Fire & Water

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus here, I admit, but I plan on getting back to this blog. A lots been going on in the last few months including an inspiring trip to the Philippines. Here on the island the eruption of Kilauea has been much in the news and continues to be (in case you were wondering, we’re safe and lucky to have a nearly 14,000 foot mountain between us and the eruption). Here, instead, it’s been very wet for the last couple months. Fire and water (hmm, fire in water is quite the Brigidine theme, right?).

The goddess Pele continues to expel sulfur dioxide gas, lava bombs, and splinters of volcanic glass causing even shutting down a geothermal plant on the other side of the island in a reminder of who’s boss.

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(Halema’uma’u, home of Pele. photo credit: CFHT)

Meanwhile, recent study reveals that chickens and other poultry make up 70% of all birds on the planet at this time and 60% of mammals are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs. 36% are humans. 4% are wild. The ubiquitous distribution of domestic chicken bones across the planet is now considered a mark or the ‘Anthropocene’.

I recoil from this, there is something disgusting here. Yeah, chicken McNuggets come from birds (along with 37 other ingredients), kids, really. There is a certain irony in that the Hawai’ian islands are overrun with feral chickens, even supermarket parking lots.

In fact, since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

 

An animist can easily succumb to despair in these times. But then Pele shows herself with greater force. And in very intriguing timing an idol of the Hawai’ian war god Ku, under whom King Kamehameha I united the archipelago, was returned to Hawaii just a week before the start of the most recent eruption. Estimated to be around 200 years old, it came up for auction in Paris and was purchased for over $7 million dollars by the Salesforce CEO who has an estate in Hawai’i. He returned it to Hawai’i, giving it to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu (not often such a commendable act by a tech tycoon). Coincidence? Ku and Pele taking notice?

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Benioff-pays-7M-to-return-rare-Hawaiian-war-god-12938915.php

 

To see such interactions of holy forces/agencies, including elemental ones can be recharging (even though I have compassion for those who have lost homes to them). Wherever we are, we need to work hard to build stronger relationships with the spirits and gods of the wild, to build on the fury of the boar and the wolf, to call on the dead who would aid us. There is so much that needs to be (re)moved.

Who is your local spirit(s) of the wild?

One of mine is the stream that runs below our hidden place. I made it an offering the other night. From what I hear it has been known to take a human. These are (holy) powers. Part of civilization’s problem is how it has forgotten this most basic knowledge.

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Meeting New Spirits

It’s been over four months since we moved up here on the north coast of the island (how did the time go by so quickly?). Settling in a very rural place where the soundscape is punctuated with the calls of roosters, frogs (invasive coquis from Puerto Rico) among other things. An intermittent stream runs below our house, often just pools in rocks, but it flowed whitewater and fierce for a couple weeks from Thanksgiving on—we had 10 days of almost non-stop rain. The strongest presence here whose music has delighted my heart. Obviously this Nie-nie has many moods, often reticent, sometimes exuberant, and from what I hear even ferocious at times, having taken a woman a few years back, who carelessly thought she could cross it during full cascade.

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In a time of endless bad news and seemingly ever-increasing chaos in the world, being in such an isolated place has its advantages. We had a great mac nut harvest from the trees behind the house but the sweet potatoes were taken, tuber, stem and leaf by the wild pigs who know the place well!

 

We’re upslope, some 1700 or 1800 feet on the north shore, and the nights have recently grown chilly, a welcomed hint of winter. I know some of you year for more sun in your northern locations, but I year for more darkness. I’ve always found darkness deeply nurturing.

 

It’s challenge to live in such a different environment than I’m used to from the west coast of North America, but slowly making acquaintance with the local spirits is an ongoing and rewarding process.

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Water flowing by ginger plants.

