Sacred Nature and Poisoned Waters

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 16, 2014 — 15 Comments

Earlier this week, I noted that a West Virginia-based CUUPs chapter was holding a ritual for the water poisoned by a massive chemical spill, which has still hobbled access to fresh, safe, water in that region.

Elk_River_WV_map

“An emergency meeting of concerned citizens was held in our Unitarian Fellowship (there had been other emergency meeting cropping up throughout the state) to discuss implications and possible actions. A water drive had been planned for the capital with an open mic for residents to express their outrage- and there’s a lot of it. There are other community meetings planned, letter writing campaigns, and pushes to contact representatives; but as a magical person, my instinctual reaction is to couple This World Action with magic and ritual. I met up with a few other local CUUPs members who were also mad as hell and it was decided that a magical working was needed but to fight our polluting Goliaths and the legislators who support them, we’d need help and support from the outside.” – Crystal Kendrick, Co-Vice President, Unitarian Fellowship of Huntington

The truth is that scientists aren’t sure how safe the “cleared” water sources are after the spill.

“Sonya Lunder, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., told National Geographic that the decision to lift the water ban was based on scant science. “Evidently the one-part-per-million safety level, used to lift the drinking water restriction, is based on an unpublished study of the amount of chemical that killed 50 percent of test animals, a very crude indicator of health concern,” she said.”

Further, the spilled chemical agent isn’t simply staying put in West Virginia, that isn’t how water works. Now, places like Ohio are scrambling to protect their own drinking water sources as the contamination spreads.

“The Ohio Guardsmen are among more than 500 from West Virginia, Tennessee and the District of Columbia responding to the incident, and have been testing water samples from across the Kanawha Valley to determine levels of contamination to the local water supply.”

For those of us in the Pagan community who see our ecosystem, our natural world, as a living sacred force (or interwoven tapestry of sacred lives), this spill is an affront, a blasphemy in a religious culture that rarely utters such an accusation. Some Pagan groups are now stepping up to help raise funds, and give assistance, to those affected by this ongoing eco-crisis.

1521839_10203039292001565_828088099_n“When I first heard about the disaster, my thought was to raise funds to send water shipments to the hardest hit towns. In talking with local Pagan, Shannon Swan, I was pointed to a different need: 

No clean water means that restaurants, cafes and other places many working class people rely on for income are closed, or, as some locals have told me, though some restaurants have re-opened, things like coffee are being made with affected water. Restaurant workers in the US, as we know, rely on tips to survive. A week without work, plus these ongoing conditions, is making life very difficult.

Paul Dalzell of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Charleston writes: “I have worked in, and have many friends in, the food service industry, and I am very concerned for them.  This is an urgent problem for both the minimum wage workers who barely make it in the best of times, and the waitstaff and help who often live from day to day on their tips.”  

These people already live close to the bone. Solar Cross Temple is raising funds to send to the Unitarian church in Charleston, who will get the money to local people in need.

This is a disaster for the trees, the water, the animals, the land, and the people. If you cannot afford a donation, please offer whatever prayers you can, and pass this announcement along. Donations of any amount are welcomed. Donations to Solar Cross Temple are tax deductible.”

For those wanting to help through Solar Cross Temple and the Charleston UU congregation, you can donate via Paypal using the email “solarcrosstemple@gmail.com.” Please note in your donation “West Virginia Disaster” so that the funds are appropriated correctly. For those wanting to donate directly to the UU church, information can be found at Thorn’s blog.

West Virginia resident Kelly Mir, a Reclaiming Priestess and Feri student, noted that she is living in a “sacrifice zone” and this is just the most recent outrage in the “oppression” of this land.

“Thank you for being attentive to this; we {West Virginians) are in a location openly called a “sacrifice zone,” but few are paying attention. I am a Reclaiming Priestess, a student of Feri, a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, and a long-time active member of the UU Congregation of Charleston, WV, where efforts are being made to help those most harmed by our most recent crisis. I am also a descendent of some of the first Europeans into this area, and of some of the Original People as well. This land is held deeply in my heart, and the oppression of this land and its people goes back many, many generations.”

It is in moments like this, when an ecological crisis becomes acute and impossible to ignore, that a belief in sacred nature, in a nature imbued with life and powers, is truly tested. How do we respond to the spoiling of our own water supply? How do we reach out? Do we reach out? Recently, at Patheos, Rhyd Wildermuth argued that Paganism, that polytheism, was inherently radical in a economic system that treats our natural world as a resource to be exploited and controlled.

