Ecofeminism in 2019

In European countries such as Sweden, Belgium and the United Kingdom, the current climate movement is attracting enormous interest, and it is perhaps not by chance that it has female (and even teenage !) frontrunners such as Anuna De Wever (Belgium) and Greta Thunberg (Sweden). Women seem to be at the forefront of tackling climate change problems and at the same time they are also the main victims of persistent gender inequality. Since the 1970’s, ecofeminist analyses have  drawn attention to the links between women and nature, both in celebration and in highlighting their subordination to patriarchal capitalist regimes.

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Greta and Anuna during a climate protest in Belgium, end of February 2019

However, when we play the devil’s advocate, we wonder what makes women different from men that they could improve the environment?  Are they really that different? Is there no danger that we let men off the hook in our transition toward a more just and balanced world? Some feminist and environmental writers say that women are more connected with the nature and that makes them the perfect “sustainability saviours”. Why is that?  Other writers point out that women have more pro-environmental behaviour and even do more environmental activism (compared with men). Why is that? Or do these correlations (which are not necessary causalities) point to a more hidden truth?

Are women more connected with nature?

Neurosciences can provide a first answer if women are more connected with nature. Female and male bodies have different neurotic systems which cause different feelings and thoughts. Jean Shinoda Bolen is drawing on this in her book “Like a tree: how trees, women and tree people can save the planet” to point out that empowering women can save trees (and the nature in general), because “female brains” make “oxytocin” in stress related situations which let them behave in “tend-and-befriend strategies” while “male brains” produce more “adrenaline” which results in “fight-or-flight” strategies. Bolen argues that women are more capable of solving environmental problems, because they tend to cooperate more, which is in her opinion a key for a more sustainable world.

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However, this idea is problematic in the sense that it could exclude men from environmental decision making, which is also a critique about certain streams in ecofeminist philosophy and activism. 

Ecofeminism: origins and today

The term “ecofeminism” is coined in 1974 by Francoise d’Eaubonne in “Le Feminisme ou La Mort” and used afterwards in the context of actions and activities by women against environmental destruction and disasters in the seventies (example is the Greenham-Common) and against the development of technologies, especially weapon technology, and bio-engineering, and in 1980 during the Amherst Conference which had the title “Women and Life on Earth”, where they saw the “liberation of women as part of a bigger fight for the conservation of life on earth”. (Van de Ven, 1996, Van de Ven, 2015)

Nowadays, I see the word coming up again. Korean friends recommended me to read “the vegetarian” by Han Kang, and told me they really liked the ecofeminist message behind it. Some days ago I found an invitation for a panel and film screening in Belgium which is called “ecofeminism” and points to female frontrunners as Aruna and Greta.

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But … what is ecofeminism?

There is not really a definition for ecofeminism, because there are many streams. The common characteristic of the different streams are the suppression of the nature and the suppression of women, both by the patriarchy. (Van de Ven, 1996, Van de Ven, 2015). Karen Warren et al (1987) defines patriarchy as a framework “which takes traditionally male-identified beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions as the only, or the standard, or superior ones; it gives higher status or prestige to what has been traditionally identified as ‘male’ than to what has been traditionally identified as ‘female’. A Patriarchal conceptual framework is characterized by value-hierarchical thinking” (1987:6).

Ecofeminism is all about rejecting the binary power structures that suppresses nature and women. One interesting stream is the essentialist stream,  which draws on the fact that nature and women have both “built-in biological clocks” and experience life-death-life cycles and nurture. (Van de Ven, 2015:6).  

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These thoughts were very present in the seventies and eighties among many ecofeminists, but are abandoned in the nineties by especially people from the Global North, because this thinking  is still based on dualistic thinking and ecofeminists want not be seen as “children” which “should be nurtured by Mother Earth” and can use this view to avoid responsibility. (Van de Ven, 2015:6).

However, in Latin-America, they see it differently. Kate Jenkins describes the anti-mining activities of “old man women” in Peru (2017), and explains how this visualisation of the connection between the earth and women can function as a symbol in the resistance. Paddock (2018) is using an ecofeminist epistemological framework to analyse narratives of women to understand challenges of food insecurity and diet-related ill-health across the Caribbean and the West Indies, the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

Does having a female body mean you are more connected to nature?

