December 31, 2016 § 9 Comments
Rushing down the highway a semi-truck roars with a proper Doppler fade and a slight movement of the air that drifts passed me even these thirty yards from the interstate. My brindle pit bull is sniffing the disrespected patch of land between the highway and the truck stop parking lot, pissing here and there on the jetsam scattered about the gravel.
North-eastern Arizona is a patchwork of poverty, of industry, and of mountain deserts; each a courtier of death in their own right. Behind the truck stop at a distance is a petrochemical refinery of some kind. Tanks and stacks and a fleet of heavy trucks move and hum releasing god knows what from the rocky basin there cradled by sheer faces and jagged peaks. A long closed restaurant fit with plywood window dressings stood silent in front of me and ravens circled, finding what noxious fare of gas station calories they could on the cracked pavement. One such bird came and landed on a pylon only a few feet from where I stood. He called as ravens do, not so much a crow, but three low rawks as his hackles flared.
“How are you?”
We stand in silence gazing at one another. My wife calls and I turn to see her returning to the car with my daughter in her arms. The raven sits motionless, perched on the concrete pole.
“Good luck out there.”
Phoenix is a strange city. It is where I met my wife a decade ago, when I was a different man. We came to see her family, a massive group of people spread about the valley and the copper mining towns of the outskirts. It takes over two days to get here by car from our southern, Indiana home, and there isn’t a person we tell this to who doesn’t think we are crazy for eschewing airplanes. Most of the time I do not even bother trying to explain our decision to abandon the notion that we all have the right to jaunt about the world on heavy carbon emitting jet planes, and that even driving here in our fuel efficient automobile every few years is an act of extreme privilege. Instead, I suffice to say that travelling this way allows us to experience the country, to absorb the changes in topography, and of course, to be able to bring our dog.
The layout of Phoenix would be disheartening to anyone who makes regular efforts to reduce their consumption or to lessen their negative impact on the ecology of the planet. Mega-highways wrap and weave around and across the Valley of the Sun which is itself an edge to edge expanse of concrete sprawl, a veritable temple to the god of consumerism and consumption. Perhaps the edifice of this dark church is invisible to the residents of this metro area, but for myself it is hard to ignore the arrogance, hubris, and downright insanity that here is writ with every brick and stone.
Nothing comes from here. The drip of maybe cotton, cattle, or citrus that Phoenix exports could not possibly stand in balance to the amount of resources that flow into the city. Resources all paid for by the blood of some far away lands and their peoples. At the edges, saguaro and ocotillo hold ground, often contorted into the poses of supplicants who hold their arms aloft to both beg and praise of the gods in need and gratitude for what moisture they are given. Hardened beings of thorn and spike that offer up a delicious irony in their great contrast to the human residents so dependent upon far flung food, far flung water, and far flung energy that delivers them.
What is crazy to me is not even the state of this place, but just how normal it is all made up to be. It seems that no one is questioning the oversized pick-up trucks that will only ever drive down well paved and dry freeways or the enormous houses equipped with multiple air conditioners. Locals queue up in long lines for drive through coffee not even paying deference to the near Martian landscape they inhabit.
“Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”
Most grown and serious people would balk at the notion that magic is real. In large part this is because most people would be using a definition of magic that included a lot of false notions and assumptions. When I speak of magic I am usually leaning on a definition that is in line with the one above. When I look around at modern industrial people, all so smug in their conviction that magic is hokum and that their material domination of nature is both under control and right, I almost smirk as I see how just how deep and pervasive are the spells that transfix these people.
Through image, through sound, through geometry and construction, the masses bend to the will of a master class, priests who wield advertising and news shows to deliver symbols and phrases that work so effectively to control behaviors and to influence the deepest held thoughts and emotions. Disbelief in the power of magic, one might observe, makes a population ever more susceptible to it. It is not uncommon to find reference to Goethe’s maxim, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free,” but so rarely is it applied to the psychology of the mind that believes itself rational.
From the passenger seat I gaze at the endless strip malls and parking lots that fill almost every square foot of the greater Phoenix area, and I understand that though most denizens of this city would claim Christianity as their religion if they claimed one at all, truly, the predominant belief structure thriving in the hearts of the people here is one that worships consumption. And it is religion, to be sure, that has built and that sustains this and every other great temple of modern industrial civilization. It is a set of beliefs that inform how people view themselves, how they view the world, how they view money, how they view happiness, how they define the reasons to live and the methods to go about doing so. Included in these beliefs are mantras about consumption supporting the economy, which in turn supports consumption effectively completing a circle of life gifted to us so long as we trust the invisible hand and the divinity of his corporeal acolytes in the world of high finance. Piety is to purchase, to work for wages, to tithe the owners, to take on debts, and to never miss out on a holiday shopping season. Heretics extoll the innate value of the wild, our dependence upon biological systems that are themselves constructed of so many other living beings. Believers bring the sword to the heathens by way of bulldozer and cement mixer because stasis is death, and without growth, the temple will fall. Faith, they have, as they believe despite all evidence to the contrary that their consumption can continue forever, that it can expand, that nothing could possibly go wrong.
