I was reading the online version of the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain this afternoon and happened onto this article provided by the Pueblo Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center, formerly known more prosaically as Pueblo Mountain Park: “Nature’s Classroom: Imbolg, Time of Germination.”
The park has a long and interesting history. I have mentioned it before in connection with its Yule Log tradition.
The Yule log celebration is Pagan-ish for sure. So is this Imbolg column. You could have told me that I was reading one of John Beckett’s Druidic homilies, and I would have believed you.
Homily: a short commentary on a sacred topic — something less formal than a sermon.
Especially when the writer moves from observing nature “out there” to personal transformation.
Again, the trees are giving us an ample lesson and functional metaphor for our own new growth and blossoming. Perhaps you are working to lose weight, or to strengthen underused muscles, or to heal some aspect of your body or psyche. These things take time.
It sounds to me like creeping Paganism. Heh.
Fighting with the Wuffa Viking and Saxon Re-enactment Society, he did not expect that his hobby of more than three years would help him find his own belief through Norse mythology.
“What it is about the Norse gods is they teach you to respect nature and the world and that’s how the world should be run, not like in the modern day,” said Mr Mehmed, who is also known as Magnus Shield-Breaker.
It is a different sort of re-enactment, but in America, Wicca is more or less the “house religion” of the Renaissance Faire circuit, or so says Rachel Lee Rubin in her history of Renn Faires, Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture.
There are at least five stages to mushroom-hunting.
- You walk in the woods but do not see the mushrooms.
- You begin to see mushrooms here and there.
- Your unconscious is seeing mushrooms. For example, every reddish-tan thing on the forest floor that approximates the cap of a bolete will jump out and grab your attention.
- Even before you see the mushroom, you know it is right around that clump of trees — and it is. (This happens to me rarely, but it has happened)
- You have full bags of mushrooms in your pack or in your hands. Then you look around, and it’s “Holy Pan, how did we get to be here? And just where are we?”
That was yesterday, up in the Wet Mountains, a thick fir forest at about 11,000 feet elevation. “Let’s swing around and work back to the Jeep,” I said to M., and she was ready, so we started moving slowly up the broad ridge.
Then I looked around, and there to the north (on our left), was a steep-sided ravine that I had never seen before — any steeper and no trees could have grown on it. Where did that come from? Just where were we?
Oh, we could make it down into it, I figured, but climbing back out would be a struggle. Something was Very Wrong. I decided to move uphill and try to get above it.
“Nice job, pixies!” I said aloud.
I could see daylight ahead, so I hustled to the gentle crest of the ridge. Walking fast at that altitude mixed with just a little anxiety had my heart going thumpety-thump.
“Are we lost?” asked M.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe we are a little south of where we should be.”Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”
Far in the distance were were Sheep and Little Sheep mountains. Yes, we were too far south. We just needed to go east to cut the little dirt Forest Service road we had come up on. I got my compass, and saw that East was not precisely where I thought it was.
A few minutes on, we came to a small clearing, and looking downslope to the south, I could see a gravel road — not our road, but one that I knew intersected it. Since I had a clear view of the sky and was high up, I checked the iPhone. Sure enough, three bars.
I turned on the GPS, clicked the Avenza Maps app, and discovered that I did not have the necessary topopgraphic map loaded. Nor had I brought a paper map. Why should I? Hadn’t we been mushroom-hunting that area since the 2000s without getting lost?
But there was a good county road map loaded in the phone, the one that EMS and volunteer firefighters use for navigating mountain subdivisions. Sure enough, the blue dot was close to the road that I was looking for. We would have crossed it anyway, but the high-tech confirmation was comforting, I will admit.
We kept walking, and about half a mile later, there was the Jeep parked in the overgrown old skid road where we had left it.
I think the forest spirits have a message: “Don’t get cocky, kid. The world is a sharp as the edge of a knife.”
