— by Shauna Aura Knight
If activism is about standing up, then I’m pulling out my soap box and standing on it. Sometimes activism is holding boundaries and saying no. If you offer me cakes and ale in a plastic, Styrofoam, or otherwise disposable cup, I will not take it.
I will not add to the huge load our Earth is already groaning under. I will not stand and silently support the hypocrisy of supposedly Earth-centered folks who toss out ecological sustainability when it’s inconvenient.
Recently I attended PantheaCon in San Jose, where there was a panel discussion about privilege in the Pagan community. The panel was held in a small room and I was unable to attend the first part, but the subsequent discussions got me thinking. (You can read more about the panel, read T. Thorn Coyle’s thoughts on privilege, listen to a podcast about it, or listen to the original panel discussion here.)
Privilege is not about race, sexuality, or money–though, that is a core part of it. Privilege is the blinders that we have on to our own impact; it’s the things we have access to that others don’t. It’s when we take things for granted. Environmentalism is a lot about privilege. Others have pointed out that those who have access to resources like food, water, and health care, have privileges that others do not. Taking that further, those of us who use resources–and who misuse those resources–are coming from a place of privilege.
Our actions have negative consequences for those who have less privilege. They have negative consequences for our ecosystems. And they have negative consequences for the next generations.
What happens to those Styrofoam cups after we use them in that Pagan Pride ritual for 10 minutes? They get tossed; you can’t recycle Styrofoam And what went into making those cups? Styrofoam and plastic, which are made from oil, create pollution in their production. Guess who gets environmentally exposed to those toxins? We do, but especially the poor who can’t afford to live further away from the factory. Usually that also more adversely affects minorities. And guess what happens when you drink out of plastic and Styrofoam? You’re drinking minute quantities of those toxins. Where do the cups go? Styrofoam doesn’t break down, and though some plastics can be recycled, the recycling process also has environmental impact.
Paper cups are at least biodegrade, but you’re also contributing to clear cutting of forests, which is essentially hacking away at the lungs of our planet. We’re causing the pollution, the carbon overload, the climate change, that will haunt our future.
We who call ourselves Pagan and Earth-centered should know better.
We should know better. Here’s what I’d like to see in the Pagan community. I’d like to see Pagans across the world standing up to choose the sometimes harder road. I’m asking you, all of you, to stop using disposable cups in your rituals, and to stop supporting rituals that do so by not accepting those cups.
If you want to stop using environmentally unfriendly materials, what might you do instead? Necessity is the mother of invention.
Perhaps we could step entirely out of the box and instead of offering wine or ale, which many can’t drink, or even a fruit juice which probably has High Fructose Corn Syrup or Aspartame in it…and instead of offering cakes, which are usually either cookies, crackers, or pieces of bread, and thus inedible to gluten, dairy, and sugar intolerant people as well as Vegans…what about something else?
Perhaps a platter of several fruit and vegetable offerings. Apples and celery sticks. Maybe even fruits and vegetables that are not GMO (Genetically Modified) and perhaps that come from a local farmer, close to the actual land where you are hosting your ritual. Or maybe even from your own garden.
Perhaps water can simply be poured over the hands vs. offered in a cup. If the sharing of water, juice, or an alcoholic beverage is crucial, consider investing in a thrift store excursion and buying enough small glasses for all to use. If you’re working with a regular group, I’ve heard of many groups encouraging the group to bring their own (glass/ceramic/metal) cups, plates, and cutlery. This doesn’t work as well for a large public gathering, though it is possible.
If you offer me plastic or Styrofoam or paper cups, I will refuse them.
No, I’m not going to shout or throw fit right there and disrupt your ritual. But I will silently, politely refuse your offering. I will take a breath into love and healing for the Earth. And if there’s time and space to politely do so, I will probably have a conversation with you and ask you to consider more ecologically-friendly alternatives. I strongly feel that hosting a ritual with plastic cups and processed foods is inexcusable. I will risk you getting offended by my feedback, because it matters. Can you hear that I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your choice?
Instead of getting offended or telling me it’s too hard to use something other than plastic cups…will you stand with me? Will you work to change our culture together? Will you too take a stand to support Earth-centered, ecologically-conscious spiritual work not just in what we preach in our rituals, but how we live our values?
I would love to see the national Pagan Pride project–and every single Pagan festival–ban the use of disposables like this whenever possible. I greatly respect these folks who make these events happen. Pagan Pride, Pagan festivals, and conferences, are important to our community. Things that happen at Pagan events set the tone for our communities in many ways.
Consider sending a polite email to Pagan Pride national, or to your local Pagan Pride coordinator. Consider sending a polite note to the organizers of a Pagan conference or festival that you attend asking them to explore more environmentally sustainable options. Consider volunteering to help make that happen.
Is this a tall order, to remove disposable items from our rituals (and hopefully, from our events)? Certainly. But our planet’s fragile biosphere will not survive our continued rape with our chemicals and our dumping. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, our children will not survive it. The poor will suffer first, unable to afford clean water, clean air.
And here’s where we come back to privilege. Ecological sustainability is also a social justice issue. Imagine in 50 years, when we’re paying more for clean water, when we’re paying for clean air. When our food is poisoned with the toxins permeating the soil from all the products we’ve consumed that we discover, only too late, cause exotic forms of cancer. Those with less privilege will suffer first.
I once volunteered at a Pagan Pride on the south side of Chicago where I’d offered to host a Green Dish Station; I had brought enough dishes, and tubs for wash water, for people to wash their own dishes instead of using plastic ones. During the day, I heard people complain bitterly about having to wash their dishes. I was so disgusted with the Pagans in my community, so disheartened, by all the bitching and moaning. People told me that they’d rather use a disposable plastic cup than wash dishes and save resources. I find this attitude within the Pagan community absolutely intolerable. Reprehensible. This kind of privilege–this kind of waste–this kind of hubris–makes me ashamed to call myself Pagan. Just as I’ve seen Pagans who would rather spend $50 on trinkets than donate towards community initiatives, I see Pagans who tell me that it’s too hard to do something other than plastic cups in rituals. Or come up with ecologically sustainable options for events that don’t include plastic plates or bottled water.
Who will stand up for our Earth? Will you?
Will you stand for social justice for those who are yet to be born and yet who are already disadvantaged in life? Will you risk raising your voice to transform our Pagan communities and culture into living our values?
If you honor Earth as a sacred element in ritual, if you define yourself as Earth-centered, how can you not?
Shauna Aura Knight is an author, artist, ritualist, community builder, activist, and spiritual seeker. She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and spiritual growth. She’s the published author of books and articles on leadership, ritual facilitation, and personal transformation, as well as an author of fantasy fiction. Her mythic artwork is used for magazines, book covers, and personal shrines. Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information on upcoming classes, rituals, books, and articles.