Sparks and Ripples: Keystone XL Protest

We’re proud to say that EarthSpirit community member Isobel Arthen was part of last weekend’s XL Dissent protest.  Along with over a thousand other students, she traveled to Washington, marched from Georgetown to the White House, and then zip tied herself to the White House fence while others students lay on top of a mock oil slick on the sidewalk.

Photo by Overpass Light Brigade

Photo by Overpass Light Brigade

You can read a summary of the issues with the Keystone XL pipeline from 350.org here.  Speak out by telling President Obama what you think.  Contact information for the White House can be found here.

Pride Interfaith Service

Pride Interfaith Service

Our cloutie tree

Our cloutie tree

At the beginning of 2013, after two years of EarthSpirit’s participation in the annual Pride Interfaith Service, I joined the organizing group, the Pride Interfaith Coalition, as a representative of EarthSpirit.  The group began meeting in January to plan this year’s service, which took place on June 8.

One of the great strengths of the Coalition is that it is made up of people who unite around central shared concerns.  As I said in my welcome on behalf of the Coalition during the service,

We join together with the common purpose of doing two things.  First, as human beings, as people of faith, and as leaders of religious or spiritual traditions, we want to affirm, support, and celebrate you as members and allies of queer communities.  And second, we affirm that the sacred, in the wide variety of ways that we understand and perceive it, not only accepts but embraces all of who you are.

Coalition members include representatives from queer-affirming organizations within traditions from Buddhism to Judaism to Catholicism. Because EarthSpirit, like most contemporary pagan groups, has always been queer-affirming, our membership in the Coalition felt like a natural step to me.  This year, I was delighted to be able to part of reshaping the format of the service so that it was more organically connected to our intentions and to the specific traditions of Pride, rather than borrowing from a single religious tradition.

I was also delighted to bring one of our tradition to the service: a cloutie tree that we prepared where attendees could share their wishes, blessings, and prayers for the Pride community.

As we planned this service, we thought a great deal about the creative tension between each of us as an individual and our collective and communal identities, and one thing that came out of that is the blessing tree that many of you tied wishes or prayers on to before the service.  The idea of tying blessings or prayers onto trees has a long history: in ancient Ireland, people used to rip strips from the hems of their shirts and tie them on to trees near wells and other sacred sites to ask for help, healing, or blessings.  The idea has been passed down through folk customs and has been adopted in my pagan tradition.

I was thrilled to meet some of the pagans in attendance at the service this year.  For next year, we’ve already started talking about organizing a pagan contingent to march in the parade!  Please do reach out if you’re interested in being involved in these efforts.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about how queerness and paganism connect for you.

Kulgrinda in Concert!

Kulgrinda in Concert!

Quick quiz: where in Europe have pre-Christian traditions survived?  I have long been aware of folk traditions that survived in the British Isles and in Scandinavian countries, but it wasn’t until Andras began talking about pagans in Lithuania that Eastern Europe even crossed my mind as another rich family of traditions.

Kulgrinda

This week, EarthSpirit has been able to bring Kulgrinda to New England for a series of concerts.  The group performs songs that may date back 5,000 years and that honor pagan holidays and traditional Lithuanian deities of the earth, fire, and thunder.  They also performed on traditional instruments (including the Lithuanian bagpipe you see above!).

We all sang together to close!

We all sang together to close!

There are still two more concerts in Amherst and Brattleboro if you’d like to hear these spectacular performances.

What are the sources of inspiration for your personal practice?  Do you draw from the heritage of your bloodline or elsewhere?

Shadow and Brightness

Leaf by dancingwolfgrrl

I went to a pagan workshop in another state last month.  In it, we were led in a beautiful guided meditation that brought us to a pool, where we met and interacted with our shadows and our brightness.  Afterwards, the facilitators asked for comments, and every single person, including me, said that they were more comfortable with their shadows.

