Wordless Wednesday: Tree of Life

December 19, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Tree of Life, by Xavier Xael Girard


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Directional Invocations, Palouse Style

December 17, 2012 by Categorized: Earthly Rites.

This last week, along with Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse‘s new minister and  the Green Sanctuary Committee, I’ve been busy devising a Winter Solstice Celebration. It has been a few years since our church has hosted such a celebration. The last time was an attempted fusion of religious naturalist sensibility with neopagan structure with an injection of local ecological awareness.

Warm Winter Sun Bath from Wikimedia Commons

This year, the minister is taking the lead with a focus on the darkness and with children participating to “return the light.” The service will be more universalist in approach and should prove to be a new experience for anyone who has attended our past Winter Solstice Ceremonies. If any readers are in the Pullman, WA & Moscow, ID area I encourage you to attend. (More information is available here.)

We still have some logistics to work on, and my part is the acknowledging of the directions. This is a tradition I have adapted and adopted over the years. Unlike many neopagan traditions, the directions are not assigned to any color, season, element, or gender; instead, the focus is on how the directions relate to my life-place (in this case, the Palouse). Most times I improvised these acknowledgements, but I felt a more formal touch was required and have written a variation for the upcoming service:

East

Called by impulse to survive,
the salmon lay eggs in the east
the mountains give birth to
sacred rivers cutting pathways in the earth.
The Palouse stretches into the east
where the sun bursts each morning.

North

Called by impulse to survive,
the geese fly from the North.
The north brings us the snow
wrapped within the sacred darkness.
The Palouse stretches into the north
with the cold embrace of transformation.

West

Called by impulse to survive,
the salmon swim from the west.
Clouds come from the west,
carrying sacred rain in their bosoms.
The Palouse stretches into the west
where the sun sinks each evening.

South

Called by impulse to survive,
The geese flew to the south.
The south awaits patiently
for the return of the sacred brightness.
The Palouse stretches into the south
with the warm embrace of transformation.

Humanity

We mourn with the land
as our industry confuses the seasons;
as our neglect threatens the survival of many species;
as our ignorance has blinded us from our deep humanity.
We gather here to touch our deep humanity through celebrating
the land as our flesh and the sky as our breath.

One thing the keen observer might notice is that I start in the east and go counter-clockwise instead of clockwise as some might expect. The reasoning behind this is to follow the path of the earth around the sun and not the perceived path of the sun in the sky. Given our understanding of the Earth’s gravitational pull around the sun, I feel counter-clockwise is more appropriate.

Anyone with knowledge of Pacific Northwest ecology might identify with the imagery I’ve invoked:

  • On this side of the Continental Divide, rivers flow east to west.
  • Salmon are a vital traditional food staple of local indigenous people and restoring salmon population is an important conservation effort.
  • The geese have prominent migration patterns during the changing of the seasons.
  • The warm winds often come from the south, and the cold winds often come from the north.
  • The semi-arid climate of The Inland Northwest is a product of the Cascade Rainshadow which results in cold air on the west of the range pushing warm air over to the east.

I felt it necessary for the closing to speak directly to the impact of humanity in the environment, but to end with a positive focus of re-cultivating humanity’s sacred place within the ecosystem.

I hope this serves as a practical example of how sacred ecology builds new rituals, ceremonies, and traditions from the landscape and local ecology where one lives. Also, it can be easily applied to already existing traditions. The idea is to ground religious events with local ecological awareness.

Six Seeds by Alison Leigh Lilly

I would be delighted to hear others’ comments on:

  • How do you integrate local ecological awareness and identity into your ceremonies, rituals, traditions, and celebrations?
  • If you where to use the above example as a template what features of your life-place’s unique landscape and ecology would you be compelled to include and why?
  • What role does local ecology play in your personal spiritual identity? (Whether it be Wicca, witchcraft, neodruid, Asatru, religious naturalist, Unitarian Universalist, deist, polytheist, neopagan, or any other philosophy or spiritual system.)

