Living in Harmony with Nature—The Next Step
Author: Lady Selkhet
When reading the prompting question for this month’s suggested topic, I came across a common phrase: ‘living in harmony with Nature’. Living in harmony with Nature is more or less a mythical goal, like world peace. I say it’s mythical in the sense that, while virtually impossible in practical terms, is still a goal that most Pagans strive for. I believe that it’s a reflection of the Wiccan Rede—harm none. We all know it’s not possible to live without causing harm (something has to die for you to eat—even if it’s the lowly carrot), so in our optimistic way, we try to do least harm, and to harm mindfully if it’s necessary. To many Pagans, the most logical way to apply ‘harm none’ on the grand scale is by living in harmony with Nature.
Natch, with any creed there are about a zillion ways to interpret it- at least one for every believer! How I decide to live in harmony with Nature will differ, perhaps greatly, with what the Pagan down the street does. One rides her bike to work, another eats vegetarian, a third recycles, you get the idea. We’ll try to do many of these things, but will have varying levels of success depending on our personality, upbringing, where we live, and so on. Sometimes we may do harm to the planet out of sheer ignorance or lack of foresight- and when we are exposed to new information, we are given the chance to make another change to help the planet. Does anyone remember those spray cans of deodorant?
It doesn’t take a lot of thought to reach the conclusion that most of the problems we cause to the environment are the result of just too many people. Pollution, clear-cutting and strip-mining, mass extinction and just about every other environmental issue is simply the result of more people needing more stuff—food, a place to live, computers, cars, and whatever else humans ‘have to have.’ The more people, the more stuff we need. The more stuff we need, the more Nature we turn into parking lots and plasticware. What’s a worried Pagan to do? On a global level, there are two solutions: have the people here use less stuff, and have less people needing stuff.
The first solution, use less stuff, is not a bad start. ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ is the common mantra. But at six billion and growing, and the worst ‘stuff offenders’ being Americans, I don’t think that’s enough to head off some serious ecological consequences, many of which we’re already seeing the effects of. There’s a lot of different ideas about how much land it takes to support a single human, but regardless of what that figure is, there’s no denying that more people means more land needed for them and their stuff, and to the exclusion of most other Nature. Thus the second solution, less people.
I hope I don’t need to clarify that I’m not talking about killing or allowing to die people that are already here. I hate suffering as much as the next person, and death will claim us all eventually—no need to jog the Dark Lady’s elbow. What I am saying is this: we should stop having so many children. More of us should not have any children.
Many people are shocked when I say this. They say things like ‘but we were meant to have children—it’s the whole reason for our existence!’ Well, if you want to take this statement to its most basic level, yes, any life form’s main job is to make sure and reproduce itself and get its genes out there in as many offspring as possible. This reasoning can be used to justify banning birth control, male-only polygamy, and all sorts of foolishness. One breeds, again on the most basic level, to ensure continuation of the species. But I hope it’s obvious that the biggest threat at this time to the human species is certainly not lack of members. If anything the greater threat is ecological disaster caused by over-population.
A correlated argument is ‘having children is the most natural thing in the world!’ Well, that’s certainly true, but just because something’s natural doesn’t mean it’s in our best interest to run with it—in our case, to literally do it to death. This will sound harsh, but yeast grow and reproduce until they choke to death on their own waste. I would hate to see the human race act with no more intelligence than yeast- and take down countless other species in the process.
It is definitely an uphill battle to preach this course of action. It’s not as if it’s a matter of changing some routine such as spraying aerosol deodorant on yourself or throwing away glass bottles. There is a very strongly ingrained drive to have children. I am reluctant to say ‘instinct’—Mother Nature essentially tricked our ancestors into parenthood by making sex feel really good! She also gave us the instinct to care for and nurture the young. But we have learned to channel many of our natural impulses into less damaging behaviors—aggression is a good example. Aggression kept us alive when we had to struggle to survive, but if I killed every person that cut me off in traffic, I’d be in serious trouble. Aggression is often seen as being ‘bad’, so it’s easier to discuss controlling it. Having babies, on the other hand, is definitely regarded as a blessing by almost everyone. So again, what’s a worried Pagan to do?
First of all, I would never, ever, ever recommend that we shame parents or look at children in the same light as we look at, say, an SUV. The difference between a child and an SUV is that the child is a living creature deserving as much love and happiness as any of the Lady’s children. Regardless of the manner in which they were brought into the world, we must make sure each one is fed, housed, and cherished. We must make sure they have access to quality education- many studies show that the more educated a person is, the fewer children they have. This would be helped by each person having adequate access to a variety of methods of birth control, including abortion. Many children are conceived not because the mother-to-be wants a child, but because she didn’t have access to birth control, or didn’t know how to use it properly. A slogan many pro-choicers use that I strongly believe in is “Every child a wanted child.”
