Culture Weaving

It is not very well-known outside of anthropology just how much culture (and our enculturation from the day we are born) shapes the way we think and how we see the world. Our consciousness takes shape within a social container. A larger piece than you might think of your own personal identity and personality has come about as a response to your social environment, whether embracing or rejecting aspects of the society into which you were born and/or exist within now. Culture is a powerful force that shapes societies and, yes, individuals.

In a hyper-individualistic culture, like that in the U.S., hearing that culture shapes our personalities and identities might chafe. We’re all self-made men and women, right? Nobody/nothing makes us think things or be any way other than what we choose – we’re independent thinkers and islands of selfhood!

Except that we aren’t, not totally. Humans don’t actually work like that. Humans are social creatures, and culture permeates our minds. But our culture has decided that every man and woman is an island (which might come together in a nuclear family archipelago, at least), and to shape our society as if that were true… which causes problems. It detaches us from our community, and erases the community’s role in personal development, in collective responsibilities, and all manner of things. The culture re-styled us as islands, but we’re not, and delusions like that wreak some havoc with the functioning of systems like societies, and even personalities, making them maladjusted and unsustainable. They often carry that corruption forward and affect other people, society, and even other societies detrimentally.

In a question of nature vs. nurture, people in this culture don’t usually realize that culture is both. It can nurture, but it is also nature – the environment we develop within, as well as a natural phenomenon that evolved with/in us – inextricable. Humans aren’t humans without culture. We aren’t even capable of language unless other humans teach it to us at the critical early stages of psychological development. If we miss that enculturation due to isolation, at that point in our childhood, we’re not going to learn language at all. There will only be rudimentary communication for the rest of our life, like the other primates — even if we’re later surrounded by language and being actively taught — if we miss that window of opportunity, we will not have human language (grammar, recursion, storytelling, etc.) We need to develop within culture to be human, and it’s best if our culture is a healthy one. Unhealthy cultures/societies tend to produce unhealthy individuals.

John Fire LameDeer

Shaping reality is wielding magic, and that’s why I find culture (and religion) so fascinating. I’ve always found magic fascinating. Magic is in the subtle programming underlying what we see in front of us. Bardic arts involve being able to see and illuminate for others the influence of fine distinctions, in words and meaning and emotion. Wisdom flourishes in being fluent in this subtle language, able to understand it, speak it, and direct it.

You can trace so many of our problems back to culture and mistaken conceptions / bad memes that became installed in culture and that have cast a spell of illusion on our society, making us stumble along blindly and knock over things that we need… like belonging, equality, and other aspects of healthy relationships with each other and with nature; the intrinsic value as well as the instrumental value of each person/being so that we won’t treat each other as mere means but always also as ends; contemplative time to develop our minds and sense of subtlety/spirit; and so on. The lack of these in our present culture can be laid at the feet of capitalism, the Protestant work ethic, Abrahamic religion’s concept of human dominion over the earth, and such memes that have developed into chaos over time, barely contained by increasingly complex technology or systems of law, as they grew to their logical ends within the arc of history. Nature is proving them out as unwieldy mistakes, but they are still dearly held beliefs, because it’s somewhat rare for memes and their effects to be visible to people.

Since culture teaches us individuals how to see the world, a blind culture makes for blind people, unless another culture, sub-culture, or some circumstance teaches one of us to see differently than our culture sees. Most people reading this have probably had a taste of such circumstance and the experience of seeing differently than their culture taught them to see; if not from being in a minority religion in a predominantly Christian culture (especially one with roots in the healthier cultures that came before much of what ails this one) with a whole other cosmology, then perhaps from some other route to caring more about nature and community than is normal for this society, and thank gods/spirit for that, I say! You have been called, initiated, and given a responsibility. The world needs you. You can bless it.

I believe that this is like a second sight, and that learning to see behind the cultural curtains can ignite a desire to heal the flaws in the system because you can see right where they reside, how it came to be that way, how it can be undone or done better, and understand that it is within your power because we make culture, as much as it makes us. We wear it, but we weave it. We can bring our culture back into alignment with nature’s truth, and off the distorted track caused by beliefs that disconnected us from it.

