Tag Archives: elements

Paganism for the planet

How planet friendly is your life?

What is there that you do, or own, that you know isn’t sustainable? If those things are a consequence of your wealth and privilege, what stories are you telling yourself to keep on with them?

How hard would it be to make changes? What would it cost you in terms of time, energy, and resources?

If you have a Pagan practice, consider making changes as offerings. If you are the sort of person to make offerings in rituals, or at altars, consider what you give. Does the planet need you to burn incense? Do the Gods really want your cut flowers? The effort and personal cost of living in a more environmentally friendly way might be a much more powerful thing to offer up.

If you can’t give something up entirely, try cutting back. Dedicate a day in the week to this, perhaps.

Try giving up the things that are a barrier to experiencing the real world first hand. Planes and cars are obvious examples. Walking and cycling will bring you into stronger relationship with the natural world. If you can’t be mobile in this way, look for the least power intensive way of getting about.

Consider what you put into the water, and what is done to the soil on your behalf. Consider what is burned for you, and what you put into the air. Change your relationship with the elements by treating them with greater care. Try dedicating to care for them when you next honour them in ritual.

Giving things up can be hard. It can feel difficult and challenging. You may find that easier if you take it on as an act of spiritual dedication instead. Every time you give something up, you are reducing the harm you do. Reframe your sacrifice, and it might look a good deal more attractive.

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Wild water

I am deeply attracted to natural water. Given the slightest chance and I’ll get in it, even if just to paddle my toes. I’ve swum in the sea and in lakes. In recent weeks I’ve pottered in a stream, looking for archaeology, and swum in an outside pool. The last one was an interesting mix – the predictable man-made surfaces and absence of currents, coupled with the very real cold of swimming outside, and some totally unpredictable weather.

I can’t say it’s really a sensual attraction to water, because wild water in the UK is simply bloody cold and rare are the days hot enough for that to seem pleasant. Arguments may be made about whether I am just slightly masochistic, but for those of you beyond England’s murky shores, this is pretty much how you have to be round here if you want to do stuff outside more than three days in a year. My impression is that Wales and Scotland are, if anything, worse.

It’s an emotional attraction to water. I suppose that makes sense if you consider water to be the element of emotion in the first place. I have strong emotional associations with all of the elements, because this is how I relate to the world. I get some of that emotional impact from showers, bath tubs and indoor pools. Some days having running water from the tap over my hands is enough to do it. Water does something to me, something healing, releasing, liberating, reassuring.

As a child this was a particularly interesting dynamic for me, because I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, and of getting into situations that could kill me. I learned caution, but alongside that, the attraction was just as powerful then as it is now. I would go right up to the edge, dangle fingers, and if possible, dabble feet. We tended to do family holidays early in the year, and if all else failed I would get in the sea in my wellies, while trying to make sure the sea did not get in my wellies, because that was at least closer.

Being a confident swimmer now, and much more certain of my ability to make safety judgments around water, I am perhaps more of a child than I was when a child. I get in.

 

 


Grey water experiments

It bothers me enormously that we use drinkable water to flush toilets. Granted, the last winter was a very wet one, and extensive flooding can make it feel like water shortage is no issue… but all the water we use comes from somewhere. Whether depleting underground reserves or emptying rivers, human water consumption has a big impact on aquatic life. Our amphibians are not thriving. We hardly return water in decent condition, either. Loaded with poisonous chemicals, alongside all our more regular waste, and having been treated with chlorine, it has to be cleaned up before it can be re-released into the wild.

As Pagans we might honour water as one of the four elements, we might speak in ritual of the place water has in mythology. Our ancestors held rivers sacred, associating deities with them – because water was, and is, essential for life. If we don’t back that up by treating water respectfully in our day to day lives, it rather defeats the object. So what is to be done about the toilet?

I don’t have the option of replacing it with an earth closet – I live in a flat. I can cut down use with the old maxim of “if its yellow, let it mellow, if it’s a poo, flush it through.”

At the same time, used water from other activities is poured down the sink. So I’m throwing away already dirty water so that I can use clean water to flush away shit. A while back I started exploring possible alternatives. I have a 5 litre water bottle with handle, sourced for a different project that had now run its course. I have a cut off bottle top that makes a good funnel, and I started reclaiming used water to see what could be re-used for flushing the toilet. Here are my results.

Vegetable water doesn’t work because it can undertake to ferment surprisingly quickly, and gets smelly in hot weather. It can however be left to cool and used to feed and water plants – so long as you cook without salt.

