In the Beginning was the Number

In the beginning was the number
Signs myriad in space infinite
To each their own and then some
For those lingering under the elder
In the murky waters of a hidden fen
Beyond the briny no man’s land by sea.

Ciphers were still tools to wield
With people’s hands – blunt or sharp,
To act as guardians to their charge
I plead with you: when did interest
Cease to mean to value. Owning moor
And more than can be accounted for.

Subtracting meaning – till – it shrivels
A husk that shields the highest bidder
On stale plains of Gods’ forsaken land
Greed is good unbounded and now made
Its dwellings among us. Cast them out
These bloated figures. Add the worthy.

Larger scales are weighing us down
Ever further in the fewest’s favour
Until the digits burn the precious too
And barter for the revolution’s waver
It will be the day that numbers count
And represent the open field they slew.

Our tethered lives

I watch from the creases in your gardens
So hollow with bright flowers
Birds of strange paradise.

The wild ones who lived namelessly
Across the hills retreat further and deeper
Into the last night of the woods – entangled
Stunted, haphazard growth
In endless pursuit of the light of his countenance.

The shining one who is so merciful here,
meanwhile, glares upon your empty garden;
Conjuring up seeds you would deny to raise their heads.
Only your chosen ones may grow in your makeshift desert.

You take the longer way round – of subsuming me.
Riding your boxes carrying strange, stale fruit
Left my sweetness rot and drip from the tree beyond your house.

I once stood my ground.
The cracks of your walls filled with clay
From a fickle stream
Smiling and chattering one day
Foaming with wrath on another

I only heard her when she raged
– and you who lived here, sought my refuge from her tempers.

Now strangers dwell and prunes lie
As a indeliberate offering to the beasts.
You live your tethered lives out here.
Do not eat my fruits and labour only for beauty,
A stale flavour of artificial subsistence.

*

I was away from home for a few weeks and the land started speaking to me with vigour. It was not the first time: the land has always spoken to me and she probably does to all of us. I must have silenced its call during my teenage years, for it was easier that way. In the last couple of years, her voice started bleeding through my thinner skin again. She speaks differently now. Once, it welcomed me as the child that I was, but now it is firm.

Have you ever raised your human voice

so that others may hear me?

The land that spoke went far back in its history with humanity – southwestern France. The painted caves here are among the oldest remnants of human culture in the world. Dolmen stand scattered on the hills – where people like us were once entrusted to her dark womb to be reborn one day. Perhaps the great age of our relations with her endowed her voice with more power in this place. Like anywhere else, the bond to the land has been gravely abused by humans, but some places preserve the feel of what the world was like when we lived with the land – and not just from it.

Dolmen near Prayssac, Lot, FranceThe land where I normally live is man-made, below sea level. Without human efforts it would be a salty marsh or even an estuary bed – as it was a thousand years ago. It is a lush, green, fertile land, but holds little history. It splashes and gurgles and makes you feel welcome. Its voice is so placid hardly anyone hears her; the noise of dense population drowns her out. It is only through a lot of time spent either gardening or walking that I eventually found my way back to a state where I was able to hear her at all. Trees are planted here and counted; their value weighed as community capital. That is, however, a lot better than no trees at all.

Her voice is different everywhere – but it speaks nonetheless.

Reclaiming a sustaining relationship

Having a truly sustaining relationship with the land is something fewer and fewer people can afford, especially in urban areas. You need land and time to work on it if we want to be talking about sustenance in earnest. In rural areas, many of the older people still have an innate connection to the land – living for a substantial part on what either they themselves or their neighbours’ produce. Even in younger generations it is present: in France I see it reflected, albeit by proxy, by the insistence of supermarkets to promote regional produce. In the Netherlands similar trends are visible: an increased interest in allotments, permaculture and homegrown food. It shows people know very well what they are missing. Some brave pioneers show us how much abundance is possible when one truly listens to the land.

Yet I cannot help thinking these hopeful currents in society are at present not strong enough to counteract the tidal wave of greed that scourges the so-called developed world. There is no money to be made in consuming less. So the rat race continues, even feeding on these natural sentiments. Even though so many of us would rather live a better life in close connection to nature, we are led to believe that this is something that can be bought. While the blackberries and the elderberries rot in the woods near my house, people buy plastic boxes of powerfoods, shipped in from Gods’ know where. The skills to preserve and grow food disappear from the general public when land is scarce, making us even more dependent than we already were.