Culture, religion, politics, ethics, art, personality, spirit… it’s all interconnected and mutually-influencing. As much as we sometimes like to examine them separately, they do not exist separately. We can use this holistic vision to wield a healing magic and to become culture-weavers who influence society to bring balance where it is needed. I know that’s why I’m here at Gods & Radicals, offering our community and the world my art and the insights I’ve gleaned from my experiences, education, and the meta-view afforded by walking between the worlds. I’m singing guiding songs to awaken and help my people see magic, know health, and weave in wisdom. You, my kin, should weave with me, and spread healing out into the world, setting things a-right for healthy community. Learn all you can about this world and it will come naturally, as all the pieces come together in a clearer view of the whole, and you’ll develop a trust in nature to tend toward health, wholeness, and the sustainability and stability of goodness. We just need to help smooth out the knots where ignorance and imbalance make ideas tangle and distort the whole cloth of this beautiful world. There will always be knots, but we have some really gnarly knots to work out right now, after centuries of some truly bad ideas that dominated and have been tearing the fabric, outright. The medicine of our hands, minds, and spirits are needed. Come, learn to see the patterns, so we can re-weave with stronger threads.

 

Lia Hunter

LiaHA student of anthropology and philosophy, lover of learning and homeschooling mother, Lia Hunter grew up in a conservative Christian cult and had to learn critical thinking the hard way, now values it highly, and looks behind all the cultural curtains. She came home to Paganism in 2000 and blogs at SageWoman blogs (The Tangled Hedge) and her personal spirituality blog (Awenydd of the Mountains).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mesa_Arch,_Canyonlands.jpg

Windsong

Mesa-top twilight smudges smoky sage around on the wind
Counter-world dreamtime seeping in, whistlings that round on the wind

Will you grasp and mark the rising tide of howling crescendo
Or be lost in noise of sprawl, pod, and team that pound on the wind

I once lost track of the medicine that I held so blithely
When a nightmare of wings hunted me, I was downed on the wind

Go tuck the holy broken things in the midden, and return
Lay low, the night spirits are screaming up the mound, on the wind

Come cast the water, the sand and salt, and make your circle bed
Relearning, shakingly, to rely on the ground, on the wind

Raining brings ancestors close to whisper what we always knew
Restoration, spirit life, memories that surround on the wind

