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Making Meaning in an Age of Collapse

Posts: 39
Location: Ontario, Canada (Zone 5b)
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I initially posted this in the "community" section of the forum but Anne Miller kindly reminded me that these topics belong in the Cider Press. Here goes:

Reflecting on the past few years, it is becoming more apparent and hard to ignore that western civilization is well on its way down the steep, ragged slope of decline. Industrial capitalism and globalization will most likely be looked upon as an extravagant aberration in human history, fuelled by an abundance of cheap and easy fossil fuels and a penchant for exploitation.

The party is over. Global supply chains and cultural narratives are beginning to fray; the stories, values and ways of being "we" have developed during the last few hundred years will no longer make much sense in the decades and centuries to come.

How do we make meaning in times like these? What is our role as human beings in the face of increased death and decay? What would a sane culture look and feel like? I would love to hear peoples' thoughts.

Here are a few short videos (~5min) by Stephen Jenkinson  ( https://orphanwisdom.com/ ) that got me thinking on this topic:

The Making of Humans

The Meaning of Death
Kirk Patrick
Posts: 39
Location: Ontario, Canada (Zone 5b)
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This piece by Martin Prechtel ( https://www.martinprechtel.com/ ) also touches on ideas that I had in mind when starting this thread:

In the Flimsy Hut of the World:
The Indigenousity of the Human Soul

(Epilogue to “Secrets of the Talking Jaguar”)
by Martin Prechtel

The secret of the village togetherness and happiness had always been the generosity of its people, but the secret to that generosity was village inefficiency and decay. The House of the World, like our village huts and our human bodies, no matter how magnificent, is not built to last very long. Because of this, all life must be regularly renewed. To do this, the villagers come together once a year at least, to work on putting back together somebody's hut, talking, laughing, feasting, and helping wherever they can in a gradual, graceful way. This way each family's place in the village is reestablished and remembered. If a house is built too well, so efficiently that it is permanent and refuses to fall apart, then people have no reason to come together. Though the house stays together, the people fall apart, and nothing gets renewed. Smart people might be able to invent excuses to get together, but this is too abstract and hollow, and such contrivance insults the soul. People have a genuine need to make things with their ingenuity and with their hands.

This coming together to gather water by hand, to do communal tasks gracefully--tasks that a machine could do in an instant anonymously--or to repair rickety houses ensures the very smiley togetherness so missing in the pre-planned, alienated lives of modern civilization. When a Tzutujil says he needs to be healed, he asks the shaman to "chumij", or replaster, him. When we begin to fade, the shaman plasters us with remembrance so that we can shine again.

Ironically, the great amount of unnatural violence, senseless killing, and mechanized warfare that we see these days signals an extreme fear in the face of natural death and decay. These difficult conditions come about when a people are not truly at home. Unable to re-create the House of the World as our shamans do, subscribers to modernity jettison all ideas of ritual life and the feeding of spirits. Instead they look for permanent solutions, such as nuclear bombs, war, concentration camps, laws, and ideals that must be then upheld and defended. All of this activity is a search for increased security to protect an uninitiated people from what they perceive as a hostile universe. Far removed from the humble familiarity of being at home, in a village, such people have forgotten their own natures and how to use these natures to speak a village back into life.

Not satisfied or confident that life can be renewed, unwilling and afraid to grow old, to gradually become magnificent, treelike elders, or die into cultural humus, the modern man or woman demands the permanence of steel cities and immortality. So sure they will never be remembered for having lived, such individuals struggle to stay permanently youthful, like cornered cats, frozen in the anxious void of modern communities.

Generosity of the soul and tangible effort in the face of the constant pressure of decay are what give people purpose, fertile imaginations, vitality, a feeling of usefulness, and self-worth. When decay is "cured" instead of communally addressed, a culture becomes decadent. Then generosity becomes an advertising ploy or a dirty word. Violence is close behind when people won't come together to remake each others' houses.

Somewhere during the course of my initiation as a shaman, I came across a startling and troubling realization that every human being alive today, modern or tribal, primal or overdomesticated, has a soul that is original, natural, and, above all, indigenous in one way or another. And like all indigenous peoples today, that indigenous soul of the modern person has either been banished to some far reaches of the dream world or is under direct attack by the modern mind.

Since the human body is the world, every individual in the world, regardless of background or race, has an indigenous soul struggling to survive in an increasingly hostile environment created by that individual's mind, which subscribes to the mores of the machine age. Because of this, a modern person's body has become a battleground between the rationalist mind and the native soul. As a shaman, I saw this as the cause of a great deal of spiritual and physical illness.

Over the last two or three centuries, a heartless culture-crushing mentality has incremented its "progress" on the earth, devouring all peoples, nature, imagination, and spiritual knowledge. Like a big mechanized slug, it has left behind a flat, homogenized streak of civilization wherever it passed. Every human on this earth—African, Asian, European, Islanders, or from the Americas--has ancestors who at some point in their history had their stories, rituals, ingenuity, language, and lifeways taken away, enslaved, banned, exploited, twisted, or destroyed by this force.

