The cure for susto

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow

The Radiant Life of Animals by Chickasaw novelist, poet, and essayist Linda Hogan is a gorgeous collection of poetry and prose about the tenor of our daily relationship with the more-than-human world -- including wolves, crows, foxes, bears, mountain lions and horses, as well as the land that sustains us all and nurtures us body and soul.

In the book's Introduction she writes:

The Radiant Lives of Animals by Linda Hogan"A geography of spirit, an individual and collective tribal soul, originates with the larger geography of nature, of the ecosystem in which we live. For tribal peoples, this has always been a constant. The animal realm, sacred waters, and surrounding world in all its entirety is an equal to our human life. We are only part of it, and such an understanding offers us the bounty and richness of our world, one to be cared for because it is truly the being of the human....

"Nature is even now too often defined by people who are separated from the land and its inhabitants. In our time, with our lives, we usually include primarily only a majority of the developed world. Such a life is one that carries and creates the human spirit with more difficulty. Too rarely do we understand that the soul lies at all points of intersection between human consciousness and all the rest of nature. With our bodies and selves, skin is hardly a container. Our boundaries are not solid; we are permeable; therefore, even as solitary dreamers we are still rooted in the greater soul outside of us. If we are open enough, strong enough, to connect with the surrounding world, we are capable of becoming something greater than what we are merely within our own selves."

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow 10

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow

Soul loss, Hogan explains, is what happens when our relationship with the nonhuman world becomes frayed: 

Ceramic sculpture by Sophie Woodrow"In contemporary North American Latino communities, soul loss is called susto. It is a common condition in the modern world. Susto probably began when, as in many religions, the soul was banished from nature, when humanity withdrew from the world. There became only two things, extremes viewed from our point of understanding -- human and nature, animate and inanimate, sentient and not. 

"This was the moment when the soul first began to slip away and crumble. 

"In the reversal of and healing from soul loss, Brazilian tribal members who tragically lost their land and place in the world and now dwell in the city often visit or at least reimagine nature in order to become whole again and have their souls returned to them. Anthropologist Michael Harner wrote about the healing methods among Indian people who were forcibly relocated to urban slums, usually from the rain forests. The healing ritual most often takes place in the forest at night, as the person is returned, if only for a while, to the land he or she once knew. The people are often cured through their renewed connections, their 'vision of the river forest world, including visions of animals, snakes, and plants.' This connection brings back the soul that has returned to these places. Unfortunately, in our time, these homes in the forests may now only be ghosts of what they once were.

"The cure for susto, soul sickness, is not found in books. It is written in the bark of a tree, in the moonlit silence of night, along the bank of a river, and in the voice. This cure is outside our human selves, but it becomes the thread that connects the outer world with our own."

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow

The marvellous, spirited sculptures today are by British ceramicist Sophie Woodrow. She graduated with a BA in Studio Ceramics from Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall, and is now based in Bristol. Woodrow's work is informed by her love of natural history and a fascination with the Victorians' relationship to nature: the ways they both embraced and feared new theories of evolution, while often misapprehending them. Her sculptures "are not visitors from other worlds, but the ‘might-have-beens’ of this world,"  as she seeks to "assemble creatures from the strange notions of what we define as ‘nature’ and of each other as people – as ‘other’."

To see more of her art, please visit Woodrow's Instagram page, and the Messums Wiltshire gallery site.

Ceramic sculptures by Sophie Woodrow

Ceramic sculptures by Sophe Woodrow

The text above is from The Radiant Lives of Animals by Linda Hogan (Beacon Press, 2020). All rights to the text and art in the post reserved by the author and artist. Some related posts: The language of the animate earth, On language and mystery, and The philosophy of compassion.


Pilgrimage for Nature update

The video above features the beautiful letter from artist/author Jackie Morris for the pilgrims walking all the way from London to the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, my husband Howard being one of them. Please take some quiet time to listen to Jackie's heart-felt, hope-filled, inspiring words. "It's the hardest thing, in these days, to hold on to hope," she says, "but it must be done."

Jolie Booth (co-creator of the pilgrimage) writes: "Jackie Morris kindly gifted us with seven hand-painted labyrinth stones, a hand-drawn illustrated book that she wrote to the pilgrims, which we read out at the opening ceremony in London on Saturday. The Letters to the Earth campaign will be running workshops along our pilgrimage route for different communities to write and deliver their messages for a better future to the leaders of the world as we walk. What gifts! What magic."

