Category Archives: Nature Writing

The Invitation of Wild Geese

I feel like not enough people knew of Mary Oliver, who passed away on Friday at the age of 83.

I myself, not being a huge fan of poetry, never heard of her work until just a few years ago. Somehow in my enjoyment of nature writing I had overlooked her work. While the poet herself is gone, her legacy is immortalized in an incredible body of work spanning several decades.

Like so many people, my introduction to Oliver’s work was her poem Wild Geese. I was working on my ecopsychology certificate in graduate school, and encountered her words in a reading. Initially my attraction to it centered on the imagery of nature, the painting in my head of the movement of pebbles and sun and geese over the land. For years I came back to it just for this picture as a source of solace and joy.

But over time it gained a deeper meaning for me. Having been raised Catholic, I was soaked from an early age in the idea of original sin and the idea that humanity is inherently flawed. This, of course, also bred in me a deep sense of guilt and inadequacy, as well as contributing to the anxiety disorder I still deal with today. When I shot forth from these confines as a teenager and landed in the lap of neopaganism, I thought the main thing I wanted was a religion that was centered on nature, rather than seeing it as a set of materials to be exploited.

I got that, of course, but what I also got was a lot of fellow pagans carrying a lot of Christian baggage. (1) The need for a higher power to have control of things and to be petitioned for aid; a tendency to divide things into dichotomies like “light” and “dark” or “white magic” and “black magic”; a desire for some authority (often scriptural) to offer clear lines of What To Do and What Not To Do. And with the crossover of paganism with environmentalism, I often ran into sentiments dripping with the idea of sin, guilt, and flawed humanity, like “humans are just cancer on the earth”, and “Gaea is going to make us all pay for what we’ve done to Her”.

I carried much of my Catholic baggage with me. I especially yearned for structure and ritual and orthopraxy and definitive methods of pleasing the powers that be, or at least that’s what I told myself I needed in order to be a Really Good Pagan. The crescendo of that particular adventure was the few years I tried putting together a formalized path using various bits and pieces of things I had learned and developed over the years. The harder I tried to make that work, though, the more I found myself rebelling all over again.

I went back and re-read Wild Geese. I read the opening lines:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

In that, I broke open. Catholic tirades about how we are all tainted with original sin even from birth, pagan moralizing over how the Threefold Law is gonna get ya or preaching Gaea’s ecological smackdown–these all came flowing out as though from a deep wound lanced. “Love what it loves” wasn’t a call to crass, reactionary hedonism or indifferent amorality, but instead trusting our instincts and deeply-ingrained social bonds that our ancestors evolved over millions of years to thrive together.(2)

And that was the key: the idea that humans are not inherently flawed, that we are just another species of animal in a highly complex world full of many ecosystems. Our actions have evolutionary roots, even if we’ve taken them in some beautiful, strange, or even terrible directions. Our large-scale destruction of the planet has largely coincided with increasing beliefs that we are separate from nature; after all, it’s easier to destroy something you don’t see any responsibility toward. Yet here was a call to return to our place in the natural order of things, where we are one among many.

From that point, the rest of the poem is a joyful invitation to return home. And I suppose that there is a bit of that shared concept of forgiveness in the idea that no matter how badly we’ve screwed up our lives and the planet–if we stop and do our best to turn things around, nature will still be waiting for us.(3) But it’s not a forgiveness gained through penance and punishment, nor is it dangled over our heads as the one and only alternative to an eternity in hellfire and brimstone. There’s no mention of any specific religion one must adhere to in order to be saved, no threat of damnation. We aren’t required to do rituals A, B and C in order to avoid angering the gods.

All it says is that the rest of nature has been there all along, waiting patiently for us to come back into the rhythm of the dance of raindrops and rivers. It will continue on in some form with or without us, but wouldn’t it be glorious if it were with us? There’s a grand, amazing world out there full of wonder and awe. Nature does not dole out sinfulness and punishment, but only natural consequences to actions, which are inherently neutral and not steeped in human ideas about morality.

Since that time, my paganism has evolved into something more naturalistic, and anything but structured and formalized. Instead it pervades every element of my life organically and without pretension. I feel constantly connected to something bigger than myself–the entire Universe–which is a key goal of spirituality anyway. Rituals feel redundant, unless you think of my daily farm chores and my meals and my sleep as rituals, all of which celebrate the world I live in in various ways. And I don’t see myself as being part of some cosmic hierarchy; I am not inherently better or worse than any other being here.

I am still working on returning to the rest of nature, but it is only because I am unpracticed, not because I feel unworthy. I can be concerned about the environmental destruction I am contributing to by my very existence and lifestyle without letting that concern translate into a guilt that continues to keep me separate as something dirty, foul, not deserving of nature’s touch. And the more I feel close to nature, the more responsibility I feel toward it, and vice versa. Nature may not be an entity that can love me; it’s pretty indifferent as a whole. But I can make up for that with the utter joy and astonishment I experience every moment I am aware of my place in nature and what amazement surrounds me.

