Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Animist Blog Carnival: On Community & Invasion: Formulating a Sensitive, Sensible Banishing Ceremony

Community: We all play well together. Except when we don't.
Community: We all play well together. Except when we don't.

There are so many layers of community. I could easily wax poetic about fungal dreamworlds, avian acrobat teams or meetings of the Horned Ones under the boreal canopy. To be honest, I would rather be outside making merry among the trees & winds than be inside writing this piece, or inside at all. But it feels as though everyone outside, if they are not completely covered in snow-topped ice, is huddled away somewhere keeping warm, maybe sleeping it off. 

I am pretty tired of it. I try to keep my chin up, but this overwintering in Alaska is making me itch for the high desert (or really anywhere not frozen) something fierce.

Part of my wintertime adaptive strategy in this particularly forbidding bioregion is to invest more heavily in my human (Pagan) community. Having wee ones has always limited my ability to assist in the planning of grand festivals & brouhahas, but local circumstances have evolved. Now, thanks to the Hight Priest, I find small community gatherings just downstairs. I have also have my ragtag band of misfits to ponder & pontificate amongst. To save my sanity, I have been driven to cultivate other community happenings as well. My Friend Druid & I received permission from Dianne Sylvan to run a local, in-house "Spiritual Nomads" study group over the winter & I host bimonthly Egyptian Cabaret belly dance instruction in my living room. We have established a Pagan & esoteric lending library in our "Agora" community space which allows me to give in back in a variety of ways. I am not patting myself on the back here, but illustrating my survival effort: giving back begets getting back which in turn promotes further investment. Acting locally: overall, it has been very beneficial, even if I can count all the self-identified "animists" here on one finger. 

Formulation: The "Animist's Bellwether."  Sketching out community ceremony -- it's a process.
Formulation: The "Animist's Bellwether."
Sketching out community ceremony -- it's a process.

I often ponder ways to share animism with my fellow Pagans & I have written briefly in the past about my ideas for bringing animist ceremony to my northern tribe. In general, we all try very hard to play well together -- this too, given our small numbers is about survival. We collaborate -- Druids, Wiccans, Thelemites, a variety of polytheistic & new-agey folks -- all the time. It seems to me that there is always just enough overlap amongst us to make it work. Except when there is not.

Noxious & Invasive: Goatsheads (Tribulus terrestris).
Invasive & Noxious:
Goatsheads (Tribulus terrestris).
Sometimes someone comes into the fold whose behaviour &/or agenda is noxious &/or invasive. My experience has been that Pagans in general tend to be a permissive & odd lot. Our Alaskan community is no exception -- we certainly have our share of chaos muppets to wrangle. However, when I speak of an "invasive," I am not referring to the benevolent but slightly disorderly goofballs (we all know them), but rather the highly disrputive, potentially destructive folks which most communities work swiftly & concertedly to expel before too much damage is done. Whether their intention is to advance an agenda, a product, or perhaps to acquire power, sex or all of the above, their actions & shameless self-promotion can quickly damage a delicate human web like ours. We might wish in all kindness for these persons to learn & grow, to find their bliss, but we cannot tolerate this at the expense of the whole. We get rid of them as quickly & mercifully as possible.


Other-than-human communities have this same vulnerability to invasion & when I think about concrete ways in which our human community can invest in & contribute to our broader local bioregion, I am always drawn to the issue of invasive species: 

Invasive Species: "any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem; and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health." -- Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health

Invasive, but so pretty it's hard to call "noxious": Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)
Invasive but so pretty it's hard to call "noxious":
Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)
Sometimes I hear people argue that invasive species needn't be addressed because they are just part of the natural progress of things -- that we humans, being part of the ecosystem, are simply introducing a new player into the game. In a sort of Darwinian fashion, they suggest, "let the strongest beastie win." I cannot help but be contrary to this line of thinking, as it makes me believe that by extension, this argument implies that we needn't worry ourselves over climate change either because we humans, doing our human thing & being part of the global environment are just making our own natural adjustments to the atmosphere. So I shall clarify my position, because invasion occurs primarily as a result of uniquely human activities: Invasion is not synonymous with succession:

