Friday, May 15, 2020

Leo Kottke and "Pamela Brown"

With the "pause" of the Covid19 Crisis, we all seem to have more time to contemplate, remember, and reflect..............I was surprised when I found myself humming a song by Leo Kottke that I haven't thought about since the 70's, as my first husband took the album when we divorced in 1979!  I just felt like sharing it here because it is just such a perfect homage to the serendipity that forms our fates, or better put, our storylines!  

For that matter, I guess I haven't thought about Paul in a number of decades.  We parted young and amiably, and not too long after I was gone he met his life partner, they got married, and we long ago fell out of touch.  But thinking of serendipity, and for that matter, Leo Kottke's Pamela Brown,    there is a perfect woven fabric of story-threads in our brief time together as well.  

Paul and his best friend Peter were from Canada, near Toronto, and after graduating, decided to take his volkswagan bug and go to Mexico.  They drove down the California coast and visited the famous political hotbed of Berkeley, where their car broke down.  I was living in a warehouse with a lot of artists in Berkeley then (back when there actually were warehouses and arts districts full of artists).  In those days if you had a volkswagon  you were politically correct to fix it yourself, and there were do it yourself manuals for "The People's Car" .  In Berkeley there was a garage where you could also rent space to work.  So Paul and Peter decided to hang out in Berkeley for a while while they fixed the Volkswagon.

Meanwhile, I and my artistic comrades were planning our Warehouse Halloween party.  I had a young man who was going to join me at the party, and on the other side of town,  Paul had met a woman who invited him to come with her to the same party.  The party was a great success, but both of our prospective dates didn't show up, and Paul and I got together out of sympathy.  

In the course of our time together in Berkeley, Paul's brother, David, came to visit and decided to remain in San Francisco, where he became a photographer.  His younger sister, Pat, also came to visit, and became a nanny for one of the artists in the Warehouse, and ended up meeting a young man from Sri Lanka there.  They married, and she moved to Sri Lanka with him, and they had three children.  And Peter, Paul's travelling friend, met Belinda while in Berkeley - they married and had a son.  Paul and I left Berkeley, and moved to Wisconsin, where Paul remained, met his future wife, and together they eventually moved to Texas.

So............Paul, Peter, David, and Pat never went back to Canada.  Marriages happened, and children were born.  New careers.  All because a car happened to break down in Berkeley, and I and Paul got dumped by our dates for a Halloween party.  Serendipity!

Friday, May 8, 2020

New Masks that Await Their Stories

"Mask for the Crossing of Dimensions (Center)"

Years ago I heard a famous Hopi potter talk about how many of the intricate designs on her bowls just "turn up" in her dreams,  and "bother her" until she makes them, and then they finally leave.  I  was very seriously and academically trying to figure out if  art could be "shamanic" at that time - this very simple explanation of visioning by a revered Native artist stuck with me.  No fuss, no muss, just day to day "instructions" that the artist received and translated into bowls that were full of "mana", full of essence.  

"The Healer (East)"  

It's been many years since then, and I find that I also seem to get "downloads", images that pop into my head, and won't go away until I make them.  I suppose it could be said that I'm a kind of mask shaman, although at present I have no tribe to serve, which I find frustrating.  Still, here is a collection of masks that came from.........well, I don't know where, but they wanted to be made.  I am hopeful that those who can use them, and find their stories, will turn up on the horizon in the future.  

"The Maker (South)"

Because masks are meant to be participatory, "vessels for story, vessels for transformation, vessels for invocation".  As I myself so often have said.................

"The Oracle (West)"

There is one last mask I need to make in the series, for North, and that would be "The Reaper",  the function of psychopomp, the one who helps people to make the transition from this life into the next.  Instead of a skull, I see a face with butterflies all around it. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Remote Viewing the Future with Stephan A. Schwartz

remoteviewing - Psychics BlogI find the interview below with a famous explorer of the paranormal and consciousness studies fascinating. Stephan A. Schwartz has extensively worked with the phenomenon of Remote Viewing and non-local consciousness since the early 70's, and the predictions he collated from hundreds of participants then for 2050, while unimaginable then, have, as he says in this 2017 interview, "come true" now. Among the things that remote viewers saw back then: the submersion of the entire state of Florida, virtual reality, the end of the Soviet Union, the breakup of the USA into politically independant bio-regions, religious terrorism, cities under domes because of increasing heat, and corporate ownership of governments.

