Remembering and Reconnecting
I do consider my religion – Wicca – and my particular practice of it, to be Earth-based. Such a statement might seem absurdly obvious on the surface, but it is, I think, important to state it in this fashion. Wicca has within it elements of Ceremonial Magic, and it has been my personal experience that it is quite possible to become obsessed with and lost in the liturgical and ritual forms, to the extent that what one ends up practicing has, in fact, more in common with CM than with Wicca.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: We need ritualists and liturgists who can preserve the outer forms of our religion, and re-invent them as time goes by, so that we neither lose our traditional roots nor become mired in them. The creation, preservation and cultivation of ritual and liturgy are important, but I’m not talking about that here. I am talking about an unhealthy balance where an individual or group over-focuses on those outer forms, often to the detriment of the inner energies. So it is important, I think, that we remind ourselves, individually and collectively, that our religion IS Earth-based, and that, in my personal tradition at least, re-connecting with the Earth and Her cycles is one of the central concepts and objectives.
But then, what is this whole “re-connect with the Earth” thing, anyway? Sounds like a bunch of neo-Hippie, tree-hugging, New Age bushwa, doesn’t it?
Western thought seems to enjoy lampooning and belittling whatever it doesn’t like or cannot understand, as if by satirizing something, it is made harmless and non-threatening. (This, oddly enough, is a very Celtic concept. Bards of Old Eire were feared for their power to debilitate a powerful leader by the use of satire.) Culturally, we will even go so far as to transform an inherently neutral or positive label – New Age, for instance – into a synonym for something wacky and outlandish. So those outsiders – or insiders, for that matter – who roll their eyes when they say or hear “re-connect with the Earth” obviously haven’t bothered to fully consider what that means.
We aren’t talking about sticking our feet into the ground and putting out roots. What we are talking about is simply becoming fully aware of – and experiencing as fully as possible – our relationship to the biosphere. For the most part, citizens of modern technological nations have fallen out of that awareness and experience. Some would argue that, without this awareness and experience, we as a species are doomed, because nothing short of these will prevent us from terminally fouling our nest. In more immediate and individual terms, however, I believe that a fuller awareness and experience of our relationship to the biosphere and, by extension, the Universe itself, is mandatory for true physical, mental and spiritual health. This is, as I understand it, the primary thrust of Taoist philosophy and religion, and is certainly a primary objective in my practice of Wicca.
Wicca, as I have said, is my religion. My spirituality, however, is Witchcraft. Some would not agree with this dichotomization, but then, as mother used to say, that’s why they make vanilla and chocolate. I make the distinction because I define those terms differently. Wicca is my religion – it is something I joined, a community that has a unique identity, and to be part of that community I am obliged, to a greater or lesser degree, to conform to the community template. I, personally, believe that there are certain things that I must agree to, that I must practice, that I must believe and that I must espouse, in order to be Wiccan. While there is certainly a great deal of individual latitude, I nonetheless believe that were I to deviate too far from the “community template” of Wicca, I would no longer be practicing Wicca. In the practice of certain martial arts, students are given a great deal of latitude to improvise and personalize the art. However, at a certain point, if that improvisation and personalization goes too far, that individual is no longer practicing that particular art, but something unique unto themselves that they have created there from. This is not a judgment on the art itself nor on what the individual has created from it; it is simply a statement of fact.
So it is, I believe, with the practice of Wicca, or any religion, for that matter. (But then, these are only my beliefs, and have no power beyond the tip of my nose.)
Witchcraft, on the other hand, I define as that body of techniques that enables the practitioner (Witch) to live in harmony with the rhythms of Life. “Life” here may be seen as synonymous with All That Is: an individual’s life-path, the greater community of Humankind, the biosphere and the Universe – in short, Everything. And those rhythms include the “bad” as well as the “good.” By this definition, Wicca is just another “technique” in my practice of Witchcraft, something which helps me to attune to the rhythms of Life. And this is, for me, as it should be: religion should always be the servant of spirituality. When that formula is inverted, we are left with dictatorial religious institutions.
When one truly seeks a deeper, fuller understanding of our connection to and place in the Universe, one cannot help but develop, I believe, a concern for the welfare of the “natural” world, i.e. the biosphere. Even if one were a staunch “scientific Pagan,” I don’t believe one could overlook the necessity of preserving an uncontaminated environment in order to ensure the survival of Humankind. And if one looks beyond mere survival, then we must recognize the necessity of preserving the beauty of unsullied nature as an adjunct to the mental, emotional and spiritual health of humanity.
Those of us who believe this face grave obstacles today. We are now ruled by an administration that is obviously bent on furthering the cause of “Big Business” – which has always been the destructive exploitation of the Earth for profit – at the expense of the environment. More and more, corporations are freed of the restrictions imposed on them by former, relatively saner, regimes. More and more, they are free to “rape and pillage” as they see fit, regardless of the destruction they cause. Nor can we simply blame “Western thought” for these travesties, as the policies of China in modern Tibet relieve the West of sole responsibility in the rape of the planet and the destruction of her children.
At times, it seems overwhelming, and it may well be an effort doomed to failure, although such failure will certainly doom humanity to eventual extinction. But we must try, each in her or his own way. I myself am not much of a “joiner,” and taking care of what little land is “mine” takes up most of my time. So you won’t see me at many demonstrations or protests. But what I lack in “discretionary time” I make up for in “disposable income,” and I can and do support the environmental cause with my monetary contributions. In the end, only money can defeat Big Money, so I don’t feel that this is merely a token gesture to assuage my conscience. And I do take an active, if geographically limited, part: there is a nature trail in the community near my home, which I avail myself of at every opportunity. As one might imagine, this trail is subject to all kinds of littering, not only from walkers but from nearby homeowners. When I walk, I always carry a trash bag, and I clean up what I can. When someone creates a mess too big for me, I make sure the community association knows about it, as there are strict rules regarding such abuse. I don’t know that my actions have ever led to the censure or fining of a guilty homeowner, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
Tattle tale? Snitch? Ratfink? You’re damn right.
And then there are the “little” things that all of us can do: proper soil management on our property; avoiding fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; using “low impact” products; driving fuel-efficient autos; using mass transit when possible; recycling. It is gratifying to see that, in our neighborhood at least, we have a very high percentage of participation in the recycling effort. But then, these things should be “no brainers” for everyone, Pagan or not, in my opinion.
Perhaps the biggest difference between me and my neighbors is that, when I recycle or pick up litter, I see it as a sacrament, an acknowledgment that I AM RESPONSIBLE; not for the whole shebang, but for what I, as an individual, can do. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that “a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” On any given day, I can’t solve all of the world’s environmental problems. But I can do something, even if it’s only picking up one piece of litter. No action occurs in a vacuum; every action has consequences, and resonates along the Web of Wyrd.
Despite the odds, none of us are totally powerless; we can always do something. And sometimes, in the wee dark hours of the morning, that’s all we have to hold onto.