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Conscious Killing

I find myself thick in the Samhain tide this autumn. My world is filled with dying and the conscious taking of life. And I am very wakeful to it. Riding the emotions have been a great challenge. Through it all, I keep looking at the ethics involved, questioning myself, looking to my ancestors for support, looking deep inside my own soul for clarity.

My Samhain tide has started with the autumn leaves falling, their slow desent into decay as the sunlight fades by noticeable minutes each day. The scent of leave mould filling the air. Nature moving through its unending tides between growth and death. This is the dynamic in which I walk each moment.

After nine years of being a strict vegetarian, I have made a shift. It became apparent that ethically my path lies in living locally, divorcing myself more and more from reliance on things from away. My wife and I are rearranging our lives to immerse ourselves in the local environment. My spiritual path is one of engaging in a sacred manner with the Spirits of Place. It is a path of finding my right place in the ecosystem and being content with it. It is one of being ultra-clear about the line between needs and desires. And as I have journeyed this path for the past year or so, I decided to eat meat again. But I maintain these stipulations: it has to be local, organic, and/or wild. I cannot ethically spend money on meat that I don’t know where it comes from. Ultimately, I decided that in order to ethically eat meat, I needed to own the role as killer.

This year, I started bowhunting. And last week I managed to kill a small deer. The arrow was startling effective. The deer died in three seconds. Having completed what I set out to do, I was now face to face with consequence. There was no undo button. I didn’t “enjoy” the killing, the cleaning, or the butchering. This was the first large animal I have killed in my life. I could write a lot about this process and my feelings but suffice to say, this wasn’t easy. It was very unsettling (and this is a good thing).

The Samhain tide then got thicker. A close family member had heart surgery and dangerous complications. A week in ICU and things are beginning to look up. As you can imagine, especially this time of year, the connection and threads of family have been very strong during this crisis. Thoughts of my father who passed eight years ago have been in my mind. My connection to the ancestors has been tugging at me. It all just gets thicker and thicker.

Last weekend, I participated in culling ducks at a friend’s farm. They really needed the help. This was perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. We used cones to hold the ducks (it takes two people, one holding the feet). I had to push a knife behind the trachea and cut the main arteries, holding the head while the animal bled out and died, holding tight during death throws, watching its eyes, feeling its soul to know when it had died. One duck took twenty minutes to expire. This sort of intimacy was the deepest I have ever experienced. It laid me more soul bare than sex. It was extremely challenging, heartbreaking and exhausting. Again, this wasn’t easy.

All around me is the harvest. We are picking the last of the vegetables before the first killing frost hits (it is late this year). My hunting has been successful. We are ridding ourselves of stuff in our living space. All around is conscious killing. It is visceral. It is challenging, humbling, and powerful. My being involved in killing hasn’t brought guilt or shame. It has brought the weight of responsibility to the forefront. Never again will I pull a carrot up, tearing its roots from the Earth, endings its life, consciously killing it, without a deep awareness of the act. And this act is a sacred one. Life feeds on the killing and death of other souls. And one day our death will be the food source for others. And the cycle of life and death, the tides of living and dying will continue.

So I invite all of you to be wakeful to that which you kill, whether it is an animal, vegetable, weed, relationship, process or household item you use and dispose of. We all need to be extremely wakeful to these acts. Each of us, without exception, is a killer on some level. We have to shoulder the responsibility for the killing we do. And for those of you who eat meat, I strongly recommend you involve yourself in the process of taking a life and the processing of the body. This is your obiligation for having this food to eat. And I garauntee you will not be able to eat the meat without a profound awareness of the life you have taken and the significance of the act. And this I assure you will draw a clear line between what is a need and what is a desire.

And finally, I encourage everyone to spend the energy to go as deeply into this Samhain tide as possible. It is time for dying, for letting go of year behind us. It is time for us to dive into mystery, deep intimacy with the darkness around us, within us. It is a opportunity to be extraordinarily wakeful to our own way of being in the world, from our most brilliant creativity, to the killing we do. This is our path as a pagan people.