(Recorded on February 5, 2017)

Stephan A. Schwartz is a Distinguished Consulting Faculty of Saybrook Institute, the columnist for the journal Explore, and editor of the daily web publication His other academic and research appointments include: Senior Fellow for Brain, Mind and Healing of the Samueli Institute; founder and Research Director of the Mobius laboratory. His government appointments included Special Assistant for Research and Analysis to the Chief of Naval Operations in the 1970's during the Cold War. Dr. Schwartz was the principal originator of research using Remote Viewing in archeology, and in the course of his studies used Remote Viewing to locate Cleopatra's Palace, Marc Antony's Timonium, ruins of the Lighthouse of Pharos, and sunken ships along the California coast.

He is the author of more than 130 technical reports and papers. His Books include: The Secret Vaults of Time, The Alexandria Project, Opening to the Infinite, and The 8 Laws of Change.
In the video presented here he discusses a project in which he was engaged from 1978 through 1996, at a time when Remote Viewing was being funded by the military. In one aspect of his work he asked individuals who attended his workshops and conferences to envision life in the year 2050 through his standard Remote Viewing protocol. He describes the care that he took to avoid suggesting answers himself. The astonishing results consistently described situations that have turned out to be true or possible for today, but were hard to imagine as probabilities in the 70's and 80's when he was doing the research. Among those "impossible" remote viewing trends was the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the development of virtual reality, and the submersion of the entire state of Florida due to Global Warming.
This interview is through New Thinking Allowed, and the host, Jeffrey Mishlove, PhD, is author of The Roots of Consciousness, and Psi Development Systems. Between 1986 and 2002 he hosted and co-produced the original Thinking Allowed public television series. He is the recipient of the only doctoral diploma in "parapsychology" ever awarded by an accredited university (University of California, Berkeley, 1980).

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Coming of the Summer................

"SO SOME OF us are now learning to listen in to and maybe even converse with the elemental utterances of things that don’t speak in words, tuning our ears and our skin to the discourse of multiple other-than-human beings: each redwing blackbird or storm cloud or naked chunk of sandstone jostling with the rest of existence." ......David Abram

The long, hot, introverted summers of Tucson are, like the long winters of the North lands, a time to go inside (quite literally), to  retreat.  With the Pause and strange Silence of the Covid19 Crisis, this seems particularly apt.

It is true, the advent of Summer can sometimes be rigorous, but life here has its own rythems, and just like living in a very cold climate, you adapt.  Then, and provided you have a good cooling system, you can quite learn to enjoy this time.  There are so many plants, flowers, and animals that come forth in the summer - they are citizens of the desert, and it is their time.  Yesterday, for example, I saw a tortoise on my walkway!  Everybody is up by 5:00 when it's cool, and by noon you're inside.  After the sun goes down people emerge again.   The hot desert moon hangs, intense in the heat, over all, and walks in the desert can be very magical indeed.  Just bring water, water, water, because one quickly learns here that without water, there is no life.

A truly Ambitious Agave getting ready to Bloom
Hot or not, it is still almost summer, and the adapted life of the desert is responding.  May is hot and yet, it is still Spring.  

The giant saguaros produce a  crown of beautiful white flowers which quickly become sweet purple fruits (native people make wine and preserves from them) and you see la Paloma, the desert doves, feasting on them. The doves make their mournful call, but actually it's a mating call. 

Agaves shoot up enormous once in a lifetime blooms, a pole of flowers that, when finished and gone to seed, marks the end of their lifetime, their one and only Masterpiece. 

