Saturday, August 1, 2020

Lammas: Mass of the Bread


Lammas Day - the first day of August, once observed as the first  harvest festival, during which bread baked from the first crop of wheat was blessed.  Lammas  means "Mass of the Bread", although in pre-Christian times it was called Lughnasadh (Day of Lugh) a traditional celebration of  the  Celtic Sun God Lugh.  As such, the celebration often traditionally included many games and feats of strength, among them the famous Highland Games, which included sports  such as log throwing and sword dancing.

The Wicker Man was traditionally related to the Lammas ceremonies - he represented the God who dies and is ever reborn, the eternal "Green Man" in the next year, next growing season, next cycle, next turning, the lover of the Goddess, the Earth Mother.  This  ancient and ubiquitous symbol of the  sacrificed and resurrected God, related to both the Sun and the Grain is found "resurrected" in numerous myths and religions, among them  Osiris, the Green Man, Dummuzi the shepherd,  even in Christianity where it is found in the death and ressurection of the Christ - born at the Winter Solstice (often called the "return of the light"), sacrificed, and then reborn, appropriately  at the time of the Spring Equinox.   
http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3604/3664174876_a9d936e599_o.jpg
 In contemporaryneo-Pagan culture the effigy is often created and loaded with offerings of food, flowers and prayers on paper before it is burned - this tradition is carried on indirectly in the creation of beautiful sculptures that are burned in the closing bonfires of Sirius Rising festivain New York.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-fc2f9Vpqel0/Ue2KIUjBOcI/AAAAAAAAJO4/hXfTqFR4pmQ/s1600/006.JPG
Starwood Bonfire
          Lughnasadh

Fields of listening, whispering corn
Ripen in the heavy air
Lugh the Golden dancing forth,
Leaves and sheaves in his wild hair.
In perfect circles bow the stalks,
Mark the path where great Lugh walks,
Mark days and seasons, round they go,
As above, so below.

All that dies shall be reborn
All that dies shall be reborn

 Rev. Raven Spirit 2002

 John Barleycorn Must Die is a traditional English song very much related to early traditions of Lammas and Lughnasadh - records of its origins go back as far as the 1300s, and it is probably much older than that.    Over time, many variations have arisen, and the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote his own  version of the story.  In the 70's, John Renbourne, Traffic, and Steeleye Span popularized the song, along with many folk artists during the Folk Revival of the 60's and 70's. 

John Barleycorn is a very prime myth indeed  - the Great King who is sacrificed, dies and is reborn in the agricultural cycle.  The motif is found as the Sumarian Dumuzi, the Shepherd husband of the Goddess Inanna who goes into the underworld for part of the year to be with the Queen of the Dead, and returns to Inanna in the Spring.  The same idea of the dying and reborn King is found with the Egyptian Osiris, who is reborn in the Sun God Horus.

John Barleycorn is the personification of the grain, and the life of the grain from planting to harvest, its  transformation into bread and  beer, the staples of agricultural life.  After Barleycorn’s "first death"  he is buried, and laid within the ground.  In midsummer he grows a “long golden beard” and “becomes a man”.  The song goes on to describe threshing and harvesting. Barleycorn is bailed and taken to the barn. And then the grain is parceled out. Some is taken to the miller to make flour for bread. And some is saved and brewed in a vat to make ale. And some is planted, so that the whole cycle can begin again.   Some of these rituals survive to this day in modified form, most famously the sacrifice of the wicker man "the burning man".   Here is a rendition of the song "John Barley Corn Must Die" by Green Crown, a wonderful group I remember from my days at the Renaissance Faire:

  Photo with thanks to  Avalon Revisited

John Barleycorn is, in particular, also the God of Ecstasy - because he provides celebration and ecstasy as the barley becomes the source of beer and the beloved malt whiskey of the Highlands.  The malting and fermentation is also a part of his "life cycle" and divinity. Perhaps one of the most famous "ecstatic"  manifestations of the Wicker Man, his rituals of sacrifice, rebirth, and  celebration is Burning Man, the  festival that happens in Nevada every fall.  Originally associated with the burning of the Wicker Man at the Lammas Harvest Festival by neo-Pagans in the Bay Area, it's grown to become a fantastic festival and art event.  I'd be willing to bet however that  the majority of people who attend  Burning Man don't know about its origins in a traditional myth.