Please share your thoughts.

Blessings of living and dying,
Snowhawke /|\

Moments

A new poem, gifting back to honor that which I’ve received…

Moments

Gold leaves tumble down on dark waters
Contact making ripples on the surface of the stream
Though surface and depth rush ever downstream
Perfect circles move outward from center to touch the edge
Movement over movement
Moments dancing, sliding over one another in selfless perfection
My heart breaking
As I stand witness to such profound beauty
How does one express gratitude worthy of this place?
And as it witnesses me
Rivers of Awen trickle down my pale cheeks
God blessed

Equinox poem

Here is a simple poem about accepting change. As we slide into the dark half of the year, and my feeling my age, this was a good meditation. I feel so blessed to live here in Maine in this beautiful Saco River Valley.

The Apple

Grey Mabon morning
Plants hang low, heavy with raindrops
Leaves bow silently under baptismal sky
Yet, red fruit hangs unrepentant, firm and ripe
Shamelessly displaying its hold of sunlight

The stem calls out, “hold me”
The sepal seductively beckons one to, “touch me”
The skin, urgent with need, commands, “taste me”

Coded with the eternal,
The apple celebrates its undoing

The Druid College

Greetings! I am sorry for the long stretch without posting. I have been very busy with a new project. My colleague in NYC, James Lawer, and I have created a new organization. It is called Druid College. Over the years, Jim and I talked a lot about the need for well trained priest to help reweave our communities back into an ethical relationship with Nature, and within Nature lives the Gods. And after a lot of work, we are announcing the founding of the Druid College. We have created a three-year program for apprentices to take a deep dive into priesthood training. We offer training in NYC and in Maine. Please check out the announcement below. I hope you all will visit our new web site and read about the program. We would love to hear any feedback.

I will be posting more often as we have a lot of things in the works. Also preparing to teach this course has stirred up a lot of good thought regarding my own practices. More posts coming soon!

Blessings of new adventures,
Snowhawke /|\

————————————————-

The Druid College is dedicated:

to Earth-centered spirituality,
to  the integrity of our natural home, and
to the crafting of sacred relationship.

In short, The College devotes its presence—and it is its sole intent—to prepare priests of Nature.

Druid College is an organization that offers a formal priesthood training program for people who walk a Nature-based spiritual path. The foundation of our three-year program is crafting sacred relationship. It is designed to prepare the apprentice to be in the role of service to the land, the people, and the Gods; to be a priest of Nature. It is open to people of all traditions, from novice to elders.

While there are many good programs that give a foundation in a tradition or general paganism, we saw a need for something that goes deeper, something more complete. The Druid College is for those who wish to journey further into the priesthood. We wish to work with those who want to be ‘carriers’ of Nature-based spirituality – as compared to ‘followers’.

Our Vision:
We envision Druid College as a center of learning, sharing, and support for students and teachers of earth-based spiritual practices, promoting service within local communities that restores and helps maintain devotion to the land, human dignity, and the arts/skills of transformation, in alignment with principles of Druidry.

Each year has a different focus and one needn’t commit to the whole program. But this program will be different than anything anyone else is offering. It is about reweaving our connection to the Earth, the people and the Gods, and carrying that work forward into the next generation. It is for those who wish to dive head-long into the mysteries and want to learn to lead others there as well. With the help of other qualified teachers, we will cover a lot of space, from Permaculture to Wildcrafting, from Druidry to Shamanism, Wakeful meditation to wild Ecstatic Trance, Animism, Geomancy, Storytelling, Ritual Trance Induction, Prison Ministry, Working the Dying, crafting Authentic Relationship and a many other pertinent topics, all the while wrapped in the understanding we are teaching the teacher. This program isn’t about hierarchy. It is about building a community of knowledgeable trained pagan priests to do the work needed to rebuild our communities, reawaken our sense of the sacredness of Nature, and heal the desecration that has been done to our life-giving Mother Earth. This is program is all about building a powerful paganism for today’s world, a paganism filled with integrity and wakeful authentic ways of living, and from there, stepping into the role of service and leadership.