Suddenly I find my garden and feeders full of baby birds as well, and busy finches.  The males sit on the fence glaring (if that is possible) at my cats, chirping over and over:  

"CAT!  It's a CAT!  CAT!  Watch out!"

My cats ignore them, although the Kamicaze swoops of the bigger and more aggressive Mockingbirds they find hard to ignore, and often hide under a chair or two to escape his vigilance.

 As May advances into June, the veneer of greenery in the desert dies back, waiting for the monsoons to come in July, when suddenly,  the vast storms roll in every afternoon, thunder and lightning, pour down floods that disappear within an hour or two...............and almost overnight the desert greens with seeds that have been dormant all year, waiting for this time.

It's easy to live inside of apartments, cars,  cyberspace and televisions today, immune to the subtle voices of nature, the "great conversation".  Because I'm a gardener, I seem to always have an ongoing wonder at my rooted "friends".   I remember when I was living in upstate New York, and suffered from asthma.  Every morning I would walk out into my garden and there would be mullein plants, springing up in very odd places I had certainly not planted them.  A herbalist friend remarked, seeing this phenomenon, that the spirit of the plant was trying to help me out.  Mullein is specifically useful to people with lung problems, both as a tonic and as an herb to smoke that clears the lungs.  A true Medicine Plant, a generous plant, responding to my need.   How often do we take the time to thank them?  We don't even notice............but our ancestors did.  

I had that same experience with "fairy circles", also in New York.  We lived on 40 acres, and I remember, being very involved in Pagan spirituality, I was eager for "signs" in the fields of Devas.    I left offerings, I talked to the trees.  And sure enough, there were a number of times when I would take a walk and see grasses grow up in pretty clear circles.   Fantasy on my part?  Maybe, but other people saw the  "circles".  I like to think the fey folk were saying hello.
Mushroom Fairy Circle (not my picture)
The Desert too has its spirits, its Numina, and if you listen, you can converse with them.  Friendliness has much to do with opening the conversation.  Every season I am honored when my  my Night Blooming Cereus cactus put on such a spectacular show.  I pat the cactus in the morning, thanking it for giving me such beauty.  I am often astounded to see buds, even a rare fruit, in what seems to be out of season on it.   Coincidence?  Maybe the cactus just likes me, and is responding to my great appreciation for its artistry.  Why not?  As an artist myself, I know I respond to appreciation.  What is a flower, but the Masterpiece of a plant, a great big shout of Joi de Vie?

Night Blooming Cereus
The Chance To Love Everything
by Mary Oliver

All summer I made friends
With the creatures nearby –
They flowed through the fields
And under the tent walls,
Or padded through the door,
Grinning through their many teeth,
Looking for seeds,
Suet, sugar; muttering and humming,
Opening the breadbox, happiest when
There was milk and music. But once
In the night I heard a sound
Outside the door, the canvas
Bulged slightly – something
Was pressing inward at eye level.
I watched, trembling, sure I had heard
The click of claws, the smack of lips
Outside my gauzy house –
I imagined the red eyes,
The broad tongue, the enormous lap.
Would it be friendly too?
Fear defeated me. And yet,
Not in faith and not in madness
But with the courage I thought
My dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
Shambling tonnage.
Did I see a black haunch slipping
Back through the trees? Did I see
The moonlight shining on it?
Did I actually reach out my arms
Toward it, toward paradise falling, like
The fading of the dearest, wildest hope –
The dark heart of the story that is all
The reason for its telling?
Found Poetry:"The Barbed Heart Finds Refuge Among the Palos Verde Forest"

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Transformative Vision of Tara

  Om Tare, Tu Tare,
  even in the darkest prisons, 
  you offer your hand:
  Your touch cools hatred and grief.
  From you, the demons of delusion fly
 Praise Tara, whose fingers adorn her heart
 Light radiates from a wheel in Your hand.

It is an irony that the most profound and meaningful things in my life I, by and large, cannot talk about.  I share  my visionary or intuitive perceptions hesitantly, if at all, because ours is not a culture in general accepts visionary experiences as true or meaningful.  And yet, for me, and I believe many others, they are true touchstones as I navigate the passages ebbing and flowing through my life.    

