Conjuring the Axe and Tabularasa-Bearer: Questions for Identity and Belonging (part 2)

an offering originally intended as two sessions of live story and council for the 2020 Wilderness Guides Council, which then shapeshifted forms in light of recent pathogenic happenings…

the container that this story exists within is the international community of rites-of-passage guides, the art of live storytelling and sacred theater, and the practice of council.

it is shared here, in this grossly alienated medium, outside of these contexts, with the intention that it may still find its way in the world and be in service to some.

for those who have the capacity, the invitation is to engage with these stories and questions within the container of your community and the practice of council, especially if you are a rites-of-passage guide.

The two stories – Identity and Belonging – are meant to stand apart from each other, with at least a day between the sharings, to allow for fermentation to happen before launching into a resolution.

audio recording available here:

Previously, we conjured up and sat down with Identity and asked him some big questions. We wondered about our roles as guides in this work, what myths we are in service to, what sort of a world we are initiating those who come to us into. We let Identity tell his own story, and we learned of his great axe of severance and his blank slate and how he works his medicine on our people. We felt into the great ancestral pains of disconnection, forced severance from our roots, and understood how Identity is a welcome relief from this painful reality. We inquired deeper into the mythic structure of Identity, and learned about his apprenticeship to Commodity, how intertwined these two myths are, how they serve, feed, and dream one another.

We did not seek solutions or answers to these troubling feelings and findings, we simply let them be what they are. 

You may disagree with me, and I would welcome it, but for now I am going to state clearly that I do not believe that the myths of Identity or the Commodity are in service to Life, to the old woman weaving, to the sleeping mountain, to the Big Story of connection and relationship. I believe these myths are born from the foundational origin story of our culture – the story of Exile. If we believe that we do not belong here, that we are fugitives, cast out from our home and cursed to wander the earth indefinitely, if we truly believe that we are ontologically defined by our unique differences, distinctions, and exceptions from the warp and weft of Life, then the story of Identity makes a lot of sense. It is, perhaps, the most helpful way to create meaning and a semblance of relatedness within our great Exile. It is, perhaps, the best way forward for one born into the Exile, one who was never told that there was any other option, any other way of being – no way of belonging to the world. 

Yet if this story is not in service to Life, then what else is a human born into these horribly disjointed times to do with their very real feeling that most everything they’ve been told about the world is a lie? How else are we to find the story of the world and our own story within that?

I return to Deer Creek, to my friend the huge swaying Cottonwood just now putting out early buds that I will return to in a moons time to gather and make medicine for my people. I sit down, draw my circles of intention and protection, call on my allies of fur and feather, stone and sand, anima and ancestor, flora and fauna, and summon the presence of Belonging

“I, Tamarix, Witch of Boulder Mountain, Water and Shadow-dreaming son of Oak, Grove-tender and song-keeper, claimed by the Mountain and the Goddess, do summon you, Belonging. I call forth your forms and ways, I invoke your story. I know of your ancestry, your people, I have traced the winding branch of your lineage all the way back to the first tree. You, Belonging, descendant of the Old English langian, meaning “to yearn after, to grieve for,” also “to grow long, to lengthen” which can then be tracked further down the trunk to Old High German langen, meaning “to desire, to long for.” You, Belonging, marrow-stone and cord-bearer, carrying in your bones the deep ache of longing, I invoke with my own longing, feeling into the hollow space in my chest which has whispered to me my entire life that ‘this is not the way it was meant to be.’ “

There is a shift. Sunlight softens, creek sings, wind blows gently on my cheek. The presence feels feminine, but has not appeared. I continue.

Belonging, you hammer-stone-bearer, you bone-breaker and lover of marrow, I conjure. Belonging, daughter of Longing, granddaughter of Grief, I evoke. Belonging, you most hated, alienated, ignored, shamed, and despised of myths, I honor for your immense courage to continue singing the old stories of place, of ancestors and elders, for speaking a living language that speaks with the world, a language of songlines and hawk-cries and the secret names of trees.”