I invite all of you to check out organization and program, http://druidcollege.org/. Please send any feedback or ask questions using the contact form on the site. This is going to be a life-changing program. The first year starts in November. Courses offered in Maine and New York City.

Blessings of new beginnings,
The Druid College /|\

Perfect Equality

A tough day yesterday. I visited the prison after a month and a half of not being able to attend (due to work). Everyone was so glad to see me. One newer man to the group did his dedication to the Wiccan path. He stumbled over the words, couldn’t recall the meaning of things, was thoroughly nervous. So I helped him by asking, Why this path? What is this path about? What do you hope to gain? Basically he responded with simple clarity that is was a “natural” path. It made me realize that so many people just want to get back to living in a natural manner, integrated, connected with a sense of place and purpose. They may not have the intellect or education to express it clearly but the desire is there. And it hit me this way of being is exactly the opposite of what we have built today and the consequences are huge on the individual and global level. This is why the prisons are filled.

Here is the nature of the paradigm and its consequences.

When we live a natural life, one integrated into the ecosystem, where each and everyone of us, all souls human and non-human, have their place, their function and purpose are clear. All needs are met. There is no hierarchy. There is in a sense perfect equality. The brilliant and the mentally challenged all walk in perfect equality as both are essential parts of the whole. This is lost today. We instead have built a system of winners and losers. Those who are not up to the challenge of competition have no place, not just a smaller place. Their value is lost, discarded and never realized. Humanity is less for this. The Earth is less for this. All of Nature is less for this. We are all equally important in the context of the whole. Yet, due to our reductionist mindset and culture, our souls are filled with a sense of self-worth unto ourselves. And for those who aren’t the winners, those who aren’t as smart or good looking, there is only a sense of self-hatred and self-denigration. Where one has no place or purpose in the tribe or in the greater ecosystem, one has the impossible task of trying to find spiritual connection and integration in a vacuum.

I received a call from a friend yesterday. His family experienced the loss of a four-year old niece from a car accident. In the midst of all this, they are dealing with job loss, debilitating disease and great financial stress. Our culture has built itself to an every-one-for-themselves paradigm. So my friend is faced with dealing with all this stress pretty much alone. Where are the neighbors? Where are the structures in the State to help take the stress off people when so much is piled on at once? How come we allow so much to be piled on people that they break? Where are the systems to relieve burdens when people are given too much to carry? As a simple priest in such a dynamic, I feel completely out gunned. I feel the like the sheriff in the movie, “No Country for Old Men”.

My entire being is just so sick of the paradigm of our culture. Why is someone more valuable than another? Why is someone’s time more valuable than another’s? My eight hours of work is just as valuable to me as as CEO making 500 times my wage. My life means just as much to me as his does to him. People will respond to say, well they have more responsibility, they have more credentials, they worked harder. That is true. But it doesn’t address why someone is treated as more valuable. Why should I get paid double what someone else does just because they aren’t as mentally astute? Also it speaks clearly to me that the paradigm that allows such responses is totally removed from the natural world. If we as a society lived in an animistic manner, integrated into ecosystems, awake to our function in it, awake to the flow of the whole, no one would be considered more “valuable”. The lion doesn’t get paid more than the mouse. All needs are met or the ecosystem breaks down.

Sure Nature is merciless. Sure Nature has death. But the value of the prey and the predator is equal. Today we call the cycles of life the “food chain”. We view it as a hierarchy when in fact that is an illusion, a snapshot in time, yet Nature is a continuum. Which is higher, the tiger or the ebola virus. Put in such way, the hierarchy fails. There is no separation in Nature. All human structures need to follow suit. It is the great challenge of our generation to re-weave our societies back into the ecosystems of the natural world. We cannot not continue to see ourselves as outside of Nature. That illusion will be exposed to everyone eventually.