Frequently we who wish to see the psychopathy of modern industrial civilization brought to a halt will ask ourselves, “What can we do?” Imagining a viable resistance is not easy, and often I find myself embracing a grand contradiction – having a deep love for life, but supporting an insurgence that would destroy critical infrastructure. Is there any other option? There will be blood. That is known. If we do nothing, the world as we know it will cease to be, and so many human lives will perish by famine, fire, and plague. If we act, surely lives will be lost, but perhaps stronger threads in the web of life will remain, and in time, humans will find a balanced way of being.
There are no easy answers when discussing such things. I do not pretend to know the right way forward. In moments of quiet I do though wonder, “what if we could embrace a new religion?”
If our thoughts inform our actions, and our deepest beliefs guide us in our behaviors big and small, then it seems obvious that we need to perpetuate a new set of primary beliefs. Of course, some of the beliefs I might humbly suggest we meditate on would not seem new at all to certain indigenous cultures around the world. For example, I might suggest that we cease to believe that humans are superior beings relative to the other living creatures with whom we share the planet. Further, I would offer that we need to cease believing we are wholly individual, and instead that our place within human and greater ecological communities is just as valid as the view that we are solitary beings. Perhaps we could form our beliefs around a core concept that we are actually the Earth walking around. Our bones are the mountains, our blood is the oceans, inside and out we contain and house biomes of bacteria and fungus while the atmosphere flows back and forth, into and out of ourselves and every other living being.
Laying out an entire belief structure is not something I believe I am qualified to do and frankly, I have no interest in trying. This is something for all people of solid mind and spirit to meditate on. Of course, bringing such beliefs to teeming hordes of people all too happy to remain bent at the altar of consumption would be no easy feat, and here I would humbly suggest that perhaps through the application of sound, of symbols, of well crafted phrases and unassuming images, we could work new spells. The necessity to cause change is certainly before us, and the very first step could likely be the focusing of our will.
Across magical traditions one often finds that the raven is a harbinger of change. Between the worlds and across time the Raven can travel bringing tidings of new life or portending a coming death. Celtic lore held that ravens would fly over battlefields deciding who would live and who would die. Perhaps these ravens were not so much choosing, not picking out of preference those who would and would not survive the melee, but merely observing the signs, more knowing than selecting those who had a place in the future and those who did not.
The city of Phoenix will fall beneath me as I drive the mountain roads out of the valley on my return trip to our forested home so very far away. I will look on the city, and not choose, but with a dispassionate eye witness the obvious truth.
December 2, 2016 § 13 Comments
Gray dawn rises in the east. The windows in our woodland cabin levitate in the dying black of morning until slowly the walls, the stairs, the furniture it is all dimly painted by the faintest light, placing the glass panes in proper space once again. My daughter accompanies me through the trees to the front of our land where our chickens and ducks have their respective houses. She coughs a deep cough. Two-year-old lungs breaking and cracking against mucous, seeking air. My left arm pulls her closer to the heat of my body, and her head rests slightly on my shoulder, not tired, just tender.
With each step the heavy gravel underfoot rattles. The leaves that cover the driveway are silent, having been thoroughly pulverized by car tires. Air not cold, just crisp, fills my chest with each breath, and I kiss her sacred, rosy cheek.
We don’t watch our children die. In our modern, industrial world, children live. That is what our adult minds perceive as normal. Little ones who are diagnosed with cancer are an aberration to the rule, as are the infants who succumb to pneumonia, influenza, and other microscopic cruelties that ingenuity otherwise banished into the harsh and backward past.
Death is on the ropes; a weakened and humiliated God. That is what we tell ourselves. So we pack generations of spiritual and psychological resilience into boxes abandoned to dusty attics.
There is a prevailing trend in the stream of web headlines that seems to acknowledge the doom of man. Some of this is overt as it focuses on rapid climate change, ecosystem collapse, and agricultural failure. At other times human mortality is couched in futurology, and is relegated a bit more to the subtext of articles that discuss space travel and the colonization of other worlds. Talk of ideal numbers of people for new planet settlement or innovative spaceship propulsion systems is given serious attention in serious publications that provide manna for the serious modern industrial human.
Serious modern industrial humans have a wide enough attention to know that even if the destruction of this Earth’s life giving systems can be halted through the application of grand new technologies, outside threats like comets hurtling towards our planet or even the death cycle of our star will eventually require that our species abandon our home world for distant horizons.
These thoughts are carried by those who proudly assert their intelligence, their superiority to the ranks of the superstitious. To those who regard themselves in such ways, death is an engineering flaw, a bug to be programmed away with the application of cleverness and computer code. They see so clearly a shiny vessel in the cold, black of deep space, humans cozily adrift, eating god knows what as they day by day forget that the mountains are their bones and the oceans are their blood.