Here's an excellent  quote I take from a Druid's Blog called "The Dance of Life" 
about the Wicker Man:

"In English folklore, the folksong representing John Barleycorn as the crop of barley corresponds to the same cyclic nature of planting, growing, harvesting, death and rebirth.  Sir James Frazer cites this tale of John Barleycorn in The Golden Bough as proof that there was a Pagan cult in England that worshiped a god of vegetation, who was then sacrificed to bring fertility to the fields.  It is tempting to see in this  echoes of human sacrifice as portrayed in The Wickerman film (1973), but that is not really what this time is about.  Whilst there was a Celtic ritual of weaving the last sheaf of corn to be harvested into a wicker-like man or woman, it was believed that the Sun 's spirit was trapped in the grain and needed to be set free by fire and so the effigy was burned........In other regions a corn dolly is made of plaited straw from this sheaf, carried to a place of honor at the celebrations and kept until the following spring for good luck."



It's interesting that in Robert Burn's poem, there are "three kings", similar to the kings from the east in the Nativity story.  Early Christians who came to the British Isles (and elsewhere) often absorbed native pagan mythologies and traditional rituals into Christian theology, and the evolution of the Story of Christ is full of such imagery in order to help the natives accept Christianity. Certainly John Barleycorn shares with the Christ Story the ancient, ubiquitous  theme of the death and rebirth of the sacrificed agricultural King. 

I am a great admirer of the wisdom traditions of  Christianity, but I also believe it is necessary to separate the spiritual teachings of Christianity from  the mingling (and  literalization) of earlier  mythologies throughout  in the very  long development of the Church.  For example, I believe the metaphor used to describe Jesus as the "Lamb of God" directly relates to Biblical Hebrew  practices prevalent in his lifetime  of the  sacrifice of lambs and goats to Yahwah (indeed, the sacrifice of animals was common
thoughout the Roman and Jewish world.)  The later development of  the doctrine that Christ   "died for our sins"   may have some of its origins in the important, and quite ancient,  Semitic Scapegoat Rituals,  wherein the "sins and tribulations" of the tribe were ritually placed on the back of a goat, which was then driven away from the village to literally "carry away the sins" into the desert.  
Observing recently a Catholic "Communion" ritual ("This is my Body, This is my Blood") I was impressed by the many layers of mythologies and archaic cultures inherant in that ceremony, still important to so many people today.  And one of those threads may very well originate in the prime agricultural myth of  the dying and reborn God, a long tradition from which John Barleycorn arises re-born  every spring to be "sacrificed" in the fall. 

Ubiquitous indeed!  This same idea is found in variations throughout the Americas, this time with  the story of the Corn Mother (among the Cherokee, Selu) who is killed, dismembered, and reborn in the spring - and when her sacrifice is not honored, misfortune befalls the tribe.
John Barleycorn
by Robert Burns

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and plough'd him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.
 

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show'rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris'd them all.
The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong,
His head weel arm'd wi' pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.
The sober Autumn enter'd mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show'd he began to fail.
His coulour sicken'd more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.
They've taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then ty'd him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell'd him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn'd him o'er and o'er.
They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe,
And still, as signs of life appear'd,
They toss'd him to and fro.
They wasted, o'er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a Miller us'd him worst of all,
For he crush'd him between two stones.
And they hae taen his very heart's blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise,
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.
'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy:
'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,
Tho' the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne'er fail in old Scotla
nd!


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Anne Baring and the Rise of the Feminine

"I Rest in You, A Seed" (1992)

"Perhaps we can now understand that the concept of soul embraces an immense web or matrix of relationships which is concealed behind the veil of matter. But can we also understand soul to include visible nature; the physical aspect or manifestation of life which arises out of the invisible, out of what cannot be seen, rather like the stem of a flower arises out of the depths of the soil or the stars emerge in the night sky?"

 Recently I had one of those short conversations about the importance of myth, spirituality and symbolism in the face of overwhelming "here and now" problems with a woman who is very involved in feminism and women's issues. We were standing in line together, and she asked me, after I'd shown her a book I had in my hand on Goddess culture and contemporary Women's Spirituality, if I believed this was really important in the face of the huge global issues of gender inequality and injustice?



Whew.  I couldn't answer that one in 5 minutes, no way.  I said yes, which was about the best I could do at the moment.  Then went home and found a book by Jungian psychologist Anne Baring, whose eloquence on the subject far exceeds my own, at least with the printed word.  It helps to share it here....


