I’ve been spending more time with my ancestors lately, hoping to establish more intentional and positive relationships with them. One of the ways in which I’ve been relating with my ancestors is by putting together a family tree, and really trying to understand the flow of my lineages through history.
And that’s gotten me thinking about tradition.
Tradition is kind of a loaded word right now. There are a lot of people leaning on what is “traditional” in order to justify some quite frankly miserable behavior. Some of this comes from a sort of misplaced nostalgia for a half-imagined past which never really existed, but most of it comes from the desire of those in power to stay in power.
I could go into specifics here, but unless you’ve literally been living under a rock for the last six or seven years, you probably already know what I’m talking about.
There’s another way to look at tradition, though. There’s a way to see the past–the real past–not as a perfect blueprint to follow uncritically, but as a source of inspiration when dealing with the present and preparing for the future.
Gardens come to mind.
My father was born in 1946, the youngest of fourteen children. His mother was born in 1904, and his father was born in 1900. These dates may seem incredibly remote to those of you born around the turn of the millennium, but my grandparents are part of my living memory. And when they were getting their family on, everyone had a garden–especially if, like my grandfather, they were trying to support a family of this size on a mill-worker’s salary.
I’m told that pretty much every square inch of my father’s childhood yard was used to grow something. Whatever they didn’t eat fresh, my grandmother canned for the winter. My grandmother also made bread, not just to feed the family, but also to give and sell to neighbors, other family, and friends. Every resource they had at their disposal was used to help themselves, or it was traded with those around them.
We can find a lot of inspiration, here.
The most obvious flash of insight is that, not too long ago, people did much more for themselves than we do. Today, most of us buy our vegetables and bread from the grocery store. This is fine, I suppose, so long as the grocery store continues to have what we need, and we’re able to pay the price they’re asking.
Those are big “ifs” right now.
Unless you’re still living under that rock we talked about earlier, grocery stores have become both less reliable and much more expensive. I have a loaf of white bread sitting on my counter which cost me $4.29. And last week? I had to get a different brand because the store was wiped out of the brand I usually buy.
When I’m able to bake my own bread, it costs me about $1.00 a loaf, and it’s a far better product.
I’ve written about this sort of thing before, in a post I called Home economics, wherein I linked to a video on the Townsends YouTube channel. You could do a lot worse than going back to that post and watching the video again. It talks about looking at your home as a “little factory,” and not just thinking of it (or relating to it) as a place to sleep and store your stuff.
There’s another bit of inspiration we can glean from the way in which my father’s parents related with the world around them, which is touched on by this video, also from Townsends.
In case it’s not glaringly-obvious, I love this channel, and I spend a lot of time not just watching the videos there, but also trying to find ways to re-contextualize the traditions they cover for life in the present day.
My parents, grandparents, and all the generations before them spent a great deal of time establishing and maintaining relationships with their neighbors, and their local community as a whole. The further you go back in time, the more vital these connections become.
Remember: thirty years ago, there was no World Wide Web. Fifty years ago? No Internet at all. A century ago? Barely anyone had a phone.
Not only were the people in your immediate community likely to be your only social outlet apart from family, they were the only help you were going to get should you find yourself in real trouble. The safety and prosperity of your neighbors was, in a very literal sense, your safety and prosperity.
So what does this have to do with today? More the point, what does this have to do with magic (seeing as that’s what this blog is supposed to be about)?
To my way of thinking, these two questions are basically the same: What might this traditional way of living tell us about relating to and in the present?
I see magic as a tool (or set of tools) which allows us to more easily live in right relationship with the world around us. It allows us to better understand our place and function, and gives us ways to restore ourselves to that place and function when we’re off-base.
Proximity is a critical consideration when relating with others. By which I mean, it’s easier and more fruitful to think and act locally, first and foremost.
Something you might not be aware of is that, if you live in the United States, almost every dime you pay in “taxes” goes to your city, county, or state government. Property tax (or your landlord’s taxes, which you pay in the form of rent), sales tax, water bills, parking fees and fines–all of this is obviously collected by city or state officials. But even a good portion of your federal income tax ends up being paid out to states and cities in the form of grants, or federally-funded programs such as Medicaid.
What’s more, most of the laws you’re required to obey are set at the local or state level. Which streets you can park on, where you can open and operate a business, when you can buy alcohol–the buck for all of these ultimately stops at city hall or your state house.
Who decides where your polling place is, and how long it’s open on election day? That would be town clerk. Who decides if your local library is going to get funding next year? Your town council.
Like it or not, more and more political power is being handed off to the states and cities. It isn’t the feds that are going to decide whether or not you can have roommates to help you pay for a home, it’s going to be the people in your local government–and lot of those people are landlords.
I’ve already shared these thoughts privately, with friends and family. And it’s long been my belief that we should be spending most of our time and attention not on what’s happening at the national level, but at the local level.
To be blunt, I think if you can name your U.S. Senators, but can’t name your city councilors, you’re doing it wrong.
But it’s more than that.
Look again at that video I embedded above, and think about not only what it would take to become more deeply-involved in your immediate community, but also how much further any effort to improve upon it is likely to go, compared to your chances of changing anything at the national scale.
It’s a lot easier to live in right relationship with someone when you can shake their hand.
Have a blessed day!