Ecological succession: "a fundamental concept in ecology, refers to more-or-less predictable and orderly changes in the composition or structure of an ecological community." -- "Science Reference: Ecological Succession," ScienceDaily
Many of my family members & "chosen family" members are very actively involved in watershed & grassland research & restoration projects in the high desert regions of Southcentral Utah. Over a short course of years, the difference in the landscape & species diversity in rehabilitation areas is remarkable. Watching these changes, the revitalization of overgrazed pasture, the recovery of tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) & russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.) tangled waterways gives me a sense of promise, a sense that there is still much that can be done to help protect our neighborhoods & communities from noxious intruders. It makes a visible, quantifiable & healthy diffference when we see them out the door.

"We get rid of them as quickly & mercifully as possible." 

This brings me to my ceremonial quandary which I propose to the community-ala-ether for feedback. Here is my story:

Invasive & "noxious" (sniff):
Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)
When I first began summering in Alaska, I fell in love with some lively, vivd red flowers. They are unique up here because the large precentage of Alaskan wildflowers are pastel; purple, pink, blue or sometimes white. These blossoms, firey red & orange, occasionally flaunting a bright yellow centre, reminded me of my native desert, of fire & of Autumn leaves. They sport fine black "hairs" along their slender stems which evokes thoughts of poppies. In numbers, they create dense, cheerful patches which beg to be painted. I dubbed them my "favourite Alaskan flower." At first, I would pick a few to take with me, but I learned quickly that they shrivel & wilt almost instantly. I took this as a sign that I should only enjoy them from afar or through my camera lens. I would seek them out doggedly. I learned that they bloom for a realtively short window & this made them all the more precious -- my late summer beauties.

While fungi hunting a couple of years ago, I came across a large, permanent, full colour sign erected beside one of the greenbelt trails. The headline read something like "Noxious Invasive: Have You Seen Me?" Who do you think I saw pictured there, bigger than life, in all their crimson glory? My beloved "favourite Alaskan flowers": Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum L.), aka. "Devil’s paintbrush" or "King-devil." The sign basically said if you find them, pull them up & report them to the authorities (that is, the Committee for Noxious and Invasive Plants Management in Alaska (CNIPM)). Oh! Those rich beauties, so striking en masse... to discover they are the poster child for "plant perps"! 

AISC Poster Child:
Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)

Since this devastating discovery, I have looked upon the Hawkweed with reticence. I have also discovered several thriving colonies -- big, bright, beautiful patches which expand their breadth significantly each season. They are quite plainly & aggressively creating their own monoculture on these sites. I have yet to report them to the authorities, mostly because I haven't pulled over the car to take photographs (yes, excuses)... 

I have been considering a way to integrate ceremony into an invasive plant removal effort. I was particularly inspired by the planting ceremony described by Glen Gordon (see "Bioregional Animist Ceremony at Work"). I see this as an opportunity for our local human community to invest in the larger local community, to enrich relationships within the bioregion in a tangible way. Of course, coordinating with the native plant specialists to teach us about the local flora & the exotic species that threaten the balance is one of several added benefits for human participants. It would also get everyone outside, together & I can't really imagine anything better than that.

I mentioned this idea to a friend recently & she responded that she thought the idea would "appeal to a very narrow audience." I was nonplussed by the comment. Here, we have a community which waves it's "Earth-friendly" status around like a pennant. I realize that plenty of Pagans do not identify as spiritually "Earth-based," but most of them still maintain a basic sense of responsibility for the environment. I also know that while there are no other animists-proper among us, there are plenty of folk who talk to trees, or squirrels & who would be delighted to take part in a project to support our local community & environment.

So, how can we develop a sensible, sensitive ceremony to build around removing the Hawkweed (or another invasive -- honestly, that might be easier for me) while recognizing that these plants too are living beings, worthy of respect, but unwanted in our community? How do we "get rid of them as quickly & mercifully as possible"? If you were to develop such a ceremony, what would it look like? What sort of mood, or tone would it evoke? Celebration? Mourning? Both? What might you say? Need anything be said at all? Would you need "stuff," symbols, tools? How would you engage participants in the ceremony-ing? What kind of closing would be best? And disposal of the offending plants, is there a ritual there? I look forward to any ideas folks have to share. If you are shy about comments, email me. I appreciate it.

