From the Dark Mountain Project (see sidebar on main page), this: “Keepers of the Spring,” by Caroline Ross.
And with my ears ringing, and something between a sob and a giggle in my chest, it occurred to me that it is nothing like it says in the books. When the old keeper of the holy well passes on the sacred task of protecting the waters, there aren’t any capes or bells or dancing cherubs or goblets of wine, nor any ceremony beyond the unselfconscious, convivial oversharing that ordinary Dorset people recognise as good manners. As I sat, sweaty and scratched, in my baggy army-surplus trousers, I remembered all those Pre-Raphaelite paintings (which I secretly loved as a teen, and still love, despite myself) full of adolescent pale naiads, surrounded by their long, untangled hair. And I thought, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and J.W. Waterhouse would not be at all impressed with my scant bleach blonde ponytail and lack of flowing robes.
Anyway, one contact lens is not sitting right, and it’s making my eye water, so I have to go deal with that.
M. and I have this little tradition where every Thanksgiving we read aloud (people who eat with us have to participate) Gary Snyder’s poem “Prayer for the Great Family.”He says it was inspired by a Mohawk prayer, but you can feel his Pagan-ish form of Zen Buddhism in it too. You can say “in our minds so be it” in unison if you like.
Prayer for the Great Family
Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare and sweet in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowering spiral grain in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms, and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave and aware in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep— he who wakes us— in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars— and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space. The Mind is his Wife. so be it.
Snyder has been influential in my life since I was in high school, as a poet and in a sort of “What would Gary do?” kind of way.And we went to the same college, for what that is worth.He is an old man now, 91, I think. He won’t be around forever. I would walk in his funeral procession to the pyre, if I could, but I probably will not find out in time to dash to California.
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.
Sit back: there is lots here on Gardnerian Wicca in the 1950s, Gardner’s own lack of charisma by religious-leader standards and his puckish sense of humor, why the North American Gardnerians went wrong in trying to enshrine one Book of Shadows, and Lamond’s own thoughts on how patriarchal monotheism came to dominate the world.
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.
I went camping with some friends last weekend.Note the general absence of snow, which is disturbing when you’re up at 10,200 feet (3100 m.. Some of my friends like to have music all the time, so there was a set of Bluetooth-enabled speakers and plenty of digitized music covering the last fifty years of American popular song.
One song was older, however — Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land,” composed in 1940. It’s been covered multiple times by many famous musicians.
Only it hit me this time what an anthropocentric piece of Marxist crap it is.
You have heard the refrain, “This land was made for you and me.” Let’s think about that for a moment. Ol’ Woody, if not a Communist himself — he certainly hung around with them, and he claimed to be one — was expressing Marxist values there: There is nothing beyond “Man.” No gods, nothing supernatural. “Was made” does not really suggest that presence of a Creator; it’s just a statement of fact: All of this was put here (somehow) for us to use because we are the most important creatures in the world.
Communist, capitalist, what’s the difference when they share this viewpoint?
So I looked up at Sentinel Point and thought, supposing Ol’ Woody had written, “You and I were made for this land”?
It would not scan, for one thing. There would not be the gratifyingly drawn-out me-e-e-e at the end. There is nothing in his lyrics about responsibility or reciprocity; it’s mostly a diatribe against the idea of private property, so it has appealed to generations of disaffected intellectual backpackers.Let’s have a show of hands.
But just as a thought experiment, turn it around in your head. “You and I were made for this land.” Wouldn’t we owe the land something? Wouldn’t we have to admit that we were not the only “owners” of it — a concept far beyond in Guthrie’s line about “As I went walking I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing'” (talk about not scanning!)?
The concept of “source of sacred value” is completely un-Marxist, but I have one, and it is not “Man as the highest good.”
The next time I hear that song — and I am sure that I will — I am making that change, and a little pledge.
