I think I am unusual. I can find a confidence inside that allows me to take risks. This confidence allows me to initiate things that I feel passionate about and because I see their worth in the world. I can do this even if I think I don’t know what I’m doing.
The backstory ~ back in the depths of winter I was walking on the land of the South Downs in Sussex. I was in the middle of holding a Medicine Walk and I had a chance to go out for all of 20 minutes. I had my own medicine walk. I was standing amongst some hawthorns and looking out across the rolling downland and a voice from who-knows-where said, “Stoking the ancestral fires.”
That was it. The feeling was powerful. Like something ancient to my bones had landed in me. I had had the feeling before but it had become distant. This time it stayed. I had no idea what I was meant to do with those words and their meaning but I sat with them and let them dream me.
It didn’t take long to realise that at least part of what I was to do with them was to initiate grief tending ceremonies in our local community and that this offering would be a step towards a bigger collective initiative that would hold a sense of ‘the village’ – that which our very ancestors lived, breathed, laughed, cried, birthed and died within.
I guess it’s worth being clear what I mean by ‘village’. The ‘village’ I refer to is not only the physical, populated place but also the intact, healthy situation that many of us long for – one where we find ourselves being listened to, our gifts celebrated, our skills and offerings shared, where mentoring happens for the young and where ceremonies and honoring happen for the land and for the cycles of the year. It would be a situation where there are elders to hold council for the good of the village and where land and food production happens not for economic growth but for ecological growth. It would be the kind of place where our original longing to belong is met.
It is the village that has been lost and it is the feeling of belonging that goes with the village that many of us are now grieving. We don’t know where our tribe is. We don’t have a central fire to gather around and call ‘hearth’ (notice that the words heart and earth are both in this word). We wander, lost like orphans, going from place to place never quite feeling like it’s the ‘right’ place. We are longing for ensoulment of the land and of self. And somewhere, far back before industrialisation, our ancestors had this.
So, the manifesto, if you like, that was given to me that grey February day, is one of finding a way back to a future that provides the possibility for ensoulment and for re~claiming our sense of belonging to this land and the people that inhabit it. For this to happen we need to gather together. We need to be in ceremony as well as simply be around a fire together, making and shaping things with our hands, using them like the ones in the old stories. We need to tell stories to each other, sing songs, cook local and foraged food and eat together.
First though, as I mentioned before, there is a need to tend the grief – and that needs to include the grief of those ancestors who had their land taken from them or who experienced loss of many kinds.
What I am trying to express here when I use the words ‘ancestors’ and ‘indigenous’ particularly in context to newly-arrived folk from other lands, is that we’re all orphans. The sense of our ancestors, and therefore our sense of belonging, is currently fragmented and set in ancestral trauma. All of us have ancestors whose land was taken from them and whose families and friends were lost. All of our ancestors have known what it means to be displaced. Where did it all start? How far back do we go for the clues? When and how did the war gene create itself?
There is something here around reclaiming the land and our relationship to it, yes, and, more than this, it means reclaiming the fragmented parts of ourselves that are ready to belong – somewhere. It’s about starting where we are, beginning the conversation with the land that is current and that allows connection to happen. And trusting that. It means beginning the conversation with each other to share our grief about it all and how we feel about our lives and each other. It all boils down to healing. On a grand scale.
How do we do that? And with this newly gifted manifesto, how do I hold that for others? I have not had training. I have not had elders to show me the way. Nothing has been handed down to me. So I feel my way in the dark. I learn to trust. I have to trust my deep knowing. I have to trust my intuition, my sense of ceremony and what is needed in the moment.
This feels hard at times and yet it feels like exactly the right thing to do. I believe as part of our healing as a culture, it is necessary to go through the discomfort of feeling our way in the dark for a while. The songs of our language (whatever that language is) and the songs of this land are waiting to be sung. I feel like I owe it to the land and those who have gone before me to do this.
All the time we take the songs of other cultures we are not really embracing, or indeed reclaiming, our true inheritance on this earth. We are not empowering ourselves to find our own song, our own prayer, our own way of being in conversation with the Other. I imagine that all of our ancestors had to intuit and make it up as they went along for some of the time – they didn’t always have something handed to them in a neat package. I believe in listening and responding to the field and that requires something less prescriptive than is often offered through trainings and certain traditions.
One of my teachers of cultural healing and grief work, Francis Weller, speaks to this beautifully in his courageous book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow. He writes,
‘While we have much to learn from indigenous cultures about forms of rituals and how ritual works, we cannot simply adopt their rituals and settle them neatly onto our psyches. It is important that we listen deeply, once again, to the dreaming earth and craft rituals that are indigenous to us, that reflect our unique patterns of wounding and disconnection from the land.’
Now, I am willing to suggest that I have a tendency to be a rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to be told what to do, yet, the stronger inclination is towards supporting a strident, empowered village that listens to the land and its people and responds through ceremony or otherwise and that this could be described as reclaiming our indigenous wisdom. In my opinion, this is much more powerful and empowering than taking on the wisdom of other cultures.
Our recent Community Grief Tending Ceremony on Dartmoor felt like proof that this way of trusting can work. It feels as if it’s happening; we are intuiting our way back to something that makes sense, that is steeped in our connection to the land and holds the potential for healing just by its very existence.
I will continue to walk the path of re~membering and of stoking the ancestral fires and, when you feel ready, I will walk with you on that path.
Rebecca Card works as a guide, facilitator and ceremonialist of nature~based wisdom, cultural healing and soul initiation. She trained as a wilderness rites of passage guide with The School of Lost Borders and has participated in several Animas Valley Institute programs both in the U.S. and in the U.K. To find out more about Cultural Healing Practices & Nature-Based Initiation visit: http://naturewisdom.life/
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1Dave Darby April 3rd, 2018
I’ve always had a longing for your description of ‘the village’, and I think you’re right that it’s a basic human need. We have an economic system that pushes us in the opposite direction, and that’s very difficult to oppose. But oppose it we must, for our well-being and ultimately, our survival. Keep up the good work.
2Sue Laverack April 3rd, 2018
I have just been re-reading Sharon Blackie’s ‘If Women rose rooted’ with a similar theme. I am lucky enough to live in a place at last where I feel I was meant to be and where I can put down roots to find that sense of belonging. Perhaps not surprisingly it is near where part of my ancestral family used to live. Hopefully I am beginning to to be part of a community of people on the same journey though sadly we do not all live side by side. Thank you for sharing this post and I shall look forward to reading more from you.
3Michael Francis Baker April 3rd, 2018
Rebecca, I love the sentiment you have expressed. I, having moved on from a community where I lived for some 30 years was drawn to a mountain side in Anda Lucia, Spain. I’m exploring the dynamic of a mixed international group in a formative transition town rural pueblo with an interesting cultural twist.
Trust has been built and friendships have resulted leading to art exhibitions, skill sharing, car sharing and traditional seed banks.
Although my heart lies with indigenous people i have met in central America, I can see a common essence of tribal human nature exists in the land of the conquistadors and the indigenous people they came to destroy.