Stripping Away the Mined Crystals

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!

Hope For the Future

So I am in serious crunch time with my Master’s degree program. Next week is finals, and I am due to finish my internship at the end of August. In addition to all this, I’m trying to take some opportunities with my artwork, along with working on a new book as well as finalizing the animism anthology I started at the beginning of this whole grad school thing. Between that busy-ness, and my spirituality being more drawn inward, I haven’t had a lot to say here.

However, all these things converged in an experience today that I thought was worth sharing. As preparation for evaluating my internship site (for those unaware I’m completing my MA in counseling psych), I’ve been sitting in on some of the therapy groups that I haven’t previously facilitated or co-facilitated, just to get a more well-rounded understanding of the program. Today’s group, comprised of women who have completed the inpatient portion of the program and are now in clean and sober housing, did some art therapy, creating boxes as transitional objects to help them stay focused on their recovery. While the original concept of a transitional object was concerning “blankies” and other things a young child uses to replace the bond with hir mother, it may also be applied more generally to other situations where an object stands in for as connection, particularly when in need of comfort. One of the common factors contributing lapse or relapse in many recovering addicts is a lack of impulse control. A transitional object can help the client “check” themselves and remind them there is an alternative to giving in to the craving, as well as reminding them of positive connections made during treatment and other recovery efforts.

It’s similar to what you see in magic and other spiritual practices–objects as reminders of a positive goal, concept, etc. The activity that today’s group engaged in–decorating boxes with decoupage/collage materials–could just as easily been a coven or other magical group spending an afternoon creating pocket shrines or other devotional objects, or items for spells and rituals. I tend to prefer magical work that utilizes such things, partly for the process of creativity, but also because I simply like having physical reminders of nonphysical things around me. The objects reinforce my perceived connection to what they represent. And, of course, the process of making the object adds intent and effort, making it more personal than simply buying a random box from the store (though a carefully planned shopping trip can also be a strong ritual in and of itself).

I was invited to create my own box along with the clients. While I spent some time observing facilitation, I did manage to put together some small and simple that spoke to current events:

Part of what I am going through right now is a lot of mixed feelings about my decision to be completely self-employed when I complete my internship. I’m intending to be an artist and writer part-time, since that business has been effective enough to essentially be a part-time job, and to open a part-time private counseling practice. This will help keep me from burning out on either endeavor entirely, and give me the sort of variety that I prefer. However, there’s a lot of fear surrounding this. I would be happier with more business capital saved up, though I’m better off than I thought I’d be. And even with that backing me, in this economy, and especially in the slump that Portland is in, there are no guarantees that even my greatest efforts will succeed. While I cannot speak for the experiences of my clients, I can see some resemblance between my fear of failure, and their own, though the particulars vary quite a bit. So this exercise in creating something to answer that fear was timely for all of us.

I started with an image of wilderness, Canyon Creek, taken from a travel magazine. This represented a safe environment, and one full of life and ongoing potential. I wanted to emphasize to myself that while things could always be better, I have lots of opportunities and I’m not starting from a place of desperation or emergency. I added a picture of a handmade wooden bowl from a wood crafting magazine. I love this sort of craftsmanship, and when I own a house some day I would love to fill it with this sort of uniquely crafted, practical creation. I found, in a home decorating publication, a photo of a weathered whitetail deer antler hanging on a cord; while much simpler than what I make, it stood in for the talents and skills I do bring to this situation, that I am not helpless and I have a lot to offer wherever I may go. Finally, I completed the box with a quote from Thomas Bailey Aldrich: “They fail, and they alone, who have not striven”. Just another way of saying nothing ventured, nothing gained, and a reminder to me that even in the worst-case scenario where everything falls to pieces and I am left with nothing, at least I tried going for a dream I’ve held for a very long time, and the success of which will be highly beneficial to me on numerous levels.

I’m going to be using this box to contain my fears. Any time I feel doubt or worry about the future, I’m going to write it on a small slip of paper, put it into the box, and let that hope for the future contain and surround the worries. While there may be genuine concerns at the heart of those doubts, I want to temper them with optimism. This is one way to remind myself of that.