Washing up water is too greasy and also can ferment and smell funny, and left an odd residue in the water bottle. Unless you can go straight from sink to toilet with no pauses, this seems not to be a good idea.

Shower water is tricky to collect. However, taking my water bottle with me into the shower I regularly harvest enough re-usable water to be able to rinse the bathtub out afterwards, which is a small win.

Water used when sterilizing bottles, jars, demijohns etc reuses very well.

Laundry water turns out to be the best. I’m handwashing, so it’s not difficult to put a water extraction stage into the process. Laundry water is stable, does not ferment, and tends to be a little bit soapy, which works well when flushing the toilet. Handwashing uses a lot less water than a machine would, but I can typically extract enough water for two flushes from each laundry load. That might seem small, but an efficient toilet uses about 5 litres a flush – as I do. So that’s ten litres a washing load. Just assuming I do one laundry load a week, over a year I’ve cut my water use by 520 litres. With two loads a week it would be 1400 litres. That’s a lot of water.


Welcome to our circle

In Druid rituals, and other Pagan gatherings, we tend to start by inviting other beings in. The powers of the four directions, the three worlds, the spirits of place, ancestors, perhaps our gods. “Hail and welcome” we call out in cheerful unison. I gather other traditions will summon the guardians of the watchtowers and call to other things, welcoming them in or demanding their presence.
I am increasingly uneasy about this.

The elements exist. Earth, air, fire and water are present in this world in any habitable place where you might realistically try and have a ritual. Spirits of place, by their very nature are that which exists in a place. Our ancestors we bring with us, in our DNA. None of these things are absent when we start a ritual. Maybe the gods are absent, but that’s a whole other conversation about the nature of deity that I’d like to skip over for now.

When we walk into a space to do ritual, everything else is already there. We are the incomers. We are the oblivious ones who need to open our awareness, to actually think about the earth beneath our feet and the sky above our heads. What we do when we call to the spirits of place is not, in any real sense, invite them to join us. They were there already. It is their place. What we actually need to be doing, is opening ourselves to being more aware of everything that is not us, and that is not part of our more mundane concerns.

Nature is always with us, in the air we breathe, the materials we use. No matter how deeply we go into human constructs, every last thing humans make, has been constructed from the natural world. We are never away from nature. What we frequently are, is oblivious to it. Therefore when we enter a ritual space, asking nature to show up is utterly ridiculous. What we need to be doing is shifting our own perceptions, and to do that, we need a completely different ritual language.

Modern Paganism has, to a large extent, grown out of magical organisations where the point was very much to try and conjure and control. We’re inherited habits of language and speech from those traditions, and we use them without really looking at what they mean, how they position us in relation to the natural world, and whether they are of much use.

You do not need to summon the spirits of the earth. The earth is there, underneath you, every step of the way. All you need to do is become aware of it. The air is with you, in every breath drawn. The fire of the sun drives all life upon this earth. There is water in your own body, and usually in everything around you, too. These things exist, they do not need summoning. If you postulate ‘spirits of the earth’ as something not universally present in the earth but coming from ‘away’ and needing raising up, make sure at least that you understand how your cosmology works, and why you think the important bits of nature are somewhere else and not immediately available to you. I am suspicious of that thought form, too, it encourages us not to see this world as inherently magical, inherently sacred, but to imagine all spiritual stuff is ‘away’.

Not recognising what is here, in this earth, this air, underpins a lot of human abuses. We need to take the land beneath our feet a lot more seriously as a species, and we would benefit from doing that in our rituals, too.


Elements and Harmony

Quite a lot of Druids work with the idea of four elements, corresponding to four directions in ritual. These can also be correlated with aspects of the self. Understandings may vary, but I was given… Earth/North/body, Air/East/mind, Fire/South/energy and Water/West/emotion. Honouring the four directions in ritual encourages us to look not only at the human aspect, but how each element is present within us.

Most of us will have more of some elements and less of others. I am both fearful of fire, and someone who struggles with energy levels. I’m not bipolar, but I do oscillate between intense energy highs and fatigue. Some of this is due to my lack of ability, and often my unwillingness, to manage my energy. I’ll run hard to get something done, and then fall over. But, at least I know. I don’t have a great relationship with my body, either, so there I am on that north-south axis, knowing I have a lot of work to do.

