The foundation of an Urglaawe view of the land is die Zusaagpflicht: the Sacred Duty or Sacred Promise. Unlike your typical oath, die Zusaagpflicht is not set down in specific words or instructions. It’s the interactions between plants, animals, and humans that sustain and nourish us all, and keep the cycles of life–Lewesraad–going. Animals eat plants and each other. We eat plants and animals. When humans and animals die, our bodies nourish plants. Life, death, rebirth–the cycles spiral on. Holle maintains these cycles and keeps order within the universe, which is why it is to Her Mill that we go when we die*, not to enter some static state for all eternity, but to be reborn, just as everything on Earth has its seasons of growth, decay, and renewal.
The Sacred Duty is that which we owe to plants and animals for giving their lives to nourish us. Stewardship is a good concept here–it’s one of the ancillary virtues in Urglaawe. Stewardship means caring for the land and its inhabitants, providing what they need to grow, keeping pollutants and poisons out, helping to keep things in balance. A steward is a protector, one who cares for and guides others.
As humans, animals, and plants all domesticated each other, we made a promise on the soul level to take care of one another. When we do, all is in balance and life continues. When we don’t, disaster strikes: blights, invasive species, rampant spread of diseases like mad cow or avian flu, destruction of the forests we rely on just to breathe, and even the extinction of entire species.
The Zusaagpflicht is not something you’ll find codified in any dusty tomes of Deitsch wisdom, and it’s not a word you’d find on the lips of an 18th century Pennsylvania farmer. But it is a mindset and collection of values that have guided the Deitsch people’s relationship with the land for centuries, and perhaps much longer. So it’s impossible to approach the land in an Urglaawe way without considering both the Sacred Duty and stewardship.
In modern times, most of us aren’t farmers, or even land owners. But we still have many opportunities to be good stewards of the land. Consider where your food comes from, and try to buy from local farmers where you know the plants and animals were treated well. Pick up litter, and participate in land and waterway cleanups. Learn about the plants and animals that are native to your area and what they need from us. If you’re a gardener, try growing more native plants and helping to keep invasive species out. Find opportunities to participate in local government decisions about land use. With issues like these, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to make national level changes, but you have the most ability to help the patch of land that you live on.
On the spiritual side, in Urglaawe we try to never take from the land without giving something back. Even if you just want to pick a wildflower by the side of the road, you should give something in return. A Deitsch tradition is to give three beans whenever you harvest something, no matter how small. When choosing what you will take from the wild, you should never take the largest plant, nor the first one of its kind that you see, and you also should make sure that you do not take all of a particular plant from a given area.
Other traditional offerings to the land in Urglaawe are mead, milk, honey, bread, or some of the family dinner. The Butzemann, which I have written about extensively before, works in partnership with the land to guard the crops, animals, and home, and he is given offerings as well. All this offering helps to fulfill the Sacred Duty, and is part of the concept of reciprocity, symbolized by the rune Gebo. As we know from the Havamal and other sources, the giving of gifts creates and strengthens the bonds of relationships. I think “living in right relationship with the land” is a good way to think of the Sacred Duty.
If you’d like to learn more about die Zusaagpflicht, there are some great online resources:
There’s also more about the Sacred Duty, the cycles of life, and other Urglaawe concepts in “A Dictionary of Urglaawe Terminology” by Robert L. Schreiwer and Ammerili Eckhart.
*In my personal belief, I think the halls of our Ancestors and the homes of the Gods are a resting point before rebirth, so I do not find the view that we go to these places after death to be contradictory to reincarnation.