To know her is to love her

Apart from the practicalities and great environmental cost of ferrying food to and fro around the globe, this way of consuming also estranges us from our birth right. And capitalism feeds on this estrangement, as anyone with their eyes open can see. There is an ineffable quality to growing your own food that cannot be reduced to a mere romantic nostalgia. In eating of our land we honour it – and share in its abundance. We literally form ties and alliances when we connect to the soil we live on. Even a pot of herbs on a balcony hallows the space and time we inhabit. In growing we share the mystery of life and offer the land the chance to show her magic. On a rational level, knowing your land and what it offers could one day become of paramount importance.

We would do well to remember that the land has no real need of us. She is in most cases older than us and will likely live on beyond us. The land is our host in both meanings of the word- she can receive us in a reciprocal relationship, she can be an active and generous advocate for us – and she can turn as a powerful force against us. We can choose to be tethered to the line of production, the way of harvesting without sowing. Or break the chain one wild apple at the time – and create the circumstances to grow and harvest while giving of ourselves at the same time.


linda-and-pukLinda Boeckhout

Religious by nature, Linda lives in Dutch suburbia with her family and pets. She is a gardener and occasionally blogs at theflailingdutchwoman.wordpress.com.

image via unsplash.com Avel Chuklanov

Weekly Update: July 10

This week we will bring you a new installment in Rhyd Wildermuth’s series on the end of Liberal Democracy.  Sable Aradia will follow with “Privilege Decoded”. Christopher Scott Thompson will bring us his poem “Prayer to the Storm God in a Time of Conflict” and Heathen Chinese brings the week to a close with his essay “To Make the Voice of the Criminal Audible”. As always, there will probably be a few last minute surprises as well.

I find it awkward to write an update for you now, while so many of you are intensely concerned over or even involved in the current events. Yet it is not possible to stay silent on this matter. I write this from the Netherlands, a country that might seem idyllic in this respect when compared to the U.S. Yet tension is rising between ethnic groups here too, and police violence is not unheard of. What happens in America, is very much on people’s minds here, and influences the society I live in as well. In an intimately connected world, events and ideas travel fast – and a heartbreaking video of a man dying with his daughter in the back of the car causes shockwaves that ripple across the Atlantic.

If anything, the events of the past week again demonstrate the urgency and importance of subversion – of questioning fixed narratives, which is exactly what Gods and Radicals is trying to do. If anything will move humanity forward, bold and uncomfortable questions need to be raised and answered. We can no longer shield our lives from the winds of change, and things might get worse before they get better.

On better and other things…

Many Pagan communities have spoken out to condemn racism and to promote inclusivity. Inclusive Wicca, a resource for inclusive covens of witches and Wiccans, released a statement with the title “We Reject Racism” in the aftermath of the U.K. vote to leave the European Union: “We call upon all people of good will to stand up to racism and fascism wherever they are encountered, and to defend victims of harassment and attacks, and pledge to do this ourselves.”

Dun Brython, a community of Brythonic polytheists also released a statement on inclusivity: “By standing with other pagan groups promoting inclusivity and standing against discrimination and hatred we aim to help create a more tolerant world.

from "Harnessing the Wind" by Deon Reynolds
from “Harnessing the Wind” by Deon Reynolds

Photographer Deon Reynolds recently donated his portfolio “Harnessing the Wind” to the Nevada Museum of Art, Center for Art and Environment. Reynolds: I want to open viewers’ eyes to the importance of renewable energy, how beautiful it can be and make a positive difference in how people respond to new sources of energy generation.

Thoughts, images and words can all inspire action – and action creates our world. The next great revolution of mankind will necessarily be a spiritual revolution, with very material consequences, for good or bad. Be safe this week – and be fierce when you have to be.

The Art of Breastfeeding – cultural notions and a personal matter

Some issues are only particularly poignant at a certain time in your life. Once your situation changes, you never give them much thought again. That is a pity, really. In hindsight, you are able to make observations you would not have been able to make, while you were in the middle of it. Lately I was reminded of such an issue by the women in Hong Kong who protested for their right to breastfeed in public. Soon after, I read a blog by someone who was not able to breastfeed because she was on medication. She faced a lot of social pressure – even from people who knew about her need for medication. These two articles, in a way completely opposite of each other, took me back at least ten years.

