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A container for all this ecological trouble, this peak-oil business, this malaise of numbness that seems to shroud even the most privileged. That implies a base line of anxiety, not relationship. It places full creative impetus on the human, not the sensate energies that surround and move through them, it shuts down the notion of a dialogue worth happening, it shuts down that big old word animism. Two routes towards the cultivation of that very dreaming was through wilderness initiation and, by illumination of the beautiful suffering it engendered, a crafting of it into story to the waiting community. Some enthusiastic sweep of narrative that becomes, overnight, the myth of our times. Second moment of rashness: the reason for the generational purchase of these tales is that the richest of them contain not just – as is widely purported – the most succulent portions of the human imagination, but a moment when the our innate capacity to consume – lovers, forests, oceans, animals, ideas – was drawn into the immense thinking of the Earth itself, what aboriginal teachers call Wild Land Dreaming. We didn’t just dream our carefully individuated thoughts – We. It is a great insult to the archaic cultures of this world to suggest that myth is a construct of humans shivering fearfully under a lightning storm, or gazing at a corpse and reasoning a supernatural narrative.
And what’s more they have no distinct author, are not wiggled from the penned agenda of one brain-boggled individual, but have passed through the breath of a countless number of oral storytellers. In a time when the Earth is skewered by our very hands, could it not be the deepest ingredient of the stories we need is that they contain not just reflection on, but the dreaming of a sensual, reflective, troubled being, whilst we erect our shanty-cultures on its great thatch of fur and bone?
No matter how unique we may consider our own era, I think that that these old tales – fairy, folk tales and myths – contain much of the paradox we face in these stormriven times. Any old Gaelic storyteller would roll their eyes, stomp their boot and vigorously jab a tobacco-browned finger toward the soil if there was a moment’s question of a story’s origination.
As things stand, I don’t believe we will get a story worth hearing until we witness a culture broken open by its own consequence.
So, here’s my first moment of rashness: I suggest the stories we need turned up, right on time, about five thousand years ago. This mantric urge for a new story is actually the tourniquet for a less articulated desire: to behold the Earth-actually-speaking-through-words again, something far more potent than a shiny, never contemplated agenda.
Old village life knew that the quickest way to a deep societal crack up was to negate relationship to what stood outside its gates.
Night Essays God
Storytellers weren’t always benign figures, dumping sugary allegories into children’s mouths, they were edge characters, prophetic emissaries. As loose with the tongue of a wolf as with a twinkly fireside anecdote.They charge vividly through our betrayals, illicit passions, triumphs and generosities.Psyche is not neatly contained in our chest as we scuttle between appointments, but we dwell within psyche: gregarious, up-close, chaotic, astonishing, sometimes tragic, often magical. It is time to rescue the stories, re-hydrate the language, scatter dialectical inflection amongst the blunt lines of anthropological scribbles, muck up the typewriter with the indigo surge of whale ink. For the past twenty years, I’ve been a wilderness rites-of-passage guide.Now whilst it’s certainly true that there are stories designed for travel, for thousands of years even a story arriving in a entirely new landscape would be swiftly curated into the bog lands and granite outcrops of its new home.It would shake down its feathers, shape-leap a little, or grow silent and would soon cease to be told.The whole thing had begun in earnest when, way back, I had taken myself up to the hills of Snowdonia and simply sat in a small oak gully without watch, food, tent or fire for four days.The energies of that place had a feast on my grief-racked bones, and then set up conditions and tutoring on the understanding that I would, in some incomplete but sincere way, speech out some of their atmosphere into the wider world. At best their insights gives us a glimpse of that archaic word cosmos; that our own story is no longer held in some neurotically distanced interior, but free ranging.No teller worth their salt would just stumble through the outline and think it was enough, the vital organs would be the mnemonic triggers of the valley or desert it now abided in.This was a protracted courtship to the story itself. Oral culture has always been about local embedding, despite the big human questions that cannot help but sweep up between cultures.When the Grimms and others collected their folktales they effectively reported back the skeletons of the stories, the local intonation of the teller, and some regional sketching out was often missing from the tale.Ironically, this stripped-back form of telling has been adopted into the canon as a kind of traditional style that many imitate when telling stories – a kind of ‘everywhere and nowhere’ style.