We also need to realize that not having children is a viable (so to speak), respectable option for anyone who chooses it. In countless places where birth control is discussed, it’s often refered to as a way to control the number of children you have—this is especially true of sterilization, where it’s pretty much always described as a procedure you have done ‘when you’ve had all the children you want.’ The language reflects the attitudes of society, which generally views childlessness as abnormal and suspicious. Let’s send that idea the way of the same view applied to homosexuals or minorities—the collective psychic garbage can. If you know someone who says they don’t want children, try to avoid saying things like ‘But you’d make such a good parent!’ (a back-handed compliment, which nevertheless implies that the speaker knows the childless person better than they know themselves) or ‘We need more smart/responsible/whatever people like you having children’ (another back-handed compliment that seems vaguely racist—as if the problem is that the ‘wrong people’ are having too many) or worst, ‘You’ll change your mind.’ Not only does this promote the idea that everybody is destined to have children, but it belittles the path that person is walking. It’s akin to telling a Pagan ‘You’ll come to Christ eventually’ or a lesbian ‘You just haven’t met the right man yet.’ It’s disrespectful in the extreme. It also carries with it the assumption that people who decide to forego parenthood are somehow immature or incomplete—this goes hand in hand with statements like ‘You aren’t an adult until you have a child’ and ‘You can’t know true love until you become a mommy/daddy.’ While that may be true of one person, to assume everyone is like that is, once again, disrespectful. Try to avoid even thinking in the stereotype that not having children is selfish. There are selfish reasons to avoid having children (just as there are selfish reasons to have them), but if the outcome is that some selfish person who doesn’t want to be a parent is not inflicted on some innocent child, (while at the same time inadvertently engaging in the equivalent of something like 72 years of 100% recycling) is that not for the best, after all?
I have heard all these remarks since I made the decision not to have children. When I decided I should back that decision up by getting a tubal ligation, many people asked me ‘What if you change your mind?’ It seems like a reasonable question on the surface, but I would never ask it of a woman who just announced that she was pregnant. When I decided to have it done, my ob-gyn would only agree to perform the procedure after I had seen a psychiatrist to make sure I had considered the decision thoroughly. I didn’t mind, but again the same standard is not applied to people who state their intent to become parents. I also battled the idea that I hated children (and still do, sometimes). This was hurtful, and absurd considering that at the time I was working at an agency whose main job was to feed and heal children. I’m not a very maternal person, but I consider it a simple personality trait, like someone who prefers sci-fi to romances or chocolate over pretzels. I get the feeling some see it as a character flaw.
It shouldn’t be so much of an uphill battle to make this decision.
Spiritually, I didn’t find much support out there either. When I was looking for a ritual to mark my decision, I saw many spells to become pregnant, waxing eloquent about the Mother Goddess and her fertility (not that everyone takes it so literally, but many do), while the Maiden Goddess is seen as a somewhat fluffy young woman or even a girl. There were spells for healthy pregnancy and easy delivery, and to welcome the new mom into the ‘Circle of Mothers.’ There were spells to recover from abortion. There were spells to recover from rape, hysterectomy, and spells easing the effects of menopause, with a few welcoming it with Cronings. I found several spells for healing from the grief of involuntary sterility, but not a one celebrating voluntary sterility. So rather than bitch about it, I did what any Witch would do—I wrote my own ritual.
I decided I would address the Goddess in an aspect as a strong adult, sure in her own power; Diana (accuse her of immaturity at your peril!), childless Goddess of the Moon, the hunt, and the woods, not to mention midwives. The simple ritual consisted of me asking her to transform my physical fertility into fertility of the mind, heart, and spirit. I thanked my physical mother (who was present) for my life and for her nurturing and other gifts, and received blessings from her and my friends for good health after the operation as well as general well-wishes. It may be the only one of its kind in the world, but I really hope it’s not, or that it won’t be for long. A vasectomy ritual might be out there somewhere too- I have yet to see it, but again, I have hopes.
Honor your parents for giving you life and teaching you well (or as best they could, at any rate). Cherish your children, if you have them. If you don’t, realize that you don’t have to- it doesn’t automatically make you any more mature, or in touch with the Goddess, or able to laugh and play, or more of a man or woman, or bring more magick to your life. It might do some of these things, but there are a million and one ways to bring these blessings into your life that don’t take such a heavy toll on the planet. There are also many ways to nurture- by caring for pets, friends, projects, or even by adopting (I am in awe of those who do this—they get extra karma points IMHO for caring for those that are already here). If you already have children, be sure to let them know that not everyone grows up and has children of their own, and that that’s okay. Make them aware of their place in the web of life, and to be ever-responsible and mindful as caretakers of the Earth.