Indigenous Grief

Hello, dear patrons. This is a piece I have been working on for a couple of months – since the planet Uranus moved into the earth sign of Taurus. The spring triggered a wave of grief that took a little quiet time to identify. This is the product of much contemplation.

I will be curious if anyone else shares the experiences I write about here. Please click through to the Patreon site it you want to comment – it’s nice to have your voices here:) 

Some hundreds of years ago, I would have been called a “wise woman”. People would have come to me to determine the best marriage partner; the best time to get married; the best time to plant specific crops; the best time to build a new home, or any number of things. I would have been like a cosmic weather-woman. I would also have been the village healer, both because of my knowledge of the planets and stars, as well as my familiarity with plants and their medicines. I would have helped women manage their fertility, and that of their husbands, and even the land itself. I would have helped them enjoy their fertility and their sexuality.

I would have been very close to the Earth, the Moon, the stars, the plants, planets, animals, trees and all the elements. They would have been something like family in my little neck of the woods. I would have known where and when to find them, how to ask them the right questions to receive understanding about how to make them into medicines or read their rhythms. 

I would have known the flowers intimately, would have gathered their dew in the mornings to help people with emotional troubles, or vitality. I would have known how to put every part of a killed animal to use for shelter, clothing, cooking, candles, and more.

And I would have been very attached to place. Heart Earth. Earth Heart. It would have hurt, badly, to be separated from that land.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened.

Frances Weller, in his book “The wild edge of grief”, puts it this way in his list of the gates of grief:

“The Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive – This entry into sorrow calls forward the things that we may never even realize we have lost. Long centuries of intimate, communal living have programmed our indigenous souls to anticipate being welcomed in the world, to experience what our ancestors knew as their birthright – the container of the village. We are born expecting a rich and sensuous relationship with the earth and communal rituals that keep us in connection with the sacred. Their absence in our lives haunts us, even if we can’t give them a name, and we feel their loss as an ache, a vague sadness. I feel perpetually in exile because I was never welcomed into the world.

The Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief – This is old grief we carry in our bodies from sorrows experienced by our ancestors. It also carries the weight of our abuses of the indigenous cultures on this land. This grief is so immense it is hard to reconcile. The long shadow of this violence persists in our psyches. And – whether we know it or not – we also grieve the loss of the ancestors. We no longer look to them as a source of connection with the invisible powers in the world. This loss of our connection to the land, language, imagination, rituals, songs, and stories of our ancestors has made us all homeless. Again, I am in exile because of something I cannot even name.”

As a wise woman in the time after the rise of land ownership and the birth of the Church, not only was I separated from the land, I was vilified for my wisdom. It had became more desirable to control rather than cooperate with nature, and the part of us that is most obviously part of nature – our bodies. My work became not just undesirable, but punishable by torture and death as those in charge became more bent on subduing all the activities and abilities I was so good at. If my skills were valued, I would have been expected to give the right answers to the questions as I put them to the plants, planets and stars, and perhaps have been killed if I failed.

As the Church became the law, all of my ‘occult’ – meaning hidden – knowledge was deemed dangerous, wicked, and outlawed. And I, like all others of my sex, who was so closely aligned with the body and the Earth, was contained, closely. With my wisdom no longer wanted, I and other women became second-class citizens fertility machines, and labor to create children, to cook, clean, and tend animals. Wandering the fields and forest in search of medicinal plants, or casting a horoscope, or easing the pain of childbirth, or forestalling pregnancy would have merited Inquisitors.

Our culture – white culture – divorced our bodies and divorced the Earth as we denigrated women. (It is no coincidence that the rise of the women’s movement in current times came together with the environmental movement.) We split ourselves apart so long ago we’ve forgotten the grief, terror, and utter desolation of the separation, although our bodies remember. Our conscious amnesia and unconscious pain are, combined, what has allowed us to colonize and enslave and conquer and write treaties only to break them, rip children from their families for “assimilation”, and even to this day, take and take and take without knowing when to stop and remembering to give thanks.

But some of us are remembering, and it is painful. We remember, I remember, deep down, what it was like to be freely given what I needed for a good life, directly from the source Herself. I remember what it was like to be in partnership with my true Mother, to understand the languages she speaks, to hear her say “You are welcome” when I say “Thank you”.

The knowing has broken through slowly, tiny bits at a time. Sometimes it is nothing more than a distant sense of disconnection, disharmony, imbalance. At other times, the gap between what body and soul know as natural and current reality can suddenly become evident and obvious, as when I suddenly feel the mysterious presence of a tree, animal, or the Moon after a lifetime of thinking I “know” them.

There was the time when I sat in the bathtub in the city, giving heartfelt thanks for the miracle of clean water to bathe in. Instantly upon whispering my gratitude, I felt Her, Mother Earth, acknowledge my thanks. Her voice broke through to my heart.

More recently, when my family decided to do some logging on our land to thin the trees and reduce the fire risk, I lay in bed one night agonizing over whether it was the right thing to do. I knew the land would get torn up at least a little, and that many trees would be cut from their roots and trucked to the mill. As I lay feeling the grief of it, I was struck by another emotion, just as strong: relief. The forest was actually feeling relieved, as if by logging we were offering breathing space to those left behind. I was surprised, but realized it made a kind of sense. I trusted my knowing, trusted my connection with the land and my ability to hear it.

I am in wise woman training again. I’m remembering the old ways with the help of teachers and guides. I started with indigenous wisdom from India in the form of Yoga and Ayurveda, and have gone on to learn – remember, really – astrology. Plants have pulled at me for much of my life, but recently I’ve begun to actually understand how they want to be used. 

What I practice and teach is based in Nature’s rhythms and cycles, in the Sun’s apparent journey around us every day and every year, for instance. Or the wisdom of the plants and animals around us if only we learn to listen.

More important than any other of my teachers is my connection to place and the deep intimacy of living closely with a place. There is no substitute for love over time. 

To be continued……..

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