The Scholar and the Servant

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Spring is arriving in a hurried way here. It was seventy degrees the last week of February and the first week of March brought with it heavy and damaging winds to much of the East Coast here in the States. Warm weather is nice. Consistently warm trends in February are troubling. However, the birds seem to get on with it and have begun appearing more frequently each day. They learn and adapt to conditions in fair or foul (fowl?) weather. Then they set to building themselves the best homes.

Every year it’s the Dark-eyed Junco’s who first begin coming in numbers. Some never leave. I maintain Weiß Alb in a way that serves the wildlife as an area of preservation. This land has never been treated with synthetic chemicals and affords protected species, like our sacred white deer that lend this hearth its name, a place of sanctuary. Throughout all of North America these small creatures who prefer forest floors to busy towns flock to feeders and coniferous trees as the weather once again turns warm. An interesting note: male Junco’s defend their nest by making a noise from a perch that sounds remarkably like an aggressive “pew pew pew”.

It took me years to get to know the wildlife here and I’m still learning. Every year I discover something new and am eager to find out what its purpose is. Last year a crop of Queen Anne’s lace began spreading in a back field and caused some brief concern because it looked so much like hemlock from a distance (which is also present in this area). Queen Anne’s Lace, or wild carrot, has edible roots and a variety of uses. Hemlock is poisonous. Hence the concern. While the big animals and towering pines out here are fascinating, so too are the smaller birds and plants. Everything has its place and value. Who says there’s no order to the hierarchy of the wild? Pfft.

One of the reasons I enjoy homesteading so much is because of the opportunity that is afforded me to continue learning and doing what I love. Also, doing this honors my grandparents on both sides who maintained land and were adept at knowing one plant from the other (and their many uses). As I sit here listening to this Junco “pew pew pew” at anything that comes near it I think about the effort and time invested in learning, studying, and applying things. As the Junco returns again and again to build so too do I.

Researching elements found in areas that we’re passionate about can bring perspective and insight. Perhaps it allows us to have more comprehensive and intellectually honest conversations. So long as the purpose of learning isn’t lost to lip service it remains a crucial part of any effort in preserving, reconstructing, and furthering the self and the people around us in areas that remain relevant to our endeavors. Weiß Alb just created sixteen small batches of salve to sell at the farmer’s market when it opens in a few weeks. In the process of utilizing some new herbs we took a day together to learn more about the lore of those that we were less familiar with.

This week my tarot spread included The Servant and The Scholar (from the Gypsy Oracle). It seems fitting as I look at the stack of books I have yet to read and those that I will read for the fifth time because more notes are required to retain the information. This applies to most facets of my life. I homeschool so there are always books that I’m reading to help my daughter learn. I have over one thousand books on anthropology and ancient religion. I have them on plants, animism, folklore, homesteading, the occult, bio regionalism and wildlife preservation. Why do I own so many? Honestly, because I enjoy reading. Secondly, because I have to. Yet, I don’t want or choose to spend my life in the pages of a book. I will certainly miss out on many opportunities by not looking up and around. Being attentive to surroundings is just as important as studying about them, sometimes more.

I also study the best planting methods, the weather patterns, and evaluate my hearth practice to ensure that it is kept sacred and maintained to the standards I have set. These areas require more active application than passive mindfulness. The questions surrounding how to offer, what to give, and if there should be a determined frequency are all relevant concerns that are often noted in online forums. Sometimes people can get stuck in a “loop of learning” and ignore the importance of doing. I make offerings to my recently dead ancestors, people who I knew and loved in life and who knew me, items that are significant to them. Those items may not hold the same significance to me, but when you give a gift you do so in regards to what is special and meaningful to the receiver, right? I make offerings during the Holy Tides and at other times that I feel are appropriate when seeking assistance, observing anniversaries, or notable times that I have chosen for certain reasons.

I’ve researched family lore and interesting stories, asked questions of older relatives, and try as best I can to offer in such a way that respects the place of my family members. I believe that all learning first begins at home, for good or ill, and that I have a certain responsibility to learn what I can and apply it as appropriately as I am able. As a Heathen, this is central to my core beliefs. Reciprocal gifting is part of my foundation in life.