At home in the UK: "Fox & Cubs"
Caption reads: A spread of Pilosella (Hieracium) aurantiaca on a terrace beneath 491877, beside School Lane, Seavington St Michael. The plant is also known as Grim the Collier and appears to be a troublesome weed in parts of the USA. -- Wikimedia Commons

This post is a part of the Animist Blog Carnival of April 2013. To read other animist perspectives on community & ceremony, follow this link: The Animist Blog Carnival for April 2013 is here!

To read works from previous Animist Blog Carnival, visit headquarters here: LINK. 


Heather Awen said...

Well, all I can offer is that death is part of life, and animists seem to have to deal with that more than others in the whole respect thing. An invasive species only can get a good foothold if the land is damaged and the ecosystem has a hole for it to fill, hence some people calling them opportunists. If the land is healthy, they cannot get roots in. I often wonder what the point of digging them out is when the gap in the ecosystem is left. I guess it is like cancer or a virus. Do they have the right to live? Our our needs more important than theirs? It is easier when it is not someone so pretty as a flower! Usually within 100 years opportunist plants end up finding their way into the ecosystem as someone who eats them shows up eventually. But when weeding, when killing slugs in the garden, what ceremonies do people have there? When harvesting (killing) food?

I think I would focus more on the whole ecosystem's needs. How they need you to do this and make sure you do something so the opportunists cannot come back. Endless pulling them up and burning them is going to get old fast. Maybe think about the nest step: The hole has the infected thing gone, but what shall we replace it with?


Nestis said...

Thank you for this question, as this is somewhat similar to what I've been thinking as well. I do not think of myself as an animist per-say (I'll be the first to admit I am primarily concerned with human life and the gods of humans) but I do identify strongly with concepts of ethical interdependence (care ethics specifically) and ancient pagan notions of the sacred duty of continuance which requires death but is essentially life-affirming (i.e. children exist to replace because we will die- this is the Nature of things).

I think what Moma Fauna is driving at is similar to the notion of animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice was not performed almost universally in the ancient world because people were "giving something up" like modern notions of sacrifice would have us believe. Quite the opposite in fact. Animal sacrifice was a means of sacralizing the necessity of killing to continue - so I think I understand this animist extension of this concept into other-than-animal beings.

Where I come into an ethical quandary is where humans as the Other, the outsider, to the experience of the Orange Hawkweed can kill the individual for for the sake of the whole from an animist standpoint - unless animism is anti the individualism of discrete beings, which I had not previously considered. This also reminds me of an article in the paper recently about how the domestic cat is the number one human-related threat that is contributing to the decline of certain species of birds. This sounds just like more human-shaming to me, this time at the expense of a non-humna being who has chosen to be intimately bonded with humans in a deeply felt cross-species relationship for millennia. I can see no evil or cause for sorrow in this, even if we must be aware of the consequences of this relationship. But more importantly to my mind, what solution can be offered for this? The mass slaughter of cats? Does the needs of the many outweigh the good of the few...or the one? I guess I feel that we run into danger when we try to apply some universal approach to anything, especially things that are dealing with the realities of other individual beings as if their experience is somehow less real or less important than our own - for any community or ecosystem is to me a delicate interdependence of individuals, and if we ever make it (even for a moment) an abstract concept on its own - I think we lose moral currency. Its all well and good to say that something must die so that others may live - but if that death is not one's own - I question the moral courage there. Perhaps that is the difference between a witch-shaman and others in their communities though - they are the stewards of their ecosystems who have achieved the ability to think like the mountain rather than their fellow human beings, but as a human being myself who is quite sure that she thinks like a human being and not like any other type of being, I guess I tend to question the veracity and efficacy of this approach.

Moma Fauna said...