But wait, there is more. That night we were busy processing mushrooms, but the next evening I went to Google Earth and looked over the area. That steep ravine? I could not find it.
Google Earth is not perfect though. It used to exaggerate slopes; now it seems to flatten them. So I opened the paper USGS topographic map for that area. (Those are usually based on aerial photos.) I looked carefully. No steep-sided ravine appeared in the area where we were.
That gave me chills. That seemingly bottomless ravine did not officially exist.
|↑1||Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”|
The pagan [sic] religions have been spurred especially by a growing awareness of climate change and the rise of conservation movements that tap into a deep local connection to nature and a desire to protect sacred spaces.
“In Lithuania there is a strong movement against deforestation,” said Trinkuniene.
Outside Tammealuse Hiis, the sacred grove in the Estonian forest, a sign states that as late as the 1930s people would converge on the area to meet relatives, play music and dance. “The long tradition of get-togethers died during World War II, but the power of the sacred site continued,” wrote local author Ahto Kaasik, a folklore researcher, director of the Center of Natural Sacred Sites at the University of Tartu and key figure in the movement on the sign.
Rehela often celebrates Munadepüha, a folk equivalent of Easter, at the grove. During this event his community holds rituals where members strike knives on axes to make bell-like noises, and the ritual leader gives a speech to the old gods and their forefathers.
The real-estate supplement of the Taos News this week carried an article titled “Five Must-Haves for a Beautiful Backyard.” Oddly enough, four of the five items* were available at the store owned by a person interviewed for the story.
“Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, is one of our most popular statues,” said Char Austin, who works at Camino Real Imports. “People like the air of serenity that he brings in, more so when the statue is surrounded by trees, and birds can nest around. El San Francisco definitely contributes to create a peaceful environment.”
The real St. Francis of Assisi was anything but serene. He was more like “Occupy Rome” AD 1204 — an upper middle class young man angry at the establishment, demanding radical change in the Roman Catholic Church. But history has turned him into a bird bath — and perhaps that metamorphosis was inevitable.
Growing up as a Forest Service brat, with an agnostic father and a devoutly Christian mother, I noticed that Christianity seemed to end at the edge of town. Relations with the other-than-human world were not discussed in church. The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer contained a prayer for rain, as I recall, and that was about all.
For the rest, I was offered the secular gospel of conservation: scientific forestry, soil and water conservation, state-regulated hunting. At least that was better than what had gone before: cut-and-run timber cutting, market-hunting that wiped out species, the Dust Bowl . . .
His Franciscan order grew to where it too was a bureaucratic organization, and some of the monks who clung too hard to Francis’ peace-and-poverty ideals (the “Spirituals”) ended up condemned as heretics. (The conflict between hard-core Franciscans and the Vatican appears briefly at the beginning of The Name of the Rose. Most viewers probably don’t get it.)
Yes, he wrote the “Canticle of the Sun,” in which all creation, including animals, the Sun and Moon, etc., is invited to praise God and is depicted as manifesting the divine. And he supposedly preached to birds — but he preferred to preach to people, even to the Muslim sultan of Egypt, who was enough of a sporting gent to let him live. In the story of the “wolf of Gubbio,” he saves the wolf from persecution by the local pastoralists, but at the price of giving up its wolf-ness. There is nothing in the canticle about the ecological role of predators.
Fast forward to 1967, when the journal Science published an essay by the historian Lynn White, Jr., “The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (PDF), still widely read and anthologized today. In it, White blamed the crisis on the dualistic creator/created thinking fostered by the monotheistic religions, among which he included Communism, given the environmental crises created by Communist Party policies in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe:
Our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco-Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo-Christian theology. The fact that Communists share it merely helps to show what can be demonstrated on many other grounds: that Marxism, like Islam, is a Judeo-Christian heresy.