I had my eldest child unexpected and early in life. In the months prior to his birth, I was busy getting married, finding somewhere to live, working and doing up the humble apartment we had found. I knew nothing about babies, but when the midwife asked me if I was going to breastfeed, I answered yes. I had read somewhere that it was healthier, and I had heard from other relatives that my own mother, long dead already, had breastfed me for nine months or so. I did not give the matter much thought: I figured it would all happen naturally, like my pregnancy had. Besides, I could not think beyond the birth itself: horror stories of other women had left me frightened and even uncertain I was going to survive the whole thing.

The myth of “natural” mothering

Eventually, I had a very speedy, indeed natural delivery, which left me surprised, elated and with a healthy baby boy in my arms. There, my story as a breastfeeding mother started. That did not happen naturally. I made a lot of mistakes the first few weeks. Eventually I had gotten the hang of it, and fed him for a year and a half. My daughter was born two years later. By now – I thought – I was an experienced mother, but a slightly premature baby delivered with a C-section turned out to be a wholly other matter. She was sickly and weak, and I was still recovering from the major abdominal surgery a C-section really is. She turned out to be allergic to a great number of things, which made breastfeeding all the more important. Gradually, she became better, I became better and I ended up breastfeeding for at least three years.

During my time as a struggling new mother, without any experienced female relatives around to support me, I used the still young internet as a source of information, support and advice. Put differently: I needed the high tech internet culture to get through this “natural” stage in my life. It was very much a skill I had to master, but the fact was that I had to master it from scratch. I ended up giving other women advice online to pay it forward: to stop worrying was the best advice I had ever received; so I passed it on.

It is known that other primates and indeed a number of other animals need examples to be a good mother themselves; there is ample evidence this holds true for humans too. Yet this very elementary aspect of being a mother is hardly ever visible within our societies. I had occasionally seen women feed in public before, but it was not a common sight. At first, I had expected healthcare professionals to tell me how it was done. But they advocated rigid schedules for feeding a baby, which can work out counterproductive when you are breastfeeding.

Supposedly it was dangerous to sleep with your baby in bed. Yet, this was the only way I was going to get any sleep in the first place and breastfeed casually throughout the night. I thoroughly enjoyed the intimacy and deep connection I felt to them.  I carried my children around with me as long as they could not walk, instead of using a stroller. It felt like the right thing to do. Yet, I constantly found myself explaining myself to imposing strangers. I was secure enough to secretly follow my own path, but still too insecure to tell them to mind their own business: I was a very young woman, a girl really, with an unplanned-for baby. Who was I to think I knew better?

A non-articulated discomfort grew in me. I witnessed countless internet flame wars between breastfeeding women who thought other women needed a really good excuse not to breastfeed, and formula feeding mothers who felt very defensive about their choice not to breastfeed. Meanwhile, I was flooded with marketing for baby formula. The World Health Organisation has a code that formula for newborns cannot be marketed. But from six months and onward, it is fair game really. Women who feed their children for over six months, were called long-feeders in the online communities I frequented, as if they were a strange breed. Yet the same WHO advocates two years of breastfeeding. If it was healthy to breastfeed for years; why was it still such an exceptional practice in my society?

I sometimes met with disgust when people found out – I never advertised it – I was still breastfeeding my three year old daughter. Yet, nobody would even notice a three year old with a pacifier or a bottle of milk for the evening. During that time, I also met countless women who would start explaining themselves to me, unasked. I heard many stories – many of them on why they had not been able to breastfeed and between the lines of every story there was a plethora of emotions: defensiveness, hurt, relief and regret. Just seeing me with my children had opened a well of grief in them.

What was happening here?

Something that was supposedly so natural, was laden with cultural notions, often completely opposed to scientific findings and common sense (even among health professionals). Only now I see that precisely the lack of female friends and relatives with children around me, enabled me to find my own way in being a mother.  I did not have to deal with the social pressure as much as others did. The internet provided a gateway to knowledge I would not have had access to ten years earlier. I was doing alright myself, but at the same time it felt something was horribly skewed and uncomfortable in our society, when it came to this hot item.

The discomfort I felt, grew ever more diffuse: I could not pinpoint the problem. My experience had strengthened my intuition that breast was best. Yet I could see I was speaking from a position of privilege. I was lucky to have been born in a country with at least 10 weeks paid maternity leave. After my son’s birth, I was able to work part-time, close to where I lived. And even though it did not work out that way at all in practice, I had the legal right to pump milk during my office hours. I recognized many women around the world would dream of such a situation, and still it took quite some perseverance on my part to keep up the breastfeeding – in the face of others’ critical scrutiny of my mothering skills. For everybody seemed to have an opinion on how to feed your baby. I was warned that I was spoiling my children. This seems ridiculous now: my children are in their early teens now and they are neither fat nor spoiled, and are very independent in their everyday life. But back then, these criticisms raised doubt and insecurity.

