Wisdom from nature and indigenous cultures

“Malidoma [Dr. Malidoma Some´] teaches that the healing power of nature, ritual and community is what the indigenous world offers to the modern world. In the indigenous world, community is integral to the harmony and balance of each individual.” from the mission statement of East Coast Village

africaThe modern world of science and technology has learned a lot from observing nature and indigenous cultures’ relationships with the natural world. Unfortunately, we have also missed most of what nature and indigenous cultures have had to offer, and we further facilitated that tragedy by calling such cultures hicks, savages, superstitious, ignorant and pagan (in the negative sense most people assign to that word).

Organized religion went a step further, claiming throughout history that pagans–including witches–worshiped the so-called “devil” and needed to be put to death for their beliefs. These beliefs were not only natural but threatened the knowledge and wisdom a culture based on patriarchy had to offer.

Today, for example, we look at prescribed drugs as compounds invented in laboratories and produced in factories. While synthesized drugs have brought quality control and the benefits of mass production, they also come with a price based on a patent that allows drug companies to charge hundreds of dollars for little bottles of pills with ingredients that are probably worth a few pennies.

Yes, it can be dangerous for people without an herbalist certification or an oral tradition of using plants as medcine, much less prescribe them from others. Yet, when the medical establishment condemns the practice out of hand, they are overlooking the fact that many major drugs, past and present, originally came from plants and were frequently discovered by observing what native cultures used for medicine. One expert says that 120 distinct chemicals that come from plants are currently used throughout the world.

In a recent news story (A Doctor Discovered Why Insulin Is So Pricy In America — And How To Buy It More Cheaply)  it was shown that insulin costs diabetes patients more than most of them can afford because a pricey biotech drug created in the 1970s took over the market so completely that the off-patent, generic insulin is no longer available in the United States. The whys and wherefores of medicines and their costs are part of a complex tangle of issues. The lack of natural drugs just might, in some cases, stem from our championing what comes out of a lab over what nature produces.

spellsensuousIn The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram argues that “Humans, like other animals, are shaped by the places they inhabit, both individually and collectively. Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by seasonal patterns in the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain.”

We have been making excuses for years about the supposed Gods of science and technology at the expense of a shared relationship with the natural world and those who understand it. From time to time, we run across articles that focus on one indigenous culture or another that show one group has little or no cancer and another group has little or no stress and stress-related maladies. But such things usually stop at the curiosity-level “go figure” or the profit-motive level of “how can we synthesize what they know put it in a pill?”

ofwaterDr. Malidoma Some´, a widely known teacher of African wisdom, is the author of multiple books, including “The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community,” “Creating a New Sense of Home” and the now-classic “Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman.”

On his website, Dr. Some´ writes that “It is possible that we have been brought together at this time because we have profound truths to teach each other. Toward that end, I offer the wisdom of the African ancestors so that Westerners might find the deep healing they seek.”

I don’t reject art, culture, science or technology. I do reject thinking they are all we have.  Dr. Some´ has things to teach us that we have turned a deaf and snobbish ear to for generations. Now we have a medical system nobody can pay for, global warming nobody knows how to fix and poverty that exceeds our comprehension. Something is badly out of sync and those who tell us that modern man is like a cancer upon the climate suggest that we ourselves are the problem.

Abram suggests we will never solve the major issues of life as long as we’re only willing to look at everything except nature and natural wisdom whether it comes out of Africa or the so-called “First Nations” (to use the Canadian phrase) who live invisibly among us.

I was taught what most kids of my generation were taught. Christianity is all there is. Paved streets are better than unpaved country roads. Science and technology are better than anything the witches, root doctors, and “illiterate savages” have to offer.

Undoing all that brainwashing can take a lifetime. If only, we could start fresh with our children and not addict them to false gods in the first place.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novella about a granny and a kitty fighting the KKK that’s filled with the wisom of the natural world. It’s on sale today on Kindle.

