Tag Archives: Consumerism

There and Back Again

And here I was all set to write a nice little post about the Summer Solstice and some preliminary designs for a wood-carving project, when I allowed myself to become impossibly distracted and simply wandered off the trail.

Distractions happen.  Just lately, they seem happen a lot.

Sometimes, when they crop up, I am able to ignore them and force myself back onto the trail.  And then there are those times when I find that the place into which I have wandered is, for the moment at least, more interesting than my original destination.

This time the culprit was a post on one of the Pagan forums I follow on Facebook.

Ahh Facebook, we might have colonized the planet Mars by now, if not for thee!

Anyway, someone posted asking the group if it was okay for him to adapt Native American rituals to his practice because he feels called to spirits from that tradition, this, despite the fact that he has no Native ancestry to speak of.

“Well now, there’s a topic just ripe for debate, “ I thought to myself, “surely there will be plenty of folks who will speak up against the appropriation of First Nations beliefs, while others will urge respectful study of those traditions, and….,”

And I should have known better.

It’s not that kind of board.

“Do what you want.” — “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks!” — “Whatever makes you happy.” — “No one culture has more claim on a god just because they made them up.” — “Pick and choose whatever you want … instead of fighting it, consume it.”

CONSUME IT!

Because the gods are just boxes of breakfast cereal to be pulled down off the shelf on a whim.

Consumer Gods

So as I was about to turn my attention away from this consumer-culture imperialist love-fest, I began to notice something happening that struck me as quite odd.

The primary justification, provided by the majority of the people posting in the ‘Do what thou wilt’ column, was, “You may have been Native American in a past life, so just go with it.”

As I watched this theme appear again and again throughout the thread, I realized just how wickedly perfect this argument is in the hands of those who would prefer to duck any responsibility for their actions and beliefs.

“I’m a rebel.  I’ll do what I want, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.”

“Oh, and by the way, I was the concubine of Ramses III in a past life, and that’s totally why I’ve got that statue of Bast on my alter, and it’s not just because I thought it would look really cool sitting on my purple altar cloth.”

And who can argue with that?

You can’t very well prove that someone wasn’t formerly a priestess of Ishtar in ancient Uruk.  And if you like her statues, or her legend, or even just the sound of her name, who is to say that you are not recalling a past life memory creeping through into the present.

That, my friends, is the kind of circular logic I usually only encounter in conversations about the Bible.

But there are obvious problems with this line of…, thinking (heh, I almost said logic there).

Firstly, as I’ve already stated, the reincarnation argument abrogates responsibility for almost any form of cultural appropriation, and for that reason alone, it should be treated with the utmost skepticism.

If that were not enough, how about this…,

Whenever I have encountered people who believe in this sort of reincarnation, where you could have been anyone from any time or place, this has been coupled with a related belief that we live these lives for a reason, to learn certain lessons from our experiences there, which our souls require to reach a level of enlightenment.

And if that were true of our past lives, it must also be true of our present lives, which means we are, who we are, in the here and now, for a reason.

So why then should who we were in our past lives trump the realities of our present?

The journey, as I understand it, is intended to be a one-way affair, not there and back again.

But let’s say we just forget all of that, and really just focus on that past life.  But instead of using it as an excuse to do what we want in the here and now, what if we instead used this belief as an opportunity to truly empathize with the person we were?

Imagine yourself for just a moment, falling under the guns of the 7th Regiment at Wounded Knee.  As you go down, you die with the knowledge that your family falls with you.  Brothers and sisters, grandparents and toddlers alike, gunned down by men who will be given awards for your slaughter.

Now try to imagine how you might feel about the descendants of the people who gunned you down, raped your women, and stole your land, looting your most sacred rituals…, and then tell me again how your possible past life experience gives you the right to any damn thing.

Yeah, I don’t think so.

The gods are not commodities to be used by just anyone who comes along, and our ancestors, all of our ancestors, deserve better than to have their traditions plundered by those who would ignore ancient wisdom in favor of wishful thinking.

Let’s do the work people.

Let’s be willing to take responsibility in the here and now.

And let’s build upon the past, instead of trying to co-opt it.

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Religion

People of the Dawn

Wampanoag

In their own stories they had been there just shy of forever.  Their father’s fathers roamed those same woods, hunting for game and fishing along the riverbanks.  Their villages were dotted throughout lands both wild and cultivated, for they were a people who knew how to work with the land.