I did notice that women were their own staunchest critics, neurotically critical of themselves, but also highly critical of their “sisters”. I place “sisters” between brackets: apart from a few encounters, the mercy of one new friend and a couple of online connections, I never felt the sisterhood in those days. I enjoyed my time with my children, but I felt deeply lonely too. There was a lot of sibling rivalry. It was women who enforced their own notions and ways of doing things on others.

Even then, I recognized that if women were to stick together on this, oppressive and rigid structures and people would not stand a chance. But they were and are deeply divided on this matter. Breastfeeding was interpreted into complex essentialist discourses of what motherhood is, and who a woman was supposed to be. I met with fundamentalist attitudes at both ends of the spectrum, in Paganism, Christianity and the general public; and a lot of insecure, struggling women caught in the middle. Breasts as sexual objects were all around me in this so-called liberated society I lived in; I rarely saw them depicted as life-sustaining organs.

This supposedly ordinary human experience and behavior was a battleground of interests: a true opaque cauldron of intersectionality I did not comprehend. Feminism, as an umbrella concept, did not offer any clarity. Was feminism about cultivating and empowering a different way of being in the world, opposed to patriarchal structures and values? Or was feminism about advocating financial independence, even if that meant severing the physical ties many ordinary women feel to their babies and toddlers. Some women, I could see, felt tied down by the constant availability of their time and body to a child. Others, like me, felt most alive and purposeful while doing so. Who was I to say what other women should or should not do? My conflicting thoughts on the subject were never fully resolved; I was still steeped in the experience myself. Eventually, as my children grew and went to school, the immediate urgency of these issues faded.

I am still a staunch advocate for breastfeeding. There is every reason to believe it is healthier on a physical and emotional level for mother and child and I would recommend it to every expecting mother – if it all possible – to at least give it a try (if they can). Yet, breastfeeding is no guarantee for healthy children; my daughter still has health problems.

It is also true that a deep, physical relationship with a primary care giver are of the utmost importance for a child’s development. Yet, there is no reason why this should necessarily be the mother. We must not play down the huge problem the packaging of powdered milk, the huge corporate interests and – not in the least- the exploitation of animal mothers and babies presents. The widespread availability of formula has saved many lives – but is in all likelihood also related to the emergence of other health problems. An intellectually honest position in this debate must inevitably be a balanced perspective. The debate should be fierce, but I do believe it should take place far away from the cradle.

I would never have the audacity to judge a mother who chooses not to breastfeed. I do not know her story. She might have a history of abuse. She may be on medication. She might have tried and failed: I almost failed myself and I felt deeply inadequate when I was struggling with it. She might just not feel like it. It is none of my business.

It is none of our business.

What is our business, is creating the infrastructure, providing accurate information that empowers the general population. Enabling parents to give their young children attention and nourishment is an investment that is priceless in its return: I truly believe it helps to foster grounded individuals with empathy and deep ties to the rest of the world. But I prefer not to look upon it as an investment: it is a gift. We can also make sure this mundane, healthy human behavior is not regarded in some warped sexual manner, and not outlawed by narrow-minded and silly demands of decency.

If you truly want to do something for a new mother, bring her a ready-made healthy meal or offer to do some grocery shopping for her in those first vulnerable months. Just let her know you are willing to help; she does not need your unsolicited advice. She needs your support.

This issue might seem small; minute even in the face of “bigger” issues in the world. Yet, the wisdom and small acts of kindness I received back then, were amplified exponentially, as good magic always does. They trickled down into the future, where they will live on to shape and bless my children’s lives, and hopefully do even more good in the world one day.


linda-and-puk

Religious by nature, Linda lives in Dutch suburbia with her family and pets. She is an avid gardener and sometimes blogs at theflailingdutchwoman.wordpress.com.

 

 


mind_of_a_dog_

A review of Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog

A stream of consciousness documentary of fragmented memories, emotions and excerpts from the life of Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog is hardly a regular film. Do not expect a linear or well-rounded narrative. But if you love atmospheric imagery and being taken along into someone else’s inner world, it is worth to go and see this film if you get the chance.

I love art house film, but I do not regularly visit the cinema. So the response here is not the response of a “vetted” film critic, but rather a personal reflection of someone who is, on account of inexperience, very impressionable. The reason I felt compelled to write about it anyway was the fact that the film, perhaps inadvertently, posed a couple of vital questions to me.