“I loved the way Campbell made magic part of the fabric of the place…Readers of magic realism will appreciate Conjure Woman’s Cat. Highly recommended.” –  Lynne Cantwell, hearth/myth – Rursday Reads

 

 

 

 

A talk with Scott and Smoky Zeidel, authors of ‘Trails’

scottandsmokyIt’s a pleasure to welcome Smoky and Scott Zeidel to Malcolm’s Round Table to talk about their new book Trails: Short Stories Poetry and Photographs released in paperback and e-book this month by Vanilla Heart Publishing.

Smoky is the author of fiction and nonfiction, including The Storyteller’s Bracelet (2012) and Observations of an Earth Mage, (2010). Her husband Scott, who plays the guitar, teaches music history as an adjunct professor at Mt. San Antonio College in California.

MALCOLM: Trails has been dedicated to the squirrels. Is this the entire family of tree or ground squirrels or a bird-feeder robbing band in your yard?

SCOTT: The squirrels are metaphors for nature. So, to answer your question, the book is dedicated to every type of squirrel in the world, the little bastards.

SMOKY: I started to say, “He doesn’t really mean that last part.” But then, I looked out my studio window, and there’s a pregnant ground squirrel out on the deck, ripping a rug to shreds, to get wool to line her nest, and I think, maybe Scott’s right.

trailsMALCOLM: I’ve had many conflicts with squirrels over the years, usually a difference of opinion about just who the bird feeders are for. Scott, when you write that you once thought everyone remembered their own birth, I thought of people who had either bad vision or better than normal vision and supposed everyone’s eyesight was the same. What has this memory given you that others do not have—long-term vision, connectedness to your family going back in time, insight into the big picture of our incarnation, or something else?

crescentSCOTT: I can’t speak for others, but, like I said, I do remember my birth. Nevertheless, was I instantly awake, instantly aware, at the moment of my birth? On a purely rational level, is this even possible? I think not. On a metaphysical level, when did my life really begin as a sentient being? When will it end? These are the big questions.

MALCOLM: Smoky, some people say that old stories change every time they’re told. Did you hear different versions of your childhood stories over time and do you now find yourself telling them differently when you relate them to others? Do you begin to wonder what parts of them have slowly become fiction?

SMOKY: I assume you’re referring to the stories I relate in the book about how I became a storyteller; the stories about my mother being a turkey murderer and my uncles’ wild snake stories. Hell, when I heard them the first time I wondered how much of them were true and how much my mother and my uncles made up. Even as a little girl I recognized these magical stories as being part truth, part fiction. What I garnered from them wasn’t whether my elders were being totally truthful or not, but rather the love they poured into the stories as they told them. Stories without love are dull, and seldom are they remembered. But these stories? There was so much love in them it wouldn’t have mattered if my mother said she’d slain a dragon, or my uncles done battle with Kaa (from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book) himself. The stories would have stayed with me.

MALCOLM: Scott, when you follow Smoky into the hospital for seemingly an infinite number of visits leading back to her being struck by lightning in 1989 and you sit, as you wrote, in another waiting room that looks the same as all the others, do you see it all as being within the hands and plans of the universe or do you watch people, read books and wait in a stoic limbo mode?

SCOTT: My intention was not to be particularly deep or philosophical here. I’m just a man. This is what I do; this what everyone should do. We all should hold out our hands and arms to others, friends, enemies, loved ones. What else is there? I comfort Smoky because this is what I do.

MALCOLM: Smoky and Scott, before either one of you wrote the first word of this book, did one of you say to the other, “Let’s co-author a book about life, walking and nature” or was it a muse or a publisher that suggested the project?

SCOTT: Our wonderful publisher, Kimberlee Williams, suggested the project. She has been so supportive and helpful. Kimberlee is our muse.

SMOKY: Let me clarify that “Kimberlee is our muse” thing. I talk about Muse frequently in the book; Kimberlee is not that muse. Kimberlee could ask me a thousand times to dive naked into a freezing mountain river and I wouldn’t do it. Muse, however… well, you’ve read the book, Malcolm. And whoever reads this here, on your blog, can read the book to learn more about that Muse.

buckeyeMALCOLM: Smoky, has it taken a lifetime to learn the lesson of the California buckeye, that it’s part of a continuing process of life rather than a work of art to be preserved for all time as it was during one moment? Or, did the beauty of nature’s changes come to you more as an epiphany when you looked at the seeds you collected?

