I chose this book as the first book in my book club, as January is a big planning month. I like to set up my year at the beginning of the journey, and get situated, so I thought it would be good to learn about the landmark holidays of the year. This book explores eight pagan holidays and sustainable ways to celebrate and experience them. I don’t personally subscribe to a specific religious tradition, but rather like to explore and learn about different ways people connect with the wonderous. Paganism and witchcraft has inspired me for a while now, and I think this is a beautiful lens to view the wheel of the year and the cycles of nature—a big part of my life.
Im excited to learn more about these dates to plan rituals and ceremonies that connect with spirits of nature. I really find a lot of value from planning, and it also is fun to me. I like making checklists and getting things in order, so combining that with such a meaningful, natural, and mystical practice is really inspiring.
I haven’t read very much from a physical book since I put down Silent Spring, which I’m hoping to get back to this year, so today’s reading day of 66 pages was quite an exercise for me. I think knitting for long periods has helped improve my stamina for reading, but for the last few months, I’ve been having a hard time doing a lot of reading at once. Hopefully, I can make this more of a practice, because I really used to enjoy it, it’s such an experience. So let’s get to it—the book itself.
In the introduction, written by John Michael Greer, he noted something that has been on my mind for a while. He writes that we never truly left nature, because it is essential to our beings, we are creatures of nature. I want this to be my battle cry. We as human beings talk a lot about how we are superior than nature and every other species of earthling, in the exception that dogs, man’s (domesticated) best friend have more pure hearts and goodness. We, ourselves, are ultimately domesticated, dressing up in clothing and getting in our cars to drive through our cities to our desk jobs and buy convenience foods for lunch and come home to watch television while we simultaneously scroll on our phones. Domesticated. (And who are our owners?)
This book begs the question, “is that really us? Is that sustaining us, giving us what we need to live, or do we need something more, something… less?” We do, indeed, need nature to sustain our natural beings. We need nature in our everyday, and not just as an escape, not just as an excursion. We need to be with nature as we go about our lives. This is a guidebook to find meaning with these experiences, and meld and muddle them into our everyday doings.
“It’s also timely in a less obvious sense, as the centuries, the western world has devoted to the pursuit of various arbitrary notions of human perfection have left very few of us with the inner resources we need to achieve wholeness of being. The erosion of the natural systems that sustain our outward lives is mirrored by the erosion of the values and meanings that sustain our inward lives: as without, so within.”
Greer makes a point that it’s not just who we are that is natural, it is what we need. When we are separate from nature, we are missing out and suffering a loss, a breakdown of being. We can repair this damage. We can recover this loss. We can do these hard things.
In the introduction, Dana O’Driscoll paints the picture of a domesticated, desecrated place, a constructed shopping mall. She asks, “how can this place then be sacred?” Do we think of our world as mere world with sacred places peppered throughout, or could it be possible that our world itself is sacred, and thus, our humanized cities and dumps and clear cut rainforests and run down strip malls and shiny places of business have had their sacrality removed. I hear Wendell Berry again and again saying, “there are no sacred and unsalted places. There are only sacred and desecrated places.” How much of our world is still sacred? What cathedrals do we not even remember we’re there even 100 years ago. So close we could nearly touch it, and yet it is gone. Obliterated. What actions will we thus make for our future with this knowledge in mind?
O’Driscoll writes that these thoughts pull on our hearts. It must be easy for a lot of us to feel that pain, to have a love for our earth, and thus to have good intentions. But feelings and intentions are not the same as our actual actions and thus our impacts. Pagans seek a balance with nature, in both their natural interactions and our impacts on the earth. She writes of the potential for constant sacrality, there is potential that every act can be a sacred act. My immediate thought was, but does this alienate imperfect people? What if we can’t be totally sacred all the live long day? But she emphasized the notion of “potential” and ultimately notes that it is a comfort that we have this option to grow into, just doing the best we can as each moment comes.
O’Driscoll writes of 3 principles of sacred action, essentially deprogramming, reintegrating, and practicing, and notes that “ we can make consistent, manageable, and impactful shifts that do make a difference within and without.” This chapter focuses on these principles, deprogramming our in-sacred (desecrated) worldviews, and refilling our lives with the sacred. With wisdom, we can find harmony, and induce transformation. I have to wonder though, in a world where things are so measured, when we need to prove our worth, does this difference, does this growth have to be measurable? Would a minute change be worth it? O’Driscoll makes a point that we should not limit our vision, if anything, we should be “living better in our current reality” (24) rather than completely changing our entire lives.
O’Driscoll begins the wheel of the year at Yule, the Winter Solstice. I always get so excited for the new year, for starting fresh and trying new things. It is beautiful to me, though, that she starts the year off at the darkest time of the year before the calendar start of the year on January 1st. Just before the returning of the light. She writes that behind us are yesterday’s problems and we are now planning and putting hope into the new year.
I think the start of the year is a good time to think about what matters, especially around this time of Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and just general celebration of love and togetherness. O’Driscoll writes that it is good to experience this season with an Ethics of care. When our world runs on money, it seems like that is the thing we measure and justify all our purposes and productivity by. She writes “the traditional symbolism in the tarot associated with “heady “actions, and the mind is helpful here: the heady actions are situated in the suit of swords. These swords are Masters of logic, of the mind, but also bring about much of the carnage that is present in our lives. So much of our cultural value systems place emphasis on economics, on personal gain, on possessiveness, and on profit— all of which reside in the head.” (29) When we justify our actions by our pocketbooks, “The economics are the only things that have voice.”
