Adopting Charlotte

Over the summer, some close friends and I attended Free Spirit Gathering in Darlington, MD, and sat through a workshop entitled (if memory serves me) “Your Personal Wheel of the Year.”  The premise was simple enough, and it sounded interesting.  I think a lot of people experience difficulty incorporating seasonal festivities and ritual into their already packed schedules, and on top of that I’m constantly listening to Pagans of various stripes bemoan their lack of a connection to nature.  My guess was that this workshop would allow us to discuss and tackle some of those hurdles, especially given that most of the Pagans I know are city dwellers or suburbanites who spend more time negotiating pavement and parking meters rather than forests and fields.  Available books on sabbats often say more about harvesting corn and baking bread than is necessarily very realistic for most of us.  God knows I’m not harvesting grain or milking cows (etcetera), like, probably ever.

Anyway, I found myself somewhat disappointed.  The workshop was fine, it just wasn’t what I’d hoped.  The folks running it were farm dwellers, and while their stories were interesting, they weren’t particularly useful or inspiring for a city witch.  See my not having chickens or grain silos.

This got me thinking about the dichotomy that we’ve created between this thing we call “nature” and the sorts of environments inhabited by people (which are “unnatural” or otherwise separate and inherently less than “nature”).  Nature is a thing that we must “get back to,” or “connect with.”  Nature is something we drive to on weekends and vacations.  Nature is something that Pagans revere on some level, while simultaneously being somehow apart from it on some basic level (we have to “reconnect” or “get back to” it, after all).

I’ve been thinking about all of those times I’ve gone hiking in Virginia and North Carolina, all of those visits to my mountain dwelling friend Morgan, and all of those moments when I’ve fantasized about just running away and living in the woods.  “Nature” certainly has that sort of appeal to me, as I think it does for a lot of Pagans and witches.

But I don’t buy into this kind of dichotomy, and I don’t think it’s particularly useful for most of us anyway.  Running away into the woods is an impossibility for almost all of us, and I would venture to guess that many of those who could would be largely unequipped.  I don’t buy into the idea that cities and townhouses and strip malls and paved streets are something separate from nature.  As human beings, we are as much an embodiment of the natural world (whatever that is) as any other creature.  How can we possibly presume that we operate outside of it?  Especially as Pagans?  Sometimes I find myself even resenting the underlying implication behind statements like, “Pagans need to reconnect to nature,” that those of us who are happy city dwellers (with no real desire to leave our cities) are somehow less effective in either our spiritual practices or our magic.  I think this desire to reconnect has less to do with this artificial, human constructed thing called “nature” and more to do with cultivating a relationship with whatever land on which we happen to dwell.

I’m not from Charlotte, and it’s not a town I would ever have chosen voluntarily.  I’ve spent a lot of time not liking Charlotte.  Moving here was a serious culture shock for me (and often still is), and it’s been a real struggle finding and then working to build a wider Pagan community here.  There’s still a long way to go.  But despite all that, she’s grown on me.  My experience has been that cities have definitive personalities (D.C. sure as hell does), and I’ve had a hard time sussing out Charlotte’s, I think largely because shes growing so fast and is such a weird amalgamation of class and racial tensions.  I think I’m starting to get a better sense of her, though.  As much as I’ve railed against Charlotte this past year, I can finally see the potential.

I know a number of witches who see themselves as stewards of forests, fields, and streams.  I haven’t met many who  have adopted cities in the same way.  I’m increasingly starting to see Charlotte as my city, and this is the sort of “getting back to nature” that I want to cultivate.

2 thoughts on “Adopting Charlotte

  1. I like thinking about the nature of nature. I made the argument frequently in college, while surrounded by hippies and eco-activists, that humanity and all that we have wrought is a part of nature, but I’m not really invested in the argument anymore. I think the key difference between the common-language understanding of nature and a perspective on nature that encompasses everything (other than the latter eliminating the word’s meaning) is that human beings and human cultures possess a certain kind of intelligence, reflection, and intention that cannot be found in the non-human world. I don’t think setting aspects of human consciousness and culture outside of nature necessarily makes humanity better, just different, and I think this difference is the boundary between what is natural and what is not. Certainly, describing cities as “natural” attaches a certain inevitability to them, which I find a little scary. If today’s cities were inevitable, then where are we headed?

    I suppose I’ve just restated a variation on the Cartesian split and invited all the craptastic baggage that comes with it (ie nature is inferior, the physical world is a prison, let’s all talk about ‘ascending to higher planes’ or fallacious progressive ‘evolution’ or other dirt-denying garbage we can thank our Victorian occult/Gnostic/Platonist forebears for loading us down with). And post-modern philosophy in concert with naturalist science has mostly blown away the essentialism needed to defend a hard mind/body split… which takes us down the slippery road to the edges of the “hard problem” of consciousness.

    “Nature”: possibly the only word harder to define than “religion”.

    I find many Pagans (Wiccans most especially) use the word “nature” not to refer to a world outside of human higher consciousness but to refer to an idealized agrarian past. Old Gerald sure used “natural” to refer to a pastoral scene from the middle ages rather than to a forest without humanity. I have sometimes wondered what the wheel of the year would look like for a pre-agrarian society (where the worst of the bad Wiccan history wants to claim lineage to).

    What would a third-way definition of nature look like? Something that avoids both Cartesian dualism and the sort of nihilism that has nature signify all-that-is? Can we imbue the non-human world with intention and consciousness all its own and imagine an interaction with us? I’m thinking of what our pal Graham Harvey has said before. What would a city be like in such an imagining? Can that part of human activity that is inevitable or predetermined — including aspects of cities — be nature while the strategies, intention, and will (agency?) of all beings be something else?

    I’m glad you’re making an effort to make Charlotte home.

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