Shadows, I admit, are one of the things I love about my spiritual traditions.  Throughout the Pagan movement, I see people standing up and acknowledging the power in our anger, our guilt, our sexuality, our sensuality, even our deaths – all of the parts of our lives and our selves that are too often denied or ignored in mainstream Western culture.  It took me years to learn how to be really angry, and I value those lessons deeply.   (A wise man told me that I would have to scream to do this.  I told him I didn’t want to scream, which was true, but he was right.) But my experience at that workshop made me think about what we’re still excluding.
Taking on my shadow side felt to me like courage and power in ways that I knew how to identify.  I thought I have to be brave and face your fear and do it anyway.  Just do it!  is a style of engagement whose virtues are sung from billboards worldwide.  Often, its siren song helps me to avoid thinking of myself as a victim when in fact, I just don’t like any of my choices, and that is no small gift.
But for me, engaging my brightness is a much more difficult endeavor.  My brightness holds my most tender parts: my openness, my willingness, my yielding, my yearning to see and be seen, to love and be loved.  Even to write those words on a page is vulnerable.  To try to feel them as fully as I learned to feel my anger sometimes seems impossible.
And yet, I find that this, too, is courage and power.  Much of the deepest magic I have known comes from being able to stay with a practice or an experience that is uncomfortable, choosing not to set myself against it, but to make space for and breathe into it.  The feeling of discomfort, I’ve learned, is the feeling of possibility shifting inside me, looking for a new shape to settle in.  I always have the option to make a choice and shut down that potential, and I often do so, just to make myself more comfortable, but sometimes I try to make a different choice.  I don’t get up from my chair when the writing gets tough, or throw my camera in the lake after the 500th completely boring photo.  I say “that sounds so hard” to a struggling friend instead of changing the topic, and I mean it.  I go back to my practice, again and again.
This is the challenge brightness offers: how far are you willing to open? To what are you willing to yield?  I dare you.  

the most ordinary magic

by Sarah Twichell

I spent last week at my family’s cabin on the St. Lawrence Seaway. It has a tiny kitchen with an electric stove whose best quality is that it functions, and the running water isn’t potable, but it’s beautiful – for me, almost archetypically so. I woke up every morning to the boughs of a pine tree outside my bedroom windows, and they’re the same ones I’ve seen every morning up here since I was old enough to get a separate bedroom from my sister. When it is cloudy, as it is today, the water looks flat and grey in a particular way that is completely familiar to me. When it is sunny, I know exactly how it sparkles. Although I have no sense of direction normally, in this place, the knowledge of which way is north is as sure as a compass. In short, this place is one of my homes, a landscape so familiar that it feels burned into my heart.

From my office, I often take a walk at lunch, up behind an office building and past a river, then around to see a pond on the other side of the road. I count swans and kayaks. This, too, is familiar: the house with the gate like a tree branch, the spot where the men play chess on the hood of a car, the place where there’s a lilac whose blossoms hang over the road in May.

This is the most ordinary magic in the world: our feet cross a place over and over – whether it’s most days for a year or most years for decades – and slowly, we come to belong to that place. We don’t need any special techniques or well-honed skills, or any traditions other than those we make ourselves. In a world where things move quickly and it’s easy to feel adrift, this is how we make places where we feel rooted, connected, grounded. And as we return to these places, we return to our own inner quiet, to a measured motion as reliable as the turning of a clock or a monk praying liturgical hours. To ourselves.

Guising

by Sarah Twichell

In fairy tales, beings often appear in guises. A spirit appears in the guise of a fox. A god comes to earth in the guise of an old woman. In traditional European cultures, people took on guises as well. In Scotland, people dressed as spirits of the dead at Samhain, or changed their appearances to trick evil spirits out of harming them. In story and ritual, the appearance of guises teaches us that things are not always what they seem and that we should look carefully before judging or dismissing something.

When I work magically with a guise it teaches me the same lesson. I am not always what I seem, and I should look carefully before judging or dismissing ideas about who I am or could be.