Visit the Pilgrimage For Nature Instagram or Facebook pages for further updates, photos, and the like.  For information on how to participate in the walk, even from far away, go here. And please note that there is a new fund-raiser going to keep the pilgrims on the road (to replace other funding that didn't come through). If you have some pennies to spare, please give them your support. 

Pilgrims for Nature, 4 September, 2021

Above, a photograph of the pilgrims in London on Saturday. Jolie writes: "The bags all packed and ready to go…we finally meet at Tower Hill. We’re filled with excitement and nervousness as we take the step into the unknown. From today we walk north, filled with curiosity and love." 

May the weather gods continue to smile on them, may all the pilgrims stay safe in these difficult times, and may the work they are doing on behalf of Mother Earth be fruitful.

Seven stones for the Nature Pilgrimage painted by Jackie Morris

For those who worry about Covid safety (and I am one of them!), the pilgrims are in a Covid bubble, testing regularly, and there are protocols in place for meeting and working with others along the route. 


Listening to the Land

Pilgrimage for Nature

Listening to the Land is a "pilgrimage for nature" in which a core group of 20 people (artists, performers and storytellers among them) will be walking from London to Glasgow this autumn for the UN Conference on Climate Change.

My husband, Howard, is one of those 20 pilgrims. He'll be setting off from London in early September, walking up the "spine of Albion," and arriving in Glasgow at the end of October -- an eight week journey covering roughly 500 miles, followed by a week at COP26. The group will be holding community meetings and giving creative workshops, talks, and performances in villages, towns, and cities along the way -- listening to the concerns of the people they meet, listening to the land itself, and weaving it all into a performance scheduled for presentation to the UN climate delegates on Monday, the 8th of November. 

Listening to the Land has received funding from Arts Council England, and support from the National Trust, the British Pilgrimage Trust, the Wisdom Keepers, Seed Sisters, Letters to the Earth, and other organisations -- but it's a big project, and they need to raise an additional £4500 this summer. (It's heartening to see they are already half-way there.) If you can help with even a small donation, please visit their Crowdfunding page -- where you can also learn more about the project, and how to get involved in various ways -- including joining them on the pilgrimage route (pictured below) for a day, a half-day, or even an hour of walking.

Pilgrimage route

Howard walking a labyrinth on Dartmoor

I'm delighted that Howard is doing this...and, I admit, a bit nervous too. It's a long, long journey, and England is in a dark place right now...but we need the light that collective art-making creates, and the subject could not be more urgent. Howard is no stranger to pilgrimage, having already traversed the Camino to Santiago de Compostela through the French and Spanish Pyrenees; and for many years he criss-crossed Europe with his Commedia troupe, so he's used to being on the road in one form or another. This time he'll be walking with colleagues from the Nomadic Academy of Fools, doing fooling practice and performance along the way. Nature, pilgrimage, foolery. How could he possibly miss it? 

I have a vested interest in seeing that the pilgrims are fed, so please chip in if you can. (No worries if you can't. It's been a hard year for many. Good wishes and prayers are equally welcome.) The fund-raiser runs for 16 more days.

And the walk itself begins dauntingly soon....

Howard and hound

Picture above: Howard and Tilly earlier this week. She's going to miss him so much this autumn, and so will I. But for such a good cause. 


The language of loss and love

Old Oak 1

In her splendid little book Why Rebel, Jay Griffiths despairs of the way we commonly tell the story of climate crisis, noting how it distances us from the urgency and enormity of the ecological devastation unfolding around us. She writes:

Night Owl in the Woods by HJ Ford"The language we use for this is itself deadly. The mass of ocean writing is a heap of broken plastic words: stock, fisheries, industry, off-shore, tonnage, commercial fleets, sea cages, fish farms, subsidies. Through the language it is hard to see the ocean's true nature, whose vitality needs to be rendered as beautiful as iridescence itself. We speak of an 'extinction event' or 'species decline' because of 'intensive agriculture.' These are lifeless phrases. How easily the eye bypasses them. They are words of tarmac and traffic, not the lovely writhy ivy words of the woods. 

"I cannot touch or taste terms like 'habitat loss' or 'pollution' because they are unbeloved words which carry within themselves the toxicity of lifelessness. Humans, we are told, need insects for 'the function and services they provide.' Cold language, cold as coins on corpse eyes, cold as the philosophy that put us here. Words of heart are needed.

