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The Sacred Activist – Taking the Blame

This article was originally published here and is reproduced with permission.

Author: Anna Hitchcock

NB: The opinions in this article are the author’s own.

It seems incredible to me that so many people have such a hard time accepting that human activity might be to blame for some of the ecological (and human) disasters out there.

As a scientist, I simply look at the facts first.

And the first thing I need to accept – for the proof is right in front of me – is that everything I do, from breathing to drinking a cup of coffee, has an impact on other aspects of my world. After all, my choices create the personal world I live in.

I chose to live in this house, I chose this sort of breakfast, I chose this brand of coffee at the supermarket.

Each one of those choices (large or small) has consequences for my external environment. I choose to shop at this supermarket over that one. Therefore I am partially responsible for that supermarket’s success. Therefore I am partially responsible for when they remove koala habitat for their next store.

Now if you take all those consequences to their logical extreme, you would be paralysed into doing nothing at all. But even your death has consequences for the world. There is energy used to deal with your body, to redistribute any wealth you may have built up, to grieve your passing.

And this is why I find it very peculiar that people object when we dare to suggest that a major cumulative human impact like the dredging of Gladstone Harbour might have further reaching impacts down the years.

Apparently we are ‘blaming everything that happens on the dredging’. No we are not. But the science regarding extra nutrients causing algal blooms has been settled for a long time.

We know that algal blooms in this area are a ‘natural’ occurrence. But the scientist in me says this – for how long have these blooms been occurring? What size were they in 1900 compared to now? How frequent were the fish kills and how large were the fish that died? Just how ‘natural’ are they? Algae is of course a natural part of the ecosystem, and ecosystems ebb and flow and occasionally get out of balance. But why is it taboo to suggest that human activity may have intensified the algal bloom? I don’t know to what percentage until someone does the science, but excess algae is a sign of a sick ecosystem. Is it so hard to accept that we might have contributed to this?

Similarly with the large muttonbird or shearwater die off this year. It is very easy to dismiss this as a ‘natural’ occurrence. But what if our continual pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere has intensified winds to the point that 20% more birds die each migration than they used to?

What if our decision to stop eating these birds has led to a population explosion which now shows up in increased numbers washing up on our beaches?

What if there is something else going on – like radiation exposure at Fukushima has reduced some birds’ immune systems to the point where they can’t cope with the migratory flight.

Until these things are properly investigated, we can’t know whether we have had any input into this or not.

Dismissing these events as ‘natural’ and therefore not investigating the causes does everyone a disservice.

Who knows what else might be going on?

The dead turtle we recently pictured has a break in its shell which looks like it is from a boat strike. Why couldn’t it get out of the way? Maybe it has a belly full of plastic bags and couldn’t submerge to avoid the strike. But if no-one investigates the stomach contents of dead turtles to find out why it died, you can’t make that link and deal with the cause. The cause in this case being plastic bags which we all use to take groceries home.

For those who don’t know, turtles, being otherwise reasonably sensible, have a serious weakness for jellyfish and they get very greedy. A floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish in the water and they will eat any they see. Plastic in stomachs is not confined to turtles either, seabirds also suffer from eating plastic and from getting it tangled around themselves.

Now plastic is not a ‘natural’ product. It is entirely our creation and therefore our responsibility. It has tremendous advantages to it as a product, and some disadvantages too. The major issue is that some forms do not biodegrade, but get chopped into smaller and smaller pieces and hang around as a kind of toxic soup. More plastic in the belly – less food.

Taking the blame for plastic then, is reasonably easy. Taking the blame for messing about with the climate and ecosystems when the interactions are complex is harder for anyone who doesn’t understand how these systems work.

Unfortunately most people have been conditioned to think of the ocean and the air as an inexhaustible and infinite resource. This is not so. Even the mighty Sol (the sun) at the heart of our solar system will one day exhaust his fuel, contract, explode and die.

So to get back to our local situation and a more personal time scale. Yes, the dredging will continue to have an ecological impact long after the initial work is done. The scars on the sea floor and the fine sediment washing about will take a long time to heal and settle. The change in currents due to the Western Basin will change what can grow where. And the dugong may never come back.

The CO2 which in the form of coal we are shipping out of Gladstone Harbour will be burnt overseas and contribute to more intense storms. This gives the people of Gladstone some part of the responsibility for the tragedy in the Philippines. And some part of the responsibility for the more intense and more frequent bushfire season here. And some part of the responsibility for the algae and the dead fish and the dead birds.

I don’t know how much is my responsibility. I only know that I need to do whatever is in my power to reduce the burden on an already overstretched ecosystem.

I accepted blame a long time ago, it’s time for everyone else to do the same.