For me, the key to 21st century sacred ecology is to combine creative inspiration with practical knowledge of your surroundings. If you feel so moved and inspired, be free to take my words and rewrite them to be specific to your life-place and your relationship with its unique ecology. Or share a unique short sample of poetry, prose, or prayer you have created to express the intimate relationship you have with the land around you.

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[PNC-Juggler] Environmental Movie: Trashed

December 15, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

No Unsacred Place‘s fellow PNC blog, The Juggler, recently featured a review of Trashed. The film follows the route of garbage in the United States, from consumer use to landfill and beyond. We invite you to read the review for yourself!

Wordless Wednesday: Desert Cliffs

December 12, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Desert Cliffs by Lupa, 2012

Desert Cliffs, by Lupa


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The Seven: A Personal Gnosis

December 10, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Natural Order by Greg Harder

Inspired by the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, I wrote the following a few years ago as a manifesto of my personal beliefs. They have appeared in different places on the Internet in the past. They have evolved as I have grown. Thinking of what I can contribute to No Unsacred Place, I remembered a charge a friend gave me to write more detail about The Seven, which I sadly never pursued. Now might be the time to explore these more in depth. They are as follows:

ONE:
Life is not dictated by “ism”s, practices, doctrines or dogmas. Life is expansive, inclusive evolutionary creativity, and therefore sacred.

TWO:
Spirit and matter are the same. The flesh of our body is that of the land. Life on Earth shares one breath which is the atmosphere. The universe, of which we are a part, is life experiencing itself.

THREE:
The land is the source of our being. Our molecules and DNA consist of where we are, have been, and will be. There is no separation between those who exist within, above, and upon the land.

FOUR:
“Person” is the inherent worth and dignity that is not unique to humans and essential to who we are collectively in relationship with ourselves and the land.

FIVE:
There is one soul shared by every incarnation of life that is, has been, will be, and imagined. We are not isolated and fighting for survival. We are a collective entity of many parts with a creative responsibility toward life.

SIX:
Traditions are extensions of our relationship with the one-soul, life, and the land. It is unethical to steal relationships from the people, time, and place of which they belong. We must forge a unique and respectful relationship with the land as sacred life-place.

SEVEN:
Where we stand and breathe is where we live, and the frequency in which we create within the universe. Without it we are listening for our own echoes in a void.

Beginning to Open by Greg Harder

What I would like to do from here is go through each one separately and try to explain in more detail what they mean in general and what they mean to me personally. After this has been done, I am thinking of expanding the concept into a set of core values which correspond with The Seven. The final and third step will be about implementing both The Seven and their corresponding core values into daily action through both interaction with my community and through personal spiritual practices.

What has promoted this project is a realization that I am human and imperfect. I know that I have failed to live up to these words which have inspired others. I acknowledge that I will falter on my path, getting distracted and sidetracked from time-to-time. In pondering this reality, I realized The Seven where not complete. For them to be fully integrated into my life, they needs to be backed by my values. This means I have to discover what those core values are; once those values are discovered, I need a guide in implementing the beliefs and valuses into my life with meaningful intent. The goal is to make them a part of my being and act on them in responsible ways which reflect my values and to live a life I can be proud at the end of the day.

This project is also an act of forgiveness for breaking covenant with the land; an acknowledgment of my deep humanity; an offering to the world in hopes it inspires others to take on similar projects, taking what they need from my own words and experience; and a guide for myself and whomever else needing healing and reassurance when living in a modern world that works against the interests of our deep humanity, the planet we live, our life-place, and all those whom we share it with.

Moss & Alter by Greg Harder

I am excited and looking forward to sharing this experience with the writers and readers of No Unsacred Place, and can’t think of a better community to be a seed bed for growth and sharing in the sacred qualities of the living world.

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Watering Restrictions and the Element of Water

December 8, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News, The Sacred in Suburbia.

It has been my experience that a lot of contemporary books on connecting with the element of water tend to focus on immersive or water-heavy activities. Take a long bath or shower, they say. Consider visiting a river or the ocean. Stand out in the rain. Essentially the message is that it’s a good idea to find an abundant source of water and become its best friend.

