“The more you consciously remember your indigenous soul, the more you physically remember it.” -Martin Prechtel
Quite a few twisting and turning thoughts this month on Empathy, Self Improvement, and Fortune; long on exposition, short on coherent theses? As I’ve tried to wrangle this edition into some semblance of order, side channels keep opening- the current takes me this way and that. I’ll partly blame this annoying illness which has me writing in short bursts between naps, headaches, and several thousand cups of tea. Maybe I’ll write a western: A Fistful of Supplements.
But beyond that, the subjects trussed together herein don’t readily conform to simple solutions. The world is spinning fast, and a bit wobbly as you may have noticed. I’ve accepted that I can’t keep up with the Universe, but I still have fun throwing bottles at the passing train cars. I hope you’ll enjoy, and maybe come at me with your own perspectives.
One request: if you like receiving these missives from me, consider passing one on to a friend who might find it engaging- or share the link and invite someone to sign up. I like to imagine that we are forming communities that can be dispersed geographically, yet exist independent of the more corporate forms of “social media” that currently monopolize that sphere.
Jan 28 2022
a) SAGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL
I used to burn a lot of White Sage. Along with the ubiquitously available Nag Champa stick incense, I would use the commercially sold smudge sticks as a catch-all implement in my rookie level hermetic practice. Once, some family members and I even snuck into an insufferable relative’s house and “cleansed” it with sage and prayers to calm her ever- explosive temper (it worked.)
Sometime during the past several years I encountered Indigenous writers urging non- Natives to stop using the plant. An integral ceremonial component and/ or natural medicine used in various ways by the Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Navajo, Dakota and others, white sage is now being over-harvested to the brink of extinction to feed an ever-growing “spiritual supply” chain- not to mention being burned flippantly, carelessly, and performatively by thousands of self- described “empaths”, “lightworkers”, and “witchy influencers” across what we might call the New Age Industrial Complex.
Still, I was emotionally resistant to quitting my own use of the herb. But ally-ship to afflicted people must begin with relinquishing what we think we know, and coming into a supporting role: relinquishing one’s human desire to center oneself in the narrative. To quiet one’s ego and commit to learning something new.
I started trying to buy sage only from indigenous sellers, which isn’t difficult if one invests a tiny bit of effort. At one point, I even lived down the street from a native-owned coffee shop in Long Beach CA that sold bundles sourced from their family’s land in New Mexico. That seemed like a decent compromise to me. Then a couple years ago, with yard space for the first time in over a decade, I started growing my own common culinary sage instead, as well as rosemary and lavender. Even more recently I have investigated alternatives that reflect my own European ancestry and now I buy mugwort and frankincense to burn, and collect other plants and herbs I come across in my neighborhood. Using a plant identifier app on my phone has made this easy and fun, like an ongoing self- directed scavenger hunt. That same app led me to discover that the border of evergreens in my backyard is a species of cedar, which is useful to me in several ways. My next steps are to start growing mugwort and other herbs here at home, and to keep researching my own ethnic roots to find substances and practices my ancestors may have used 1000 (or 10,000) years ago.
I’m not writing this to congratulate myself, or to demonstrate “wokeness”. Words like “allyship” feel wrong in my brain- like someone who puts a COEXIST sticker on their card and goes to bed feeling like they’ve done their part.
The point I ultimately want to make is that this small change in my behavior, while initiated out of respect for another’s feelings, is something that has been of significant benefit to ME. The ‘good’ I am doing in the world by choosing to abstain from burning a particular herb is highly debatable- the amount this helps indigenous people is negligible at best. But this choice, which seemed at first to be an obstacle to my own lifestyle and sense of self, has turned out to be instead a wonderful catalyst! My search for alternatives to white sage has opened so many possibilities and avenues of inquiry within my own practice that I can dare say the choice itself was a magickal act; one that has manifested a far deeper and more fruitful engagement with both my everyday local environment AND with the long-span rhythms and tendrils of Time, Spirit, Ancestry, and Balance. I feel infinitely closer to an honest, applicable, embodied spirituality that is Felt and Dreamt; Woven tighter through my personal history and genetic memory.
Through a recent online class I learned of Martin Prechtel, a writer and teacher of Swiss/ First Nations ancestry. He was raised on a Pueblo reservation in New Mexico, and initiated into the shamanic tradition of the Mayan Tsutujil in rural Guatamala, with whom he lived for many years. This quote immediately resonated with me:
“Some of us have buried our humanity deep inside, or medicated or anesthetized it, but every person alive today, tribal or modern, primal or domesticated, has a soul that is original, natural, and, above all, indigenous in one way or another. The indigenous soul of the modern person, though, either has been banished to the far reaches of the dream world or is under direct attack by the modern mind. The more you consciously remember your indigenous soul, the more you physically remember it.” (1)
b) the baby and the bathwater
In searching for a sense of belonging in one’s family past, we inevitably encounter bigotry and superstition of varying kinds- much more so if, like me, the majority of those folks making up one’s family tree were beneficiaries- or perpetrators- of Empire, Inquisition, and ongoing genocide. It’s a tightrope, then, walking this line stretched above two pits: between appropriation and xenophobia, where do I fall?