It’s a cliche to say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I never told Ms. Oliver how much her work meant to me, and of course now I will never have that opportunity. But I don’t think I realized myself the importance of Wild Geese in particular until the evening after she passed, when I began writing this post. And I sent out my gratitude in these words–too little, too late–but hopefully enough to share that meaning with those who remain.

What is remembered, lives.

  1. 1. Obviously, yes, #NotAllPagans. But after over two decades in this community, I’ve seen these and other leftover Christian patterns frequently. These phenomena do also occur in other religions, and arguably in some pre-Christian paganisms. But it was clear in the instances I saw that the patterns were most closely replicating those many of us were raised with in Christianity, with a thin pagan veneer pulled over them.
  2. 2. I recognize this is a pretty romanticized view of “instincts”, and that hunting and other violent things are also instinctual to a degree. That’s not what this is about, though. Leave those aside for the moment.
  3. 3. Of course, with climate change being what it is, it may not be able to wait for us much longer, at least not in a form that allows us to survive as a species. But leave the doomsaying for some other time and place. All it does is make people less likely to try to improve things, and more likely to just give up, and that is antithetical to what this entire post is about.

Spirits in the Kitchen: Honoring the Remains of Our Food

[Main photo: rice and cheese stuffed crimini mushrooms, roasted acorn squash and red onion, and sauteed vegetables and mushrooms]

The older I get, the more important food has become to me. For the first quarter century of my life, I couldn’t have cared less about domestic duties. In fact, in my misguided desire to break out of traditional female gender roles, I eschewed anything associated with the household for many years. I remember a friend coming over to visit, and being shocked at how scarce kitchenware was in my home. I was basically living like a stereotypical bachelor(ette).

Then I ended up living with someone who insisted on taking over all the domestic duties as a way of “taking care” of me. Unfortunately, their cooking skills were…less than advertised. After entirely too many pans of cheap chicken thighs or pork chops covered in cream of mushroom soup and then dried to the consistency of shoe leather in the oven, I finally decided to learn to cook in self-defense. I started with my mom’s chili recipe, a piece of comfort food from home. And I found that I loved cooking–the flavors, the alchemy, the transformation of a pile of ingredients and a recipe into something artistic as well as edible.

While I am in no way a professional level cook, and in some ways am still barely competent in the kitchen, I’ve acquired a decent collection of cookbooks and flavor manuals, and I have a much better set of utensils. After years of gardening and foraging and preserving plants, and even raising and slaughtering my own meat, I also have gained a much deeper appreciation for the quality of the ingredients I use. I can’t always afford the pasture-raised meat, but I try to have a bottle of genuine olive oil no matter the recipe. (Costco has become one of my greatest resources.)

One thing that has always been central to my cuisine, even from the start, was respect for the animals, plants and fungi I was about to consume. We literally are what we eat. The vast majority of the molecules in my body came from something I ate or drank, and every time I sit down to a meal or a snack I am aware that part of what I am about to enjoy is going to become a long-term part of my body. After all, I’m only borrowing it temporarily before it gets returned to the ecosystem, so I should be appreciative of those recently deceased whose remains are actively being recycled by my digestive system.

Why is this awareness important?

–Connection with nature on a spiritual level: My paganism has always been nature-based, even if the exact interpretation thereof has evolved over time. As a naturalist pagan, I don’t invest myself in supernatural concepts–even the idea of spirits, to me, is something that I don’t actively try to prove literally. Instead, my path is firmly rooted in the idea that I am a part of something deeper and greater than myself, the concentric rings of community, ecosystem, planet and universe. By being mindful of the living beings whose now-dead remains are about to nourish me and keep me alive another day, I am reminding myself that I am part of that greater cycle, and that I am just one tiny part of the great community of nature. Even when the being who is feeding me–a fruit or nut tree, for example–is technically still alive, I still want to honor the sacrifice of their energy-made-matter and their potential offspring.

Some of my chickens enjoying kitchen scraps that they will later turn into eggs

–Consideration of the welfare of other beings: I know there are people who will argue that anyone who isn’t a strict vegan can’t possibly be acting for the welfare of animals, at least, and that plants and fungi don’t count since they don’t have animal nervous systems. I’m not going to get into that debate because that’s at least three more blog posts, so leave it be. As someone who is an obligate omnivore, I’ve found the best solution for both my health and the planet is Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants. I am not currently in a place where I am able to grow or raise all of my food, but the farm my art studio is on has a nice garden going, with plans for improvement in subsequent years. I also have access to several farmers’ markets in the summer, though I’ve yet to find a good local CSA. And starting this past year I began raising chickens for both eggs and meat (though they’ve ended up being pets as well.) The more I can control the source of my own food and how it was grown and raised, the better I will feel about my role as a consumer of food.

–Mindful eating: This is a way to slow down your consumption of food and to be more aware of the experience of eating. It serves to not only reconnect you with something that can be quite enjoyable, but slowing down the act of eating can help reduce indigestion and other problems. Moreover, I feel it gives meals more meaning. As someone who eats alone 95% of the time, it can be easy for me to just zone about and shovel food into my mouth while I wander around online or read a book. Mindful eating makes me appreciate what I’m eating more, which has encouraged my already active interest in home cooking. And it helps me to remember again that everything I’m eating was once alive, as I am now alive, and that is something to respect.