The Lion Falls in Love by H.J. Ford"There is a new word in the air: defaunation: the loss of absolute animalness. Defaunation includes the loss of individuals and the loss of abundance. Defaunation, argue researchers in Science magazine, should be as familiar and influential as the word 'deforestation.' Another term for the loss of the world's wild fauna is 'biological annihilation.'

"Please tell me you understand the immensity of this. And if you don't, please think, alone and quietly perhaps, of the unfolding ending. Let me speak simply into the simplicity of your heart, then, and let me just ask you what you love, what makes you happy.

"Is it a child? Is it your partner? Do you love your friend or, Little Prince, do you love your rose? Do you love your dog, your cats, your church, your home, your garden? Your books, perhaps, or the poetry you make, or the music? The meaning you have made of your life, maybe, your health, status, honour or all of these? And this love, then, this happiness that you hold so dear, tell me how it will even exist without the tiniest of beings, the insects, against which we have been so pitiless? Without the insects for the food and the flowers and the soil?"

Why Rebel by Jay Griffiths

Old Oak 7

Red Campion

Barry Lopez is another writer who entwined the language of loss with the language of love in his remarkable and influential books, which changed the way that many of us viewed the world and our place within it. In his essay "Love in a Time of Terror," published shortly before he died (in January), he wrote:

Storks and Pelicans by Helen Stratton"Evidence of the failure to love is everywhere around us. To contemplate what it is to love today brings us up against reefs of darkness and walls of despair. If we are to manage the havoc -- ocean acidification, corporate malfeasance and government corruption, endless war -- we have to reimagine what it means to live lives that matter, or we will only continue to push on with the unwarranted hope that things will work out. We need to step into a deeper conversation about enchantment and agape, and to actively explore a greater capacity to love other humans. The old ideas -- the crushing immorality of maintaining the nation-state, the life-destroying belief that to care for others is to be weak, and that to be generous is to be foolish -- can have no future with us.

"It is more important now to be in love than to be in power. It is more important to bring E. O. Wilson’s biophilia into our daily conversations than it is to remain compliant in a time of extinction, ethnic cleansing, and rising seas. It is more important to live for the possibilities that lie ahead than to die in despair over what has been lost.

The Lion and the King by HJ Ford"Only an ignoramus can imagine now that pollinating insects, migratory birds, and pelagic fish can depart our company and that we will survive because we know how to make tools. Only the misled can insist that heaven awaits the righteous while they watch the fires on Earth consume the only heaven we have ever known....In this trembling moment, with light armor under several  flags rolling across northern Syria, with civilians beaten to death in the streets of Occupied Palestine, with fires roaring across the vineyards of California, and forests being felled to ensure more space for development, with student loans from profiteers breaking the backs of the young, and with Niagaras of water falling into the oceans from every sector of Greenland, in this moment, is it still possible to face the gathering darkness, and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?"

Old Oak 2

Griffiths and Lopez, of course, are not the only writers urging us to pay attention to the language we use when speaking of the more-than-human world. In previous posts, Robin Wall Kimmerer explained how the "grammar of animacy" can foster more respectful relationships with plants and animals; Lyanda Lynn Haupt reflected on the language of inter-species communion; David Abram argued that our conception of language itself as a purely human gift is much too limited; John O'Donohue spoke of animals and compassion from a Celtic point of view;  N. Scott Momaday reminded us that speech itself is an ancient form of magic ... and there are so many others (fiction writers, poets, mythologists and storytellers included) who are working to re-enchant our words, re-wild our stories, and re-imagine our place in the living world.

Barry Lopez asks: Is there still time, and is this still possible? I have to believe it is. The great work of loving, of rebelling, and of storytelling carries on. It has only just begun.

Old Oak 8

The piskie flower

Words: The passages quoted above are from Why Rebel by Jay Griffiths (Penguin/Random House, 2021) and "Love in a Time of Terror" by Barry Lopez (Literary Hub, August 7, 2020); all rights reserved by the authors. Lopez's last published book was Horizon (Vintage, 2019), which I highly recommend. You can read a post about it here.

Pictures: The fairy tale illustrations today are by H.J. Ford (1860-1941) and Helen Stratton (1867-1961).


Recommended Reading: Rooted

Lost and Found in a Forgotten Land by Virginia Lee

American eco-philosopher Lyanda Lynn Haupt has written some of my favourite books exploring human relationships with our clawed and feathered neighbours (Mozart's Starling, Crow Planet, The Urban Bestiary, etc. ), so I've been eagerly awaiting her latest, Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit -- and what a lovely book it is. Haupt often weaves memoir into her nature writing, but Rooted is her most personal and poetic book yet: a paean to the more-than-human world and our intrinsic connection to it. 

