I’m a pagan. And pagans tend to like tchotchkes. I’ve cut down quite a bit over the years, but there are still times when I’ll see a wrought-iron candle holder and think “Hey, that’d be great on my altar!”
These days, my knickknack and curio shelves are mostly full of natural history specimens, little stone animal statues, and house plants, and I try to not add much to the collection (since, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a tiny apartment). These days I usually only add to my collection with secondhand thrift store finds or handmade creations, and even then sparingly. But I know plenty of my fellow pagan folk are still in the market for these sorts of goodies, whether for gifts and offerings, specialized altar pieces, or simple home adornment.
Many of these items are representative of nature–animals, plants, landscape photos, and the like. And while I don’t want to discourage creative home decor, especially that which reminds us we aren’t the only important beings in the world, I do wonder how much money we put toward them each year? And how does that compare to the amount of money we give to efforts to protect these beings of nature we value so much? If we spend even a quarter of the money that we spend on specialty gifts on donations to nonprofits instead, how much of a difference could we make?
So as you’re pulling together holidays gifts this year, or simply shopping around for yourself, consider the next nature-themed item you’re tempted to buy, whether that’s a piece of clothing or statue or picture (or even a piece of my own artwork, for that matter!) And then think about whether you could put that money instead toward the animal or plant or other denizen of nature it represents. Instead of buying that shirt with a tiger on it, why not send the $20 to Panthera or the World Wildlife Federation to help them protect real tigers in the wild? Or, rather than creating a new altar with an endangered teak wood table from Pier 1, consider pitching the $50 for it to Rainforest Relief, the Rainforest Conservation Fund, or another organization helping to prevent the further destruction of the Asian and African forests the teak calls home. You may even be considering buying a cute stuffed wolf from the Defenders of Wildlife, but you’d be better off just giving them the entire amount of money, rather than making them pay for one more Chinese-made plush toy.
This isn’t a call to stop buying trinkets altogether. It is, however, a reminder that the nature you glorify through these items is often highly threatened by our actions, including through the manufacture of the items themselves. Rather than perpetuating the problem, consider turning at least some of your gift budget this year toward donations in the names of those you’re buying for, for the benefit of the natural world we all need to live. In addition to the organizations above, see if there are any local nonprofits working to protect the ecosystems you’re in or near, or organizations that work with habitats or species you’re fond of. Or check out this list of a few of my favorite organizations:
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
628 NE Broadway St #200
Portland, OR 97232
This organization works primarily on pollinators and other invertebrates. Often overlooked because they’re “just bugs”, the invertebrates are an absolutely critical part of every ecosystem.
The Nature Conservancy
4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22203-1606
Focuses on protecting habitats around the world, and educating people about the importance of healthy ecosystems. This includes direct protection of individual habitats in conjunction with local communities.
The Ocean Conservancy
1300 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC 2003
Works to protect the world’s oceans and to create awareness of how crucial the oceans and their inhabitants are to the planet’s health as a whole.
The Sierra Club
85 Second Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
One of the oldest and largest environmental nonprofits, combines government lobbying with grassroots organization for a variety of ecological causes.
Natural Resources Defense Council
40 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Lobbies for the protection of both wild species and their environments, and is also instrumental in helping communities become more sustainable.
The Wilderness Society
1615 M St., NW
Washington, D.C 20036
Many plants and fungi that face extinction are vulnerable due to habitat loss; this group works to preserve wilderness areas, to include crucial habitat.
I really enjoyed this post and was reminded of it recently when I was looking at some beautiful sacred artwork. I stopped and thought for a second, and instead donated it to an organization that helps the main animal associated with the Deity I primarily work with. Funny enough, it led to a really great conversation with the organization about paganism, as they were intrigued by my “in honor of” dedication!
I too love knick knacks – and there are so many beautiful things created by people in our communities, and I think it’s important to support artists. But I am really trying to question the impulse I have (and I think I’m not alone in this) to buy things to support my practice — and sometimes finding “the perfect thing” can take away from, or even replace whatever buying the thing was supposed to support. It’s one area I definitely feel myself strongly affected by overculture values. It’s a hard line to walk because I want to honor the Gods and spirits (and so I, say, bought a chalice by a local potter instead of pulling a soda can from the neighbor’s recycling), but I don’t want to just shop and consume under the name of spirituality. Hm. It’s a rich subject.