“Worlding the earth with the gods and spirits is a radical act in our societies, as is fighting the systems of control and profit which maintain our distance from the earth and our disenchantment (and disenfranchisement). It can seem daunting, dangerous; it will alienate us from some, and the decisions we make may cause us to experience poverty rather than exploit the earth and each other.”

One does not have to be a radical to see the danger in unregulated use of the ecosystem that supports our life, one only has to be pragmatic about what is truly sustainable, and posses the empathy to see how our actions are interconnected. A small, symbolic act would be to reach out now, and help make life a little easier for those in West Virginia, where this spill originated, to help the people who are now feeling the effects of a system that does not care about preserving natural resources for all classes of people and life on this planet. We will keep you updated as this story continues to develop.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Thank you for reporting this. Your coverage is more complete than either Ohio, UU, or other on-line news sources.

  • Jaguar in Arkansas

    This is the ONLY place i have seen anything about this.

  • Shannon Swan

    Thank you for raising awareness and spreading the word.

  • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

    I am very grateful for your coverage as well, other than foreign press and bloggers, this is being rushed off the front pages as if someone put bubble bath in a public fountain.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Jason, thank you for bringing these different resources together. The response to our call has been enormous, both from people concerned, wanting to donate, and from WV locals dropping by the blog or my Facebook page telling their stories.

    The latest was from a woman whose mother can’t get the dialysis she needs because of lack of clean water.

    This is a tragedy. I’m glad to see Pagans coming together around this. I’ll keep updating my website with fundraising information as the money comes in.

    We’ve raised just over $600 since yesterday, with people generously gifting anything from $10 to $100.

    Solar Cross will absorb all the PayPal fees, so all the money donated will go to those in need in West Virginia.

    blessings to you as always – Thorn

  • http://www.myspace.com/kadynastar Khryseis_Astra

    Such a tragedy on so many levels… :(

    I also agree with Paul Dalzell’s concern for the restaurant workers. Recently we had a “boil water” order here in PA; one of our local filtering plants had a “filter malfunction.” So for 3 days all water was considered unsafe unless it was boiled first, and even then they told you not to shower, bathe or wash dishes in it. Local restaurants had to go to extraordinary lengths to even remain open, serving meals on paper plates with plastic cups for drinks and plastic silverware, bringing in bottled beverages of all kinds to serve. And I’m sure the tips weren’t all that good for their extra effort.

    WV didn’t even have the luxury of being able to use the water after boiling, so I can only imagine the hardship it must be going through. I hope all the “free market” die-hards will pay attention and remember incidents like this: this is what comes of allowing the free market to do whatever it wants with ever-decreasing regulations. Oh the irony of the company responsible going by the name “Freedom Industries!”

  • Anne Johnson

    Whenever I hear the Ralph Stanley song, “Man of Constant Sorrow,” I always think about West Virginia. I can’t think of one location in America that has been the victim of such wholesale abuse as West Virginia has endured, and continues to endure. Coal mine explosions, mountain top removal, chemical spills, meth, hillbilly heroin … it’s just so tragic. If anyone wants to contribute to hard-working people there, take your tourist dollars to the protected wilderness areas and spa towns.

    • Anne Johnson

      Damn, I just noticed that this profile picture was taken in WV! That’s Berkeley Springs.

      • Crystal Hope Kendrick

        We do have some beautiful wilderness, and the biodiversity in some of these untouched areas is just astounding. Go see it before it’s gone.

        • Crystal Hope Kendrick

          The Cranberry Wilderness specifically, if you haven’t been.

  • Crystal Hope Kendrick

    Thank you Jason, wholeheartedly, for bringing more light to this situation. Yes, we live in a “sacrifice zone” and I’m tired of being told the lives of my friends and family are forfeit to make way for industry.

  • Ursyl
  • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

    I spoke with a resident of Charleston, WV yesterday, and only now has he been given the word by authorities that he can flush his house’s water system. That’s something I hadn’t even imagined that people have to do in this case.

    There definitely needs to be more coverage of this disaster. I am glad as Pagans we are coming together to help.

    • Crystal Hope Kendrick

      What’s worse is that chemical and water experts that are coming into some of these town halls are saying flushing will probably do little good because the chemical gels and can form pockets in the pipe joints that simple flushing can’t remove. So even a water system that tests on the safe level can test at a much higher level later if any of these pockets come loose, which means that a “safe” chemical level could be misleading.

  • The_L1985

    My heart and my prayers go to the people and wildlife affected by this pollution. I am outraged by how little is being done to repair or contain the damage!

    A world in which people ignore life-threatening hazards in the water supply is NOT the kind of world I want to live in. Not for me, not for my future children, and not for anybody else on Earth.