This month’s column for The Wild Hunt is the closest I’ve been able to come to synthesize the visions the gods and spirits and dead have shown me with all the political and philosophical theorists pointing to the exact same conclusions without recourse to visions:
Cut down a forest to build a shopping center and you do not just have an absence of forest, you also have a dead forest. Bomb a village in the Middle-East and you do not only have an absence of a village and its inhabitants; you also have a dead village and dead people. The mountain doesn’t go away when we strip it for coal, nor does the gasoline we combust to drive our vehicles.The bones of the raped mountain litter the earth, just as the carbon from our consumption litters the sky.
The Dead don’t go away. They are always with us, even when we refuse to notice.
In a conversation with my editor, I brought up that I wasn’t sure who might get offended by this column, as it certainly seems someone or group of someones is always ready to be very, very upset at something I’ve written. The only opposition that ever gets me is from people who should already be on the same page, particularly folks in the ‘old guard’ of Paganism who worked so hard to get us where we are and then somehow gave up. People who were on about saving the planet and bringing back the gods who got eventually crushed by the horrifying weight of the problem, settling for half-measures or the “possible” rather than the impossible.
That depressed me, but then I wrote this to her:
Maybe everyone will love it and be inspired to revolt and overthrow Capitalism and build shrines to the gods and land spirits and fae and dead and we’ll get to keep our forests?!!?
‘Cause, well–that’s why I’m doing this.
I have to remind myself of this when things get a bit crushing, when balancing work and writing and ritual and forest restoration and the impending Pilgrimage and the vast geographical distance of my lover all together start to wear really heavily on the flesh and soul, or when there’s some unexpected anger or, more than anything, when I’m at my whit’s end staring at the vast complications of Capitalism and racism and exploitation and trying to find some path through.
It’s an apparently impossible problem.
But my entire life has been about apparently impossible problems.
A Winter’s Tale
Wanna hear a story?
There was this moment with a lover of mine, a few winters ago. We’d gone together to get wax to make candles and the stuff for glühwein (German mulled wine), and we got stuck on a bus in a snowstorm at the bottom of a steep hill. We’d had little time to do much together, had both been ground-down by our jobs and the difficulties of our relationship and our various lives, and this simple errand had been a beautiful thing to do together, seemingly crushed by a sudden storm.
The bus wasn’t going anywhere. Cars spun out, slid back down the hill past the bus. We were gonna be there for hours before the bus would ever start moving again, and it looked like the world was against us, the same way every awesome thing we– both from abject poverty and families rife with mental troubles–ever tried to do would fall apart in the face of impossibility.
Both of our lives, actually, were impossible. I grew up in abject poverty in Appalachia to an abusive father and a developmentally-disabled (they used to call people with her intelligence quotient “retarded”) mother who later developed schizophrenia. His mother? Addicted to drugs since he was a child. He’d tell me a story about being 14 and being left with his 6-month old half-brother for days on end, trying to figure out what to do with a baby while his mother was out drug-seeking. I’d tell him stories of being in South Florida trying to raise my sisters and pay rent at 14 while my divorced and schizophrenic mother talked back to voices telling her to drive my sisters and I off a bridge into the water. And it’s funny, because he and I would have arguments about whose childhood was harder (I thought his, he thought mine).
The world’s a fucking impossible place, and we both knew this a little better than most.
And we’re sitting there in this bus as the snow falls and cars slide past us, hitting each other in the great chaos of human effort against nature. That bus wasn’t fucking going anywhere, but you know what we did?
We got off the bus and walked.
Trudging up that icy hill in a snowstorm, laughing, watching all the silly people in their silly cars trying to get up that hill, catching snowflakes on our tongues, pushing stuck cars on our way up…the impossible is always impossible only if you insist on going on precisely the way you think you’re supposed to.
If we can’t have cars and mass-produced shit and 40-hour work weeks in lifeless jobs without ruining the planet, we can just start walking and making stuff that lasts and working less in more meaningful ways.
If we can’t have smartphones and computer games and 400 television channels and fresh strawberries in winter, then we can write letters and play cards and tell stories and make strawberry jam in the summer.
If we can’t make absurd amounts of money off of selling houses and derivatives and weight-loss programs and plastic toys, then we make absurd amounts of joy and equality in societies where people grow gardens and tend forests and no one gets to ruin other people’s lives on account of having more money than others.
So what if that bus isn’t getting up the hill in the snowstorm? We can walk up the hill and catch snowflakes on our tongues and warm our winter-chilled bodies with each others’ flesh when we get to the top.
The Way Past the Impossible
Like seeing the Dead and the gods and the spirits, the way past the impossible usually just involves giving up some certainty that is keeping you on a snow-bound bus at the bottom of a hill, some habit, some reliance on an expectation that isn’t serving you any longer.
And yeah, look. There’s gonna be some resistance. I’m pretty certain if we’d asked other people on the bus what we should do, they would have pointed to what they were doing and suggested we wait, like them. The weight of their collective inertia gave us pause–perhaps getting out and climbing the hill was silly? I mean, we were the only ones doing it.
That is, until we got out. Others followed us, their own spells broken by our exit.
And there’s gonna be some stronger resistance, I know. And that shit’s gonna be bloody. I’m sorry for that. I wish I could guarantee that there won’t be people so invested in the current system that they’re willing to fight us and maybe even kill us for trying to keep the forests alive. In fact, I can promise they will be violent, because they’ve already proven themselves willing to kill to get more oil, more coal, more money, more land. They already crush every attempted resistance to their assaults, be it in slums and on First Nations land in the Americas, the streets in Greece and Italy, the rainforests and campanero lands in South America, the movements for self-rule and resource protection in Africa, the anti-corporate and anti-authoritarian protests in Asia and the anti-colonial struggles in the Middle East and everywhere.
They’ve got plenty of guns, and usually don’t even need to use them against us because we’re so beaten down already we don’t have the will to resist.
“I’m so sorry for what is coming,” said the voice of an unwilling oracle around a fire this summer. I’ve heard this from others, too–Others, I mean. The visions, the fires, the dead gathered at gates, the floods, the cities destroyed, the warnings, the chastisement for Forgetting, the undine at the pool, the screams of the land spirits, the shaking off of the revelers from the body of the god, all the violence–fuck.
You can carry a rucksack full of wax and wine up a snowy hill with your lover and laugh and make mulled wine and warm yourself and each other with the love falling like rain and snow from the skies. You can read by the light of burning barricades and plant chamomile in the cracked pavement and tell stories of what it was like when we thought we should ignore the gods and the dead.
We can side with the poor and the streams and forests and crows and the forgotten, because there’s so many of us, you know, and we have the best stories.
And we can start building now. Actually, we must. If we’re to counter their violence with something other than violence, a game we can never win, we must create the world we want now. A world full of gods, a world of remembered dead, a world others want to join and help create, one that doesn’t flood the cities and poison the waters and raze the forests and abuse women or favor one skin color over all others.
The first step’s easy.
You just have to leave the stuck bus, and make sure you help others up the hill on your way.