Such songs sowed Kokopelli, forlorn flute soon to awaken
Call up the ancient new seductive healing sound on the wind

~~~

Windsong is written in the poetry form called the ghazal, and was inspired by the Navajo Night Chant, which evokes the night winds/spirits that howl up the sides of the mesas as night falls… and haunts you until you sow it into a poem with other elements of the cultures of the American Southwest, a re-enchantment message from the ancestors, and a wink from Kokopelli. 😉


 

Lia Hunter

LiaHA student of anthropology and philosophy, lover of learning and homeschooling mother, Lia Hunter grew up in a conservative Christian cult and had to learn critical thinking the hard way, now values it highly, and looks behind all the cultural curtains. She came home to Paganism in 2000 and blogs at SageWoman blogs (The Tangled Hedge) and her personal spirituality blog (Awenydd of the Mountains).


 

The Second issue of A Beautiful Resistance is now available for pre-order!

"Approaching Mist" by Josh Lewis

Bell Unrung

I’ve discovered a thick bell

inside of me

that elegiac poetry rings

a terribly deep booming

knell

 

It has always been there, I can tell

but I had forgotten

I think it is in all of us

a human ache, a fathomless

well

 

Being dead while alive mutes its swell

wraps the bell in fog and distance

and it must be one of the Mysteries

that you have to be alive to feel

its peal

 

that resounding shake of loss in your core

that throws all semblance to hell

 

Depression… could its fog be protection?

from all we have lost and are losing?

But a quelling that keeps us dead

In the face of death

And life

 

A society that does not realize it is in mourning

that grief is appropriate

that an elegy is going unsung

yet still death is

come

 

 

Stalks of wheat, one bearing a tiny spiral shell

Lughnasadh

Stalks of wheat, one bearing a tiny spiral shell

The First Harvest has ripened. The long arms of the Sun have embraced us and brought forth the fruits of the Earth.

We come to the field and work together with our sickles and scythes, bringing in the tall and fulgent grains that we sowed as seeds, moons ago. We make an offering of the first sheaf, grateful for sustenance and the miracles of life’s growth and cycling seasons that bring back the renewable harvest. We tell tales of the gods who died, were followed to the underworld, brought back… death and rebirth myths resonating with the work we are doing and the world we cycle through.

We store up for Winter and plan our common future. Gathering to the hewn fields, traveling to the fields of our kin, we reunite and celebrate abundance, as well as mark the turn toward shorter days and lengthening darkness.

I bring the skilled arts of my hands, and you bring the skilled arts of yours, and we share and trade, admire and learn. With feasting and funeral games and feats of strength, the singing and dancing goes on for days…

The tales we tell are of seasons of fecundity and fallowness wrought of the struggles of Inanna and Tammuz, Osiris and Isis, Ceres, Demeter and Persephone (and Aphrodite and Adonis), John Barleycorn, Tailtiu and Skilled Lugh. (Skilled Brighid for the Imbolc holiday of our Southern hemisphere kin – your light is just waking while we are holding a wake for ours… we could be seen as each other’s Underworld – ha! I will have my Lughnasadh corn dollies bow to your Imbolc corn dollies.)

As we harvest the fruits of our labors together, let us gather in community and enjoy the leisure after and before the work, and celebrate our holiday, and honor the sacrifices made that brought us here. Tailtiu, Lugh’s foster mother, dies clearing the land for the fields of grain; people of color die under the wheels of racist oppression and bring our attention to that machinery inside our society; exploited peoples around the world toil and suffer and die creating, or being pushed out of the way of, wealth for capitalists; and ecosystems are collapsing, warning us of the end of the path we’ve let capitalism and dominionism take us on.

Let us sit and drink with the Irish Many-skilled Lugh of the Long Arm (in Welsh, Lleu Llaw Gyffes – The Bright One with the Strong Hand), in the still-abundant sunlight, and ponder how we can use our skills and talents to benefit the whole of our community of humans and Earth-life, how we can trade and gift them to enhance our lives without the harms our current economic system inherently requires. We’ll listen to Lugh’s lamentations, and offer him new songs of comfort and of harvests and of sacrifices not in vain. We will craft good law for our people, going forward, fixing the laws that have revealed their flaws in practice. We will do our best and most careful thinking, keeping compassion at hand, and always learning… becoming Bright Ones and good ancestors.

We’ll be dreaming of and remembering alternatives and a rebirth from the season of darkness we’ve been in and no doubt will return to in other forms, to other extents. We’ll prepare to weather those future seasons by putting up the lessons of this one, if we pay attention to the lessons, and set aside our preconceived notions and truly observe, and think ahead, and work with nature in wisdom, and carefully craft the tales and songs that carry the wisdom. We will succeed now, and again, if we do.

