An animist is never alone, not really. But if the world is so full of people, then where does that leave me, your friendly neighborhood introvert? There are days when the more I hang out with people, the lonelier I feel. What is it that the natural world offers that I cannot get from my fellow human beings?
When a friend visited our new home for the first time recently, he observed, "Looks like you've got a mole problem." "We've got a mole," I said, "I don't know if that's a problem!" That's how this post began, rather innocently, although it quickly veered into controversial territory. Or perhaps it started there already. I guess it all depends on how you feel about moles.
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.
They say he did it out of boredom, but boredom is catching and soon the entire village had grown bored of his mischievous tricks. Each time he cried out that the wolf had come, and the villagers rushed to his aid only to discover no wolf in sight, they grew more annoyed, more disdainful — and more complacent...
There is, I think, an old, white-bearded man who has taken up a place in my soul, like a seed of light or a hermit's lantern held up in the surrounding dark. His staff is heavy, planted in the ground. His brow is bright. In his dark eyes, that have seen such sorrow, there is still a star, a gleam like wisdom or stubborn joy. And he is a leader of a people, and he would lead them into the wilderness, that they might make of themselves whole constellations with the patterns of their dancing. That darkness is my body. That wilderness is my spirit. That constellation is the soul-song rising, woven from the sound of my breathing and the blood turning through my gnarled, twining veins.
At the heart of my spiritual life rests the deep knowing that ritual is a way of listening to the Song of the World as it moves through the earth and the land, and engaging with that Song as something holy, wholly challenging and transformative. Shared ritual is when we accept the burden and blessing of being embodied beings of this dense, physical world that gives us life, and when allow ourselves to respond in kind, to speak back to the natural world with its energies and currents and wild mysteries. Ritual is not for our sake alone, but for the sake of the whole world. It is for the sake of the solitude and silence that surrounds us, that frightening shadow of void and absence that makes us who we are, makes us whole.