One of my favorite Reclaiming traditions is Waters of the World, the practice of collecting small containers of water for ritual use from the oceans, rivers, lakes, creeks, and springs that we visit. A bowl filled with Waters of the World makes a great centerpiece in rituals related to healing of self, community, or earth, divination rituals, or simply as an offering to spirits of the land. During a family visit to Northwestern Montana last week, I collected a small container of water from Harpers Lake to add to our Waters of the World pitcher at home.
For collecting water, any empty, clean, water-tight container will do, but I’ve found the 1-2 oz travel bottles, like those sold at sports and outdoor stores, are ideal. For storage at home, I like a glass container with a plastic lid. Although I would not drink this water, I like knowing that plastic isn’t leaching into it, and metal lids tend to rust. Our pitcher currently contains water from Bull Creek, Sieders Springs, Lake Austin, and Deep Eddy, here in Austin, from the Gulf of Mexico, from our kitchen tap, and now from Harpers Lake, MT.
A Waters of the World practice depends for its meaning on the underlying principles of respect, reciprocity, and sympathy. I try to understand something about where the waters I collect come from, and where they are going. Harpers Lake is a small pothole lake, part of a chain of lakes along the Clearwater River, which drains into the Blackfoot River, which in turn drains into the Clark Fork branch of the Columbia River. In exchange for a small container of water from Harpers Lake, I picked up cigarette butts, tangled fishing line, and discarded fish hooks from the shoreline.
Mingling the diverse waters that have nourished and refreshed me reminds me that all waters are part of one earthly well flowing through all living things, including my own body. My capillaries and lymphatic vessels flow into veins, which in turn empty into the heart, just as creeks empty into rivers, which in turn flow to the ocean (Roberts 247-248). Just as my health changes with age, activity, and environmental conditions, water may be clean and supportive of life, or it may be polluted and bear disease. My Waters of the World practice reminds me that I’m responsible and empowered to care for the health of my own body and the health of the one well.
Because all water is sacred, Waters of the World may be collected during travel to far-flung places, or they may come from your home tap. The same principles of respect and reciprocity apply. What is the source of the water you drink and wash with at home? Can you trace the path it would have taken to the ocean, if it had not been piped into your home (Starhawk et al. 373)? With which water sources does it connect you directly? Are there human stories and practices involving the local waters? Do all communities in your area have equal access to clean water? How do you care for and protect your local water sources? The power of the practice lies in reflecting on right relationship with water.
Roberts, Rosemary. “Healing my Body, Healing the Land: Healing as Sociopolitical Activism in Reclaiming Witchcraft.” Ethnologies, vol. 33, no.1, 2011, 239-256, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.838.3339&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions, Bantam Books, 1998.
Even though it’s not on the standard Wheel of the Year, Earth Day, which began on April 22, 1970, when millions of people across the U.S. demonstrated for peace and environmental protection, feels like one of the holiest days of my year, right up there with Samhain. To celebrate Earth Day, I like making a shrine together with my kids, going on wildflower walks, fishing trash out of a local creek, and meditating. Like many of you, I tend to spend the day assessing my current relationship with the environment and brainstorming ways I could better love this one, precious planet that supports life as we all know and enjoy it.
Honeybee on horseherb growing in my yard
This year I feel committed to quitting disposable plastic straws and to curbing my use of disposable cups and cutlery. Seriously, there’s no reason why I need to use plastic straws. And I already have reusable cups and even a travel spork that I could more reliably pack. Actually pulling the spork out and using it might be a bit socially awkward, but the best part about getting older is that I care less and less what others think of me, and more and more about living authentically, as I creep closer and closer to 40.
Thank you, to those who choose to demonstrate, do community service, or make lifestyle changes in honor of Earth Day. Thank you! For picking up trash, for marching, for building compost bins and gardens at your neighborhood schools, for trading in your car for a hybrid or electric, for pledging to fly less and eat less meat, and to carpool and vote more often. Thank you for doing some of the things on the laundry lists of environmentally sustainable “shoulds” that are flooding all of our social media feeds for this week and this week only.
