It has taken me a long time to think of the words to write this post. I have written many posts about compassion, kindness, the earth, and her creatures, the environment and climate change, and there have been many brilliant posts on Earth-Grief or the Great grief and the ways of reclaiming old wisdom by other bloggers and authors, even posts by fellow witches and pagans which I will link at the bottom.
It has taken so long to write this because my heart has been somewhere in the ocean. I have been lost in this deep depression, both personal and cosmic and it is taking a long while to reform this heart into a fertile space for creativity and kindness. This has been part of the lesson on the Dark forest journey, in this place I had to drown in my sorrows before I was able to move on. There are days when I do not even recognise myself, so beaten down by the onslaught of fear, loss and betrayal by humankind, that I rage like a cornered rat.
This is my own experience of Earth-Grief. This is the realm of the heart and emotion, that watery space which is occupied by the sea and river beings, the fish, the whales, the crabs, and the seals; the merfolk, the kelpies, the lake women who grieve and other strange and mournful beings. It is a mysterious place, which has held a fascinating pull over us since time began. Our lives depend on the ocean and rivers. Our bodies consist of mostly water, and like the moon pulls the tides, we too are always pulled back to that mournful place at the edge.
It is with the ocean, that the first story begins. I was sewing buttons on to my heart pillow, a project in need of completion for many years. While I was sewing I was listening to folk music, when I heard the tale of Sedna, not for the first time, and the tears started trailing down my face, salty and thick while my hands were working needle and thread…
“Sedna roamed the deep, the cold forgotten deep, no-one wants to be alone
From her hands they fell, the mightiest of all
Slow and gentle as the tides
She offered them a name, and whales they all became
To tread the paths the lesser are denied”
– Heather Dale “Sedna”
Sedna created the ocean creatures from her own frozen fingertips, her heart so longing for the touch of other beings, that she put her heart and her grief, into the process of creation. The creatures of the ocean are forever tied to her. When Sedna is angered she keeps the whales, seals and fish away from humankind, but the Shamans go down to her, into the depths of the oceans, and comb her hair, so that she may be appeased and release her sea creatures again.
There are many tales that tell of how the gods or the spirits created the world from the primordial waters…Water is the source of all life.
But our water is plastic, acidic, and running red with blood. We have seen the awful consequences of our apathy, cruelty and ignorance in the coral bleaching, in the plastic which the fish eat, which in turn other sea creatures eat. We see ocean animals caught in nets, trapped in plastic, turtles deformed, disfigured by our use of plastic. We see how the oceans are constantly being pillaged by mankind- whales, sharks, and other ocean beings being slaughtered by the million. In South Africa we face the disgusting reality of Nuclear Power in Thyspunt and the consequent dumping of reactive waste into the oceans, which we all know will have disastrous consequences, as we have seen with Fukushima and Chernobyl.
These things are only the tip of the ice-burg. What of the polar bears and the lack of food and ice, the rising sea levels, and the relentless trade of seals and other ocean creatures?
The local rivers, dams and lakes are constantly filled with plastic, soap and bleach. The ducks and the Egyptian Geese who are my dearest friends, have to live in this disgusting water, eating fish which have been subject to frequent dumping. Open up a bird who lives in these conditions and you will find plastic and other useless human junk stuffed in, like some kind of Capitalistic witch’s poppet.
Even though people fight and protest, the greed of Capitalism and its Corporate gods don’t listen, and as a result, oil pipelines are being built which we know will spill no matter what kind of infrastructure they put in. The water we drink is often so dirty that our own government bleaches it full of chemicals to make it drinkable. We all face the reality of the drought and the water restrictions come Summer, while people still hose down their lawns just so that they can be green.
Our food is contaminated with pesticides and organic food is often expensive or hard to come by. The meat industry has a huge hand in global climate change, and yet their cruelty is justified by the bloodlust and uncaring nature of humanity.
Every day I encounter the senseless chopping down of trees, for a few extra parking spaces, or for yet another strip mall. The forests are declining, and the South African bird population is declining; if the birds are suffering, what about the creatures who are bound to the land, and who do not and cannot migrate?
Endangered and critically threatened animals, like hibernating bears and red wolves can now be shot legally. These are apex predators and gentle beasts whose viciousness have long been exaggerated. They are needed in order for the ecosystem to be balanced.
The rhino’s are almost gone, amd the sale and trade of rhino horn has been legalized. Men are trying to show us how manly they are by participating in Canned lion hunting and trophy hunting. All that they are showing is how violent, toxic and cruel masculinity is in this patriarchal culture.