SMOKY: The beauty of nature’s changes first came to me when I was three years old and sitting in a blooming apple tree in my parents’ back yard. (I wrote about that experience in my “I Am Nature” essay in my book, Observations of an Earth Mage.) I’ve always been keenly in tune with the cyclical nature of Nature. In tune so much, in fact, I feel intense physical pain when rain is coming, for example, or when I’m near a place where our Mother Earth has been ravaged by bulldozers or mining equipment. The lesson of the buckeye is best summarized as a lesson in the impermanence of beauty; the impermanence of life as we know it. Life goes on, of course. It just changes form. The buckeye becomes a sprout, then a seedling, then, over time, an enormous tree. It would be wrong—it would be impossible, in fact—to try to contain it in any one form, no matter how beautiful. We also talk about that in the last chapter of Trails.

MALCOLM: Scott, you traveled a long way—and many years—from your childhood play in the dirt outside your house to the Big Sur where you re-discovered the land on a rainy night while reading Vonnegut. Do you wonder now why the journey to the Big Sur took as long as it did or whether you had missed signs and hunches early on that you needed to go there, or somewhere, to re-connect?

SCOTT: I do wonder why it took so long. I certainly missed signs along the way, many signs. When I would sit at a table in one of my many Ph.D. seminars, I felt like a robot, a machine, waiting for something. But sometimes I felt something taping, taping on my shoulder. Now I know what it was. It was Poe’s raven. It was my muse. I just brushed it away.

MALCOLM: Smoky, you write that you “find there are two kinds of people: those who believe it is possible to talk and listen to trees, rocks, animals, and rivers, and those who do not.” You talk and listen. Are you “wired differently” or are whose who don’t understand the dialogue brainwashed that it’s impossible or too busy to consider it?

SMOKY: Brainwashed might be too harsh a term. I think children hear Nature speaking. But as they grow, they’re told to put aside their playful, creative natures and buckle down and study hard so they can get a good job and support a spouse and 2.3 children and begin the cycle all over again. The quashing of creativity quashes the ability to hear Nature speak. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve learned the only people who talk to rocks and trees are crazy people. So call me crazy, but I know what I know, and I know when Nature and her children—the rocks, trees, birds, rivers—are talking to me. And I think other people hear it too. They just don’t remember the language. It’s not unlike being dropped on some random street in, say, the Middle East, and all you hear is Farsi. You hear something. You just don’t understand it. The good thing is, this is a skill that can be re-learned, understanding what the trees and rocks are saying. You just have to sit still and listen long enough.

MALCOLM: Scott and Smoky, what draws you to the Kings River in the Sierras? Would another river serve the same purpose or is the voice of this one Sympatico with your thoughts and feelings?

SCOTT: All mountain rivers inspire us: the movement, the sound, the color, the smell. So sensual. But there are many levels to a mountain river. They’re veins through the natural world; they’re Gaia’s poetry; they’re the beauty of life; they’re spirit. But the Kings River is special; it’s a mountain river on steroids.

SMOKY: For me it’s all that Scott said, but I’d add one thing: the Kings was the river of a profound spiritual renewal I experienced and write about in Trails. While other rivers are sacred to me—the Little Pigeon in the Smokies especially comes to mind—none of them have affected me, spiritually, as profoundly as the Kings. The Little Pigeon is the river of my heart; the Kings is the river of my soul.

scottMALCOLM: My feelings about mountain rivers are the same. Smoky and Scott, one of you is inspired by a guitar and one of you is inspired by Snake. Is this an example of opposites (or differences) attracting, or is there a synchronicity here that lurks within your respective muses?

SCOTT: Yes, synchronicity! Someone strums a snake; someone strums a guitar. There’s really no difference. As Rumi said, “Everything is music.”