The American feminist anthropologist Sherry Ortner researched if “female is to male as nature is to culture” (1972). In this classic paper, she rejected biological determinism (or essentialism) and pointed out that women’s social association with motherhood, nurturing children and working at home places them closer to “nature” than men are (1972). Also an UN Women Report of 2014  pointed out that the relationship between women and environment is not intrinsic, but based on gender roles and norm: “Women-environment connections -especially in reproductive and subsistence activities such as collecting fuel wood, hauling water and cultivating food – were often presented as if natural and universal rather than as the product of particular social and cultural norms and expectations.” (UN Women, 2014: 40)

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Julia Robert as “Erin Brockovich”

We should not look to the biological body or the sex, but to the gender, which is according to Candace and Zimmerman “the activity of managing situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate for one’s sex category” (1987:127). Sex category is “a categorisation established and sustained by the socially required identificatory displays that proclaim one’s membership in one or the other category”. (1987:127). Candace and Zimmerman also argued that gender is not something we are, but something we do. “Doing gender involves a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine “natures”” (1987:126). In other words, gender is expected and a product of social doing and often seen as natural given, but it is created by society and people are often not aware of that.

As Ortner noted, this relationship between nature and women is part of gender expectations, which are only present in certain cultures in a certain time. Also Judith Butler (1990) wrote that gender is a product of culture and history. In certain cultures, mostly in rural areas in developing countries, the relationship between gender roles and environment is still visible because women and men live in separate spheres. The “separate sphere” of women in (rural areas) in developing countries is the domestic, the forest, the nature and staying in this separate sphere gives them more insight than the men of their culture who live in another sphere which was not so connected with nature.

One of the most famous stories, which is often mentioned in ecofeminist papers, books and lectures, like Miess and Shiva’s “Ecofeminism” (1993) is the Chipko movement. In the seventies, tribal women in a village in the Indian Himalaya protected the trees which were going to be felled by embracing the trees. (Van de Ven, 2015) These Chipko women lived also in a separate sphere, which was mostly in nature, and could “see” what would happen if these trees were felled down and they were right.

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Although their gender role linked with the separate sphere can motivate them to protect the environment, like the Chipko women, this is not the case for all women. They are even not conscious about it. Smith et al. (2015)  did a study about food self-provisioning in Poland and Czech Republic. While in West-Europe, food self-provisioning is seen as a (luxurious) hobby, often out of health or environmental consciousness, in Czech Republic and Poland it’s more done out of economical necessity. They introduce the term “quiet sustainability”, which “summarises widespread practices that result in beneficial environmental or social outcomes and that do not relate directly or indirectly to market transactions, but are not understood by their practitioners as being driven by explicit environmental or sustainability goal.” (2015) Stern (2000) researched that someone with an environmental intent  may fail to result in environmental impact when actions undertaken with the intent to benefit the environment are futile. (Stern, 2000), while there are other determinants, like financial reasons, that also lead to pro-environmental behaviour (Whitmarsh, 2009). It could be argued that many women in rural areas, who are also often not educated, do not have notions of sustainability, but rather do things because of economical benefit and gender/cultural norms.

In “Western” countries, like in West-Europe and USA,  most women do not collect wood and fruits in nature, partly because of the innovations in food and agricultural technology, partly because more women go to work and are not anymore the “traditional housewife” as the ones of Betty Friedan’s the feminine mystique” (1963) and do not belong anymore to a separate sphere. There are even women in “Western countries” which probably pollute more than men in the same countries and men in more developing countries. A person in a Western culture could have pro-environmental intentions, but still by using car or airplane (to go to a “climate conference” to make it more ironic) and drinking coffee have a higher environmental impact than women and men in less developed areas.

The cultural norms and the asymmetry between impact and intent point out that because you’re born in a woman’s body, like essentialists would argue, that you are more environmentally sustainable, but because of certain gender roles in certain cultures in certain time you become a sustainable person. De Beauvoir’s famous quote “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (1949: 309) could even be changed that “one is not born a sustainable person, but rather becomes a sustainable person”.

