Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Living in the Past"

For the past 20+ years that I've been practicing and writing about Reconstructionist religion, the accusation that we're trying to live in the past or are reenactors who want to take it to far or the like has been thrown, well, almost constantly. In the past decade that we've been actively, instead of dreaming about it, pursuing homesteading the same thing gets thrown at homesteaders. We want to live in the past, or more that we are "playing at living in the past with no concept of how horrible such a life would be." Put the two together and people start claiming we're trying to live on Buster Ancient Farm.

First clue, folks, I'm online here. And I intend to stay.

Of course, there are some Reconstructionists who are reenactors. There are homesteaders who do "go primitive." There may be some Reconstructionist homesteaders who "go primitive." We wouldn't know, they're not online to tell us about it. They're probably not even going to write to Countryside Magazine & Small Stock Journal. ~;p

I have no interest in going back to the Iron Age. As a prepper I believe that we might get thrown back into it to some degree, but part of the preparation is avoiding that often by using technology that most people don't today. We'll be the ones not living in the Iron Age. Um, provided we can get the resources we need to do a bit more. Also, for us, homesteading is not going back to the past, for many of us it truly is about saving the future. The idea that the way most people live today is not sustainable and that we need to find a better way. We do need to go back to some things, things we left that we shouldn't have (like eating actual food, instead of chemical concoctions, raising animals humanely and sustainably rather than in factory farms). I also believe we need to find ways to bring this all around so that everyone can be part of this, not just those of us who go as far as returning to farming ourselves. And that's happening.

Likewise, our religion is really not remotely Iron Age, no Reconstructionist can be despite what we might dream and some might claim (although terms like "revivalist" are usually used instead, with claims there is nothing to "reconstruct"). Given the fact that there is no continuation of pre-Christian practices, that we are having to reconstruct should be obvious. Much of the material we use, the Irish literature, the Norse Eddas, come from Christian sources and we have no reason, at all, to believe that they are any sort of recording of accurate pre-Christian lore. And for some of us we respect the living cultures, which are Christian, and find what we learn from them is valid too. There is much complexity in this.

I do want to take an aside and note that not all Reconstructionists are homesteaders....obviously vice versa.

Okay, see, I'm making all these protestations because what I'm about to write is probably going to make it seem far more like all the above is a lie. It's not, but again, things are always complex. Because I think that we really NEED to recreate, or someone needs to recreate, actual living conditions in various ways like Buster Ancient Farm if we really are going to understand the past enough to learn from it completely. And this video offers some great examples of why, not only this is true, but why we need to learn, especially if we're going to have a future as a species.

*WARNING: There is a pig slaughter as part of it and that may upset some...EDIT 3/28/15: I came by to read through this and see the video is actually dead...sorry!.*

There are, of course, some things that CRs will find humorous and/or annoying, like "Sam Hain" and a Wicker Man at that season representing the "Dying Sun God." But...while they got things wrong (although it is 1978 and, well, a lot of Pagans at the time did ...yes, some still do...but, anyway) it's interesting the importance they found in the celebration. A break from their daily life, a special time to share special things that they decided to save up rather than eat or drink in small quantities, a marking of passage.

It's also interesting that several members of this group have continued to meet about the time of the four festivals.

The key to what I really like out of it is how it seems to have affected them. Several have raised animals, grown food gardens, spend a lot of time outdoors, one is a blacksmith which he had done while doing this show. Oh, and one couple brought home a road kill deer and the woman dressed it out, years later, surprised she to remember she had this skill. Of course, they phrase it that this stayed with them, but it's unclear how much they might have been into such things to begin with, perhaps helping them be selected for the project.

That many of them also remained friends through the years is also, I think, telling lesson. But it also seems obvious that if you make it through such seclusion together for a year and don't kill each other you probably are going to develop deep connections. I think it's a reminder in our very transient world today of the social creatures we are. And perhaps there is much to consider about why, being that we do not tend to live communally or in the same place through our lives these days, the internet has become so much about social networking. Perhaps we should rethink this idea that social networks are just time-sucks and places to find conflict, but consider what we're really craving from them, especially as many of us living rurally might not have a lot of meat-space community. At the same time, perhaps we should consider how we can avoid getting lost in them to the detriment of face-time (I can think of a number of times when I've visited people and they've spent more time online than talking to me....and a couple cases where I ended up online too....and even talking to them online while in their house!).

The one guy who apparently didn't take up animal husbandry, gardening or blacksmithing noted we are Iron Age people. We may have evolved our technology, but we've not changed as a species in this amount of time.  I think we can't forget that our brains, our souls, still crave things that our society doesn't always provide. Namely, connecting, with each other, with animals and growing things, just connecting. Really, even the food and movement issues are all about connecting, with where our food comes from and with our bodies. With our Gods.

In this we are not different from what humans have ever been. We're just pushed away from it (and this is not to say we're the first society to do it, just, you know, bigger and with more stuff to create it).

But, of course, along from this, which might seem obvious, there was an archaeological lesson from this TV show that shows another benefit of doing this. Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe visited the site and noted charcoal leavings in the cook pit that led him to understand such findings in actual digs. This sort of thing is, of course, the whole point behind Buster Ancient Farm, to find and to teach. Peter Reynolds was undoubtedly the most influential researcher in this form of experimental archaeology.

There are times I would almost want to spend some time doing something like this. It might have been a more practical option before we got into our own homesteading project, however, so it might not happen. But really, we don't need to spend a year living it totally to get a bit more of a perspective on these things. Or even actually do them ourselves, if we pay attention, look at what people do and ask the right questions.

