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Deep Ecology

July 4, 2018

On March 14, 2010 I made a pilgrimage from my then home in Brattleboro, Vermont to Walden Pond, in Massachusetts. While this date shares a yearly homage to St. Patrick, I spurn snake killers. Walden Pond was the site of Henry Thoreau’s one room cabin, where he lived in near isolation for two years. The simple stone foundation is all that remains, and it barely held us four pilgrims standing inside the perimeter. My companions were all UVM graduate students in the field naturalist program. Beside the foundation of the cabin, a pile of stones serve as a memorial. It’s traditional for hikers to find a stone while hiking, and then leave it on the pile as they exit. From the cabin, a narrow path girdles the edge of the pond. At nine in the morning, light reflected in the frost on the new leaves. Patches of the pond were still iced over and the morning air was still relatively silent of birds. New England takes a while to warm up in spring.

The four of us paused at an available break in the trail and edged closer to the water. It was dark, frighteningly clear and infinitely colder than we could imagine. Yet soon, four pairs of clothes were skillfully rolled and stashed in the bushes. It would have been impolite to leave a mess on the trail, as occasional hikers were enjoying an early morning hike as well. One by one we jumped into the water, treading for about .5 seconds and then rushing back to the shore. We each did this several times, squealing and laughing at each other. The experience owes much to the cold water and the ancient secrets that this lake holds. Walden Pond is a kettle hole carved by retreating glaciers 11,000 years ago. Every time my head went below the water, I was greeted by the energy of the lake. It was an underworld of stillness and non-being. It was a garden of life too. Breathless from the extreme cold, we clothed ourselves and began walking back to the cabin. We became quieter and soon stopped talking. A presence of awe and contemplation overcame us and we each took one last moment inside the foundation.

It was a simple and private ritual held at Walden Pond that morning. Surely nothing unique. Each of us held separate and personal spiritual paths, yet that day we walked the same path. We used no ritual tools that day, nor took anything as a reminder of our time there. In the parking lot before leaving we shared a cigarette and snacks. We then left. Eight years have passed, yet this memory lives on for me as it does for my three friends.

It is my belief that we each seek a relationship with the natural world. We bring bones, crystals and plants indoors to remind us of our connection with it. We all look truly alive in our outdoor photos. Yet for many of us living in cities or trapped indoors at work, the amount of time we need and desire in nature is limited. We tend to think that we need to experience nature in remote, distant locales. I would argue that the nature closest to us is best, as it is the land we live on. We can return to the little park down the street each day to observe. We can commune with the spirits living in the alley. Humans try desperately to control the plant and animal life in our urban areas, but nature like witchcraft exists in the liminal hedges. It thrives in spite of the chemicals, concrete and fruitless control.

Deep ecology is an environmental philosophy that proposes the idea that humans can return to a symbiotic relationship with nature, through conservation and bio-regional awareness. As a term, it was coined by Arne Næss in 1973, but in practice it resembles how our ancestors participated in the natural world. It is intentionally living in harmony with the land. A by-product of this intentional lifestyle is a deepening spirituality that is earth-centric. Deep ecology and witchcraft share many values, and complement each other effortlessly. In my next essay, I will divulge more ponderings on this subject, but for now I would like to close with three questions from Bill Devall and George Sessions’ book, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered:  Can you trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap? What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live? What is the land use history by humans in your bioregion during the past century? These questions may assist you in gaining some initial ground with this topic.

Author: Samuel McCabe is a visual artist, educator, operative magician and Tarot reader at Ritualcravt. He has ten years experience with ceremonial magick in group and solitary settings. He is currently researching the origins of magick through grimoires, mythology and anthropology. Samuel teaches using a project-based approach that inspires creativity and independence in his students. You can follow and connect more with Samuel via Instagram @thepeacockgrimoire