Back to Greta and Aruna

I see also the counter-attacks to young ladies as Aruna and Greta. Some people joke that these young people are naive and stupid, because they do not realize they are protesting again “their own lifestyle”. There is critique that these young people do not provide solutions and should stop skipping school “so they can become smarter and find solutions”. Some older people complain about the arrogance of young people, using arguments that they were more sustainable in previous decades when there were no iphones, ast fashion, and even plastic bottles. I saw even social media messages with a list of Aruna’s flight travels (which are true or not, does not matter). What a hypocrite, many people say.

Based on my own experience as researcher, it is actually sad to see how we work with “guilt feelings”. I am involved in a project with youth of all walks of life and their introduction to the circular economy.

In our society, we are more often reminded of our individual responsibilities, when perhaps that is not the solution? The arsenal of choices we offer is also accompanied by the development of guilt feelings among individuals. “If you don’t eat like that or take the plane too much, you’re not sustainable.” I think most people will recognise these feelings of guilt. Often during this project, I heard the young people “joking” that they would eat less, eat earth, or just don’t eat anymore. While some of them are already underprivileged. That is not the intention of the educational project.

My own consideration is that a faster transition to a more just world without waste can happen  if policy makers concentrate on the structural limits (in political, legal etc.) instead of insisting on (even more) sustainable choices that individuals should make.

That means focus on cooperation, passiveness, being careful, reproduction, passiveness, cycles, and coming together. These are “feminine” or “yin” values, and these are missing in many domains of our life and of our society and how things are arranged, decided and are done. For me, Aruna and Greta, which let people talk and cooperate, and protest together… that is “yin”.

It does not matter they have a female body.

It matters that we give more a voice to the “yin”.

And yes, that means, in 2019, still giving a voice to (more) women and indeed use symbolic ideas as ecofeminism.

 

Part of this blog is written as a final essay for a Master course “introduction to feminist studies” at the University of Graz, Austria, submitted in June 2015, together with my friend Marielis Suárez Rivera, an engineer from Puerto Rica. In this blog I added some extra scholar references, because in the last 2,5 years I learned more about ecofeminism. Please share in the comments your ideas about ecofeminism anno 2019, and which ecofeminists are active in your country or state. 

Written in the Trees: Celtic Tree Astrology (2/2)

Did you know that the ancient Celts based their astrology on the flowering period of trees? They translated the characteristics of the prevailing trees into characters. The tree calendar is divided into 39 periods. There are 21 tree species with a ruling period of up to ten days in the spring and autumn. In addition, there are four holy trees (oak, birch, olive tree and beech) that are bound to one day in the year. Do you recognize yourself in the tree that reigns during your birthday?

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14. CHESTNUT (honesty): A chestnut tree is very honest and reliable. They are often seen as conservative people with an inquiring attitude. They avoid problems, but if there are any, we look for a suitable solution. A chestnut is vulnerable and insecure. Of unusual beauty, does not want to impress, well-developed sense of justice, vivacious, interested, a born diplomat, but irritable and sensitive in company, often due to a lack of self-confidence, acts sometimes superior, feels not understood, loves only once, has difficulties in finding a partner

15. ASH (ambition): Uncommonly attractive, vivacious, impulsive, demanding, does not care for criticism, ambitious, intelligent, talented, likes to play with its fate, can be egotistic, very reliable and trustworthy, faithful and prudent lover, sometimes brains rule over heart, but takes partnership serious

16. HORNBEAM (good taste): They are peacemakers. They are empathetic and empathetic. They have an admirable ability to adapt. They are also very disciplined. They long for deep (love) bonds. Of cool beauty, cares for its looks and condition, good taste, tends to egoism, makes life as comfortable as possible, leads reasonable, disciplined life, looks for kindness, an emotional partner and acknowledgment, dreams of unusual lovers, is seldom happy with her feelings, mistrusts most people, is never sure of its decisions, very conscientious

17. FIG (sensibility): Very strong, a bit self-willed, independent, does not allow contradiction or arguments, love life, its family children and animals, a bit of a butterfly, good sense of humor, likes idleness and laziness, of practical talent and intelligence

18. BIRCH (inspiration): Vivacious, attractive, elegant, friendly, unpretentious, modest, does not like anything in excess, abhors the vulgar, loves life in nature and in calm, not very passionate, full of imagination, little ambition, creates a calm and content atmosphere

