Category Archives: Nature

“Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up” is Here!

GUESS WHAT! Amid all the craziness of running Curious Gallery, I completely missed that my first box of copies of Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up arrived! But it’s here, and while a bunch of the copies will be going to people who preordered them, there are a few still up for grabs. I’ll be packing up orders to ship a little later this week, after I get a few more administrative errands taken care of from this weekend.

Want to know more about what’s inside these page? Here you go:

Deepen your spiritual connection to the earth and rejoin the community of nature. Nature Spirituality from the Ground Up invites you to explore not just symbols of nature, but to bury your hands in the earth and work with the real thing.

This isn’t just another list of totem “meanings” arranged in dictionary style. Instead, it empowers you to discover your totems and make them a part of your everyday life. And where most books just cover the animals, Nature Spirituality from the Ground Up introduces you to the totems of plants, fungi, minerals, waterways, landforms, and more. The table of contents tells you more of what to look forward to:

Chapter 1: The Importance of Reconnecting With Nature

Chapter 2: The Basics of Bioregionalism
Chapter 3: Introducing the Totems Themselves
Chapter 4: The Totemic Ecosystem
Chapter 5: Practices For the Totems and Yourself
Chapter 6: Totemism Every Day
Conclusion: Wonder and Awe at the World

Appendix A: Recommended Reading
Appendix B: Beneficial Nonprofit Organizations
Appendix C: Helpful Hints For Totemic Research
Appendix D: A Quick Guide to Guided Meditation

And here’s where you can order your copy from me, complete with autograph!

Star Wars, Despair, and the Future of the World

Over Christmas, I did my nerdly duty and saw the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. I won’t spoil it for you who haven’t seen it yet; suffice it to say that it had more than enough high-speed escapes from TIE Fighters, dramatic twists, and splashes of humor to remind me why I’ve been looking forward to this film. But by the end of it I was feeling despondent, and not just because I have to wait a loooong time to see the next one.

Despite the fact that Star Wars happened “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, 99% of space-based science fiction asks us to imagine forward, not back, so it’s easy to forget that it’s not a futuristic tale. And I found myself thinking when I walked out of the theater, “We don’t have a future”. Although I try to limit my media intake to what’s necessary, and balance it out with things like cute animal pictures and video game breaks, I’m still all too aware of the critical point we’re at with regards to climate change, ocean ecosystem collapse, loss of endangered species, and other environmental disasters. And so when the movie ended, so did my distraction from these overwhelming problems.

Beyond the distraction and the drop, The Force Awakens (and plenty of other movies) presents a massive enemy with potentially planet-destroying capabilities, something we know all too well. But everything works out in the end, the enemy is routed, and the whole story wraps up neatly in less than three hours. What should happen is that I should come out of the theater inspired to go fight the good fight anew. Instead, I found myself in deep despair.

It’s the same thing that happened to me after I went to see Tomorrowland earlier this year. In the same way the Star Wars franchise shows ways to defeat the Enemy (even as it regenerates in many disguises), Tomorrowland asks us to imagine a positive future, the possibility of better things than the current media-driven dystopia we seem to be hurtling toward. I hate that it was a box office flop; a lot of people could have used the messages it conveyed about how we don’t have to give in to the inevitability of an ever-worse world.

Yet even I can’t grab hold of that optimism. I’m not fooled by movies’ promises of simple answers to complex problems. As soon as the credits roll, I feel the weight of the world settle back onto my shoulders, and it hurts. I grieve. I get angry at the idea that all we need is the right heroes to come along and save the day. And I start to drown in perceived helplessness; I have no X-wing starfighter that miraculously avoids getting hit by enemy fire. I have no super powers, or advanced technology funded by Stark Industries or Wayne Enterprises. There no Q or Professor X to hand down much-needed information and wisdom to those who work to save the day.

So each time this happens I turn to my partner, my beloved, who knows my weaknesses and flaws and loves me anyway. He is an eternal optimist, but a realist. He knows the worst humanity can do, and yet believes in us anyway. I lay my sadness on him, and he carefully opens it up to see where it comes from. And then he gives me balance and perspective. Yes, there are horrible people with too much money and power, but there are also those who use their resources for the benefit of others. Yes, cynicism is often well-deserved, but that should not be the end of hope. Yes, our problems can’t be fixed with a well-aimed barrage of lasers and proton torpedoes, but there are people who are trying to enact very real solutions, just at a slower pace and smaller scale.

