Monthly Archives: January 2016

In a Hundred Years?

I just read an article over at the Wild Hunt entitled “What Will Paganism Look Like in a Hundred Years?” It got me thinking, and I wanted to write out my own response here. I want to preface this with the caveat that we can’t know the future. Sure, we can look at current trends and historical precedents to guess at the future, but these guess are little more than that. Maybe hypotheses, educated guesses, but still educated guesses. We won’t know what the future looks like until Tomorrow actually arrives.

Still, as a writer, you could say I dwell in the art of speculation. As such, I would like to present my own thoughts on where paganism is going.

In a hundred years, I hope we see human life move out into space, or at least the closest realms of it; the moon, Mars; maybe a few of Jupiter’s moons, that kind of thing. With it, I would hope that people of the pagan (ect) persuasion move out into the universe too. As an animist, I can only dream of the new spirits we might encounter! I wonder what kind of beings one might find on the Moon, or on Mars. Hell, with humans moving to these location we could bring a whole host of spirits and Gods with us. In the long term (very long) some of these forms of life may become something entirely different in response to the different environment. Heck, the same could be said for humans as well.

In somewhat the same vein, I agree with some of the statements Phaedra Bonewits made in the Wild Hunt article. Paganism as a whole is diversifying quickly. Druids, Heathens, Polytheists, many of which were rarely encountered in the past decades. These new growths will grow into their own trees in the next hundred years, and I cannot say what kind of new seeds may take root. Or for that matter, what current traditions/paths what have you, will whither and die.

These ideas carry into Fox’s and Beckett’s responses as well. If such a thing as the Big Tent of Paganism ever existed, it is starting to show a lot of holes (as Mankey points out). I agree that paganism will continue to flourish and grow, and that the reasons for that are many. Pagany things like shrines, temples, schools and libraries will continue to pop up, in order to serve the needs of the growing community. Also, we may well just see more pagans in the public sphere, as elected officials. Still, I agree with Beckett’s conclusion that despite all this, paganism will likely remain a minority. Just a more vibrant one with better developed infrastructure.

I also agree with some of Mankey’s sentiments, that perhaps the breaking up of the Big Tent may not be a wholly positive thing. As he puts it; “the break up of the umbrella will make us even less strong politically, and limit the give and take that comes from being part of a wide-ranging coalition. I agree with the general idea that there is a lot to learn in forming relationships with people that don’t share your worldview. Maybe the Big Tent will come down in the future, but that doesn’t mean we can put up a bunch of smaller tents, and still visit our neighbors in the pagan camp/village.

I don’t feel I have a lot more to say on this issue, so feel free to visit the Wild Hunt and read the article for yourself.

Thank you for reading!

References;

http://wildhunt.org/2016/01/what-will-paganism-look-like-in-100-years.html

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Animism and Capitalism Part 1

“In ancient times, the land lay covered lay covered in forests. Where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony. But as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed…” — Princess Mononoke

Maybe it is that some of you wonder where exactly I stand on the topics of capitalism and consumerism? Well, I think it is time I explore these topics in a little more depth. Instead of tackling these topics straight on, I am going start by exploring them in a little more of a round about way.

Through popular culture, or more specifically, through lens of Princess Mononoke. This movie is on my super short list when it comes to favorites…

If you are not familiar with this work, I am plain and simply going to pretend I don’t know you…

As such, I am going forward with the assumption that you are familiar with these things, and so a general recap of either of them would be entirely moot. Therefore, I am going to jump straight into things.

Mononoke is absolutely rife with both animistic as well as ecological and environmental things, put briefly, things that are very very close to my heart. In a wider context, we see at least two very distinct “worlds” in this movie. The first, inhabited by San, and Moro, we see “nature, specifically represented in the form of a forest. It is full of life, from boars to apes, trees and tree spirits, and of course the Spirit of the Forest him/her/it/self. Moro is a wolf god, and is accompanied oftentimes by two smaller wolves, referred to as “pups” in the movie. Also, there is San, Princess Mononoke herself. She is human for all physical purposes, but is described in the movie as Moro’s human child. She is considered to be part of the Wolf Tribe, and is quite vocal about her distaste for humans.

