An Interview with Jesse Wolf Hardin
By Maya M.
By Maya M. Jesse Wolf Hardin (once known as Lone Wolf Circles) is a contemporary spiritual teacher and seer whose articles have long appeared in publications like Circle Nature Quarterly, Green Egg, Green Man and Magical Blend. His early public appearances resulted in reporters labeling him a modern “Merlin,” a contemporary “Medicine Man” healing the Earth as well as the soul, and “the spiritual heart of the radical environmental movement.” More recently Wolf has been teaching and empowering a growing number of seekers at his New Mexico wilderness sanctuary, and it was there we talked about his new book, animal teachers, places of power, and the meaning of magic. Wolf’s power of insight is extraordinary, and his humor disarming: a modern shaman for us mixed blood seekers, a fountain of truth for the open and willing....
M): Your rousing speeches and “Deep Ecology Medicine Show” concerts supported a wide range of environmental campaigns during the 80’s. But for the past decade you have stayed pretty close to your wildlife sanctuary, hosting students and writing your books.
W): I presented at Starwood last July, and do a half dozen appearances every year. On the other hand, I used to be away so much of the time that I was neglecting my responsibilities to the mother source of my insights and purpose. My wilderness Sanctuary requires more than well meaning promises — it needs my daily hands-on attention. Standing up to would-be developers, removing non-native invader species, replanting cottonwoods and willows, singing with the sensuous river, stroking the long grass like the hair of a lover! Sanctifying, and resacramenting. And by inviting students and questers here, we’re reestablishing this site as a place of essential awareness and growth: planting the seeds of the agave and the wild grape at the same time as the seeds of truth, fulfillment and love.
M): Your latest book “Kindred Spirits” tells of our “fast- vanishing animal and plant teachers.” You’ve successfully melded the mythical and spiritual elements of their stories with the biology and ecology of each species.
W): We were born into a communicative universe, every constituent member communicating with the rest, for the good and balance of the whole. Humans are each an integral, inseparable part of the sacred body of the Earth, an extension of the endless Cosmos. We not only live in this world, but are an intrinsic element of it: dancing cells of a breathing planet holon. Gaian sensory organs given the job to fully feel, with empathy and compassion... and then to act on those feelings of love and union. All life offers communication, either through the timeliness of omens or actual examples they set.
But then, we can also hear what we need from the so-called “voiceless” rivers and the mountains, the antennas of giant root-ed redwoods, and the bedrock memories of our own earthen bones, vibrating beneath expectant flesh! Our job is to align the will of our authentic selves, with the will of the inspirited Earth. And in this way, to fulfill our highest purpose.
M): What is the difference between a “messenger,” one’s “Medicine animal,” “familiar” or “totem?”
W: Every animal, and every expression of Nature is a messenger, awaiting our attention and recall. For all its many variations, that message remains basically this: “Wake up! Reconnect, remember! Respond! And celebrate that awakeness, connection and response!” Lessons of patience, perseverance, surrender, gratitude... A familiar can be either another person or another species. On first meeting there will be a sense of familiarity, as though your essences have resolved or resonated together before, and indicating a shared assignment or purpose. Your medicine animal is the most influential of your creature familiars, the species with which you share the most energy and proclivity. It’s not your favorite animal, or one you’ve selected from a picture-card deck.
Your medicine animal is the predominate animal spirit within you, and throughout your life you will largely act in the same ways it would. By recognizing and acknowledging our medicine animal (or animals), we have the opportunity to enlist its gifts and powers. It becomes our personal totem only when we accept conscious responsibility for such power.
M): The other half of the chapters in “Kindred” focus on your Gaian ministry, plotting one’s life on a universal medicine wheel, music, sexuality, walking quests, “earth education,” the dance of life...
W): Each is a tool, a set of understandings that can assist our reinhabitation of human heart and more-than-human Nature, of sensate body and sacred place... and of the vital present moment. They offer genuine magic — to generations raised on entertainment and artifice, fabrication and illusion.
M): In the chapter “Plant Mind/Planetary Mind,” you talk about acknowledging the plant world’s capacity for pain. Just what is it they have to teach us?
W): Plant communications are more subtle than that of animals, requiring even more stillness, attune-ment, and attention on our part. Whereas animal spirits seem to come to us, in life or in dream, with the plant world communication usually requires we go to them. Part of what they teach is the most enchanted, intense sense of place is a product of staying put! Refusing to leave, through better and worse. They show us how only by reaching our roots down, down, deep into the grounding earth, can we reach up, up to the sky!
Researchers like Backster and Sauvin began recording the galvanic responses of plants to pain, and even reactions to the imminent threat of pain, over two decades ago. By granting sentience (the ability to feel) to other life forms, it increases the level of our conscious responsibility. Vegetarians have to accept that they, and not just flesh eaters, are responsible for some degree of pain. We desperately need to regain this awareness, need to develop our ability to sense and to share the sufferings of others. We devalue the vegetable’s sacrifice when we deny its pain. And by acknowledging that pain, we’re then called upon to celebrate its gifts, and embody joy and gratitude in equal measure.
M): What about psychoactive plants? Are peyote or mushrooms valid aids for this “communion” you write about?
W): So-called “primitive” cultures around the world have been ingesting power plants for thousands of years now, and have been instructed by the vegetal world in that way. Lessons of openness and connection, of the cycles of life and death, possibility and delight. But with enough time and intimacy, with enough attention given these green growing beings, you can begin to access the same states, benefit from the same lessons, without the need for psychotropics.
