Thursday, January 9, 2020

Earths Children: fantasy novels, spirituality, and tribalism

Earth's Children: fantasy novels, spirituality, and tribalism

by Sammy Castonguay, M.Sc. Geological Science

The prehistorical fantasy-novel series by Jean M. Auel is a modern classic and, by far, my favorite book series of all time. The sagas telling has been drawn out for decades, with the first book released in 1980 and the last in 2011. The series is "beloved by readers; acclaimed by experts", has been a #1 bestseller in 16 countries, and has sold over 45 million copies (those stats are from the pre-release video of the final book). But you probably know all that... as you are already in love with the series (why else would you click to read!?). Ok, to be fair, not everybody has read them. If that is you, read-on knowing full-well that I might reveal parts of the story (i.e. I will of course "spoil" things if your that type of person).

In this essay, I am not reviewing the series, any particular book, or giving any critiques. Instead, Im using this blog to organize my own complex thoughts and feelings about the role this fantasy art has played in my personal life. For instance, my winter beard. Since 2004, I have let my facial hair grow into a beard each winter and cut each spring. The first years I stopped shaving on my birthday in late October, and after the birth of our first child in mid-March he have me the perfect date for shaving. This year, winter 19-20, is the first time I have broken that pattern.
Why have I done this? Because of Jean M. Auels fabricated world of Earth's Children. Or more simply: because Jondalar taught me this. Yep. Thats right. Pulled out of the pages of The Valley of Horses; at some point, Jondi stoops by a stream to shave, feels the chill in the air, and decides to forgo the shave because winter is on the way.

I've never forgotten the feeling of reading that passage. I felt it with my body. It made sense and I just incorporated it into my life and until now I have never admitted (or really put it together) that it was this book that infused my life with that concept.

Image result for ayla clan of cave bearBooks have power; full of ideas that can sometimes change our mind imperceptibly. In the following rant, I plan to draw connections between my life and the book.

More importantly, I think it provides critical elements for the future of humanity.

Some things to clear the air

The books have great sex scenes. Great. I actually have never read another sex scene... so I dont have much for comparison, but from what I have read the sex scenes by Auel are legendary. This has led some folks to see these as 'smut' books. When I tell someone I've read these, unless they have read I usually get snickers and a funny smile. "Oh! Your into that, huh?". Well, yeah. Totally into that, but to be honest it was never the sex that kept me reading on. So, dont expect me to go into much detail on that aspect of the book (though Ill [sensually] touch on that later). 

I'm not attracted to Ayla or idolize Jondalar. I love the characters, but have never really identified with them in a romantic way. That said, I certainly attribute many behaviors I have picked up as an adult to them. They are honorable. Humble. Helpful. Flawed. Scared. But people, doing people things, in the Stone Age (Paleolithic). 

Going on a Journey

Life is a journey, plain and simple. Each person, living their own journey. Some journeys are literal, maybe moving across the country, but some many of today's modern journey are more metaphysical.

Here, I want to focus on two parts of my life journey that were greatly molded by what I read and liked from this great series: 1) my spiritual path and 2) my naturalist path.

Number 2) first: I'm a geologist, well by training, degree, and some professional practice. Since 2015 I've had the pleasure of expanding my teaching out of just the geosphere, but into other Earth Systems subject in an introductory level: astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, field ecology, and a course in Energy and Society. I'm pretty steeped and well versed in references and subtopics of each of these disciplines, generally speaking. Additionally, I had spend the years during my beginning obession with the earth learning quite a lot about the native plants of Oregon, plant identification, and quite a bit about basic field mycology.

When I go outside, I'm observing. Everything. Well, I don't scan and obsess... but my eyes and brain do pick up on the areas I might find something of interest: a rock or outcrop, an interesting or native plant, a fungi fruit, or a particular conifer cone. Practice has honed my pattern recognition. None of it is useful; I don't eat any of it or use it to make life-sustaining things. But nonetheless, I do have a need, a desire, to know my habitat and the other creatures or things I share it with. Or its general conditions. I guess, I'm a naturalist thru and thru. A few months ago I wrote a piece here referring to geologic mapping as the Ultimate Naturalist Experience. I have a feeling I may have felt right at home exploring across the western lands with Lewis and Clark or French Trappers*. Im an explorer. I love the place and landscape I am in, and getting to know it, but I am always a visitor and not something that 'belongs'. I know it. I feel it. Its OK. I tread lightly. But my life force is not entangled with any landscape like indigenous ancestors, or Ayla and Jondalar.

You can take the human out of the hunter-gather lifestyle, but for this H. sapeins the gatherer spirit is alive and well. I did grow up on a horse and cattle ranch in South Dakota, and so had lots of exposure to the open-range, shape of a landscape, navigating, and some plants. But it was the lengthy descriptions of Auel that piqued my interest in ethnobotany, or at least the precursor to using the herb, which is finding the herb. My reading of Valley of Horses overlapped with the beginning of my college path in the natural sciences. Feeding off one another, I suppose, the link between fantasy and my academic study became real during my year of intro-level Geology. Earlier in life I may have had questions, but for the first time ever I was imbued with the tools of terminology with my observations. Questions could become answers.

My first field trip with Dr. Sarah Ulerick was to the Lava Lands center part of the Newberry Volcanic National Monument off US HW 95. I'll never forget the sight of freshly frozen black, basaltic lava flows, channels and rills--cool to the foggy-morning October touch. Thousands of years old, but as fresh looking as baked bread from the oven. The surrounding Ponderous pine forest stopped abruptly on the edge, where an ecology on the non-existent soil was mostly lichens and the occasional shrubby sticks of desert gooseberries. For the first time, I saw the landscape as something I was in rather than on.

It wasn't long on this journey before I began gallivanting off to this place or that to see new [to me] territory: to observe new rock formations, to identify and photograph new native plants, to feel different atmospheric conditions, to walk new non-trails:

The journey brought me love, confidence, knowledge, charisma, experience, intertribal communication techniques, the joy of birth and the tragedy of miscarriage, and ... who I am. That journey has involved walking across hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles of the pristine, rocky biotic-encrusted crust of this Gaian Earth.

One of my last experiences as the student, I began combing the Amargosa Chaos region of the Black Mountains in Death Valley, CA with Dr. Marli Miller. A geologic icon (both the geography and the geologist) and a province mere centi-miles from the land of my birth. On one of my first arrivals I spewed to Marli my entire load of nuclear family's dissolution in ~1993, while walking into the Scallywag wash toward 'V' Canyon in the core of my Master's thesis study area. I later spent 40 days straight in that desert communing with that Chaos, and myself. My daughter Neva was tucked away backing in Laurie-Lovers cosmic-womb, born just a month after I crawled out of the desert. I obsessed (as one should in graduate school) about that area constantly for months and years later, culminating in a final graduating thesis. Then the Journey took me back across South Dakota, into the Northwoods of Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire).
I returned to Chaos next as a teacher.

But Jondalar and Thonlans Paleolithic journey was also one of sustenance: they collected, ate, and made things from the landscape along the way. I, of course, did not... always. I dont need do, nor should I tromp around with my white-privileged ass on "public lands" cutting off plants and digging up roots as a novelty to be in touch with the land. No thanks. But occasionally, it became a deep part of my spiritual practice. Not rarely, but usually only once to a particularly 'new' region to me, I would collect various plant material(s): roots, cones, leaves, seeds, flowers. Sometimes I'd eat, or weave, or wear, or dry to decorate, burn, or save for a later offering. Point here is, my proverbial Journey was not literally Paleolithic... but walking the landscape with my scanning eyes as a Geoscientists has resurrected a feeling of primal adventuring.
Easily conjures a spiritual resonance.

To the effect Auel's Earth Children has had on my Spiritual Journey. On the basis of the last paragraphs on my naturalist journey, I could be atheist but nebulously spiritual (whatever that means) and I could leave off there. It almost shows the complete picture of my spirituality... just like a chimpanzee is almost genetically the same as us. But that couple of percent really, really matters for the difference between our respective species. I'm saying that to fully describe my spirituality based on a form of atheistic, humanist naturalism is not going full Homo.

