fro where I currently live, for example).  There are also national reskilling fairs, perhaps the most well known being the Mother Earth News Fair.  Keep an eye out–they may not call themselves “reskilling” fairs, but if you take a look at the program and see things on there you want to learn, go for it!

Fermentation is a great skill!

Fermentation is a great skill to learn on one’s own!

Learning On One’s Own

Sometimes its best to learn just by doing or trying things out on your own–especially if you want to learn something and can’t find any classes or anyone else doing anything.

 

1) Videos, Blogs, Websites and Forums: There is so much good knowledge to be found on the web–Youtube Videos, websites, forums and blogs. I am always amazed at the amount of knowledge freely available out there just to learn. One of my favorite forums to learn is the permies forum; I’ve learned a lot from reading and more when I ask questions.  How-to stuff on the web, I have found, is generally quite useful and often is vetted by people through comments and responses.

 

2) Books and Magazines: I have saved my favorite way of learning to reskill for last–books! I am especially drawn to books from the 1970’s, as they have a wealth of really good information, great graphics, humor, and wit. From building my own solar cooker to solar greenhouses to organic farming, there are wonderful books out there on literally any reskilling subject. I like to collect books during the year, and then in the dark winter months, hole up in my home near the fireplace with a few good books and get ideas for the coming season. I created a list of some of my favorite books for homesteading (there are so many more I have yet to list!)

 

Reskilling as a Way of Life

What began growing my own food and investigating sustainable practices, I had no idea where the journey would take me. I am so grateful for the people who I have had the pleasure of learning from, from the awesome books I’ve read, the people on the web who have shared their knowledge, and those who have inspired me. Reskilling has become a passion of mine and really, has changed the way I live and work and I am so glad to be on this path!

 

Sustainability as Sacred Action January 12, 2014

The common bond that unites druids, and other earth-centered spiritual paths, is a deep respect and reverence for the living earth. We celebrate the turning wheel of the seasons, we revere the plants, and we speak to the forest spirits.  But what does having that connection with nature mean, and how can we deepen that connection into every aspect of our lives? How can we ensure our actions nourish, nurture and support in all ways?

 

Aster flower in late summer

Aster flower in late summer

For my own practice of druidry, building a more sustainable life and teaching others about sustainability and permaculture, is my cornerstone. Why? First, because the more deeply in tune with the natural world I’ve become through my druidic practices, the more I’ve realized that my own relationship with the land started out more passively damaging than actively nurturing.  How could I say I followed an earth-based path when I engaged in so many practices that were destructive—even  if I didn’t realize/intend they were destructive?  When I purchased products that supported companies actively damaging the land, harming my fellow humans, and so forth?  With this series of realizations, I began to radically shift my own life to align my daily life with my spiritual belief; this process is ongoing. For anyone who has been attempting to live more sustainably, the odds are stacked against us in a culture of consumption—but it is possible with knowledge, determination, and a community of support.

 

As druids, the land speaks to us in important and informative ways. The land of the two communities where I have spent the most time—South-East Michigan, where I live now, and Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, has much to teach us about the need for sustainable living. These connections helped shape my path.

 

In south-east Michigan, we are truly “on the front lines” of many of the energy and post-industrial challenges that we face in the world. These challenges include a declining industrialized society with dwindling resources, increased illiteracy and poverty in both rural and urban areas, rampant environmental destruction for cheap energy (such as fracking and oil pipelines), an automobile industry pushing in unsustainable directions, and local government structures that seem to hold the economy as sacred at the disregard of everything else. This situation has prompted many of us here to more carefully pay attention, to become informed, to learn from each other, and to ultimately begin to build communities that are more sustainable.

 

Nature's bounty - the crab apple!

Nature’s bounty – the crab apple!