Guising gives me the opportunity to take a look at what I consider to be beyond my own boundaries. When I guise as a being who is deeply wild, I can embody more wildness than I can ever imagine having in my ordinary life and self. In doing so, I gain a chance to question those limits: am I really tame and civilized as think? Is there wildness I didn’t see or recognize in me? What else am I missing when I say and act as though I am not wild?

Guising also works to free me from the ways that habit and expectation limit my perceptions of others and of the world. Sometimes things seem clearer, even harsh, through new eyes, and at other times they look softer and less clear. Knowing how different even the very familiar can look reminds me to find out what I can see when I really look, even with my everday eyes.

No matter how deep or magical my connection with a being I am guising is, in the end, I must come back to a shape that’s nearly the same as the one I left. In that “nearly,” though, lie the most powerful lessons of guising: the ones we bring back to our everyday lives.

At Rites, there were several opportunities to take on a guise. Did you choose to do this work there or somewhere else, or to interact with someone in guise? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

[photo by David J. Anderson]

Spirituality into Action: Finding My Pagan Values

by Sarah Twichell

Values are a bridge. They connect our spiritual practice to our actions in the world, helping us to discern what to do in big and small ways. While they are often called upon in political debates and named in the kinds of issues that polarize our society, they’re also active in our lives. When we live in accordance with our values, we feel we are acting with integrity; when we are confused about what to do, they’re a compass that can help us figure it out.

Because paganism is so firmly rooted in individual experiences of the sacred, it can be hard to identify anything we might have in common. But I think there may be a few things, and in that spirit, I offer up a few of my pagan values, as a starting point for a discussion.

Walking lightly on the Earth
My first devotional relationship was not with a god or spirit, but with the Earth itself, whose body literally supports me every moment of every day. I honor the cycles of the Earth through ritual, through my garden and cooking, and with my magic. I honor the body of the Earth by striving to live sustainably: by eating food from the area where I live, by recycling and reusing to reduce trash, by trying to avoid plastic and reduce energy consumption. Of course, there are a thousand ways to do this, and it’s often difficult to know how to even start, but for me, the important thing is to keep moving in the right direction.

Celebrating interdependence
One of the things I am most awed by in the natural world is the complex relationships between its parts. Our lives are intertwined with the lives of everything around us, from the microbes in our dirt to the animals in our neighborhoods to the air flowing in the jet stream. When I distance myself from these things or reduce my understanding of them to the mechnical, the world no longer calls on my compassion. When I nurture and celebrate those connections, on the other hand, I build the kind of network of relationships that sustains all of its members.

Honoring each other
If the sacred is in the world, as most pagans believe, it is in each of us. If that is so, there is no place in the world for racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, or discrimination based on physical ability, body type, gender, religion, choice of clothing… we could go on and on. Of course, it is also true that all of us harbor the seeds of discrimination, not because we are bad people, but because these seeds are ingrained in the culture we live in. It is my job, I believe, to search for those seeds in myself, to apologize when they cause me to treat someone badly or to speak offensively, and to be as much of an ally as I can to people who suffer more directly than I do from these forms of discrimination.

Honoring our passions
If we carry the spark of the sacred within us, the way it gets from us into the world is through our passion. It’s so easy to write these passions off as impractical or unworthy — or to write ourselves off as selfish, undeserving, or doomed to starve on the street. To me, understanding my passion as a manifestation of the sacredness of the world lets me trust myself and my desires more deeply, and helps me see the beauty in other people’s passion as well.

I could go on and on with this list, but I’m curious to hear from you! How does your spiritual practice lead to your values? How do those values show up in your life?

(photo by fetopher, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license)

Practical Magic: The How of Eating Locally

In my last post, I wrote about why I eat locally: the deep connections it fosters between me and the land where I live.  In this one, I want to talk about how you can bring more local food — and through it, local magic — into your life.