Coyote America is both an environmental and a deep natural history of the coyote. It traces both the five-million-year-long biological story of an animal that has become the “wolf” in our backyards, as well as its cultural evolution from a preeminent spot in Native American religions to the hapless foil of the Road Runner. A deeply American tale, the story of the coyote in the American West and beyond is a sort of Manifest Destiny in reverse, with a pioneering hero whose career holds up an uncanny mirror to the successes and failures of American expansionism.
Coyote likes camps, villages, towns, and cities. He lived with the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan — the word coyotl itself is Aztec (Nahuatl), pronounced COY-yoht, so we Westerners who say it as two syllables actually favor an older pronunciation than the Hispanicized co-yo-te.As a boy in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, I was taught that only Easterners and tourists said kiy-yo-te.
As a deity, he was Huehuecoyotl, or “Venerable Old Coyote, “who sounds so much like the widespread North American god-avatar often called ‘Old Man Coyote’ that the empire-minded Aztecs may have borrowed him from tribes far northward, in what is now the western United States,” Flores writes.
Europeans had old experiences, stories, myths, and preconceptions about gray wolves, bears, and foxes and long employed folk stories about them to investigate human nature. But coyotes are different. The coyote is an American original whose evolutionary history has taken place on this continent, not in the Old World. We see it not from the traditional vantages but from a sideways one, and from that perspective everything looks different.
But you don’t honor him/her/them by feeding them, at least not directly. Maybe you honor Coyote by telling Coyote stories. They are easy to find.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Wrong canid in the title, but a movie nevertheless inbued with the spirit of Old Man Coyote is The Grey Fox (1982), starring Richard Farnsworth. I treasure my VHS copy.
The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon — an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) residential/ritual/governmental (?) complex in northeastern New Mexco that flourished during what where the early Middle Ages in Europe — is well-known among archaeoastronomers, as is the possible solar alignment built into one of the grand kivas nearby at Casa Rinconada.
“The historical accuracy of the alignment may be less important than its symbolic value, especially for those who flock to the site on the summer solstice.
“Casa Rinconada has become a place where people come to see an alignment. In our culture, we haven’t been taught to relate to the natural rhythm of what the sun and the earth are doing throughout the year. So here’s a place where you can come and see that—not a representation of a solstice, but the actual solstice, as mediated by a building. It’s a wonderful experience.”
So perhaps we look at all astronomical alignments in whatever country as wonderful examples of nature religion. Casa Rinconada attracted a crowd during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when various New Age thinkers, led by José Argüelles, promoted prophecies connected to a planetary alignment: “The convergence is purported to have ‘corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.'”No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.
The New Age event was spoofed at a Pagan festival in New Mexico that summer by a dance performance of the “Harmonica Vigins.”
My view on astronomical alignments was being warped in the 1980s by seminars with Davíd Carrasco, a scholar of Mesoamerican religion who has spent a lot of time working with temple alignments and associated mythology.
My take-away was that astronomical alignments are mostly about priestcraft and power. Farmers don’t need rows of giant stones to tell them when to plant. Every locale has its indicators: here in the southern Colorado foothills, when the emerging leaves of Gambel oak are thumbnail-size,“As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric. the chance of a frost is usually past. (Usually!) And I know that the sun sets in a notch on the ridge to the west at the equinoxes, for what that is worth.
Being able to proclaim the cycles from the temple steps is probably more about showing how “King Jaguar” enjoys of the favor of the gods than anything else.
After a living room talk to a group of Anchorage Pagans about different types of nature religion, I ended up in the kitchen with a woman who was an Egyptian reconstructionist — or revivalist, as she preferred to say.
Given my concerns, my first thought was that if the ancient Egyptian sacred year was organized around the flood cycle of the Nile, what was the Alaskan equivalent? If ships of ancient Egyptians had somehow sailed into Cook Inlet, how might that landscape have changed them?
Yes, it’s true that one of my religious studies professors called me an “environmental determinist,” and he did not mean it as a compliment. But I am not the only one wondering about how one’s religious practice becomes rooted in a particular place — and how do we get back to that situation?