19. APPLE (love): Love and tolerance are core values for the apple tree. They are also great mediators. They have to live life and let others enjoy it. They are committed to a better world. Of slight build, lots of charm, appeal and attraction, pleasant aura flirtatious, adventurous, sensitive, always in love, wants to love and be loved, faithful and tender partner, very generous, scientific talents, lives for today, a carefree philosopher with imagination

20. OLIVE (wisdom): Loves sun, warmth and kind feelings, reasonable, balanced, avoids aggression and violence, tolerant, cheerful, calm, well-developed sense of justice, sensitive, empathic, free of jealousy, loves to read and the company of sophisticated people

21. BEECH (creativity): has good taste, concerned about its looks, materialist, good organization of life and career, economical, good leader, takes no unnecessary risks, reasonable, splendid lifetime companion, keen on keeping fit (diet, sports, etc.)

 

To read about the other 13 trees, please click here.

“Holly” Devil, it’s Spring again!

Two weeks ago my young brother arrived in Japan. That weekend, he and  I got treated on a traditional 9(!) course in an old restaurant in the countryside in Japan. Every dish was symbolic. I was very surprised when I saw a plate of beans on a plate with an image demon (oni) and decorated with holly.

On February 3rd, it is Setsubun, a spring festival where people throw beans outside their house, to chase away the demons. It is actually the day before spring and means season division.

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When I saw this dish, I also recognized holly (ilex in Latin, “hulst” in Dutch) which is part of our Christmas decorations and also used to keep away the evil. Our Japanese friends asked the waitress about this plant; and we also learned that this plant was not there by coincidence. Also in Latin America, shamans used tea extraction of holly as a ceremonial “cleanser”. It is a plant to protect us against lightning, poison and evil spirits. There is an old tradition that the Holly’s Yule festivals greens are traditionally burned at Imbolc, the Celtic fest of spring also early February.  I think it is amazing how some plants symbolize the same or are used for the same rituals all over the world.

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Last year my friends and I went to one of the temples in Osu Kannon in Nagoya to see a special parade of the seven gods that welcome spring. In one of the convenience store we bought a demon mask and beans to throw. I remember we also ate an uncut makizushi, a sort of sushi roll, called ehō-maki (literally “lucky direction roll”) in silence on Setsubun while facing the year’s lucky compass direction, determined by the zodiac symbol of that year. The direction changes each year according to a 5 year cycle. Last year we ate this in the south-south-east direction, because it was the year of the dog. Now it is the year of the bear, so we are supposed to point it this Sunday to the east-north-east.

I realize now how fast the cycle of time goes, and still everything feels the same, as if not a year has passed.

Written in the Trees: Celtic Tree Astrology (1/2)

Did you know that the ancient Celts based their astrology on the flowering period of trees? They translated the characteristics of the prevailing trees into characters. The tree calendar is divided into 39 periods. There are 21 tree species with a ruling period of up to ten days in the spring and autumn. In addition, there are four holy trees (oak, birch, olive tree and beech) that are bound to one day in the year. Do you recognize yourself in the tree that reigns during your birthday?

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1. FIR  TREE (mysterious): extraordinary taste and dignity, sophisticated, loves anything beautiful, moody, stubborn, tends to egoism but cares for those close to them, rather modest, very ambitious, talented, industrious, discontented lover, many friends, many foes, very reliable.

2 . ELM TREE (noble-mindedness): Sensitive and independent, this tree type is quirky and engaged the willpowerful traits of a convincing leader. An elm person has a clear goal in mind and can also really see people for who they are. The elm loves harmony and is open-minded. By definition, this does not give him an easy character, because this tree has high expectations of itself and others. Other characteristics are pleasant shape, tasteful clothes, oddest demands, tends not to forgive mistakes, cheerful, likes to lead but not to obey, honest and faithful partner, likes making decisions for others, noble-minded, generous, good sense of humor, practical.

3. CYPRESS (faithfulness): Cypresses are strong, muscular, adaptable, content, optimistic, craves money/acknowledgment, hates loneliness, passionate and insatiable lover, faithful, quick-tempered, unruly, pedantic, and careless.