They knew that the “three sisters” (beans and squash from the twisting vine, and sacred maize, standing tall and golden in the sunlight) would grow best in fields that had gone unplanted in the previous season.  They would take fish from the river and, thanking them for their sacrifice, would lay them in small mounds as an offering and inducement to the spirits of the sisters.

As the first shoots of corn, planted first, began to grow from these fertile mounds, beans and squash would be planted next, so that as the stalks of corn grew tall, the vines of the other sisters would climb and grow strong, blending their spirits and changing the soil for the better.

The people had lived this way for as long as any could remember, farming the land, gathering the wild fruits and nuts, fishing it’s rivers and coasts, and hunting it’s game.  And always, they were thankful, calling out in gratitude to the departing spirit of the fallen beast, blessing the land and the trees and the spirits that watched and cared for them from above or beyond.

These were the people who where called the Wampanoag, which in their own language, means ‘People of the Dawn’.

We do not know why they were called such.

Perhaps it was because their stories seemed to reach back to the dawn of time.  Or maybe, inhabiting the very edges of the Eastern seaboard as they did, they felt that their tribe, more than any other, was closest to the rising sun.

I wonder what it did to them, seeing a new people arrive on their shores as if from out of the dawn itself.

The truth is, we don’t really know that much about them.

By the time the passengers of the Mayflower began to disembark, they had already dwindled to a fraction of their numbers, killed off by disease – an early gift from their European visitors.  We know that they worked in cooperation with the settlers of the Plymouth Colony, and indeed are responsible for the survival of that colony through it’s second winter.  They taught the colonists how to hunt and grow native crops, and it seems likely that they attempted (with mixed success) to impart upon their new neighbors something of the ‘spirit of thanks’ with which they moved through their world.

The holiday which we celebrate today as Thanksgiving, is more likely a memory of traditional Wampanoag harvest celebrations, than anything organized by those ‘oh so famous’ Pilgrims.

So where now are the People of the Dawn?

A couple thousand of them still survive.  Christianized, of course, and with only scarce hints of their previous culture and history upon which to cling.  The last native speaker of their language died over 100 years ago.

Today the Wampanoag and their traditions have all but vanished from this land.

And still we give thanks.  Not moment by moment, of course, or even daily for the most part.  Today we seem to save it all up for but a single day.  We gather our families and friends.  We feast and make merry.  We are thankful to our loved ones and our god(s).  We even remember, however briefly, that none of these things would have come to pass, had not a dying people taken pity on their new neighbors and shown them how to survive in a world that was being stolen from them, bit by bit.

And then the next morning, as the light of the sun begins to break over the horizon in the east, it will find them gathered by the tens of thousands (or is it millions?) outside the stores.  The Black Friday shoppers will be waiting for the doors to open so that they may descend like locusts upon the goods therein, freely sacrificing personal dignity for the chance to save a few precious dollars on some tacky doorbuster.

There will be no ‘thankfulness’ to be found in that mob, only hunger, and greed, and the angry noise and stink of the crowd.

These are the new People of the Dawn, and I can find no sympathy for them.

Sleep in, if you can, on Friday.

Be thankful in the moment for all that you have and always mindful of the things you can live without.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Traditions

Out of Season

Okay, lets see…,

Bananas, Grapes, Celery, Carrots, (radishes? mmmm, yeah) Radishes, Cantelope, (next aisle) Grated and (oooh, munster’s on sale) Block Cheese, Pepperoni, (next aisle) Crackers, Tortillas, Rice,  (next aisle, am I out of honey? peanut butter? what about pasta sauce?  ummm…,) Pasta Sauce, (next aisle….,

What — is — THIS!?

This photo was taken on August 12th, fully 12-weeks before Halloween.

This photo was taken on August 12th, fully 12-weeks before Halloween.

There is halloween candy as far as the eye can see in my local grocery and it’s only AUGUST!

— taking a deep breath….       ….and release —

What I am not going to do is rant about how retailers always put out holiday merchandise far too early.  Although such diatribes are a time-honored tradition, I have come to feel that they miss the point.  Appearances to the contrary, the problem here is not just one of crass consumerism.

The problem is us.

We have become a people of the moment.  We want ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ happens to be, and we want it now.  We don’t like to be kept waiting.  We don’t want to make sacrifices or to go without.  We are owed.  We are entitled.

I see it daily: grown men and women throwing tantrums like the most petulant of children because they had to wait for someone to help them, or because they couldn’t get exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.