In Perth, Western Australia, we are under Level 4 Water Restrictions. This means different things depending on whether you’re a commercial corporation or a home-owner. But for the majority of residents in Perth using scheme water (i.e. who do not have their own bore), it means the following:

- A complete winter sprinkler ban.
- Two legal days of watering in summer (assigned to you based on your house number, and not on what’s convenient to your lifestyle), encompassing sprinklers and reticulation. On these days, the garden or lawn may only be watered once.
- No watering after 9.00am or before 6.00pm.
- Not using any hand-held hose to clean buildings, roads or driveways.
- Additional temporary water restrictions based on severity of the weather.

This is because – among other reasons – our dams have been running at a deficit for some time due to prolonged drought. Dam water makes up approximately 25-45% of Perth’s potable water (or priority water), and we are expected to run out of dam water as a resource due to prolonged drought, within the next fewyears. The rest of our water primarily comes from ground aquifers which are sorely stressed, and a desalination plant provides about the other 17% to Perth residents.

Part of the water processing plant at Koondoola regional bushland, an integral source of water for North of the River residents.

As water is primarily pulled from the groundwater table, trees have to reach further and further to drink deep from the groundwater that is available. Eventually, the trees cannot compensate for the speed at which the water is drawn away, and it can cause massive deaths within the bushland, as well as severely degrade wetlands. The latter is particularly terrible, for aside from the immense cleaning capacity of wetlands and their great biodiversity, Perth was once actually an extraordinarily wetlands heavy environment. The Urban Bushland Council of WA points out that we have lost 70% of our wetlands to agriculture, development, pollution and groundwater table issues. Groundwater dependence can permanently damage or destroy local bushland habitats. Groundwater threat increases the susceptibility of the bushland to fire, which additionally – along with habitat threats – disturbs local fauna and flora further. Many of these types of bushland are found nowhere else in the world, and are considered endangered, or critically endangered biomes.

Koondoola bushland, a critically endangered stretch of kwongan, and also the site of a water processing plant, shows signs of overall degradation due to – among other things – groundwater management issues.

Water is a tricky subject here in Perth. Everyone has different ways of attempting to conserve it, though some try harder than others (and some, of course, don’t really seem to try at all). Here, it was my connection with the element of water, how much I love water, and its crucial connection to our local environment, that allowed me to make certain changes in my living environment.

The ways in which we consciously conserve water include things like: we don’t showers longer than 2-5 minutes. We don’t run the taps when we’re brushing our teeth. We choose washing machines that are always conservative about water usage and only wash with a full-load. We elected to have a garden that is composed entirely of Australian plants with a majority percentage of local endemics that are accustomed to drought, which we keep well-mulched with the addition of a water penetrant to aid in water retention. We made a decision earlier this year to bite the bullet and get a good quality synthetic grass, since it has a smaller carbon footprint proportionately to ‘real’ lawn, and requires no water wastage. Spill-over in the kitchen sink is often dumped directly onto plants. We use double-flush instead of single-flush toilets. Instead of keeping our sprinklers turned off only for winter, they stay off for approximately 9 months of the year. We only use sprinklers on our very small, front garden, and only hand-water the back for three months of the year, approximately once a week (twice if it’s likely to be above 40C several days in row, which is even hard for endemics, as they’re dealing with an unusually long drought too!)

Part of our garden built up on endemic natives. This section requires no watering, aside from what it gets naturally, 12 months of the year.

The reality is that water conservation is a part of our lives. We are regularly reminded by our Water Corporation to be conservative with water usage. There are advertisements on TV and billboards erected in the streets, and last year’s campaign of ‘Target 60’ (litres of water a day) was – along with the previous advertising methods – also plastered in newspapers, magazines, on buses, at bus-stops and talked about on the radio.