The reason I went to see the film in the first place was shamefully mundane: I had read it was, at least partly, about her rat terrier Lolabelle. We have a Dutch rat terrier ourselves; any work of art featuring such a willful canine would have caught my attention. The film turned out to be not as much about Lolabelle herself, but more universally about love and loss, and danger too. To be honest, the friends and family who visited the film with me, were not as impressed as I was. The references to 9-11 elicited a “not again” response from our very European group. It did not bother me. If it had happened on my threshold, an event of that scale would trickle through in anything that came after.

Questions of hierarchy

The lovely thing about a film such as this one is that the free form and associative imagery enables every individual to take home something different to ponder upon. For me, the question of hierarchy in relationships arose. In this film, I felt, there is no inherent hierarchy in relationships; if there is, it is only a qualitative distinction the author makes. Her dog was, as it seemed at least, as important to her as her mother: their decline and death are given equal attention. We follow Lolabelle into the unknown; the Bardo; and we wonder what she experiences there. She is considered a spiritual being, on an equal plane of existence with us (which I believe to be true).

Yet this apparent lack of hierarchy is problematic when one considers that Lolabelle is, in the end, her pet. As their owners, pets rely solely on us, without any choice. I said: We “have” a rat terrier. Although we might look upon him as one of our own, a family member, in the reality of our society he is our property.

The film shows this poignantly when we hear how vets try to convince Laurie Anderson to end Lolabelle’s suffering at the end of her life. Yet, she decides, guided by a Buddhist teacher, Lolabelle should be allowed to live out her life in her own time (albeit with pain killers). This troubled me deeply. There are reasons to decide to end an animal’s suffering when death is near; there are perhaps also reasons to decide to let an animal live out its natural life and only ease their passing. I have buried quite a number of pets in my lifetime. I am frankly always very relieved when the decision is made for me.

On the leash

In essence, our relationship to our pets can be compared to the relationship with a young child. The film demonstrates this sentiment when Anderson tells us of her dream of giving birth to her dog. The difference is that our children grow up; eventually they are emancipated, and we are relieved of this power over life and death; which I feel can be oppressing to them as well as us. What is more: only in extraordinary circumstances would a person have to decide about the life and death of their living and breathing child. Yet, in the relationship towards our animals this is a regular occurrence. We decide the range, scope and duration of their lives, the existence and extent of their sexuality. Although many pet lovers, including myself, abhor the notion, pets are in effect commodities in the way children could never be.

We mold their behavior: Lolabelle’s piano playing is indisputably cute, but clearly not a way of expressing herself. It is a bargain: she gets snacks, and we get to see her play. It is hardly natural behavior, and can we even speak of such a thing in dogs like rat terriers; especially bred for many generations to suit human needs? We are their Gods and laugh at our own creatures’ folly.

Surrogacy and hypocrisy

However loving our relationship to our pets might be, it is not always a complementary or additional relationship. Social mobility and displacement lead many of us into isolation; pets are often utilized to fill the gaping holes in our heart. In relationships with other people we are held accountable; the attraction of a relationship with our pet is the absence of this. They love us anyway. They have no choice. Our lives are often stifled, and cramped in time and space; and this leads to even more cramped and stifled lives for our pets. And, when we are no longer able to care for them, they are sometimes discarded, even though we never set out to do so.

Our relationship with the animals is tainted by this surrogacy, and also by hypocrisy.  This hypocrisy is clearly demonstrated in the miserable lives of millions of animals in the bio-industry. They suffer and die in the machine, so we and the class of so-called “lucky” pets get to eat, often in great excess. Only in their relationship with us, do the animals “earn” their worth. We do not, as our society’s actions show, endow all animals with this intrinsic value. Our pet’s relationship with us is the portal by which they are vindicated and elevated, sometimes only temporarily, from the horror of an industrial exploitation of our fellow beings.

There is great duplicity in our relationship with the prime representatives of the animal kingdom in our daily lives. I have no clear cut answer if and how this duplicity should be resolved. I do think, as someone who has lived with and loved pets all my life, it is good to be aware of these issues. I am not advocating the abolition of pets: I cannot imagine my life without them. But our understandable desire for communion with them, has numerous problematic side-effects. Even as I personally endeavor to do no harm (which for me is striving towards an entirely plant-based lifestyle)through my pets I am still a cog in this maelstrom.