Here in Colorado, one under-appreciated writer on these topics was the mountaineer and deep ecologist Dolores LaChapelle. Earth Festivals: Seasonal celebrations for Everyone Young and Old was written in the 1970s, while her big book, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep — Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life came out in 19972. (Visit her Amazon page to see all her books.) Both might be called “deep green religion,” to borrow a phrase — non-theistic nature religion but still exhibiting an approach to life that I would love to see more of in contemporary Paganism.
Another writer who wrote a how-to workbook on integrating spirituality with nature is Loren Cruden, whose The Spirit of Place: A Workbook with Sacred Alignment involves study and doings through the cycle of a temperate-climate year.
The term “Neolithic” might be off-putting for some, especially those who — following some deep ecologists, philosophers like Paul Shepard, or Pagan thinkers like Fred Adams — see it as the “Fall” from the older Paleolithic life, which was dangerous but yet more leisurely.
The “Neolithic Revolution” (agriculture, domesticating livestock) also meant bigger social groups, hierarchies (the Big Man becomes the king, and you better bow down), turning women into full-time baby-makers (More sons, bigger farm!), and an overall decline in health and physique, at least in some archaeological studies, although not everyone agrees.
But perhaps the thought is of robust peasants living in somewhat more egalitarian societies on the margins of Europe.
Rather than organizing by the calendar, Neolithic Shamanism is organized by realm: Earth, Sun, Moon, Plants, Animals, Water, Fire, Craft, Air, Ancestors. Unlike the other books mentioned, this one is very much about spirit work:
We [authors] have many spirit allies; we also have plenty of experiences with spirits who weren’t interested in talking to us, or who took a firm dislike to us from the start. Remember that these are people. They aren’t human people, but they are People. Like all individuals, some will take a shine to you, and some will prefer someone else. Don’t take it personally. (Italics in the original.)
This book is densely packed, and it would take months to work through the exercises, but to do them all would change you permanently.
One question always in my mind, however, is to what extent we can impose a pantheon, so to speak, on the gods of our place. (There are at least two polytheistic theological questions in that sentence.) Do we “summon, stir, and call [them] up” or do we hang out and see who is there?
This is especially a question when in new places — new hemispheres — and there is only one piece of evidence — that I know of — in which a Pagan ancestor dealt with it.
Unfortunately for the story, almost all the Norse who visited North America during the time of the Greenland settlements (roughly 1000–1400 CE) were Christian, from Leif Erikson on down. So the episode from Erik the Red’s Saga about “Thorhall the hunter” has passed through many layers of Christian tellers and redactors, meaning that Thorhall is portrayed as an anachronism at best and a fool at worst.
To me it is a very poignant story:
They [the Norsemen] stayed there [in Vinland] that winter, which turned out to be a very severe one . . . . They ran short of food and the hunting failed . . . .Then they prayed to God to send them something to eat, but the response was not as prompt as they would have liked.
Meanwhile Thorhall the Hunter disappeared and they went out to search for him. They searched for three days; and on the fourth day Karlsefni and Bjarni found him on top of a cliff. He was staring up at the sky with eyes and mouth and nostrils agape, scratching himself and pinching himself and mumbling. They asked him what he was doing there; he replied that it was no concern of theirs, and told them not to be surprised and that he was old enough not to need them to look after him. They urged him to come back home with them, and he did.
A little later a whale was washed up and they rushed to cut it up. No one recognized what kind of a whale it was, not even Karlsefni, who was an expert on whales. The cooks boiled the meat, but when it was eaten it made them all ill.
Then Thorhall the Hunter walked over and said, “Has not Redbeard turned out to be more successful than your Christ? This was my reward for the poem I composed in honor of my patron, Thor; he has seldom failed me.”
When the others realized this they refused to use the whale meat and threw it over a cliff, and committed themselves to God’s mercy. Then a break came in the weather to allow them to go out fishing, and after that there was no scarcity of provisions.
Whether in Iceland, Greenland, or Newfoundland [?], to Thorhall it was all one realm.