I'm an Animist. My own personal Shaman. Or a Pantheist. Or maybe a deist? Kind of polytheist, but not hard poly. Ugh! What am I!?!?! I just prefer Pagan. Because I hold several contradictory ideologies, which is important is dependent on my mood, who I am talking to, what I am doing... or perhaps maybe on what food I just ate. All I know is that there is no one right way. I enjoy thinking about various gods, and enjoy the practice of worshiping the goddess in my way, but my beliefs are not clear, not concrete, and certainly not stagnant! Since my 8th grade days of United Methodist Youth Fellowship, I've been pretty interested in the mystery aspects of the world, which spirituality and religion fit well. This is not rational stuff we are talking about, but instead is the human minds very long pursuit at trying to bring a higher meaning to ourselves, this place, and the natural order of things.

My spirituality is firmly rooted in awe. Its all sacred to me, and I love it! This plant, that rock, the little particles of nitrogen and argon in this room, and the electricity coursing through this computer! I worship it all as sacred, and profound. Nothing is mundane or unimportant. It all has meaning; all functioning as part of the grander system. The Earth System. Yeah... pretty nebulous, huh?

The Earths Children series was implemental for taking me back to a simpler form of religion. Only about two, maybe three, years earlier had I begun abandoning what conception and/or belief I had of the Judeo-Christian god. I had done a bit of exploration into nature religions, Wicca, read some Buddhist philosophy books, looked into Taoism, and even dabbled in Islam. Most of it still just seemed like religion and none of it (well, there are exceptions withing each of those topics) really got to the core of how I was feeling about my place in the world or why this is all here. It all just seemed to me human oriented. Well... duh!?! But when I began reading about Ayla's world, specifically the way that Jondalar spoke of the Great Mother, the Doni, in both an abstract conceptual way in addition to a personal-figure way... I realized I had found something different. Where animism, pantheism and goddess worship (a type of monotheism) collide.

That set the stage for me to be confident in my personal spiritual journey with nature. The 'journey' stuff mentioned above... yeah, that is my expression, my practice, of my form of spirituality. No one else; just me. Freestyle. Just a mere month ago, a great mentor of mine said something similar. That in a way, adventuring around looking at rocks was her way of 'connecting' or 'being spiritual'. A form of worship. In today's secular world, we should be suspect of religion and all the other hoo-ju- woo-ju. No doubt religion has led humanity down dark paths, killed millions, and even today is a most common expression of racism. I am VERY skeptical of religion and the power it is has held over humanity... but it is time we become proud of separating our PERSONAL spirituality and expression from any religious dogma. 

A Heavy Dose of Science in a Romance Novel?

First I must admit I havnt ready any other literature that could be considered a romance novel, I dont think. This post is a sample of my reading genre and style. So, I dont really know how much science other's in this genera might discuss science, engineering, or technology. But in this series, Auel seriously pumps out the rich, laborious details informed by scientific findings.

Archaeology- artifacts

Jean M. Auel has been recognized for the amazing amount of archaeological research that she included into this story. She didn't make it up if there was available archaeological evidence to inform her, though she clearly took a lot of liberties in expanding on interpretations. That's novel historical fiction literature folks. Still, I admire her drive to included the best [of the time] known materials and interpretations of the science to form her book around.

The embellishment bothers some folks. Who might say: "The main characters are just simple hero-archetypes that go around inventing everything or being being all of the technical and social leaps of the upper Paleolithic". Sure, Jondalar and Ayla are exemplary as characters and do end being involved in all of the real advances of humans of the time. But Auel does this as a backdrop. She was subtly educating the lei population on these amazing discrete advances by humans during this time. Like reading a section of a Physical Anthropology textbook but in a fictional novel. Isn't that what historical fiction novels strive to do?

My argument here is that this series brought Paleolithic archaeology into the cultural meme in a way that magazines like Scientific American or NatGeo could not. Remember... these are romance novels. Tremendous applause for Auel on this aspect. Respect.

Geologic Time

The setting of the series gives the reader an introductory perspective of glacial successions. Known as the WΓΌrm Glaciation (Ice age of the Alpine region of Europe), the time period during which the story takes place (circa 30,000 years ago) just before the Last Glacial Maximum (~22,000 years ago). Since, the glaciers have retreated during the interglacial we live in today. While this barely puts a dent into the depth of Geologic Time, this setting helps to immerse the non-scientist into the ice age. I was first turned onto this simple by the map on the inside cover of Valley of Horses. The website Don's Maps is awesome in general, but a series of maps can be found there that illustrate all the the areas visited through the series. 


The study of the direct use of plants by indigenous or folk medicine. Auel outdoes herself here! Amazing! While many have criticized her work for this aspect, claiming it is boring to read through pages and pages of plant descriptions or decoction preparations. But this... THIS is what kept me motivated! At times I had wished she gave more detail! While I did not try most of what was written, there are a fair number of things that have become staples in my life; mostly herbal field tea :). Yep... I LOVE picking some leaves from the field and making a strong tea. Its novel. Its fun. But mostly, I feel like it connects me to the place.
There are times I have startled people while walking along and I let out a "Oh my!". Its just a plant, but the abrupt surprised tone is usually mistaken as a snake sighting. 

Archaeology- Cave Art:

Ok...maybe this is where she outdoes herself! While the ethnobotany is lengthy for most of the series, in the final book The Land of Painted Caves is full of lengthy descriptions of the caves and the art within. Because Auel puts you inside of Ayla's head, you get to experience these caves in a way that a map, diagram, or scientific explanation never could. I will never go to these caves, but I have the best remote experience of them short of a full-body VR experience. Auel's writing is that good in this type of detail. Its not everybody's cup of tea.

Off topic from the book series, but this is a great TED by Genevieve von Petzinger is my favorite current snippet on thoughts about cave art: 

Spirituality: from Totems to The Mother

I covered exactly how the spirituality discussed in this series actually had an impact on my spiritual journey, but I didnt reveal much about the details presented in the book. This academic paper by Michel Clasquin-Johnson out of the University of South Africa does a really great job at summarizing the two major 'religions' described in the book. 

Basically, the Neanderthals-humans of the Clan, and associated flathead clans, all practice a form of Totemism. In their religion, they focus on a spirit animal that acts as a 'totem' for each person and even for each clan. The Cave Bear is the Clans totem, while also being the Mog-ur Creb's personal totem. This perspective is very much on the animist end of theology and there doesnt seem to be any form of direct worship of phenomenon other than an extreme respect for the processes impact on their lives. 

The Sapiens-humans of the series practice a form of matrifocal Earth-mother goddess religion. Jondalar first talks to Ayla about the mother Doni early in their friendship/courtship. This Doni is clearly a concept based on the archaeological interpretations of Paleolithic goddess statutes excavated from Europe. The trajectory of his descriptions of the Mother and his tribes beliefs plays out through the rest of the series as Ayla eventually takes on a spiritual-leader role in not one, but two tribes: the Mamutoii and the Zelandonii. Auel's writing on this aspect of human society is fairly rich.

The Mother's Song

Aside from the book, here is a TEDx talk that discusses the "Root of Religion".

I also particularly like many of the details and relations that Nicklas B. Failla writes about, as religion pertains to the use of entheogens. Specifically psychoactive fungi. Or more recently Paul Stamets gives an amazing, all-encompassing talk on the interconnections between mycology (fungi) and spirituality or consciousness.
I digress... point here is RELIGION as connected with cultures that are a reflection of their landscape.

The Zelandonii were of the land... and there is something inherently spiritual about that.

Tribalism and the Archaic Revival
By now this has been quite the trip, but as stated in the opening "I think it provides critical elements for the future of humanity."

I'm serious. 

Daniel Quinn is another of my favorite authors. Earth's Children is a novel informed by archaeological research but is far-and-away a craft of fiction. Daniel Quinn's trilogy of books surrounding the gorilla Ishmael is on a different level, as it is composed more of teachings of factual information about the current of human civilization but faceted in the ring of a fictional story. Clever writer that DQ. RIP. 