I realize this review turned out to be less about the film itself, and more about the questions the film posed. If the object of art is to make you think, this film certainly succeeded in this respect for me.


linda-and-puk

Religious by nature, Linda lives in Dutch suburbia with her family and pets. She is an avid gardener and a budding writer. She blogs at theflailingdutchwoman.wordpress.com.

 

 


The Mother’s Night

In a silent night, many cries are stifled.
Lying-in waiting to revive a world of soul
Alight with meaning. For to love is a danger.
A stolen embrace places us in other’s hands.

Mothers, come and guard the path
Your dark wisdom will stir old seeds
Of life begotten before the age of coin.
A shiny child comes forth from nameless loins.

Truth is not chaste. It grows from earth
And rests within it, dormant in the ground.
The undead and the void trample upon her
And mistake its holy trees for cogs to grind.

No birth is painless. No night is ever safe.
Hold our hand firmly through bloody sacrifice.
Life was before the shrillest dawn of possession
And Life will be when the Mighty’s spell is broken.

 

the Advent of the Dark

I have long wanted to write something nice and inspiring to mark the beginning of my holy time, the dark days leading up to the solstice. Yet, both in my own particular life and the world around me, I wonder about the promised return of the light. All I have to offer today is a candle.

For most of us, there will be a time in our lives when we ask ourselves why we are here, and what our relationship to the surrounding world entails. Some of us are drawn to these questions naturally, and spend their lives seeking and pondering possible answers. Others literally run into these questions unwillingly. A lion on their path forces them to consider everything anew. The only ones who are exempt from asking them, albeit in this life, are the ones whose lives are too short, too feeble or end very abruptly. I am ashamed to say I envy them at times.

For the truly intellectually honest, there can never be a definite answer. Some of us might choose a faith, or a faith chooses us. Yet as we live and grow, so the answers live and grow in richness and depth. The viewpoint from one of the branches of the adult tree has little in common with that of the vigorous seedling. And then there are those that want to seek forever, and in this constant change find their temporary fulfilment. Even those among us, who deny the possibility of an ulterior meaning in the universe, are faced with these questions. What have they meant in the here and now for others, their kin, this temporary society at large? Asking these questions is universally human. In our times, we often ask them by ourselves, if and when faced with them. In the past, there were designated times for communities to rejoice and mourn, to abstain and to be inebriated in the visible and the invisible world. There is no proper or improper way to set aside time for contemplation. But to do so at a certain time of the year, when the surrounding world aids us in our withdrawal, enriches our silence. We are enveloped in the December darkness, shielded in the sleeping woods. A purely intellectual exercise becomes an experience, in unison with the natural world. It used to be my way, at least.

Conventional religion and tradition offers us the illusion of permanence and durability. It is an attractive haven. It lights up the dark forests, its tiny candles create a floodlight in the darkest night of winter. It makes the shadows of our lives intelligible and endows them with meaning. Tall branches that seem coincidental in their rugged and involuntary growth, change into pointing fingers, signs that lead the way. They are what we want them to be. The snow seems silver, our path is illuminated by this one Light, going in a certain direction to a makeshift abode.

But what use are these settlements to those, who are destined to be seekers forever? It is comfortable and tempting to stay here. The outside world is interpreted for us by the impressions of earlier seekers, like paintings on the wall. They are our windows on life by proxy. The sturdy doors keep us safe from the suspected wolves and bears. The wood that surrounds us, was once alive, but has been shaved and painted, neatly divided into straightforward planks. The companionship might be restricted, but at least we can rely on it as long as we are within the confines of these walls.

Somehow the walls are crumbling. Are we going to stay the night, in this place that has now become strange to us? The conversation has become stale within the confines of these walls. The wind of doubt blows through the cracks of this building. We can allow ourselves to be lulled asleep to the mindless mumble of the dying conversation. Or we can choose to shed the lethargy and let the darkness in, see the night in all its splendour without a prism to guide us.

For night it is. The smoke of our offerings to become whole again, has cloaked the world. The cabins turn on each other, but we have yet to face the wrath of the Lord of the Woods and the Lady of the Waters. It is building slowly as we fight among ourselves.

I have long left the Christian cabin, yet I plough on through the dark with a word for this time of year: the Advent. I want to carry on, and be led by the Light. I would love to return to my inner grove, and return to my business as a seeker. The inner world will not let me in this year. The woods are not sleeping, as they are supposed to do. They are dying and want to be left alone. Why should they aid me in my existential quest, when they have been colonised and exploited? I plead with them on behalf of my children, but they are not impressed. What about their children? The Advent is growing darker every year and my tiny candles seem to make no difference at all. The fighting of the other cabins is creeping closer and closer to my home. The echos of the gunfire are heard in my everyday life now.

