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Reconciling Overpopulation and Stewardship

You don’t have to look very hard to see the effects of the population boom in your community. Fields and forests are being bulldozed into suburbs, traffic jams are getting bigger and longer, and once pristine places are full of the noise of far too many visitors. Nor does it take long to note the effects of too many of us on the climate and creatures we share this planet with. The climate is warming, and solar radiation levels are higher than ever because of the thinner ozone layer that protects us from the worst of it. One day of sun today equals 10 days worth of sun 30 years ago. No one reports this horrifying change- perhaps it is to scary to note. Our oceans, our forests, our soil are slowly being killed because of the effects of our exploitation.

We must face the stark fact: we are breeding ourselves out of existence. And if we do not effect a slowdown in our population and an increase of the awareness of our roles of stewardship to this planet, there will be nothing left for our descendents to enjoy. Instead of our wisdom being blessed and revered, our foolishness will be cursed and reviled.

How can a path like Wicca, with its roots in agrarian rites of fertility and reproduction, reconcile the changes that the transition into a non-agrarian have wrought? Can we, who have always sought and prayed and worked rites for increase, switch poles and seek, pray and work for stability? Or even decrease?

Perhaps we need to look at the same problem in another way. Let’s say that our ancestors have built us a wonderful home, and we have inherited it. At the time the house was built, a tree was planted nearby. It was an oak or a chestnut- a long-term, slow growing sort of tree that looks like a sapling for many years, but gradually gets larger and grander.

As does this tree. And as the years and decades pass, this tree becomes larger, shading the house. And it continues to grow, towering over the house and sending its roots deep and wide, and its ever thickening branches taller. It has become huge.

Then one day, the current owner of the house notes that the roots have begun to undermine the foundation of his home, cracking it and warping the floors and walls. And the owner also notes that the huge branches of the tree hang over the roof, and the tree is very tall- much bigger than the house. The owner does not want to destroy the tree, but in order for both the home and the tree to continue, drastic measures must be taken. So the owner cuts away the threatening branches, and severs the offending roots. Things are better, but the owner of the home is always aware of the nearness of the tree, and its continuing growth and threat to his home. And he knows that one day, if things go terribly wrong, the huge tree could destroy his home entirely. Should he remove it entirely?

What an awful question, you might say. But let’s change the parameters of the equation. Let’s make the house our planet. And the tree our human population. And the homeowner is the Spirit of the Earth: The Goddess, Gaia/Mother Nature, the planetary consciousness or the genus loci. Our growth threatens to overwhelm the balance of life on this planet. What can be done?

Unlike a tree, we can take action to curtail and prune our own growth. We can choose to give our world the greatest gift- conscious stewardship of its treasures. We can choose to have fewer children, or best- no children at all.

But how can we continue as a faith if the Peoples of the Book are outbreeding us, you might ask? I wondered about that myself, and did a lot of meditative and oracular searching for the answers. I was told that quality, rather than quantity, is more important for our path. It is far better to have a few highly trained and well-educated and truly dedicated individuals doing the Work than to have hordes of Moontide-have-a-Circle sorts. A few dedicated people can do the work of many casual people.

And we must also remember this fact about children born into any faith: There is no guarantee that your children will adapt the faith of their childhood into adulthood. Think about yourselves. How many sets of parents were devastated when we left their faith? Think about that- and remember that it could happen to our own children. The Christians especially are keen on conversions, and we are Prime Targets for their efforts. And our children will be even more so. Our path is still young enough that the majority of us came from diverse faiths outside the Circle of Wicca. We converted ourselves- we chose ourselves, or were Chosen by the Great Ones. This is a path of calling, not one of conversion. Though it might be true that a child raised in our ways might keep them, there is no guarantee of the quality of the Work that child will do in adulthood.

The American culture is extremely pediacentric and pro-natal. Children are worshipped here with a fervor that no other country has. Yet, at the same time, they are treated very badly by the authorities who seek to ‘protect’ them. They have no free speech. Ones who are ‘different’ are seen as threats, and are dealt with harshly. And we, as Wiccans and outsiders to the mainstream faith, are perceived as ‘threats’ to children- including our own. Is it really wise to try to raise children in such an unstable cultural climate, where one misunderstanding with the wrong authority can cost you the custody of your kids, your job, and even your home?

Our culture, less than a century and a half ago, was agrarian. Most people were born on farms, and large numbers of children were necessary to ensure that some would survive childhood, and to run the farm and produce. Children were seen as economic assets- the more you had, the bigger the farm you could have, and the more built-in help was available to run it. There were no child-labor laws- as soon as a kid could follow directions, he or she was put to work- feeding chickens, gathering eggs, carrying water, mucking out stalls.

Nowadays, children are no longer economic assets. If you sit down and run the numbers, a child shows itself as a financial liability even before its birth, and the liability grows exponentially as the child and its numbers grow. Today’s children do not contribute directly to the economy, unless you count the entertainment and sports items the parents must buy to keep the child abreast of the consumer culture. To do this, many families have both parents working. The children are farmed out to costly daycare, or parked in front of a television set. And parents spend vast amounts of money catering to their kids’entertainment: soccer, ballet, karate, and other outside the home, consumer-oriented activities. None of these things generate income- they all require spending. The bottom line is that 90% of things bought for children are eventually abandoned or outgrown and thrown away. Newness is the rage, and no child nowadays would care to have "old" stuff like Ninja Turtles or Beanie Babies when there is Pokemon to collect.

Yet, despite this incredible liability, our 19th Century culture still demands that we breed. Our parents and grandparents pressure us. "Who will carry on the family name?" "Who will take care of you when you get old?" "You aren’t truly an adult until you have a child." "I want to be a grandparent." And worse, prospective parents do not sit down and really work out the financial and workload impact that having a child and raising it through college age entails. They float along with a "God/the Government/the "Village" will provide attitude, and wonder why they’re going bankrupt or their marriage is failing. We must realize that these old chestnuts are false, and the agrarian multichild mindset is now overwhelming our planet’s capacity to care for all of us. We must realign ourselves with the 21st Century. We no longer need vast numbers of children, we no longer work the fields, and medical and safety technology ensures that most kids will survive into adulthood.

How can we breast the pronatal tide? We must be brutally honest with ourselves. A non-reproductive sacrifice now will ensure that our race will continue for many millennia to come. We must reverse the idea that people who choose to not have children are ‘selfish’ or child-haters. We must work hard to remove the stigma of infertility and make adoption of children into families of our faith a positive image. We must begin to point out the impact of too many people on the environment. To ensure that Wicca continues, we must create an outreach for sincere seekers, and welcome in newcomers with warmth and cheer and set their feet upon the path.

And instead of praying for fertility, let us refine and focus our prayers and rituals: seeking instead the fertility of the mind and imagination, and the stabilization, instead of increase, of our population. We should make leaving our world a better place than we found it a tenet of our faith. Our planet needs our respect and it needs our stewardship. We can either buck this deadly tide and be the pioneers and harbingers of the future of our world, or we can be overwhelmed and washed away by its rise and flood.

Remember- we’re that tree, and Gaia holds the chainsaw.

2000 Sunfell

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