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: https://thetamarixproject.bandcamp.com/album/conjuring-the-axe-and-tabularasa-bearer-questions-for-identity-and-belonging
Well, you all came back for more, a questionable decision. Earlier this week we conjured up and sat down with Identity and asked him a big question. 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 did not interrogate Identity, but rather let him 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 the 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 Momoys weaving, to the Sleeping Mountain, to the Big Story. I believe these myths are born from the same axe-hand that severed the head of Humbaba from his neck, that severed the Great Cedar Forests of Lebanon from their roots, that severed the first words and the first stories from their living referents, that severed our ancestors from the world tree. I believe this hand is attached to the same beast that built Empire, Agriculture, Dams, Fences, Walls, who built the great ship of Civilization, set out across the Sea, and found more forests, intact cultures, living languages, and severed those as well. This same being, who goes by many names but whose legacy is unmistakable, kept sailing and cutting for a long time until he discovered that the world is round, that there were no more continents, forests, cultures, or languages to destroy, and so, as the great serpent Ouoroboros, as the old king Erysichthon, as the demon Wetiko, began eating himself.
This great beast which had consumed so much of the world found that he had nothing left to eat but his own tail. He was forced to confront his own basic assumptions and founding principles, his own absurdities, horrors, and failures, was finally faced with his own shadow. Like many of my people who arrive at a similar place in their life, he was given a choice. He could pause, reflect on his story, and choose a different path, or ignore all that and soldier on.
Unfortunately, this great demon had grown beyond any limits or restraints, and felt he had no other option but to keep going, to double down, to continue consuming everything he could find. The story that had brought him here, a story of conquest, progress, discovery, manifest destiny, always moving forward, had reached its logical conclusion, had arrived – almost the entire world had been monocropped, monotheisted, mono-mythed, and there was nowhere else to go, nobody else to conquer, no more forests to destroy. He had to continue, had to justify his actions, had to fill his endless hunger with something. In the language of my people, this is known as the dawn of post-modernism.
This Leviathan of History had no more stories to tell his people about why they were here, about what to do next. He had nothing interesting to say to these people who had been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands and languages and conscripted into the service of this great world-consuming force. The people were abandoned by their own captain, the cruellest trick of all. They were told that they were on their own now, they were left alone and adrift in the world aboard the great ship of civilization, forced to find their own way now, to make their own meaning out of it all.
At this time the beast gave birth to many children, one of which we now know as Identity, with his powerful axe which severs from the world tree of belonging and his blank-slate with which you can write your own story on, provided the story is within the dream of the Commodity. Very powerful gifts indeed, and no-one could be criticized for accepting them.
Yet, as I said before, despite all its charms and analgesic properties, I do not believe the story of Identity is in service to life. But what else is a human born into these horribly disjointed times to do with their very real feeling that everything they’ve ever been told about the world is a lie? How else is a human to find the story of the world and their 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, the 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 story 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 medicine 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 mountain 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 Latin computare, the joining of the branch of 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, the count, 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 if 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. You get to choose your Identity, your Belonging has already claimed you.”
With this, she offers a slight bow, almost apologetically, as if she knows the impact that her words that 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 matters to the entire 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 an integral part of the story of Life, you have a great work to do, work that matters and 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. 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 farther. 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.
To be a rites-of-passage guide, to be one who leads humans into the mysterious terrain of story in 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 bigger responsibility – I believe this ceremony is asking us to do the hard work of seriously looking at the myths we are in service to and what sort of a world we are initiating those who come to us 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 their own stories and the story of the world. 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 difficult choice.
Seed-questions for council: What myths are you in service to? Where has claimed you? Who has claimed you (human and non-human)? What watershed has claimed you?