I don’t really do special rituals or magic with my food; instead, having mindfulness infuse the very acts of cooking and eating is ritual in and of itself. That being said, you’re certainly welcome to toss a little kitchen witchery into the process if that’s your practice. Here are a few ideas:

–When preparing your work area, consider lighting candles or incense, or cleansing the area with a wash of salt- or herb-infused water. You can also put out crystals nearby that represent your intent. Some pagans like to have an apron or other adornment they only wear when preparing sacred meals (though I consider every meal to be sacred.) Consider it a way of making sacred space for the beings you are about to prepare into food, welcoming them into your home.

–Say a prayer over the ingredients for the meal you are about to prepare, thanking them for being there and asking that you be able to treat them with respect as you turn them into nourishment for you and whoever else you’re feeding

–Bless the herbs and spices you add to your meals. You can even look up magical correspondences for them, and add ones that match the intent of the meal. For example, cashews are often associated with financial success, so a meal of cashew chicken might be a good thing to have just before an interview or important business deal. Ask the spirits of the plants and minerals to help you with your goal.

–Create magical art with your food. This is especially easy with baking, and plenty of magical groups have celebrated rituals with cookies or cakes decorated with pentacles and other symbols. Try baking a layer cake where each layer is dyed with food coloring in shades that reflect intent–green for fertility and growth, pink for youth and joy, yellow for sunshine and health, and so on. Ask the wheat (or oats, or rice) in the flour, as well as the eggs, milk or other ingredients, to carry that intent for you.

Cream of asparagus soup with homemade whole wheat bread and Tillamook butter

–Decorate your table with reminders of the animals, plants and fungi you are consuming. You might have plates that have chickens on them, or add leaves of lettuce and fresh mushrooms as an edible centerpiece. Let the meal be a celebration of these beings and their gifts to you.

–If eating with others, take time to discuss the sources of your food and why you chose them. Even if the answer is “This is what I could afford and what I had access to,” that’s valid. Talk about where you think the plants were grown and the animals raised, and if you want to be able to change your sources–even if you can’t do it now–brainstorm ways in which that can happen at some point.

–Let nothing go to waste. Leftovers are love, as far as I’m concerned, not the least reason of which being they save me a night of having to cook again. Should you have chickens, pigs or other omnivorous animals, give them your kitchen scraps. Other pets can have limited types of scraps; dogs and cats love meat bits, various small critters love vegetables and fruit, and rats and some parrots will eat just about anything you give them. As for the rest, if you’re able to compost outside, tend your compost pile with care. Apartment dwellers may look into vermicomposting–composting with worms–which can be done indoors with few problems. Just don’t leave food scraps where wild mammals can easily get to them; this encourages them to lose their fear of humans and makes them dependent on us for food, which rarely turns out good for anyone involved. If you garden, let your compost be a gift to your plants (and fungi, if you grow dirt-loving mushrooms.)

Even if you don’t take the idea of spirits literally, these practices can still help you maintain awareness of where your food comes from and how you are connected to everything in a greater webwork of relationships. At a time when more people than ever are divorced from the sources of their nourishment, and take for granted the soil and the beings that it supports, it is crucial for us to regain that appreciation for our food. We are already destroying the land, the water and the air, and we need these if we are to continue having food available to us. If we start with changing our awareness, then that awareness translates into actions for the better. Let it start in your kitchen, and move out from there into the world.

Did you enjoy this post? Consider a copy of my book Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up, which includes even more practices to connect with your bioregion and the beings within it! More info on my books can be found at https://thegreenwolf.com/books

Introducing Pocket Osteomancy: A Simple Bone Divination Set

Surprise! I have a new book! Well, booklet, anyway. And there’s a nifty handmade divination set with it, too!

Pocket Osteomancy is a bone divination system that I created based loosely on the Minor Arcana of the Tarot of Bones. It’s a bone casting method using a casting cloth divided into four quadrants. I first released it to some of my Patrons on Patreon last year so that they could try it out, but they only had a single instruction sheet to work with. Now I’ve fleshed that out into a 24-page booklet available as a paperback or ebook, and you can purchase the casting cloth and bones as well!

Divination with bones doesn’t have to be complicated! Pocket Osteomancy: A Simple Bone Divination Set is a simple but effective system for using animal bones to focus your intuition and explore possibilities in your present and future. It’s great for both beginners who may feel intimidated by more complex systems, and also provides a basic structure for more experienced practitioners to build on and explore.

I’ve ordered paperbacks and they should be here within the next week to week and a half, so you can go ahead and place your orders now. I will fill ALL orders once the paperbacks have arrived. You can make your purchase here at https://thegreenwolf.com/pocket-osteomancy/.

