A soft-edged triangle of arrows, tip to end, forms an endless rotation. More than forty years old, the symbol for recycling is used and known the world over. Practitioners of magic know recycling is by no means a "new" idea. Throughout history many have lived by the mantra of "make it do, use it up, wear it out." Earth-based religions have incorporated natural "recycling" into their practices for thousands of years. The ability to see past a broken item to its use as a new item is a certain—special—type of positive, powerful magic, even to those who do not believe in or understand it. Discarded, broken, and unused items continue to contain original energy. In addition, extra energy is often transferred from the action of the recycler. It is in the transfer of that energy from the discarded into the serviceable where true, potent magic lies. Repair, re-fashion, recycle. Here are just two examples of how past generations of my family have incorporated eco-friendly hobbies and magical actions in ways that benefited our immediate family and the greater community.
Waste disposal, trash collection, the junk man—this was very different when I was a child. Our city landfill was not huge towering heaps of smelly refuse. Rather, a large pit was filled, truckload by truckload. Later this pit was covered with dirt and grass and became soccer and softball playing fields. The trash trucks were not owned by some mega-corporation, but by our city. The trash men—they were always men—were respected laborers, and people we knew. Caught up in the prosperity that followed WWII, too often a barely broken bicycle ended up at that landfill. My grandfather saw whole, where others saw damaged. Living across the street from the "dump" was something of a joke, but to my grandfather it was a vast market of free parts. Every so often he would drive his pickup truck over to the landfill and look for bicycles. After a few hours he returned home and unloaded his finds. He spent hours in his garage dismantling the bent frames and degreasing the broken chains. Various pieces and parts were laid out on his workbenches and along the concrete floor. One complete bicycle was eventually found and formed from all of the miscellaneous and mismatched bits.
Although there was no ritual cleansing, the handling and re-handling of parts must have acted as a sort of filter through which energy was sorted. His care and patience would be enough to cancel the negative; no smudge stick or salt bath could have accomplished more. Occasionally, new accessories were required for his finished product—plastic handgrips, colorful streamers, bells, and baskets. Sometimes he needed to touch up the paint. But for the most part he only needed two or three of a child’s formerly favorite plaything to create one sturdy, fully functional, two- or three-wheeler. When he had prepared three or four, the "new" bikes were placed at the end of his driveway, and he sat in a lawn chair off to the side and waited. Never sold for more than $10.00, his bikes were quickly purchased by families unable to afford those sold in the department and hardware stores in town. He was not the only person performing this service to the community. Over my lifetime I recall seeing repaired bikes at the edge of many properties, and the practice continues to this day. My grandfather was a quiet man. I never knew him to say a cross word, act rashly, or to even raise his voice. He was well-known and respected. Some of that slow, calm personality had to have been imparted to those bicycles via his repairs. Take the creative energy of the original laborer, plus the cheerful energy of the original owner riding, and add the honest energy of my grandfather rebuilding, and the happy energy of new owner/rider. Creative and cheerful, honest and happy = magic. The magic of positive power multiplied and poured into metal and rubber, gears and brakes.
The repairing magic my mother’s father performed sent energy back out into the community to strangers.
On the other side of the family, my father’s mother worked her re-fashioning magic and kept it within our relatives and friends.
Widowed before she was sixty years old, my grandmother sought out something to fill her time. Her mother had been an accomplished quilter, a talent sadly not passed down. But the feel for and the love of fabric was there, and she took up the hobby of braiding rugs. Whether from visiting yard sales, rooting through heaps of clothing at church rummage sales, or taking donations from family and friends—fairly soon a pile of cloth became a fixture on the floor next to her couch. Braided rugs are not something to be created in a day. The steps involved are complicated and time consuming. It is a solitary and contemplative enterprise, and countless hours went into every rug. In simplified terms—the clothing is cut into strips, which are then sewn together at the ends to make longer pieces. These long strips are folded into themselves, forming a sort of fabric tube. Three of these long tubes are braided. Starting at the center and working out, the braids are sewn together forming ovals or circles. Finished products range in size from a rather small eighteen by twelve inch oval to several large circles almost four feet across. The rugs can be heavy, and in the summer, with no air conditioning, it is hot work. Yes, there is magic in the actual creation of the rugs—making something useful out of discards, and pride in work well done. However, even more positive energy flows from the imagination of the creator.
Fabric was not just slapped together. Although there was the occasional rug made up from remnants, the majority of the rugs are glorious artwork—many of which have coordinated color and patterns. Among the nearly two dozen rugs still in the family are a matched set of three ovals in yellow and brown, another oval set of blues and tans, and a predominately red and green circle for holiday use. Polyester was the fabric of choice—it was plentiful in the 1970s and ’80s—and it holds up remarkably well. Once in a while experiments were conducted with other fabrics. A personal favorite is a velvet rug, made just for my mother, which for years was the first thing she stepped on every morning and the last thing every night. Again I must point out no specific cleansing was performed. Complete transformation from a jacket, skirt, or trousers; the literal handling and re-handling of fabric; and the recipient’s delight also contributed to the removal of any potential residual negativity. My grandmother was a smoker, with a loud laugh and a somewhat naughty sense of humor. She was a wonderful cook, and always had homemade baked goods in her kitchen. She and her circle of friends could be found a few afternoons a week at someone’s dining table, playing serious cards under a cloud of cigarette smoke with little piles of change next to the ashtrays. Creating was deep in her being as a woman: creating family, food, and fun. Re-creating came to her later in life. Where others saw unusable, unwanted clothing, she saw useful, unique floor coverings. Foresight and imagination combined to make healthy happy practical magic.
It is in the very nature of earth-based belief systems to be eco-friendly. However, earth-based belief systems are not the only religions to place eco-friendly acts in high regard. And of course there is magic small and large in the everyday lives of anyone who looks for it. Besides the examples cited, past generations of my family performed magic in a myriad of ways: an aloe plant on the kitchen windowsill for burns, healthy and fulfilling meals created with limited resources, and sand carved out of the earth for the manufacture of glass. The whir of the sewing machine and the whine of the saw were well-known sounds on visits to my relatives’ homes. The lessons learned from my past generations have enabled me to seek out ways I can be a better citizen in my community, be it local or global. If it is broken—fix it. If it does not fit—refashion it.
Make do, use it up, wear it out. Repaired bicycles for sale at the end of the driveway and re-fashioned area rugs on display in front of the fireplace were two lessons I learned in how to love my Mother Earth.
Repair, re-fashion, recycle.
From Llewellyn's 2012 Magical Almanac. For current-year calendars, datebooks, and almanacs, click here.