Before The Beginning Were The Waters

From Julian Langer

We are witnessing the destructive power of wild-Being, through the medium of water, as well as wind and fire.

Before the beginning there was the waters. This is the case in a great many mythologies. In Genesis the spirit of Yahweh floats atop the surface of the waters, when the earth was Formless. Before Vishnu commanded Brahma to create the form of the world, Vishnu slept floating upon the waters of the world, wrapped in the coils of a great snake – Vishnu the preserver and Brahma the creator are one being, in the Hindu pantheon, as is Shiva the destroyer.

In the Sumerian Eridu creation story, An, Enill, Enki and Ninhursanga first create the world, for mankind and the animals, before a great flood comes to destroy everything. Zi-ud-sura learns of this and, like Noah in the Abrahamic mythology, builds and ark to save the animals. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, Ea (the Sumerian Enki) instructs Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, in preparation of a great flood that the gods are going to bring, to save himself and other living beings.

In Chinese mythology, Nüwa repairs the four pillars, whose collapse brought floods, fire and great beasts that ravaged mankind, bringing about peace. Flood control signals the dawning of civilisation in China, with Yu the Great’s controlling the waters leading to the dawn of agriculture in the region.

The Hopi people, who viewed themselves as descendants of the Spider-Grandmother, believed that Tawa destroyed the Third World in a great flood. The Aztecs believed that the gods destroyed the world in a flood, which had no survivors, and that creation had to start again. Also, the indigenous peoples of the Andaman islands believe that their creation deity Püluga sent a devastating flood, which left only 4 human survivors, but destroyed all the other living beings and their fire – Püluga brought back the flora and fauna, but didn’t return the fire.

In the myths of science and evolutionary theory, first the earth had to be covered in waters before life could flourish. And we all find our earliest biological origins in the depths of those primordial seas of the pre-Cambrian era.

The waters of the world are a primal force of creation and destruction in the world. Within this planetary bioregion, there is no life, in the sense of organic matter, without water. Life is a process of simultaneous creation and destruction.

Wild-Being – the geo-spatial extensive topologies and differential flow of intensities of energy, which surmount to what we call the wild – is this process of boundless life in flux. Heraclitus’s river articulates this in a way that can be immediately drawn from phenomenologically – “no man ever steps into the same river twice, as it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. The rivers flow creates its new body and destroys its old one. The mans life creates its new body and destroys its old one. And with this, the univocality of Being as Becoming if the basis of life/existence/wild-Being.

We are witnessing the destructive power of wild-Being, through the medium of water, as well as wind and fire.

As the biosphere collapses into climate chaos, those energies of wild-Being repressed, sublimated, directed and redirected, harnessed and channelled by civilisation into “order”, through the geometrical quantitative machinery of the technosphere, the violent/destructive explosive shattering of this chaosmic release is vibrating across the body of the earth and is a terrifying force for those unprepared to embrace the wild.

The existential dread of Hurricane Harvey’s violent shattering might have been easily repressed, were it not for the immediate arrival of Irma and Jose’s and Katia’s destructive dances upon the body of the earth.

The Taino indigenous peoples of the Caribbean worshiped a zemi the Spanish invaders called Juraćan, who was their deity of chaos. This deity’s body is the same as the Mayan god Huracan, which is the root of our word hurricane.

These hurricanes exist outside of the repressive order of civilisation, as a destructive chaosmic release, a wild reaction to the excretive effects of this culture’s violating/violent technological means of consumption.

The destruction the floods in America, South East Asia and Europe we have recently witnessed, either directly or through the hyper-real spectacle of contemporary media, are points of chaosmic release from order, where the flow of wild-Being becomes released, allowing for the potential return to the wild – outside of both order and chaos. They shatter the perceived safety of the technosphere, revealing our existential nakedness immersed in the world.