Seeking authenticity is perhaps a dead end hunt: reconstructing or reimagining a lineage across centuries and hemispheres, inquisitions and crusades, to find crumbs of wisdom and useful lore. Maybe it has helped me to remember that all peoples have been subjugated in their turn, though few have carried the lesson forward into their treatment of others. Still, the poison that wrecks the world is smooth and milky, incubated with the blue light of null screens and the ticking of the stock market.
For people who look like me, products of a generational trek of European forebears yet removed from our deepest roots by an ocean of distance and a far wider gulf of forgetfulness, remembering the indigenous soul begins with leaving “Whiteness” behind, in recognizing its semantic origin as a tool of class control, a grift, a story used to incite the rabble.
I’m not breaking new ground by saying so; this thesis has been lately expounded by such august and milquetoast sources as The Washington Post, Psychology Today, and Oxford University. No less than 120 years ago W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “The discovery of personal whiteness among the world’s peoples is a very modern thing – a nineteenth and twentieth century matter, indeed.” (2)
Still, it is worth repeating in this Age of Denial, when a recent Pew poll found nearly half of “white” Americans believed “seeing racism where it didn’t exist was a bigger problem than not seeing racism where it did.” (3)
It is in this cultural vortex that we swirl. No surprise then that, raised in the rubble of late capitalism, rightfully angry but suckled on divisive corporatist politics (in which both major parties feign bitter acrimony while serving donor interests which often play both sides against the center,) so many fall prey to racially- charged pastiches of traditional belief systems. The fraternal accelerationist Wolves of Vinland for instance, and its offshoot masculinist pyramid scheme Operation Werewolf, combine Norse mythology and iconography with Fight Club style male bonding activities, pay-to-play fitness regimens, stock market advice, and the occasional animal sacrifice.
Likewise, the 2016 Unite the Right rally and its ensuing mayhem featured Heathenry- inspired flags and standards, thrusting the issue into the global mainstream and inspiring actual Norwegian pagans to counter the misinformation and bad publicity with their own initiatives:
“Sweden, for example, is home to Vikings Against Racism, a network of people attempting to rescue old Norse iconography from misuse. They regularly show up at far-right events and other demonstrations. When the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group that uses the ancient Týr rune as its logo, recently paraded through the streets of a Swedish city, it found itself vastly outnumbered by counter-demonstrators from Vikings Against Racism.” (4)
What then are the real components of ancestry?
(Spoiler alert: I don’t have answers.)
I would suggest that in addition to genetic ancestry, there are also cultural archetypes we each can explore, as well as a lineage of personality and desire. By this I mean that we might look to certain musicians, writers, or whatnot as ideological forebears. On the other hand, we can certainly parse out qualities to admire in our actual physical ancestors, and set aside (or actively confront) qualities that are not in line with our own authentic selves. This isn’t about being right or wrong, good or bad. For instance, many generations of my family were Christians. Squaring this with my urge to carry their lives forward in me is a tricky prospect as I have often had an adversarial relationship with organized religion. But no institution is a monolith: my observation and experience of repression, abusiveness, and hypocrisy within the Church is one truth, but the more I read the more I encounter other flavors:
-the Catholic subset known as Liberation Theology, which “…often calls for reorganization of social, governmental, and economic structures so that the poor are not merely cared for, but brought into the fullness of human flourishing.” (5)
– Heretical Christian occultists of the Middle Ages who were often monks or priests working in various levels of secrecy: “Learned magic texts in medieval Europe were syncretic and were often exotic fusions of magical, philosophical, and cosmological elements from the Greco-Roman, Arabic, and Jewish traditions, mediated through their translation into Latin and adapted by Christian authors.” (6)
-early pre-Nicaean sects such as the several overlapping and competing types of Gnosticism (the topology of which is so complex that I won’t get into it in this already- stretched space.)
-gay porn star / esoteric Christian podcaster Conner Habib, who urges us to forgive ourselves- heal ourselves- by extending a golden light of grace to those people in the world who make us most angry. (7)
No, this isn’t a buildup to a shocking announcement; I’m in no danger of re-converting. While I find the heretical practices of John Dee or Saint Cyprian, or the mystical technology of Rudolf Steiner, to be quite engaging- thrilling even- I’m ultimately more interested in connecting with my ‘honored dead’ through the patterns of will and action one can find in traditional cultures the world over: observation and veneration of natural rhythms, identification with non-human intelligence in its multitudinous expressions, and immersion in the daily cycles of Life and Death from which everything grows. Again, I wasn’t particularly interested in sourcing from my own ethnic history until my thinking on cultural appropriation recently mutated. This continues to be a tricky process, but one I have found to be immensely fruitful if done with sensitivity and imagination.
c) the demeaning of life
What if we pull back to a wider view? Extend our capacity for fraternity beyond our clan, our species, to encompass not just humans but the entire biosphere and beyond? In the long count, our groupings and categories, myths and monuments, will be dispersed in astral eddies and the cooling of the cosmos. Everything we have, everything we are, is Here and Now. If we don’t take our own emotions and experiences as the beginning of the World, then are we not just a whispered rumor?