SMOKY: Our muses are definitely entwined, which evokes an image of Snake. And music is a theme of our lives: there are times we live our lives at a fevered pitch, and times when we sit in quiet repose. There are slow, dark sonatas when I am sick; there are times the music plays so fast we can hardly dance fast enough to keep up.

MALCOLM: Does each of you have a favorite line from the book that best communicates the depth and breadth and intent of the book?

SCOTT: For me, it’s what I just said, “Everything is music.”

SMOKY: For me it would be “ …we went to the mountains, deep in the wild Sierra, to refresh our tired bodies and restore our faith in all that is Nature, and wild, and sacred, and good.” I hope our book, Trails, is like that, that it restores readers’ faith that there is good, and it is as close as our own back yards.

MALCOLM: Thank you for stopping by the Round Table today with your wonderful background about Trails.

Trails is available on Kindle, Payloadz and OmniLit. More formats will be released in the coming weeks.

Earth Language

“To our indigenous ancestors, and to the many aboriginal peoples who still hold fast to their oral traditions, language is less a human possession than it is a property of the animate earth itself, an expressive, telluric power in which we, along with the coyotes and the crickets, all participate. Each creature enacts this expressive magic in its own manner, the honeybee with its waggle dance no less than a bellicose, harrumphing sea lion.” — From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram, quoted by Terri Windling in her recent series of posts.

The plots and imagery of my short stories and novels frequently evoke the powers of Earth and invite meditations on and respect for the natural world. This is especially true in my 2011 heroine’s journey adventure novel Sarabande.

The phrase heroine’s journey indicates that this is a woman’s adventure story and that the trials and tribulations will strongly test the main character. The story is written with a feminine point of view, that of Sarabande, the young title character. Since Earth and the forces of nature are often viewed as feminine, the title character’s adventure is supported by “Earth language.”

Sarabande is attracted to rivers, the earth’s life blood and she is healed by an Indian’s Earth-centric approach. And, for a short period of time, she truly experiences becoming animal when she merges with Coyote, a magical creature in the mountains where she finds the ghost who has been haunting her.

I’m attracted to David Abram’s books because they place humans back into nature rather than as creatures at odds with nature. In Sarabande, the title character’s interactions with nature are important to her physical survival and to her inner growth. As readers will soon discover, her life is in danger quite often: knowing “Earth Language” will be essential.

David Abram suggests that rather than describing nature, we should listen to and talk to nature. He relates the story of a man who has trained himself so well to understand “the dialects of trees” that he can be taken blindfolded to any location in the Pacific Northwest. Once there, he will tell you who the nearby trees are. Perhaps our best contemporary fantasies can lead readers back to an appreciation for such skills.

In Sarabande, I hope readers will not only enjoy the adventure, but will take away a bit of Earth language.

Today’s Writing Links

  • Why We Have Both “Color” and “Colour” by Mignon Fogarty for Grammar Girl – “Have you ever wondered why the British spell “color” with a “u” and Americans don’t? Or why the British spell “theater” with an “re” at the end and Americans spell it with an “er” at the end? We all know that these spelling differences exist, but not everyone knows why they exist.”
  • The Stephen King Guide to Marketing by Jason Kong for Jane Friedman’s blog – “…you need both good writing and good marketing. Many writers see this as two steps. Write first, then worry about marketing once the words are published. The belief is that the writing and marketing processes are distinct.”
  • Quote: I am obsessive about titles. Even for my second and third book in the series, I couldn’t move forward until I had the right title for it. With Crewel, I didn’t want it to be so sewing-based that it would be off-putting. I stumbled upon “crewel,” and I thought, obviously this is the title. I take liberties with it. There’s someone out there who does crewel who’s going to say, “There isn’t one crewel work in the book.” – Gennifer Albin, author of “Crewel” – from Shelf Awareness

Malcolm

In Wildness is the Preservation of the World

North Georgia Christmas
“Machinery and convenience are too often mistaken for civilization nowadays, but in fact civilization can be measured only by whether we live in harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine.” — Arthur Versluis in “Island Farm”

In her excellent post called “Winter Walks and the Wild,” author and editor Zinta Aistars ponders the reasons she is drawn away from suburbia into the bitterly cold, snowy countryside of Michigan. She’s looking for a connection with the wild and, when she finds it, she also finds harmony.