I operate from a construct of ideas that have become second nature to me and my contemporaries, assumptions that it is often easy to forget others may not be familiar with.  Archaeologist Maria Gimbutas, and activist philosopher Riane Eisler, for example,  have been very influential in informing my worldview.

It's interesting to me that when I speak of the "return of the Goddess", so many people take this to mean the ascendancy of a female hierarchy, much as there is currently a long established hierarchy based on male values and power. Patriarchal culture and psychology is profoundly based on heirarchical thinking (the "alpha male system") and as I have so many times noted, hierarchal thinking, and the trivialization of anything that is "feminine identified" is deeply, unconsciously, and systematically embedded in our cultural paradigm.  To talk about the Goddess, be it women's spirituality, myth, or Mother Earth, requires stepping way out of the conventional box on many levels.  Remember:  the three great Western religions have a God with no wife, no mother, no daughter.  Just open the Bible, and witness the complete erasure of the Goddess.  And is there a "Book of Ruth" or a "Gospel of Sarah"?  You might have noticed that there is no such thing. 

But if one doesn't believe we live in a cultural construct that is patriarchal,  just  look around and see where the priorities lie.  Education, environment, children,  healthcare,  all are secondary in budget, and in importance, and with the Trump regime, virtually all of these life affirming thins are under attack.  We spen 60% of our tax dollars on the military, and take a look at the media:  a continual and ongoing preoccupation with war,m violence, and, of course, the rape and murder of young women.  The Descent of the Goddess, and the descent of woman, is a long and sad story, and one best seen in the evolution of mythology (and religions are mythologies as well).


"The religions of the last 2500 years - all formulated by men - were, not unsurprisingly, focused on the masculine aspect of spirit and neglected the feminine aspect of it. They excluded from the word 'spirit' nature, body and the material world. What was once imagined as the Great Mother - all nature and her mystery - came to be seen as separate from spirit and desacralised. (Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake in 1600 for refusing to deny that God was present in nature). 
We need now to bring together body, soul and spirit so that life is not so fragmented, so that we know ourselves in our wholeness, know that our lives, our consciousness, our being and our body, are inseparable from the life and consciousness and being of the universe.  The effects of the loss of the feminine aspect of spirit on our civilisation are incalculable. Instinctive knowledge of the holy unity of things, reverence for the complexity and inter-relatedness of all aspects of life, trust in the powers of the imagination and exercise of the faculty of intuition - all this as a way of relating to life through participation rather than through dominance and control, was gradually lost."


"The Goddess" (1982)
Effects of the return of the feminine principle: 

-Return of the idea of cosmic soul or anima-mundi. 

-Recovery of a sense of relationship with nature. 
-Recovery of a sense of the sacred. 
-Recovery of the instinctive, feeling values that are so vitally important for our connection   with soul  and spirit. 
-A better balance between thinking and feeling 
-Greater sensitivity to other people's needs and feelings in the field of human relationships. A sense of global connection with others. 
-A greater respect for the body  
Anne Baring

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Cereus Milagros

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see


grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform


into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being


hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Denise Levertov

Here is another old post worth sharing as I hopefully recover the use of my hand, which makes it hard to write anything new.   I couldn't help "updating" it a bit, but I still like it. 

One of the loveliest secrets of the desert is the mystical Night Blooming Cereus. This cactus only blooms for one night. To encounter a Cereus on a velvet hot desert  night is a magical event...........they were made to bloom in moonlight, to be seen with "night vision", which is very different from day vision.  

Rare, wonderful, how can there be such  "Milagros"?  I remember a man named Brian Bean saying to me, at a summer barbeque, "This is it.  It's July 17th, 1996.  This will never come again."  He pointed to the ground, the sky, and himself.   And he was profoundly right.  Each day will never, ever come again. I'll never see Brian Bean again, or that place, or that time.  His comment causes that particular day to re-surface, both its gift and its loss.  Even as I remember that day,  I see all the lost  domestic magnificence of a summer day in upstate New York, humid light filtering through red maple leaves, the smell of barbecue, my ex-husband's voice as he pressed my shoulder and handed me a plate of corn on the cob.  All of that is gone, long gone now, irretrievably gone except within the reservoir of  memory......even "my" husband, who is someone else's husband now.  What, and where,  is the "I" indeed?

