Twelve Healing Stars is a yearlong project in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft that explores social justice through the lessons of the 12 Zodiac Signs. This is part eight.
In 1926, the final wolf in Yellowstone National Park was killed. As predators, they did not enjoy the protections that kept other animals in the national parks safe. By 1929, it was already becoming clear that the eradication of wolves was a big mistake.
Without predators, the elk population grew. Grasslands and deciduous trees became heavily overgrazed, and without the root systems to protect the earth beneath, the land was giving away to natural erosion at much too quick a pace. Scientists of the time reported that the park’s natural areas had deteriorated into “despicable conditions.” Predators were needed to keep the park functioning properly, but no one wanted to acknowledge nature’s innate balance.
Fast forward to the early 70’s. In 1972 and 1974 chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis published papers on what they called the “Gaia Hypothesis.” Gaia theory proposes that the earth’s organic and inorganic forces interact to make the planet a self-regulating organism. Their theory was criticized by more Darwinian-oriented researchers. Given its name, others confused the theory as fluffy neo-pagan mythology. But Lovelock and Margulis were true scientists, and their work is full of complicated chemical and biological calculations that most of us would struggle heavily to understand.
Scientists still have widely different opinions about Gaia Theory, but let’s leave that aside for a moment and assume it’s true. To function in a healthy way, the earth needs to balance plant life and animal life. They rely on each other, and too much of either can drive the entire system out of whack. Enter the predator. Carnivorous animals keep the herbivores in check, ensuring that enough healthy plant life remains. In Yellowstone, we saw the effects of removing the top predators from the park, and it wasn’t pretty. On its own, the system would sustain itself easily, but one variable threw it off-balance: humans.
Going a little farther, if we assume that the earth really is a self-sustaining organism, then what does that make us? On a small scale, we think of organisms that replicate themselves at the expense of their host as viruses. If we do the same to the earth, are we not also a virus? In fact, are we not a terribly deadly one? We all carry pathogens within us. If you think like a pathogen, it’s a bad survival technique to drain your host so much that it dies. When the host dies, you die. Killing your host, as some viruses do, is a terrible survival strategy, and when you look at all the problems we are causing to our mother/host/home, we seem be an organism that the earth’s doctor would want to eradicate. In this time of Taurus, it’s important to re-think our relationship with our beautiful, abundant, yet troubled home planet.
Kriya Kinai, the Taurus Lead Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, focuses her ministry on “any issue having to do with how we treat our planet, the animals, and the people.” A large part of that is “teaching people how to make conscious choices that involve the ramifications of their actions.” Much like we learned with the eradication of wolves in Yellowstone, every action we take effects our home in ways we may not see at the time, but which are nonetheless real. She tries to “provide healing to places that are currently being deforested, fracked, or otherwise stripped.”
One of Kinai’s main concerns is the health of our food supply. Passionate about animal welfare, she explores areas that most of us would prefer to turn a blind eye to, noting that, “a good majority of the animals raised for mass consumption in our society are mistreated from birth, kept in cruel confinement areas, and sent off to an extremely inhumane slaughter.” While she does not expect all people to become vegan or vegetarian, she explains that “This ministry is all about making conscious choices and educating people how to become more conscious of the long term effects of their choices on all levels.”
“Everything in this world is interconnected,” says Kinai, and she cites the fact that a vegetarian may choose to eat cheese, but, “does that person know that it is still contributing to the mistreatment of cows and that it wholeheartedly supports the veal industry?”
On a personal note, I eat meat, but I’ve always drawn the line at veal. This particular revelation shocked me pretty badly. Still, it’s better to be educated about your choices, even the hard truths.
Author David Salisbury is passionate about modifying our relationship to our food supply. Noting that the United Nations has published a statement blaming the meat industry for, in his words, “more CO2 emissions than all cars, trucks, and planes combined,” Salisbury places responsibility directly on that industry for, “some of the most egregious abuses to the environment that exist today.”
Echoing Kinai’s thoughts on interconnection, Salisbury challenges much of our community by saying that, “As a Pagan who believes that everything I do matters, I know I can be more effective in not eating a burger than I am by changing my light bulb, biking to work, or using a low-flow shower head.” Our eating habits are part of our environmental impact, and Salisbury asks us to look deeply at the impact crater left by our dietary decisions. “We may not be able to save the world with a single veggie burger,” he says, “but when ditching meat can cause such a vast difference to our environmental footprint, why do we hesitate to make such an easy choice?”
Others within the ministry are working on more specific problems that affect our relationship with the earth and our sustainability as a species. Deputy Taurus Minister Irma Hackett is particularly focused on the suffering and decline of the bee population. “A third of our food is dependent on the bees and other pollinating insects,” says Hackett. “A world without pollinators would be devastating to our ability to grow food and plants that also provide us with our medicines.”
“The good news,” says Kinai, “is that simple actions can help contribute to the health of the planet.” She suggests that the next time you need a new car, get an economical one. She advises that we “look for local farmers” in our area, “buy from them,” and “be grateful and generous as often as possible.” There is a surprising power in gratitude for everything in life, including the food on your plate.
Hackett advises concerned people to, “Support the ban on bee-killing pesticides in both in commercial farming and home gardening.” She asks us to buy more organic fruits and vegetables and the “consider planting bee-attracting plants.”
One simple physical world action is to make our gardens, yards, and outdoor spaces more friendly to bees. Beekeeping is becoming more and more common, and you can even find options to support the bee population if you live in an urban are or an apartment building. One of my favorite recent developments is the Flow Hive, which includes taps on the side that allow honey to flow into your jar without disturbing any of the bees inside. One beekeeper called it “The Holy Grail of beekeeping.”
Beyond the physical actions we can take, Kinai suggests that we “take time to connect with nature, go outside and stand barefoot, breathe in the earth, and send it healing” while in a circle. She emphasizes getting to know your local land spirits and developing a partnership with them. If we all did that, a large swath of the earth would be covered with humans who maintained a strong relationship with their land and its needs. More interconnection.
Hackett and the rest of the Taurus Ministry are working on a mantra to “help strengthen the bee population,” through which they hope to “continue to build a healing chain of energy for the bees.” Much like building that relationship with your genus loci, Hackett advises strengthening your relationship with the bees and using their energies to aid you magickal workings, and “the benefit will be felt in all the worlds.”
“The more people we can involve, the better,” says Hackett.
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. Since then, elk populations have declined and the erosion of the landscape has slowed down. Since wolves prey on coyotes, who eat small animals, foxes and beavers are far more populous in the park. Scavengers are faring better, and the park is functioning at a much healthier level. Perhaps restoring balance in this one place is an example of what we can do if we strive toward that balance with every other part of this organism, our home, our host, our Mother, the Earth. Maybe our interconnected relationships with all of the earth can help us nurse her back to health. “Changing our habits may be hard,” says Salisbury, “but I think our planet is worth it.”
“If we strive to educate ourselves about the basics, where our food comes from, how we can help others, how to be compassionate to every living being,” concludes Kinai, “then we will be able to work together and do great things.”