The books Ishmael, Story of B, and My Ishmael rock the foundation on which we today in modern civilization operate in the world. His analogies of Takers and Leavers, weaving through thought experiments and fictional tribes of Cawks (the Ells, Emms, Enns, etc.), and blunt speeches given by the character B (The Boiling Frog) take ones mind beyond human ideology and into a realm of human-animal nature. I cannot do more here to encapsulate any of the profound vision communicated in his books (there are many more than the above mentioned three), than just to say: look at the name of this blog. We are B at The B within Us. I am not Jondalar or Ayla, but I do identify with the character B. An antichrist. 

Ok... why did I bring up some other author's books? Because a major underlying message in Quinn's writing is that this is not working, how did this occur, now that you know how can we move beyond. 'This' refers to the Anthropocene, basically. 'This' is human domination of the planet over the rest of the Gaian evolved ecology we grew up in. The last 10,000ish years of 'our cultures' totalitarian agriculture and accompanying patriarchal social regime is not 'working' for most of the planets biological systems.

A conclusion derived by Quinn and readers is "there is no one right way to live" and for most of Homo sapiens history our social organization has been Tribalism. In this online course from Khan Academy on World History from beginning to 600 BCE does a pretty good job at giving a strait forward linear history through the "Agricultural Revolution". But generalizing the time period and the complex history ends up marginalizing and simplifying how complex both 'hunter-gatherer' lifestyles were and how complex the agricultural take-over. 

Tribalism has a bad rap in our modern vernacular, especially if one thinks we are applying this to politics. Here is an article that uses Tribalism as a very negative way in which people circle-jerk ideologies and are eroding democratic principles. Another lengthy article on the use of the work "tribe" and "tribalism" in politics. I add these references because I feel this is one of the strongest associations folks have when I say "tribalism", they immediately think of the "group think" and "herd mentality" the right-wing, conservative Republicans of the 201X decade and climaxing in the presidential reign of DJT #45.

That is the slippery side of tribalism, then, is: if I believe "if there is no one right way to live" but the tribal group next to me does think there is one right way to live and they feel like exerting that way upon me... the obviously there is conflict. Even worse, today we cant have a real form of tribalism because todays "tribes" are not defined by geography, family relations, type of work, food, or even religious beliefs...but instead entrenched in ideology. the Trump Tribe or Tea Party Tribe or any of the other NeoCon political tribes seem to group up for a handful of reasons that revolve around one four ideologies: Patriarchy, Monotheism, National/racial Supremacy, and Capitalism. These are a deadly combination, and our planet (us included) are suffering the wrath of these four ideologies.

Overcoming these is a gigantic feat. But I believe encouraging Tribalism is the best bet our species has for a future. Im not talking change in a generation, but changes over several generations.
No doubt, there will be some tribes of real shitty people. But in tribalism, if someone as part of the tribe is going against the tribal law (being a shitty person), they are dealt with through the tribal law and that behavior is not [ideally] replicated. So, there may be entire tribes of shitty people, but ideally they are not living among you making life shitty everyday. In tribalism we have the opportunity to 'weed out' bad behavior within the tribe. This is very idealistic, I realize, and doesnt come without hard work or harsh punishment... but I will remind you that those things are rampant in our social organization today, so arguing against tribalism because of the potential for brutality is a mute point for me when people are still stabbed in my community for "being black". A tribalism-type mentality still inflicting us, after all it is the social structure we evolved into (just like bison evolved into herds, or bees into a hive) but our HUGE system of governance has no room for tribal differences at the lower levels. There is ONE law to rule ALL the land: FEDERAL. Im not advocating here for dismantling the Federal government and overturning rule to the states, geesh. I like having an over-arching Federal government, and I actually believe it should have more power in many cases. But municipalities should also have more power and decision making ability. Even if they are, that is still not tribalism. A tribe is not a city or a voting block; this is not politics. A political systems emerges from a social organization, emerges from the tribe.

In this discussion on tribalism, I am also not referring to the modern day legal term applied to Native Americans by the Federal Government. Though these people once lived in tribes and practiced tribalism, and in some ways probably still do, the Federal recognized tribe for the purpose of governance is not the same as the tribal arrangement those people once had. Today's Federal recognized tribe is a concept derived from the European-style of governance, not an indigenous- system derived to adapt to the European-style of governance. However, that template (Federal Recognition) is certainly the best to work with for moving tribalism into the future. 

Am I talking about Neotribalism? Often any concept that seems to be resurrected from a more ancient, broken lineage, seems to have a neo- prefix on it, such as Neopaganism or Neoliberalism. Neotribalism was first used by Michel Maffesoli in sociology literature (here is a 2014 online article of his on looking at neotribalism). There are sociological data showing that modern society, well individuals at least, are suffering because of lack of community, spending more time away from the family or tribal unit for work or commute, and moving from the "place we grow up". Since the 1950's, these have become commonplace in the American norm and has destroyed civic pride.

But fear not! Tribalism is on the rise!
Here is a great example of how tribalism is emerging: Buti Yoga. "Buti" is pronounced "booty", but do not be fooled this is a serious holistic practice of (neo)yoga. The 'founder' Buzzie gold is adamant that this is not just a fitness program but a lifestyle program for women to build tribe. The teachers and practitioners of Buti Yoga are referred to as 'butisattva': empowered badass tribal warrior women. You can read/listen/watch more on your own:

I am encouraged by this type of movement and hope to see other forms of tribalism move into our communities.

Another modern concept gathering steam that supports a tribalism lifestyle is ReWilding. There is a human-body component (this TED is an example, this another) of this movement, but more importantly in the functioning and practice of tribes living on a landscape is nature rewilding. Here is a great TED talk on the topic and the Rewilding Institute has a great podcast.

OK, back-up. What? Rewilding the landscape and the rise of tribalism are related? Well, not necessarily related movements... but for bioregional tribalism to work... humans will need to have access to wild lands (i.e. the commons of old) and we will inevitable be wilder after we shed our globalism ways. I like this article that uses the term 'rewilding' as a digital detox. 

Pre-historical, or even modern-day, tribal peoples did not have the advantage of "standing on the shoulders of giants" in the same way modern global society does today. Usually the first critique of Tribalism or any type of paleolithic lifestyle being a viable for today is "well yeah, and the life expectancy was like 35 years old" and "modern civilization would not be possible" etc. etc.

No one is suggesting we go back to the stone-age. Time is linear and only moves forward. There is not way we can go back; we cant just unlearn totalitarian agriculture, reading, or modern tools. 

Look, for the most of human history as anatomically modern Homo sapiens we have been tribal. It worked, and we havnt figured out anything better. We have tried. And on a global scale. Not that what we have tried in the last 10,000 years global is exactly a failure, but shit... at one point do we consider it so? When the ocean is anoxic and void of life? I think there are plenty of environmental signs that show us this is not working. But we cant, nor should we, 'go back'. Lets go forward with what we have learned. Isnt that what we always should do as we make mistakes? Learn, change, and try again. 

In this year, 2020, we DO stand on the shoulders of giants. What you learn in a month this year may be the entirety of what your ancestor could have learned in a life time in the 1700's. We stand on the pillars of The Great Acceleration (post 1950), the giants of classical science, the Renaissance, the Roman Aqueducts, and back to the founding cultures of civilization with various forms of agriculture. But, let us not forget that those people--the first farmers--were standing on the shoulders of giants that had figured out how to keep our species on this planet for nearly 200,000 years prior. 

Lets recognize that style of human society as a success, and not a time of our past to be ashamed of. The way that tribal peoples were treated during the colonial era of Europe, spreading across continents murdering the savages, is the primary example of how the tribes-people have been viewed in the progress of civilization. "Obviously these people don't know what the fuck they are doing or how to live in the one right true way. Here is a bible, some respectable clothes, a plow, and your training in farming. Get with the program or die". And this, often, is still the way people think of those that are living in tribes. 

So, what does this look like? IDFK...but I imagine it cannot be socially engineered like the systems we have become accustomed to. We cant just make a tribal program. Just as we evolved into this construct, we will need to once again organically evolve into it.
Here are some concepts to ponder: 
The 'extended family' concept. 