And then he tells me to go read the stack of publications that the various environmental groups I support send me each month. He says to focus especially on their victories and successes, and how even in the face of a battle lost they never give up the war. And so I immerse myself in the good news, often on conflicts and issues that they’ve been working on for years. I have to remember that sometimes I just have to sit back and enjoy the win, without letting the specter of “But the bad guys will attack again” loom over me. I go back over the positive messages of the movies I watch, and I absorb them, and I let their idealism inspire me.

I still often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges we face. It’s the price I pay for being aware of them, and refusing to spend my entire life in an ongoing search for more distractions. But I’m slowly trying to regain the optimism of my younger days, when I was less tired, and temper it with the experience I’ve had as I get older. There are still no simple solutions to complex problems; I don’t even believe that much in “good guys vs. bad guys” any more, only seven billion humans stumbling around trying to figure out what the hell is happening.

And so as I prepare to step into the new year, I resolve to keep taking care of myself, including in–especially in–my times of despair. I continue to heal the ongoing trauma of the destruction of my world, even as I fight to save it in my own way. I will still have the times when I have to ask for help. But that’s okay. In the movies every hero has support, and in the real world every person fighting to make things better has their allies. I need not carry all the weight of the world on my shoulders; we’re all carrying our own piece of it, and even if we can’t find a way to put it down for good in three hours or less, it doesn’t make us any less strong.

 

How to Reconcile Tarot and Non-Human Nature

I’m taking a bit of a break from working on the last few assemblages for the Tarot of Bones, and I had some thoughts regarding working non-human animals into the very anthropocentric symbolism of the tarot. See, my deck has no humans in it whatsoever; it’s all made from the bones of other species of vertebrate, and draws heavily from natural history in design and meaning. This is very different from the majority of decks out there; most are based in one way or another on the Rider-Waite Smith deck, itself derived from even older decks.

With the exception of the Seven of Wands and the Three of Swords, all of the RWS cards include a human, humanoid figure, the Moon’s human face, or in the case of the Aces a disembodied hand popping out of a cloud. Where there are non-human animals, they are largely symbolic of human interests and biases; the Knights ride horses as is appropriate, the depths of the psyche are symbolized by a crab or lobster in the Moon card, and Strength shows the taming of a lion. Even some animal-themed tarot decks are essentially the RWS in fur, feather and fin. We reign supreme, and the other animals are merely bit players in our archetypal dramas.

This is, of course, to be expected. While tarot readings for pets and other animals certainly exist, for the most part we’re pretty self-centered, wanting to know what’s going to happen with us and our fellow human beings. Unfortunately this anthropocentrism has contributed heavily to our current environmental crisis; whether through necessity, malice or apathy, we have all contributed to one degree or another to the poisoning of the land, water, sky and their inhabitants.

One of my goals as a pagan, author and artist is to help people break out of that self-centered perspective. The Tarot of Bones is one tool I’m using to that end. While I, too, have drawn on the RWS deck for inspiration, I also rely quite a bit on the behaviors and other traits of the animals whose bones I’ve worked into the assemblages for the card art. This is especially true for the Court Cards and Major Arcana, all of which utilize the skulls of species specifically chosen for each card.

But this isn’t just a “this animal means this, that animal means that” deck. I’m trying to show the parallels in our behavior. I want us to internalize the ways of other animals so that we recognize them as kin. We may not want to acknowledge our inner sloth, but my Hanged Man draws on how that animal has used its slower lifestyle to survive and thrive over thousands of years–and how we can learn to do the same. And anyone who thinks we’re the only ones who fall in love have never seen two red foxes playfully courting each other! (Okay, so we’re less likely to run around peeing on our territory in the process, but you get the idea.)

The thing is, a lot of the lessons in the tarot are universal, not just for us alone. Every male ungulate has had to fight to the top of the mountain and hold his place like the Seven of Wands, and eventually even the King of the Mountain must fall, a la the Five of Swords. There is the feasting time of the Three of Cups, and the famine of the Five of Pentacles. Some cards may seem a little too abstract for our non-human kin, like the Magician. Consider that that card’s figure relies on making use of the resources available to him at any time, though, and we quickly see how every other creature survives doing the same.