The element of water here, particularly that of refreshing, drinkable water, is an element that I think about often. My relationship to water elementals is much stronger since I began to consciously make large-scale decisions on my water usage. Choosing to live a life where I was consciously aware of the difficulty fresh water has in staying in the Perth landscape, allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for my local ecosystem. I became avidly interested in cloudspotting and meteorology, I learned about the problems with the acidification of groundwater and issues in wetlands management, I keep my eyes open and ears peeled for information on the current state of Perth’s fresh water. One day, I would like a rainwater tank, and to begin to use greywater (i.e. water from washing machine and dishwasher usage).

Lechenaultia formosa – an endemic native growing in our garden. Once established, requires very minimal summer watering.

An additional spiritual impact of caring for our local water supply, was that I went from having a difficult relationship with the element of water when I was younger, to having a strong, loving, compassionate bond with the element. We have a lot of water in the form of our continuous, beautiful beaches, but it was my need to interact with drinking water more respectfully that really cemented an ongoing ability to commune with the element of water and make it a meaningful part of my everyday life in a very aware way. I am enamoured of the rain, and feel extremely grateful to be able to drink and stay hydrated on a day to day basis.

So when contemporary books about connecting with water elementals say things like ‘have a long shower / soak in the bath,’ I have to smile, because that’s the last thing that would respect the element of water here in our dry city of Perth. These books are not written with us in mind! The reality is that our drinking water deserves to be cherished and not wasted.

And so, with that in mind, regardless of how much fresh water your region gets, how do you respect your drinking water? Do you know the conditions of your local wetlands? Do you live in a region which has an abundance of fresh water or a lack? And is that a constant, or is it changing over the years? When was the last time you had a chat with the element of fresh water, or sunk some time into researching it?

Perth is facing a time when it may be almost completely dependent on desalination plants and meagre rainfall for all of its potable water. It’s a scary time indeed, considering the population boom we are experiencing and the fact that many corporations and governments still don’t take this issue as seriously as they should. Speaking to local, fresh-water elementals, I am always aware of how giving water can be even when the sun and climate is working against it. I have met elementals that want to sustain, to give life, and wasting the water they command, or damaging the ecosystems they protect is a sorry way to repay them.

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[PNC-MN] Killing, Death, Hunting, and Pagans

December 6, 2012 by Categorized: Fur and Feather, Natural Reflections.

Over at PNC-Minnesota, co-editor Nels Linde wrote a powerful piece entitled “Killing, Death, Hunting, and Pagans”. To some pagans and other nature spiritualists the idea of killing an animal, even for food, is uncomfortable at best. However, for others the sacred hunt is still a part of their spiritual practices, particularly in rural areas. The cycles of life and death are a constant in our world, whether in the wilderness or not, and Nels discusses how hunting and farming both contributed to his relationship to these ubiquitous realities.

We invite you to read the original piece, and join the discussion if you’re so inclined.

Wordless Wednesday: The Other Side

December 5, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

The Other Side, by indojo


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Natural Events & Associated Festivities of the Earth Year: Solstice, Longest Night & Day on Earth

December 3, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Earthly Rites.

The longest night and day on earth occurs at the same time twice a year (approximately every 183 days). Currently Borealis (the northern hemisphere) will be experiencing the longest night, while Australis (the southern hemisphere) will be experiencing the longest day. In the Gregorian Calendar, that is most used globally, it falls on December 21st this year. The reverse will occur half a year later.

Here is a video that describes in detail how this works:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Below are two examples of calendars that directly express the solar changes on earth:

Borealis Kalendar

Neo-pagan wheel of the year from wikicommons

 

The Borealis celebrations of the longest night include Yule (Germanic), Meán Geimhridh/Midwinter/Alban Arthan (Celtic, Ancient Welsh, Neo-druidism), Nox (Saegoah), Beiwe (Sami people of Fennoscandia), Dongzhi Festival (East Asian Cultural Sphere), Goru (Dogon, Mali), Junkanoo (West Africa, Bahamas, Jamaica, Virginia), Lohri (Punjab, Pakistan & India), Lucia (Scandinavia), Makar Sankranti (Hindu, India and Nepal), Yalda (Persian), Şeva Zistanê (Kurdish), Soyal (Zuni & Hopi, North America), and Ziemassvētki (Latvia, Baltic states, Romuva).