Compost bin made from wooden pallets at my kids’ school
But I want to suggest another way of celebrating our beloved Eairth this April 22, one that’s just as much work and even more radical and uncommon than community activism: take really good care of yourself, because real, lasting change starts at home. I’m not suggesting pedicures or expensive chocolate, although I’m a fan of both. Instead, I’m suggesting that the holiest things any of us can do on Earth Day are simply drinking enough water, resting if we need to rest, moving if we need to move, and eating truly nourishing foods. For the love of Her, we need to make our art, hug our people, and pet our fuzzy four-leggeds this week. We need to walk outside and exchange eye contact and smiles with friends and neighbors. We need to breathe slowly and deeply, to journal, and to practice gratitude. This week is the perfect time to take the first decisive steps on the path to wellness, whatever that looks like for you. Because we’re all a part of Eairth Hirself, self-care is Eairth-care.
Walking barefoot along Bull Creek
And if we’re not healthy, neither is She.
I have a long history with dewberry plants, since my dad used to grow them along the back fence of our home, when I was a child. He got his canes from my grandparents, who got theirs from my Texas German great-grandparents, who used to turn the berries into wonderful pies, jelly, and wine. Most of the dewberry canes I’ve encountered as an adult living in Austin grow wild in sunny clearings like this one:
The young leaves and flowers make a wonderful tea. I picked less than 10% of the flowers that I saw in this patch, though, to avoid impacting the insects already enjoying them and to avoid substantially decreasing the summer berry harvest.
Sweetened with local honey, this was my favorite wildcrafted simple of the year yet.
Spring in the Texas Hill Country, even in the city, is so sweet.
Happy Full Moon, and hope it’s just as lovely where you are, dear readers.
I’m really good at self-righteousness, and I bet you are, too. It feels GOOD to be right, am I right? Satisfying. Important. Powerful. Like that time when my redneck cousin posted on Facebook that Planned Parenthood and people who support the organization (that’s me, monthly contributor here) are baby murderers. I posted an articulate take down of my cousin’s deeply misguided position. I made a passionate, principled defense of women’s rights to body autonomy. I presented well-organized, factual about information about what Planned Parenthood actually does. I’m a professional nurse specializing in women’s health, after all, an authority on the issue. I cited my sources. The result? My cousin and I are no longer Facebook friends, and I likely won’t be invited back to the next reunion of my staunchly conservative, “pro-life” family of origin. Continue reading “What I Know about Self-righteousness”
Our view from Austin of the super, blue, blood moon early this morning was clouded over, alas. But once the clouds cleared, I continued my monthly wildcrafted tea practice with cleavers. Here it’s called “sticky weed;” my children and their friends love to pick it and throw it at each other or stick it to each other’s backs. Other names for cleavers include “Velcro weed” and “backpacker’s colander,” since a bundle of it could be used as a strainer in a pinch.
In winter Central Texas cedar elms lose their leaves, revealing birds’ nests, ball moss, and mistletoe. The white-berried hemiparasite particularly plagues the cedar elm growing just outside our front door. While mistletoe performs some of its own photosynthesis, it draws most of its water and nutrients from the tree hosting it. Mistletoe flowers and produces white berries, which birds eat. They then disperse the sticky seeds via their beaks or excretions. Here’s one of our American species, Phoradendron tomentosum:
Phoradendron is Greek for “thief of the tree.” Continue reading “Burning Last Year’s Mistletoe”
At the beginning of a hatha yoga class that I attended, the teacher led a centering exercise. It involved lying supine and progressively relaxing each part of the body, fully surrendering our bodies to gravity, to the floor beneath us.
“You are in this body now,” the teacher crooned at the end of the guided exercise. My third eye shot wide open.
No, no, no, no, no, I thought. I am this body now.
These thoughts, the limbs heavy on the floor, the belly inside the ill-fitting sweatpants billowing up and collapsing with the breath, the pulse of salt and iron blood, that persistent pain in my left hip, the tension in my jaw, the big black saucer pupils dilated in the dim light, tympanic membranes vibrating with the rhythm of the teacher’s voice and my classmates’ breath. Not just present with these processes; I am they and what they do.
No ghost in the machine. I am this body now.