More modern topics that lean-into tribalism:
The Ecotechnic Future
Sacred Futurism (please read this one, its powerful)

The Archaic Revival is... well... exactly what the terms say: a revival of the archaic, a re-life of the very old. The context in which Terrance McKenna used this terminology was, of course, in ourselves. In humanity. Is a return to a form of tribal living part of the archaic revival? Is this nonsense even possible? Do we have a choice? Yes, and for a while. But what choices will our grandchildren have?

Not a return to simpler times, but allowing the old ideas that were good be resurrected now that we have admonished many of the old bad ideas. Modern scientific methodology has brought about an extreme sort of knowing to the matter around us, yet we seem dumber and dumber to the very sense of living. In the search for knowledge we have lost a type of intelligence, but we can regain it. It is not a secret, or some hidden sacred knowledge tucked away in a book somewhere, or to be uttered in the future by some non-sense-ist. It is already here, and among us... but our extreme form of knowing has erected gigantic walls of doubt, failure, and and fear. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Mother's Song -- A Zelandonii hymn to the Great Earth Mother

The Mother's Song

The Mother's Song is a hymn to Great Mother from the Zelandonii people; a creation myth on the Great Mother herself, the moon, plants and animals, and her creation of the Zelandonii People (though other people, such as the Lanzadonii) are said to have a similar hymn and/or belief system. 

When Ayla became a Zelandoni, she had a vision comparable to something she experience with Creb and the "clan memories". During this vision the Great Mother gave her a Final verse to the hymn regarding the procreation of people. 
Chauvet Cave, France; "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
The Land of Painted Caves cover.jpg
Book cover, via Wikipedia


Out of the darkness, the chaos of time
The whirlwind gave birth to the Mother sublime.
She woke to Herself, knowing life had great worth.
The dark empty void grieved the Great Mother Earth

The Mother was lonely – She was the only.

From the dust of Her birth She created the other,
a pale shining friend, a companion, a brother.
They grew up together, learned to love and to care,
and when She was ready, they decided to pair.

Around Her he’d hover, Her pale shining lover.
She was happy at first with Her one counterpart.
Then the Mother grew restless, unsure in Her heart.
She loved Her fair friend, Her dear complement,
but something was missing, Her love was unspent.

She was the Mother, She needed another.

She dared the great void, the chaos, the dark,
to find the cold home of the life-giving spark.
The whirlwind was fearsome, the darkness complete.
Chaos was freezing and reached out for Her heat.

The Mother was brave. The danger was grave.
She drew from cold chaos the creative source.
Then, conceiving within, She fled with life-force.
She grew with the life that She carried inside,
and gave from Herself, with love and with pride.

The Mother was bearing, Her life She was sharing.
The dark empty void and the vast barren Earth
With anticipation awaited the birth.
Life drank from Her blood, it breathed from Her bones,
it split Her skin open and sundered Her stones.

The Mother was giving – another was living.

Her gushing birth waters filled rivers and seas,
and flooded the land, giving birth to the trees.
From each precious drop new grass and leaves grew,
and lush verdant plants made all the Earth new.
Her waters were flowing – new green was growing.

In violent labor, spewing fire and strife,
She struggled in pain to give birth to new life.
Her dried clotted blood turned to red-ochered soil,
but the radiant child made it all worth the toil.

The Mother’s great joy – a bright shining boy!

Mountains rose up, spouting flames from their crests.
She nurtured Her son from Her mountainous breasts.
He suckled so hard, the sparks flew so high,
the Mother’s hot milk laid a path through the sky.
Life had begun – She nourished Her son.

He laughed and He played and he grew big and bright.
He lit up the darkness. The Mother’s delight.
She lavished Her love, he grew bright and strong,
but soon he matured, not a child for too long.
Her son was near grown. His mind was his own.

She took from the source for the life She’d begun.
Now the cold empty void was enticing Her son.
The Mother gave love, but the youth longed for more,
for knowledge, excitement, to travel, explore.

Chaos was Her foe, but Her son yearned to go.
He stole from Her side as the Great Mother slept,
while out of the dark swirling void chaos crept.
With tempting inducements the darkness beguiled,
deceived by the whirlwind chaos captured Her child.

The dark took Her son, the bright, brilliant one.
The Mother’s bright child, at first overjoyed,
was soon overwhelmed by the black frigid void.
Her unwary offspring, consumed with remorse,
could not escape the mysterious force.

Chaos would not free Her rash progeny.
But just as the dark pulled him into the cold,
the Mother woke up, reached out and caught hold.
To help Her recover Her radiant son,
the Mother appealed to the pale shining one.

The Mother held tight and kept him in sight
She welcomed him back, Her lover of old.
With heartache and sorrow Her story She told.
Her dear friend agreed to join in the fight,
to rescue Her child from his perilous plight.
She told of Her grief and the dark swirling thief.

The Mother was tired, She had to recover.
She loosened Her hold to Her luminous lover.
While She was sleeping, he fought the cold force,
and for a time drove it back to the source.
His spirit was strong, the encounter too long.

Her fair shining friend struggled hard, gave his best.
The conflict was bitter, the struggle hard pressed.
His vigilance waned as he closed his great eye,
the darkness crept close, stole his light from the sky.
Her pale friend was tiring, his light was expiring.

When darkness was total, She woke with a cry.
The tenebrous void hid the light from the sky.
She joined in the conflict, was quick to defend
And drove the dark shadow away from Her friend.

But the pale face of night let Her son out of sight.
Trapped by the whirlwind, Her bright fiery son
Gave no warmth to the Earth, cold chaos had won.

The fertile green life was now ice and snow,
and a sharp piercing wind continued to blow.
The Earth was bereft. No green plants were left.

The Mother was weary, grieving and worn,
but She reached out again for the life She had borne.
She couldn’t give up – She needed to strive,
for the glorious light of Her son to survive.

She continued the fight of bring back the light.
And her luminous friend was prepared to contest
The thief who held captured the child of Her breast.
Together they fought for the son She adored.
Their efforts succeeded, his light was restored.
His energy burned, his brilliance returned.

But the bleak frigid dark craved his bright glowing heat.
The Mother defended and would not retreat.

The whirlwind pulled hard, She refused to let go.
She fought to a draw with Her dark swirling foe.
She held darkness at bay, but Her son was away.
When She fought with the whirlwind and made chaos flee,
the light from Her son glowed with vitality.

When the Mother grew tired, the bleak void held sway,
and darkness returned at the end of the day.
She felt warmth from Her son, but neither had won.

The Great Mother lived with the pain in Her heart,
that She and Her son were forever apart.
She ached for the child that had been denied,
so she quickened once more from the life-force inside.
She was not reconciled to the loss of Her child.

When She was ready, Her waters of birth
Brought back the green life to the cold barren Earth.
And the tears of Her loss abundantly spilled,
made dew drops that sparkled, and rainbows that thrilled.

Birth waters brought green, but Her tears could be seen.
With a thunderous roar Her stones split asunder,
and from the great cave that opened deep under,
She birthed once again from Her cavernous room
And brought forth the Children of Earth from Her womb.

From the Mother forlorn, more children were born.

Each child was different, some were large and some small,
some could walk and some fly, some could swim and some crawl.
But each form was perfect, each spirit complete.
Each one was a model whose shape could repeat.

The Mother was willing. The green Earth was filling.

All the birds and the fish and the animals born,
would not leaver the Mother, this time to mourn.
Each kind would live near the place of its birth,
and share the expanse of the Great Mother Earth.

Close to Her they would stay. They could not run away
They all were Her children, they filled Her with pride,
but they used up the life-force She carried inside.

She had enough left for a last innovation,
a child who’d remember who made the creation.
A child who’d respect and learn to protect.

First-Woman was born, full-grown and alive,
and given the gifts, she would need to survive.
Life was the first gift, and like Mother Earth,
she woke to herself, knowing life had great worth.
First-Woman defined. The first of her kind.

Next was the gift of perception, of learning,
the desire to know, the gift of discerning.
First-Woman was given the knowledge within,
that would help her to live and pass on to her kin.

First-Woman would know, how to learn and to grow.
Her life-force near gone, the Mother was spent.
To pass on life’s spirit had been Her intent.
She caused all Her children to create life anew,
and woman was blessed to bring forth life, too.