Much of my frustration isn’t that the very basics of food and shelter aren’t being met. Humans are a keystone species and we aren’t living up to that responsibility. We are failing in the realms of meeting the spiritual and psychological needs of our human brothers and sisters. We only seem to honor the aggressive intellectuals that win in the worlds of financial and academia. The man who made his dedication gave me answers that lacked precision in word usage, correct grammar, and verbal grace. But the answers he gave spoke to me of a deep understanding of what sort of life he wanted to have and why that was so important to live a “natural” life. If I posed the same question to the CEO of the company I work for, or to the head of the departments at our respected universities or to our financial geniuses on Wall Street, I doubt very much I would have received answers that had such deep understandings. This prisoner is no less valuable to Nature than the billionaire or genius.

We must find that sense of perfect equality in our culture. I believe Paganism and Permaculture offer us a way forward. But we must guard against elitism. We must refrain from hierarchy. We can’t allow the winner and loser mindset to be a part of what we build. All needs must be met or whatever we build will break. I have my doubts. Organic seems to be only for those who can afford it. Permaculture only for those bright enough to digest the language we use to discuss it.

So I sit here angry. Angry at the situation we humans have created, angry at the social injustice, angry at the deference we pay those who are the winners, the smart people, the highly competitive, the beautiful people. It is sick, very sick and we simply must begin to build an inclusive society where each of us has a place in the ecosystem, and no one is simply left out. In Nature there is no such thing as waste. Why do we humans leave a trail of it everywhere we go? And in that waste, endless sad tales of wasted people and human potential. I am very sad today.

Share Your Gifts

I awoke this morning with these thoughts in my mind. One of the greatest rewards in life is to inspire others. It is our obligation to honor the gifts  our ancestors have passed onto us (no matter how meager we may think they are) and share our creativity. The world doesn’t need more corporate product passed off as art. It needs you to be you, me to be me, expressing our soul’s truth. Remember you and I are the creativity of the Earth. It we hide ourselves, the Earth suffers. If we are lost or drowned out in the corporate media blitz of politics, distraction, mono-culture promotion and consumerism, the Earth suffers. We must stop all the self-negation, find the inspiration inside of us and gift our creativity back to the world. This is the only way we will begin to heal the damage we have done and continue to do to this planet. When we damage the planet, we damage ourselves. There is no separation here.

Paganism and Permaculture

I just returned from seeing a documentary on the Amish peoples. It was presented by the Portland Permaculture Meet-up Group. The film was quite interesting on many levels and inspired a lot of discussion, curiosity and questions.

Most of us realize that our modern way of life isn’t sustainable. It is destroying ecosystems around the globe and has cultivated a society that doesn’t support us on many levels. Humans are inherently tribal creatures, yet our modern way of life works counter to our having healthy families and communities as we chase economic opportunities around and spend our time engaged in jobs that have little or nothing to do with our local environment. Many of us feel disconnected, isolated, and insecure about our future. We feel alone to fend for ourselves. We don’t know our neighbors. We are facing global economic decline and the harsh realities of peak oil and global climate change. Everything about our way of life is dependent on systems out of our control and beyond our local environment. Our ancestors didn’t live this way and we know this isn’t going to work in the long-term. In response, many of us are looking for ways to build a more resilient way of life utilizing permaculture principles and harnessing the power of community.

The Amish in many ways have already accomplished what we are looking to build in our own communities. They have a way of life that recognizes the value of community. They consciously set aside many aspects of individualism for the benefit of the whole. They purposely look at the technology they use and ask the questions, “Is this technology serving the community in the long run?” and “Does this technology devalue the individual?” Efficiency and profit are not their goal. Holding their close-knit communities together is. They have built-in resilience due to a low technology lifestyle. No one has to worry about the basics of life (food and shelter) or about how their family will survive should something happen to them. These big worries that weigh on most of us are pretty much non-existent for them.

