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Nature and me

Posted by Erik on February 25, 2008

Mahud has issued an invitation for a synchblog on landscapes and mythology; the deadline is March 1. This is my entry; I’m afraid it’s not going to be the most coherent post, mainly because I have several brief thoughts on the subject rather than one big one. And none of them really relate to mythology. But at least one of them relates to landscapes. Sort of.

I have posted once before on this general subject, specifically about the energies of the land where I am now living. As an expansion on the thoughts I expressed there, I would just add that I suspect one reason the land may be slow to accept us is that it’s being increasingly abused. As an example, back in January I wanted to perform misogi (a Shinto purification ritual) in the river before my aikido dojo’s special New Year training session, but when I called the county extension agent they said that the river is not considered safe because it carries the downflow from two counties’ waste treatment plants… so I had to do misogi in the shower, which is supposed to be acceptable, but was certainly less inspirational!

Second thought – I am a child of the Eastern forests and mountains. I have traveled in the American Southwest, the West Coast, the sub-tropical South, the Mississippi River basin, and the edge of the Great Plains – not to mention bits of Canada, England and Wales – and I have not yet (with the possible exception of San Francisco and Devon) been to a place outside of my “comfort zone” where I thought would be comfortable living. The Mid-Atlantic and the upper Southeast is where my mental landscape was formed, and I never feel entirely settled unless I know I’m in the vicinity of my deciduous “womb”.

Third thought – In the earlier post that I linked above, I said, “I was drawn to Druidry because of the significance it places on nature as a locus of spiritual significance.” The more I think about that sentence, the less adequate it seems. To me, nature is not simply a locus, but the prime locus. Some religions place primary emphasis on scriptures they believe were revealed by their deities, or on the recorded words of their founders, or on the hope of a better life after this one; I think that my religion is based, finally, simply on being in the world.

I got to thinking about this particular point last night as I was watching a film on Leonard Cohen (the movie is… adequate, although there are a couple of nice cover performances). There’s a line in his (wonderful) song “Anthem” that says “There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the Light gets in” – and listening to it, I realized that I fundamentally disagree. If there is a Light then the Light is already in everything (or everything is in the Light, depending on how you prefer to look at it)… although sometimes we may need to become cracked ourselves, in order to learn how to let the Light out.

For reasons I don’t comprehend, if there are “reasons” beyond that of “Life’s longing for itself”, I am here. I don’t know where I was before I was here, if I was anywhere at all; and I don’t know where I’ll be after I’m not here, or if I’ll even be after I’m here. It’s even possible that Pratchett is right, and we’re all involved in “an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.” … and if we are, then we are, and there’s nothing to do about it. (But I don’t believe it.)

Philosophical speculation on what other worlds there may be, or why this world isn’t exactly the way we think it ought to be, can be fun and interesting and even contribute in some way to the sum total of human knowledge; but when it becomes a substitute for doing the work of being in the world (a trap I have fallen into in the past, as in the story of the hole in the street), then it becomes as confining as a snake’s old skin.

In the end, this is the world we are in, and of which we are a part; and if there is a Creator then I can’t imagine a better place to look to understand It than Its own creation. And if there’s not a Creator, then I can’t imagine a better place to look to understand whatever there is to understand.

[Edited to add, per Mahud’s request]

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10 Responses to “Nature and me”

  1. Nettle said

    I could have said almost everything you said here, right down to the Leonard Cohen movie – I saw it for the first time maybe two weeks ago. (seriously. Are you me?)

    I have recently come to the conclusion that my dissatisfaction with where I live is not something that is going to go away with an attitude adjustment. The landscape that I love (the forests of the Northeast, for me, and the Great North Woods in particular) is part of me and that restless discontent will stay with me until I return there. I’m coming around to the idea that this discontent is a good thing in its own way because it means those ties are still there. It hurts, but that’s a good thing.

    ringing the bells that still can ring,
    Nettle

  2. “The Mid-Atlantic and the upper Southeast is where my mental landscape was formed, and I never feel entirely settled unless I know I’m in the vicinity of my deciduous ‘womb’.” Yes! Exactly! It doesn’t matter how much more affordable housing is in other parts of the country, or how much better jobs might pay–this is where my community is, and that includes the biome of my childhood, and not just the friends I’ve made in adulthood.

    I even tried living in Vermont for four years. Loved it. Made lifelong friends. But, close though the forests are there to the woods of Western Massachusetts, there was just enough of a difference in the deciduous/coniferous mix, in the geology and growing season, that I never really felt at home there.

    Perhaps some people, like some plants, have a wide range of possible habitats. But for full spritual vigor, I need to be planted in forests like my childhood forests, with plenty of oak duff on the ground and the chilly deep green of hemlock blocking out just the right amount of sun. I’m like some delicate understory plant–transplanted, I will not flourish.

    Something like that, anyway.

  3. executivepagan said

    Nettle,
    I think my wife would be a wee bit disconcerted if I was you… :)

    Where are you now? I thought you were still in the Northeast… hang in. You never know what the Fates have in store for you!

    Cat,
    Our evergreens are mostly shortleaf pine and Douglas fir (at higher elevations) – no hemlock to speak of. LOTS of oaks, dogwoods, maples, elms and magnolias, as well as fruit and nut trees of many kinds. Almost anything *can* be grown here, as long as it tolerates clay soil or you amend heavily.

    That said, it’s been interesting (!) the last few years… we have been reclassified from Zone 7 to Zone 8 by pretty much everybody except the Feds (who have not yet bowed to this further evidence of global warming), and at the lower elevations the pines have started to die. I’ve even spotted a few palmettos and other semi-tropicals growing here, and you NEVER used to see them north of Columbia.

  4. Nettle said

    I currently live in Philadelphia, which I suppose counts as the Northeast, though if you ask my relatives I might as well be living in the Deep South. It’s definitely too far south for me.

    Catm it’s funny that you talk about the difference between living in Vermont and Massachusetts – I just had a similar conversation with my husband. We were talking about where we would eventually like to live, and he said, “How about western Massachusetts? Wouldn’t that be just as good?” It make sense – the climate is not so different, culturally it has the New England feel that says “home” to me, and we both like the area. “No,” I had to say, “it wouldn’t.” As nice as it is there, it is not at all the same and it’s not my home. The angles of light are different. The trees are different. The air doesn’t smell the same. The water tastes different. It’s not that far away, but it’s not at all the same to me. I think I could pin my exact home landscape down to a few square miles.

  5. Pitch313 said

    San Francisco–“outside your comfort zone”?

    That city used to be called “Baghdad by the Bay” because it was such an enchanting place. That city was and continues to be one of the most Pagan friendly, and is the birthplace of at least two influential Neo-Pagan trads–NROOGD and Reclaiming.

    The SF Bay Area is, as far as modern Paganism goes, like the New Alexandria, full of intelligent, inspired practitioners and scholars.

    Interesting and curious that you would have such a response to the place.

    I am, incidentally, a San Francisco Bay Area native…

  6. executivepagan said

    I think you missed the point of the post… which was that *everywhere* that’s not in my particular biome is outside my comfort zone (also, if you go back you will see that San Francisco is one of the two places outside this region that I said I might *be* comfortable living…).

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