OK, whew! You people are making me work! :P
Actually, I very much appreciate the feedback. So, given the breadth of ideas, let us see if I can make a coherent reply.

Putting it right out on the table: Yes. All of this is a value judgement. It's about what we consider worthwhile in our local environment. Some of us will measure value in terms of human wants, needs, aesthetics & economies. Some of us will measure value on some scale we think/hope represents the values/needs of the other-than/more-than human community.

These plants came to this part of the planet ONLY by the fortune of human activity. No other species inhabiting this bioregion regularly travels from Alaska to the British Isles or surrounding areas. Whether they were introduced here accidentally in contaminated seed or whether it was intentional, via a landscaper or gardener (think starlings) is pretty irrelevant. All that matters is that they got here via automobile, aircraft, barge, etc. & not on the back of some ungulate or migratory bird. This makes us responsible for the outcome, however we choose to see it through. Heather is correct that most, but not all invasive species gain a foothold in disturbed areas. However, there are plenty of examples of invasives going town in places that were previously undisturbed (say Australia, when the domestic cats (since they were mentioned) arrived & subsequently decimated native small mammal & bird populations -- they also continue to stymy endangered species reintroduction efforts). In the case of the Hawksweed, it appears that they like right-of-way, roadside areas & other "disturbed" sites, so this would make thinking about the process of "filling the gap" quite relevant. It is possible that the invasive plant experts have some kind of re-seeding protocol, I don't know yet b/c I am still only in the thinking stage of this idea.

So, let's just say we have a confirmed, human-introduced invasive species which likes disturbed areas. How shall we adjudicate its value? For me, the concern is how it impacts the community into which it has been introduced. This plant -- among several others listed as invasive in Alaska -- is very aggressive & likes to crowd out other plant species to create its own monoculture, i.e., it does not play well with others. It is also, like several others, toxic to many native herbivores. So, here we have plant which not only doesn't play well with others, but it sickens, weakens or kills various animal species, thus, its contribution to the food chain is questionable as well. Gah! It's so pretty too! But really, if I am making a value judgement, I value the native Dall's sheep, the moose, the various small mammals, the lupine, bluebells, wild berries & roses over this single newcomer. Ooooh. Sounds mercenary, doesn't it? But let's take a look at it this way:

Moma Fauna said...

Say there's this new guy who comes around. He is very interested in becoming part of the community. He is very willing to get involved, to help out. He has knowledge in some areas which the community is lacking. He has monetary resources & well-behaved kids. He even has an expansive esoteric library he is willing to share… & a PYRAMID! He is building a pyramid! That's kinda cool, or at least it shows ambition. So this guy keeps offering to show his library to folks, but it begins to become clear that he is looking to share his library with only certain… women. He is very, very interested in sharing his books & pyramid with a variety of women, so much so that they are getting queasy. Now, I myself was never approached by this pyramid librarian, so I am not particularly offended by his presence. But, I know that there are plenty of other people in the community who find his nearness unpleasant. He is making some people sick. I must make a value judgement, we all must. Which is more important? The group as a whole, or the shiny new guy with the esoteric library & pyramid? The answer seems pretty obvious to me. I don't really see the plant situation as much different.

These value judgements require an assessment of costs, benefits, threats, long term ramifications, etc. Nestis is correct in suggesting that I am struggling with the killing off of a collection of individuals. I am also struggling with the killing off of one community in favor of another. From an animist perspective, eradicating a patch of plants or trees, or poisoning mice, or stringing up the flypaper is akin to genocide. It requires mindfulness, just like the slug removal Heather mentioned. "Respecting the Living World": the animist's great quandary. What to do about that cockroach infestation or the neighbor's dogs that chew up your chickens at night? And there is simple survival to boot. "The sacred duty of continuance which requires death." Many an animist's sanity is probably spared by our modern separation from our food source. Go to the store, the farmer's market, the roadside stand. Buy food. Not quite as stressful as considering the impact of snipping the limbs off the basil every time you want pesto for dinner.

And Nestis: "Sacrifice," yes, I had used that word in an earlier draft & removed it b/c I was uncertain how it would be handled by readers. Sacrifice as "a means of sacralizing the necessity of killing to continue." Exactly.