And we’ll always have seasons of light to succor us, too. Blessed Lughnasadh, Hlæfæst, and Imbolc!

Mannahatta circa 1609 / Manhattan circa 2015

The Welikia Project

Mannahatta circa 1609 / Manhattan circa 2015
Mannahatta circa 1609 / Manhattan circa 2015
Mannahatta then, Manhattan now
Mannahatta then
Manhattan now

So.

Did your stomach just drop? I’m sure you feel the weight of the import of whatever messages these images may convey. They can carry a lot of messages. One isn’t sure where to even begin… First, perhaps we should dwell in the emotions that rise; feel them, watch them, name them. These images give a visceral experience. Why?

For many of us, this place isn’t even our home, and we may have never even visited. But it still hits home, doesn’t it?

Something in us knows that something important is here in front of us.


These images are from the Welikia Project (formerly the Mannahatta Project) – a project of the Wildlife Conservation Society to rediscover the ecology of the New York City area before colonization.

Welikia (pronounced “way-LEE-kee-uh”) is Lenape for “my good home”. Lenape is the Native American language spoken in the New York City region at the time of first contact with Europeans.

The goal of the Mannahatta Project has never been to return Manhattan to its primeval state. The goal of the project is discover something new about a place we all know so well, whether we live in New York or see it on television, and, through that discovery, to alter our way of life. New York does not lack for dystopian visions of the future…. But what is the vision of the future that works?” – from Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

One of the main messages in this special view of the past we don’t usually get to see – the land before our cities began – is one of avoiding urban sprawl, for the future of current natural areas.

With more and more of the human population moving to cities, with several mega-cities of 10 million people or more on the horizon, and with a growing urban sprawl development pattern in the USA and elsewhere, we realize that we have the opportunity to “do” cities a better way. Going back to 1609 allows us to see what NYC was before it was a city and to reimagine the city’s development in a way that would incorporate more of the natural cycles and processes (such as the hydrological cycle) that made the island the ecological gem that it was. This is not merely an academic flight of fancy. Rather, in undertaking this exercise, we will discover ways in which we can restore some of the ecological processes lost to NYC in particular, and more broadly, we will learn how to create cities that are more “livable” for people. For instance, maintaining natural waterways like streams and incorporating more open space and tree plantings into city planning would increase a city’s aesthetic value, water quality, and air quality for city folk. Making cities more pleasant and rich places for people to live will increase city folks’ standard of living, attracting more people to cities and minimizing sprawl development between cities where the ecological gems, the “Mannahattas” of today, currently reside.” – from the Welikia Project “About” page

Whether we “do” cities at all, in the future, and whether or not one prefers that cities might one day return to their primeval state, for now, if we do have cities, it’s important that we integrate them into the local ecology, instead of just paving over it, erasing it, and forgetting it was ever there and that ecology exists and matters, to us as well as to wildlife… matters to our lives right now, as well as to our common future.

The Welikia Project includes – besides the fascinating interactive map of Mannahatta/Manhattan – resources for teachers, students, and researchers, and an expanded effort to do the same research for all of New York City’s boroughs, with the ability for you to sponsor a block of your choice. This might be an excellent contribution for a coven, grove, or other group to make together, or for Pagans and others in New York City to make to get helpfully involved with the land under their feet.

Could something similar be done in our own locales, elsewhere in the world? Of course! Soon after reading Lorna Smithers’ moving piece, here at Gods & Radicals, on culverted waterways and resacralizing landscapes, I happened to go to my local river festival and found a booth for a project looking for support to bring not one, but two culverted streams that converge and flow into the river near my house back above-ground, and reclaim land currently crusted with run-down shops on the site to create a park and informational signage about the reclaimed waterways! We can do this. Look around, or start something, yourselves.


Thanks go to The Decolonial Atlas (a blog worth following!) where I discovered the Welikia Project, with a stomach-dropping shock to my system when I first saw the images I brought over here to share.

Seasons of Humanity

By Lia Hunter

Children of Gods

 

Ancestral Celestial

Children of Gods
Sun and Earth
source of our abundance
blazing fecundity, alchemical, we
in their image

Grandparent stars going before
forging all we have and are
smiling on us from
what afterlife dimension
star gods burn their way to