Get more Sacred Activist articles here

The Sacred Medievalist – Making Roman clothing for beginners

Just some background for you – I’ve been for many years a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) medieval group, and since we live pretty much in the tropics in Australia, we were finding that doing anything in summer in costume was just too hot. Consequently we are experimenting (2013) with some Roman clothing in order to survive the summer heat. Following find a photo essay of my latest experiment into Roman clothing. Men – the construction of clothing for males is very similar and very easy, but since I’m female, this is what you get!

Terminology – since there seems to be confusion in the resources online as to the correct names for each of the items, I’m going to call them ‘underdress’, ‘overdress’ and ‘wrap’.

And a warning – the techniques and materials here will qualify for an attempt at costume in the SCA but may not qualify for your group as they all have different rules about hand sewing and materials. If in doubt, check with your group first.

Roman matron


I’m aiming for this sort of look. Note the short belt tied just below the breasts.

Roman matron 2


This lady has her wrap open, possibly because she is a depiction of the domestic goddess Vesta, but she is otherwise dressed conventionally for the time. This allows you to see how the overdress was belted up to the correct length at the waist and also tied under the breasts. In real life it’s a bit more bulky than on the statue but we have to allow for artistic licence. This lady’s wrap is also quite short, and certainly wouldn’t wrap around twice like I have seen suggested elsewhere which may be artistic licence again.



This image of a Roman ladies’ sandal shows that since feet haven’t changed much in 2000 years, neither has footwear. As someone said to me, “Some fashion never goes out of style”.

half a double cotton sheet

Materials for this project -  a double cotton sheet made 2 underdresses for me but they are actually a touch short. It doesn’t matter as the overdress goes to the ground. What I didn’t calculate for was the amount the length changed when I put a belt on. I also used a whole double bedsheet for the overdress and a cheap cotton bedspread as a wrap.

sewing machine

My trusty sewing machine saved a lot of time on this project.

Zigzag edges

Zigzag all the raw edges. I’d suggest using the selvedge of the fabric for along the top of the shoulders to save a whole lot of mucking about.

Roman chiton with bead closure

Measure how much of an armhole you need. I used 10 inches for both of these, but it’s a matter of personal preference.

Side seam at armhole

Machine sew from the armhole down each side to the hem (this seam is invisible so no need to hand sew).

Finishing armholes (simple method)

You can finish the armholes by simply turning the edge under and using a running stitch.

Finishing armholes (rolled seam)

But the edge of the armhole is fairly visible so I prefer to use a rolled hem like so, and sew in place with a running stitch.

armhole before buttons

Each armhole should look like this when finished, and now is a good time to finish the hem as well using the same technique.

Side seams and sleeve seams done

You should now have a tube of fabric, mostly closed up each side.

Underside bead closure

The quickest option at this point is to simply sew the shoulders together at even points along the seam.

top of sleeve Roman chiton bead closure

And add some pretty (washable) beads on top – I’ve used mother-of-pearl and wooden beads here.

But this next technique, while it involves a fair bit of hand sewing, creates the beautiful drape and gather which you see on the statues. It’s automatic, adjustable, and elegantly simple.

centre seam of the button (overstitch method)

Sew a section of the shoulder seam together. Like this OR

Sewing the middle of the button together (reverse side)

from the reverse side like this. I found this method easier.

Sewing the circle

Then stitch a rough circle around the closed section in running stitch so you can

Gathering the button

gather a button. Stitch off your gather here so it doesn’t come loose.

flattening the button

Flatten the button out and

Tacking the button to the top of the sleeve

Tack the button to the shoulder seam to keep it flat and tie off.

gathered button

And the finished button. Now redo 9 more times, or however many you need. The buttons gather a substantial amount of fabric though, I found that a total of 6 3-inch buttons was all I needed.

Roman underdress with buttons side view

The gathering is exactly like the statues in terms of the fall and drape, and comes together elegantly with a belt:

Roman underdress with sewn buttons front view

The overdress is simply a tube of fabric, longer than you are tall, with 2 buttons to hold at the shoulders, a belt at the waist and a belt under the breasts.

under and overdress in mirror

You could add brooches pinned to the buttons too, and they can be quite delicate as they won’t have to hold the weight of the dress, but be pinned to the pad of the button.

Add a nice piece of fabric for a wrap and

Full Roman in mirror

Hey Presto! A Roman!

One of the easiest costumes I have ever made, out of 2 bedsheets and a large cotton bedspread so very cheap, and should be really cool in summer. It will also be very forgiving of different body shapes so an excellent choice for loaner garb for visitors.

I’m looking forward to wearing it out.











Sewing room explosion

The Sacred Homemaker – Re-organising the sewing projects

So it sometimes gets to a point where a bunch of tasks are queued up and waiting to be sorted out, and it’s really just taking up far too much of your headspace.