Produce is usually the easiest thing to find locally.  If you live in a more rural area, you may already know about roadside produce stands or local farms.  In more urban areas, you can often access local produce and more through a farmer’s market.  Picking your own fruits and vegetables can be a fun afternoon and save you a few bucks in the process.  And in many areas, you can participate in farm shares, also called community-supported agriculture (CSA).  In this model, you pay for a season up front, and then receive a box of produce every week.  You may go to the farm to pick it up, or you may be able to get it at a drop-off location.  You’ll get a variety of produce that’s fresh and in season, and the farmer will get a measure of income security.  If you’re afraid this would be too much, consider finding a friend to split a share with you.  Local Harvest is a great resource for locating farmer’s markets, CSAs, and farms near you.  (Best part: it will find not only CSA farms near you, but also far-away farms that have drop-off points in your neighborhood!)

You may also be able to find some other products that are made near where you live: meat, milk, eggs, and honey are all becoming more common.  If you can locate a farmer’s market near you, see if you can visit or check out their vendor list, which will give you good ideas of where to find these things.  The Eat Local Challenge asks people to try to eat only local food for one month a year; if you can locate a participant in your area, their blog is likely to be a goldmine of resources.

Because most of the local food you’ll find is fresh and unprocessed, you may need to brush up on your kitchen skills to make the most of it.  When a vegetable I don’t usually cook appears in my CSA box, I usually go first to a standard reference cookbook (I like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything).  I also use online resources — which come handily equipped with a search function for when I really need to know what to do with four bunches of kale — a great deal.  I like food blogs because their authors tend to have distinctive food styles: once I find one that I really like, I often want to make most of the recipes they offer. Two of my favorite blogs are 101 Cookbooks (featuring simple and tasty vegetarian recipes heavy on the produce and whole grains) and Smitten Kitchen (which mixes up delicious seasonal dishes with mouthwatering baked goods).  Finally, my fallback when-all-else-fails recipe site is Epicurious, which sports an amazing array of recipes as well as user reviews to help you know which ones are worth trying. 

A last word: don’t let things like the Eat Local Challenge scare you.  You don’t have to do it all!  If the ritual that helps you feel connected ot the land and seasons where you live is to pick strawberries every summer, start there.  If you want to grow basil in your kitchen window, do it.  Conversely, if the idea of getting ten random vegetables a week gives you shivers, don’t buy a CSA: go to the market and pick things you know you or your family will enjoy.  Build your connections one bite at a time.

You are what you eat: eating locally as a magical act

pumpkins in fall


By now, you’ve probably heard the schtick about local food dozens of times: it’s good for you! It’s good for local farmers! It’s healthier, safer, and better for the earth! I believe each and every one of those things, but they don’t include one important reason that I try to choose local foods: magic.

For me, being a witch is largely about relationship. Understanding that everything is alive and connected in ecstatically beautiful and complex ways is at the core of my spirituality. Engaging consciously, deliberately, and joyfully with those connections and relationships is my most fundamental act of magic.

When I choose to eat food grown in the ground near here, watered with the same water I drink, cooled by the same breezes I feel on my skin, I deepen my relationship with the spirits of this land. I allow the land, in a physical way, to enter into my body, to fuel my endeavors, and to literally become part of me. I also give my energy – in the form of my money – over to a farmer near me, who surely is cultivating in her own way an intimate relationship with the dirt and plants and bugs of her land.

When I eat local food, I don’t need charts to tell me what’s in season. I anticipate the first asparagus in the spring, the sweetness of June’s strawberries, the crunch of the first green beans, and then the amazing pop of sun warmed tomatoes. I’m attuned to how much it rains, and whether it’s unseasonably cool out. I think about the state of the soil and what might be running off into it.

So yes, it is good for you and for local businesses and for the earth. But eating local food is also a way of weaving yourself ever more tightly into the detailed, physical life of the place where you live, and honoring the sacredness of the many ways in which that particular piece of earth holds you.

[Also see Sarah’s ‘A Season To Taste’ blog.]