I am not really looking at humans here as the "Other," or at least, I strive not to. I think our sense of alienation &/or our exclusivity is a large part of our problem as a species (on so many levels!). I believe it is what has gotten us into quite a mess with each other, with the land, with the rest of everything. Because of our unique ability to modify our environment, we need to take special care not to royally screw things up. So, if we make a mistake & recognize it as such, I think it behooves us to try to make reparations & give it our best effort. Unfortunately, in some instances that means someone else suffers. I don't know how to make that part of the process better, hence my questions about ceremony & shared recognition of the process.

Thank you both very much for your comments. I have a great deal of respect for your extraordinary minds & spirits.

Carol said...

Well, my simple comment is this: Yes. I think this would be a terrific task for community.
I imagine such a ceremony would be one of respectful acknowledgement. Our world is compromised of one thing dying to give way to another...we eat plants and animals, kill trees and disturb soil for our houses, wars. Not all good. Not all bad. But we can honor the sacredness of that which is giving way for something else....give It a reason for Its demise, recognize the beauty and inspiration It has given you, acknowledge how Its demise would help others.
Great post.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I so much related to this post. Had a similar experience, in fact.

And I can remember when the Colorado State University extension service was pushing Russian olive as a shelterbelt tree that was good for birds — twenty years later, an acquaintance who was environmental officer for Picturis Pueblo in New Mexico was just raging against them.

Moma Fauna said...

I loved that post! I join you in solidarity as one of the high desert dwellers with vegetative dilemmas, especially this:

"I am not such a native-plant purist to take on dandelions, salsify, bindweed, alfalfa, and other introduced species that grow all around here. (Maybe bindweed if I could)"

The bindweed. Yes. Y-E-S. I have actually tried a few times. Unfortunately, my early efforts resulted in exacerbating it. Now, our lot which had no bindweed when I purchased it, is completely inundated. I keep wishing the gophers would acquire a taste for it. :\

But still, the goatsheads are the worst.

As for the Russian olive, we have a friend who is a backcountry ranger whose life-purpose (near as any of us can tell) is the eradication of Russian olive in the GSENM area. He gets kind of Asperger's about it, discussing it to the exclusion of anything else. Lucky for him, they let him organize these backcountry excursions where he lures teams of young volunteers into the river basins & has them cut & poison Russian olives & tamarisk for a long, hot, prickly week at a time.

Moma Fauna said...

"respectful acknowledgement" Yes, that was my thought as well.

I like this part: "But we can honor the sacredness of that which is giving way for something else....give It a reason for Its demise, recognize the beauty and inspiration It has given you, acknowledge how Its demise would help others." How would you do that? What would that recognition & acknowledgement look like/sound like?

Carol said...

Perhaps something as simple as a prayer, or a promise. "Know that I remove You from this domain, because You unknowingly cause harm in this environment, yet I honor that which You are, a beautiful sunrise in a meadow. Your realm lies somewhere else". Or something. ;) Plant the seed of something that belongs there. If It calls to you, grow It as a transplant-potted plant in your home. Just some ideas off top of my head.

Moma Fauna said...

Ah, see, spoken just like a Druid. Or something. I knew there was a reason I keep you close. ;)

I hope we can make this one happen next summer. I'm think I will be missing the blooming season this time around, but I think there's a great deal of promise in the idea.

Colleen Beaty said...

Thanks for such an insightful post! I have oft pondered how the pagan community should respond to invasive species. I'm glad other folks are thinking about this as well. On the one hand, they are living beings and should be respected. On the other hand, they are degrading native ecosystems and making it difficult to impossible for native species to thrive.

I generally approach invasive species with a "I respect your life and your contribution to the ecosystem, but your presence is wreaking havoc, so you've got to go in the interests of balance."

Moma Fauna said...

Thank you for the comment Colleen. It is nice to know that other people are thinking about this as well. It presents such a set of conflicting feelings. " the interests of balance." I like that sentiment. I think balance is key to all our practices, from how we live on this planet to how we practice our craft.

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