Moths gather on the ground in front of me, light glints off the creek in my direction, there is a growing curiosity, a tenderness. I continue.

Belonging, you rope-bearer, you cord-binder, you who hold the great power of vows, of unbreakable knotted ties to Life, I conjure. Belonging, you who lengthen and grow the edges of the world tree, you grafter, you who work with the medicine of longing and lengthening, I invite into this circle. With all the gratitude and respect I can currently muster, I summon you.

She presents herself slowly, almost shyly, as a crescent moon peers over the horizon. Her figure is slight and unassuming, yet she holds an unquestionable power about her. “You have invoked me, faithful desert wanderer, and I have come. Forgive my hesitancy, for I am rarely called upon anymore, for so often when my name is spoken, my spirit is unwelcome. Why have you called me here?”

“Belonging, temple priestess of Grief and Longing, I have called you here so that you might tell your story to my people, for we are desperate for a story in service to Life in this time of great confusion and unsettling. I have invoked you to sing your song of remembrance, for we have forgotten much. I have invoked you, marrow-cunner, so that we might hear your story-of-the-world, what medicine you would give to my people who come to you with their longing, with their alienation and woundedness and disconnection, with their questions of how to live meaningfully in this world. If my people come to you instead of the axe and blank-slate of Identity, what can you offer them?”

“It is a simple enough question, son of Cedar, yet the answer is difficult for many to hear.” I nod for Her to continue.”My way, my medicine, my story is not elaborate, sexy, exciting, or perhaps very interesting to your people, especially your young ones. It is not a salve for the pains of modernity, it does not offer immediate relief or comfort or freedom from your suffering, indeed it is rather the opposite. My way is difficult, and messy, and often involves even more pain. I am the bone-breaker, the mistress of marrow. I do not offer an axe to sever but rather a stone to crush to the marrow and heart-wood of you, initiating you into the deep ache of ancestral bone memory. 

My way is not to sever but rather to join, to break in order to heal, to fully graft you back onto the branch of the world tree from which you came. I am the tracker, pointing you back in the direction of your ontogeny, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable or shameful it may be, back through the branch of your people, as various and scattered and untrackable as they may be, back onboard the great ships, back into the war and the genocide and the forced migrations, back to the land and the trees and the rivers and the mountains and the language and the people you belong to. I am the rope-binder, holding the cords of obligation which tie you to your place, to your people, to your story, to your time, to your Belonging.”

As am I, so are my daughters – Accountability, Responsibility, and Obligation – much despised in the world. 

Accountability – descended from the Old French acont, a joining of the branch “com” meaning, “to come together” with the branch of “putare” meaning “to prune.” To be accountable is to reckon together, to prune together, to be with the cut, to be together with the pruning. The medicine of accountability is to be together with what has been lost, with the wounding, to tend the wound and work towards what might grow from that. 

Responsibility – descended from the Latin respondere, which grew from the branches re meaning “back,” and spondare, meaning “to pledge.” To be responsible is to pledge back to who, or what, or where, has already pledged themselves to you. The way of responsibility is the way of vows, of pledges, of reciprocal oaths of loyalty, love, and service.

And finally, the much-scorned Obligation – descended from the Latin obligare, meaning “to tie, to bind.” The work of obligation is to bind yourself to your belonging, to declare your love for what has claimed you, to put your roots down somewhere and stake your claim in the world, even though you might be missing out on a shinier toy somewhere else. Obligation is anathema to a culture addicted to severance, wandering, and whatever it is that passes for freedom these days.

The way of Belonging is the way of taking radical accountability and responsibility for your immediate context, for your existence, for how you arrived here, however it came to be. The work of Belonging is to discover what and who and where has already claimed you as their own and to put roots down, to bind yourself, to obligate yourself to them. The song of Belonging is listening to the song that your land, your rivers, your people, your ancestors have given you to carry, and then singing that song back to them. Identity is a thing you choose. Belonging has already claimed you.”