The collective will of the people demands an immediacy of experience, and the universe, through technology, industry and consumerism, has bowed to that desire.

Bowed, I think, almost to the point of breaking.

In shaping the universe to our whim, we have built a society that sees no value in delayed gratification.

I have begun to wonder, if the exploration of the distance between wanting a thing and the having of it, does not have a central role in our ethical underpinnings.  Does the steady decrease in the space between ‘want’ and ‘have’ equate to some species of moral decay?

I have several friends and acquaintances who are (and it pains me to say this) thieves.  They do not break into peoples homes or pick their pockets on the street.  Instead they spend their evenings downloading bootleg copies of movies and TV shows.  The rational I hear from them is that they don’t want to wait until the movie is released on video to watch it, or, they don’t want to wait until they can afford to buy it.

They want it and the space between wanting the thing and saving the money to buy it was too great for them.  If possession is just a few keystrokes away, why should they have to wait?

Never mind that they dishonor themselves in the process.  Never mind that by doing what they do, they encourage the industry to raise the prices of its content for everyone else.  “If you were smart,” my friends tell me, “you’d steal it too.”

Take another look at my grocery list above.

Our grandparents could likely remember a time when they might go shopping and only find a few of the fruits and vegetables listed, because those were the only ones that were currently ‘in-season’.  These days we find it hard to fathom such a world.  We have become so used to having every sort of produce we might want, available to us any time we want, day or night, Summer or Winter, that we forget that fruits and vegetables can only be harvested at certain times of the year.  Most of what we are buying is shipped and flown in from all over the world.  The cost, in global pollution generated, to keep tomatoes and oranges on the grocery shelves 24/7/365 is frightening to comprehend.

NRDC Chart

Is it worth it?

I won’t deny that it’s nice to be able to pick up some apples whenever I want them.  How much better would they taste, how much more sweet would they be, if I had to wait until the fall when they are actually in-season?

I would argue that there is often a great value in waiting.

That value may be personal, as in that first burst of taste you experience as your teeth pierce the viridescent skin of a Granny Smith for the first time in months.  Or the value could extend far beyond one’s self, to a reduction of your carbon footprint, or even the promotion of a more selfless means of interacting with the world.

Our ancestors, I think, knew the value in waiting.

The coming celebration, which the Celts called Samhain and modern society has transformed into Halloween, was a celebration of the final harvest of the year.  In a manner of speaking, every day that passed after Lughnasadh, every day spent toiling in the fields, or herding the flocks from the high to the lowlands, every moment of building and storing and preserving that went on in preparation of the coming winter, was working toward Samhain.  The celebration itself was as much about the wait as it was the final culmination of community efforts towards a common goal.

What possible significance can a celebration based of waiting and preparation have in a society so focused on Instant Gratification?  More than once I have heard from those of my fellow Pagans, born and raised in urban environments, that the traditional holy days, based as they are on an agricultural cycle, have little meaning to them.

In our quest for ever greater convenience we have stripped away our sense of time and place, and in doing so, we have endangered even our spiritual connection to the natural world.

It is up to us to win that connection back, to say ‘NO’ to a culture that claims that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, at someone else’s expense.

We can choose to live our lives ‘In Season’, knowing our limits and accepting that those things which are out of our reach will come to us in their own proper time and place.  Or we can take the easier road and continue to live like locusts, consuming whatever is put in front of us with never a thought as to where it came from or who was harmed in getting it here.

The supermarket suppliers are counting on us to take the easy road.  Rest assured they have cases of orange and black wrapped candy sitting in their stockrooms, waiting to replace what’s already sitting on the shelves.  They’re counting on you to eat the first few bags yourself, long before Halloween comes round.  They know you’ll be back to buy more…, and more.

And why shouldn’t you indulge yourself now.

What is the value in waiting?

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life

Beyond “the Pail”

I must beg the indulgence the grammarians and the history buffs among my readers.  I know very well that the proper term is “Beyond the Pale”.

A “pail” is a metal bucket.  “The Pale” is something else entirely.

The roots of the term go back at least as far as the 14th Century.  In those times a “pale” was what we would think of now as a “fence post” or even a “picket”.  Essentially, a pale was a white stake, driven into the ground to form a border.  Over time, that definition grew and “pale” went from meaning a single post, to an entire fence, and then finally it came to encompass the area contained within that fence.

