I say potato …

The green movement is really taking hold. It’s gone further than saving resources, reducing waste and conserving energy. The health and beauty industries are turning more and more to natural products, or in some cases just labeling products as natural, in order to keep up with the rising tide of greenliness. More and more people, myself included, are turning to natural and holistic remedies and green living. I’ll leave it to others to debate the reasons; rising healthcare costs, shady insurance companies, the economy, to name a few. But overall, there seems to be a rising desire among people to reconnect with the earth. With nature. With the seasons and plants and herbs that the boom of the industrial and electronic ages have distanced us from.  Perhaps we feeling safer taking things we can actually identify. Perhaps we feel a sense of peace, of connection to the earth, when choosing to eliminate toxins and save water. Perhaps we’re only coming full circle, and moving forward really only means moving back to our roots.  

Speaking of roots …. 

The potato was once condemned as ‘the Devil’s food’ because it grows underground, and because it’s kind of an ugly, lumpy looking thing. Unholy looking, if you please.  In the 1600’s, after Spanish conquistadors had brought the potato to Europe, the upper class saw the value in the hardy, long-lasting tuber long before the peasants did. The lower classes were suspicious of the misshapen plant, and refused to eat it, even when faced with starvation. The stigma was slow to fade; it took the public approval of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, of all people, to turn the tide.

Silly, isn’t it? Yep. It seems so now, but in a different age, the superstition was taken pretty seriously. Good to know we’ve gotten past that sort of thinking.

Or have we? 

In a document released in March 2009, the Catholic Church denounced the use of Reiki and even went so far as to ban its use from Roman-Catholic hospitals.

Their reasoning?

The document, available here, states that the Catholic Church recognizes healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature. They conclude, however, that Reiki does not support natural science or Christian belief, and that trust in Reiki is operating in the realm of superstition. They therefore deem it inappropriate for Catholic institutions or church representatives to promote or provide support for Reiki therapy. (Prayer, however, is just fine.)

What’s next? Is adding lavender oil to your bath suspect? Green tea? No, apparently these things are natural.

Herbs and plants have always been part of pagan rituals. Historically, around the time thousands were being tortured or burned as witches or heretics, herb lore got lumped in right alongside communing with evil spirits and casting spells. Midwives were denounced as witches.

While herbs are often part of spells, they are often used for simple healings. Herbalism and energy manipulation are big in new age medicine. Guess what? They are also big in old-age medicine.  

Energy is natural. The manipulation of it in healing is by no means only effective when used by a priest. There are studies that show prayer is very helpful in healing the sick. And studies that show shamanistic healing, Reiki, crystal healing, and other alternative methods are also effective.

In March 2009, Pope Benedict XVI condemned modernism as the new paganism, claiming that the pagan love for power and possessions is a modern day plague. You know, I’m pretty sure he eats potatos, though.  And you know, I kind of think the whole green movement goes right along with the views most pagans have.

 Just how does one say potato?

Religion, Spirituality and Money

I’ve been watching news out of India this past week about Swami Nithyananda and the scandal he and his organization are caught up in. Those have inspired this post. I am acquainted with Swami Nithyanada’s Life Bliss organization because they took over Hindu University near me in Florida. I’d been taking yoga classes with a wonderful instructor at the school before the takeover. Afterwards, the classes were offered by the Swami’s Life Bliss Foundation and included meditation and watching a video of the Swami’s teachings. Now I don’t have enough experience with Hinduism to comment on the teachings though there have been accusations that they were both borrowed from others and highly westernized. (I did have a bit of a confusing conversation with one organizer who insisted that the Swami’s teachings his organization were not actually Hindu because she didn’t believe in Hinduism.) But what finally made me reconsider the organization was the simple issue of money.

Now, it is not that I believe that religious organizations should or can be completely free from monetary issues. Our local Wiccan Cooperative asks a small fee for rituals so they can help pay for space and supplies. And when I attended the meditation sessions, which were free, I didn’t object to donating money or supplies to help make sure we had tea and other minor needs for the meetings. But I do have a problem when I sense that any religious organization is using fees to make a profit or control who joins the group. And I soon began to sense that I was seeing an organization that had structured itself to attract Westerners willing purchase Spirituality to join the ranks while keeping the poor or money conscious at a distance.

How? Well, while the basic meditation each week was free, the other programs that the foundation offered were not. And in fact, increased in costs during the period I was with the group. At weekly mediation session, we were often encouraged to sign up for the more expensive programs, which involved multiple levels all increasing in cost. Then there were the talks given by the Swami during his travels, which often required a fee for attendance. It seemed that again and again after the meditation sessions people would sit around discussing what program or talk they wanted to attend and what the cost was. When asked about the increases in price, the organization responded that the Swami had become so popular they needed to raise prices to ensure space for true devotees.
Huh? Now, I spent years working in the tourist industry. When you set a price point for entry to a theme park or a room at a resort, what you are doing is actually selecting the level income you want your guests to have. Why? Because this level of income will also determine the amount of money they spend on merchandise, food and other items that well, frankly are a large portion of your profit. So, when a religious or spiritual organization that sells books, CDs and other paraphernalia sets a price point for admission, my wisdom tells me that they’re looking for members with money that can be spent on programs and merchandise.

Currently many in India are angry over the way such actions are influencing people’s perceptions of what Hinduism is. As Western Pagan, we can learn from this. We are avid readers and love to buy books. We often take classes from local experts in everything from Wicca to tarot reading. And then there are items for the altar, sacred jewelry, scented oils, candles, and such that we love to buy. All of this is fine, as long as we remember – no one can sell us spirituality or enlightenment or the Goddess. The connection to the God and Goddess lies within each of us, and they don’t charge an admission fee.


I can’t think of a better shared activity for pagan families. Walking is great exercise. For most of humanity’s history it’s been the primary mode of transport, so setting out on foot is a way of connecting to the ancestors.

Walking is cheap. Anyone who is at all mobile can do it to some degree, and there are plenty of places where those who need wheels can travel with those who do not.

No matter where you are, walking will enable you to connect with nature – even in a city, you will see birds, the sky, and plant life in ways that you can’t from a car. Walking out into rural or wilder places gives you chance to experience nature alongside family members.

Walking allows time to talk, sharing stories, philosophy and observation. It also enables you to encounter other people and have brief moments of connection. In a world where we are increasingly inclined to shut ourselves into little boxes, this human contact is essential.

Walking is green. In terms of leisure, and fitness activities, you can’t get much better than walking out of your front door and ambling about for a few hours.

The rhythm of walking is meditative, and long walks take you out of regular mindsets, create calm, ease stress, and changes perceptions.

Walking allows us moments of unexpected beauty and wonder. Shared walking deepens relationships, both in the family and with the rest of the world. Nature and exercise are good for everyone, there are all kinds of soul blessings to be found along the path. It’s worth finding a few hours every week for this, and making it part of your life, and your pagan practice.