Today, as I write this in the British countryside, the gale-force winds of the tail end of the aforementioned three hurricanes are battering these islands in the North Sea. This obviously pales in comparison to the force of their immediate bodies, but the winds still roar like a raging beast, furious in the face of its abuser. Their free dances upon the earth, stretching across an entire ocean, bring to my mind Anaximander’s notion of a boundless cosmology called apeiron, which flows uninhibited by any-Thing. This is made clear by the destruction produced by Hurricane Harvey’s winds, with houses left in ruins.

Apeiron was intended to signify all 4 of the classical elements – fire, water, wind and earth.

The destructive force of the earth has been revealed, yet again, in the form of the earthquake in Mexico. In the Greek pantheon, Poseidon is the god of the sea and earthquakes, known for his vengeful wrath and being easily offended. So in a world where fishless oceans by 2050 is a likely possibility, due to the toxifying and polluting excretions of this culture, and where hydraulic fracking and geo-engineering undermine the body of the earth (directly bringing about their own earthquakes), the earthquake appears to be a medium of destructive release for the vengeful energies of wild-Being.

Fire is often viewed as a basically destructive force upon the world – this is probably predominantly due to civilised-man only using fire for fundamentally violent purposes. But those of us familiar with fire ecology, wild or rewilded, know that fire has its creative aspect to it, in ecological terms. And we know that the wild-fires destruction leads to the creative regrowth of forests, in the cosmic flow of wild-Being. Most of us will know the intimate, immediate, beautiful warmth fire creates through the flickering dances of its flames, in a directly phenomenological sense.

But like the wrath of the recent hurricanes and earthquake, the recent wildfires in North America and Greenland bring our focus onto its more destructive aspects. Fueled by the conditioned produced by climate change and agricultural production, the intensity of these fires and their destructive fury is a force, whose wild release undermines the ordering of civilisation, in chaosmic release of wild-Being’s flow. The existential dread produced from their wild fury is drawn from the awareness that fire will burn through most means of technological mediation and leave bare naked flesh burnt and scarred, in its indiscriminate dances upon the earth.

The eco-extremist movement, whose liberation theology and anti-anarchist anti-politics has upset and displeased many in eco-radical and anarchist milieus, revere and worship Wild Nature, and seek to emulate storms and hurricanes and wildfires through their methodology of indiscriminate attack. And while there is much to find ugly in and criticise the eco-extremist movement for – especially the infamous group ITS – there is a certain poetic beauty in this desire to embrace their being extensions of wild-Being, through emulating Wild Nature – though they often appear (certainly to my mind) to miss that destruction is creation, and that what is wild is alive.

Naturism, paganism, rewilding through prim/wild-craft skills, sexual/erotic exploration, activist actions, guerrilla ontology and many other forms of praxis that those of us within eco-radical milieus, whatever ideological/semiolinguistic lexicon we choose to embrace, stems from the energetic fury of a wildfire inside the very core of our being and Being, and a desire to relinquish that which civilisation uses to repress our wildness. And in these practices, we need to find this unequivocal unity in destruction and creation in what it is we are doing.

I wrote in my previous piece for this site, and have done so in my book and on my personal blog, of iconoclasm. Now in once sense, this is intended to signify the material body of the onto-theology of the technosphere – civilisation. But I am also intending to signify the praxis of destroying icons of mythology, in the sense meant by great iconoclasts, like Renzo Novatore and Bruno Filippi.

So why then have I drawn from the icons of so many pantheons within this text and others?

Because when the fox, lion, bear, shark, tiger, badger, orca, wolf, crocodile, racoon, boar, eagle or whatever other example you care for, devours what it destroys, it creates its-self, in its immediate body, and creates the world it is an extension of, through the excretions of their flesh. This is not only true of carnivores, as herbivores, like rhinos, actively create life through the destruction of their consumption.

So as I consume these icons, I devour their bodies, to attempt to create something living.

And as I leave you at the end of this piece, I wish to conclude with this poem Gates of Ys by pagan anarchist writer Christopher Scott Thompson –

Half a nation drowned by water,
Half consumed by fire.
Those who profit, smug with laughter,
Fear no prophet calling “Liar!”.