Unfortunately the Australis celebrations of the longest day are difficult to find. One explanation as to why this is is because the majority of the human population resides in Borealis and therefore have more influence in global culture; in addition to historical imperialism that has sequestered or destroyed indigenous celebrations in Australis. Because of this the Borealis celebrations of the longest night are often duplicated in the south, even though the natural event is the opposite. One other explanation of why it is difficult to find Australis celebrations of the longest day is that most of the land masses in Australis are closer to the equator and therefore the majority of the population doesn’t experience the drastic shifts in amount of daylight.

Over time I hope to find and add Australis longest day of the year celebrations to this annual post to balance out the hemispheres.

 

Longest Night on Earth in Borealis

Humans are diurnal creatures – animals that are most active during the day and find it difficult to see in the dark. This inability to see greatly reduces activity as a way to avoid receiving injury from bumping into objects or nocturnal predators. So the dark is understandably something diurnal creatures dislike; hence many human cultures calling things that are deemed negative as ‘dark’.

Looking at customs that revolve around the longest night, many have a sense of apprehension that the days may not return and perform ritual acts as a way to entice the sun to come back, and when it does is greatly celebrated. This is sometimes done over the course of a week or longer as a way to measure and make sure that the days are indeed getting longer again. Hence many Longest Night celebrations and holidays covering a long time span in comparison to other holidays. Other customs with the foresight of previous years, knowing that the days begin to get longer after this point, don’t enact rituals to gain favor and instead just mark it in celebrations for the return of longer days.

Some of the most common features of this time of year are decorating with lights to lessen the surrounding dark; evergreens to surround yourself with more life; bonfires for light, warmth and as a center place for hosting outdoor events; feasting the last of the summer stock, and sharing seasonal songs and stories through the night. In the far north jingle bells are a common sight; stemming from when people rode sleighs down the night roads and having difficulty seeing ahead had run pedestrians over. To prevent these collisions from occurring, sleigh bells became heavily mandated so that people on the night roads can hear when someone is coming and step aside in advance. In modern times this has become unnecessary, leaving the once required jingle bells as festive decorations we now associate with the winter season.

 

Additional Festive/Seasonal Options

TREE

There is a lot of debate on how to go about decorating with an indoor tree, most commonly along the lines of Fake vs Real. There are two options outside of the Fake vs Real dilemma: Bringing in a mature seedling as your tree to decorate that you can plant in spring; Having a Nox Tree – a tree outside that is festively decorated with foodstuffs for your wild neighbours for the Eve of the longest night.

 

LANTERNS

Ice lanterns are gaining popularity and are a fun activity. All you need is two buckets, one small and one big that fit into one another but allow a thick wall of air around it, water and a freezer/cold outside. Fill the big bucket with enough water that the little bucket can be placed so that the tops are level and the bottom touches the water. Freeze the big bucket by itself, then place the little bucket in and fill with rest of the way with water and freeze. Pop it out and put it out on display with a candle. With practice you can place items in the ice for further decorations.

Red Glass lanterns as your only source of outdoor light (or red lights in general). This option may sound strange but it adds a fabulous effect in that you have light with no light pollution, which means you can have a better view of the stars. Just imagine if this was a common form of decoration everywhere – suburban and urban environments would finally be able to have a clear view of the night sky.

 

MIRRORS

Mirrors can help repel a lot of the dark in your home if strategically placed. Corner mirrors that fit into the ceiling corners does wonders for this. But if that is not feasible, using the glass on your photo frames as mirrors behind your candle light in high places, like the standing fridge, can double the amount of light in your home.

 

NOCTURNAL CREATURES

This is a good time of year for those living in Borealis to learn more about the creatures of the night in your neighbourhood. Who are they? What are they like? What can you do to be a good neighbour? A fun option is to dress up like your favorite nocturnal creature armed with fun facts about who you are representing. Toss in a game of predator tag and you’re set.

