By Jesse Wolf Hardin
Anyone who is not aware of the increase in both natural and
human-caused disasters, has not been paying close attention! “Of
utmost importance,” Wolf teaches, “are the practical and spiritual
lessons they provide.”
The Earth is a magical set of processes — and a tumultuous cauldron, forever subject to cycles of natural stress and catastrophe. Some mountain ranges were midwifed by a great and tremorous uplift, and others by a fearsome volcanic surge.... and it’s thanks to their gradual crumbling that we’re provided both sand and soil. The arrival of new life forms has often signaled the disappearance of others, throughout the long history of this Gaian Earth mother. It is nonetheless difficult to name a period in time when there’s ever been this diverse a variety of natural and man-made disasters, occurring either simultaneously or in such rapid succession.
Most alarming is the acceleration of events affecting the entire world, taking place right now. Including interpersonal violence and political repression: the destruction of the World Trade Center and the wars it has inspired. A surge in gang killings and wife beatings. The increase in authoritative government and the abrogation of civil liberties and civil rights. Systematic religious, racial and cultural genocide.
Along with financial disruption: the international stock market crash, and an imploding of the economies of Russia, South America and Southeast Asia leading to starvation and social unrest. Along with greater health risks and epidemics: the spread of cancer, AIDS, acute environmental sensitivities and food allergies. Psoriasis and heart disease. Rampant alcoholism and prescription drug abuse.
Plus the ecological crisis: burgeoning overpopulation, and a dominant global culture promoting illusion and distraction. The Great Lakes infested with zebra mussels, and Lake Baikal drying up. PCB’s in the water resulting in hermaphrodite polar bears. Toxic herbicides and pesticides impacting depleted croplands, the wiping out of ecologically-essential predators, and the clearcutting of fragile rainforest ecosystems. The disappearance of frog and amphibian species worldwide, and the genetic manipulation of animals and plants. Plus the polluting of the air, and unrepentant destruction of the ozone layer. Killer bees, and the overfishing of the seas....
Then there are those mounting conflagrations that are not as easy to attribute to a single act or oversight. Relief agencies around the world report they’ve never been spread so thin, attempting to alleviate one humanitarian disaster after another. The antarctic ice shelf is breaking up, hurricanes are on the increase, and a season of famine in Africa is all too often followed by another. As I write this the American West is in the fifth year of record drought, a chronic condition onlyslightly alleviated by the Winter’s gracious rains.
We’ve been beset by ever larger forest fires, and deadly bark beetles have infested many of the remaining stands. The famous Rio Grande is running at a fraction of its normal volume, while the Southeast has nearly been washed away by record breaking floods. It’s as if Earth and Spirit were jumping up and down, getting ever louder and more shrill in the effort to grab our attention. And indeed, they are! The rustling leaves of the trees beckon us to notice their beauty and grace, before the Autumn reckoning when each tumbles from its silvan place. Similarly, tragedies call on us to wake up and personally tend to their needs, roots and causes before it’s too late.
There are some potential consequences should our kind not heed the implorings of the existing shamans and elders, as well as the dire portents of our communicative world. They are reflected in the oft-foretold fall of Babylon, in the prayers of the Tibetans and the prophecies of the Hopi. In the nuclear storms of the dark gods Teacatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli, the promise of Quetzalcoatl and the Viking legend of Ragnarok: human kind — systematically disenfranchised from sacred self, Earth and Spirit — could pay an unnecessarily tragic price.
Note that paying a price is not the same as either penalty or penance, it is simply a matter of responsibility — the portentous results of our collective failure to respond. Contrary to certain social and religious dictums, we’re being neither tested nor punished. More accurately, the directive inspirited Earth is probing for new healing, for new ways of being and relationship that could return the whole to balance. She is probing for those precious empathics who can hear her cries, sense her needs, and feel her cumulative pain. And she’s probing for a reaction, as if to ask “Is anyone home? Does anyone notice? Does anyone care?”
The significance of the Earth changes is so great and the social condition so urgent, it is tempting to reject the implications and duck the assignment. It’s certainly simpler to blame it all on the power of evil spirits, the manipulations of scheming extraterrestrials, the trickery of a hellish devil, the retribution of a wrathful god ... or on an impervious corporate state. It is a relief on some level to imagine that the forces of destruction are insurmountable, the perpetrators too powerful for us to bother attempting to intervene.