Ash comes floating from the heavens,
Storms come rolling in.
Preachers close the doors of churches,
Calmly fold their hands, and grin.

We who listened, we who bargained,
Now praise God in sheer despair.
Gods like fire and wind and water
Do not heed such prayers.

Sorcerers of coal and oil,
We invoked, they came.
Never mind the prayers and praises,
Last-ditch rages, guilt and blame.

Gods as deaf as us have gathered:
Storm and flame and wind.
Now the gates of Ys are opened.
Now the ocean rushes in.


Julian Langer

Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild beings. Musician and activist.


The Pre-Sale for A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing has begun!

Elowah Falls: Tears of the Singing Waters

After a rough night of grieving, I woke a little late and fired up the computer a little too soon to start working. I immediately jumped into juggling several important community-related things. Then I had to take a break to pay bills and well – that is never a fun experience. By then, I was done – stressed, frustrated, and sinking into despair. It was time for some nature therapy. I dug some clothes out of a bag (I hadn’t gotten to the laundry, either – no added stress there!) and hopped in the car. I knew I was going to go for a drive through the Columbia River Gorge on the Historic Highway, but I didn’t know where I was going to stop yet. I was thinking “waterfall” but since there are dozens in the Gorge that didn’t really narrow it down. But I really enjoy just getting in the car and seeing where it takes me – intuition, spirits, and gods guiding the way.

I passed all of the waterfalls on the way out, and thought maybe I would stop at Horsetail Falls, since I hadn’t felt the urge to stop anywhere else. When I didn’t get the nudge there either, I started to feel like maybe I would just turn around and go home. But then I remembered I hadn’t continued out Highway 30 to it’s junction with the interstate. I drove a couple more miles and pulled off at the parking area before I got back on to Interstate 84. I looked at the sign – Elowah Falls trail. Oh! I had read about Elowah Falls, and the name struck some chord in me*. I checked in and got the definite ‘Yes – GO!’ so I tightened my hiking boots and set off, not really sure where I was going or what to expect.

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The trail is just under a mile to the falls, with a few hundred feet of elevation gain; its just enough to make me feel like I’ve worked to get there. Combined with the first time on a trail with no field guide, the exertion and the unknown was enough to start wearing down the walls I’d put up to hold myself together. The trail parallels the interstate for the entire length of it, adding some frustration and a heaping dose of paradox.

It is beautiful – vibrant rain forest above and below, roaring highway to the south. It is such that you can’t actually hear the falls until you get close enough to see it peeking through the trees and you start descending a series of switchbacks. It is a bit labyrinthine – trees growing across the trail at odd angles, washouts and rocks, green leaves and flowering plants obscuring your view.

And then you start to feel the water – the air sings with it, the earth softens with it. The trees and rocks are covered in moist moss. I dipped my hand into the pool beneath the small stream falling from the rocks and touched the sweet water to my head. 20160526_151522 (1)

A few more steps and I stopped, my breath caught as a rush of energy went through me and tears came to my eyes. Opened before me was a great amphitheater where water played, cascading over rocks and singing with such playful joy. Elowah was falling majestically from the cliff. It felt like another time, another place; something out of a fantasy novel. The spirit of this waterfall presided over it all with a kind and joyful, reverently guarding presence. 20160526_152110 (1)

As I came to the falls a crow flew over my head, joining a hawk high in the sky. They did not seem to do the usual territorial debate, rather they circled and danced in the sky. Dozens of swallows flit above me, birdsong resonating through the open canyon. There were no other embodied humans there.

 I wept.

I usually do, at waterfalls. At least the ones that aren’t displayed as tourist attractions. Something about the singing in the air, the joyful play, the gentle power – the timeless presence that is constantly in movement. It resonates with my watery-airness in a way that is comforting and fills me to overflowing.