Now what is indigenous, natural, subtle, hard to explain, generous, gradual, and village-oriented in each of us is being banished into the ghettos of our hearts, or hidden away from view onto reservations inside the spiritual landscape of the earth body. In shamanic terms, our minds are being taught to believe that whatever we can think is actually the center of a person's life, just like a conquering culture, or a modern culture which thinks with the mind, not with the ancestral soul.

Meanwhile, our natural souls, which are like Bushmen or rare waterbirds, know that our minds and souls should be working together to maintain or replaster the crumbling hut of life. Instead, our indigenous souls are being utterly overlooked and pushed aside in the bustle of the minds' competitive activity, until our true beings feel just like a tribesman in a big, trafficky city: unwelcomed, lost, and homeless.

We Tzutujil shamans don't believe the primitive notion that human spirit resides in the brain or even in the mind, or that it is even human, for that matter. And memories, especially the most ancient, natural kind, definitely don't live in the head, but reside all over the place. Therefore, because this beautiful, dejected spirit is not given a home in a person's life anymore, the homeless soul has become a fugitive in the World House of our bodies, trying to hide somewhere so that our minds won't find it. It flees and hides because if our modern minds treat our personal indigenousness as viciously as the modern culture treats all the natural people of the world, then our personal spirits fear being discovered by their oppressors--our own thinking.

Though the modern world can appear somewhat soulless and its people numbed and asleep, I discovered that deep in the World House of their bodies live resourceful, intelligent, soulful refugees who, like myself, waited and wondered when they would ever be welcomed back home again.

When I divine the Earth Bodies of many people of today, their worlds look like a post-war country, bombed out, dry, flowerless, and tired. The flat devastation wreaked upon these people's Earth Body need renewing. Their World House needs reassembling, replastering, it has to be remembered back to life, so that the faraway native souls, their natural indigenous beings, can return to their homes. Maybe this is why Chiviliu sent me away, to sing and speak these people's lives back together. After all, he said that the destruction was coming from them. Our world was being killed by people whose naturalness has been disenfranchised long ago. The violence they leveled upon us came from their soulless minds and angry, homeless souls, looking for permanence through violent business growth, killing, forgetting, and mocking everything that reminded them of their inadequacies.

For there to be a world at all, every indigenous, original, natural thing must start singing its song, dancing its dance, moving and breathing, each according to its own nature, saying its name, manifesting simultaneously its secret spiritual signature. Every Gypsy must be singing her ancient tune, every Bushman, Croat, Arab, Jew, Chukchee, Hmong, Papuan, Celt, Yoruba, Saxon, Cree, Guarani, Sami, Inuit, Kazaki, Tahitian, Balinese, Han, Ainu, jaguar, honey creeper, anteater, shrike, beetle, butterfly, oak, birch, ceiba, boabab, dog, mosquito, shark, coral, lightning, tornado, mist, mountain, deer, desert, and so on forever, each must be making its magic sound. When any of these stop singing for being killed or destroyed, a piece of the World's House is lost. This in a village is the equivalent of losing a family. When this happens in the village, it's a call for all the people to come together to find or renew the family's lost tribe--or to grieve their gaping loss. Our grief, when deeply expressed communally, as it is in a village, sends the lost sound like an echo back to its home. This puts some mud back into the void left in the World House.

If done passionately, grief strengthens the World House, because the creative substance of our songs is perceived by the spirits as canoes to take the dead home. Our tears are jade beads to adorn the Face of Life, the Earth Fruit.

Shamans say the Village Heart can grow a brand-new World House if it is well-dressed in the layered clothing of each indigenous soul's magic sound, ancestral songs, and indigenous ingenuity. The wrecked landscape of our World House could sprout a renewed world, but a new language has to be found. We can't make the old world come alive again, but from its old seeds, the next layer could sprout.

This new language would have to grow from the indigenous hearts we have all hidden. It shouldn't be a language of oneness, not one language, not a computer tongue of homogenization, but a diverse, beautiful, badly made thing whose flimsiness and inefficiency force people to sing together to keep it well-spoken and sung into life over and over again, so that nobody forgets to remember. We need to find gorgeous, unsellable ritual words to reanimate, remeasure, rebuild, and replaster the ruined, depressed flatness left by the hollow failure of this mechanized, orphaned culture. For this, we need all peoples: our poets, our shamans, our dreamers, our youth, our elders, our women, our men, our ancestors, and our real old memories from before we were people.

We live in a kind of dark ages, craftily lit with synthetic light, so that no one can tell how dark it has really gotten. But our exiled spirits can tell. Deep in our bones resides an ancient, singing couple who just won't give up making their beautiful, wild noise. The world won't end if we can find them.

On Grief and Praise - Martin Prechtel
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