But Woman was lonely – she was the only.

The Mother remembered Her own loneliness,
the love for Her friend, and his hovering caress.
With the last spark remaining, Her labor began,
to share life with woman, She created First-Man.

Again She was giving. Another was living.

To woman and man the Mother gave birth,
and for their home, She gave them the Earth,
the water, the land and all Her creation.

To use them with care was their obligation.
It was their home to use, but not to abuse.
For the Children of Earth the Mother provided
The gifts to survive, and then She decided,
to give them the Gift of Pleasure and sharing,
that honors the Mother with the joy of their pairing.

The gifts are well-earned, when honor’s returned.
The Mother was pleased with the pair She created.
She taught them to love and to care, when they mated.
She made them desire to join with each other.

The Gift of the Pleasures came from the Mother.
Before She was through,
Verse given to Ayla from Great Mother:
Her Last Gift, the knowledge that man has his part,
His need must be spent before new life can start,
It honors the Mother when the couple is paired,
Because woman conceives the pleasures are shared,
Earth Children were blessed.
The Mother could rest.

Wow! Amazing! A creation myth for the ages! Of course, Jean M. Auel wrote this, not an person ever called a Zelandonii, and it clearly draws from her expertise as a writer, her deep research into the archaeological record of culture of paleolithic peoples of Europe, and our modern scientific understanding of Earth Systems Science. 

This Fandom page for Earth's Children was useful while getting all this down, as well as having hand a copy of the Land of Painted Caves.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wheel of the Year: Neopagan invention or basic observation?

Wheel of the Year: Neopagan invention or basic observation?

The Wheel of the Year is a well known neopagan concept that spans several types of modern pagan traditions (Wicca, branches of Druidry, Atheopaganism, Sacred Feminine, etc.). Beginning on "the Witches New Year", Halloween, the Wheel of the Year goes like this:
Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon... or something like that. That is how I recall them. You could also call them Halloween, Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, May Day, Fourth of July, Last Days of Summer, and Back to School if you instead follow the Walmart of the Year. And you can find plenty of online or book resources for this concept. I'm leaving it loose, because the point of this post is to span beyond this "Wheel of the Year" as eight specific celebration Sabbaths to be celebrated at all costs by all pagans. The Wheel of the Year was invented in fairly recent times during the pagan-religious revival times of the mid-1900s. Though the names were taken from several traditions and slapped together, it is undeniable that these eight specific times coincide with correlations between the three important and obvious celestial cycles.
  • 1. The Sun and Constellations on the Ecliptic (Year)
  • 2. The Growing Cycle (Season)
  • 3. The Lunar Cycle (Month)
Any child can identify these unique cycles. We learn very quickly, by living with them, how the environmental conditions of each impact us. For instance, when I say "Yule" or "Christmas" or "Winter Solstice" or "Hanukkah" you know I am referring to that specific set of holidays that take place in the winter, when the days are darker and colder. If I say "Easter" or "Ostara", any child in the culture will identify this with church or a bunny, but any child in the northern hemisphere will associate this celebration with "spring time".

The Wheel of the Year was not invented, it is plainly visible for all to recognize as it is written in the patterns of nature!* I think there is no reason to believe people have freely observed these cycles, throughout all cultures and geographies throughout time.

*I write from a northern hemisphere perspective and at a latitude that does not get complete darkness during winter. A fairly wide band. 
**The degree is 23.5 now, but the degree slightly varies every 24,000 years from 24.5 to 22 degrees. This is one of the Milankovitch Cycles, I could write about this another time but has plenty of reference out there, or see my Violent Earth Lecture 4 on the subject. 

The Year
The Sun and Constellations on the Ecliptic

Ill start with this one, because it is both the most well known (sun) and poorly known (stars) and happens to be my favorite! 

So, you will recall from your Geography 101 that the earth is tilted on her axis (23.5 degrees)**. As she revolves around the sun but the angle stays the same, this naturally sets up a variation in the amount of solar radiation each part of the globe receives: a minimum, a maximum, and a point between each. The Winter Solstice is defined by the suns lowest point in the sky or the furthest south it rises or sets, so coincides with the shortest day of the year (or most darkness). The Summer Solstice the sun is very high in the sky, but easier to measure by looking at the furthest north sunrise. 
Image result for tilt of the earth diagramThe Equinox days are pretty simple, as the sun rises directly on east on both days.This is pretty easy to measure if you have access to a high point to clearly see the western, southern, and eastern horizons that you can return to weekly in the morning, noon, and night. I say its easy, but time consuming! I did this from my east facing window for sunrise for a year. Anyway, they patter of the moving sun is pretty clear. 

Okay, not the poorly known part: the Stars! The thirteen constellations on the ecliptic (suns path through the sky if plotted during the year) are known as the Zodiac. Zo- for animals, dia- for days. The annual path of the sun is divided into the animal shapes the stars are in. Doesn't matter what they are, you can make up your own shapes and animals if you like. Or just take the star names. Anyway, there are certain stars and constellations that also mark these. Not quite as precise, but mark the time. I will use the astronomical constellations, since they are the most well known (and only ones I know, hehe). These can also be easily observed if you stand on that same hill requested above. Though, some of these alignments along the horizons and at sunrise/sunset will not be accurate for higher or lower attitudes. 
1. Samhain - 

2. Winter Solstice - Virgo constellation is rising before the sun. If you wake up while it is still dark, which is common for most of us at that time in the winter, and you look to the south eastern sky, the brightest star is Spica of Virgo (note the moos is also full in my stellarium picture). As a side note, isnt it interesting that the Sun (son) rises (births) under the Virgo (virgin) on the Solstice (Christmas)? Literally written in the stars.

3. Imbolc - Sirius is visible on the eastern horizon right at sunset.
Few days earlier, sun rise is too early and Sirius is too low. Few days later, and Sirius is high in the sky by the time the sun goes down. This is approximate. Not precise, but more a 'season' feeling.

4. Spring Equinox - The position of Sirius, once again, helps to determine the days around the Equinox (aside from the Sun rising/setting E/W and the length of day/nigh the same...). Sirius, the brightest star besides the sun, crosses directly south at sunset on the days surrounding the Equinox. Couple days before, it is far to the east at sunset. And a few days after, it is in the west of south during sunset. 

5. Beltane - Just as Imbolc marked the rise of Sirius and Orion, Beltane is marked as the last days of those stars. The last days of April, Sirius can be seem skimming the horizon. Then all of the sudden, the belt and Sirius not out after sunset. Gone. Beltane. 

6. Litha - During sunset of midsummer, if you look near the spot where the sun had stood at
solar noon, you will see the Virgin. Almost right on south. Actually, where the sun was is between her legs now.

7. Lammas - At this special time, when the days are still warm and long and you can get plenty of stargazing while camping, there a couple of cool ways you can tell August is coming: The obscure way is to use the north star (Polaris). If you already know how to find Polaris, you are familiar with the pointer stars of the Big Dipper. At the onset of August, peculiarly the pointer stars and Polaris line up with the western azimuth (intersect the horizon right at west). 
On the eastern horizon, our good friend Orion begins to be visible in the morning just before sun rise. 

8. Mabon/Autumnal Equinox - one of my personal favorites, can be detected as the last days of the constellation Scorpius. All summer, the Scorpius and its heart star Antares provides a great summer spectacle. But at the same time the nights are becoming cool, crisp, and dew in the morning the Scorpius constellation is lower and lower on the southwestern horizon until, on the days surrounding the Equinox, the Scorpius cannot be seen on the horizon after sunset.

The Seasons
The Growing Cycle
Many pagans are gardeners, but far from all. The cycle of agriculture is a popular cycle in all of the mythology of ancient polytheistic religions and modern neopagan ones, so it is surprising to me that not all pagans make a point to be involved in agriculture (or at permaculture) in some way. 

The traditional Wheel of the Year is heavily influenced by Celtic reconstruction of the 1970s, which was from most of what we can tell was heavily agriculture based. Even if you are not a gardener, there are signs all around in northern hemisphere culture that these celestial dates are upon us. 

