Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Paganism and the Art of Poultry Keeping

I've often wondered if one reason the book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' sold so well was that people bought it because they were intrigued by the title, juxtaposing as it does two such apparently disparate subjects (no offense intended to the writing skills of Robert Pirsig). And now I'm pairing Paganism with Poultry keeping. What link could there possibly be between them?

Firstly let me define what is important to me about Paganism: for me Paganism is about seeing and acknowledging the divine within the world - not conceiving of divinity as something external and discarnate. It's about tuning into the cycles and patterns of nature, understanding my place within this incredibly complex and beautiful, yet finely balanced web. Knowing that the divine is here and now, and that I am part of it.

The difficulty is in the many little obstacles that get between me and my connection to the web of life. Perhaps out of a fear of mortality, or our apparent insignificance within the Multiverse, society throws up a myriad of distractions - things and activities that conspire to keep us from being in the here and now. TV, shopping malls, mobile phones, office blocks, iPods, multiplex cinemas, gyms, books, supermarkets, radio, email, Ebay, computer games, cars: each of them isolating us in our own little space, cut off from the breeze, the birdsong and the pull of the moon in our blood.

"So where do the chickens* come in?" I hear you asking - good question! Well quite simply keeping chickens turns out to be an excellent way of rooting oneself in the natural cycles of life. It's not the reason we started to keep them in the first place - that would have been the eggs - but it is an unexpected side-benefit. Let me explain: chickens need feeding and watering daily, shutting into their house at night and letting out again in the morning. I also give them an afternoon treat of wheat or mixed corn each afternoon. That means that at least three times a day I go out into the garden - sun, rain, wind, sleet, snow or hail notwithstanding.

This routine becomes intimately tied in with the daily cycle of the sun, the weather and the phases of the moon. The chickens are let out as soon as it's light in winter (although admittedly in high summer when it's light before 5am they may have a bit of a wait until I crawl out of bed). Their afternoon grain is given roughly an hour before dusk to ensure they have full bellies overnight. As soon as dusk has fallen they are securely shut away from the fox. And so I have found that at any time of year I can tell you what time it gets dark, and roughly what time the sun will be rising. I can tell you if there was a red sky at sunset, signifying a fine day tomorrow. I can tell you whether there is likely to be a frost. I can tell you when I see the first sliver of a new moon, when it is a full moon, and when she is diminishing back to her dark phase - all without the aid of a moon diary!

Going out into the garden several times a day in all weathers, I notice when the first bulbs are nosing up from the frozen earth in spring, when the first leaf buds begin to break, how the fruit blossom is faring, when there is finally a patch of daisies big enough to lie in, and when the blackberries start to ripen. I can tell you when the autumn leaves begin to redden and fall, and when we have our first hard frost of winter.

I see the birds collecting nesting materials, the wheeling aerial courtship of ravens and the first lambs in the fields in spring. In summer I see the rabbits in the fields at dusk, and the return of the swallows, and the flutter of tiny bats. I see the swallows replaced by starlings over the winter and the red kites coming down off the hills in bad weather.

Much as I may have appreciated and thought I understood all of this on an intellectual level, there is nothing quite like getting out there and experiencing it with all the senses. And though it would be a wonderful idea for me to be disciplined enough to get out there morning and evening every day simply for my own benefit, I have to admit that on the first rainy morning I would probably pull the duvet up over my head and make an excuse. Because I have to get up and see to the chickens every day, skulking under the duvet is not an option.

Another side-benefit is the constant interaction with another species. Although chickens can undoubtedly be more than a little bit daft at times, I have also come to really appreciate how clever they can be. Learning their sounds and body language has revealed their different personalities, in some cases quite startlingly different. Recognising and empathising with the desires, needs and emotions of a different species shifts me into a less human-centric world view - which I think can only be a good thing.

I have never been great at maintaining a daily spiritual practice - at different times in my life I have tried morning meditation, daily divination, dream journals, prayer beads etc. None have lasted. But now I realise my daily spiritual practice is poultry keeping. Because I have no choice but to be out there three times a day, connecting with the earth and sky and moon. And the chickens.

Blessed Be the Pagan Art of Poultry Keeping!