4. POPLAR (uncertainty): The poplar is often insecure, because it has a serious attitude to life and an extremely sensitive character. The poplar is creative, philosophical and organizational. He is a good manager, but he can also be very sloppy and confused. Poplars tactically hide their feelings out of fear of being hurt or dependent. This is not good for love relationships. Other characteristics are very decorative, not very self-confident, only courageous if necessary, needs goodwill and pleasant surroundings, very choosy, often lonely, great animosity, artistic nature, good organizer, leans toward philosophy, reliable, takes partnership seriously.

5. CEDAR (confidence): Unlike the poplar, the cedar is known for its self-confidence. He is going to achieve what he wants to achieve. The cedar is sure of that. He remains faithful to his views. He also likes to impress others and knows how to adapt effortlessly to situations and companies. A cedar always goes for gold. A cedar is of rare beauty, adaptable, likes luxury, of good health, not shy, tends to look down on others, self-confident, determined, impatient, likes to impress others, many talents, industrious, healthy optimism, waiting for the one true love, able to make quick decisions.

6. PINE (particular): Pines are quiet people who can even appear passive. Appearance deceives De den sets high standards and is known as the most picky tree type. Seriously the pine strives for perfection and justice. Generally this tree type is beautifully set, but love can release passionate passion. A pine, they say, loves agreeable company, very robust, very active, natural, a good companion but seldom friendly, falls easily in love but the passion burns out quickly, gives up easily, everything disappoints until the ideal is found. A pine can be trustworthy, and practical.

7. WEEPING WILLOW (melancholy): This empathic and artistic tree type can fully enjoy the good life. He has an eye for obliqueness and is intuitively underlying death. Willows wine honest, bold and energetic. They are also popular. They like to travel, but also often like to be at home. He is beautiful, but full of melancholy, attractive, very empathetic, loves anything beautiful and tasteful. He is a dreamer, restless, capricious, honest, can be influenced but isn’t easy to live with, demanding, good intuition, suffers in love but sometimes finds an anchoring partner.

 8. LINDEN (doubt): A linden tree type accepts what life dishes out in a composed way, hates fighting and stress, dislikes laziness and idleness, dislikes labor, soft and relenting, willingly makes sacrifices for friends, many talents but not tenacious enough to make them blossom, often wailing and complaining, very jealous but loyal to lovers and friends alike.

9. OAK (brave): An oak is very honest. What you see is what you get. They have a robust nature, are courageous, strong, unrelenting, independent, sensible, do not like change, keep their feet on the ground and are persons of action.

10. HAZELNUT (extraordinary): They are the explorers and travelers. They are always interested in new adventures and experiences. They are modest and because of their charm and their empathy they can conquer many hearts. They are undemanding, understanding, charming, knows how to make an impression, fighter for social cause, popular, moody and capricious lover, honest and tolerant partner, precise sense of judgment.

11. ROWAN (sensitivity): A rowan is a world improver. It is a finely sensitive tree type that attracts the suffering of the world. It is an example to others and holds the social reins in cocks. He is all positive, likes to be in good company and loves honesty and openness.full of charm, cheerful, gifted without egotism, likes to draw attention, loves motion and unrest even loves complications, is both dependent and independent, good taste, artistic, passionate, emotional, good company, does not forgive.

12. MAPLE (independence of mind): full of imagination and originality, shy and reserved, ambitious, proud, self-confident, hungers for new experiences, sometimes nervous, has many complexities, good memory, learns easily, complicated love life, wants to impress.

13. WALNUT (passion):  Passion and passion characterise the walnut tree. These are solid types that know what they want and how to achieve it. These people are spontaneous and sociable. A walnut bean is alert, driven and quite stubborn. They inspire others by their natural overview and powerful attitude. They are unrelenting, full of contrasts, often egotistic, noble, broad horizon, unexpected reactions, spontaneous, unlimited ambition, difficult partner, not always liked but often admired, ingenious strategist, jealous and passionate, no compromise.

You can find the rest of the tree astrology here.

