We hear the song long before we reach the pond itself ― the rolling, rhythmic voices rising up from among the grasses all around us as if we have entered the halls of some vast monastery during evening prayer. The thrum washes over us in the darkness. We step carefully, sweeping our flashlights back and forth across the path. The kids are tense with eager excitement for the hunt, whispering questions at each unfamiliar noise, flicking their flashlights over every stray stone or lump in the grass hoping to catch a glimpse of movement ― the flexing muscular limbs or the bulging throat of a frog. But there are too many of us. By the time we've reached the water's edge, the low chanting voices have dropped away and the whole place has fallen into silence.
Snowshoeing opens up possibilities for exploration that ordinary hiking can't. With a sturdy pair of snowshoes and eight feet of snow, winter is the perfect time to rise above ordinary obstacles and move deeper into the heart of the forest. To walk is itself a kind of ritual, a practice that changes us in subtle and significant ways. To move through the land, we have to be attentive and responsive to it. To survive these cold months, it's not enough to stay hunched in front of our computer screens all day long theorizing and debating. We must become apprentices of this goddess, Winter — to truly know her and her work, we must go out to meet her beneath the trees.
Where does our anthropocentrism come from? Some scientists cite evolutionary pressures as one possible influence among many. But others point to instinctual cognitive processes to explain just the opposite, suggesting that the anthropocentric worldview is actually a rejection of the human instinct, not its inevitable consequence. Even if anthropocentrism isn't instinctual, for many of us it is deeply ingrained. To a man with a shovel, it can be hard to imagine any other solution but to keep digging our way out of this anthropocentric hole we find ourselves stuck in. Western society has spent a long time convincing us that the shovel is the only effective tool we have. Are there alternatives? How do we learn to think beyond the biases of anthropocentrism and reconnect with the more-than-human world?
It's been two weeks since my piece "Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mists" set off a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion about anthropocentrism in polytheist ritual and theology. In case you were wondering — yes, I've been busy reading, thinking, digesting and working on a follow-up post (or six!) of my own that I'll be sharing here soon. In the meantime, I wanted to point out some amazing writing elsewhere in the blogosphere. Featuring posts by Sara Amis, Joanna van der Hoeven, Heather Mingo and more!
What were you expecting? A tame goddess who can be bribed with easy offerings? A pleasant springtime girl who asks for nothing but your adoration in return? An owl-feathered maiden of the forest to indulge your taste for the exotic and the dark? Were you hoping for a bedtime story with a moral at the end? Blodeuwedd's story isn't over. It is on-going. It is forever unfolding in every moment, in every place where nature and culture conflict and comingle, in every breath that weaves us as human animals into the more-than-human world. It would be too easy to approach Blodeuwedd through mythology and ritual alone, to disconnect her from the messy, erotic, death-riddled real world of broom blossoms and barred owls.
Blodeuwedd embodies the spirit of the trickster. She is herself literally the work of trickery and artifice. Her physical body is not a unity, but a cobbled-together assortment of twigs and blossoms given a kind of unnatural animation through the magic of Gwydion. And although she is designed by men far more powerful than she is for one specific purpose — to serve as Lleu's wife and queen — yet she thwarts that purpose through lies and deceit, following the call of her own hunger, her own passion and desire. As a result she is cursed, like so many other trickster figures, to aimless wandering in the wilderness, a social outcast. She is both subhuman and superhuman, both bestial and divine. She is the thief who steals away the beloved from the rightful king, except that it is her own self that she steals away — is this theft, or reparation? Either way, this is a goddess familiar with dislocation and disconnection, and one who embodies within her very being the ambivalence of human technology and how it mediates our relationship with the natural world.
Between research and writing, there is a lacuna in which almost anything can happen. The hush is nearly unbearable. In my mental landscape, ideas rustle and nudge towards one another through the tall prairie grasses, their haunches twitching with tension, ready to flee. Eros is thick in the air. Ecology rubs up against ritual theory, playing with the hem of her skirt. Bruce Lincoln is making eyes at Lewis Hyde. The deer of my dreams raise their heads to listen hard for the hunter. The salmon of wisdom are working their way home. Any moment, I'm going to start writing. Any moment...
Maybe I was a weird kid, more enamored, more sensitive than most, and as I've grown up, my perspective has changed and evolved. But that this is true only convinces me all the more of how important it is to appreciate the diversity of experiences and the many voices that strive to share them, and not to be too quick to dismiss certain experiences or perspectives as less valuable or insightful than others. Is there only one way to appreciate nature? I can't believe there would be just one.
When we see nature itself as a constantly-unfolding story about the deepest, most sacred truths of life and death, we can adapt the practice of Lectio Divina as a creative approach to meditation that can strengthen our relationship with the earth. Here are just a few ideas about how to use the practice of Lectio Divina to engage with the stories of nature. Although we can approach each of the four stages of Lectio Divina as distinct activities that we can do one at a time on their own, we experience the most benefit from this kind of spiritual work when we bring them together into a single coherent, continuous practice.
Different stories will inspire different people. For some, cooking and crafting is their way of fostering a relationship with the natural world, while others might be inspired by the greater call to serve the community on a global scale through conservation. If our efforts are effective and the stories we tell are inspiring, does it really matter whether we approach the work with the courageous heart of a fighter, or the gentle heart of a farmer? My post on invasive species provoked some really wonderful discussion from readers last week, reminding me once again just how diverse our attitudes towards the natural world can be. Even when we all agree on what practical actions we need to take, our motivations and reasons can be very different!