Creativity, comedy, mathematics, sensuality… does formation of meaning presuppose an extra-rational substance of Spirit? To me, dead materialism, denying the invisible and subjective forest of inner experience and immanence, reducing life to only carbon- based chemical reactions, is fucking boring!
Writing on the principles of Integrated Information Theory and it’s similarities and differences with the ancient and lately resurfaced philosophy of Panpsychism, neuroscientist Christof Koch posits, “Consciousness is lived reality. It is the feeling of life itself…. Some level of experience can be found in all organisms, it says, including perhaps in Paramecium and other single-cell life forms.” (8)
He goes on to say that some postulations of IIT include the possibility that it’s not only organic life-forms that are imbued with consciousness but any irreducible chemical compound observed to exist independently- for instance, the molecule, the atom, perhaps even the proton.
(But not the quark. Never the quark.)
These kinds of ideas tickle me. And since I am a layperson, free from the constraints of empirical deduction by which the scientific community is bound, I can be satisfied with not knowing- with simply feeling inspired.
“…whether we conceive nature under the attribute of Extension, or under the attribute of Thought … we shall find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes….” -Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2 Proposition 7. 1677 (published posthumously) (9)
Meanwhile from the 20th Century, Alfred North Whitehead proposes that it is not time, space, and matter which are the building blocks of reality, but events- occasions- that make up the world and which themselves express some form of creativity, spontaneity, and perception. (10)
Here we are in the company of far-flung conceptual adventurers, explorers sailing off the edge of the map in ships built of chance and context. I mentioned being tickled by confusion and fancy and this is a riot of possibility. Are these the shores of the great Aeon of Horus? The dissolution of opposites- active and passive, rational and irrational, astral and chthonic, fiction and nonfiction? Science and art smelted into Pataphysics? Alfred Jarry, the gun-toting Symbolist playwright who inspired Dadaist, Surrealists, and even the great American rock poets Pere Ubu, interpreted his age as a tension between such polar coordinates:
“[Jarry] saw this… powerful aesthetic potential in these kind of scientific imaginative exercises that are designed to clarify how things work, and he saw in them this kind of resource of a kind of Symbolist imagery. So you have this thing where it’s not actually alluding this false binary opposition of imagination and science, or surrealism and science, or the irrational vs the rational or whatever, and instead you have this fascination and delight with the imagery of science as an imaginative exercise in itself. And its actually the kind of integration of science as an imaginative practice into a sort of fully imaginative life, and sort of a… Surrealistically humanized form of life.”
And here we have come to the place where the trail goes cold. The yellow bricks have been stolen and pawned. I know I’ve contradicted myself multiple times. My eyes are burning and I can’t remember where or why we started on this path, except that the wider we stretch our arms, the more we can hold. From the personal to the planetary, the social to the Animistical, there is a wonderful paradox running through us: giving yourself up to the totality of Life will likely bring you face to face with your Self. Dissolving your desires in service of a wider Whole will grant you a higher, fuller capacity for fulfilling your dreams. Witnessing and embodying your utter helplessness in the face of Time and Death will grant you an invincibility. And accepting the certainty of your destruction will bring you to Life.
(1) Saving the Indigenous Soul: An Interview With Martin Prechtel. Derrick Jensen, 2001 https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/304/saving-the-indigenous-soul
(2) WEB DuBois, The Souls of White Folk. originally published in The Independent, Aug 10 1910.
(3) The Invention of Whiteness: The Long History of a Dangerous Idea. Robert Baird, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/apr/20/the-invention-of-whiteness-long-history-dangerous-idea
(4) What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion. Segal Samuel, 2017.
(5) What Is Liberation Theology? Kira Dault, 2013. https://uscatholic.org/articles/201410/what-is-liberation-theology/
(6) Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe, Sophie Page. 2013, Penn State University Press
(7) Conner Habib in conversation with Gordan White. “Rune Soup” Podcast, 2022. https://runesoup.com/2022/01/blood-prophecy-and-forgiveness-new-year-special-with-conner-habib/
(8) Is Consciousness Everywhere? Christof Koch, 2021. https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/is-consciousness-everywhere/
(9) and (10) “Panpsychism”, Philip Goff, William Seager, and Sean Allen-Hermanson, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/
(11) “Alfred Jarry, Pere Ubu, and Pataphysics w/ Yeerk.P” The Forest of Symbols podcast July 25 2021 https://anchor.fm/aldous-asterion/episodes/Alfred-Jarry–Pere-Ubu–and-Pataphysics-with-Yeerk-P-e150des
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