Writing about gift exchange as we slog our way through the holiday season seems absolutely appropriate to me. Gift giving as a practice is nearly universal. In fact, I cannot think of a single culture existing today or in the line of the ancestors that doesn’t practice gift giving on some level. For the sake of this writing, I’d like to discuss at some level, what gift giving actually is.
To truly gift, is to honor another. We’ve all heard it said that it is not the gift that counts but the spirit in which that gift is given. It is the thought behind giving a gift that matters more than the gift itself and in this modern and largely materialistic culture, we have lately taken that to mean: The nicer the gift, the more it matters. In the way I see it, the gift exchange relationship has a greater value. I often leave small amounts of food outside as an offering to nature, with the understanding that nature has given me a bounty. I have accepted that I have no greater right to existence than any other being and so every moment that I remain alive has value. Offerings can come in many forms. I read an incredibly cool blog post recently by Anna Walther that discussed some the of the ways she honors her interactions with Nature. Quickly on the heels of that, came another blog post by Lupa Greenwolf that illustrated more devotional practices. I think that these are wonderful examples. They are simple and beautiful in their scope and do nothing to ruin the land at all for the Earth or other beings.
In the practice of my Druidry, I often think on this when I am with the land and those who dwell there. As I have stated before, the elements of Nature do not require my acknowledgement of their existence for them to exist. Fire will not fail to burn because I choose not to believe in it, nor water flow, nor air move, nor earth support my weight if I turn a blind eye to them. It is rather safe to say though that because these elements exist, I exist and so to engage in the gift exchange with these forces means that I consciously engage in relationship. When we exchange gifts with the Wild, it doesn’t mean mittens or transformer toys. It means the way we walk, the things we do to reduce our harmful impact. Would that we could live as our ancestors did, wearing animal skins and walking barefoot, we might still have some level of negative or harmful effect. We would also probably be arrested by the local authorities for hunting out of season and causing a public scare. I digress…
The gift exchange is about balance. I can tell you for certain that there is no manner at present that I could ever repay the Wild for all that it has gifted to me. The walks, the wild blueberries, the sight of animals, the laughter of my son as he tosses rocks into the streams and ponds, the smile of my wife beside me in the sun and snow. These are gifts I can never thank the Wild enough for, whether the Wild meant them as gifts or not. What does matter to me is that I show my appreciation for these gifts by honoring nature by giving something of myself as well. Some memento of my passing, a thank you for the wonder, the sustenance, the experience of walking and being a part of Nature. In essence, I honor the Wild in myself by honoring the wild outside of myself and this is how the gift exchange relationship reveals itself to me. This is the balance that I am personally capable of establishing with the Wild and with each day, I try to do something more that brings my own influence into greater parity with Nature.
Ultimately, the gift exchange is essential to edgework. It would be wrong to characterize every relationship as a transaction because gifts are not transactions in the manner you might see them in the realm of politics and finance. I give freely and the Wild gives freely. Where we give freely there is relationship that has honesty without pretense or guile. I may find myself lost in the woods on a snowy night and no matter how much I cry to the gods of winter for mercy they may never come to my aid and no matter how much I plead or beg, ultimately I owe my body and my life to the Wild. This is honest relationship even though it does not exactly favor my own hope for survival and this is the type of relationship that I feel as a species we do not honor enough. As human beings, we have a tendency to believe we have a right to exist when Nature has shown time and time again throughout the long history of the Earth that there is no right to exist. The ability to adapt we credit ourselves with and so carefully covet is a result of the expansive rate of technological advancement our species has enjoyed. This advancement, it should be mentioned, has come at a cost that we have barely begun to see but the next several generations will be paying interest on. When our natural resources have declined to the point we can no longer access them to survive, our technology will not prove to have been an exceptionally useful investment. I use these terms because that is how our species has come to view the Wild: How many liters of water? How many tons of salt? How many barrels of oil? There is nothing honest in a relationship when we are seeking to benefit from that relationship at the expense of another, in this case, the Earth itself.
One of the important things to remember about the gift exchange is that both parties come away with something of value to them. For a moment, think of it like a trade. When I sit with a Pine or an Oak tree and begin my edgework, the tree needs nothing from me and I need nothing from the tree, yet both myself and this other being that is the tree come away with something of value, the opportunity to blend edges. When I do this, I often will leave a small memento of my passing to honor the Tree and the beings that live in it’s drip circle, something the squirrels and chipmunks can take home with them (nuts are rather popular).
This type of gift exchange allows me to be consciously involved in the relationships I establish which is ultimately, the most important aspect of the gift exchange to me.
So this year, as we spend time with our families exchanging gifts and enjoying the familiarity of the holiday season, don’t forget to honor the land we walk upon, the Earth that holds us to her bosom and the Wild that is all around us. This is the gift exchange relationship, to honor the forces that honor us through our very existence and in doing so, we consciously bring ourselves into greater parity with the Wild.
In my next post, I’ll begin to talk about my personal perceptions of the sacred elements and how I use them in the practice of my Druidry.