Ireland Beyond The PaleSpecifically, “Beyond the Pale” refers to that area outside of the city of Dublin, during the English occupation.  The area “Within the Pale” was considered to be cultured and respectable.  English society dominated, and the people behaved appropriately, following the rules of polite society like good little citizens.

In other words: everyone did what they were told.

Beyond the Pale and outside the range of the Crown’s ready authority, things were not always quite so ordered.  Folks might act against the agreed upon societal norms.  People from Beyond the Pale were seen as little more than simple bumpkins, too uneducated to understand the many personal benefits of upright, civil society.

So why then, did I entitle this piece, “Beyond the Pail”?

Because, after a sting of miserably hot days, I woke up this Sunday morning to a beautiful light rain and temperatures that were flirting with the upper 60’s F.  Having the day off from work, I felt compelled to skip my normal, hurried breakfast, and embarked instead, on a pleasant stroll through my neighborhood.

A refreshing breeze, a glowering sky, and the feel of cool raindrops on my brow, have been known to inspire strange and sometimes rebellious thoughts in my mind.

On this morning, as I wandered through the gentle patter of an unexpected summer shower, the thought that came to me was this…,

———

Imagine that as a child, you were given a bucket.  At first, the bucket was empty and you carried it around with you at ease, hardly remembering that you had it at all.  Over time, however, you started to add to it.  Your tiny hands grasp at a favorite new toy and a single drop of water plinks down against the dry metal bottom of the pail.  Your new clothes, your games, your books, your friends…,

Plink.

Plink.

Plonk.

Splash!

Now we have a layer of water at the bottom.  We can hear it sloshing around when we move, and our elders warn us, ever so gently, to be careful.  We wouldn’t want any spill over the sides.  The water is precious and should never go to waste!

And so we hold our buckets a little more tightly, and we go on about out lives.

We grow up.  We become serious.  We learn the rules.

Along the way we will go to school, get a job, buy some stuff, land a better job, buy yet more stuff, and eventually find a mate, because that is what we are supposed to do.

And still —trickle-trickle-trickle— we are always adding to that bucket.

Now it has become heavy, the strain of it, a constant burden.  The handle bites deeply into the flesh of our hands and our arms begin to ache with the weight of it.  Yet, we couldn’t think of setting it down, even for a moment.  We’ve gathered too much to risk spilling any of it now!  Desperate, we clutch the bucket to ourselves, holding it against our chests with our arms wrapped around its cold, tin shell.

Eventually, the bucket is filled nearly to the brim and we must take every step with great care.  We nearly stumble and grit our teeth in frustration as precious water sloshes over the rim.  The uncomfortable damp of loss spreads downward through our clothes, mixing with the sweat of our labor.

We glance upward for a moment, to see if the others have noticed our slip.

Until now, most of our attention has been focused downward, upon our own wavering reflection and the ever decreasing distance between the waters edge and the curled metal lip which retains it.

And now?  Looking up, beyond the pail, we see everyone else, our neighbors, our friends and family, all of them struggling with their own buckets, desperate to not lose a single drop of what belongs to them.

———

We live in an age where the greatest focus is on the self.

We work as many hours as possible so that we can afford our creature comforts, which mostly sit unused while we work to afford still more.  When we have finished our eating and our buying and find that we have money left over we deem it “disposable income” and spend it on the things that we don’t really need, but want anyway.

Old Tin BucketWe fill our buckets while others go thirsty, while the world burns down around us, and we excuse our own greed by saying that “those people” should have worked harder.  We could point them out, easily enough, the lazy ones, and the unlucky, who want little more than to take what is ours.

No, that would be impolite.

Also, these buckets are quite heavy and we need both hands to carry them.

Or maybe we could do something different, something unexpected.

Perhaps, just for a change, we could put our buckets down and rest our weary backs for a moment.  It might actually do us some good to get away from our own reflections for a while, to actually look at the people and the world around us.

Would it hurt to think a little less about what we “want” as opposed to what others “need”?

Does anyone have a dipper for these buckets?
Did they hand those out as well and we just forgot about them?

What if we shared what we have collected with our brothers and sisters and what if they shared with us; would we even need the damn buckets anymore?

Can you imagine, just for a moment, what would happen if we just heaved all of it into the air (the water – not the buckets), just gave it all back and let it rain down, watering the Earth around us?  I wonder what miracles we could grow?

———

These are the thoughts I entertain, while walking in the rain on a cool summer morning.

I only wish I hadn’t been alone out there.

The streets I walked were deserted.

I suppose my neighbors were taking an easy morning in the comfort of their homes, or attending their various Sunday morning services.