Call For Writers For Vulture Culture 101: A Book For People Who Like Dead Things

Hey, everyone! So in case you haven’t heard, I am writing a book about Vulture Culture, the “fandom” that’s sprung up around the appreciation of hides, bones and other dead things in recent years. The working title is Vulture Culture 101: A Book For People Who Like Dead Things, and I will be self-publishing it via CreateSpace; the projected date of publication is Summer 2018. Currently, the first draft of the book is done, and I am working on edits and revisions. There’s also an IndieGoGo campaign through March 23 at http://igg.me/at/vultureculture101 which has already met its initial goal and is working toward stretch goals.

While I have spent over twenty years making hide and bone art, I do not have extensive experience with tanning hides or cleaning bones or otherwise prepared raw specimens. However, no book on Vulture Culture would be complete without tutorials on some basic processes, which is why I’m seeking writers to contribute essays!

Each essayist will be compensated with $100 and 10 paperback copies of Vulture Culture 101 once it has been published. Thank you again to my IndieGoGo contributors for helping to make this happen!

I am seeking one essay each on the following topics:

  • Skinning a freshly dead or frozen and thawed animal and preparing the hide for tanning
  • Tanning a hair-on hide, starting with a raw hide (rabbit would be best as it’s a nice small hide that’s easy and inexpensive to acquire); while you may choose one method of tanning, such as alum, please briefly mention other tanning methods like egg tanning
  • Brain-tanning leather, starting with a hair-on hide (deer is most popular but I’m open to other easy to acquire suggestions like goat)
  • Cleaning bones through maceration, starting with a whole skinned carcass, though with a brief mention of dermestid beetles and nature cleaning as alternatives, and proceeding through degreasing and whitening
  • Wet specimens in jars, to include long-term care, how to change out old fluids, etc.
  • Very basic mouse or rat taxidermy, including how to prepare the hide, positioning, etc.
  • The basics of skeleton articulation; there’s not space to go through an entire skeletal articulation, but at least give people an idea of the tools and methods involved, and basic steps from skeleton acquisition to final display

Essays should have the following qualities:

  • Between 1500 and 2000 words (you may be able to go over that a bit if you need the space)
  • Written in easy to read English and suitable for a general audience
  • Thoroughly explain the topic in a step-by-step manner; steps should be numbered
  • Be accompanied by at least 4-6 print-quality photos showing different steps of the process (if you have to show different animals at different stages of the process, such as for longer processes like maceration, that’s fine, so long as all pertinent stages are covered clearly)
  • Should not be previously published, either in print or online. If you’ve written similar essays that’s fine, just write a unique one for this project

I will have already covered topics like where to get hides and bones, and legalities concerning them, so you don’t need to go over them again. Stick to the how-tos of your topic. I will be doing some basic editing and proofreading, but you should be sending me final drafts by the due date.

Please apply by contacting me at lupa.greenwolf(at)gmail(dot)com; you will be asked to provide the following information:

  • Your name, general location, email address and phone number
  • A brief description of your experience in working with hides and/or bones and/or other dead things
  • Which topic you would like to write about and what makes you qualified to write about it (you can apply for more than one topic; however, only one topic will be assigned to one writer unless there is a serious lack of suitable writers)
  • At least three samples of your writing, published or not; Vulture Culture topics and how-to articles are extra-awesome, but send the best of whatever you have. Please also send a few sample photos showing your photography skills. You can send them as links and/or attachments.
  • If you are under the age of 18, proof of permission by a parent or legal guardian

The deadline to apply is March 28, 2018. Selections will be made by April 7, 2018 at which point acceptance letters and contracts will be sent out. Completed final essays have a FIRM due date of June 7, 2018, so please make sure before you apply that you can dedicate the time to finishing your essay on time. You can also send me drafts in progress before that point if you’d like feedback.

Thank you!

The Vulture Culture 101 IndieGoGo Campaign is Live!

The Vulture Culture 101 IndieGoGo Campaign is officially live at http://igg.me/at/vultureculture101!
What compels me and many other people to fill our homes with the preserved remains of animals, and how can you join in the fun? Vulture Culture 101: A Book For People Who Like Dead Things explores the modern revival in acquiring, preserving and creating art with these natural specimens. Written by author and artist Lupa, this is the first full-length guide to Vulture Culture, a subculture that in recent years has grown up around the appreciation of hides, bones and other animal specimens.
Want to help Vulture Culture 101 become a reality AND get your copy of the book at the lowest price ever? Want to get neat perks like my other books and art made from hides and bones? Want to help a self-employed author and artist create a valuable resource both for members of the V.ulture Culture, and people who are just curious about what it’s all about?
Back the Vulture Culture 101 campaign today at http://igg.me/at/vultureculture101! We’re already well on our way, and early bird specials are going fast. Even if you can’t back the campaign right this moment, please send the campaign to anyone you feel may be interested, and thank you for your support 🙂

When You Steal a Book From an Author

So yet another admin of a Facebook group has decided that copyright doesn’t apply to them; a particular group has over 2000 pdfs of pagan books, including a LOT that are still under copyright. I mean, for pity’s sake, some of them even have “no-drm” in the file name, denoting that someone originally knew that book had digital rights management software attached to it, which means DON’T STEAL IT. My publisher for my books that are affects is already dealing with the DMCA takedowns, so I am here being unhappy that in 2017 this sort of thing is still happening.

