At some point (and probably at many points), you will be asked why you homestead.
Why bleed, sweat, and cry over your flock of chickens and the greens in your garden when you can pick them up for pennies a pound at the local grocery store?
Maybe you’ll answer that you’re compelled by the deep connection you feel with the earth when you plant, tend, and harvest your own food—or by the satisfaction of being self-sufficient.
Maybe you homestead because you are pursuing a simpler life, or because you value the higher nutrition found in food you grow yourself.
Or maybe it’s because you desire to reduce your carbon footprint and help heal injuries to the earth caused in part by the travesties of commercial food production.
When people ask me why I homestead, my answer is “E”—all of the above.
Plus, if I’m honest, I am motivated by one more thing: my love of rituals. And, really, what’s more laden with ritual than the homestead?
Rituals Bring a Sense of Connection and Humility
Humankind’s earliest stories speak of people gardening and tending flocks.
When you tend a homestead, the mantle is passed down, so to speak.
- You become next in a long, long line of ancestors who grew, foraged, and hunted their own food.
- You tap into their ancient wisdom and traditions.
- And you develop a sense of connection to them, to others who homestead, and to the soil itself—an entity that’s so alive that one tablespoon of it can contain more bacteria, protozoa, and other living organisms than the earth contains people.
I also find that rituals bring a sense of humility as we realize our need for the wisdom of others, find our place in the much larger scheme of things—and realize that our contributions can make a difference.
Adding Meaning to Daily Life and Special Trips
And, really, it’s not just homesteading rituals that bring a sense of connection and humility. Rituals are an important part of my life away from home, too—although many times they are still connected, in a way.
For example, whenever I wildcraft, I try to show my gratitude to the plant by giving it a small gift. I talk a little bit about that in this Homesteading Basics video on foraging for farkleberries and sparkleberries:
Likewise, whenever I visit the ocean, I bring a small offering—a small piece of meat, a kernel of corn, or perhaps some nuts or seeds. The ocean is such an awesome force on this planet that whenever I meet up with it, I want to let it know it has my deepest respect and admiration.
This awe of the ocean developed when I was very young.
I grew up in Florida, and my mother—essentially a single mom—often dropped my sisters and I off at the beach to play for a few hours while she did whatever mothers need to do.
She told me, “Don’t ever turn your back on the ocean.” It was good advice!
When I tested it out, I found that waves could slam you down unexpectedly from behind if you didn’t pay attention.
Rituals Can Nourish the Soul and the Body
Last year, my own family took a short vacation on the coast with grandparents, kids, aunts, and uncles. It was a big reunion. A few days into the trip, I got my stepdaughter to drive me down to the docks so I could meet the fishing boats as they came in.
In the public cleaning facility, you can find all the best parts of the fish.
As I pulled the discarded heads, skeletons, tails, and skins from the bins, the fishermen stared at me with those funny looks I’ve grown used to seeing on my in-laws’ faces. But I just went about my work. I carefully removed the guts, cut out the gills, and thoroughly cleaned the remainders so that I had nice, clean skeletons and heads.
I took all of this back to our rental and put it in a big pot with some water. I added a bunch of onions, garlic, and celery, and let that simmer on the stove overnight.
The next day, I poured off the deeply nutritious broth and stored it in glass jars in the freezer.
I used this broth to nourish my body over the next few months.
Two Gifts for the Ocean
After the broth had been made, I had this big pot full of fish heads and vegetables that needed to go somewhere. It would stink up the garbage, and the family would get upset if I put it there.
What to do?
Well, it was a bigger gift than I had ever given the ocean before, but I thought that was the most appropriate thing to do. The fish had come from the sea in the first place, after all.
So, I borrowed a cart to pull the big pot full of remnants down to the beach.
As I walked, I realized I had two gifts to offer.
I stopped at the edge of the waterline where the sand was hardpacked, but the waves didn’t quite reach. I didn’t want the remnants to go into the water, as I hoped to be able to watch the seagulls eat the offering. (They are so beautiful!)
I knelt down on my right knee and told the ocean about my two gifts.
The first was the fish remnants.
The second involved a book I am still working on—one that I hope will be read by hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people. (Books do take a while to write, don’t they?)
I told the ocean that the purpose of the book is to help the people on this planet live better, and that if it wanted me to say anything to them, it should let me know and I would do so.
The Ocean Gives Back
I once met this old woman who did water blessings. She taught me that these kinds of rituals really don’t need to be long, drawn-out affairs.
“Just make your peace and go,” she said.
Still, I paused for a few moments to savor this special moment before doing the work of emptying the pot, scrubbing it with sand, and rinsing it in the water.
When it comes to the ocean, humans have made grids with latitude and longitude, named every part, and divided it up into seven seas. But that doesn’t mean a thing when you face the immensity of the ocean’s edge with the roaring in your ears and the salty wind blowing your hair.
Far off in the distance was a storm, and big waves rolled beneath it.
As my eyes wandered over the ocean from far to near, I saw gulls dart above the frothy waves, a gentle lapping closer in, then quiet stillness in front of me.
Suddenly, a small wave broke from the pattern and started toward me. I held my breath as it kept inching closer in a manner beyond explanation. Then, ever so lightly, it touched my right knee—and immediately disappeared into the sand.
The moment felt sacred, like a blessing. It was awe-inspiring.
How to Measure the Value of Your Rituals
Believe it or not, though, I find that such moments often accompany the routines of tradition and ritual.
Creating them adds depth and meaning to my life.
I am sure you feel the same, so I encourage you to consider what rituals you already use to enrich your life—and which rituals you might want to add in the future.
Whichever ones you choose, measure their value by the way they connect you with the important people and entities in your life—both past and present—and by the humility and gratitude they cause your heart to feel.
As you incorporate them at home and beyond, they will make your daily routines that much more satisfying—and become another compelling reason you give when people ask why you homestead!
I hope you’ll let me know: What rituals do you follow? How have they enriched your life? Please leave me a comment below.
Marjory Wildcraft is the founder of The Grow Network, which is a community of people focused on modern self-sufficient living. She has been featured by National Geographic as an expert in off-grid living, she hosted the Mother Earth News Online Homesteading Summit, and she is listed in Who’s Who in America for having inspired hundreds of thousands of backyard gardens. Marjory was the focus of an article that won Reuter’s Food Sustainability Media Award, and she recently authored The Grow System: The Essential Guide to Modern Self-Sufficient Living—From Growing Food to Making Medicine.