Living in this extraordinary time when so much is endangered, and so much is also possible.............I find I have less and less use for abstractions.   The world is too full, and too precious, to waste in abstractions that remove us from the shimmering web of life in the here and now.  I know full well that my own life continues to become shorter, that my sight or smell or hearing will no doubt diminish, that those Goddess given pleasures are, as Denise Levertov wrote, to be "tasted and seen".  Because it will never be July 22nd, 2020 again.

 "Grief, mercy, language, tangerine, weather, to breathe them, bite, savor, chew, swallow, transform into our flesh....." All a privilege, all an exchange, all about reciprocity.  All a pilgrimage, if you chose to look at it that way.  What are the touchstones along the way..

I've had a dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain as a  Peregrino for many years.  My pilgrimage would (maybe) end at the great Cathedral in Compostella, or maybe at Finisterre, "the end of the world", and I think I would not be making it to visit the bones of Saint James, but rather, to follow the ancient path of the Black Madonna.   I would go to Compostella to be "composted".   I don't actually think a goal, or a purpose, is all that necessary to the Way anyway, which is why I loved the film "The Way" with Martin Sheen.    The Journey is the Reward. 

It seems to me that extraordinary events are going on all around us, miraculous occasions of great beauty, or astounding mystery, of supernatural and wonderfully natural solace, all the time.  My injury, and age, and of course the Corona virus quarentine has forced me to slow down, listen and look, be contemplative, re-member.  One is often so busy being somewhere else, preoccupied with "abstractions" about life, that we miss the everyday Milagros, given, and given, and given. These are the days of "miracles and wonder, the long distance call" as Paul Simon put it..  I think there is great solace in seeing that, even now, even here, in a time that is in such chaos, we are still daily blessed  "on the Camino".

Saturday, July 18, 2020

INVOCATION by Robin Williamson

Brushwood 2016 by Theresa Guzman
Every morning when I rise with the sun to water my garden, I find myself  talking to all the people that live there.  The tall sunflowers, making seeds beloved by finches and sparrows.  The desert tortoise, Augustus, who has decided to live here.  My cats of course.  The green scarab beetles getting drunk on tree sap.  The bees, having a drink at the bird bath.  Somehow, as a child, the garden was full of people.  Now, as an old woman, I seem to have returned to that happy experience.  I try, in my very little eco-system, to create Good Relationship with all My Relations that honor me by living there. 

So much is possible by just shifting the way we see things, from an "it" to a "you" or even a "thou".  That makes it conversant, purposeful, a blessing or a lesson.  I think of a story by Ursula Leguin called "May's Lion" that speaks so eloquently to that, to the power of naming.  I will try to post about that story in my next post.

There was a time when humans thought of themselves as part of the Community of life - when they negotiated with the animals and the elementals, when they listened to the voices of the trees and the medicine plants, when they thanked the buffalo for their sacrifice, when they joined in the great Song of life, a part of the chorus.  We urgently must reclaim this en-chanted paradigm, and I feel Robin Williamson's beautiful poem so fully captures that vision.

I've posted this before..............



Found at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, UK.




You that create the diversity of the forms:

Open to my words
You that divide it and multiply it


Hear my sounds

Ancient associates and fellow wanderers
You that move the heart in fur and scale


I join with you

You that sing bright and subtle
Making shapes 

that my throat cannot tell

You that harden the horn
And make quick the eye
You that run the fast fox 
and the zigzag fly

You sizeless makers of the mole
And of the whale:  
aid me and I will aid you


You that lift the blossom
and the green branch
You who make symmetries more true

Who dance in slower time
Who watch the patterns

You rough coated
Who eat water
Who stretch deep and high
With your green blood
My red blood 
let it be mingled

Aid me and I will aid you


Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, UK



I call upon you
You who are unconfined
Who have no shape
Who are not seen
But only in your action
I will call upon you

You who have no depth
But choose direction
Who bring what is willed
That you blow love

upon the summers of my loved ones
That you blow summers

 upon those loves of my love


Aid me and I will aid you

I make a pact with you

Image result for rainbow


You who are the liquid

Of the waters
And the spark of the flame:
I call upon you

You who make fertile the soft earth
And guard the growth of the growing things
I make peace with you

You who are the blueness of the blue sky
And the wrath of the storm
I take the cup with you

Earth shakers
And with you
the sharp and the hollow hills
I make reverence to you

Round wakefulness 

We call the Earth
I make wide eyes to you

You who are awake

Every created thing

both solid and sleepy
Or airy light,

I weave colors 'round you



You who will come with me

I will consider it Beauty
I will consider it

Beauty, beauty



Published by  WARLOCK MUSIC, LTD.







Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Storytelling and Wonder - David Abram


"Our culture doesn’t think storytelling is sacred; we don’t set aside a time of year for it. We don’t hold anything sacred except what organized religion declares to be so. Artists pursue a sacred call, although some would buck and rear at having their work labeled like this. Artists are lucky to have a form in which to express themselves; there is a sacredness about that, and a terrific sense of responsibility. We’ve got  to do it right. Why do we have to do it right? Because that’s the whole point:  either it’s right or it’s all wrong.".........Ursula K. Leguin*



I remembered an article by David Abram I posted in 2009 on this blog (he kindly gave me permission to do so).  I felt like sharing this article from Wild Ethics again (my hand injury is allowing me to let other voices speak on this Blog thesem days!)   David Abram is a cultural ecologist, philosopher, and performance artist, and the founder and creative director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics. He is the author of "The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World" (Pantheon/Vintage), for which he received the international Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. An early version of this essay was published in Resurgence issue 222, and another in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Taylor and Kaplan, ed., published by Continuum in 2005)



Storytelling and Wonder: on the rejuvenation of oral culture

by David Abram, Ph.D.

 "Each ecology has its own psyche, and the local people
 bind their imaginations to the psyche of that place

 by letting the land dream its tales through them."

In the prosperous land where I live, a mysterious task is underway to invigorate the minds of the populace, and to vitalize the spirits of our children. For a decade, now, parents, politicians, and educators of all forms have been raising funds to bring computers into every household in the realm, and into every classroom from kindergarten on up through college. With the new technology, it is hoped, children will learn to read much more efficiently, and will exercise their intelligence in rich new ways. Interacting with the wealth of information available on-line, children's minds will be able to develop and explore much more vigorously than was possible in earlier eras -- and so, it is hoped, they will be well prepared for the technological future. How can any child resist such a glad initiative?

Indeed, few adults can resist the dazzle of the digital screen, with its instantaneous access to everywhere, its treasure-trove of virtual amusements, and its swift capacity to locate any piece of knowledge we desire. And why should we resist? Digital technology is transforming every field of human endeavor, and it promises to broaden the capabilities of the human intellect far beyond its current reach. Small wonder that we wish to open and extend this powerful dream to all our children!
It is possible, however, that we are making a grave mistake in our rush to wire every classroom, and to bring our children online as soon as possible. Our excitement about the internet should not blind us to the fact that the astonishing linguistic and intellectual capacity of the human brain did not evolve in relation to the computer! Nor, of course, did it evolve in relation to the written word. Rather it evolved in relation to orally told stories.


We humans were telling each other stories for many, many millennia before we ever began writing our words down -- whether on the page or on the screen.  Spoken stories were the living encyclopedias of our oral ancestors, dynamic and lyrical compendiums of practical knowledge. Oral tales told on special occasions carried the secrets of how to orient in the local cosmos. Hidden in the magic adventures of their characters were precise instructions for the hunting of various animals, and for enacting the appropriate rituals of respect and gratitude if the hunt was successful, as well as specific insights regarding which plants were good to eat and which were poisonous, and how to prepare certain herbs to heal cramps, or sleeplessness, or a fever. The stories carried instructions about how to construct a winter shelter, and what to do during a drought, and -- more generally -- how to live well in this land without destroying the land's wild vitality.

Such practical intelligence, intimately related to a particular place, is the hallmark of any oral culture. Continually tested in interaction with the living land, altering in tandem with subtle changes in the local earth, even today such living knowledge resists the fixity and permanence of the printed page. Because it is specific to the way things happen here, in this high desert -- or coastal estuary, or mountain valley -- this kind of intimate intelligence loses its meaning when abstracted from its terrain, and from the particular persons and practices that are a part of its terrain. Such place-specific savvy, which deepens its value when honed and tempered over the course of several generations, forfeits much of its power when uprooted from the soil of its home and carried -- via the printed page or the glowing screen – to other places. Such intelligence, properly speaking, is an attribute of the living land itself; it thrives only in the direct, face-to-face exchange between those who dwell and work in this place.