 

Over at paganbloggers I have some mythic thoughts you may want to read: http://paganbloggers.com/finnchuillstrack/2017/11/30/plastic-abyss/

Extinction Remembrance Day

November 30th is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. I believe commemorations like this can be channels for the grief that any authentic living in this time must confront. Definitely a good day to mark for those with an animist bent.

More information can be found at this website.

https://www.lostspeciesday.org/

I’ve also found valuable thoughts from Lo (Keen) on extinction on this blog: https://rotwork.wordpress.com/

I’ve written a couple of poems and tributes to the lost birds of the Big Island of Hawai’i for this day.

A distinctively human consciousness arose in Paleolithic

linguistics and painted its wrestle with abyssal animal mind,

staving guilt of hunt and anxiety separation

with ritual’s diplomacy:

ochre and feathers

and sorcerers dancing on the edge of worlds,

occasionally falling off into the pit of bones.

now centuries of the rites cast aside,

suppressed volcanoes of grief wait unaddressed

and sedimentary layers of numbness press on our continents—

a society looks for the forgotten

who peek occasionally from sedated dreams,

in pixar and pokemon-alert smartphones

(the children were out in August—I hadn’t known there were any,

but there they’d gathered near where the stream gushes by the supermarket unseen)

while outside barely known

the Sixth Extinction rages on.

We the truly lost species as tectonic plates grind on.

Here on the island of Hawai’i there are at least ten species of bird that have gone extinct since the arrival of whites in the late 18th century. There are many more if the entire archipelago is included. Hawaii has suffered more extinctions and more endangered species than any other US state. The majority of these lost species are of a group of birds called Hawaiian honeycreepers that underwent diverse speciation as they adapted to a multitude of island environments much like the finches that led Darwin to theorizing evolution. In many cases their habitat was destroyed by sugar plantations and cattle ranching; also the introduction of rats, mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit (there were none before the Europeans came), mongooses and cats have led to the demise of others.

The Hawaii mamo, Drepanis pacifica, last seen in 1898.

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The greater Koa finch, Rhodocanthis palmeri. Last confirmed sighting in 1896.

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The lesser Koa finch, R. flaviceps, 1891.

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The Kona grosbeak, Chloridops kona. 1894.

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The Hawai’i o’o, Moho nobilis, last seen in 1934.

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The ula-‘ai-hawene, Ciridops anna, extinct at the latest by 1937.

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The greater ‘amakini, Viridonia sagittirostris, last seen in1901. Lost to sugar plantations destroying its habitat.

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The lesser ‘akialoa, Akialoa obscura. Last seen in 1940.

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The Hawaiian rail, Porzana sandwichensis. 1884 or maybe 1893.

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The kioea, Chaetoptila angustipluma, 1859.

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All images Wikipedia, public domain.

 

An Elegy

before the cattle, before the sugar,

before the mosquitoes and rats

brought by whalers’ ships,

before the plantations

how much richer the island life—

when the lost birds could be heard cracking

the naio fruits, flitting in gold epaulettes and black dress

among the ohia trees,

opening the seed pods in the koa groves,

sheltering from fierce noon sun and plundering

nectar with long curved beaks. Your flights

haunt, a lost net of sorrow.

.

I.M. Katsu Goto

A brief post about something that moved me today.

Hawai’i has a vital shrine culture. I came across this shrine by happenstance this afternoon. Even though this labor activist was murdered when Hawai’i was still an independent kingdom (1889), it had largely been taken over by American plantation owners by then (who instituted the coup a few years later that led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the occupation by USA). This young immigrant sugar worker had learned English before leaving Japan but was lynched on the Hamakua coast.

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Counter what a small, if very noisy, subset of American polytheists would have it animism/polytheism is hardly the precinct of the Right. I am moved that Goto’s shrine is still lovingly and beautifully maintained.

 

The sugar plantations are gone, but corporate and oligarchic interests are still rife. But as the plaque says his spirit lives on! What is remembered, lives.