While no one is under an obligation to share what they’ve learned in their studies along the way, I believe it’s a worthy endeavor to try. Some are loathe to do so, even treating the knowledge that they rarely share as a guarded secret yet to be discovered by more common people. Personally, I find no service in that. Knowledge is power but we are not made to be dragons protecting a hoard. Empowering others does no disservice to ourselves. Taking opportunities to share with those who ask or engage may provide encouragement or inspiration. Conversation can do wonders. Whether it’s a suggested reading list, an idea that I’ve found helpful in my hearth, a homesteading tip or providing options that encourage further study and development, I enjoy providing that type of service to those who are receptive to them and likewise I’ve learned a great deal by being receptive to what others had to say. No one is obligated, this is purely a consensual process of invested time and learning.

This notion is why I created The Heathen Underground as an online place where people might find resources and perspectives. I believe that being a scholar comes with the ability to also be a servant or steward. Whether one chooses to do so is up to them. Like my friend here the Junco, I return again and again in hopes to build something of value. Sometimes I too have hollered at people or become frustrated with those who approached the things I hold dear with disregard or lack of appreciation. Do I still think it’s worth the risk? Yes. I believe in giving back and serving in the ways that I am able.

Right now, I’m currently sitting on my deck at much-too-early o’clock watching the sun come up appreciating the invention of the coffee maker and reflecting on these cards: The Scholar and the Servant. I’m studying, currently, a fantastic book entitled ‘A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism’ by John Michael Greer. I’ve read this book before and always find something new in it that resonates with me. Today it’s this:

“Birdwatchers pay attention to nests, droppings, and other circumstantial evidence for the existence of birds, but these have a good deal less value than sightings of the birds themselves. If a birdwatcher wants to know whether some type of bird exists in a particular forest, she might look for indirect evidence for the bird, but she would be a good deal more interested in seeing the bird for herself – or at least talking to people who had seen the bird and can describe it to her.

An inquiry into the existence and nature of gods should have the same priorities. Circumstantial evidence that bears on the matter is relevant, to be sure, but far more important testimony comes from those who say that they have actually encountered gods. Thus any attempt to consider religion on the grounds of evidence and inference must sooner or later turn to the evidence offered by religious experience.

This term “religious experience” has any number of meanings in modern culture, and a working definition that will filter out irrelevancies ranks high on the list of essential tasks. When someone describes eating chocolate as a religious experience, that use of the phrase says much about the person’s attitude toward chocolate but very little about the gods. For the purposes of this and following chapters, the term religious experience refers to apparent encounters between one or more people and a god, spirit, or sacred presence, which either does not have a material body or which appears to transcend the limits of its material embodiment in ways not readily explained by a purely materialist analysis.

This is a very rough working definition, and makes no claim to universal validity. In particular, it excludes quite a few things that could reasonably be called “religious experiences.” Many of these have close connections to the material world, and have a religious dimension simply because they are believed to have religious causes.

A sudden burst of sunlight through clouds at the climatic moment of a ceremony, the appearance of a mythically important bird or animal in a meaningful context, or an unlikely set of coincidences that saves the life of a believer when all reasonable hope was lost, would qualify as profound religious experiences from the point of view of many traditions. Still, the central role of interpretation in experiences of these kinds makes it hard to separate evidence concerning gods from beliefs about them; any one event of this sort can have many different religious interpretations.” (Greer, 66-67)

Here, Greer is stating the importance for the need of both examination and conversation as it pertains to religion and religious experience and the value of examining whole systems. This is accomplished by keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging not just study but discussion of applications. Being The Scholar and The Servant requires a degree of repeated give and take. It is healthy to maintain a reserve for the self so as to not give every part away in an effort to serve and study. This leaves a person depleted and burnt out, tired and frustrated. However, parts of reserves can be utilized in ways that serve both large and small in ways that promote learning through the demonstration of worthy actions and consistent applications. People tend to notice not just what is said but what is done. Deeds.

The Servant and The Scholar go hand in hand. While there may be no outward requirement to be either, one can certainly be both. It is reordered in deed and word, example and role modeling. Service doesn’t mean catering to that which only depletes. Providing a service has sustained successful businesses, lifted communities, and done great things to encourage and provide hope. The Scholar is in a unique position to utilize their service to accomplish the same types of results by opening up lines of communication.

This will be my reflection this week. If Spring must rush in, let it be with the illumination of revelations that assist me in being the best version of myself. I need for my studies to be diligent and my service to be honorable. In order to continue building The Confederation of Sachsenheim and my responsibilities within it, to maintain a thriving Weiß Alb on this land and establish luck and worth within it, to homeschool, and to volunteer in comprehensive ways that serve in areas of relevance and value, it is these notions that I must remind myself of and consider consistently – returning to that place of mindfulness regularly. My roles of Scholar and Servant. It’s amazing what a little bird can inspire, isn’t it? We only have to listen.

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