* My poultry keeping of course includes not only the chickens but also our Brecon Buff geese, Buffy & Angel. For simplicity's sake I've only referred to the chickens here.


Leanne said...

what a great post Moonroot! and also applies to me -in fact i could have written it, too, being another pagan poultry keeper (smiles)

leanne x

miss*R said...

perfect, perfect post! and yes.. I am a pagan chook girl too ! (chooks are chickens here in Aus.)

off to read the post again and I am sure I will comment again too!

miss*R said...

you are so right about 'cutting us off from the breeze' - blogging is one of those things that keeps me from participating in all of those wonderful gifts from Gaia...but I am balancing it all now :)

I find too, that being in my vegetable garden helps me tune into it all as well.
I give my chooks warm porridge in winter to help keep them warm.. it is all mixed up with garlic and milk.. they love it!

and being in my garden can be my kind of 'daily spiritual practice'

like I said Moonroot - this is just the perfect post.. I must copy it into my journal.. is that ok?

Moonroot said...

Thank you both, fellow Pagan poultry keepers!

Miss R, I would be honoured to be copied into your journal!

willow said...

I really liked this post perfectly describing the plus side of attending to the chickens. We've had our chickens for less than a year but before that the task that took me outside virtually every day was hanging out the washing! With no drier, I have always dried all the washing outside throughout the year and find I am much more in tune with predicting the weather as a result.
I wish more people were connected to the cycles of the day, seasons, etc - I am sure if everybody felt the connections you describe, we might take better care or our planet.

solsticedreamer said...

ohh i love reading this post s much~thank you

although i cant have any chickens here it will be possible when~not if but when :)~then we can seriously think about it and i am so looking forward to it!

amy said...

I don't have to put our's away for the night and in the morning but still going out there everyday is very different than before! Also this year they stop laying in the winter and started around Imbolg with their first egg! I think they are pagan hens. :) It was very fun to wait to see when there would be enough light that returned in order for them to start producing again!

Tori said...

I love reading about your journey.
Truly inspiring...and chickens are great :)

deborah oak said...

yes. perfect!!!! I think there could be a whole book on Pagan spiritual practices that on the surface look more mundane than magical. Mine is going to the farmer's market once a week.

Reya Mellicker said...

Beautiful post! I'm sure you know I can relate 100% - except for me, it's the dog who gets me out the door every morning whether I think it's too cold or too wet or too windy or whatever. I'm always happier to have experienced the day right off the bat, even when it's uncomfortable.

Giving up my car was another blessing because in order to get anywhere I need to spend time outside - walking, riding my bike, or just getting myself from the house on Tennessee to the subway station. I find it so orienting to connect with the weather and seasons.

I wonder if I'm still a pagan? My sense of the divine is completely paradoxical, that God is both completely transcendent as well as completely immanent, both at the same time. I touch God every time I pet my dog or cook or take in the fresh air, and yet simultaneously, I can never truly touch God, not in this form anyway. People who try inevitably get fried in some way or another.

Anyway, enough said! Would be fun to have this conversation sometime.

Love to the chickens! Bless their hearts!

Breezy said...

I absolutely agree with you it is so much easier to tune into the cycles of nature when you are in there taking part

Cottage Smallholder said...

Superb post! Thank you so much Moonroot.

Beautifully written as always.

Sharon J said...

Hi Moonroot,

This is my first visit to your blog and I have to say that after reading through many of your previous posts, this has to be one of the most inspiring and beautifully written I've come across. I'm so glad I found it.

I used to feel the same way as you when we lived by the forest (now live in a town and am unable to walk much) as I used to walk my dogs there twice daily. Watching the change in the forest was one of the things I loved most and that's where I first learned to appreciate nature's cycle and our place within it.

I wouldn't class myself as pagan but I do believe that nature has a fine balance that includes us and that we're here as its keeper rather than its destroyer, which is sadly what the human race have become.

Will be back soon.

Sharon J

Anonymous said...

I love, love, LOVE this post!
Thank you for writing it!

tracyho said...

Great post , love it

tracy ho

Clea Danaan said...

Fabulous post! Thanks for sharing it with me.

Clea Danaan