The other reason is because these experiences, which are so important to me in forming my worldview, belong to "the Mystery".  "Mystery" is derived from a Greek word that means "that which cannot be spoken", and probably relates to the ritual Mysteries of ancient Greece.  Participants were forbidden to speak of them, and to this day we do not know what occurred at the great, once in a lifetime Elusinian Mysteries although we do know they were about the triple Goddess Persephone/Demeter/Hecate.  And indeed, some experiences seem to be too profound to speak of, it diminishes them.  Perhaps the spaciousness of poetry is best, because the Poem has wide spaces for the imagination to roam.

I've been re-reading "Journey of Souls" and other books by Michael Newton Ph.D.  and others from his  Newton Institute recently.  Newton, and later his students, used hypnosis to bring thousands of people into altered states of consciousness, wherein they would consistantly, even if they did not particularly "believe" in past lives, describe past life events and, more importantly as far as Newton's research was concerned, "between life experiences".  The work is fascinating to read about, and there is no doubt that Newton devoted his life conscientiously to it, ever seeking to understand (sometimes in very dry, academic ways) what his patients and clients revealed.

Perhaps because of re-reading his books, I felt like sharing a very important vision  I had in 1997, a vision that helped me to begin a new life and release the past, and a vision that  became the inspiration for all the masks I made dedicated to the Goddess Tara. I've come to the conclusion that such visions, such experiences, are personal, but they also are universal, and as such, I should share them.   It was a profound gift.

White Tara Performance, "Goddess Alive", 2002,
conceived and directed by Macha NightMare
In 1997 I was getting divorced, and all ties were severing between us.  The ending of the marriage did not bring out the best in me, and I felt a great deal of remorse, emotional confusion, and grief.  In my effort at healing and self-growth that summer, I went to a well known energy healer, and Shaman,  in Massachusetts,  Jewell.  She put me on her table, and I went immediately into a trance state.

I found myself standing before what seemed like  "clips"  from  movies - each scene was rapidly replaced by another scene.  I still remember those "clips" quite vividly  - a ceremonial room decorated with  orange marigolds;  an emaciated old black woman lying on a dirty bed;  a heavyset white man with glasses, bundled up in a kind of fur parka;  African drummers, drumming with passion around a fire, and more.  Gradually,  I felt myself "pulled back", so that I seemed to be watching these scenes from a greater distance, as if they formed a patch-work quilt of moving images.  I remember thinking how incredibly beautiful it all was from that perspective, like a great, colorful work of art.
White Tara at the Parliament of World Religions (2015)

Then I became aware of an immense energy - a being that radiated (there's no other way to describe it) tremendous compassion.   

She had no form, just intense white light.  The only thing that seemed identifiable was that I felt the Being was female;  and I felt she was communicating something like "Don't take on so, Lauren, look at all of this.  You'll meet again.  You can move on now."  

I might add that she also radiated an equally huge sense of humor;   I felt  like a little child getting a pat on the head from an Angel, or a Goddess.   If that makes any sense........

And then I came to on Jewell's table.  After we spoke, I learned that Jewell often began her sessions with a prayer from the 21 Praises to Tara, a  series of Tibetan prayers to the  21 Manifestations of the Goddess Tara.  To me, that visitation was White Tara, Goddess of Compassion, manifesting to help me move forward to a new stage of life. 
I've revered Her ever since, made a number of masks for Her.  And indeed, shortly after that Vision, the divorce came through and I moved to a new home, and life, in California, even as my former husband found a new partner and life as well.

 Mana Youngbear as "White Tara" (2004)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Storms and Memoir

                 All this petty worry
                while the great cloak of the sky
                grows dark and intense 
                round every living thing.

               What is precious inside us
               does not care to be known
               by the mind in ways 
               that diminish its presence.

               David Whyte 

In this strange time of isolation, as the silent storm of the Pandemic Covid19 fell  like a blanket over Tucson,   I was  determined to renew my writing, and work on this Blog as a true journal.  However, I find that I have writer's block! What to write about that is "personal"...........and do I dare to be "personal", or is "personal" really even relevant, as storms break over the global creations of humanity?  