The Months
The Lunar Cycle
Most pagan folk are familiar with Lunar Cycles as well, so not much I need to say here. The dates of several of the full-moons fall really, really closely to the days of the Wheel of the Year. 

Pretty Close to Feb. 1st (Imbolc), could just celebrate on the "second full moon" after the Winter Solstice".

Similarly, pretty close to May 1st. Call is the "5th full moon after Winter Solstice".

"8th full moon" equivalent to Lammas.

"11th full moon" During Samhain

Though the Wheel of the Year is a modern construct as we know it, I think there is much reason to believe that people just observing their natural surroundings, the rhythms of the natural cycles, would be capable of celebrating such markings. I'm not saying anybody was, as there is not historical evidence.

I am saying these cycles are obvious. Any animal institutionally has them encoded in their action of life. For how long have humans gone a step further to use these celestial cycles as markers. Markers for celebration, essential agricultural duties, a celestial lesson written by the intelligence of the cosmos, or just signs of hope.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Owyhee Canyon Dragon: myth, history, or stalker?

Owyhee Canyon Dragon:
A myth, just history, or out there stalking?

by Sammy Castonguay, Friend of the Owyhee (Canyon Dragon)
Acknowledging Tim Davis, Friends of the Owyhee Director

Smaug | Dragons | FANDOM powered by WikiaTattoo | Tattoos | Pinterest | Tattoos, Tattoo designs and ...4ft Long Falcor Replica Selling On Etsy

Mythical Creatures pervade human oral tradition from legend and folklore to fantasy and religion. Often times the tales of these mythical beasts derive from the mystery of the land, sea, or sky. Sometimes they are mischievous, sometimes jolly, but all-the-time leery of the human race. 

Think Bigfoot. The Minotaur. Mermaids. The Jack-a-lope. Lockness Monster. The Thunderbird. Chupacabre. The Lorax. Leprechauns. Etcetera. Mythical creatures, on one hand, seem like a relic of the past (like from Greek Mythology, or old Grimes Tales) but several of the above mentioned are a purely modern phenomenon. Be they a joke, long oral traditions, supernatural beings, or a modern naturalists-animists anthropomorphic connection to the land, they are among us. 

Ill give my report of the Owyhee Canyon Dragon. 

Its big, real big, most of the time. Its magick allows it to shrink to the size of a house-fly, but rarely will. Why would it? It is open out there, with few humans. Plenty of rocky overhangs and steep, impassable cliffs. Perfect for this stealth, flying feline-like apex predator. 

It is a dragon; make not mistake. Some reports just call it a cat (cougar), others a deformed sheep, and others even an unusual sized bird. But undeniably it is a dragon by any classic measure of the word: it is long, slender, sleek, kind of slinky. Like the canyons, it can be winding and sinuous. Certainly reptilian with scales under thin fur. More dragon than the living lizard, the Komodo. 

Stueby's Outdoor Journal: Try Succor Creek State Park for ...Its back is ridged. Probably its best adaptive camouflage. Nearly ever canyon of rock outcrops has a 'ridge' of jagged peaks and needles or dark reddish rhyolite or tuff, making shadowy ledges. Like the emerging dorsal fins of a school of sailfish. Perfect territory to hide, remaining stealth.

I'm probably one of the few of have observed one (one? are there many? just one? unknown.) closely; close enough to clearly see the face and far too close for comfort. Well, I am one of the few willing to speak of it. Either folks laugh it off, or folks give me an all-too-knowing shirking side-glance as if to say "we do not speak of it". Like its Voldemort of something. As if talking about it, which is admitting existence, simultaneously confirms a persons nuttiness and beckons it out of hiding. 

Read It Then See It: The Lorax | Stop Hitting Your BrotherWhy are people afraid of it? Well, for duh it is a terrifying, fierce creature (uh, dragon!?!). But deeper, there is a historical land war here, as there is in all places where the wild and the domestic entangle. The Canyon Dragon has a rage for the miner, the cowboy, the sheepherder, the farmer... the human. Or at least what it has known of the human. As with all mythical creatures, when the mystery of the land is turned to known commodity, the myth of the land dies. A dying myth isnt quite, or still. For the better part of two centuries, the dragon has consumed pioneers, or at least their stock. This is a hell of a place for a cow; big, dumb slow pray, if it cared for the taste of gluttony at all. Herds of sheep missing. Dogs harassed. Equipment mangled. Desert disillusions. Monkey wrenching. Rumor has it, though I have not confirmed, it breaths fire and is so probably responsible for considerable range fires. Another reason to fear. Because of its threatened existence, it is feared and hated but probably recapitulates the feeling ten-fold. The Desert is a harsh place, and should never be underestimated. 

Scary it may be, but as magnificent as you can imagine a mythical beast would be. It is a unicorn, in its own way. Quite a bit dirtier, less arrogant, and with less manners. This is no forest. Not time for manners, everyone makes mistakes, and it is impossible to keep the film of dust from depositing after emerging from any [rare] bathing hole. Like other mythical beasts, it makes not sound; at least not one widely reported or that I have heard. No call, no screech, no bellow. Though maybe, I have long thought, the sound of reverberating thunder in the canyons is echoed by the beast. 

Its head, which is massive, is almost identical to a Cougar (Puma concolor) except for the huge rack of Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) curls. Its age shows in the ripples muzzle skin, tattered long shiskers, and bashed up horns. Around the neck it has a feathered color, like that of a Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), almost like a mane. Peculiarly intentionally apply colored muds to its scaly face, in lines, dots, and geometric patters. 
New Mexico Bighorn Sheep.JPG
By Jwanamaker -
By Saguaro National Park - Flickr
Large black bird with featherless head and hooked bill
California Condor -
Crotalus oreganus.jpg
Western Rattlesnake
By Connor Long -
Perhaps one of the most commonly observed parts of the dragon is the tail. Well, not visually observed but audibly. Its rattle. Similar to the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus), the Dragons tail is adorned with small rattles, which it shakes violently to warn others are "now in range". This familiar western sound blends in with the landscape and is an additional camouflage against accidental discovery.

As a match to its mis-matched head, its front paws are distinctly those of a puma, though seemingly a bit more functional as arms with some dexterity of paw. But it also has legs of a bighorn, its walking legs. Bighorns legs are agile on steep cliffs and the Canhon Dragon has four hooved legs that are as nimble as a sheep but stout as a horse.

Oh, had I not mentioned the animal is polymelia (many limbs)?

Yeah... a real beast this thing. Like a centaur, instead of horse and human: bighorn and cougar.

Im positive your questions regarding local fear of the animal are waning with every word.

As if not enough, it has a fourth pair of legs... and wings. :)

Golden Eagle
The massive Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is a very large raptor and can be seen from time to time around the Owyhee riparian areas (rare). Identical talons and wingspan equip the Canyon Dragon. While grounded, the back talons are nicely folded agains the tail, but during a raptor-like dive bomb the talons are lowered for a deadly nabbing. 

A perfectly designed beast to grab herds of domesticated sheep from the early Basque, or even a full grown cow from the flat-brimmed buckaroo cowboy. 

If you ever do encounter one, its rocky ridge back and snack rattle not sneaky enough to either evade you or warn you, it will immediately begin to intimidate you. Like a peacock or Dilophosaurus, its frill of plummage will fan out; the bustle of a fancy dancer. The Owyhee Canyon Dragon has back plumage like that of the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus): little more yellow at the base with long, slender blade-like black feathers emanating a meter from its body. The framing plumage is an additional intimidating feature, as it rears up on its sheep legs and outstretches its cougar arms. There, on its chest, a dazzling display of two gigantic skin sacks slowly filling with air. The sacks jiggle flat while the Dragon shakes at you, with the unmistakable sound of a male grouse strut during lek. ---boowee, yeeoo uwp, bwee yoop--
The Dilophosaurus Returns in New Jurassic World 2 Set ...
Intimidating Dilophosaurus scene from Jurassic Park film -

Federal Decision Not to List Greater Sage-Grouse Shows ...
Greater sage-grouse male in strut -

As the apex predator stares you down with fierce, narrow cat eyes, a trembling body, rattling tail and swishing whiskers it is abundantly clear that this Dragon, like any other, can make a very swift corpse of you.
There is an intelligence in its eyes, you can see it is not animal instinct that fuels its disturbance. No. It is pissed. Its eyes hiss with disguist for you, human. 'An ape that has fouled the land'. Not a murderers eyes, but sick and tired of defending. Violence and intimidation are last resorts, but it never wanted any of this.