M): That is a very promising thought, given the repressive drug laws in this country!
W): Exactly. The twist being that the drugs of choice in this society — alcohol, antidepressants, cocaine — tend to either temporarily short-circuit or gradually deaden consciousness. They often contribute to our feeling of isolation, and magnify our imagined sense of separation. On the other hand, power plants — medicine plants — deepen contact and heighten sensitivity... delivering us to the threshold of authentic self, in the province of oneness. Again, this is the primary lesson other lifeforms need to teach us: that life is a complex, magical net of interdependence and relationship... and that we, too, belong!
M): How do you define your personal purpose and role these days?
W): First and foremost I am the guardian of this sacred shrine, the repository of special numinous energies and specific responsibilities. I’m protecting the ecological integrity at the same time as the spiritual, against more threats than this place has ever faced before. Secondly, but inseparably, the Sanctuary is a place of start-ling truth and cutting clarity, and I have a responsibility to pass on these tools and revelations at every opportunity, in every possible way.
M): Truths specific to that can-yon, or to only those who make their pilgrimage there?
W): Universally applicable insights, that for whatever reason are more readily available, even inescapable at this terrestrial source point. Even the most guarded and distracted visitors to our canyon inevitably find themselves face to face with both their fears and their dreams. As well as a call to respond! The Sanctuary is infused with a power that mercilessly strips away illusion and denial, while simultaneously comforting, welcoming and healing. While benefiting from its obscurity, the Sanctuary is no less a place of power than the famous Machu Pichu, Chaco Canyon, or certain spots in the sacred Black Hills. And as a source of unmediated vision it may have no equal. My assignment is to protect and celebrate this place. My responsibility is to share the truths and medicine it continues to gift me.
M): You’ve been there over twenty years now.
W): Twenty-three years of depth-residency... after a thousand year hiatus.
M): A thousand years between when the Sweet Medicine People migrated away, until you were called to assume protectorship. But your blood is that of either Celts or Norsemen!
W): Regardless of our varied bloodlines, we’re only native when we’ve entered into deep, reciprocal relationship with the land. When we learn to hear its instructions, accept its gifts, and to give back equally of ourselves. Nativity is instinctual but contractual.
M): Besides counseling or ministering, you also host wilderness retreats and vision quests. In what ways are the two different?
W): What we call “retreat” is time at the Sanctuary, staying in one of our riverside cabins. With or without any direction or counseling from me. We don’t use the term “vision quest” because of all its specifically AmerIndian associations. But for all of time, people of every race on every inhabited continent have gone out into Nature in search of understanding, presence and power.
A “life quest” is an eight day or more program that includes instruction, a medicine sweat, extended solo time in a place of power, a period of reintegration, and strategies for application.
Loba leads the women’s sweats and quests, as well as wild foods workshops and the annual Wild Women’s Gathering. I’ve assisted teens with their crucial rites of passage, elders dealing with their mortality, men contacting their emotions, and women learning to insist on the life they deserve. And through all its forms, my work is somehow still an “environmental action.” Because only through our reconnection to the whole, can we hope to protect any of the endangered parts.
M): What are your internships like?
W): We offer residencies to the few ready for longer term instruction. There is the potential for some of them to stay, with sufficient commitment, in hopes of starting a lineage of instruction and guardianship. A “lineage of hope.”
M): A trip to the Sweet Medicine Sanctuary is nothing less than a pilgrimage, almost three hundred miles from the nearest airport, a significant seven river crossings from the road. All to see you. And to experience that place.
W): We all need to make our pilgrimages, out of the norm, away from the haunts of our habits, away from the hall of mirrors... and in the direction of fresh input and potential enchantment. We need to seek out, again and again, those peak experiences that crush or confirm our beliefs and strengthen our resolve. I remember my own dropping out of military school so long ago, hitchhiking and riding an unregisterable motorcycle to the West Coast in search of my mentors and guiding lights.
Part of my “shamanic” training came in the form of being tested severely in juvenile lock-up, corresponding with Theodore Roszak about the making of a counter-culture. Shivering under a bridge on my way to meet the venerable Alan Watts. Being part of a group tossed off the Springfield Creamery by a remarkably red-neck Ken Kesey. In comparison, the river crossings are less than knee deep, and the paths soft and pliant!
M): You’ve managed to earn plaudits from a wide range of movers from Gary Snyder to Paul Winter. And for all that, I am sure the effect you have on people like me is reward enough.
W): Truly. You, too, are my kindred spirits! Then again, it’s enough just to be this real, this informed, this connected, this vibrantly alive! In my canyon. In my purpose. In my place.
Maya M. is a writer and dancer touching the sacred Earth and inspiring others through her inspired work. She frequently assists the ministry with her many skills and bountiful enthusiasm.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is a teacher of Gaian (Earth-informed) spirituality, and author of “Kindred Spirits: Sacred Earth Wisdom” (SwanïRaven & Co. 2001). Wolf and Loba present at various pagan, spiritual, and environmental events, and host seekers at their enchanted riverside sanctuary. The annual Whole Foods Weekend is August 15-17. For more information on books, presentations, wilderness quests and retreats, or resident internships, contact The Earthen Spirituality Project & Sweet Medicine Women’s Center, Box 509, Reserve, NM 87830. Also please see www.concentric.net/~earthway.com
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