Dogs are being dumped on highways and shot by idiot hippies who think they know about life and death.The cruelties endured by our domesticated brethren are often far too much for me too handle. How could one look into the eyes of a dog or cat and not feel love?
An advert by a seed company I used to support, showed me that even on a personal level I have been involved, albeit unknowingly in increasing the profits of the poison industry. This company supplies seeds and gardening products, but they also manufacture lethal second generation rat poison and herbicides. This poison travels along the food lines, and poisons animals far beyond its intended target. In a bone-keeping group, the amount of animals I see with bone-cancer (as toxins have traveled up the food chain) is disgusting. Vultures, an integral part of the ecosystem are being deliberately poisoned, not only by the muthi market, but the farmers, FARMERS for fuck sakes!
I have known for a long time that the vultures were threatened and endangered due to poisoning, but when I read in African Bird Life that the onslaught has gotten worse I burst into tears.
I became water.
The room filled with heavy, aching sobs, and I could not finish reading the whole article.
I saw the words, “poisoned” and “decapitated”, and I cried for what seemed like an hour.
It is a gut wrenching feeling, seeing the world around you become so much more broken. This pain is overwhelming, it leaves me physically sick. I find I often burst into tears when the radio or the news are playing in the background. I sometimes have to turn away from Facebook and the posts from my dear friends who post about the nuclear power plant and the dolphin’s being hunted. I cannot like, or react to these posts. I have to skim over many of them. I cannot see an animal in pain and not burst into tears. I cannot see anyone harming another being without becoming storm and water.
I am Rat, I am Owl, I am Serpentess, in an endless cycle of grief, sorrow, anger and revulsion.
We as human beings are truly lost, and shattered. We are living in a dying world- the 6th mass extinction or the holocene extinction, and we need to acknowledge the depths of this darkness and pain. We need to acknowledge that we are facing the beginning of the end, without being told that “The Earth is not dying”. That is denial. This is a dying Earth. We need to accept responsbility for our role in this apocalypse. We need to accept death. We need to accept the end of this cycle, the end of this world, so that we can begin to birth a new one, filled with less hatred, and more compassion.
“Perhaps bears and dolphins, clear-cut forests, fouled rivers, and the acidifying, plastic-laden oceans bear grief inside them, too, just as we do.”-Per Espen Stoknes The Great Grief
I have often invoked folklore and folk tales as powerful tools for teaching. The Story tellers held a deep wisdom inside their bones that they wove with their words. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, one of the greatest story tellers of our time, tells us that stories are medicine.
The stories that have always touched me the most are the ones with animals, the tales about bear-lovers, and fox-guides, and girls who turn into swans and geese and who have animal brothers. These tales always told of the animistic wisdom that we have forgotten in this day and age, even as pagans. To our age and in this era it is corporations that we lay our lives down for, not our plant and animal brothers.
We have lost so much in the name of progress that we do not even know what it means to be human anymore.
The old stories can tell us. We may have forgotten how to listen to the plants, the fish, and the bees. We may have decided that it is fancy or silly to talk to the trees and the rocks and the flowers, but this is what we must do.
The tale of the Fisherman and his Wife always fascinated me as a child. I loved the idea of talking fish and a fisherman taking pity on the poor creature, but I could never understand why the wife was so full of greed and selfishness. As I read the tale as an adult, the wife’s hunger for wealth and power strikes me as a metaphor for human greed and how in the end it is completely unsustainable. In wanting to be lords of the sun and the moon, and indeed the earth, we forget our place as beings who were born from the earth and not apart from it.
“Oh woman of the sea!
Hearken to me!
I do not come to beg a boon or wish
but to ask forgiveness from thee”
What if instead of invoking the Fish Prince or Fish Queen for our own greed and ego, we call on her and listen to her stories, and ask for forgiveness, both from the ocean and from the watery depths inside of ourselves? Instead of denying blame and denying the harsh reality that we have created we must repay our debts by enacting kindness. We must ask for the way forward, and instead of ignoring what the oceans are saying, we must allow ourselves to listen…
“What if, however, the feelings we have when we pass through these zones of destruction are actually arising from the land itself? What if it is the grief of the forest registering in our bodies and psyches—the sorrow of the redwoods, voles, sorrel, ferns, owls, and deer, all those who lost their homes and lives as a result of this plunder of living beings? What if we are not separate from the world at all? It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses. What if this is the anima mundi, the soul of the world, weeping through us? We know and feel in our bones that something primal is amiss. Our extended home is being eroded, as is the experience of our wider self. It is essential that we stop and recognize these losses. It is good manners to respond with sorrow, outrage, and apology at these places touched by so much loss.”- Francis Weller
This is the World Soul-Hekate, speaking through the centers of our beings. This is where we need to journey to. This isn’t merely the baying of the hounds but a wolf-howl into the darkest, deepest parts of ourselves that are aching to be acknowledged in a world run cold on money and power.