The quivering, deadly body raises up, taller, bushier, broader. Narrow eyes locked onto yours while honing on your jugular. The hind quarters begin to tighten and coil into a striking gesture for its fatal lunge.

Then speaks with an omnipresent sound from everywhere:

Protect the Owyhee. 
You are a Friend. 

I am a myth, but my disappearance it not.  

Luck Dragons | MacKENZIE's Dragon's Nest
Haku in dragon form, Spirited Away film -
McKenzies Dragon Nest Blog

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Iberian Paganism, Megaliths of Portugal, and Unique Geology

Iberian Paganism, Portuguese Megaliths, and Unique Geology

Blueschist (not from Portugal, but California)
Twin Stone Circle (Cromeleque Dos Almendres) and Menhir
complex near near Evora, Portugal

Fountain of the Idol in Braga, Portugal

My mom and sisters visited Portugal this month, from which "my mother's people left the Azores in the late 1800s" (from my sisters IG). In this post, I hash over some stuff that has been on my mind during their visit, while living vicariously.

Though the title begins with paganism, Im going to work backwards and start with geologic history (the rocks), then discuss the anthropomorphic use of those rocks for megalithic, and then get to the paganism connection.

My personal heritage may or may not connect to any of this, we dont know as the furthest my mother has been able to trace ancestry is to the Sao Miguel islands of the Azores. For now. I should point out that though bloodline and ancestry is part of us, it is not necessarily something to base our spirituality from, i.e. because possibly my ancestors practiced some sort of Iberian Paganism I am not required or obligated to adopt this path. It is the life of my ancestors that enabled mine, and I thank them for this. Research into our ancestry can help us to think of what our ancestors may have been like. Whether my grandfathers days in Hawaii, my mothers great grandmother on Sao Miguel, my possible great10 farming pagan family village, or my possible great50 animist family clan.

Unique Geologic Features of Portugal

While I could go on and on about the geologic history, I want to stick to a couple of really unique geologic features and lithologies that I am drawn to: The Messejana-Placensia Dike, the Ossa Morena-South Portugal Zone provinces, grantoid intrusions, and the volcanic Azores. The wiki was my starting point and led to me a half dozen academic papers I focused on and a lot of review of the Portuguese State department website on geology.

My favorite rocks are blueschist and serpentinite, metamorphic rocks that represent interesting tectonic environments and to me have an aesthetic and nostalgic significance. Similar to the tectonic environments of the Mesozoic of the Cascadia (accretionary tectonics), the Southern Portugal Zone is a complex of exotic terranes accreted to the Ossa Morena Zone to the north. Between them, the suture zone, is an ophiolite (oceanic lithosphere) and includes ecologites and blueshist! I suspect, because it is an ophiolite, it also contains serpentenized peridotite. Favorite rocks: check.

Some of my favorite landscapes to walk in are granitic, or even rhyolitic, bounder terrain, such as the Sierra Nevada of Calfornia, Sawtooths and Silver City (Owyhee) of Idaho, Wallowa of Oregon, etc. etc. for US examples. There are several batholiths and/or plutons of granatoids that dot the landscape of Portugal, but one that quickly drew my attention while researching the megalithic structures is the village of Monsanto. Built into and around the boulder field of a spheroidally weathered Paleozoic age granite pluton. The landscape looks breathtaking, mounded and grusey with lichen encrusted precariously balanced giant boulders. I had a sharp breath, tight throat, and eye flush when I saw it in video. Favorite [fantasy] landscape: check.

Intrusive dikes of all shapes and sizes are incredible features to behold. To see the frozen remains of an injected magma at outcrop scale is still, to me, one of the most impressive demonstrations of a first-principle in geology: cross-cutting relationships. The Messejana-Placensia Dike is a huge feature that cuts across the entire country into Spain, slicing from the far south coast of Portugal (through the city of Odemira) nearly all the way to Madrid--530 kilometers. It varies in width from as little as five meters to as wide as 200 meters and can be seen in satellite (with a careful eye) on Google Earth. Incredible! Even more incredible is the geochemical and textural consistency of the rock. The dike is tectonically related to the Central Atlantic Plume that left radiating tholeiitic dikes like this one outward from its initiation point of the tip of Florida. Favorite field feature: check.

All of those great geologic features are found on the European mainland Iberian Peninsula part of Portugal. But for a much longer time, I have been interested in the volcanic islands of the Azores far to the west nearer the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is considered of hot-spot origin, not necessarily a deeper mantle plume like Iceland but some anomalous volcanism, since about 7 million years ago, along the axis of the ridge. But my draw here is not because it is some sort of favorite geologic feature for me, it is personal.

Claimed by Portuguese and certainly known by the fourteenth century (Catalan Atlas), there is some faulty evidence the islands were inhabited prehistorically. Regardless, the islands are fairly young and of volcanic origin, mostly mafic rocks with a warm climate and so has deeply developed oxisol soils good for farming. That is how my ancestors ended up there, I imagine. Somehow fleeing the mainland to find a new opportunity on the islands. Mostly people from the Algarve and Alentejo regions of the mainland during the turmoil over the throne in the 1400s.

Maybe my ancestors immigrated to the islands early on, maybe they fled after the devestating terremoto de Lisboa in 1755 or another time before the mid-1800s, but probably some mix of both. Maybe they came from some of the provinces that interest me from above, maybe not.

I may never know what my ancestors were up to before that, but we have great record of what happened after. Those rich, volcanic soils that attracted agricultural opportunity of the Azores once again attracted my ancestors: the newly taken-over Hawaiian Islands of the United States. More on that another time.

The land is a sacred source of mana, to me. As an animist, geocentric pagan dirt-witch I am pretty annealed to rock holding significance for me. Somewhat romantically, I do love looking at and reading about paleolithic and neolithic societies, structures, and other archaeological investigation. I realize, because we have so little evidence to say anything for sure, this field is often full of speculation and many non-scientists lean toward conspiracy-style theories regarding ancient technological civilizations and/or aliens. I'm not going there, but chose to stay on the reserved side thinking our paleolithic-neolithic ancestor were very intelligent to build such things.

Megalithic Structures of Portugal

During my mother and sisters grand tour, they also made a point to visit the Evora Complex. This Megalithic mecca has been deemed "Iberian Mesopotamia" and the site is the oldest and larges of Europe. You can read a bit more about the details here, but one of the most striking details to me is this fact:

In the case of Evora, it can be seen that it is located on one of only two latitudes in the world at which, in some nights of the year, you get the full moon on the zenith. The other latitude is 51° 10' N, the same as Stonehenge. --from

Cool. Very cool. Archaeology is cool, as in trying to use the physical evidence at the site to discover details of the lifestyle of the people that erected, used, or reoccupied the site. Where any of them my ancestors? I dont know, but of course I would like to think so. Even if not, the culture of the region was undoubdely influenced by whatever was going on here. Even if none of my ancestors had ever visited the site, it is still very likely they were effected by it. Maybe hear stories. Maybe planned a pilgrimage. Maybe a traveler once described it. I will likely never know, but it is fantastical to think about it.

So what is know about this? This video contains an up-close and personal look at many sites across Portugal, but the videographer continues to undermine archaeology and spout opinion about each sites significance to Ley Lines. At one point, while standing under a 5.6 meter phallic rock, he caries on about how unlikely he thinks it is that this rock represents a penis and is related to pagan fertility-worship but is rather a connecting point in a global system of metaphysical energies and this was a kind of receiver and or transmitter for global civilizations to communicate. Ugh.

Archaeological interpretations are the best we have. We can interpret whatever we want, but it is the evidence that supports and interpretation that allows us to be more confident.Word from my mother and sister this morning confirms that there is much more literature available at the site. It is apparently a conservation area and there are plans to expand the visitor education aspects to contain reenactments or village life dioramas. When they return, I hope to hear more about this site from the mouth of my family. To hear the stories of the magnificent place, as maybe one of my ancestor may have. Will I plan a pilgrimage?