As Moro says in the movie; “neither human, nor wolf.”

You could say she is my favorite character, and I find her immensely relate-able in so many ways.

On the other side of the coin, is “civilization”, represented in the movie by Iron Town, and more distantly, the “Empire” more generally. The “Empire” is one part of the story we never actually see, but is represented by samurai, and the general attempt to take over Iron Town. It is a kind of “faceless” form of civilization, one that is never seen, but it effects are felt all over; from Iron Town to Ashitaka’s own tribe the Emishi people, which are said to have been all but extinct because of the Empire.

Whereas San and Moro represent the forest and nature, civilization is chiefly represented by the characters of Lady Eboshi, and the monk Jigo. In these two characters, while not wholly evil per se, we see many of the traits of civilization, and of capitalism. For example, Jigo’s whole goal in the movie is to kill the Great Forest Spirit, so that he may deliver the head to the Emperor for “an entire hill” of gold and amnesty for his crimes. Though, one of his speeches is especially moving to me;

“These days, there are angry ghosts all around us. Dead from wars, sickness, starvation, and nobody cares. So you say you’re under a curse, so what, so is the whole damn world.”

Lady Eboshi is a much more dynamic character, but her motivations still lean towards greed and profit. As the story goes, Iron Town was entirely unproductive (and unprofitable) until Lady Eboshi arrived with her rifles and soldiers. Her soldiers in turn drove the boar god from the mountain, the very same boar god that later attacks Ashitaka’s people. Her motivation for killing the boar god is so that the miners can get to iron under the mountain, and in her own words;

“..when the forest has been cleared and the wolves wiped out, this desolate place will be the richest land in the world.”

Granted, she is a much more nuanced and complicated character. She has a knack for treating lepers humanely, and frees brothel girls to be part of Iron Town. Also, at the end of the story, she does partly redeem herself. After the Great Forest Spirit has been killed, her arm ripped off, and Iron Town destroyed, she says:

“Amazing. The wolves and that crazy little wolf girl helped save us all. Ashitaka. Can someone find him? I need to thank him. We going to start all over again. This time we’ll build a better town.”

In addition, it is assumed early on in the movie that iron itself is a cause of evil and poison. Ashitaka’s people are attached by a evil demon, which we find out is actually a boar god poisoned by a iron bullet, that came from the west where “there is at at work.” We also see a great example of animism in practice after the boar god’s death. The Wise Woman from the village comes out to the fallen boar, and says;

“Oh nameless god of rage and hate, I bow before you. A mound will be raised and funeral rites preformed on this ground where you have fallen. Pass on in peace, and bear us no hatred.

To which the boar responds;

“Disgusting little creatures. Soon all of you will feel my hate, and suffer as I have suffered.”

The iron is of course manufactured in Iron Town, by working women in the forge, from ores mined from the mountain of the late boar god, Nago (sp?). It is thus presented that “nature” is good, and “civilization” is evil. However, even the movie itself is far more nuanced than such a simple dichotomy.

Which is where Ashitaka comes in, one of the main characters and the character of balance throughout the movie. He comes to Iron Town seeking a cure from his curse, and it is there he becomes entangled in the events that involve nature, San and Moro, and civilization, consisting of Eboshi and Jigo, as well as countless others.

He is the mediator throughout the movie, regularly going from “nature”, to “civilization” and back, running between Eboshi, and San and others. He acts as mediator, and negotiator, and helps one side or the other, whereas not clearly taking the side of one or the other. He saves some of Eboshi’s people early in the movie, then follows the Kodamas (tree spirits) into the heart of the forest, before reappearing again in Iron Town to help the women work the bellows, and return the follow people to the town.

It would be easy to say that Ashitaka is on the side of nature, given his companionship with San, and that he ultimately helps to return the head of the Forest Spirit. I am inclined to partially agree, but it is also to keep in mind that Ashitaka is also the catalyst that saves many of the people from Iron Town, as well as that he opts to help the people rebuild Iron Town as the story comes to an end.

It is between San and Eboshi where Ashitaka stand, quite literally at one point in the movie. However, while Ashitaki is more closely aligned to San, it is balance he represents more than anything. Especially at the end of the movie, where San returns to the forest, and Ashitaka returns to the village, it is in their relationship that we see a new balance emerging. A fusion of nature and civilization.