I can’t help but think that we might all be better off if more of them had been out on the street, sharing the simple joy of a rainy morning and the view of the world outside the rim of their buckets and beyond the pale.

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Filed under Culture, Ireland, Modern Life, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

…and Everything Nice

She asked me to take her out into the snow.

The rest of the family, related by either blood or bond, and gathered for the yule/christmas celebration, is busy inside the house where the fire I have been tending keeps them warm.  Some have been trying to tidy the living room, still strewn with torn paper and bows from packages unwrapped.  The kitchen is a flurry of activity as the holiday meal is being prepared.  Talk and banter suffuse the toasty air inside.

But it’s snowing outside and Taylor wants to go out and play in it.

Back inside, an entire rainbow of new plastic toys litter the floor, forgotten.  Somewhere, an entire team of toy developers and marketing gurus are pulling their hair out in clumps as a little girl (and I hope, thousands, even millions like her) ignores the results of countless of hours of careful design and focus-group play-testing, in favor of the simple magic of crunching her way through fresh snowfall.

I watch her stretching out her arms to catch the falling crystals, and I am glad.

Taylor In The Snow

I have never wanted children of my own.

It’s not that I don’t like them.  I actually think kids are pretty fantastic, in small doses and under controlled conditions (as if anything is every really under control where children are concerned).

I also happen to be quite good with them.  This is a fact that often leaves those who think they know me well, but have never seen me around children, astonished.  I really don’t seem the type, but at gatherings where children are present, I often end up entertaining them.  Don’t tell anyone, but you can easily avoid dull conversation and engage in a fair bit of play when the other adults think you are just trying to keep the little ones occupied.

And they are so very hungry for attention from adults.  It makes them so happy to be noticed at all.

Most of the time, when I see children at my workplace, the poor things have been dragged along like baggage by their parents, busy running errands.  I see them gazing wide-eyed at all the people and things around them, trying to soak it all in.  Sometimes they are fussy, or bored, or angry, and usually because their parents are ignoring them.

They act out, and their parents scold them, and then go right back to ignoring them again.  I’m not a parent and I believe that I would make a very poor one, but I do know that if you only give your child attention when they misbehave (even if that attention is negative) they are going to act out all the more.

The children are watching us.  They study our every move, learning what they need to know to survive and to interact with others.  When you break your toys and then shout at me because you want them fixed, what lesson do you think you are teaching your children?  To whom will you complain when they treat you in the same manner?  What legacy will they then pass on to their own children?

Back outside, little Taylor is still wandering her way through a snow-covered fairyland.

She has new mittens but we forgot them inside and her hands are chilled in the winter air.  Her fingers hurt a little, she says, but she does not want to come in from the cold just yet and I don’t push the issue.  She’ll be okay for a few minutes more.

For the moment, she needs me to look out for her safety – yes, but not to ruin for her the magic of snow.  Kids are resilient, far more so then we typically give them credit for.  When her discomfort is enough she will want to come in on her own without me making the decision for her.  We will warm her hands by the fire and she will feel the prickling numbness which slowly gives way to warmth that I remember being fascinated with as a child.

Let her be a child while she still can.

We must teach her to make her own decisions about the world around her, because soon enough folks will be lining up to make them for her.

Already, the Madison Avenue people are doing all they can to shape her likes and wants.  They spew movies and cartoons which are little more than glorified advertisements, designed to sell their brightly colored bits of future landfill.

It will not be long now before the Texas State Board of Education, with it’s distorted views of history and science, gets its hooks into her.  How much longer before Political Parties and Fundamentalist Religions begin to vie for her attentions, desperate to fill their diminishing ranks.  These people don’t see a little girl, they see a resource waiting to be ground up and purified and made to power the engines of Rapacious Consumerism,  Religious Orthodoxy and Conformist Ideology.

I can’t protect her from that and neither can her parents.  No one can.

All I can do is to join her in play on those rare occasions we are gathered together.  I can show her that she is worthy of the attention she naturally craves.  I can show her that she does not have to be a slave to the wants of those who do not truly care for her well being, by not being a slave to them myself.

I can’t do it alone.

She is going to need many examples to follow if she is going to find her way out of the trap that our society has built for itself.  If the fates are kind, she will find others who will not let her forget that snow IS magical, and that the best part of herself will always be that happy little girl who was made of sugar and spice…,

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Filed under Culture, Family, Holidays, Modern Life