In the Heart the Woodland Wakes by Virginia Lee

Rooted by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Drawing on the work of botanist, biologists, artists, mystics, folklorists, and fellow nature writers (from Rachel Carson to Robin Wall Kimmerer, David Abram, and Sharon Blackie), she discusses issues of science, art, and faith to illuminate means of rooting ourselves in the land around us, whether we are native or immigrants, and whether our lives are urban, suburban, or rural. In a world with so many people on the move (likely to accelerate due to climate change), this is a discussion we need to be having. How do we root, and how do we re-root? What if we must re-root again and again? This book is a guide, full of good advice -- simple, practical, and effective. And for those who haven't yet read Carson, Kimmerer and the rest, Haupt provides an introduction that is warm, accessible, and inspiring.

She writes:

Miss Birch by Virginia Lee"In this time of planetary crisis, overwhelm is common. What to do? There is so much. Too much. No single human can work to save the orcas and protect the Amazon and organize anti-fracking protests and write poetry that inspires others to act and pray in a hermit's dwelling for transformation and get dinner on the table. How easy it is to feel paralyzed by obligations. How easy it is to feel lost and insignificant and unable to know what is best, to feel adrift while yearning for purpose. 

"Rootedness is a way of being in concert with the wilderness -- and wildness -- that sustains humans and all of life. The rooted pathways offered here are not meant as a definitive list but as waymarkers and fortifications for all of us seeking our unique, bewildering, awkward way through the essential question of how to live on our broken, imperiled, beloved earth. It is the question Thoreau asked. The one that Mary Oliver, who passed just before I wrote these words, has perhaps framed most beautifully: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

"We all come to know our own lessons as they spring from the study of our households, our woodlands, our watching, our footprints, the trails of kindred wild ones that cross our paths. Our intelligent feet, our making hands, our listening ears. 

"The word rooted's own root is the Latin radix, the center from which all things germinate and rise. The radix is the radical -- the intrinsic, fervent heart of being and action. Rooted lives are radically intertwined with the vitality of the planet. In a time that evokes fear and paralaysis, rooted ways of being-in-nature assure us we are grounded in the natural world. Our bodies, our thoughts, our minds, our spirits are affected by the whole earthen community, and affect this whole in return. This is both a mystical sensibility and a scientific fact. It is an awareness that makes us tingle with its responsibility, its beauty, its poetry. It makes our lives our most foundational form of activism. It means everything we do matters, and matters wondrously.

"Amphibious, we wander at the singular, radical intersection of science, nature, and spirit. Here resides a multifaceted understanding of the interdependence of earthly life and the engaged activism that such an understanding inspires and requires. Here are the interwoven pathways of inward, wild stillness and outward, feral action. At this crossroads there is intelligence, and sacredness, and wildness, and grace."

All and all, I can report that this beautiful book was well worth the wait.

Detail from ''Once upon a tree, along a wandering path...'' by Virginia Lee

The art today is by my friend and neighbour Virginia Lee -- who is as deeply rooted in myth and the Dartmoor hills as any artist could be, and I couldn't admire her more.

"I use my own visual language," she says, "to explore themes of transformation and connection to nature, creating realms where deep aspects of the psyche are embodied in folkloric characters and revealed in the mythic landscape."

Nesting in Future Love's Embrace (sculpture) by Virginia Lee

Three Hares Tor by Virginia Lee

If you'd like to see more of her wondrous work, visit her website, Facebook page, or an article I wrote a while back: Mythic Landscapes: Virginia Lee. And please seek out her magical publications, including The Frog Bride, Persephone: A Journey from Winter to Spring, The Secret History of Mermaids, and The Enchanted Lenormand Oracle Deck.

Moor Maiden by Virginia Lee copy

Heart and Hearth by Hound Tor by Virginia Lee

The passage above is quoted from Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Little, Brown Spark, 2021); all rights reserved by the author. Posts on Haupt's previous book: Mozart, starlings, and the inspiration wind and Wild communion.

The paintings, drawings, and sculpture above are by Virginia Lee; all rights reserved by the artist. The titles are: Lost and Found in a Forgotten Land, In the Heart the Woodland Wakes, Miss Birch, a detail from "Once upon a tree, along a wandering path...", Nesting in Future Love's Embrace (sculpture), Three Hares Tor, Moor Maiden, and Heart & Hearth by Hound Tor.