She’s been reading Arthur Versluis’ “Island Farm,” a book that author James Cowan calls “a Walden for our time.” The book matches Aistars’ experience and for those who cannot—or who have not yet—gone in search of nature in its most basic form, the book tells us what we are missing and what we have lost.

What we are missing is our connection with the rest of the planet. By this I don’t mean our ability to watch breaking news from the far side of the world as it happens or to communicate with others through blogs and Facebook. The wonders of our technology obscure its deficits.

When Thoreau wrote the words “in wildness is the preservation of the world” in “Walking” in 1862, he went on to say that “the founders of every state which has risen to eminence, have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source.” The comforts of our civilization have, I believe, not only blocked the flow of understanding and energy from that source, they have blocked our respect for the source as a viable source.

Nonetheless, we are hearing more about about nature and spirituality and connections these days. When we first heard such thoughts, we—as a modern society—tended to label them as tree-hugger platitudes and new age mumbojumbo. Now we’re starting to see that there might possibly be something happening behind the fog of platitudes and mumbojumbo. Hard science documents some of it and personal experience, like that of Zinta Aistars, documents some of it.

At present, we’re not yet sure just how big “it” is. We’re drawn more and more to the wild, but we’re not yet ready to plunge into it with a point-of-no-return attitude: “I want to become one with the deer from the comfort of my toasty warm car.”

The nearest shaman in our neighborhood still has a lot of teach us about connecting with the wild. And we still have a lot of listening to do before we’ll understand once and for all that our lives depend on that wildness more than on our technology.

“Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.” — Aldo Leopold in “A Sand County Almanac”

Only $5.99 at OmniLit

NPCA offers Park Field Guide Application

from the National Parks Conservation Association:

Washington, D.C.— A new mobile app field guide featuring national parks across the country was released October 8th by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and is available free to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users.

The most versatile and interactive mobile field guide app available, NPCA’s new National Park Field Guide provides a complete view of park wildlife, as well as a comprehensive ecosystem review of 50 national parks. Unlike any other mobile app on the market today, the guide includes bird portraits, call recordings, information about endangered and poisonous species, range maps, and wildlife. Users will also find current news about featured parks, access and reservation information, and directions to park visitor centers.

“We are pleased to offer this innovative and informative mobile field guide free of charge to national park visitors,” stated Megan Cantrell, NPCA Senior Coordinator of Member Engagement. “The new guide will enhance the experience of park visitors by providing a fun, educational companion for families and nature-lovers to learn about the many natural treasures that parks have to offer.”

From seashores and recreational areas to scenic riverways and historic sites, the field guide mobile app features 50 national parks across the country that support critical wildlife habitats. Among the many national parks featured include: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Cape Cod National Seashore, and Gettysburg National Military Park. To view a complete list, click here.

“With more than 300 million national parks visitors annually, our new field guide will help engage and educate a new generation of advocates for our national parks,” said Cantrell. “The more people who understand that our national parks are America’s legacy to our children and in urgent need of care and repair, the better chance we have at protecting them for the future.”

The field guide was developed for the National Parks Conservation Association by eNature.com. At the heart of this mobile app is eNature’s comprehensive, geographically segmentable database of U.S. wildlife, both animals and plants.

eNature.com’s core content of wildlife information includes almost 6,000 individual species and is the same data set used to create the printed Audubon Field Guides. Data has been carefully reviewed and vetted by leading biologists, zoologists and other natural history specialists. eNature.com has consistently been one of the Internet’s most-visited sites for nature and wildlife information and has won numerous awards and accolades.

“With eNature’s unsurpassed wildlife content base, we are able to create a mobile app guide uniquely capable of targeting specific parks so users can quickly identify and enjoy the wildlife they come across,” stated Tom McGuire, eNature’s President.

The National Park Field Guide is available here or visit the Apple App Store from your iPhone and search Park Guides.

Hero's Journey Story Set in Glacier Park