 

SHADOWS

What better time of year to play with shadows. You can have games on who can make the best hand shadow, or best of a specific shape of shadow i.e. dog. And you can go further with that and make it a story telling experience. You can make silhouette cutouts and a light screen for family performances; or a guess who this is shadow game where there is a light behind a sheet in front of a doorway and a team is behind the sheet, with one member casting a shadow that they’ve disfigured to with stuffed shirts, hats, faux facial hair etc. to try to have the guessing team guess wrong. What you can do with shadows can easily go beyond these small suggestions.

 

There are other sorts of games and activities mentioned on the Nox page of the official Ehoah website that you might want to try out for this time of year. Kid games of Touch and Sound Hide and Seek, Head Lights Tag etc, to Adult games of Blow Pipe and Light, Night are potential family favorites.

 

What do you do to celebrate this longest night/day of the year where you are?

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Ash Die-back makes it to the UK

December 1, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News, Science & Spirit.

What is Ash Die-back?

Ash Die-back is a disease that primarily affects the Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), through it is having an impact other Ash species. It has been devastating Ash trees across Europe since the 1990s, where it was first identified in Poland, and has now made it to the United Kingdom. It is caused by two forms of a fungus:

  • Chalara fraxinea – this form causes the symptoms on the Ash trees
  • Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus – this causes the fungus to fruit and spread through leaf litter

There is ongoing discussion as to how the spores move from tree to tree. In areas without human intervention, the disease is spread by the wind. However, human activities have sped up the transmission of the disease through the movement of infected trees and material. Animals and birds are not thought to be involved in the spread of the disease.

Why should we be concerned?

It is nigh impossible for a lay-person such as myself to predict what impact Ash Die-back could have in our woodlands, but I can make an educated guess. Ash makes up around 10-15% of the UK’s broadleaf woodlands, and provides food and shelter to a variety of species. With the loss of Ash trees a huge part of our woodland ecosystems could vanish, having a knock-on effect on the plants, animals and fungi that are interlinked.

We should be concerned, but we do not need to panic. Few species are solely dependent on Ash trees, and the loss of Ash could open up new niches for other tree species. Perhaps we should look at Ash Die-back as an opportunity – a chance for woodlands to evolve into a new structure as part of the natural life/death/life cycles. Nature abhors a vacuum, and ‘she’ is a survivor. As long as we do our best to limit the spread of the disease, ‘she’ will be fine.

What is being done manage Ash Die-back?

In October 2012, the UK government brought in legislation which bans the import of Ash plants, trees and seeds and also bans the movement of Ash plants, trees and seeds within the UK. It is hoped that by limiting the movement of Ash, the spread of Ash Die-back will be limited too.

The disease has no cure, so it probably cannot be eradicated. Trees vulnerable to the disease, such as saplings, will be identified and destroyed while older, more resilient trees will be left for as long as possible in hope that they will develop a resistance in much the same way we can develop a natural resistance to disease through exposure.

What can we do to manage Ash Die-back?

We, as Pagans, are in a privileged position to enjoy the natural world with an awareness and sensitivity that some other people may not have. As such we have a role to play as custodians. You can help to limit the impact of Ash Die-back by not moving Ash material, even for personal collections. If you suspect that an Ash may be affected by Die-back, then please report it.

In Autumn and Winter, Ash trees can be easily identified by their smooth grey bark and black buds. In older trees, the bark can begin to crack. Symptoms of Ash Die-back include leaf loss, crown die-back (where leaves at the top of the tree die) and damage to bark. If you spot any of these symptoms, please report them to the following agencies:

For England, Scotland and Wales:

FERA
Tel: 01904 465625
Email: planthealth.info@fera.gsi.gov.uk

Forestry Commission
Tel: 0131 314 6414
Email: plant.health@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

For Northern Ireland:

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)
Tel: 0300 200 7847
Email: dardhelpline@dardni.gov.uk

More information can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara

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