And I think about how grateful we should all be that such beauty exists. That sense of awe cannot be replaced or duplicated.* And yet, our capitalist society doesn’t appreciate it enough at all, beyond value as a resource. I wept for the highway that cut through this place, wept for those beings, human and non-human, who used to be here. Oh, the land spirits in the Pacific Northwest are strong and lively beings, make no mistake. But what must it have been like before we paved it over? Before we ran out and murdered the indigenous peoples that knew them as kin? Before we named new spirits in the name of progress?

I marveled at the fantastic geological formations, at all of the forces that merged and dance and broke apart over millions of years to create this place. I watched the faces in the waterfall, and formally introduced myself to the spirit there.

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As I left the Gorge and made my way back into the city I had to stop the car to cry again. I can’t really tell you what that was about. It was a moving cascade of things. Rather like a waterfall.

I’ve returned many times since this first visit, at different times of day and in different states of my own being. Each time the face of the falls has offered a different glimpse, had different songs to share. I feel the pull to this place as I feel the pull to my own altars, to my own heart, in this relationship we are developing.

 *A note on the name of the falls – Elowah. In the brief research I have done, it seems no one is claiming to know the meaning of the name or why the falls were named Elowah. A mountaineering club had the name changed in 1915. If it is/was a word in the language of the indigenous peoples, I haven’t been able to find it. In Hebrew, Elowah is another word for God. I got the sense that the spirit of the falls liked the name okay and the feel of the word is appropriate, but it is not the right name. As is usually the case.
**Even when we can’t access wild spaces, we can be grateful for their existence. The sense of awe that they inspire is not the only source of such awe, but it is one source, and is not more or less valid than any other.

Originally published on Call of the Syren

Spirit of the Aquifer

The pictures above are of Castle Hill; the ‘pen’ or ‘prominent headland’ by which my hometown of Penwortham is named. Although its holy wells have now dried up, Castle Hill remains an important Christian and pagan sacred site. St Mary’s Church and graveyard and the castle motte share its summit. It is also the location of the legend of Penwortham Fairy Funeral.

The wells dried up during the creation of Riversway Dockland in 1884 when the removal of a sandstone substrate to make a new bed for the river Ribble breached the aquifer beneath Castle Hill. Two years ago, whilst researching this (along with Peter Dillon, who has written a more detailed article here), in the state between waking and sleeping whilst nodding off at an unrelated book I experienced a vision.

I found myself standing on a precipice within Castle Hill. In its midst was a water-dragon, struggling, gasping, clearly in agony, losing character, shape and form as her womb imploded. Slipping painfully down a plug-hole, sinking helplessly into an abyss. The last I saw of her was a dragon-girl spinning round and round on a swing, tumbling off and vanishing. Her after-image remained imprinted in my mind for a long time afterward.

I first recorded this harrowing communication in a poem called ‘Spirit of the Aquifer’ (below). (The italicised lines are to be read as a chorus that captures the lament of the people of Penwortham, which I felt needed to be expressed). Following meditation and journey-work at the site of St Mary’s Well, wherein I was gifted scenes of its past, I expanded the original vision into a short story: ‘The Water-Dragon and her Daughters’ (also below).

Castle Hill from Fairy Lane
Castle Hill from Fairy Lane

My visits to Castle Hill and the relationships I have formed with its spirits have been a source of immense beauty, wonder and enchantment but, because of this catastrophe, also a deep sense of sadness and loss. On several occasions I have had my company rejected altogether.

Having visited Glastonbury Tor where the aquifer and springs remain intact and revered (albeit considerably changed) and numerous natural springs I can only imagine the constant out-pourings of crystal-clear water, lushness of damp vegetation and shared sense of sanctity amongst the local community that have been destroyed.

As it stands the sites of the wells are all but forgotten. Now obscured by Penwortham By-pass (which may not have been built so dangerously close if the wells had not dried up) Castle Hill is suffering increasingly from land-slippage. Trees leaning precariously on its east bank in Penwortham Wood fall frequently. Gravestones topple. Because last year at the summer solstice a gravestone fell on somebody’s foot the majority of the graveyard is out-of-bounds.