So I stay put. I seek no further. I will try to grow some roots and make do with what I find in the hedgerow between the grove and the city. Only the truly radical can hope to regrow the tree of life. My candle is lit for the bold and not so bold among you, for all of you who hear the woods wail.

Europa and the Bull, thoughts on a troublesome heritage

On a wonderful island, a young girl plays at the beach with her friends. Out of the water a bull rises. He is a friendly animal and invites her to mount his back. He carries her away across the sea, only to reveal himself as the God. Is she a bold young woman who knows what she is doing? Or is she deceived and defiled? Whatever happened or did not happen, the children born from the union of this young woman and the bold bull would, by a twist of mythology and history, one day be known as Europeans.

"The Abduction of Europa, Jean-François de Troy" by Jean François de Troy - National Gallery of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
The Abduction of Europa, Jean-François de Troy” by Jean François de TroyNational Gallery of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I am a long way from home, in a part of Europe I have not been to before. The rural village where I stay, feels strangely familiar. The village bears an uncanny resemblance to all the other European villages I have visited. They have more in common with each other than any village has with a city in the same country. I find all these rural areas are characterised by the same friendly weariness, despite their very local idiosyncrasies. Life seems to obey to the unspoken laws of the land like anywhere else I have been to. Local customs have been deluded and diluted by corporations, welcomed by the people themselves. Yet the undercurrent of deep history is ever present if you scratch the surface, and most of the people around are direct descendants of those who lived here hundreds or even thousands of years ago. I fawn over the beauty of yet another amazing region. Europe is not made up of countries. They are invariably a construct of nineteenth century nationalism, often uniting large spans of land and different peoples by force. The story of Europe is a story of regions, of an amalgam of tribal conglomerates, consolidated by natural and artificial identities.

My parents hailed from a border region. One set of grandparents were Belgian nationals. I was educated in English. Genealogy shows a significant portion of my ancestors were French. My love grew up in Ireland, our fathers live in France these days. My nationality, Dutch, is too narrow to cover my identity. In spite of my great mistrust in the European political project as it has turned out today, the most accurate and honest thing to say is that I am a European. I consider Europa my mythical mother. I love her like I would love anyone who has sustained me throughout my life. But as I grow older, I find myself looking at her with distance. Like any parent, she has secrets and flaws, and however painful it might be, as her daughter I need to ruthlessly assess what they are, in order to know myself.  What makes a European and what made Europe?

To live in Europe today, for the most part still means to live in luxury and freedom, even though the world rattles at the garden gates. Many of us still live the good life while we witness the good times dwindling. The children of Mother Europe have swept her own garden path relatively clean in recent years, but most of her trash is conveniently stored outside the confines of her own territory. All corners of the world bear the brunt of her inheritance to this very day. It is easy to love her, if all you see are the expressions of her cultured mind. Yet the gold and precious stone by which that culture was fabricated, was drawn by force from everywhere else. Increasingly I see Mother Europe as a dowager lady. The Bull has worn himself out, after raging and rampaging throughout the world, forever altering its face. He is like the memory of a fearsome grandfather, disarmed by age and death. The old lady still lives off the interest of his endeavours, but this will not last forever. The children of Europe who are alive today, will have to validate their existence themselves. And the dowager lady sits in her armchair, unable to help her children and lowers the veil over her eyes. She refuses to see her own complicity.

The children of Europa and the Bull once had a hold over the known world. The interesting question is why? Why did the people of one corner of the world wield so much power? Europe’s deepest history is written in our genes, a history that is only now surfacing with the possibility of archaeogenetics. The story of Europe itself is a story of conquest and subjugation. The maternal lineages of indigenous Europeans are generally old. Yet the most common male lineages seemed to have arrived to Europe far later. Marija Gimbutas’ pioneering Kurgan hypothesis tells us of a shift from a sedentary, agricultural lifestyle towards animal husbandry. Although some of her work is controversial, recent discoveries seem to support the essential tennets of her reconstruction: a gradual shift towards a patrilineal and warlike culture during the Bronze Age. Whether this was a marriage or a rape of the woman with the flowers is for now lost in the mist of time, and perhaps it will always remain this way. Yet it does imply that there is more truth to the story of Europa and the Bull than meets the eye. The bull travelled with the horse, the horse carried the axe, and by horse and axe, European culture came to be.