Let me tell you something: when I write a book, I put literally hundreds of hours of my time into writing, editing and research, and that’s before the manuscript even goes to the publisher. If I’m self-publishing, I put in even more time with re-editing, proofreading, layout and interior design, book cover layout and design, file preparation, marketing and promotion and, of course, direct sales. The Tarot of Bones deck and book? Easily has a four-digit number of hours attached to it, and still counting since I am the sole distributor and marketer for it.

And unless I’m fortunate enough to get an advance from a publisher or have a successful crowdfunding campaign for a self-published project, I’m doing all this up-front work unpaid. Once I do get paid, tallying up the royalties and the income against the expenses? I’m not even making minimum wage. We authors have to play the long game, hoping that our books stay in print long enough to keep selling enough copies to maybe break even. I don’t know of a single pagan author who makes a living solely on book sales. Everyone has either a side hustle or a day job–or both.

Just because you legitimately bought a copy of the book doesn’t entitle you to ignore copyright. People who pirate have this idea that sharing ebooks is exactly the same as loaning a hardcopy version to a friend, or making photocopies of a few pages and giving them to a handful of students. Wake-up call, chum: sharing ebooks is not the same as passing a paperback around your coven. It can take months for that one paperback to work its way around thirteen people (longer if one of them “just needs a little more time, honestly!”) An ebook posted in a Facebook group, on the other hand, is going to hundreds, if not thousands, of people who can access it instantly.

It’s also not the same as getting a book from a library. Your average library book is only going to get checked out a dozen or so times a year, maybe a little more or less. Again, this is nowhere near the same as sending the PDF to thousands of people at once. Nor is that PDF the same as someone buying a secondhand copy at a thrift store; again, it can only go so far, so quickly. Sure, maybe a few of those people who read the pirated PDF might buy a new copy of the book, but the vast majority won’t. I’ve had my books pirated before, and if those people were all buying paperbacks from me I’d have a hell of a lot more money.

If I wanted people to be able to have access to a work that I put hundreds of hours of effort into free of charge, I would have released it into the wild myself, not chosen to enter it into an arrangement where I get an agreed-upon amount of compensation for it. So when some entitled individual decides that they have the right to ignore copyright and post entire PDFs online without my and/or the publisher’s permission, you know what that person is saying?

They’re saying that copyright doesn’t apply to them. They’re saying they are above the law. Sorry, but there is no way to legally justify sharing the ENTIRE book without permission. Fair use applies to a few hundred words, that’s it. “Educational use” is only within certain educational establishments, and again is piece and part, not the whole damned thing. Sharing a bunch of PDFs to random strangers on Facebook? Sorry, your educational defense doesn’t work.

They’re saying that I don’t deserve to decide how I will disseminate the book that I put hundreds of hours of work into. They’re saying “Fuck you, I don’t care what you want, and I don’t care how much work you put into this, because what I want is more important.” They ignore my choice to go through a publisher or to self-publish or to otherwise decide how to share what I’ve created.

They’re saying they don’t think my work is worth what I say it’s worth. When you give away an ebook of my work for free to thousands of people without permission, you are ignoring the price that I or my publisher put on that work. Again, few people who read the free version will actually buy the book after because they’re already got what they want, and all of that is lost potential customers. Which also means…

They’re saying that they don’t care whether I can afford to keep writing or not. As I said, I don’t make that much money off my books, certainly not enough to pay all my bills. A good month is one in which sales might pay one or two bills, or buy me some groceries. I have to do a lot of other things to make sure I can stay afloat. And at this level, the loss in revenue from lost book sales due to pirating hurts. Any pagan business owner, whether author or artist or shop owner, can tell you that the margin between paying the bills and not is pretty damned slim, so whether it’s piracy or shoplifting, theft makes it harder to get through each month.

They’re saying they’re entitled to my work. If you don’t respect my ability to be compensated for my work, but you think you should have access to it no matter what, you’re being entitled as all fuck. You wouldn’t expect your mechanic or your accountant or yourself to work free of charge. But somehow authors and other creatives are expected to create for free, and when we complain about theft we’re told we’re the ones in the wrong.

The sad thing is, there are people who will still feel that they have every justification for pirating books, whether pagan or otherwise. They’ll come up with excuses as to why they should be the exception. And they’ll keep wallowing in their ignorance and entitlement.

So as a way to counter that just a little, here’s my little bread and butter speech:

Consider supporting this self-employed author and artist by buying my books, or checking out my Etsy shop, or purchasing the Tarot of Bones! You can also get exclusive content, art in the mail, and more by being my Patron on Patreon! Thank you 🙂

Lupa’s Essential Books For Pagans

Hi, folks! Sorry for the radio silence; my head hasn’t been in pagan space much lately so I’ve been dealing with a bit of writer’s block in that direction. I’m starting to come out of it a bit, though, and I have a few ideas, this being the first one.