So much earthly savvy was carried in the old tales! And since, for our indigenous ancestors, there was no written medium in which to record and preserve the stories -- since there were no written books -- the surrounding landscape, itself, functioned as the primary mnemonic, or memory trigger, for preserving the oral tales. To this end, diverse animals common to the local earth figured as prominent characters within the oral stories -- whether as teachers or tricksters, as buffoons or as bearers of wisdom. Hence, a chance encounter with a particular creature as a tribesperson went about his daily business (an encounter with a coyote, perhaps, or a magpie) would likely stir the memory of one or another story in which that animal played a decisive role. Moreover, crucial events in the stories were commonly associated with particular sites in the local terrain where those events were assumed to have happened, and whenever one noticed that place in the course of one’s daily wanderings -- when one came upon that particular cluster of boulders, or that sharp bend in the river -- the encounter would spark the memory of the storied events that had unfolded there.


Thus, while the accumulated knowledge of our oral ancestors was carried in stories, the stories themselves were carried by the surrounding earth. The local landscape was alive with stories! Traveling through the terrain, one felt teachings and secrets sprouting from every nook and knoll, lurking under the rocks and waiting to swoop down from the trees. The wooden planks of one's old house would laugh and whine, now and then, when the wind leaned hard against them, and whispered wishes would pour from the windswept grasses. To the members of a traditionally oral culture, all things had the power of speech. . .


Indeed, when we consult indigenous, oral peoples from around the world, we commonly discover that for them there is no phenomenon -- no stone, no mountain, no human artifact -- that is definitively inert or inanimate. Each thing has its own spontaneity, its own interior animation, its own life! Rivers feel the presence of the fish that swim within them. A large boulder, its surface spreading with crinkly red and gray lichens, is able to influence the events around it, and even to influence the thoughts of those persons who lean against it -- lending their reflections a certain gravity, and a kind of stony wisdom. Particular fish, as well, are bearers of wisdom, gifting their insights to those who catch them. Everything is alive -- even the stories themselves are animate beings! Among the Cree of Manitoba, for instance, it is said that the stories, when they are not being told, live off in their own villages, where they go about their own lives. Every now and then, however, a story will leave its village and go hunting for a person to inhabit. That person will abruptly be possessed by the story, and soon will find herself telling the tale out into the world, singing it back into active circulation.

There is something about this storied way of speaking -- this acknowledgement of a world all alive, awake, and aware -- that brings us close to our senses, and to the palpable, sensuous world that materially surrounds us. Our animal senses know nothing of the objective, mechanical, quantifiable world to which most of our civilized discourse refers. Wild and gregarious organs, our senses spontaneously experience the world not as a conglomeration of inert objects but as a field of animate presences that actively call our attention, that grab our focus or capture our gaze. Whenever we slip beneath the abstract assumptions of the modern world, we find ourselves drawn into relationship with a diversity of beings as inscrutable and unfathomable as ourselves. Direct, sensory perception is inherently animistic, disclosing a world wherein every phenomenon has its own active agency and power.

When we speak of the earthly things around us as quantifiable objects or passive "natural resources," we contradict our spontaneous sensory experience of the world, and hence our senses begin to wither and grow dim. We find ourselves living more and more in our heads, adrift in a sea of abstractions, unable to feel at home in an objectified landscape that seems alien to our own dreams and emotions. But when we begin to tell stories, our imagination begins to flow out through our eyes and our ears to inhabit the breathing earth once again. Suddenly, the trees along the street are looking at us, and the clouds crouch low over the city as though they are trying to hatch something wondrous. We find ourselves back inside the same world that the squirrels and the spiders inhabit, along with the deer stealthily munching the last plants in our garden, and the wild geese honking overhead as they flap south for the winter. Linear time falls away, and we find ourselves held, once again, in the vast cycles of the cosmos -- the round dance of the seasons, the sun climbing out of the ground each morning and slipping down into the earth every evening, the opening and closing of the lunar eye whose full gaze attracts the tidal waters within and all around us.

For we are born of this animate earth, and our sensitive flesh is simply our part of the dreaming body of the world. However much we may obscure this ancestral affinity, we cannot erase it, and the persistance of the old stories is the continuance of a way of speaking that blesses the sentience of things, binding our thoughts back into the depths of an imagination much vaster than our own. To live in a storied world is to know that intelligence is not an exclusively human faculty located somewhere inside our skulls, but is rather a power of the animate earth itself, in which we humans, along with the hawks and the thrumming frogs, all participate. It is to know, further, that each land, each watershed, each community of plants and animals and soils, has its particular style of intelligence, its unique mind or imagination evident in the particular patterns that play out there, in the living stories that unfold in that valley, and that are told and retold by the people of that place.