In fact, Ashitaka even says it himself, standing in the forest talking to Lady Eboshi;

“So it’s don’t kill the forest god, now you want us to kill samurai instead?” Lady Eboshi says.

“No, what I want is for the humans and the forest to live in peace!” Ashitaka says.

I think it is notable that right after this exchange, Jigo wonders what side Ashitaka is on.

Also, I think that illustrates best where I stand on capitalism and consumer culture. I am not really sure what side I stand out. It is an uncomfortable middle ground to be sure. I do not support capitalism, as I can see how it is poisoning our water, our air, and slowly destroying the Earth and all that live here. I can see the destruction of the forests, the plastics in the oceans, and the increasing toxic environments we live in. In addition, it may not simply just be capitalism, but human civilization in general. As it grows, so does its need for more and more resources. Capitalism only exacerbates this greed, taking more and more in the name of profit.

Yet, at the very same time I dream of a future where humanity reaches out for the stars. While I have no love for capitalism, I do not want to do away with many of the things that define modern life. Electricity, vehicles, the internet. I do not want to destroy civilization. This comes with the very real truth that we will still need things like metal, and plastic, and sadly, fossil fuels. Reaching for the stars will involve metal, and computers, and some sort of means to get there.

With these two sides in mind, caught somewhere between nature and civilization, I seek a new balance. Like San, I love the wolves and the woods. Like Ashitaka, I want to see balance and harmony between the humans and all the other living beings on this planet.

In ancient times, there was no clear divide between nature and culture. That is what I seek to change. I seek a new balance, between civilization and nature. I don’t want all we have worked for to be lost, and I also want to see the forests, rivers and air be clean again. It means I want to work for a civilization that is truly sustainable, that is green and verdant with life, and a world that has no need for fossil fuels.

I want to build a better town.

I am still working on how to do that; as there is plenty more to write about these topics.

Sources/References

Princess Mononoke (Film) 1997

Shinto, Paganism and Awareness in the Feature Films of Hayao Miazaki. By Pia Van Ravestein, in the Anthology Engaging the Spirit World, Edited by Lupa.


Goals and Climate Talks

So the amount of things I want to write about are simply staggering at this point. It seems like I am falling behind again. I am finally getting around to writing about topics that have been sitting for months. I really wish I could write full time, but that is little more than a pipe dream at this point.

Be that as it may, today I want to talk about sustainable development, and the future of human civilization. There has been a lot of chatter about these topics lately, what with the climate talks in Paris, and other places as well. I have talked about these things at length in the past, but as things move forward there is always more to say on these topics. The question becomes, where to begin?

Back in September, the UN released a set of new goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals. These are replacing the old goals, which expired at the end of 2015. As NPR reports on the matter;

The goals are meant to guide development priorities around the globe over the next 15 years.

It also points out that these goals are highly ambitious. In my mind that is okay, because there is nothing wrong with aiming high. Remember that old adage about aiming for the moon, and even if you miss you still land among the stars. It needs to be pointed out that these are goals only, and are not binding in any legal sense. I will be talking more about that in a minute, but suffice to say that little the UN puts out is binding in most senses of the term. The is because it is a global council of nations, not any kind of world government. However, even that being said, I think the world having goals is better than nothing at all. Hell, it may be on a volunteer basis, but it at least gives us something to measure our efforts. For example, I signed on to the Pagan Statement on the Environment. Is it legally binding? No. Does it give me something to guide my actions? Absolutely.

In addition, I find that many of these goals align with my own views. I have always been of the view that we need to tackle the future holistically, top down as well as bottom up. We need to reshape how we do things on the local level, as well as at the national and international level. That is because things like climate change are global problems, that are effecting every nation across the globe. At the same time, to tackle these things on a global we will need solutions at all levels of organization, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

I want to touch on just a few of these goals, because I feel they deserve some further exploration;

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

This goal calls for a doubling of agricultural production by small-scale farmers.”

We will need agriculture going forward, there is no way around that that I can see. At the same time, we need to move away from things like CAFOs, and massive industrial-style farms that are huge polluters, geared entirely for profit, and generally just unsustainable. We would need to get away from such methods of production, while at the same time still growing enough food for everyone.