Druidry for the 21st Century

I recommend to read this and reflect together with the author. Unfortunately we, humans, are locked in certain path dependencies – mentally and technically. I also think for druids and other spiritual leaders it is important to show people also the beauty of disconnecting, to be passive, receptive, to slow down, and maintain what we already have, and balancing work and rest. I am a PhD student in environmental engineering as well a student of forest therapy, and unfortunately I struggle myself with the technology and still growth-oriented approaches and yang energy in engineering and my studies in forest therapy which calls for more yin every. I think it is about balancing both ideas, both yin and yang energies, if we want to make this turn feasible, despite all the path dependencies and lock-ins we have in the world.

The Druid's Garden

This is a challenging age, doubly so for anyone who is connected spiritually with the living earth and who cares deeply about non-human life. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released towards the end of 2018, presents a dire picture for the future. This isn’t the only recent report from governing bodies globally–report after report continues to paint a clear picture of what humanity is doing, and what we need to do to change.  And yet, it seems to be business as usual.

The cycles of nature The cycles of nature

When I talk to druids about their thoughts about this present age, there seems to be a few ways to think about it.

First, the glass half empty approach is feeling extremely demoralized, looking at climate change reports and long-term forecasts and seeing the continued inaction on behalf of world leaders. The glass half empty approach may also have feelings that nothing we…

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Norway Spruce, a story about Shaman Claus, mushrooms and fire

Two weeks ago I attended a Christmas Quiz where I learned that the  Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is a Christmas tree donated to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo in Norway each year since 1947 (as a gratitude for their support during the Second World War). According to wikipedia, it is typically a 50- to 60-year-old Norway spruce, generally over 20 metres tall. The tree is cut in Norway sometime in November during a ceremony attended by the British Ambassador to Norway, Mayor of Oslo, and Lord Mayor of Westminster. One week later I embarked on a journey to the far north, and saw so many spruces in the wild. I also bought a book along the trip, that I read when I was 10 years, and 20 years, and as I am almost turning 30 years old, it was time to repeat the “tradition”. As the north of Norway does not see daylight between November 21st and January 21st, it seemed the right time and place to remind me again from where the idea of the “christmas tree” and also Santa Claus really comes from.

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It all started with Fire

When I did know that Santa Claus, or the Dutch version “Sinterklaas” were not real, my father gave me a book “The Secret of Sinterklaas”. I learned that it was all about fire and trees, and about that we, as humans, try to control nature, but actually will never succeed to control it, as we are not above nature, but part of it. In Japan, Thailand and other countries you see still a lot of tree worshipping, but actually in north and west Europe people still do tree worshipping, but they do not know. Before the 8th century, people in northern and west Europe would burn trees in this time to remind themselves to the sacred gift of fire that our ancestors received ten thousands year ago. The oldest myths in many cultures are about that phase in history where mankind started to use fire, because that was the beginning of the exponential technological progress. By burning trees we remind ourselves humbly to the power of nature. It is a time of the year where we should look in ourselves by gazing at bonfires or candlelight. As Thoreau wrote, electricity kills darkness, but candlelight illuminates it.

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Later, the Roman Catholic Church colonised this practice into a christian one and decided Jesus was born in this time. Before that happened, our ancestors called this period  “Joeltijd”. “Joel” is Dutch for “celebrating”. In other languages people would say Yule or Yulda. It is the time for people coming together; eating, drinking, making babies etc. Many taboos would be broken in these days.  However, in the times of inquisition and witch hunts, any form of pagan practice was hidden. Only after the power of the Church weakened during Napoleon’s reign, the christmas tree was re-introduced, and with the invention of lightbulbs in the 19th century we got the tree we know today.

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Shaman Claus and mushrooms

Another story that I read was about mushrooms. The shamans of the old religions of North and West Europe used Amanita muscaria, also known as the Fly Agaric mushroom, or the the Alice in Wonderland mushroom, or as the house of leprechauns we see in western fairytales.  It was held very sacred by these ancient people, and was used by the shaman and others for ceremonial and spiritual purposes.  They only grow beneath certain types of evergreen trees, and I assume that they also grow under Norwegian Spruces. However, I also heard they were originally from North-America and cultivated in Norway for Christmas, but then I read at the blog of Tree Spirit Wisdom that “In Sweden, scientists have found a living Norway spruce named Old Tjikko, dated to be 9,550 years old. It has achieved this age through self-control and by cloning itself thus regenerating new trunks, branches and roots in the same space.” So, I think my assumption can be right.