The fay are still rightly angry and hurt. Magic-workers speak of broken leys and leys gone awry. The damage caused by the breached aquifer beneath Castle Hill on both physical and spiritual levels is inestimable. The water-dragon can never be won back. The hill will never be whole. It will never be healed and it will never again heal.

The loss of Castle Hill’s aquifer and wells has illustrated to me the value of our existing underground water-sources and the severity of the potential consequences of fracking. This has led me both to sharing my poem in public as a cautionary tale and to participating in the recent against fracking protests outside the County Hall across the Ribble in Preston.

It is my intuition the spirits of the land and watercourses and our chthonic deities played a subliminal role in the success of the protests (the potential fracking sites at Roseacre and Little Plumpton are only thirteen miles from Penwortham and Preston). The water-dragon’s ghost can sleep peacefully, for a while…

Spirit of the Aquifer

In eighteen eighty four
a monolithic feat of engineering
shifts the Ribble’s course:
no water to the springs.

From the hill’s abyssal deep
a rumbling of the bowels,
a vexed aquatic shriek:
no water to the wells.

Breached within the chasm
a dragon lies gasping
with a pain she cannot fathom:
no water to the springs.

Water table reft
her giving womb unswells,
surging through the clefts:
no water to the wells.

Unravelling inside
her serpent magic streams
to join the angry tides:
no water to the springs.

Culverted and banked
her serpent powers fail,
leaking dry and cracked:
no water to the wells.

The spinning dragon-girl
tumbles from her swing
and slips to the underworld:
no water to the springs.

Her spirit will not rise
through the dead and empty tunnels,
disconsolate we cry:
no water to the wells.

The hill, no longer healing
stands broken of its spell,
no water to the springs,
no water to the wells.

The Water Dragon and her Daughters

At the heart of the green hill lay a water dragon. She awoke at the end of the Ice Age when the land began to thaw. From her giving womb burst a myriad springs, carving gullies where mosses and ferns sprung.

At the hill’s foot a thirsty auroch was the first creature to drink from the purest, most powerful spring, which flowed into a natural pool. The rest of the herd followed, then red deer, wild horses and the first hunter gatherers who built their nearby Lake Village beside the river of shining water.

These early people venerated the spring. Listening to its ever-pouring stream, behind it many heard the song of the dragon’s daughter. It was rumoured she could be seen by moonlight. She first appeared as a pale woman, but look again and you would see her scales and glimmering tail. To this strange spirit the people attributed the spring’s healing powers.

A line of Brythonic women presided over the spring, serving its spirit, meting its cures until their last representative was slaughtered by the Romans. This tradition remained in the memory of the local people. Therefore when the missionaries arrived they moved quickly in re-dedicating the spring to St Mary. A stone basin was built and a stone cross erected over the new well, inscribed with the Magnificat.

Over the years it became a site of pilgrimage. Strangers travelled from across the country to marvel at its picturesque glade at the hill’s foot, overlooked by a canopy of beech, surrounded by ivy and primroses. Although forbidden, the healing rituals continued, evidenced by multicoloured floating ribbons. People immersed themselves in its waters, took their horses in with them. It was finally decided these activities must stop and the well was capped.

Throughout this time the dragon’s daughter was ignored, yet she still gave, even though her spring was forced irreverently into a trickling metal pipe. Then something catastrophic happened.

The river was moved southward to make way for the docklands. The sandstone beneath the hill sealing the aquifer was breached. Down below the water dragon experienced an inexplicable pain. Writhing, gasping within the chasm, her womb imploded. Her features shrunk and fell inward, becoming sheer water sucked away through the shattered bedrock. The being of her daughters unravelled with her, shrieking backward into disappearance.

St Mary’s well ran dry. Local people were deprived of their cleanest source of water. Prevalent whispers spoke of the bad omen, yet the fault of the developers was not revealed. There was nothing to worry about; piped water would be coming soon, for a hefty fee. The well was buried, out of sight and out of mind.