Each ecology has its own psyche, and the local people bind their imaginations to the psyche of the place by letting the land dream its tales through them.  Today, economic globalization is rapidly undermining rural economies and tearing apart rural communities. The spreading monoculture degrades both cultural diversity and biotic diversity, forcing the depletion of soils and the wreckage of innumerable ecosystems. As the civilization of total commerce muscles its way into every corner of the planet, countless species tumble helter skelter over the brink of extinction, while the biosphere itself shivers into a bone-rattling fever.

For like any living being, earth’s metabolism depends upon the integrated functioning of many different organs, or ecosystems. Just as the human body could not possibly maintain its health if the lungs were forced to behave like the stomach, or if the kidneys were forced to act like the ears or the soles of the feet, so the planetary metabolism is thrown into disarray when each region is compelled to behave like every other region – when diverse places and cultures are forced to operate according to a single, mechanical logic, as interchangeable parts of an undifferentiated, homogenous sphere.

In the face of the expanding monoculture and its technological imperatives, more and more people are coming each day to recognize the critical importance of revitalizing local, face-to-face community. They recognize their common embedment within the life of this breathing planet, yet they know that such unity arises only from a vital and thriving multiplicity. A reciprocal respect and interdependence between richly different cultures -- each a dynamic expression of the unique earthly place, or bioregion, that supports it – is far more sustainable than a homogenous, planetary civilization.

Many of us have already worked for several decades on ecological and bioregional initiatives aimed at renewing local economies and the conviviality of place-based communities. Yet far too little progress was made by the movements for local self-sufficiency and sustainability. To be sure, our efforts were hindered by the steady growth of an industrial economy powered by the profligate burning of fossil fuel.

 Yet our efficacy was also weakened by our inability to recognize the immense influence of everyday language. Our work was weakened, that is, by our inability to discern that the spreading technologization of everyday life in the modern world (including the growing ubiquity of automobiles and telephones, of televisions and, most recently, personal computers) had been accompanied by a steady transformation in language -- by an increasing abstractness and generality in daily discourse. Local vernaculars had fallen into disuse; local stories had been forgotten; the oral forms and traditions by which place-specific knowledge had once been preserved and disseminated were no longer operative.

We in the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE) now recognize that a rejuvenation of real, face-to-face community – and the sensorial attunement to the local earth that ensures the vitality and sustenance of such community – simply cannot happen without a rejuvenation of the layer of language that goes hand in hand with such attunement. It cannot happen without renewing that primary layer of language, and culture, that underlies all our more abstract and technological forms of discourse. A renewal of place-based community cannot happen without a renewal of oral culture.

But does such a revitalization of oral, storytelling culture entail that we must renounce reading and writing? Not at all! It entails only that we leave space in our days for an interchange with one another and with the earth that is not mediated by technology – neither by the television, nor the computer, nor even the printed page.  Among writers, for instance, it entails that we allow that there are certain stories that one might come upon that should not be written down -- stories that we instead begin to tell, with our own tongue, in the particular places where those stories live.

It entails that as parents we set aside, now and then, the storybooks that we read to our children in order to actually tell our children a story with the whole of our gesturing body – or better yet, that we draw our kids out of doors in order to improvise a tale about the wild wind that’s now blustering its way through these city streets, plucking the hats off people’s heads…And among educators, it entails that we begin to rejuvenate the arts of telling, and of listening, in the context of the living landscape where our lessons happen. For too long we have incarcerated the potent magic of linguistic meaning within an exclusively human space of signs.

Hence the land itself has fallen mute; it now seems little more than a passive backdrop for human affairs, or a storehouse of resources waiting to be mined for purely human purposes. Can we return to the local land an implicit sense of its own inherent meaningfulness, its own many-voiced eloquence? Not without renewing the sensory craft of listening, and the sensuous art of storytelling. Can we help our students to translate the quantified abstractions of science into the language of direct experience, so that those abstract insights begin to come alive in our felt encounters with the animate earth around us? Can we begin to affirm our own co-evolved, carnal embedment within this blooming, buzzing proliferation of life, stirring within us a new humility in the face of a world that we did not create – in the face of a world that created us? Most importantly, can we begin with our students to restore the health and integrity of the local earth? Not without re-storying the local earth.