Casting about for an alternative to the “domination” model within the Christian tradition, White settled (rather half-heartedly, I always thought) on Francis, even though Francis’ view of non-human nature was thoroughly Catholic. To quote the Wikipedia entry, Francis taught “that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of man.” Contrary to the slide show linked above, this is not particularly “closer to Eastern philosophy.”
With the environmental movement growing, religious officialdom had to respond. Some Protestant Christians started talking “eco-justice,” while in 1979, Pope John Paul II named Francis “patron of ecology,” urging Catholics to be like Francis and take care of nature. Francis, said the pope, “offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation” — as long as we understand that it is human-centric and required to praise God the creator, who is outside of creation, for letting it exist.
Of the hundreds of officially canonized saints, Francis was the only candidate for patron of ecology, even though the Vatican had squeezed all the radical ideas out of the Franciscan order within a century of his death.
Maybe as a medievalist Lynn White, Jr., was unaware of how nature, parallel to scripture, has served as source of spiritual value in America.
We could see Bird Bath Francis as an attempt to bridge these traditions, to consecrate a safe, protected, and cultivated nature — if not the self-organizing wolf-ridden wilderness. Followers of what Bron Taylor calls “dark green religion,” which may not be at all theistic, might not be so easily persuaded by the monk of Assisi, were they to meet him on the path.
*Wood carvings of saints, giant metal flowers, concrete animals, small water fountain, and ceramic Sun and Moon faces
Here is something to look forward to — a very bright comet due later this year. (Corrected–thanks, Medeine.)
When it comes to who Jesus of Nazareth was, I tend to think that there is somebody behind the stories, a real person, not, for example, a mushroom. (Although that would make for great video.)
As Craig Keener argues in this column, it remains the simplest explanation at its counter-intuitive core:
Scholars’ confidence [in the historical Jesus] has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, “We’re his followers”? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it.
It works with grizzly bears.
Last month, on my birthday, M. and I made a sort of pilgrimage to the haunts of Old Mose, the last grizzly bear killed in central Colorado, on 30 April 1904. (The last known grizzly killed in Colorado died in 1979.)
When I lived in that county, I heard and read all the stories about how Old Mose was this terrible bear, killer of several humans and countless livestock, et cetera et cetera, who lived to be at least forty years old.
But a Colorado historian who dug into the story and conducted some elementary scientific research made a good case that Old Mose’s legend conflated the lives of at least three bears between the early 1880s and 1904. The big male grizzly killed in 1904 was simply too young to have done all that.
And this in an era of (by 1904) telephones, telegraphs, electric lights, railroads, and newspapers, not an antiquity of oral wonder stories and hand-copied manuscripts.
If it happens with bears, I wondered at the time, could it happen with prophets?
Still, I lean towards the single-Jesus theory. And if I could choose between bringing a messianic Jewish wonder-worker or a big grizzly bear back to walk this earth, I know which one I would pick.
Adrian Ivakhiv blogs on religious responses to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
All of this resonates with an immanence-based process-relational perspective: nature does what it does, it includes the “good” and the “bad” (which are relative to their perceivers), we are part of it and sometimes we get struck down in it. (Careful readers will know that when I say that good and bad are “relative to their perceivers,” this doesn’t mean that “everything is relative, anything goes, and whatever you think or do is as good as anything else.” The world is layered and folded: perceivers share their perceptual situations with other perceivers, so my “good” is closer to your “good” than it is to the good of an amoeba, a viral bacteria or cancer cell, or an asteroid whipping through the solar system. Hitler’s actions may have seemed “right” to him, but in a human context they come off as psychotic and grotesque. And as for “nature,” if it includes everything, becoming a fairly meaningless term, so be it. It corresponds to what, in an East Asian context, is thought of as “the way,” ziran, an active and unfolding “suchness,” or what Gregory Bateson called “the pattern that connects.”)
There is lots more with interesting links. Apparently even the mayor of Toyko took a “the gods are angry with us” line, although he later backed away from it.
Sometimes, the nonhuman world is not All About Us Humans.