For now, I will keep this pilgrimage and this sacred sites in my dreams.

Maps showing the phases of completion of the site from the
early Neolithic to today.

Iberian Paganism

Whatever was going on here, it was big. Some people cared a whole lot about something to go through all this trouble. The most common, and obvious, interpretation is a religious practiced intertwined with lifestyle. These people were agriculturalists, farmers. They not only 'lived off the land' but they manipulated the land to increase their chances of survival. They were not hunter-gatherer types, well maybe there was some vestige of that lifestyle that remained, but this level of civilization, population, regional connectivity, and technology requires food abundance and access to abundant energy. As with most agrarian cultures, spirituality and religion become intertwined with the seasonal influences. In modern day Wicca, this has culminated in the blanket called the Wheel of the Year, which is kind of a mish-mash of bi-quarterly dates that correlate with both meteorologic change causing important food-growing change. Such as the onset of spring on the equinox, when the land becomes fertile to seed, the birds flutter and nest, and there balance of the day-night lengths. Human religion celebrated it, and other annual astrologic-meterologic-biologic changes observable in the natural system because they knew their lives depended on it. A precarious life, that of the farm villager peasant. Feast or famine. Food under lock and key, by the governing leader(s) and religious leader(s). These structures probably serve a technological function for the people that erected it and subsequently used it to tie them, the spirit world, goddesses and gods, and the agricultural wheel of the year together. Maybe it was measuring the day length to get an accurate expectation for food supplies. Maybe it was an elaborate offering system to specific deities for each day or season. Maybe it was an ancestral honoring structure, where stones were erected to honor the passing of that years dead. Maybe... this, maybe that. Maybe is mostly what we have.

So what else remains of that time? If there are claims, or maybes, what evidence is there to support? We see the structures, but where is the culture? Anywhere you go, where is the culture? People are wearing it, eating it, and speaking it. Culture is the peoples reflection of their landscape. So where are these people? Well, one of their potential ancestors is behind these words but I have been removed for so long there is no reasonable survival of culture. But local to Evora, there are families that have been there continuously. Is there reasonable survival of culture with them? Maybe. Kind of. Even if the direct descendant of the person responsible for physically erecting one of these stones was present, most of their lifestyle culture is influenced by the intervening thousands of years. So what of the stone-erectors survives?

Oral tradition and other record in stone.

"Fountain of the Idol" of Braga, northern Portugal. Interpreted as depicting the Goddess Nabia and God Tongoenabiagus.  

David A. Wacks of my alma matter, University of Oregon, has this blog post regarding the surviving oral traditions in today's Iberian culture: Lusitanian Mythology (what survives of the cultures Polytheist Paganism practice) in Spanish Ballads. This is part of his archives as "Pagan Iberia" and it seems there exists rich literature on the subject. Here is a wiki.

This old reddit thread led me to this blogger, Golden Trail: A wayfarer's path, is self reportedly Polytheist and Portuguese and has here collected some of the surviving mythology. The original thread was asking about 'CeltIberian Paganism', because largely the pagan peoples the Romans encountered they called Celts. Often the 'Celt' terminology is applied to language groups, cultural similarities, or again the Romans enemies on the periphery. So, though the far west Iberian Peninsula has some similarities to other Celt culture, there are abundant differences and it seems this cultural center had its own regional significance but was not recorded by the Romans. What remains, then, in the oral traditions and other stone carvings is just the mist of the mythology and the Iberian Pantheon. The above cited blogger, as a worshiper, does a great job to acknowledge that modern identities of these deities are not past ones. Again, it is only a mist that survives.

From wiki, via David Wacks blog. Map showing celtic migration
Also from wiki, showing Lusitanian area.
Back to me ;). If I am of Portuguese, loosely Iberian, descent then it is entirely possible and likely that some of my ancestors were involved in worship of one or more of the deities described there. Again, it doesn't compel or obligate me to adopt this pantheon simple because my ancestors once had, but to me it strengthens my dedication to a pagan identity. Not necessarily polytheist, but certainly spiritual roots that acknowledge and worships environmental changes.

My ancestors migrated and it is why I am not residing in the place they were. These ancestors of this time discussed above (which is many thousands of years) must have also migrated to reside there. These people, call the Portuguese, Lusitanian, Iberian, Celt, or other must have come from somewhere else, as Homo sapiens is know to have evolved in Africa and only left the Mother Continent some 60,000 years ago and reaching the tip of Iberian Peninsula only 25,000 years ago (source: map cited in Vox). Remember, mitochondrial eve: the mother of all humanity.

Statuette of Mitochondrial Eve
As long ago as 30,000 years ago, my ancestors may have arrived in the Iberian region. There is cave art in the Escoural Cave not far from the Evora stone-circles. The cave has sign of occupation as long ago as 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals and then a second occupation during the Upper Paleolithic (35,000 - 8,000 years ago) by anatomically modern humans. And of course the beautiful Chauvet Cave in southern France, a mere 1,300 kilometers, has the most spectacular cave art of the time. Overwhelmingly, academics agree that these folks were not agriculturalists (farmers) but were on the spectrum of hunter-gatherer types. Population was sparse, there was at least on other human in the same geographic region (Neanderthals), and this was the 'new frontier' of tribal expanse at some point. We may not know many specifics about the lifestyle and cultural customs of these people (there is literature on this, but too detailed for me to expand on here) but one thing is very clear: animals were very, very important--even sacred--to these people. Out of all this things that could have been so intricately drawn on these cave walls, it is the great Pleistocene beasts they chose to honor. Important, for food, clothing and tools. Plants are important, but they stay still and are not quite as evasive. Animals, however, are very evasive and every modern day hunter knows you much learn a bit about the lifestyle of the animal to be an efficient hunter (though not required today when you can drive up and blast it with a center-fire riffle). The 'religion' of these people is broadly categorized as animism: the belief that all things are animated with a spiritual essence.

Stunning cave art of the Chavet Cave, France
The people that I descend from, which at this point is becoming mythical, were once animist. Let me recapitulate: My mothers grandfather was born in Hawaii but his grandparents immigrated from the Azores Islands (Portugal). Sometime preceding the 1860s (one of the oldest records we have of our Azores ancestors), those greats likely came from mainland Portugal, which has a Christian history after the Celt-Iberian roots (which probably also had its fair share of inter-regional conflict). Those agricultural-astrological pagans were the descendant results of agriculture spreading into the area after there were already paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies (animists).

This is validating for me: significant rocks, megalithic structures, pagan religions and mythology, and animist cave art in Portugal. But why? Again, it is not like I not feel compelled or obligated to follow a specific spiritual lineage because my ancestors did. But, it is incredibly validating to arrive at my own religio-spiritual conclusions that my ancestors once had and practiced, as different as it looked.

I am Pagan.

A animist, geocentric pagan dirt-witch to be a bit more precise.

So where my ancestors, so were ALL of our ancestors. Everyone has a similar circuitous ancestral path back to a hunter-gatherer based lifestyle, which were/are usually animist.

When someone says "I prescribe to _____ religion because that is the religion of my ancestors", I wonder at what ancestors they are speaking of? Their parents? Their African ancestors of 65,000 years ago? Likely some arbitrary point in-between that they happen to have good information on.

My own ancestral history navigates from animism to paganism and polytheism to monotheism (much of my extended family is Christian of various denominations, and I once was as well) and I have reversed that trend. At any point during this reversal, I could say "Oh! Now I have arrived at the religion of my ancestors, and should follow that!". But in my own spiritual path, the religion of my ancestors has never been an interest; it is not why I've explore any path or information, except for this record here. Instead, I have followed a path that is intuitive for me... a druid path, a solitary witch path, and an eclectic pagan path. I've taken a lot of data points, constantly analyze those data and the current experience, and have arrived at my own, unique conclusions.

I feel like I honor so many of my ancestors by arriving at conclusions that navigate through their own conclusions of their respective age.

Full Circle.