I think, however, to be a human is to feel, not to live by the golden handcuffs. O’Driscoll breaks this ethics of care down into earth care, people care, and fair share, and dives deeply into each of these. She also notes compassion fatigue, and reemphasizes that care begins at self care. At the center of our hearts we must protect, nourish, love, care for, and make ourselves happy. O’Driscoll writes about Wendell Berry’s most popular book, The Unsettling of America, in which he writes about nurturing, not for profit or efficiency, but just working as well as possible. Doing things that you don’t actually need to do, things that would be easier or another way, I have always seemed extra special to me.
For me, spinning wool into yarn to use, for my knitting is worlds more special than buying yarn made from a machine from a big box store, that I could get anywhere in the country or possibly even the world. I have to ask, what does that yarn mean to me? It’s not because the yarn is cheaper, spinners learn very quickly that when you spin your own yarn, it’s more expensive than just going to the store and buying machine made yarn. Not to mention the time you spend. You can debate the quality because it is true that machine made yarn is probably more consistent and overall more durable, but which has the personal touch? What stories were told during the machine made yarn’s creation process?
Nowadays, I buy commercial yarn for specific purposes. As stated before, it’s more durable, so I can use things like acrylic for things that are going in the washer. But isn’t it so satisfying to delight in putting on a special scarf, or pair of fingerless gloves, or hat that I casually wear while I’m having my coffee and writing in my journal. And maybe the very action of making the thing, spinning the yarn, knitting the garment, has value in itself. Maybe doing the things that don’t really matter is what makes life special.
O’Driscoll writes a ceremony guide for winter solstice centered around an altar with candles, a journal, and the sacred self, meditating upon these things, and imagining the story you want for your future self.
This is the holiday which has just passed this early February, and the season we have entered. The season of learning.
O’Driscoll writes about something her grandmother said about life in her heyday, “people needed each other then” and this made me think a lot about our time during the pandemic. We didn’t get to see a lot of people, and when we did, our expressions were covered up, and we couldn’t hug each other. We had to protect each other, and had to execute a cost benefit analysis each time we wanted to interact with a person. I know I’ve uttered the phrase, “Oh it’s OK! Come here, give me a hug!” a few times. I think the pandemic made us lose a lot of social skills but it also made me think about who matters to me and how to really appreciate and experience that time I get with them. I’ve been meditating lately about how learning is my love language, and I’m trying more to bring that into my interactions with the people in my life. O’Driscoll writes that when learning from her grandmother’s generation, “we didn’t learn skills because we didn’t want to, or they no longer applied.” (48) it makes me think of something my mom told me when I was little, she was explaining about heaven, and said that in heaven, we could do whatever we wanted to do, and would know everything. I’m excited about learning the skills that have passed into the oblivion of the past. It gives me comfort and even excitement.
“With the dawning of industrialization and consumerism, we’ve lost many skills and much knowledge; this is the loss of our human heritage of interacting and living with the land: the knowledge of root and stem, seed and growth, balance and restoration […] the lost ancestral knowledge isn’t just about how growing one’s own food or making one’s own medicine; it is also about how to work with each other, about how to build communities, how to raise barns, how to learn and grow. We live in those fragments.” (49) Sing it to the rooftops! I feel the traditional ecological knowledge from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass coming into tune. I feel my wildcraft Appalachian roots reaching out into deep water to drink heartily from this river of wealth that knowledge of skills is. I have to follow this path, where she goes I will go, and I will follow her where she leads. O’Driscoll writes about this type of knowledge as Deep “oak knowledge”, to call each animal and plant by its right name, to know how to draft the fiber. To know what it means to provide for and feed a whole family. To know what makes your best friend laugh. These things have a rich value I will not let go of.
I think a lot about the practicality of my creations. One thing I don’t do very much that I love is embroidery. I don’t see as much value in things that will only be decorations, they’re just not practical, so how can I justify spending my limited time on things like that? Maybe for the simple reason that they are beautiful and I love making them. O’Driscoll writes that, “Reskilling is about gaining the skills to live more regeneratively, which means being able to provide at least a few of the basic needs for ourselves, our families, and our communities. The broader reskilling movement is concerned with skills that help feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, provide daily functional items for ourselves from local materials, entertain ourselves, deal with our waste, keep ourselves healthy, create sustainable living Spaces, keep ourselves sheltered and warm, and create our own useful arts and crafts.” (53-54) Homesteading encompasses a lot more than just growing your own food, it is a whole life, and I am starting with the areas available in my life to grow from.
This season’s ritual builds upon the first by examining your journey and what you will need to start growing, learning-wise. She writes about learning the history of your home place, library magic, and creating spiritual practices out of physical acts—can these be seasonal too?
In all, I really enjoyed this first section of Sacred Actions, it was very inspiring especially for planning my year out and making room for the sacred. I hope you all enjoyed my insights—getting it all onto the blog has been a trick as it kept deleting during the upload process. Please feel free to write about your thoughts on this book, what you’re reading, or homesteading topics in general. Blessings blessings! August Lee
Welcome to book club 2023! This year I have selected 14 books (one for each month, an extra, and a partially read one I will finish) to review for you as I read through them. Feel free to read along if you’d like and leave all the comments you’d like whether you’re reading along or just reading my posts! Stay tuned for extras and fun! Blessings, August Lee
Sacred Actions by Dana O’Driscoll
How to be a Good Creature by ash Montgomery
Cord Magic by Brandy Williams
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Beauty by Natalie Carnes
World of Wonders by Aimee Nezuhkumatathil
The Wisdom of Birch, Oak, and Yew by Penny Billington
Sacred Agriculture: The Alchemy of Biodynamics by Dennis Klocek
American Georgics edited by Hagenstein, Gregg, and Donahue
Maddaddam by Margaret Atwoodd
Our Only World by Wendell Berry
The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
- Feb 4 2023 Sacred Actions section 1
- Feb 6 2023 The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs, BC Extra