But whenever there is a human or institutional cause we share a degree of culpability, and we find both an opening for activism and a chance for reformation. When the tumult and tragedy are set into motion by something bigger than our mortal hominid kind, we can still assume we have a part to play... contributing both to the creation of the imbalance itself, and to the global healing that must follow.
We were each born with a body that regulates its internal hungers and heat, triggers the urge to reproduce, and can heal its cuts and wounds. A bodily fever is a valuable curative response to a dangerous infection. While a fever can potentially kill the patient as well as the disease, it’s not some dark force that is out to get us. In a similar manner, violent earthquakes and viral outbreaks function like a terrestrial fever that indicates — and can sometimes help eliminate — the imbalance and disease threatening the corporal Earthen body.
We too are integral elements and agents of planetary being, planetary change, and we have the daily informed choice of being either part of the problem, or part of the cure. Ignorance is not a lack of information — it is deliberately ignoring the impact of our lifestyles, the results of both what we’ve done, and what we have so far failed to do. Ignoring the hushed screams of falling old-growth forests, and of the hundreds of species yearly banished into extinction. Ignoring the pleas of motherless children, abused wives, and those hungry homeless camped on our streets. Ignoring the preeminent mission of our kind and times, which is to reconnect, re-member, resacra-ment and restore.
While in some ways it is the more difficult path, being a servant of Gaian truth and Gaian healing has some immediate and lasting rewards. So much of this work involves reinhabiting our animal bodies and the vital present moment, where we can fully experience with every one of our six senses the unfolding world around us.
It is here we discover not only problems and challenges but their benefits and solutions. Here we notice the taste of our meals and savor the scent of our lovers. When we plant seeds or saplings we plant ourselves in place and time. Every circle we cast, every ritual we practice or invent creates a magic that needs no future act or validation to be complete.
Teaching and healing are revealed to be both rhythmic and melodic, as we become whirling ecstatics spreading to a saddened culture our primal engagement and bliss. Even our necessary activism, and our most assertive resistance, are part of this dance. And there is no joy like that of helping other people, other species, other manifestations of nature to be authentically realized, to bloom free and evolve unfettered, no greater satisfaction than helping them shine! It is here and now we choose to fly or fall.... to ignore or heed the hero’s call.
There may never be a period of total peace on Earth, and truth is, we’re strengthened and purified by a degree of challenge and travail. But there can and must be a return to balance that supports the flowering and blessing of the whole. The necessary cure will involve a complete remaking of our sense of self, community, purpose and place. It will require new forms of Earth-centered teaching, and teachers who are both visionary and grounded.
A future founded in gratitude, and hope that will last. And a return to the sensibilities, sensitivities and values of our sacramental tribal past. We can halt much of the destruction by exposing the facts, and through our most focused, unselfish acts. Even the earthquakes and droughts can be tempered if not tamed, through the depth of our gratitude, the sincerity of our rituals, and the strength of prayers.
In bringing down a deer to eat, our primitive ancestors of every race gave thanks. Indigenous Amer-icans spread cornmeal before the animal’s stilled mouth. And an ocean away, early IndoEuropeans burned smudge sticks while describing their hungry children to their downed quarry, and promising to praise the creature’s stam-ina and beauty in songs shared with the entire tribe.
It is time that we, too, spread sacred yellow corn or hallowed tears at the foot of our many gifts. Time that we compose new songs to the source of our sentience and sustenance, bliss and delight. And that we sacrifice all delusion and hesitation, on the miraculous altar of life.
If there is ever a human extinction it will be because we neglected to respond as her “feelers” and healers, failed to fulfill our Gaian and evolutionary role. And if we survive the Earth changes and our own species’ most magnificent mistakes, it will be because we have learned to apply the attendant lessons in ways that benefit not only us but the Earth. It is then that we will truly flourish, body and soul.... serving as her lovers and protectors, ritualists and restorationists, sensors and celebrants again.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is a contemporary spiritual teacher, respected deep ecologist and author of “Gaia Eros: Reconnecting With The Magic & Spirit Of Nature” (New Page, 2004), from which the above is excerpted. Jesse and his partners tend an enchanted riverside sanctuary and ancient place of power, hosting seekers for magickal study, workshops, wild-erness retreats and resident apprenticeships: The Earthen Spirituality Project & Sweet Medicine Women’s Center, Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830. Please visit www.earthenspirituality.org
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