Still, I find that the quietude of this isolation  has found me  collecting memories, excerpts that  arise as dog-earred touchstones, like shuffling through the random pages of a book, in this case,  the book of my life.  I by no means fail to understand the suffering of so many as the Covid19 pandemic continues.  I've been on  a healing journey since the beginning of the year, and although I am much better than I was now,  my energy is still very much compromised, forcing me to move slowly, do little.  Like the empty streets of Tucson, I am "paused".  

Someone once said I should write memoirs.........well, I suppose I'm of an age when people do that, although I am taken aback by the vanity of such an idea.   And yet........I have seen some beauty  in my time, and that collateral beauty keeps  coming back, like a fragrance or a flavor.  I suppose I've repeated myself a few times............if caught at it, please forgive me. 

I've been thinking of friends I've lost.   Among them Felicia, who I did a large painting of as the "High Priestess" in the Tarot  when we were young students at Berkeley.  I worked so hard on that painting.........and now, like all my early work, I have no idea what happened to it.  It has taken me so  many years to learn to value my work, my time, and in general myself...........I look back at all of that early work, most of which I threw away, with regret, because much of it was beautiful.  

Felicia and I lost touch when I moved away in 1976.  And then, amazingly, we made contact again in 2007, when I happened to publish some of the Poems Felicia had left me all those years ago on my website.   When Felicia and I re-connected she was living in Washington D.C., and she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Shortly  after that she went to Germany to undergo an experimental treatment that brought the cancer into remission, for a while. 

In 2008 I went to Puerto Rico, where Felicia was staying with a friend, for a short but very memorable visit  after she had completed her treatment.  I saw her for the last time in 2009 when I was Resident Artist at Wesley in Washington, D.C.

Above is a picture I took of Felicia taking a nap in my hotel room in Puerto Rico.   Felicia passed through  doors that I can't open more than ten years ago.  I miss her.  

Puerto Rico:  I remember the heavy, tropical  atmosphere, as I happened to be there in the season of storms.  Intensities……. that’s what the tropics are, life at its most vibrant, virulent, creative, predatory, colorful………it is impossible to be in the midst of that potency of life and not become intoxicated with it. Intoxicated or terrified, or both. 

I had a room with a balcony at the top of a three story  hotel called the Lazy Parrot, in Rincon. I’m sure it’s a hopping place in its season, with  two bars below and tiers of balconies looking out over the green hills that wind down to the ocean, famous  for surfing and snorkeling. However,   I  had arrived at hurricane  season, and found myself pretty much alone in the hotel.  I felt a bit like a character from Stephen King’s “The Shining”, with a whole hotel to myself at night, not even an attendant in sight, empty bars ringing with the ghosts of bands and booze and laughter and sex.  Below me an empty blue pool, palm fronds and  chairs tied to the wall, and the wet, heavy tropical air,  whispering over wicker tables. 

I do not think I shall ever forget standing on the balcony, the sounds of the frogs seeming very loud, hearing a woman call for her dog in Spanish “Limon, Limon!”, and watching the sudden illumination of lightning as it revealed an advancing mass of vast clouds, rolling in from the  ocean. I could not but be awed by the truth of that moment, our lives, our plans, our hopes  existing in the brief moments between  storms. 

As the storm progressed, the lights went out.  There were no candles, or any attendants to ask about candles.  So, I sat in the state of Storm, with nothing to do but witness.

Fortunately for me, the storm did not make landfall at the hotel,  I did not have to find a basement to hide in, or hear the sounds of crashing glass and trees, and the morning brought breaking dawn as the tropical storm veered off in a different direction.    But I'll never forget that night of vigil, and the Collateral Beauty. 

I know that sometimes
your body is hard like a stone
on a path that storms break over,
embedded deeply
into that something that you think is you,
and you will not move
while the voice all around
tears the air
and fills the sky with jagged light.