Most essential reading lists for pagans tend to be pagan-specific books, or books that deal with related topics like the history of pre-Christian religions or herbalism. My list is perhaps a little more removed from blatant paganism than that, and might be better termed “Lupa’s Essential Books For Nature-Based Pagans”. Moreover, it’s a list that will likely change over time. But they’re texts I think all pagans would benefit from reading for one reason or another.

The Nature Principle by Richard Louv

Many people, not just pagans, are attracted to nature. But why? In his follow-up to his award-winning Last Child in the Woods, Louv looks at not only why nature is good for us, but concrete ways in which we can reconnect with the natural world, even in urban areas, as a way to combat nature-deficit disorder. (See also Florence Williams’ The Nature Fix as a more up-to-date collection of nature-is-good-for-us research for laypeople.)

A Beginner’s Guide to the Scientific Method by Stephen S. Carey

Paganism often flirts heavily with pseudoscience, sometimes to dangerous degrees. Everyone should have a solid understanding of the scientific method, to include how a good experiment is put together (as well as how not to conduct research), and how to avoid pitfalls like confirmation bias. Not only will this help you to cut through some of the crap that gets presented as fact within paganism, but it will help you have a more critical eye toward sensational news headlines claiming new cures for cancer or demonizing vaccinations. If you can pick apart a study based on things like sample size and the validity of the results, you’re already way ahead of most of the population.

The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins

Okay, put the fact that it’s Dawkins aside; this is one of those texts where he’s focusing on communicating science instead of tearing religion apart, and he’s frankly at his best here. Now, evolution is up there with gravity and a round earth as far as things we know to be true, and hopefully you already have a basic understanding of how it works: It is not survival of the fittest so much as survival of those who fit into the ecosystem most effectively. What this book does is cleverly place us, Homo sapiens, in the context of the grand dance of evolution by tracing on possible path we may have taken all the way back to the last universal ancestor that all living beings on the planet share. Along the way we get to see the origins of everything from our big brains to our opposable thumbs and upright bipedal walking, showing us that we are not the most amazing and superior being that the gods ever created, but rather one among many incredible and diverse life forms that evolution has produced through natural selection and mutation. It is, in fact, the ultimate journey on this planet.

Also, the Walking With Dinosaurs/Beasts/Monsters/Cavemen BBC documentaries are fun, if a bit flawed and dated, ways to look at how evolution has shaped animals over millions of years.

Roadside Geology series by various authors

If you’re in the United States, there’s a Roadside Geology book for your state! You may not think much about the ground beneath your feet other than as a nice, solid base, but the various stones and formations, as well as hydrological phenomena like rivers and lakes, are all crucial to the sort of life that can thrive in a given place. The Roadside Geology books are a fun way to go look at your local geology in person and learn a little about the land you live on. You can then follow up by picking up some more in-depth reading material for the geology of your area.

Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan

We often assume that plants are relatively sedentary beings with few motivations. Yet they are vibrant and active parts of their ecosystems in ways even we animals can’t touch. This book looks at the world of plants through the relationships four of them have with humans, how we have changed them–and how they have changed us. I also strongly recommend following this up with two documentaries: How to Grow a Planet by Iain Stewart (which also happens to be on Netflix as of this writing) and David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants (which is also in book form.)

Trees, Truffles and Beasts: How Forests Function by Chris Maser, Andrew Claridge and James Trappe

In paganism we tend to look at animals, plants and other beings individually, as stand-alone guides—yet if we want inspiration for just how interconnected we are, there’s no better model than an ecosystem. This book explores how just a few of the animal, plant and fungus inhabitants of forests are inextricably bound together. Extrapolate that out to the entire ecosystem, and you begin to see how deeply entwined all beings are in a very real, even visceral sense. If you’ve only been working with animal or plant spirits, this book may just inspire you to reach out further.

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart

Again in paganism people tend to be fairly short-sighted when it comes to animals. We often look at the most impressive mammals and birds, and then only at the most surface qualities, gleaning what we can for ourselves and our spiritual needs. In order to step out of this self-centered approach to nature spirituality, we need to really appreciate beings for themselves in all their complexity, and what better starting point than the amazing and completely indispensable earthworm? This is a really fun read, but you’ll learn a lot along the way, too–and maybe start treating the soil in your yard a little better, too!

There are lots of other books that explore individual species in depth, like Bernd Heinrich’s The Mind of the Raven and Of Wolves and Men by Barry Holstun Lopez, but I really recommend you start with the often-overlooked earthworms before moving on to stereotypically charismatic critters like ravens and wolves.

Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown Young

One of the disadvantages of pagans reading only books by pagans about paganism is that we miss out on other awesome and relevant works by people who aren’t expressly pagan. Joanna Macy is one of those authors that more pagans really need to know about, especially those who construct group rituals. This is an entire book full of rites for reconnecting to nature and to each other, as well as grieving for global losses and fostering gratitude and hope for a better future. If that doesn’t sound like something more pagans could get behind, I don’t know what does. Just because it doesn’t mention any deities doesn’t mean that it’s useless.

Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World by Bill Plotkin

This is another one of those “pagan but not” books. I’ve explored this book in more detail in the past, but my opinion still stands: it is a much better alternative to Maiden, Mother, Crone and Youth, Warrior, Sage. It’s based in a developmental approach to ecopsychology (or an ecopsychological approach to developmental psychology?) Growth is not based on your physical age or whether you’re capable of popping out babies; rather, Plotkin’s eight-stage Wheel looks at your journey as a person and your continuing relationship with your community and ecosystem to determine where you are developmentally. You can even be in more than one stage at once! It’s a much more well-rounded way to apply a label to yourself, if you must, and I recommend it for anyone who is sick of the gender-limiting stereotypes of MMC/YWS.

(Honorable mention to Lasara Firefox’s Jailbreaking the Goddess as another alternative to MMC for women.)

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

If you love nature and honor it and you really want to do something to make up for the damage we’ve done to the planet, there’s nothing much more effective than working to reverse climate change. I mean, really, it’s a much better offering to nature spirits than pouting food and drink on the ground, or sending a vague ball of energy to wrap around the planet to do….what? What’s even more noteworthy about this book is that it’s an excellent antidote to the hopelessness and fear that a lot of people feel about climate change. In it you’re going to read about people who are already boots on the ground making a difference, to include in the very industries that are causing the most problems. And it ranks the top 100 causes of climate change (you can see this on their website, too.) Pick one of these causes to start working on, with whatever time and other resources you reasonably have available, and not only are you giving something back to nature, but you’re also counteracting the paralysis that pessimism breeds.

So there you have it: my current essential reading list for pagans. Sorry I’m not handing you yet another rehash of the Wiccan Sabbats or a bunch of spells. Over the past few years my paganism has become much more firmly rooted in the physical, and my reading list reflects that. After all, what good is a nature-based path if you don’t know diddly about nature itself?

Reclaiming My Adventure

In 2006, I made a terrible mistake. I got married.

Now, marriage itself isn’t a bad idea. But it is when you get married a year after you met the person while on the rebound, and after they pressured you into first taking you with them on what was supposed to be your solo cross-country move and then pressured you into getting married so damned fast. Needless to say, my emotional boundaries used to be a lot mushier than they are now.

And like so many people who made bad decisions, I also got a tattoo on my chest on our honeymoon. Well, we both did. And we hadn’t really thought too much about the designs, other than choosing small symbols that were personally meaningful but didn’t say a whole lot about the relationship. In hindsight, my tattoo of a dragon’s claw tightly clutching a pearl marked with my then-husband’s personal sigil was all too prophetic.

Predictably, the marriage was a slow-burn disaster. I won’t bore you with the details of its three and a half year span. Needless to say, when I finally asked for a divorce it was far later than it ought to have been. It ended amicably enough, and over time we drifted apart; that part certainly could have been a lot worse.

When I moved into my own apartment, I was stuck with the task of trying to figure out where the hell my life was going after that derailment. I’d had dreams of adventure when I moved to the Pacific Northwest twelve years ago, dreams that had been born a decade earlier when I’d first visited family in Seattle. After spending my life in the Midwest, I was ready for oceans, markets, and grand conifer rain forests. And I managed to eke out some of that during my first few married years there, though I was also entangled in career changes and relationship woes.

Now, back in glorious solitude, I could think quietly. And so I spent the next seven years taking adventures. I went to Bend, OR for the first time and introduced myself to Oregon’s desert side. I hiked Dog Mountain in a wind storm, and Elk Mountain in the snow. I got to know the coast better, both on my own and with my now-partner. I went on my first backpacking trip with the help of a friend, and then later did my first solo excursion.

That adventurousness carried over into my creative life, too. Now in full control of my finances again, I was free to make investments in my art without someone else’s worries holding me back. I got a contract with a bigger publisher. I started an annual arts festival. I created and produced a tarot deck and book. I moved my studio to the coast.

Most of all, I flourished emotionally. For the first time since I moved to the Northwest, I felt in control of my life. I could come home and be comfortable in cozy, warm sweats that did nothing for my figure but plenty for my well-being, and not feel guilty about how much time I put toward my creative work. I felt free to explore my spirituality and to discard the last vestiges of supernatural belief that were keeping me from direct immersion in what I found most sacred: nature itself, unfiltered by human mythos and superstition.

And so, seven years after my ill-fated marriage ended, I finally felt that I could cover up the last reminder of it. After much thought, I decided on one of the trees I’ve become most attached to since I moved here: Western red cedar. I seem to have a thing for cedars that aren’t actually cedars; Eastern red cedar, which was one of my childhood loves, is a juniper. Its western counterpart is no cedar, but a cypress.

Through two sessions with Chaz Vitale of Ritual Arts Tattoo, whose natural history-inspired art was a perfect fit, I watched that old ink disappear under a flourish of greens and browns. A sprig of cedar stretched its healing needles and fertile cones across my heart. By the time it was done, I could only see what had been there before if I looked too hard.