These processes took place throughout many centuries. But it resulted in hybrid cultures and a gradual decline of the feminine divine. Greek, Roman, Celtic or Germanic: one thing these rich cultures had in common was a celebration of martial values and conquest. It is telling that most of Europe speaks an Indo-European language. It speaks of the success a small band of people had in shaping (or raping?) a virgin land. Much later Christianity, while born in the near East, was fostered and came of age in Europe. Once the old Gods had been almost annihilated, the people of Europe found it necessary to export the Cross and its tongue all over the world, more often than not forgetting the wisdom of the very Man on the Cross. The Gods that were with us when we still roamed the dense woods and faced a dangerous, not yet tamed sea, seemed to have left. Lately, though, it seems the Gods have travelled as stowaways into the New World, biding their time. Maybe the far west is an outpost yet again. So are the Isles of Britain and Ireland, where somehow more of the otherworldly magic has managed to survive. The names of the Old Gods and Goddesses are spoken there once more, after a long period of being forsaken and forgotten. I would like to join in, but the atmosphere here on the continent is one of rational and secular doubt, pervading all joy, and religious apathy. Perhaps it is fear, of the dirty mirrors these old names conjure. They embody the virtues of our past, but pose difficult questions at the same time.

As I walk my loyal companion, a skittish dog, through the strange street at night, I find I cannot sense the Gods. I know they still live, hidden in the woods and in the scarce, abandoned crevices of Mother’s body. Their forces have dwindled, for their names are hardly ever spoken here, perhaps only as whispers of a memory. Now that the era of the supreme God has come to an end, at least in my part of the world, all that remains is a God-shaped hole in the hearts of the Europeans and the grass of indifference seems to cover it. Or does it? I pass by a lovely front garden. A corrupted Buddha is here, again, he has become somewhat of a 21st century garden gnome. He is a mandatory accessory and a silent witness to the hollowness of what is left of our spiritual heritage. No one seems to ponder his extraordinary teachings, they just like his smile. He is the tea cozy that barely protects my vapid people from spiritually freezing.

What would happen if the Gods were invited back by us? Would we not continue much in the same way as before? Does it really make a difference which God or Gods we worship? Do we not have much more important stuff to do than burn candles and pray to Gods we have once forsaken? The choice is not between religions or lifestyles. The hard choices, the ones that matter, are of a different nature. They are about generosity and prudence. Acknowledging our wrongs as a people yet taking pride in whatever was good in our past. These choices concern moderation and retrenchment, and yes, this will mean we have to cut into our own fatty flesh. But if the European people are indeed bleeding hearts cushioned by everyday indifference, maybe we deserve to dwindle just as our Gods did. How do we preserve what is good and unique in European culture, without repeating our mistakes? Can martial Gods and Goddesses lead us to peace? Can fertility Goddesses and Gods protect us from the horror some are willing to unleash upon us? Maybe we could just ask them, as they came this way before. We walked a rocky path with them, and strayed many times. Now the Bull is finished with his rage, and Mother herself has grown old, we are an orphaned people who depend on the kindness of new strangers, like the Buddha and long lost strangers like the Gods of Old. I say a prayer for the Lords and Ladies, by whatever name they like to be called. If they bring back the spark of enchantment, I will gladly build a bonfire with it that will light the world.

chestnut-Linda

The economy of autumn

I walked into a temple today.
The doors opened and lured me
Into the vapid shininess of the ever new
I ascended, drifting, on a cloud of chemical blossom
And the beehive below hummed with desire.

I was held up by a priestess.
She read my hands and shook,
Her eyes filled with pity for the lost cause
I had strayed too far, and understood my visit
As my final farewell to the flock.

I looked at the faithful masses,
Hanging on to the eternal summer
As they partook in communion in expense
Of loveless figures, they paid their homage dearly
In the hope of fleeting redemption.

I would extricate myself.
No longer would the almighty number
Define my name in the world of the living
Silently, I pondered the economy of autumn
And my worn shoes took me out.

I walked away, ever further.
When the city of men had faded
I hesitantly came upon a green cathedral
A delicious sweet rotten sainthood lay in waiting
I knew I had come upon holy ground.

I opened my eyes and faced death.
As I fell, a friendly woman whispered
In the rotten leaves of many blessed returns
To give freely and live and die in turn ourselves,
So others may live one fine spring day.

chestnut-Linda