I’m much stronger on the east-west axis and this is also where I prefer to be in ritual. Air and water. River and sky. I’m a thinking person and also deeply emotional and there’s never been any conflict between the two for me. This is where I am at my most comfortable and confident.

After a bit of consideration, anyone can figure out where in that circle of correspondences, they most naturally sit, and where some attention may be needed. Druidry does not demand that we are all balanced in the same way, but it does pay to understand what kind of person you are, and where your life may need attention. The things we do not want to tackle are often the ones we most need to sort out.

As well as those cardinal points and their opposites, we can think about transitions. North East is where air and earth meet. A hilltop perhaps? The physical structure of the central nervous system. South East is air and fire. Well, you can’t have much of a fire without air. Mind and energy. I might place awen here. South west, fire and water. That may extinguish, but it also means steam, steamy. Emotion and energy. Sex, for me, lives in the south west. (Coincidentally, I live in the south west of the UK.) North west, water and land, this is the mud of the river’s edge. Emotion and body, this is the chemical process of oxytocin and endorphin and all those other glands and chemicals making my emotions flow.

You may have a different story to tell, tapping into whatever language or imagery you find resonant. There’s no ultimate right answer to making correspondences, just a case of mapping experience onto an idea to see if anything useful pops out.
The circle of correspondence also shows us that no aspect of the self is separate from any other. No aspect of the world is separate. All are part of bigger systems, each whole can be diminished into parts if that helps us understand it better.


Novice Again

I’m very much a lifelong learning person. Learning new things, new ideas and new skills is a source of joy to me and I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop. Unshockingly, given the whole Druid thing, I find it a cyclical process. I discover something, I study, explore, practice, I get better at it. I start to feel that I can do the thing passably well. Then I see something else that makes me realise how little I know, and I find myself feeling that I am starting at the beginning again. Occasionally this is frustrating and depression, but most often it’s an exciting experience.

I’ve gone back and relearned how to breathe, repeatedly. Learning to breathe underpins all kinds of voice work, meditation, physical activities. Each time I learn, I go somewhere new, I make a kind of progress around my spirals. I go through it with music too, pausing to break down my techniques as I try to tighten up on some aspect of how I play. Working with voice and bouzouki, I had to go back and learn how to breathe again. Circles within circles. I never did get the hang of breathing, singing and drumming all at the same time, though.

When I started out learning Druidry, I studied correspondences, ideas about circles and elements and pretty much anything anyone pointed me at. I worked very hard to learn. Then somewhere along the way I grasped that Druidry is not wholly an intellectual thing you can get out of books, and that I needed to change my doing. I was outside a lot, but I had to do a relearn to bring Druid ideas to my time amongst trees, and then further relearning as I started to question and challenge the book learning. Particularly, having studied the wheel of the year, I then totally questioned the whole thing and wanted to move away from year narratives. Now I’m feeling a desire to look at that again, to go back to the fundamental cycling of moons and seasons, and think about my own year shapes.

I’m currently reading Dorothy Abrams’ Identity and the Quartered Circle. This is a book about fundamentals, and its making me go over my own practice and beliefs again, thinking about what I do, and how, and why. It’s a witchcraft book, and I’ve never seen myself as that kind of magical practitioner, but there are things that could stand a rethink. It may be time to go back to the beginning again and re-walk the spiral paths of Druidry.

I also find myself a novice in being a person. I don’t know who I am. That’s actually exciting, because it allows so much room for change and growth. I’m recognising things that have been put on me from outside, and shaking them off, but I don’t know who I am without them. Who would I be if I did not start from the assumption that I’m undeserving and useless? How would I behave? What would I be able to do that is currently unavailable? How would I feel? A fledgling in old skin, trying to work out if these are wings, or flippers or what, and flapping, and wondering if I belong in air, or water, of where… metaphorically speaking.

With anything, at any time, it is possible to rededicate, go back to the beginning and try to relearn. Obviously the things we have already learned go with us, either helping us to learn more deeply, or in the form of things we must first unlearn. We can always make the conscious decision to be a novice again, to reject what we thought we knew, or to reinvent it. There’s a letting go of self importance around choosing to be a novice. Sometimes I find it hard to admit that I do not know, or that what I have learned is wrong. Attitudes to myself and my body, I am having to relearn. Attitudes to how to interact peaceably, what to tolerate, what to resist – a work in progress. Admitting you don’t know is a tremendously liberating experience. It opens the door to learning.
Every morning is an opportunity to go out there and become something new. Again.