But sometimes unawares
those sounds seem to descend
as if kneeling down into you
and you listen strangely caught
as the terrible voice moving closer
and in the silence
now arriving

Get up, I depend
on you utterly.
Everything you need
you had
the moment before
you were born.

~ David Whyte ~

Where Many Rivers Meet

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Keeping Quiet

Silent streets, quietude, the Corona virus quarantine has fallen across Tucson like a blanket.  This beautiful poem by Pablo Neruda came to mind to me, today.

by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

*  A personal note:  I found all these photos from a visit in 2012 of some of the places I loved, and lived by, in California.  For some reason,  I took photos of my shadow.  Sometimes it occurs to me that I am always waving  both Hello and Goodbye, to the beauty of World.  Or perhaps they are gestures of gratitude.............yes, I think that is what they were.  Sometimes it takes aloneness, and quietude, to allow your shadow to speak to the World for you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Hopi Prayer For Peace

Rare Archival footage Of Hopi Elders

A rare opportunity to listen to some of the last traditional Hopi Elders. This archival footage was first released in 1987 with the intent to show it at the United Nations.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Conversations Our Feet Don't Hear

I talked about summer, and about time. 
The  pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night.  About this cup
we call a life.  About happiness.  And how good it feels, the
heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.

He looked neither up nor down 
which didn't necessarily mean he was either afraid or asleep.
I felt his energy, stored
under his tongue perhaps,
and behind his bulging eyes.

I talked about how the world seems to me, five feet tall, the
blue sky all around my head. 
I said, I wondered how it seemed
to him, down there, intimate with the dust.

He might have been Buddha - did not move, blink, or frown,
not a tear fell from those gold-rimmed eyes 
as the refined anguish of language
passed over him.

Mary Oliver (from "The Truro Bear")

Old pond,
frog jumps in -


We have been underground too long

we have done our work,
we are many and one,
we remember when we were human.

We have lived among roots and stones,
we have sung but no one has listened,
we come into the open air
at night only to love
which disgusts the soles of boots,
their leather strict religion.

We know what a boot looks like
when seen from underneath,
we know the philosophy of boots,
their metaphysic of kicks and ladders.
We are afraid of boots
but contemptuous of the foot that needs them.

Soon we will invade like weeds,
everywhere but slowly:

the captive plants will rebel
with us, fences will topple,
brick walls ripple and fall,
there will be no more boots.
Meanwhile we eat dirt
and sleep; we are waiting
under your feet.

When we say Attack
you will hear nothing
at first.

Margaret Atwood, from "You Are Happy"

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Poem to nourish us at this time

A Poem to nourish us at this time

By Rev. Dr. Lynn Ungar, poet and minister for lifespan learning 
and editor of Quest for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship.

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

David Abram and the Storied World

"For we are born of this animate earth, and our sensitive flesh is simply our part of the dreaming body of the world."

 I am still unable to write much, illness and a neck injury making it hard to do.  My friends say I should write about that too.................well, I'll think about it, but the healing process is often a very boring process, it is hard to find metaphor, poetry, or story in it.  But here is an article well worth sharing, by a visionary I admire greatly, David Abram, that continues the discussion of a living, CONVERSANT Earth, geomantic reciprocity, and our own part in that great Life as Story Tellers.

I posted this  article with the permission of the author on this blog in 2009.  High time to share it again.  

David Abram – cultural ecologist, philosopher, and performance artist – is 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 accomplished storyteller who has lived and traded magic with indigenous sorcerers in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Americas, David lectures and teaches widely on several continents.  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, 2005

Storytelling and Wonder:
 on the rejuvenation of oral culture

by David Abram, Ph.D.

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. Indeed, 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 restoryingthe 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.

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 ancestral beings.

Like the Pueblo people's  Spider Woman/Thought Woman  ("Tse Che Nako"), the Creatrix spins, sings or tells stories that become the world - perhaps this Creation emanates  from a  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 sensory experience that includes body movement, sound, the environment, and the various psychic energy exchanges that go on in the prescence of such.