Larger than one culture
older than our memory
together in the web of life
cycling in the seasons we spin up,
or down, in our collective energy

Nets that bind, release
renewal patterns ever dancing
breath of life so sacred
novas wild, death birthing,
in the dark, the shining spiral

 


 

We are Pagans. We have a healthy, whole worldview that doesn’t try to exclude or ignore death and darkness. We aren’t afraid of them. We know where they lead – we’ve been there. We’ve walked the paths where darknesses and deaths overtake you along the way, and that they are not only not the end (the path has no end, it’s a spiral), but they are necessary for growth and life. We don’t disown matter in favor of spirit, nor spirit in favor of matter. We know both are integral. We see both clearly, because we live in them, together, and don’t deny any part of the world we come from and live in. We don’t have a story we must make the world fit within, our stories reflect what is, and what always returns. Mythology extends our memory past the reach of history, and we know that these are not the same thing, and that both are important.

We are not alienated from our world. We feel at home in it. Our kin are here, and we belong, having been born of this place, and being suited to it. It’s not some staging area for a Great Sorting in which we’ll eventually be put on a train to our real home, which supposedly will have an absence of death and darkness. What kind of unnatural thing would that be?! It doesn’t sound sustainable.

The sun halts in its courses, but it moves back again. The moon wanes away, but waxes again. The stars burn and collapse and burst, but their gravity and star-dust make worlds and stars again.

We Pagans lack, or find ourselves healing from, the sickness that separates people from their world and from each other. We’ve awakened from the illusions of separateness, dominion, and patriarchy. We tap back into the indigenous memory of mythology and the preserving shrine of nature, which gives us the broad perspective and time-depth that is necessary for wisdom. Wisdom can’t be preserved in a book. Language isn’t big enough, alone, to hold it. Even poetry, which comes close, needs experience to translate and unlock the treasures it holds.

The sun halts in its courses, but it moves back again. Seasons come to their edge, and transform to the next again. Humanity falls down in its destructive Winter of Illusions, but reconnects with the reality of Nature’s spirit of community and thriving life… and heals again.

If we healers are to heal the sicknesses of our world, to help the season change, we’re going to need the long perspective to know where to effectively focus the short. We’re going to need to know who we are and what spot in history we are situated in, as well as what archetypes from mythology we are dealing with. We need to know biology before we can be doctors. We need to know nature to apply its medicine.

Let’s remember to step back, into the cosmos, and watch the dance, learn the steps, and choose our part in it. We aren’t just individuals, born in a geopolitical nation, and privy only to the history since our birth, as people in our civilization tend to think. We can and must expand that to humanity and the earth community… whether or not nations are formed or continued. We should be privy to how things may go as well as how they have gone before, and why.

It isn’t a hard study if you stay curious and just remember to take at least one step back for a longer view of the big picture whenever you consider something.

Humanity has been around so much longer than the couple of thousand years or less that Western civilization has brought with us in cultural memory. You can’t navigate well in a fog of forgetfulness, with only your immediate surroundings visible and only a portion of that understood. Let’s all learn the lay of the land and the times, and the ley of how they all connect. Let’s connect with each other to more powerfully heal the imbalances. Capitalism wants us separated and thinking we’re powerless. But its spell is breaking, as ours is rising. It’s time for the light to overtake the path again.

The sun halts in its courses, but it moves back again. Awake from illusion, learn, and teach again. Blessed Solstice again, and again, and again.

Bonfire Circle

The Enchanted

Imbalance

Everything is spinning out of balance. The world is being polluted and corrupted, and it’s decaying while still alive. Mega-storms, droughts, fracking quakes, and rising seas eat entire island nations and devastate helpless communities which are then swarmed by hungry, opportunistic corporations that sell off and buy up what’s left, and build hungry empire in their place. Entire mountains have been eaten by mining operations, which also leave the land and water around them toxified. Racism bides within social institutions and quietly mows down swaths of people of color, and stands on the necks of those who remain. Colonies of bees die off, Monarch butterflies cannot make their annual migration to overwinter and reproduce, hundreds of birds fall from the sky at once, mysteriously slain. Many, many species of Earthlings are going extinct and taking a lot of the balance and creative diversity of nature with them — taking pieces of the whole with them — now forever secret. Most members of our own species live difficult, oppressed lives in or under the purview of stratified societies and empires which invented poverty and wealth, race and class.

 