In south-western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, the landscape tells another tale. In their exploration for coal and steel production, numerous companies built up an industry in the 1800’s and 1900’s. They dug up the land, put men in the ground, dug out the coal, shipped it to the cities, and used it to produce boatloads of steel.  Of course, these companies have long since left (and some are still in business in places like Mexico), the individuals profiting from them long ago passing on, taking their profits with them. As part of the mining process, the mining companies created mountain-sized “boney dumps” that still remain a century later.  The dumps, the same size as the Appalachian mountains that surround them, contain a lot of the materials that weren’t usable. These dumps, exposed to the elements, make their way into the waterways. .The land suffers from the runoff of these old boney dumps: nothing will grown on their toxic contents, which include mercury, sulfur, and many other heavy metals and toxins.  Many of the creeks in the area, which locals dub “sulfur creeks” are so polluted that no life can be found in them. Cancer rates are high, along with asthma, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases (all found in my family and in the families of everyone else I know).  Some of the streams are bright yellow and full of sulfur; others are a pale cloudy blue/gray—all are devoid of life.  And of course now, fracking also is taking place throughout Pennsylvania. It is just one more blow to the land that has been repeatedly logged, poisoned, and now, fracked.

 

Jewelweed for medicine

Jewelweed for medicine

Examining my own landscape as well as my own actions in a spiritual manner over time encouraged me to realize that every action, every choice, however small, could be done in a sacred, intentional manner. Each choice was sacred: from bringing my own bags to the grocery store to picking up “treasures” in my neighbors’ trash to use in a new way,  to offering land freely for friends to learn how to grow their own food. It wasn’t not just sacred when I walk into that forest and honor the spirits there using ritual—but its sacred when I am going to work, paying my bills, spending time with my family.  And how do I ensure that the forest will be there in the future? That it isn’t fracked, sold off, or developed? I started to realize that my offering, and my path, was how I lived my life, each day, and how I interacted with those around me.  Everything became a potential for sacred action.  We are facing increasingly difficult times, where the lands we love are under serious threat from so many forces–including from ourselves.  For me, finding ways of living the sacred of everyday, and finding ways of engaging in nurturing traditions has what has helped me begin to make this shift.

 

Ode to the Tree: The Importance of Trees and Human Health June 19, 2013

What’s the value of a tree?  What’s the value of a forest? I’ve explored these themes before, but I want to come back to this in light of some new research put out by the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. A group of researchers wanted to understand the relationship between human life and trees. To study this, they realized that they had a natural experiment, a close examination of before-and-after, concerning the Emerald Ash borer infestation in the Midwest/Eastern USA.

 

Ash tree honored as maypole

Ash tree honored as maypole

The Emerald Ash Borer came off a boat into Detroit (an international Harbor) in 2002. In the last 11 years, the Borer has destroyed Millions of trees in Michigan and has now spread to over 20 states, killing nearly every adult ash tree in its path. The Ash borer strikes by feasting on the inner bark of the ash, the tree starves to death and dies. Only trees of a certain size and bark thickness are effected, but the smallest trees aren’t able to produce seeds, so we are slowly seeing the extinction of ash trees in Michigan and other places.  I moved to the “epicenter” of this problem in 2009, and when I bought my house in 2010, found that every large ash tree was dead, and had been dead for a number of years (part of the way we honor these fallen trees is to use a dead ash tree as our maypole each year).

 

What these scientists did was to examine health-related factors and morality from the years prior to the EAB and after the EAB killed a bunch of trees.  This data is a bit stronger than a typical correlative study, the presence of EAB allowed for natural experimental conditions in ways that can’t just be accounted for by studying different geographical regions and comparing them (if this methodology discussion is over your head, don’t worry about it–the important thing to know is that this is a better study than most in terms of sound research practices).

 

These scientists found that more trees equaled fewer human deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses.  Considering the function that trees serve in the ecosystem, this makes a lot of sense.  As someone who suffers from respiratory illness myself (asthma), I am keenly aware of this data and what it means to health.

 

An ash tree is reminded how much she is loved

An ash tree is reminded how much she is loved

When we combine this study with recent reports that suggest that we are experiencing deforestation throughout the world, from our cities to our countryside to our rainforests, the above data can help us better understand consequences of deforestation and how less trees means less health for us.  Trees are necessary–critical even–to so much life on this planet, including our own.

