So over on Witchvox, Heather Awen has articulated something that’s bothered me for years. Go read the entire article, please, as my summary won’t do it justice, but in short she points out the hypocrisy of using crystals and other mined stones to “heal the Earth”, when those rocks come from strip-mined locations that produce pollution, employ abused workers, and are otherwise incredibly environmentally unfriendly. And I completely agree with her.
Mind you, I don’t feel that we can stop mining entirely, not unless we want civilization to come to a complete halt. We’re entirely too dependent on minerals from deep inside the Earth. However, we can at least start with taking the blinders off about where the resources we use–all of them, from rocks to food to cotton fabric–come from. To me, being environmentally friendly isn’t about making specific choices like “paper or plastic?” according to some sustainability bible, so much as it is about making informed choices, no matter what those choices are. Being more aware of what goes into our decisions and what factors affect them can help us to remember to include not only our own wants and needs, but those of others, in our ultimate answers.
Like food. Sometimes I have enough money to buy organic produce, usually in the summer when the farmer’s markets are full of direct-to-consumer sales, and the cutting out of the middlemen means that prices are competitive, if not better, than the stores–I can get a huge bundle of carrots for two bucks, for example. Other times, it’s off to WinCo where I’m after a smaller grocery bill to avoid living on ramen. Still, I keep the organics in mind even when I’m getting conventional produce and the like, and if I find a good deal on a more earth-friendly option, I go for it.
Of course, I feel the most important of the three environmental R’s is Reduce. Pagans are notorious for buying not only ritual tools, but random tchotchkes to scatter about the home. Plenty of pagans’ homes are full of statues, pictures and other images of deities, spirits and nature, along with Celtic knotwork-bedecked tapestries, candles–and, of course, strip-mined crystals. Many of these were purchased new, and a good number of them were made in China, India or other countries that aren’t so strict on slave labor. Do we really need these things? Really? Does it make us more pagan to have them? Of course not, and there are plenty of articles in print and online about how you don’t need tools to be a pagan, and how to be pagan on a budget (which includes things like using kitchen knives as athames).
The people who have these things are generally well aware that they don’t need them–but they do like them. And while I am fond of the concept of Reduce, I am not going to tell people “Environmentalism: this is why we can’t have nice things!”. But we can be more selective in the nice things we do have. For example, almost all my ritual tools were either handmade by me or another artist, or found in the woods, or secondhand. There are a few small things from early in my paganism that I bought new, but those are the exception. And even when I was in my BUY ALL THE TCHOTCHKES phase, I wasn’t going to Dollar General or Wal-mart and buying cheap-ass, poorly made statues from slave labor. I was going to thrift stores and flea markets and buying others’ discards.
Still, a secondhand strip-mined crystal was still strip-mined, and I feel it is important to remember that when we make decisions. When people want to choose greener options for working with animal parts and are not in a position to just find them in the woods, I recommend they buy secondhand and vintage–which does reduce the demand for new deaths, but it’s still the remains of an animal that may have had an awful death (hence still also advocating for both spiritual and material ways to make up for one’s purchase). Less impact does not mean no impact.
So what to do? Choose carefully. Do you need something, or do you just like it? Are you giving money directly to an artisan, or are you paying a factory who will give their workers pennies out of the price? Are you reusing the resources already in circulation, or are you creating demand for more dead teak trees? I can’t make your decisions for you, and they may be different in each case. But at least please consider this discussion food for thought.
Addendum: While this article was in half-finished mode, Heather wrote an awesome follow-up to her Witchvox post over on her own journal. There are some great tips on choosing greenly!