Yet it remains on old maps and in the memory of the land, which does not forget; in a cold, empty cavern and tunnels where streams ran but are no more. At the spring’s old site or wandering the hill at certain liminal times, you might sense a dragon’s heartbeat or hear her final gasp. You may glimpse the ghosts of her daughters, hear their last screams.


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Lost Watercourses and Resacredization

The watercourses of my local landscape were once considered very sacred. The river Ribble was venerated by the Romano-British people as Belisama ‘Most Shining One’ ‘Most Mighty One’. The boundaries of the settlements of Penwortham and Preston were defined by freely flowing streams whose deities would have been regarded as powerful guardian spirits.

Life depended on clean, pure water drawn from wells rising from underground sources. Rows of women queued on Petticoat Alley to collect their morning’s fill. Many wells possessed miraculous and healing properties. Ladywell and St Mary’s Well were important sites of pilgrimage. Mineral springs on New Hall Lane were renowned for curing eye ailments.

The brooks that form the perimeters of Penwortham can still be walked. However not a single glimpse of fresh free flowing water can be seen in Preston anymore. Every water course has been culverted. They can be traced by following signs: Syke Hill, Syke Street, Moor Brook and walking dips and shallows in roads and parks. Put your ear to the drain on Main Sprit Weind after a night of heavy rain and the river Syke can be heard. They’re still there; vegetationless, fishless in gloomy grey tunnels that may never again see the light of day. Their deities forgotten. Unrevered.

All the wells have vanished. Ladywell lies under the car park of the Brunel student halls. I doubt a single student knows of the well for which their flats were named. The springs on New Hall Lane are built over by houses. St Mary’s Well in Penwortham possesses the most tragic story of all. During the creation of Riversway Dockland the Ribble was moved from her natural course to beside Castle Hill. During this process a breach in the sandstone bedrock shattered the hill’s aquifer. St Mary’s Well and the nearby St Anne’s Well both dried up.

This must have been a cataclysmic event for the local people, some of whom walked a mile from Middleforth every day to collect water from St Mary’s Well. Their sacred site was lost forever. If there was outcry and talk of omens not a single record remains. What we do know is piped water arrived soon afterward at a hefty fee. St Mary’s Well was buried when the A59 was widened and its site is only recognised on old maps.

The stories of the disappearance of these rivers, streams and wells form a damning reflection on the way we treat our sacred landscapes. Whilst in the south of England a good number of ‘heritage sites’ have been preserved, in the heavily industrialised north there are few places of sacred or even historic interest undestroyed. A prime example is a Roman industrial site in Walton-le-dale equivalent to a major tourist attraction on the Rhine. Our local developers decided this would make a good location for a bowling alley.

The destruction of sacred places results from capitalism’s commodification of the whole of nature. Nothing is holy. Nothing lies outside its discourse. This puts it at loggerheads with paganism, which is based on the assumption all of nature is sacred. This raises the question: what can be done to win back the sanctity of nature from capitalism’s commodifying grasp?

It is my belief each time we affirm our relationship with the sacred we also defy capitalism. We give value to what cannot be commodified. For me the choice to learn the stories of my local landscape, my gods and ancestors and share them in my communities instead of following a ‘proper’ career path is a political choice.

The stories of what we have lost illustrate the value of what we have. And how much we will lose if fracking is allowed across the UK along with the continuous development of roads and properties.

Are stories enough to bring about material change? To bring down the system? It is my belief each realisation and action it inspires helps. Each recognition of the sacred. Each turn away from consumerism.

It has taken capitalism centuries to develop (the term ‘capitale’ was first used in the 12th C). It may take centuries to bring it down. Yet as the lost watercourses slowly eat their way through concrete, groping their way to a land of sunlight of vegetation we must retain our focus. Ensure that by future generations their emergence is welcomed back with reverence into a world resacredized.


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