 

When I think about how to reach an average person about the critical importance of protecting our natural resources, I realize that people who are not going to listen to spiritual arguments about the inherent value of life, the living spirit of the tree, and so forth.  But this kind of data really speaks to things that impact them and their families directly, so perhaps perhaps public health arguments will be useful.

 

The spiritual dimensions of such data also should not be discounted. It demonstrates how far our own well-being is determined by our larger relationship with nature.  It shows us the healing power of nature and the blessing that the forests provide.

 

A Philosophy of Druidry and Sustainability – Embracing Sustainability as Part of Earth-Centered Paths March 5, 2013

This month, I’ll have been walking a forest/druidic path for seven years. This experience includes founding a druid grove, being active in two druid orders, attending multiple druid and larger neo-pagan gatherings,

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

mentoring others, and so forth. And based on those experiences, I’ve come to see the importance of weaving in magical traditions with more practical action, of embracing sustainability and more earth-centered living as a fundamental part of my druid path. If sustainability is a goal of modern druidry, and if druidry seeks to embrace the idea of earth centeredness, then investigating the idea of being “deeply rooted in the living earth” and “embracing sustainability” is worthy of consideration.  In this post, I’ll talk about some of my own philosophy and experiences in making the shift towards sustainability with the hopes that this information can help others who want to make similar sustainable shifts also do so.

 

For druids, nature is the canvas on which we paint our spirituality. We layer mythology, experiences in the natural world, observations, and engage in esoteric practices that allow us to interact with the land. We revere nature, her spirits, her deities, and we enjoy nothing better than being out in wild spaces communing with nature. As part of this work, of course, druids think about these natural spaces–if the world is a sacred place, how do we conserve it? How do we preserve it?  The task seems so enormous, it can be overwhelming. Can we, as druids, become leaders of sustainability in our communities?  I would say, yes, we can, and we are already starting to do so.  We just need to keep pushing in this direction–and understand what resources we have and what areas we might draw upon to give us a better idea of how “embracing sustainability” can be done.

 

The druidic principles and philosophies, combined with more modern writings on the druid tradition published in the last 60 or so years, provide us an excellent grounding, especially from a spiritual side, to address sustainability.  Yet, we are still left wondering how to operate in the 21st century where we are facing a period unlike any other in human history: where environmental destruction is rampant, industrialization is declining, and humanity is largely turning a blind eye to the effects of our own greed. Where the power to make change, at least on a large-scale level, continues to be concentrated into the hands of those for whom change is not in their best economic interests. So how do we respond as druids? Where might we go for more information?

 

Tracing the roots of today’s Druidry reveals some powerful practices that can help us embrace a sustainability mindset, but also areas where we might need to go beyond our own history for additional guidance. Druidry, at least the Revival Druidry that I practice, draws its inspiration primarily from two sources: ancient Celtic traditions, mythology and teachings and the Druid Revival period in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Ancient Celts never faced the kinds of ecological challenges that we faced today, but they did live rooted in the land in ways that we can embrace. The Druid Revival, the second source of much druidic philosophy today, developed around the same time that industrialization did. The impact of the industrial revolution at the time had yet to be realized–and, I suspect, some of the reason that the druidic tradition grew in the first place was to build community and restore a connection to the land while in such an industrialized and challenging time.  Even so, when reading these early revival works (and the Druid Revival Reader is a great place to understand this history further) the Revival Druids’ primary emphasis was on the esoteric side, specifically in building and creating lodge practices.  These practices are powerful, they give us much in terms of working principles, philosophies, and ethics, but they don’t necessarily tell us directly how to live sustainable lives.  So we have roots of sustainability within these traditions, but not necessarily overt principles–this is where other movements can help guide our path.

 

Since druidry itself does not have an explicit tradition emphasizing sustainability, one way of embracing sustainability is to connect to other nature-based movements that clearly align with our principles and that can teach us the skills to become more sustainable.  And druids do this kind of work often–we draw upon many traditions to create our individual spiritual paths.

