The line of the land makes a sound; a music that sings in my heart, stitched together with a thought and a dream
“In the very earliest time, when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people and sometimes animals and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive and what people wanted to happen could happen –
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this.
That’s the way it was.”
Nalungiaq as spoken to Knud Rasmussen
(source: The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram)
photo: the view from up the ridge a ways from where I live.
This piece is, in part, a response to what appears to be a current tendency towards fundamentalist thinking in the west. It seems so on the ‘right’ and the ‘left’, the religious and the non-religious and specifically, and relevant to this piece, the whole concept of a person changing their sex or gender and the mayhem that has recently arisen over washrooms and whatnot.
And so, in that, this bit of mine becomes really a pondering of possibilities of transformation from gender to our human place on the earth and of course whatever might lie in between.
• Derrick Jensen has written and said (or at least something akin to it) that if a person wants to know how to help a river or a forest, the best thing to do is to actually ask the forest or the river.
• It appears that in indigenous societies it is well accepted that a shaman (or whatever word one wishes to use here) and perhaps some others have/had the ability to transform into other animals. Useful for all sorts of practical, not to mention spiritual reasons, I would say.
• I think I heard/read it from Wade Davis or perhaps it was Jeremy Narbi or maybe both. That, when asking indigenous people they were visiting, how they know what plants they could use for food and medicine, they were told by the people that they knew what plants they could make use of because the plants told them.
In the industrial west it would be easy to think of all this, if thought of at all, and think that these examples above are surely just metaphors. But no, I do not think so. I do not think that these statements were metaphors at all but rather simply a statement of the real. It has been stated a number of places that that is how the people saw it.
So. In this context, how is it that the concept of changing one’s sex or gender or what have you become so difficult to then imagine? Naturally, this difficulty of imagination is perfectly reasonable to those that believe in the supremacy, divine right and exceptionalism of the industrial human. However, I find myself terribly confused by a similar point of view from those that actually do believe in the possibilities and wisdoms of ancient peoples who also then seem to refuse to consider the possibilities of this in the context of sex or gender transformation… or what have you. It seems a rather strange thing to me. A number of rather excellent writers and commenters, some of them directly exploring the place of modern humans on the planet, environmentalists, if we want to use what is progressively becoming a dirty word (referencing here John A Livingston’s distain for the general environmental movement, of which he said that, on the whole, it consisted mostly of a bunch of people just trying to keep things the same and still manage to get away with it), who seem to make ready use and reference of indigenous ways of approaching the world. Generally, I do believe they mean this in a positive way, often suggesting that this sort of ancient knowledge might be our only chance of transforming our modern world into one that could have any chance of sustainability (which is also becoming a bit of a dirty word these days) and one in balance with the natural world.
I do believe that people deciding, or declaring, or preferring to live in another sex or gender (or what have you) was common enough with many ancient peoples and there are lots of instances (though it seems not necessarily universal) recorded with the coming of Europeans to the North American continent in the long ago, (but not all that long ago, not really) days.
Surely transforming into a wolf or hawk must be a much more complex activity than merely keeping oneself as a mere human but with a minor shift of how they present sex or gender-wise or what have you. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is difficult to say with any sort of surety.
My own experience of dreaming a new existence tells me that it is possible. And dreaming is what it indeed is/was. A long meandering, lifelong and difficult dreaming. It also tells me that it might not be possible after all. I haven’t really decided yet and I reckon that this is my prerogative to view it so. In this world of transformation little is as it appears, at least to me as an industrial human desperately trying to slough off that particular heavy burden. To slough off that burden is actually the more vital element here and really more to my whole bloody point. It is possible. It could be and it might not be and for that matter it could be possible and impossible all at the very same time. You see, I have a feeling that we need to be careful of our big dreamings. I think that it must be that rarely, or never, does the dreaming become the solid lived but rather the dream, the imagining, becomes the conduit to create a new or renewed existence in this physical, on the ground, world. Sometimes the landing on the hard ground, on the surface, doesn’t seem to resemble what was in the air. Or maybe it does and it is simply our imagining and vision of the actual dream was skewed in the first place. In that case, the dream might have been right all along.
I think that the possibility of transformation, of the impossibility of the imagining of a new perspective on the world and have it become real, is what I am trying to get at here. I’m not saying that every tranny, trans or what have you person now becomes the go-to person to seek wisdom as to how to find a path to a world at one with the wild, with nature, to reject the industrial. Far from it. Neither would every person in an ancient group of hunter gatherers have the ability to go into trance (trans… hmm, those two words suddenly seem similar) and become a bear and so tell them where to go to find a good salmon run.
Not everyone can have all the same gifts and skills.
But they do exist, they did exist.
I thought that I’d throw up a few Youtube videos that came to me on writing this.
One of my all time fav videos. From Jeremy Narby who I referenced above. Among many things, he talks about an amazonian shaman transforming to Jaguar. I truly love the way he presents his thoughts here. Completely focused and thoughtful and full of humour and a distinct lack of any sort of supremacy. Narby’s book Intelligence in Nature is fab and here he is talking on that.
A vital and truly powerful talk from Waziyatawin…
And this from Wade Davis. Had the chance to see him speak over in Banff a few years ago. Wonderful speaker and thinker.
Donna Haraway, Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble
Brilliant, poetic and gorgeous…
Vimeo won’t let me embed this, but just click on ‘Watch On Vimeo’ and it should take you somewhere that you can watch it.
At the beginning of this, I reference a quote from David Abram’s book The Spell of the Sensuous. That and his later work, Becoming Animal are vibrant books for me. Here is a rather interesting video with him talking about the idea of the shaman, magician and, in part, in context to its diverted usage, at times, in the west…
There is so much out there on the net nowadays about our place on the planet. I find it hard to really know where to go with everything out there, but perhaps this is a good place to head towards.
Here is a video from Derrick Jensen. There’s lots of stuff from him all over Youtube and elsewhere. His books Endgame 1 & 2 were electrifying to me and he has other written things out there for those interested. Along with the people I mention above, Jensen presents one of the major voices out there exploring the path to trying to understand our human place in the modern world and what possibilities there might be for us to shift it. And there are more like minded voices coming to the fore every day.
Edit. March 15 2017. I seem to have come to some sort of crossroad regarding Derrick Jensen. I have been tolerant for years with his (and others) mean, unimaginative and puritanical position on Trans issues and have attempted to counter posts and comments from him (and others) with measured responses to attempt to foster a balanced discussion about this complicated and varied issue. I now find myself feeling nausea when I listen to him speak or watch videos such as the one below and that is what the bloody crossroad, for me, is. It’s damn abusive and that is pretty ironic, if you ask me. Having said that, the video below is about his book, Endgame Vol. 1 &2. Those books were electrifying for me when I read them years ago. I’ll leave the video up here as there might be some that will get something from it. His perspectives on the predicament of industrial civilisation are truly powerful and an important part of the discussion. For myself, I just can’t bear it anymore. So there.