You need to be mindful of your inner thoughts in order to identify these energy drains.

This week, it’s all the accumulated sewing projects which have been identified as a problem, so here’s what I am doing.

First, I went through the wooden chest where I keep all that stuff.

It’s reasonably well organised but was in disaaray as I had been searching through to find various things and had just shoved stuff back in. I know it’s time to deal with it when I can’t shut the lid!

So every single item came out. That allowed all stray bits of ribbon to go back in their bag, the weaving materials to be collected together, and most especially, all the mending and making costume projects to be set out in piles. (That’s really what the picture is of, not some sort of explosion).

I realised I was a lot more behind than I thought.

And it’s going to take more than one day to deal with it all.

Yesterday I spent 7 hours making 2 banners for our medieval group. I had already precut the banner material into shape, washed the red fabric thoroughly in hot water and I had to cut out and applique the design. Doing 2 at once saved time. I was only supposed to do one as a replacement, but there was more than enough fabric for 2, and it didn’t take much extra time.

Burnfield banner

Now I need to prioritise the rest of the tasks.

Since we are coming into summer, I think the Roman costume should take top priority as it will be a teaching costume too – that is, something I can wear to show people that you can wear something cool and comfortable in the Australian summer, that 3 layers of velvet is not compulsory.

Having been through my stash, now I know that I have sufficient material to make the whole costume, I can repurpose an existing belt, and I will just need to source brooches for along the arms and some sandals to make it all complete.

Also waiting in the wings with substantially enough fabric to complete are
- a fantasy gypsy peasant blouse
- a medieval middle eastern outfit
- a fantasy feathered cloak
- several loaner pieces of costume which can be repaired and go back to the group
- minor repairs on some old favourites
- and a fabulous green italian late period frock with detachable sleeves.

That should keep me going for a while. All these projects are now sorted into piles and sitting on top of the chest because out of sight is out of mind.

I’m happy I went ‘shopping in my stash’ first before I went and spent money we don’t have on things I really don’t need.

How about you? What do you do when the sewing gets out of control?

More Sacred Homemaker posts here

Being Lucky

What’s luck?

After the recent floods here, people would ask how we went, and when I said that insurance would cover the damage, they would say “that’s lucky”.

When I said that the flood almost but not quite hit the floorboards of our high set house, they said “how lucky were you?”

No. No we are not. We did our research on flood heights, and although this one was unprecedented we had chosen an area slightly higher than the surroundings. We had flood insurance because the river is only 4 blocks away, and I double checked our insurance company to ensure we had cover specifically for riverine flooding. None of that was luck.

My luck is quite simply composed of a lot of hard work.

It’s not lucky to have savings to tide you over. It requires putting money aside in the good times.

It’s not luck that I had gumboots at a recent medieval event - I have been to that event before, know the terrain and how it reacts to rain AND I looked at the weather forecast! Then I went and specifically bought gumboots for that event.

It’s not lucky to run a successful business. It’s not lucky to have well behaved (within reason) children and pets.

What people talk about as “Luck” is all about taking control of what is actually in your control.

It requires thinking about ‘worst case scenario’ and saying ‘what if?’. It requires regular maintenance on vehicles and equipment. It requires buying insurance. It requires looking for opportunities and oddly enough, taking risks.

There are of course those chaotic events that no-one can predict. But the worst of a piece of bad luck can be mitigated by a little preparation, such as a storm shelter. Don’t buy lotto tickets, buy insurance.

And while we are on the topic of bad luck, I’m sure you know people who attribute to bad luck things which could have been prevented with an ounce of common sense and a lick of maintenance. There are people who are accident and bad luck prone, but when you look more closely at their behaviour, you will see a lot of things which could have been prevented, or at least minimised.

Many people in my suburb had the bad luck of having to be rescued from their houses by boat or helicopter. Why? at least some of those rescues were because people paid no attention, were complacent, and didn’t evacuate when the warnings went out.

To a great extent, you make your own luck.

Be prepared for shit to happen to you. Wear gumboots.


Living Pagan isn’t always easy

After a period of vast change and reflection, including a year of travel, Blackbird Potions is trying hard to settle down in a more congenial city. It’s amazing how a natural disaster can either bring people together, or pull them apart. This community is pulling together and we are happy to be becoming part of that.

It would be nice if we could all live an idyllic existence, on our own land being completely self-sufficient, in the midst of a similarly minded community – where we are able to learn from and work with elders who walk the same path.

For now in this day, time and place – good books and good authors are the wise elders we’re apprenticed to. We’ll continue our learning, honour the changing seasons, and do our best to find a balance between being in touch with nature and embracing modern technology.

We hope the articles and information on this page help you a little way along your journey.

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