With this, she offers a slight bow, almost apologetically, as if she knows the impact that her words are currently having on our bodies – tightening tendons, fluttering in the gut. “Thank you for telling your story, Belonging, I have one final question. You have told us of the pain and difficulty of your way, but not of the beauty. Why would one take your path, who would ask for your bone-breaking, rope-binding medicine? What sort of world are you dreaming? What beauty are you offering to my people?”

“The world of Belonging is a world in which you matter, a world where meaning is woven into every moment of your life because you are a part of the fabric, and the story that you were born to carry is intertwined throughout the world. The world of Belonging is one of deep feeling into the marrow of what it means to be human. The world of Belonging is a world where you are an integral part of the story of Life – you have a great work to do, work that matters. If you are brave and strong and compassionate enough to carry it out, your story will have reverberations far beyond anything you could possibly imagine for yourself. Your life may be a single ring in the ripples of time, but the world of Belonging is a world where you are loved, appreciated for your gifts and medicine, and seen, truly seen, for who you are. Not who you think you are or who you would like to be or who you think you should be, but for who you are. This is what I can offer you, this is the story of Belonging.”

“All honor and praise to you, Belonging, and to your daughters, for speaking truly and for courageously offering such bitter medicine to my people in these strange times. Go with truth and beauty, and give my respects to Grief and Longing.”

With that she smiles, her form blurs, sinks, and slowly fades into the sand, yet her words echo and resonate in the space around us, “The way of Belonging is the way of of taking radical accountability and responsibility for your immediate context, for your existence, for how you arrived here, however it came to be. The work of Belonging is to discover what and who and where has already claimed you as their own and to put roots down, to bind yourself, to obligate yourself to them. The song of Belonging is listening to the song that your land, your rivers, your people, your ancestors have given you to carry, and then singing that song back to them. You get to choose your Identity, your Belonging has already claimed you.”

I would take her words a step further. Identity gives us the illusion of choice, while Belonging leaves no such illusion – you have already been claimed. You do not actually have a choice in who you are, where you are from, who and what you love, what your gifts are. The story that you were born to carry into the world has already claimed you, it is already so. You Belong.

The Myth of Belonging cradles an ontology of connection, of reciprocity, of relations bounded within a network of kin. Belonging engenders a world where you are defined by your web of relatedness and connection, a world in which you come to understand your story through being witnessed and mirrored by others, in which you derive meaning from your relationship to the whole. Your Belonging is birthed, nurtured, maintained, challenged, and held accountable by others – by your role in the community, by your service, by the quality of your relations. You do not get to choose your Belonging, it is gathered from the fields you have long labored in, from the corn you have grown and fed your people – the small kindnesses, grand gifts, and tender sacrifices you have made throughout the long arc of your life.

In the ontology of Belonging, an elder is one who has tended the fields of elderhood since before they knew what that word meant, and has been named as such according to the quality of their relations to the community – not one who has claimed “Elder” as their identity, or even worse, one who demands the title. A guide is one who cannot help but routinely find themselves bewildered in dimly lit and thickly forested groves of the dayworld and the underworld, and by virtue of their integrity and courage inspires others to follow them – not one who decides that they would like to identify as a guide. 

To be claimed by ceremony and named as a guide, to be one who leads humans into the mysterious terrain of ceremony, myth and initiation during these strange and transitional times, we might need to begin taking radical accountability for our roles in the larger story, to the Myths who are currently vying for our species’ attention. We might need to obligate – to bind ourselves – to our Belonging, to what and who and where and when has claimed us. The ceremony that brought us all here is powerful, magical work, and blessed are those who have found their way into it, yet I believe this great gift comes with an even greater responsibility – I believe this ceremony is asking us to do the hard work of seriously looking at the Myths to which we are in service and what sort of a world we are initiating others into.

You don’t need me to tell you that this is a time of great unsettling, a time where the stories that brought humans to this point are no longer working, a time when humans everywhere are wondering about the story of the world and how their own story might find a home within that. May we find the courage, humility, and compassion to continue saying Yes to Life, to the Big Story, to the story of the world, even when it is the most painful and difficult choice. 

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