My work with Hekate and Anubis has taken on a different scale. While I still tend the altar at Deipnon, I often feel that these gestures are small in comparison to the real work I need to do, smaller than the oaths that I have made. Small isn’t wrong or insignificant, in fact these small acts are necessary parts of my path, like taking time to stop along the road and sit and just be.
My love for Them hasn’t lessened, even though at times to the outside world it may seem that way. It has expanded. I can call Hekate and Anubis by their names in ritual and remember by rote all the epithets I have for them, but there is nothing deeper than when I am experiencing them physically and emotionally in the natural world. When I come across dead birds, and pick them up either to be buried or resurrected, or when I walk and talk to the trees, ducks, and spiders, or when I watch the lightning crack the sky, and water flood the roads, I am experiencing them, as much as I am experiencing the individual spirits. It is an intertwining of personal devotion and cosmic devotion, personal grief and earth-grief.
We need to acknowledge that there is work to be done on multiple layers. Not only are we broken as a species, we are broken as communities, and we are broken as individuals. Our bonds with the beings of nature and the spirit world have been broken through greed and apathy. Our bonds with each other have been broken and discarded in favour of selfish and cruel treatment of others. Our bonds with our own selves have been discarded in favour of ego and surface-living. We need to repair these bonds, acting as Witches, Priests, and Shamans, bringing with us our individual and collective gifts, so that we may weave a web of healing that can envelop the world.
Our culture glamorizes violence and cruelty, stigmatizing deep emotions, anxiety and depression to the point where we feel completely ashamed for expressing the pain in our hearts.
Death, decay and the natural processes of sex, death and birth are sanitized, but at the same time we are surrounded by movies, songs and stories about “getting laid”, self medicating with manufactured drugs, and obsession with material wealth. Is it any wonder that we no longer know what it means to love, not only ourselves and romantic partners, but friends, family, and nature as well? In this self-obsessed, insular world, those of us who love so deeply, are derided and made to feel small and worthless.
It is in these moments when I feel so small and insignificant that I look to the wisdom of some of the most amazing women in our communities, these are women who work deep and healing magic with the power and wisdom of herbs into medicines, who are radical feminists and earth activists. They are artists, writers, and story tellers who remind us of what we have forgotten, teaching us to slow down, do less, pay attention, to care, and be compassionate. I admire these women deeply for what they have brought to their communities.
“Not so long ago, women were deeply involved in the rhythms of life and death. They inhaled the pungent odor of iron from the fresh blood of childbirth. They washed the cooling bodies of the dead as well.” Women Who Run With The Wolves- Clarissa Pinkola Estes
It is time to reclaim these rituals from the greedy corporates and cold institutions that have no soul but deep pockets. My own work is small, I collect the bones of the dead, and I bring them to life. I also am a poison worker, but murder is not my goal, healing the deep wounds left by a society poisoned by greed and apathy is. My work is small and often private, but it is my work, these are my oaths.
“Tears carry creative power. In mythos, the giving of tears causes immense creation and heartfelt reunion. In herbal folklore, tears are used as a binder, to secure elements, unite ideas, join souls. In fairy tales when tears are thrown, they frighten away robbers or cause rivers to flood. When sprinkled, they call the spirits. When poured onto the body, they heal lacerations and restore sight. When touched they cause conception.”Clarissa Pinkola Estes” Women who Run with the Wolves
When Isis put Osiris back together it was with her tears of love and grief that she was able to bring him back to life. In certain fairy tales and stories, tears have this same ability to resurrect the dead. The cleansing and healing ability of our own tears, borne from loving deeply has the ability to heal and resurrect this dying world. But we can only know this if we are willing to feel it, if we are willing to acknowledge it. We have become numb to the voices of our fellow spirits, blocking them out because it is too difficult to hear them, we don’t like what they are telling us. The pain is too much.
But this is the medicine that is needed.
Allow yourself to feel this grief. Let the emotions claim you. Feel every emotion as it rides through your body. Let the grief pour through your body like rain. Allow the aching sobs to pierce the air. Let your body rock back and forth in waves. Let the tears fall down. Create the healing remedies for yourself and for this world. Offer up your tears in temples. Gift your tears and sorrows to the oceans and the whales, to the forests and the wolves. The depths of the oceans is where life began. This is where it must begin again.
Further Reading and Listening