Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

March 17, 2012

Sky Worship Part Two: Terrible Sacrifice

Filed under: magic, science, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:51 pm

Sometimes I hear Christians, such as Alex Jones, criticizing Paganism because of its tradition of worshiping nature, even to the extreme of sacrificing humans. As if the history of Christianity  is anything to be unthinkingly proud of… Inquisitions, Crusades, blah, blah blah. We don’t sacrifice people anymore, and anyone who does so is way outside of neopagan norms!

Many people who believe in an ancient, magical worldview believe that you can harness the life force of a sacrificial victim to politely bribe a god. For instance, Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth had to sacrifice himself, like a lamb, to save people from sin and Hellfire. Caribbean Santeria practitioners sacrifice chickens and so on in prayer, reflecting the traditions of their Pagan African ancestors (although they are Christians). The animals’ death-blood is received by a heavenly saint who, hopefully, grants favors.

I don’t believe that sacrificing some random chicken’s life gets you any favor with the gods (or saints). I think that most of you readers are with me on this — if not, I can respect our interesting differences. A chicken has its own feeble consciousness, and how can you really possess or own that to sacrifice it? When members of Yakuza (aka “The Japanese Mafia”) really offend their boss, they atone by performing Yubitsume, chopping off the last segment of their little finger at the knuckle. Now that’s  a sacrifice.

Well, if I need all my digits, and I can’t bleed out a chicken for Gaia or cast a virgin into the volcano, how am I then to worship nature? I do  believe that it’s a spiritual discipline to respect nature, learn to go with it, and avoid trampling on it for shallow or short-term purposes. I think that this attitude is also in line with rational activity and Christian belief.

Christians believe that God gave the Earth to people to “steward,” which means “take care of.” Even if God gave us the Earth as a gift for our own use, He would be pretty pissed off to see how we’ve been abusing that gift. Imagine, for instance, the God had given you a book. Would you tear pages out for kindling and toilet paper, or would you treat it carefully? Oh? How then is it okay to blow great big motherfracking holes in the crust of God’s Earth, mow forests down, or fail to recycle your batteries? (aside: when Rick Santorum says that we are to “wisely husband the Earth’s resources,” it makes me imagine the Earth as a battered wife.)

What I’m saying is that the natural world is sacred, as goddess incarnate, or God’s creation, or more simply as something full of wonders that supports our lives. And, the only sacrifice that does the world any good is to be more aware of the things around you and to try to take care of them better.

And so at last I come to my point: Shining lights into the sky and blotting out the stars is really, really blasphemous. Anyone who believes that God, um, separated the sky from the Earth with a “firmament,” or that there are celestial gods up there, or that human beings have the birthright to look upwards with wonder, has got to be with me on this one. Remember the scene in Roots, when Kunte Kinte’s dad hoists the baby up to face the starry sky, and says “Behold! The only thing greater than yourself!”? That scene would be pretty lame in most parts of the world today. “Behold! Those two fuzzy lights peeping out from behind the pollution are the only things greater than yourself, I guess.”

So here is the sacrifice demanded by God, Astarte Queen of Heaven, and human decency alike: don’t shine your lights into the night sky! Myself, I have an obnoxious 200- or 400-watt yard light, which my mate feels keeps the dogs safe when they are playing in the yard at night (this since the street light on the corner burned out). The temporary solution: I make sure to turn it off before bed. When the blinky sucker soon burns out, I’m going up a ladder to tear out the Metal Halide bulb’s ballast, put in a giant “compact” fluorescent bulb (energy savings) and stick a reflector or hood on it so that no light is directed upwards or straight out at the neighbors. This assuming I continue to lose the argument over the value of lighting up the back yard in the first place.

Basically, there is no sacrifice in cleaning up our “light pollution.” If you eliminate unneeded lights, wire lights to motion detectors, or direct light downwards, you are saving energy, thus money. You just have to summon up the human energy to do it.

For more information, you can check out the Dark Sky Society (free membership!) and International Dark-Sky Association. Organizations like this really help when things have to go beyond individual action, for instance, to help campaign for a city government to respect anti-light pollution principles with their street lights and municipal buildings. Recently, the Headlands, on Lake Michigan near the Straights of Mackinaw, was declared a Dark Sky Park, and more and more localities are adopting dark-sky legislation. More laws? Well, we don’t have any special right to blot out each others’ sky, do we? In any case, the Dark Sky people can provide you with the practical information about reducing your own light pollution.

All right, I’m done preaching and telling everybody how to live their lives. For today. Imagine, though, if the sky over your suburban home looked like this!

Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the Galaxy we belong to. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO's VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred. This image is from Wikimedia Commons, for "share and share alike" use.

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3 Comments »

  1. Hear, hear! We sleep with an annoying yard light shining into our bedroom from down the road. There is no reason for this constantly-on light to be obnoxiously glowing 24-7. I do believe people move to the country and then find out they are afraid of the dark! We have even heard of people demanding street lights on gravel roads. It’s ridiculous. I will never forget the time I slept out in the Gila Wilderness and saw an amazing night sky. It was incredible. Even here where we live you look out at night and you can see the glow on the horizon where Imlay City is, where Brown City is, where Lapeer is. Still we are luckier than most, I suppose. But it’s hard to convince people that they don’t need those lights. They are sure that having a light on all night deters crime. Actually, it would be wiser to use motion detectors, as the shadows created by a yard light can be exploited by would-be criminals. And at least if people would use shields on their lights to prevent the light from shining up into the sky! It just makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with people …

    Comment by Kris — March 17, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

    • Oh, yeah, another thing. Your property has very good stars. But the best stars I’ve ever seen were at, uh, Anonymous Lake. If you canoe out around the island in the dead of night near the New Moon… there is an almost-dark horizon and there are always meteors flying when we go! Next best to floating in space.

      Comment by paragardener — March 18, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  2. Yep. For a while we thought our yard light was on a motion detector, because it would spring on randomly! Turns out it comes on reliably if you wiggle the switch. It’s a dumb thing I “inherited” from someone who lived here before, but it seems just a little hard to fix it until it breaks. Right now I’m questioning if it’s worth replacing the Metal Halide technology. It’s reasonably efficient — maybe the damn thing just needs a cheap used grow light reflector!

    Comment by paragardener — March 18, 2012 @ 12:48 am


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