I can’t erase my past; no one can. I know that the old tattoo is still under there. But like the rest of my life, I’ve overwritten that patch of skin. It took me seven years* to regenerate the majority of the cells in my body, and it took me seven years to regenerate myself. Now I feel like I am the person I was supposed to become when I first arrived here; my adventure continues as though nothing had disrupted it.

And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

*Yes, I realize that the seven years to regenerate all your cells is a myth. I’m using it poetically. So there.

Book Review: The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals, and Other Forgotten Skills
Tristan Gooley
The Experiment, LLC 2014
402 pages

I promise I actually still read books! I just read them more slowly these days, which is why it took me over a month to work my way through Tristan Gooley’s excellent The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs. And I enjoyed it so much I wanted to be sure I shared it with you.

Have you ever had a book that you were really, really excited to read? This is one of those books for me. As soon as I saw it in a little bookstore in Ilwaco, WA, I knew I needed to not only buy it and read it but absorb it. As the title suggests, it’s a detailed look at how to use signs in the landscape to determine everything from where you’re headed to what the weather will do and what various living beings you may meet along the way. Most of the chapters are dedicated to specific areas of study, such as animal tracks or what you can tell from local flora, fungi and lichens. But they’re interspersed with a few chapters of the author’s anecdotes, which not only illustrate the concepts therein, but also demonstrate that even a master outdoorsperson can get lost!

Because the book is neatly divided into chapters, it makes a good workbook for improving your skills at noticing and interpreting these clues. Even better, the last chapter includes specific tips and exercises to hone your abilities in each chapter’s bailiwick. My intent, now that I’ve read the book through once, is to make use of it on my own travels, first working through it chapter by chapter, and then integrating everything together.

Even if you aren’t very active outdoors, it’s still an incredibly fascinating read with numerous “Wow, I had NO idea!” moments in store for you. Gooley very obviously loves nature and has spent countless hours reading its fine print with gusto. At a time when many people simply see “nature” as the unending scenery outside, he invites us to pay attention to the minute details and the stories they tell, and then wrap them all back up into great ecosystemic symphonies. This is a must-have for anyone whose path intersects with the natural world, whether practically, artistically, spiritually or otherwise.

You can buy the book directly from the publisher here. You can also get a taste of the sorts of skills in this book on the author’s website, well worth perusing.

Wherein the Sunset Surprises Me

I’ve been settled in at the new art studio here in Long Beach, WA for about a week now. I had to spend more time away than I would have liked; the move from Portland happened in multiple stages, only one of which involved the convenience of a moving truck. And just as I got the new place all set up to my liking, I had to leave again to go vend at an event. Four nights I was gone, missing the sound of the Pacific rushing up against the beach and the sight of marsh hawks soaring over the dunes.

But now I get to be here for a couple of weeks straight, for the most part alone. I’m looking forward to the chance to get to know the rhythms of this place a bit more. I’ve had glimpses over the past month as I’ve slowly settled myself into a place that hasn’t had human inhabitants for years. The tides are easy; they’re charted and I can tell time by them. The crows also have their comings and goings, and some evenings I can watch them flock in the trees to the east as the sun sets. The deer are a little more capricious; I might stumble upon a doe while running up and down the long gravel driveway, or see her bounding at a distance over the dunes. I’ve yet to see the elk or black bears that are said to visit every so often.

The dusk skies have been a mix of palettes–some vibrant swashes of orange and blue silk with splashes of yellow, some the gray of rain-soaked cement. When it looked like there’d be a decent show, I’d walk down to the beach to watch as Sol bedded down for the night. More overcast evenings saw me stay warm and cozy at home.

Nothing is to be taken for certain, not even the sunset. Today has been full of clouds. At suppertime stratocumulus hung low in the sky, drifting by like great and shaggy wild sheep. Once the dishes had been put away I went to go turn on the light by the bay window that looks to the west, and my eyes were drawn to a slash of rose low over the horizon.

Captivated, I stopped and settled into the papasan chair. In just moments the rose intensified, and played over the backs of the cloud-sheep as they meandered south, til it almost touched the roof of the house. It illuminated the soft edges of the sky, and I noticed patterns where before I’d only seen flat gray. I expected it to fade quickly.

Instead, the sun dipped through the slash in the sky, pink-orange and bright. Even as it slipped beneath the waves, it continued to cast its hue through the sky for over a half an hour afterward, the last hints of light stubbornly holding their line well after the rest of the sky had gone dark.

Now I look at the stratocumulus sky with new eyes. No longer do I sigh when the gray sinks nearly to the land. Instead I look at this subtle watercolor, with its pale silvers and deeper blue steel, and I appreciate what has been there all along. And so rather than merely being an admirer of the much-vaunted sunset, I am a skywatcher. Eyes that have spent decades watching the soil and the grass now take time to look up a little more often, and I learn a bit more about this place that I’m learning to call home.