 

Some of these other sources of inspiration and tradition can be found in the permaculture and deep ecology movements.  I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about permaculture; when I read Gaia’s Garden: A Home-Scale Guide to Permaculture, I felt it was one of the most druidic books I had ever read. And it didn’t use the word “druid” once; it had no meditation, ritualistic, or other esoteric practices. But what it did resonated with me deeply.  It asked me to observe, to use patterns in nature, and to completely re-see my interaction with the world and to question every interaction with nature that I had (and these were things I was already doing in AODA druidry, just in a slightly different way).  This book, which I read about three years ago, radically shifted my worldview. Other principles, like Deep Ecology, can provide us an ethical frameworks for understanding the world paired with specific actions and techniques for making real change. Deep ecology includes principles like “re-earthing”, which asks us to expand our connection to nature and expand our own idea of identity to closely align with other life.  Philosophical principles, like those espoused by Blackstone’s Philosophy and the Environmental Crisis and other environmental philosophers can also give us some insight. The nice thing is that most of these principles completely align with druidry, but in this case, they are more closely linked to ecological action and present us new resources and ways of deepening our understanding of sustainability. I have found in my own practice that by aligning with these movements, I was able to bring the physical and the spiritual in harmony; I was able to develop a more complete philosophy of living, growing, interacting, and respecting our living world. I’ll be looking at some of these principles in more detail upcoming blog posts this year and continue to further articulate the embracing sustainability druidic philosophy that I am describing here.

 

Growing your own food as a sustainable practice!

Growing your own food as a sustainable practice!

Embracing sustainability as part of druidic practice is obviously compatible with the broader movement of druidry. When we think about common definitions of magic, and ways of working magic, one of the basic principles is that magical practices should also have a physical component. In my own emphasis on sustainable living, I’ve found that the real magic happens when we combine physical action with spiritual approaches.  If I’m doing some spiritual healing of the land, which I find myself often called to do, physical healing of the land in any capacity enriches that magical practice (and this might be something as simple as picking up garbage or throwing a few native seed balls into an abandoned lot).

 

To show how the shift to embracing sustainability can happen, I’ll use myself as a case study, to demonstrate my own evolution in thinking on these issues.  I became a druid about seven years ago.  I had lost my close friend, my Anam Cara, and I had a spiritual awakening and found druidry as part of my grieving process.  I joined the Ancient Order of Druids in America and began working through the 1st degree curriculum. As part of that curriculum, I was asked to make three lifestyle changes to minimize my impact on the living earth, to spend time each week in direct observation and meditation in nature, to celebrate the wheel of the year and the turning seasons, and so forth. I appreciated these connections, and I did these things joyfully. But my emphasis was on more esoteric and spiritual matters–divination, spiritual crafting, embracing the bardic arts, ritual work, etc.  Looking back, I feel like I gave sustainability lip service, I did my part to recycle, visit the farmer’s market, read about ecology, use public transportation and limit my trips, and yet I didn’t really embrace it as a life philosophy.  I was still firmly rooted within consumer culture, critical but not yet very active. The AODA 1st degree Curriculum began that awakening process, it planted the seeds, but it was up to me to continue to push forward.

 

As time passed, my spiritual senses awakened, and I started realizing that I could sense the dissonance between my lifestyle and my spiritual practices.  I could sense, physically and spiritually, the destruction of the land and the lack of respect. It was like I needed several years of incubation before really  coming to an understanding about what my druidry really meant, what my druidry really needed to be. Druidry became not a religion or spiritual practice that I did only once in a while but as something I lived EVERY minute of every day.  And when I made that shift,  I had to change my interaction with the world.  At that point, I worked slowly but determinedly (as permaculture emphasizes small, slow, sustainable solutions) to more fully integrate sustainability as a spiritual practice. This has lead me to radically shifting my eating, my daily living, my hobbies, and in co-founding a local permaculture group to build community and bring others together to share and grow. So for me, druidry, ultimately, is a “this is what I do” religion/spiritual path.  When people ask me about who I am as a druid, I talk about my actions and how they are in harmony with my beliefs.  I try to treat the earth as sacred through every one of my daily actions. I also believe that part of this path leads to reskilling,  spending time with others who are enacting sustainable practices,  learning all that I can,  and teaching anytime I am able.