Empires

What need did humanity have of empire, in its incredibly long existence? It had none, for hundreds of thousands of years… eons filled with kin and culture and integration with the abundant world. We had wholeness. Now we have fragmented, unbalanced lives being pushed by clocks, pulled by disjointed narratives and misconceptions, stomped by greed, and our only defense the solid reality of community, love, and nature… when we are lucky enough to find islands of it amidst the cacophony of ticking time-which-is-money, manufactured desires, and hyper-individualistic isolation in which this terminally ill culture is drowning.

The decision to unbalance society and exclude all of the community (even the eco-community) except the men (and often only certain privileged men, at that) from the communal decision-making and interest-considering was one of the first steps on this unbalanced, destructive path. Pathological patriarchy arose to control women, and to ensure the tracking of sired children — tracking which hadn’t been necessary in matrilineal societies that took care of all children. Some long-ago group of men thought they needed to ensure that their efforts would only benefit their own children, not the community. Selfishness triumphed over communal responsibility, and became codified into law.

Ownership and inheritance became important to them. Their society was stratifying, and they needed to get on top of the heap. The alternative was poverty and slavery. Dominance became important too. Having dominion over not only your family and community, but neighboring communities and even all living creatures became a cultural value and driving subtext in the script. If [empire], then [be emperor]… or as close to it as you can get, otherwise you’ll [be fodder]. A LOT of fodder lies at the bottom, and only one emperor at the top, with an inverse pyramid of wealth held at the top and a heavy lack of enough resources at the bottom. It’s pyramid shape of hierarchy is inherently unfair and unjust.

 

Cultural Script

We’re still working from this script, a few thousand years later. But not for long. This script is not sustainable. This play chews up the set and buries most of its actors. There won’t even be an audience left, at the end.

This is not the only script ever performed, nor the only one possible. It’s only the most recent. Imperialism is relatively new in human history. Capitalism is even newer – only about 300 years old — and even more destructive. Capitalism is a natural outgrowth of the kyriarchal complex of cultural concepts like patriarchy, dominionism, hegemony, colonialism, wealth, and hyper-individualism that have busily been infecting the cultures and peoples of Earth and rewriting their cultural DNA, re-scripting their histories and futures with lies and false promises.

And we can be done with it.

We can cancel the terrible show and start writing and rehearsing, or even remembering one that does not eat our children and destroy mind, body, soul, Earth, and connection. It made us forget what community is, and what sacred means, but we can find them again. Some of us have already begun. Some of us in indigenous communities never lost them and can share them. There are paths strewn with fulfillment rather than endless hunger. We can find the paths with vital air to breathe, clean water to refresh, and solid ground to stand and circle with each other upon. Our ancestors knew them, walked them, danced them. Some continued to remember them throughout empire, despite the illusions of usurious capital and divine right of kings, and preserved markers for us in myth, symbol, and language. Nature, itself, contains markers and inspiration. Our home and kin are calling us.

Bonfire Circle
Image from https://500px.com/lehoslav

 

The Call

We are some of the first in generations to hear the call of nature, spirits, gods, and ancestors, and our own connected souls. We are some of the first to gather again in circles and remember, to listen to wind and stars and recall. We are organic circles of community, not mechanical pyramids of empire. We remember who we are, we remember all Earthlings are family, and we remember that we belong to the Earth — the Earth does not belong to us. We are now charged with finding the paths again and showing each other the way before this path leads an entire world into chaos and premature death. We must heal this sickness, for are we not the healers Earth has produced in her time of need? Do you not feel the calling of the oppressed, the ancestors, our children’s children, and the Earth, chanting our names and the great need?

We are the enchanted, who will answer the call of justice and of healing, and re-enchant the world, singing up reconnection and dancing up a real future. We have the magic – will and intention, the calling and the help of truth. Let us be the good ancestors who take up these Witches’ brooms, Druids’ sickles, and Heathens’ hammers to clear away, to build, and to relight the sacred flame at the heart of the world.


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