Ones that often strike me are assumptions about animal husbandry. A common one is one I commented on this past Imbolg that because modern farmer's mostly (but not all) manipulate sheep breeding to have lambing in March, that the folk etymology linking lambing and Imbolg is somehow has nothing to do with the observation of, you know, the folk. The right question wasn't when do farmer's today have lambing, but when do most ewes go into a natural heat, which would put lambing starting in mid-January. I didn't get to experience the whole sheep cycles, but I did ask the right questions as I was researching both for theoretical and, possible, homesteading reasons (we're probably not going to be raising sheep, but you never know).

After I started considering this topic I found another example of living and considering things in context came up. That hurley was a warrior sport, used for conditioning and training is commonly noted in various sources; mentions of it are found in the boyhood tales of both Cú Chulainn and Finn Mac Cumhail so the connection with warriors in training is rather obvious. As is the mock battle aspect of all such games, probably one of which is familiar in having played or watched by most academics. In the article A Celtic Cure: Soldiers Use Hurling To Heal After War - NCPR News from NPR (yes, there are some glaring mistakes in the article) the sport of hurling by veteran soldiers brings up another point not mentioned. That it can be healing to those who have experienced the trauma of battle. Was this part of the more ancient use of the game? Maybe, maybe not. But that it might be is something that was learned when the game was played those who have lived battle as well. Again, we may not all live this, but we can learn from it.

So, this has been a rambling bit that has gone in several directions. But it all comes around to the same things for me. That we aren't seeking to live in the past, but we if we are to truly learn from it we need to find ways to put it in context, either by asking the right questions to those who are living what we're seeking or by living it ourselves even for a short time or even in small ways. We are the same people, our experiences, or those of others today, can teach us. We are primitive people, we've not changed. Yet we're obviously bringing what we do into the future, hopefully one more sustainable. That's what we're trying to do here, with both our spirituality and our lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

As summer leaves changes come

We moved here to have horses and to homestead. It'll be 11 years this year and we're not where we might have hoped. We've have and have had horses, 10 years ago I had rescued an elderly gelding I named Saoradh. I was lucky at that time as I wasn't working, Aaron was, so I was able to spend much time with him, both of us healing. Then I got a part time job before getting a full-time night watch job. At the time I got that job, he was settled, we got into a nice routine his last few months, as he was slowing down. I'd come home, we'd ride then later play with ground work.

When I lost him, I got the clear message to adopt a PMU foal. This job became a bigger issue then, for a young foal required much more energy and work. Daytime energy and work. Most of homesteading does, really, and my body knew this. When we moved here I went from being nocturnal most of my life to almost immediately diurnal...a morning person even! While the nightwatch job had it's perks as far as warrior path stuff went, especially Outlaw Warrior/Fenian workings, which I'll talk about soon in Championing Ourselves, it clearly had it's disadvantages in our over all life.

For five years I was on this schedule. Due to this, this filly Saorsa, now 4, is probably a bit wilder than I'd like, especially as she's a left brain mare who does not appreciate having to do anything that is not her own idea. She's extremely brave, never spooky, but instead is headstrong and stubborn. If I spent more time with her, perhaps she'd be a bit more cooperative. She's doing well in her training and I had no intention of backing her prior to next year, but I'm not thrilled by the lack of time I've spent.

But this all is changing now. I am leaving the night watch job, something, I'll be able to spend this fall working with her more, as well as with the new, older mare, Misty, we're adopting from Saorsa's trainer. Between more attention and a new pasturemate, hopefully Saorsa's attitude will improve a bit. Oh, I don't want docile and timid, but just a bit more acceptance of negotiation would be nice. And given this attitude, more time working things out will be a good thing.

This is a scary time, this will mean neither of us will be working full-time at the moment. Aaron is looking, but there is little out there. He'll sign up for more time with the ambulance, of course, and given the car issue (we have only one) this will give him a great chance for more experience. I will try to take some clients as a personal trainer but given the economy and the location, I'm not expecting a living out of that. I know we can do this, but not having that all important full-time job, especially as home-owners, is, yeah, a bit nerve-wracking.

As Aaron is likely to take as many shifts as he can and try to get at least part-time work, I'll be taking over as the primary "farmer" here. Aaron began taking over that role more and more as I burned out more and more from working nights, especially after he lost his job. I tried to spend my few daylight time with Saorsa or the Minis as much as possible.

But of course, we've got a nice list of things that really will take both of us to do, especially as winter is coming soon. We need to add a "stall" to the run-in barn so there is more room for the girls to hang out, as well as a space to separate them when we want to work with one. I'd love to tear down the whole structure, which was not designed to house horses, and start all over, but there is that little Catch-22 that it's impossible to afford to do it now that we have the time to do it (and there was never enough coming in for us to hire someone else to do it).

We also need better winter quarters for the chickens as well. There is some work on the house that should get done to make things better for this winter. And a shooting range to build but that might not happen until next spring (and will be further discussed in Championing Ourselves most likely). And there is a lot we could do, also best done together, to better prepare things for next year's planting.

One more week and I'm home.

I also look forward to spending more time with our land here. I spent my nights in the woods, but they were other woods, not the ones that own me. Now I barely do that, locked into one campsite. I get out here sometimes on my nights off, but far less during the day. It seems that the turning of the seasons here is largely missed by me. By chance I got to see the geese giving flying lessons to their growing goslings this year, but some years I've missed that all together. I feel out of touch with this land, with it's Spirits.

And so, we'll see what this part of the journey has for us, this land and the animals, domestic and wild, we share it with in this new stage.