Green Wizardries: Hanging by a Thread


Green Wizardries, Hanging by a Thread by Maxine Rogers

Civilizations have a distinct natural history.  They start off small as infants.  They grow older and, perhaps, a bit larger or very large indeed.  They become mature and express a unique style of living.  Each civilization prioritizes different arts and sciences, produces  distinct literature, architecture, religion and  philosophy.  

Then, the civilization consumes too many natural resources and  becomes too attached to certain technologies and practices and keeps using them even when they are the very things that is pulling their civilization down.  The civilization falls.

What happens next is quite interesting.  There is a process by which many or all of the artifacts of the civilization disappear or pass into legend.  Population drops sharply, sometimes to only five percent of its peak level.  Most of the technologies are lost.  This is because the over consumption of resources has degraded the carrying capacity of the territory occupied by the failed civilization.

While all of this is as normal as the passing of the seasons, the current crack up is a world-wide phenomena.  All but the poorest of the Earth’s current civilizations are singularly dependant on petroleum.  

The light-sweet crude we used to know at ten or twenty American dollars a barrel is gone forever, pumped out and burned some time ago.  We are trying to run a civilization that requires constantly increasing supplies of cheap fossil fuels on much more difficult to extract and refine fuels which are much more expensive because of the difficulties and added steps in the process.  There is also a little less fuel extracted each year.  

We are in a time of rapid change and most of it is not good.  The unthinkable has become commonplace.  I am sure there is a lot more to come.  Civilizations do not fall overnight.  They usually take between two and three-hundred years to go down.  Those years are often eventful in a bad way.

I mention this, not in an attempt to stop the process which, in any case, cannot be stopped, but to suggest that this is a really good time to become thoughtful, frugal and self reliant because these traits will certainly make our lives better on the runaway train of civilizational collapse.     

I am currently reading, “On the Nature of the Universe,” by the Roman Epicurean philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus.  It was published in 55 BCE (before common era) and only one copy of this famous work, which was mentioned by many important Roman scholars and poets, survived the fall of Rome.   It sat in a monastic library while the centuries passed.  

Then, someone found the work and brought it out to help set fire to the intellectual life of Europe and kick start the Renaissance.  “On the Nature of the Universe,” was about science and introduced atomic theory and ideas of evolution to the, then, backward Europeans.  All this would not have happened but for the accidental preservation of a single copy of the book.  This is what I mean by hanging by a thread.

What bit of our current civilization would you want to transmit to the future?  Some feat of engineering?  Knowledge of basic chemistry?  Music?  Sterile procedure in medicine?  Some of our accomplishments might serve the people of the coming descent.  There is no sure way to transmit knowledge or skills to the future, but it may be worth the effort to try our luck at it.  

One of the bits of knowledge I wish to hand down to the future is a knowledge of basic herbal medicine.  The benefits of herbal medicine are great and the supply chain can be as short as walking out to harvest weeds and common plants in one’s yard.  

Modern people tend to think herbal medicine is not as good as the synthetic medicines produced by big pharma.  In some cases, this is true but not in all cases.  Human got along pretty well with only herbal medicine for a very long time.  Will herbal medicine cure cancer?  No, but then neither does modern medicine.

Modern medicine is very expensive and the companies that produce it do not want to produce cures.  They want to produce repeat customers who cannot get off their expensive medicines.  Herbal medicines do not come with a sheet of side effects that can be worse than the condition the drug was meant to treat.  

I will be giving a talk on my favourite herbs at the next Garden Club meeting on Wednesday 20 March at 2 pm at the United Church hall.  I have had some excellent successes with my potions and will be talking about how to make medicines, such as syrups, salves, teas, tinctures and washes from common herbs and natural products such as tree bark.  

Even if I don’t see you there, I hope you will consider what skill you would like to popularize, in the hope of  increasing its chances of making it though to the future.