 

How can we approach this seemingly enormous task of preserving the sacredness of all life and enacting druidry?  I would argue we can do so through embracing sustainability as both a philosophical orientation and a practice of direct action.So if embracing sustainability is something that you are building (or want to build into your own druidic or earth-centered spiritual path), there are a lot of resources out there to get you started. I’ve blogged extensively about sustainability on this blog, for example:  ten tips to get started reducing your impact on the planetbooks to read, ways of seeing/thinking, going localvore, six principles for local eating, and much more!  Meadows, Randers, and Meadows discuss in their closing of The Limits to Growth (30 year update), when they say that they are continually demoralized by trying to enact sustainable change at the national and international levels, but always energized by what was occurring a the local level in smaller communities. (For readers interested in this phenomenon,  John Michael Greer had a great explanation of the governance issues with the disconnect between national decision makers and local community empowerment last month in his Archdruid Report Blog). In fact, I would recommend any of John Michael Greer’s books on peak oil (such as the Long Descent) to educate yourself further on these issues.

 

I’d like to conclude with some questions that might aid us in considering the role of sustainability more fully in druidry.  Can we, as druids, put the preserving of wild spaces at the forefront of our efforts?  Can we, as druids, engage in more substantial discussions about  to minimize our impact on the planet?  Is sustainability one of our core values of druidry?   Should it be?  I think for many it is, but I also wonder if we can do more–if we can embed sustainability more fully into our training program/druid order curricula, if we can more fully discuss it at our gatherings, if we make it a strong presence in our groves, and and if we can have more discussions of sustainability in our blogs and online interactions.

 

Sustainability and change isn’t just about the big events, the government structures, the online petitions. Sustainability is about about each and every action we take, each decision we make, and how we integrate sustainable practices into our daily lives in ways that are meaningful, powerful, and spiritually significant.

 

Druidry and the Art of Sustainable, Meaningful Offerings October 21, 2012

In druidry and in other earth-centered religions, its customary to make offerings to spirits, the ancestors, guides, outsiders, etc.  We usually do this as part of ritual or solitary practice. Recently, the issue of what to use as offerings came up in a discussion in one of my druid groups, and I’d like to spend some time thinking about this practice and its connection to sustainability and earth-centered living.

 

Why offerings? Offerings are usually made in honor of deities, ancestors, spirit guides, spirits of the land, the earth mother herself, etc.  I often leave small offerings on natural altars that I maintain, as well as use them at the start of rituals to show gratitude and thanks. A simple offering might be a plate of cakes left to honor the land for a bountiful harvest, a handful of seeds cast out of a sacred space to keep the outsiders outside, or wine poured onto the fire. Offerings that druids and other earth-centered/pagan practitioners provide vary widely, but commonly you see wine, mead, apples, tobacco, honey, baked goods, silver coins, herbal blends, and so forth.

 

Amaranth is a wonderful offering!

Amaranth is a wonderful offering!

Where does that offering come from?  I think that *what* the offering consists of is usually given a lot of thought in our practices. You can Google information on offerings, or read any earth-based or pagan-focused book, and they all talk about the appropriateness of various offerings.  The problem with this approach is that it often ignores the system from which that offering comes. I’d like to propose that, if we want to encourage a sustainable mindest, then druids and other earth-centered practitioners might also want to think carefully about *where* their offerings come from.  If we are offering that comes out of the general polluting consumerist system, that offering will reflect polluting/consumerist energy, regardless of what intention that you put into offering it.

 

Take, for example, the humble bottle of wine you pick up at the supermarket for your next ritual. The supermarket bottle of ritual wine has three potential issues associated with it.

 

1) The physical production and transport of the simple bottle of ritual wine has a network of various energies, resources, and pollution tied up in it.  Where does the wine come from?  Who produced it?  How were the grapes grown and processed? How many pesticides were used?  How far did it have to travel and how many fossil fuels were burnt on that trip?  Chances are, that supermarket bottle of wine is part of the larger consumptive system and has damaged the planet in some way (from pesticide use to the CO2 and other chemicals emitted with its transport). Is this the offering you want to make to the spirit realm?