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

This goal calls for universal access to electricity and more renewable energy.”

In the future, we will need access to electricity. The very reason I am able to write this post, is because of electricity. However, long gone are the days were we can rely on fossil fuels, and as such things like coal and natural gas will have to be phased out. Also, we will have to find alternatives to replace them, which is where renewables come in. While all renewables have their associated costs and problems, I think with current technology it is possible to create a sustainable grid. The costs of things like solar and wind are dropping rapidly, and things like fusion are getting closer all the time. This is to say nothing about future technologies that have not yet been invented or explored. I am not saying any of this will be easy, or cheap, only that it can be done. It is possible, and within our ability as a species to transition away from fossil fuels. It will be a long process, and many things will need to change. But I think it can be done.

I honestly urge you to take at look at the list, because there is so much more to say on all these things. Of course, this is not to say I agree with everything wholesale. For example;

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

This item sets an ambitious annual economic growth target of 7 percent per year for the poorest nations.”

I have very mixed feelings on this one. I am not denying there is room for growth, especially in poorer countries. There is a lot to be done, and a lot of it ties into things like equality and fair income distribution. Economic development, especially truly sustainable development, can go a long way to shrinking the inequality gap between rich “have” countries, and poor “have not” countries. However, I think at least part of this goal reinforces the “infinite” growth model of economics. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet, period. That is something that will have to be looked at in more depth, because it is just not feasible or sustainable in any way.

Which brings me to the COP21 conference more recently in Paris. A lot of people have expressed disappointment with how little was binding about the agreement that was reached. I have very mixed feelings about this one. According to NPR, there are some parts of the pact that are binding, and some that are voluntary. While I would have liked to see a binding pact, let’s be realistic about the UN…. It really doesn’t have the authority to create a globally binding treaty. I didn’t really expect anything binding to come out of the talks.

But that fact that nearly 200 countries came together and agreed on a course of action at all, that is huge. In addition, one that outlines very ambitious goals, on relatively short time scale. These countries have proposed to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C, as well as to redistribute billions of dollars to help developing countries switch to alternative and more sustainable sources of energy. In addition, it gives signing countries 5 years to come up with a long term plan to meet these goals. In effect, creating a system of self-evaluation and international peer pressure. Maybe not perfectly binding, but like the goals above, its a step in the right direction.

Yet, I still have my reservations of course. As NPR points out, individual governments still have to adopt the deal…

The agreement still needs to be approved by the individual governments of the countries involved. But the U.N. won’t be waiting for all 196 nations to give the green light. Countries have from April 22, 2016, to April 21, 2017, to officially sign on to the agreement. Once at least 55 nations — representing, between them, at least 55 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions — have signed on, the pact can go into effect.

It will kick in 30 days after that requirement is met. ”

I honestly have to wonder if America will be one of those countries. With the Republican majority in the House and Senate, I have serious doubts. Especially going into an election year… I think this is an immensely important deal, even if it is not perfect. Hell, it may even be too late to do anything about climate change, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. While some are disappointed in the deal itself, I for one will be more disappointed in America refuses to do anything about the very real challenges ahead.

Closing Thoughts

Maybe it all makes me a dreamer, but I think that humanity as a whole is capable of weathering the storms ahead. Our civilization can endure, with certain necessary changes. These are global recognized problems at this point, but whether or not we can muster the political will and resources to meet these challenges has yet to be seen. In many ways, things like peak oil and climate change do not represent just technological problems, as much as legal, political, and cultural problems. It is not just our technologies that have to change, but also our legal, economic, and political systems, as well as our cultural assumptions and patterns of behavior. In so many ways, the choices in front of us will determine the future of the human civilizations, as well as that of the entire planet.

There are plenty of challenges ahead, and these challenges all present the opportunity to adapt, change and grow, as well as to leave the fossil fuel era far behind us as we move forward and reach for the stars.

References;

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35084374

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/12/459502597/2-degrees-100-billion-the-world-climate-agreement-by-the-numbers

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/09/25/443149821/u-n-dreams-big-17-huge-new-goals-to-build-a-better-world