For our senses have become exceedingly estranged from the earthly sensuous. The age-old reciprocity between the human animal and the animate earth has long been short-circuited by our increasing involvement with our own creations, our own human-made technologies. And yet a simple tale, well-told, can shatter the spell – whether for an hour, or a day, or even a lifetime. We cannot restore the land without restorying the land.

There is no need to give up reading, nor to discard our computers, as long as we recall that such mediated and technological forms of interchange inevitably remain rooted in the more primary world of direct experience. As long as we remember, that is, that our involvement with the printed page and the digital screen draws its basic sustenance from our more immediate, face-to-face encounter with the flesh of the real.

Each medium of communication organizes our awareness in a particular way, each engaging us in a particular form of community. Without here analyzing all the diverse media that exert their claims upon our attention, we can acknowledge some very general traits:

~ Literacy and literate discourse (the ways of speaking and thinking implicitly informed by books, newspapers, magazines, and other printed media) is inherently cosmopolitan, mingling insights drawn from diverse traditions and places. Reading is a wonderful form of experience, but it is necessarily abstract relative to our direct sensory encounters in the immediacy of our locale.

~ Computer literacy, and our engagement with the internet, brings us almost instantaneous information from around the world, empowering virtual interactions with people from vastly different cultures. Yet such digital engagements are even more disembodied and placeless than our involvement with printed books and magazines. Indeed cyberspace seems to have no location at all, unless the “place” that we encounter through the internet is, well, the planet itself, transmuted into a weightless field of information. In truth, our increasing participation with email, e-commerce, and electronic information involves us in a discourse that is inherently global and globalizing. (It is this computerized form of communication, of course, that has enabled the rapid globalization of the free-market economy).

~ Oral culture (the culture of face to face storytelling) is inherently local. Far more concrete than those other modes of discourse, genuinely oral culture binds us not only to our immediate human community, but to the more-than-human community – the particular ecology of animals, plants and earthly elements in which we materially participate. In contrast to more abstract forms of media, the primary medium of oral communication is the atmosphere itself. In other words the unseen air, which is subtly different in each terrain, and which binds our own breathing bodies to the metabolism of oak trees and hawks and the storm clouds gathering above the city, is the implicit intermediary in all oral communication. As the most ancient and longstanding form of human discourse, oral culture provides the necessary soil and support for those more abstract styles of communication and reflection.

The Alliance for Wild Ethics holds that the globalizing culture of the internet, and the cosmopolitan culture of books, are both dependent, for their integrity, upon the place-based, vernacular culture of face-to-face storytelling. When oral culture degrades, then the literate mind loses its bearings, forgetting its ongoing debt to the body and the breathing earth. When stories are no longer being told in the woods or along the banks of rivers -- when the land is no longer being honored, ALOUD!, as an animate, expressive power – then the human senses lose their attunement to the surrounding terrain.

We no longer feel the particular pulse of our place – we no longer hear, or respond to, the many-voiced eloquence of the land. Increasingly blind and deaf, increasingly impervious to the sensuous world, the technological mind begins to lay waste to the earth.

We can be ardent readers (and even writers) of books, and enthusiastic participants in the world wide web and the internet, while recognizing that these abstract and almost exclusively human layers of culture will never be sufficient unto themselves. Without rejecting these rich forms of communication, we can nonetheless discern, today, that the rejuvenation of oral culture is an ecological imperative.


*A few personal notes:

1 I am reminded here of the Australian Aboriginal ideas of the "Songlines", tracks in the land that bear the "stories of the land" and the "history" of ancestral beings, animated by the walking itself.

2 Like Spider Woman (Keresan, "Tse Che Nako") as the Earth Mother/Creatrix, stories are spun into the world, and become the conversant world, from a kind of universal, ensouled, non-local imagination, a participatory kind of creative consciousness that includes, but is not exclusive to, us.

3  "Story" includes the Numina, the participation of the intelligences of Place, and in this respect, the author is saying that an oral tradition is a much richer tapestry of direct experience that includes body movement, sound, the environment, and the various psychic energy exchanges that go on in the prescence of such.

*  https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/01/30/ursula-k-le-guin-walking-on-the-water