I have a friend who claims that she channels an archangel. She is writing a book in fact, that she says is being spoken to her by this disembodied entity. A pleasant woman, articulate and intelligent (a chemist by education, actually), she sits in our home and lets down her guard to open up the truth of her world before my wife and I.
Five years ago this same conversation would have had me squirming a bit in my chair. Back then I was more serious. To be sure, I had been very intelligent at one time, and I said the things intelligent people say. It did not matter that much of what I spoke of was fed to me through books and articles. What mattered was that I selected the right books and articles; those that contained healthy skepticism and a heaping dose of fetishization for anything that smelled of the ideology of western materialism and its grand deity, Science, with a capital “S.”
My friend sips her lemon balm tea. I recline in my chair a bit and ask if she has ever smoked dimethyltryptomine; DMT.
When I was a serious person, I would have waved my hand and asserted an unearned superiority as I smugly dismissed the psychedelic experience. Despite lacking anything that would pass as first hand knowledge of the topic I would confidently explain that thousands upon thousands of years of human experience with psychedelic drugs, or even their experience with disembodied entities was all illusory, a trick of the imperfect human brain tripping itself up with a combination of handicapping chemicals and pure juvenile ignorance.
With profound gratitude and relief I can say that I am no longer so serious. Happily, I now embrace my juvenile ignorance.
Five years ago a friend convinced me to use DMT, and these days I don’t squirm so much in my chair when talk turns away from the reality we take for granted towards esoteric grounds that modern industrial peoples with serious and well respected egos fear to tread upon.
It is so easy to allow what little we know to fill the space in our minds until it feels complete. It is easy to mistake our arrogance for wisdom.
Humbly I now defer to the mystery, not so concerned with tacking down the corners of a reality I can only ever pretend to know that I know. Instead I listen to the stories people have to tell, and I try to remember that across time the gamut of human descriptions of real and not real have varied immensely. And I listen now to our friend as she speaks of lives lived before. She listens in return as I wonder aloud about the strength a population could wield against its masters if no longer did dying seem so terrible.
Real and not real are but railings to lean on as we make our way. But make our way to where exactly?
Drought has gripped the southeastern United States, and the dry forests set alight by arsonists burned rapaciously with the assistance of hurricane force winds. Gatlinburg, Tennessee is, for the time being, gone. Meanwhile, arctic sea ice struggles to reaccumulate despite the polar darkness, water rationing has been initiated in La Paz, Bolivia, disease is ravaging reindeer and northern antelope populations, and on and on the list of tragedies grows. The costs of industrial civilization are by and large being paid by those with the least amount of access to its benefits. And the costs are mounting.
But on the cold plains of North Dakota, the Sioux and their allies, many indigenous, many not, are taking a stand against the construction of an oil pipeline that would directly threaten their water supply, and indirectly threaten the biosphere of the planet. Their resistance orbits around the notion of a prayer camp. A kernel exists amongst them that is a belief, refined or not, articulated or not, that this particular piece of infrastructure is wrong. Together, people from disparate cultures are by the thousands suffering the bitterness of great plains winter winds, and the even greater bitterness of police weaponry and violence, because they believe that a threat to that most life giving of molecules, water, is wrong.
Belief informs action. When we look at what industrial society is doing to the living world that has made and kept us, so many of us see clearly that the time for action is now. If civilization has not yet broken beyond repair too many of the interlocking systems that allow life to exist, we must prevent it from doing so, because if left unchecked, it will. Happily, it will.
Too many serious and intelligent human minds are busily working wherever the sun shines to excavate, to extract, to clear-cut, to genetically modify. The healthily skeptical who read the right books and quote the right articles do not believe in disembodied entities, or that the trees and flowers sing, or that birds and wolves speak to us. By their actions, they don’t seem to even believe that they require clean air to breathe or healthy soil from which to eat.
They believe in a domed city on Mars. They believe in a shiny silver ship alone in the abyss. They believe death has been bound by their chains, and that the ceremonies and rituals humans have breathed into being in order to heal the wounds he metes upon us are quaint anachronisms. They believe death to be all but conquered, even as they sharpen his blade.
Golden light transforms the world around us. The drab gray surrendered to the sun and the forest feels uplifted. Behind me our ducks are quacking as they hurriedly move about the garden, plodding their feet and burying their bills into piles of mulch in search of bugs. My large boots again elicit a crunch and grind as I walk back towards our house.
On the road in front of me my little girl is stooped, picking through the rocks. She handles a small piece of quartz in her hand. Glassy and remarkably polished for a piece of stone plucked from our driveway, she admires it.
“I found a magic rock, Daddy.”
“Put it in your pocket baby.”
She does, and I bend to scoop her into my arm.