Monday, October 22, 2012

Find the Wild Here

I wrote this in August 2012 for a class assignmentAs the first rains of the seasons dance closer, I feel compelled to post this with a prayer of gratitude for your reading.  


A soft wind brushes through the trees rubbing their leaves together creating a steady whisper. I glance up at the elders towering above me. I do not know their name or their family. Looking around I realize I do not know the names of most of the trees that I'm sitting with. But over the last year I've come to know their energy. These trees have held me over this first year in in Graduate school. They heard my prayers as I arrived on campus, diving into the deep end of the then unknown pool that is Seminary education. The spirits of the land here have received my offerings, which were an abundant product of the anxiety that filled my first month in school.

Little birds are chirping. Their sweet songs call out to a potential lover or perhaps their songs alert their beloveds that they are well and there is nothing to be alarmed about. They are high up in the trees and perhaps sitting a bit further off because their songs gently hum in the distance. The song birds are no where my human eyes can find. Their voices tell me that the birds are calm. There is no need for alarm in this moment. The breeze picks up and the leaves whispers transforms into a conversation and then slows to silent stillness.

Most of the plants here have gone to seed, dried up in the hot California summer. The lack of moisture has changed their scent. Memories of the busting aromas of the fertile spring linger in the air. The smell is familiar—that dry fecundity of the late summer in the hills looking out over the bay. Fire smells always possible this time of year. Even here on the PSR campus where the lawns are watered daily.

The crow caws sounding an alarm. A biker rides by shortly thereafter. I watch her glide along—enjoying the ease that comes after climbing this hill that is known as holy. These hills surely were holy before any of these Seminaries were built. The land feels sacred here. It always has. I've never thought to ask the elders I know about this place called Holy Hill. Is it a sacred site for the first nations people of this land? Who were the families and tribes connected with this place? How has this place been honored and respected pre-Holy Hill? What was stomped out for this school to be created? 
I look out at the bay and see the city socked in with fog. I smirk to myself feeling a sort of petty pride for the sunshine that warms my back. It was so hard to leave the city, to leave the struggles there, to leave my family and my community. At least here I have the sunshine in the summertime. The land here in the bay, it's all connected but the water that divides the city from the East Bay feels so great at times. I miss the community in San Francisco.

How do we find the “wilderness” here at PSR? Questions of the “wild” have been present in my heart and my magic this summer. This year at Free Cascadia Witch Camp the Salmon swam into our divination challenging us to a spell of re-wilding and calling ourselves home. But this question of “What is the wilderness? Where is the wilderness?” have been challenging for me. I took a class this summer at PSR on Environmentalism, Religion, and CultureIn the class we explored the construction of the concept of wilderness alongside the construction of "civilization".  The concept of the wilderness as we know it today is a relatively new concept. The notion of the wilderness as an idyllic place of peaceful serenity developed alongside the construction of the American frontier mythology that has been used to justify decimation of the earth and the genocidal attempts of first nations people. For this reason, I have been grappling with the legacy of the development of “the wild".  It feels like an important pagan theological question to grapple with and in my heart I have been grateful for this challenge.

As a city witch, I've struggled with the question of how to connect with nature in the city for much of my life.  So many of my steps are on pavement.  Cement--that mixture of rock and chemicals that blocks the earths breath from our feet breaking that connection--with each step.  It is much harder to ground** when you have to send your roots down through the layers of concrete before you reach dirt.  Magic is easier in the woods, outside in the wilderness in part because it requires less effort to connect with the earths energy.  

The more wild the space, the clearer the energies of the elements. When you are in the woods they are right there with you. It is easier to learn, teach, and practice magic when you are sitting on the ground, outside of a building, with the wind brushing against your skin. This is not to say that you can not learn, teach, or practice magic in the city or indoors. You can practice magic anywhere. You can invoke the elements in a jail cell. However, magic requires deep listening and it is harder to listen with the earplugs that are buildings, pavement, cell phones, Facebook, and TV. They damper our connection and distract us from our ability to listen.

I look back at the green lawn of PSR's Quad. The lawn is manicured, colonized with green grass in a place where native grasses, Yarrow, California Poppy, and Oak trees likely once flourished. What would it be like to decolonize this space and call back the native plants? What would it be like to grow food here, inviting students into direct relationship with that which gives their bodies sustenance? What would it be like to create an outdoor worship space with a fire pit inviting people of all faith to connect with the elements and find the wilderness in the same place that that they learn?

This summer has me wondering about ways to re-envision the wilderness. How can we hold the truth of the history of the construction of the wilderness as a tool of colonization and justification for genocide while at the same time holding the truth of the wilderness as teacher and elder. Are these truths mutually exclusive? I believe they can't be.

The crow caws. A car drives by. I stop and listen, grateful for the break in my search for answers and questions. I take a breath. And another. Another. With my heart I hear the crow:

Find the wild here.
Remember the places that are wild and the things that are not.
You are human
but you are also animal.
Learn to love the animal you are
and you will learn
to be wild.

 ** Grounding is one of the most fundamental practices in most pagan traditions. The Spiral Dance by Starhawk offers several examples of grounding. You can also listen to a recording of a grounding exercise by following this link