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These mushrooms and evergreen trees form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the tree, the exchange of which allows them to grow.  One of the reported ancient beliefs was that the mushroom was actually the fruit of the tree. These mushrooms can have different colours: from brightly red and white to golden orange and yellow, which reminds me to… the christmas decorations of the christmas tree.

Tree of Birth, the Tree of Not Giving Up

In Greek mythology, the Spruce tree was dedicated to Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon, Hunting, Nature and protector of women. The Greeks suggested that the enduring Spruce tree represented constant, eternal life and was labelled ‘The Tree of Birth’; its scented evergreen needles signifying resilience and strength. This is the reason the tree is so associated with Artemis – as renewal, resilience and resurgence are all qualities which this goddess prized above all others. It’s also no wonder that the spruce is our Christmas tree, as Christians celebrate also the birth of Jesus Christ. As the tree is known for its resilience and renewal, it reminds us that perseverance and patience leads us higher. Sometimes we have to overcome darker periods because these dark times gives us a lot of knowledge and tools. We should not give up! While I was freezing in the dayless days in the Far North, looking for the northern lights, I tapped into the energy of the spruce and also told myself “Be Like a Spruce!”

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Spruce Beer from Native America

Spruce trees are mythologically important plants among Southwestern tribes, where they are symbols of the sky and directional guardians of the north. According to Hopi myth, the spruce tree was once a medicine man, Salavi, who transformed himself into a tree. Besides, Spruce “beer” was first brewed by the indigenous peoples of northern Europe and North America as a medicinal beverage. Depending on the time of year and the type of spruce, the flavour varied. By the 1700s, alcoholic spruce beer was common in colonial America and eastern Canada.

Use of Spruce

Not only the mushroom has special properties. They are known for their resins. Resin incenses are typically the dried sap from trees. According to the blog of Druid Garden, “Norway Spruce is another tree that produces a good amount of incense.  I have found that not all Norway Spruces smell the same.  They all have a skunky/musky smell, which can be pleasant but very different than the pines.”

According to Mercola, “Spruce oil is frequently added in soap, air fresheners and household cleaner formulations to lend its fresh scent and act as a disinfecting agent. Because of its pleasant earthy scent, its calming effects and its ability to ease anxiety and stress, spruce oil is also a favourite in meditation rituals like grounding. ”

And talking about patience

Several authors who I adore, like Elif Shafak, Margaret Atwood, Han Kang, David Mitchell and Sjón (ok, the last one I do not know) buried their next book for almost 100 years in Norwegian forest, as part of Katie Paterson’s Future Library project. According to the Guardian, “Starting in 2014, Paterson has asked a writer a year to contribute a book to her public artwork. Riffing on themes of imagination and time, each work has been seen only by its author and will be printed in 2114, when a patch of 1,000 Norwegian spruce trees planted in 2014 in the forest that surrounds Oslo will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts.” I think using a spruce, the tree of resilience and renewal, was no coincidence…

Please share in comments what you know about the Norwegian spruce – or the Christmas Tree.

Pomegranate: the fruit of Yalda, Yule and Yin

First of all, let me wish you a happy Solstice and Merry Christmas. This week I had experienced several sort of Winter Solstice celebrations. Our yoga tribe did a special “yoga session” with externals introducing us to laughter yoga and some Japanese dance, before we had a Christmas lunch. In the evening of the 20th, I was invited by Iranian friends in Nagoya to join their celebration of Yalda Night. It reminds me to Yule or Christmas celebration. As Aunt Zelda in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale” reminds us, Christmas night comes from Yule or the sabbath celebrated to welcome the winter at Winter Solstice.

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Winter Solstice

I actually like this period of darkness, because it gives me an excuse to do less sport and drink more hot chocolate hehe. I read this text recently on a social media and could only agree:

Life is being drawn into the earth, painlessly descending into the very heart of herself. As we as natural human animals are being called to do the same, the puss to descend into our bodies, into sleep, darkness and the depths of our own inner caves continually tugging at our marrow. But many find the descent into their own body a scary thing indeed, fearing the unmet emotions and past events that have been stored in the dark caves inside themselves. This winter solstice time is no longer celebrated as it once was, with the understanding that this period of descent into our own darkness was so necessary in order to find our light. This is a time of rest and deep reflection, a time to wipe the slate clean as it were and clear out the the old.
A time for the medicine of story, of fire, of nourishment and love. And trying to avoid alcohol, lights, shopping, overworking, over spending, bad food and consumerism.