In the end, there’s really not a whole lot that we humans can claim as our own without exception. Our technological skills are just a result of tool-making instincts coupled with a ridiculously large and complicated brain; our wars are no more than territorial squabbles writ large, and our peace is the baseline sought by every creature (except, perhaps, curmudgeons like the sarcastic fringehead).

So for you tarot enthusiasts out there, the next time you break out a deck for a reading, consider how the outcome might affect a coyote, or a monarch butterfly, or a giant squid. How might you read for the other creatures of the world?

Book Review Roundup

I wish I had more time to read; sadly, at least until the Tarot of Bones is done my time is going to be pretty chewed up with work. I have managed to finish a few books, though, and I wanted to offer up a selection of mini-reviews for your enjoyment!

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1
Hope Nicholson, editor
Alternate History Comics, 2015
176 pages

I was a backer of the Kickstarter that funded the publication of this incredible comics collection. Over two dozen indigenous writers and artists came together to share stories from their cultures; some are intensely personal, while others are community tales little told outside of their own people. Despite a wide variety of writing and artistic styles, the collection has a strong cohesion, and flows from mixed media poetry to science fiction to traditional storytelling like a well-worn riverbed. I highly recommend this collection to anyone seeking an excellent read, whether you’re normally a comics reader or not.

Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
Robert Sullivan
Bloomsbury, 2004
252 pages

I borrowed this one from my sweetie, who recommended it highly. I’m a sucker for detailed looks at individual species, but tailored for the layperson so there’s more of a narrative to it. This exploration of New York City’s brown rats successfully blends natural and human history with anecdotes and humor, and is at least as much about the city itself as the critters hiding in its corners. It’s not always a nice book; there are descriptions of plague and death, extermination and suffering. Yet if you’ve felt that the intelligent, resourceful rat simply hasn’t gotten its proper due, this may be the book to wave at people who want nothing more than to see them all poisoned and trapped to extinction. I certainly came away with a greater appreciation for my quiet neighbors that I occasionally see when out on late-night walks.

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2004
688 pages

I’m not going to get into Dawkins’ views on religion here, so let’s just leave that aside. What I do admire is any attempt to make science accessible to laypeople without excessively dumbing it down, and despite being almost 700 pages long, The Ancestor’s Tale does just that. I have a serious love for evolutionary theory, and what this book does is present the long line of evolution that led specifically to us, starting with the very first spark of life on this planet. Better yet, Dawkins draws inspiration from the format of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and as each chapter introduces a new ancestor or very near relative in our past, we are given the image of an ever-growing pilgrimage to the dawn of life. I was absolutely fascinated by every page in this book, as I learned about everything from the first tetrapods to how sexual dimorphism developed, from evolutionary explosions and extinctions to the very first multicellular animals. And because we get to start with ourselves, everything is made more relevant to us, keeping our interest even more firmly invested in who we’ll meet next. A must for any of my fellow nature nerds out there.

Rituals of Celebration: Honoring the Seasons of Life Through the Wheel of the Year
Jane Meredith
Llewellyn Publications, 2013
336 pages

Some of us know exactly what we’re going to do when each Sabbat arises. Others…not so much. If you’ve been stuck trying to figure out how to make the next solstice more interesting, or you need some variety as you bring your children into family spiritual traditions, this is a book full of inspirations! Meredith takes the time to explain each Sabbat in more depth than many books do, and offers up anecdotes of her own sacred experiences. Rituals and activities flesh out the book in a more practical manner, offering readers concrete ways to incorporate the spirit of each Sabbat into their own celebrations. A fabulous book both for beginners, and those wanting to shake up their established practice in a good way.

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Terry Tempest Williams
Vintage Books, 1991
336 pages

You would think that as much as I love nature writing I would have read one of Williams’ books before, but somehow she eluded me until recently. I should have caught up to her sooner. In Refuge, she weaves together the tumultuous existence of a wetland on the brink of extinction, her mother’s battle with cancer, and the intricate threads these events entangle into the lives of Williams and her family. Three is spirit, there is nature, there is history, and yet all these seem as though they cannot be separated from each other. Just as in an ecosystem, the part is little without the whole. If ever there was a doubt that we were still a part of the natural world, Williams puts that doubt to rest. Prepare to cry, and to reflect, but please–do read this book.