What ties the Amish community together is a very powerful and strict religious code. And here lies the aspect of their lifestyle that doesn’t work for most of us. We are not fundamentalist patriarchic Christians (and we don’t want to be – even if it would bring us a sustainable resilient lifestyle that brought us close to the land). Most of us wouldn’t want to live in a strict fundamentalist pagan community either. We value our self-expression.

In the discussion after the film, most people admired what the Amish have been able to build for themselves – beautiful farms, useful crafts and sustainable businesses. We admired their questioning new technologies instead of just blindly following the greater society. But we all had a hard time with strict religious doctrine running our life and being a prerequisite for living in a conscious community. With the Amish, if you don’t accept the strict religious doctrine, you are ousted from the community. Someone asked, “What else can hold a community together other than a belief system, whether religious or political?” My thoughts are these.

What can bind a community together is recognition (not a belief) of the sanctity of the local landscape (a.k.a. Nature). This to me is one of the three core principles of paganism.

How this recognition of sanctity can hold us is as follows; when one really engages with the landscape in a sacred manner, one realizes that we are not separated from the ecosystem. We are not masters of it. But rather, we are an essential and perfectly equal part of the whole. This is an animistic point of view. And this is radical thought for most Americans, in fact for most modern humans. Awakening to this realization changes everything. We know our place in the world and we find acceptance for and value the other souls in our landscape. This point of view being recognized and openly embraced by a community can build lasting ties.

Opposite this way of life is consumerism. We live a consumer lifestyle because we are thoroughly able to export the consequence of our choices. Garbage and pollution are sent elsewhere. Poison from manufacturing dumped into the environment happens in other countries. The suffering and exploitation of human resources is out of sight and out of mind. To me this is the exact opposite of paganism. Paganism is totally and thoroughly local spirituality. Paganism teaches engaging soul to soul with Nature exactly where we are at. Paganism is the practice of this kind of engagement. And when we do this, it radically influences our choices.

So as I explore how to build a better future, one that is sustainable with built-in resilience, I see Permaculture as a way forward. It is a systems approach to working with the landscape that is build on three fundamental ethical ideas, Earth care, People care, and Fair share (Fair share means sharing the abundance with all the souls in the landscape, human and non-human – everyone’s needs are met). Check out Permaculture on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture. Permaculture teaches deep and sustained listening to the local ecology, one that respects and honors all the creatures in a place from the invisible bacteria deep in the soil to the tallest tree, to animals that dwell there to those that migrate through. To me, Permaculture is sort of the new Paganism as it is an expression of engagement to the immediate environment based on respect and equality and listening. It is a beautiful expression of the ideals we hold as pagan people – one that is completely tangible having nothing to do with mythology, religious doctrine or theology.

But permaculture isn’t enough to build interdependent sustainable human communities. Communities need more to bind them together than a systematic (although a brilliant one) approach to working with the landscape. They need a shared vision that speaks to the spiritual as well as physical needs. And that is where I think the true potential of paganism lies. As my teacher Bobcat told me many years ago when we first met, “Paganism was the first religion and it will be the last”. And I fundamentally believe this to be true. If we as humans fail to realize the sanctity of Nature on a deep level, we will not survive the radical change that is happening on the planet. Paganism offers us a vision of life immersed in the sacred, one that is built on experience, not doctrine. And this vision can carry us forward. With the pairing of Permaculture and Paganism, I see a way out of the current economic, ecological and social disaster that is our current paradigm of life.

I invite you all to join in the conversation about building a way of life for you, your family and your community that is truly sustainable and honors the landscape. It doesn’t matter whether you are a climate change denier or really believe that competitive capitalism is the best way for humans to build communities. I think we can all agree that our current way of life isn’t working for many of us. And I think we can all agree that destroying the environment for the economic prosperity of the few, isn’t ethical. So I invite you to think deeply about the kind of life you would like to live and discuss it with your friends and neighbors. Let’s ask the questions and begin to try to find ways to move forward, to build vibrant communities that offer a sustainable and honorable way of life.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Blessings of the New Year,
Snowhawke /|\

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