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And apologies for the blurry photos—it seems that (and not altogether unrelated) smartphone cameras are designed to degrade purposefully to get us to ever buy new models.

Eucalyptus Standing

It’s been quiet here for a bit. Lots of work stuff, and life thrown us a difficult blow recently. But time to share a poem. This one came while I was writing prose about reenchantment. The eucalyptus tree, while originally from Australia, is a signature part of the California landscape. Some people would like to see them gone, saying they are fire traps. I’m rather fond of them myself.

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The bee came at me and then buzzed away.

I stand here:

belladonna plants

tall dried mustard, purple flower kind,

the ground is sandy,

the log imposes

pale and catches attention

pulling me in to investigate.

Walking….

a low key compelling, behind is an altar shaped log

and alongside silvery green eucalyptus shoots—

they are growing out of one that was axed;

genetic clones they must be

but the big tree looms behind.

Sometimes it lurks in there

not quite taking a face.

Beyond the bison’s graze today. But one

framed in primordial horn

looks at me and

I look too.

I offer tobacco leaves, and flowers,

dried, from my indoor plants.

They make lovely lime green scenes,

haunting green stars press against the glass.

A trio of crows calls.

Dogs are being walked. Fox tails are

scratchy if you’re not careful.

Eucalyptus, long settled in,

reaches out to me in aromatic exhalations

entering my lungs. I inhale deeply.

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Walls, Taxonomies, Spills

Boundaries are often good things, walls sometimes, sometimes not. Walls are much in the US news of late, with a would be demagogue loudly proclaiming the need to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and another would be president imbecile saying it’s worthwhile to explore building one between the US and Canada. Which leads to the thought if the inhabitants were completely walled in, wouldn’t that be a prison?

Staking out claims, carving out territory, specifically for those whose theological stance is definitely polytheist has been and continues to be a necessary action, when larger communities have proven so often that they want to redefine our polytheist stances into their own—or to disregard ours completely. But it works both ways, an obsession for taxonomy doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthy practice. It easily leads to this is the ‘right and true way’ to do Polytheism.

One aspect of this makes me at times feel like I’m caught in one of those awful European tortures of centuries past (drawing and quartering), being pulled in more than one direction. This is the notion that Paganism (that poorly defined rain protection device) has various ‘centers’. These are said to be the Gods, Nature, the Self (not the ego), and Community. I orient in a general way within the Druidic Three Kindreds practice. That is the Gods, the Spirits (conceived as spirits of land, sea, sky, that is lowercase nature) and the Ancestors. That my practice is largely deity-driven and focused doesn’t in any way preclude my animism, devotion to the spirits, seen and unseen. And all of these drew me to paganism in the first place.

I agree with John Beckett that it is very important to have that vocabulary of fishes (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2015/08/fish-is-not-just-fish.html); if I want mahi-mahi I certainly don’t want to end up with a plate of perch. But I might want to order that seafood medley the next time around (I still want to know what’s in there but the grouping might offend your taxonomy, though*). Boundaries and definitions (and they are very important in a time when people want to make words mean whatever they feel like—like the Atheopagans now saying they have a ‘theology’ and a ‘creed’), yes, but let’s note we are setting our taxonomies up, they weren’t cargo dropped from the Sky by the gods, and we need to be careful we don’t set up high walls that only keep us in—or worse dismember our bodies and minds. My core tradition (Irish) is full of overflows, spills, gushes, after all. Defining things needs to be strategic and conscious and strategies have to be able to be changed. Walls can be undermined, or bored through or overflown. Nomads have much to teach. And we oughtn’t forget walls/borders are built across indigenous territories in colonial architectures devised to divide and rule.

My religion includes trees, gods, stones, demigods, ancestors, lakes, creeks, ancestors, more gods, animals, heroes, the sun and the moon, deified humans, the stars… and if it’s not clear, I will say it: all are persons with agency.

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*An obsession with taxonomy can be found in the Book of Leviticus.