Yin, the force of passivity, darkness and inner-travel

Some weeks ago I was looking for a title for a proposal for an academic article where I want to shed light on the importance of unlocking or lifting up feminine values in environmental studies. As I reject the essentialist notion that care and connection with nature are inherently part of womanhood, I decided to use the idea of yin and yang. Yin is the dark force, which is connected with the underworld. Or as Stephan Feuchtwang according to wikipedia in 2016 wrote: 

Yin is the receptive and Yang the active principle, seen in all forms of change and difference such as the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), sexual coupling (female and male), the formation of both men and women as characters, and sociopolitical history (disorder and order). 

Pomegranate, a fruit of a new year

In the book “Around the World in 80 trees” the tree for Iran is the pomegranate. I also associate it with the Ancient Greek myth of Persephone, and why winter (and fall) exist. Winter solstice has to be the saddest night for Demeter, goddess of agriculture, because her daughter would be in the underworld. Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld. Eventually, he was persuaded to let her free, but he has still one last trick. It is known in Ancient Greek mythology that if you ate in the Underworld you could never leave. So before she left, he gave her a few pomegranate seeds to eat. You have to know that pomegranate is also the symbol of Hera, goddess of marriage, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, so you can understand why Hades picked this fruit. Later, in the Great Mysteries of Eleusis, that would be known as the Sacred Marriage, which was celebrated together with the birth of her holy child Iacchias especially during this time. You can guess why we celebrate also the birth of Jesus in this time. Persephone ate six of these pomegranate seeds, and it was then decided she would stay 6 months a year in the Underworld (fall and winter) and the other six months with Demeter (spring and summer).

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Pomegranate, a fruit of feminity

For thousands of years, the pomegranate has also been a fertility symbol. Its blood-red juice and many seeds could easily turn it into a metaphor for the womb. Some scholars with interest for pre-patriarchal traditions in Greece, believed that the colour of this fruit was associated with women’s blood. As feminity is also associated with yin and darkness, I am again not surprised why I was eating pomegranate at the Yalda Night Celebration this week.

Yalda Night

To my delight, I got a Facebook invitation for this Iranian event. Yalda Night reminds me to Midwinter, or Yule (the Celtic name) that my ancestors celebrated. This is how my Iranian friends described it:

Yalda Night (aka Chelleh Night) is an ancient Iranian event on which the longest night of the year —i.e. winter solstice which usually falls on December 20, or 21— is celebrated. Historically, this event dates back to 502 BC when the majority of Iranians were followers of Zoroastrianism.

On this night, families get together and celebrate the arrival of winter by eating pomegranates, watermelons, a variety of nuts, tea with sweets etc (well, eating and drinking seems like a reasonable way of surviving the darkest night of the year, doesn’t it?). They also sing, dance and recite classical poetries especially those by the 14 c. Persian poet Hafez.
They used to sit around a Korsi (a similar item to kotatsu, which many Iranian households don’t have nowadays) and tell stories to defeat the darkness by enjoying each others’ company through the long cold night. 

Hafez (1315-1390), according to ,the Encyclopedia Iranica, was born in the beautiful city of Shiraz, and is the most popular of Persian poets. If a book of poetry is to be found in a Persian home, it is likely to be the Divān (collected poems) of Hafez. Many of his lines have become everyday proverbs, and there are few who cannot recite some of his lyrics, partially or totally, by heart. His Divān is widely used in fāl, i.e. foretelling the future by interpreting a randomly chosen poetry. I also had to pick a poem, which was according to my heart about grieving about what is lost, especially now, and then letting go.

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I felt so in peace when I listened to the poetry. Also during the songs and the drum play. Although I am normally not able to sleep the night before a flight, I slept like a rose for 7-8 hours, before I took a flight during the shortest day of the year, to northern Europe, where I want to recharge and reflect about what I learned and unlearned in the past year.

 

Listen to the stories of the Trees