 

2) The spiritual energies associated with the supermarket bottle of wine.  How many other people handled it before you? What other energies might be present? How do those energies interfere with your intentions? Again, is this the offering you want to be making to the spirit realm?

 

3) The final issue is internal to you–your intentions and energy expended in getting the offering.  By doing something so effortless as grabbing a wine off the shelf, paying for it, and uncorking it for your offering, is this really an offering?  What exactly is an offering? An offering should be meaningful, it should demonstrate your commitment and sincerity.  The effort involved in purchasing something is quite minimal. Is this what you want to be conveying to the spirit realm?

 

I think that for those of us who have lived our whole lives in consumerist society, going to the store and purchasing a bottle of wine doesn’t really seem like an issue.  Its something we don’t even think about–we need an offering, so we go buy one.  But not thinking about these issues is exactly what has gotten us into our current unsustainable situation.  Instead, I propose that we put more thought and effort into what we use as an offering.

 

Sustainable, Meaningful Offerings

To address the three problematic areas above, I’d like to propose two solutions: making earth-centered offerings and offering lifestyle changes instead of physical goods.

 

Sunflowers can be offered fresh or dried! Offer the whole head.

Making earth-centered offerings.  Rather than purchasing offerings, I’d like to suggest that you can grow your own offerings or gathering them from natural spaces (recognizing and respecting any rules about gathering from state parks, of course).  Naturally grown, earth centered offerings have the benefit of being something that wildlife will likely eat as well as not being part of the damaging, consumptive system that is slowly killing the non-human life on this planet.  Everyone has the ability to gather, even if you have no space to grow.

 

You’d be surprised what you can grow and/or gather.  Seeds and nuts are wonderful choices for growing or gathering, and they store quite well. I grow my own sunflowers, amaranth, broom corn, as well as collect acorns, walnuts, and other assorted nuts; many of these become offerings. A squirrel is sure to appreciate some black walnut, hickory, or acorns left on a Yule or Imbloc altar! I also occasionally make my own cakes with something I’ve grown or gathered–acorn flour, sunflower seeds, etc.  For the cakes, I also have purchased rye and wheat from local farmers who are engaging in sustainable practices, since I don’t have the space to grow much of that here on my small property. The intention and the energy that goes into growing or gathering something will really be appreciated in the spirit realm!

 

For offerings that I plan on casting into the fire, I make it a point to create an all-local, sustainable fire blend.  When we prune our cedars, I dry out the branches and needles (which make wonderful cracking and popping when you throw them into the fire.   I also collect and dry juniper berries, rose hips, and sap from conifers on our property that has dripped and dried. Pine needles and pine cones are added to the blend and the result is a wonderfully smelling and quick burning offering. I mixed this up in a big bucket a few years ago and gave some to my grove members in a small cloth bag.

 

I’ve also offered handfuls of composted manure to the spirits of the land.   For this, I went and got the manure from local herds of alpacas or horses, composted it down, and then offered it in thanks.  This was a really nice “harvest” offering to our land for the bountiful season. This offering is quite amazing because it directly provides fertile soil for the land in which to grow.

 

If you have space, you can also make permanent kinds of offerings–planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that will aid wildlife and tending them till they are grown.  For this purpose, I’ve planted service berry, a butterfly/bee garden, and engage in other permaculture-based practices.  Just make sure your offerings are native and fit the landscape if they are going to be left :).

 

Your own lifestyle as an offering. The second thing I’d like to propose is that offerings don’t have to be physical.  They can be lifestyle changes.  Consider, for example, the impact you’d make if each year, as part of your spiritual path, you committed to engaging in one more earth-centered practice.  This could be something quite simple, from starting a recycling program in your office to serving as a volunteer in your community on environmental projects.  Earth-centered offerings might also be participating in a backyard wildlife project where you aid scientists in tracking the migration of species to something more radical, like committing to grow 50% of your food for the year.  Each time you do this, you offer more than just a physical object–you offer your time and energy to improving and preserving the world.  What greater offering can there be?