The past two days I have gone out into the world, camera in hand, in search of fall color. Yesterday was one of those prototypical autumn days, blustery and chill, with lowering cloud that muted most of the color. Still, every now and again there would arise within the landscape, for no apparent reason, patches of rich, vibrant yellows and reds.
This morning was again cloudy, although the sun managed to break through at times, brilliantly spotlighting patches of full fall color. Unfortunately this inevitably occurred while I was driving. Still, I brought home what I hope will prove to be fine photos.
I like to pay attention to the season round, watching our lives play out on what Hutchinson called an “ecological stage.” Here in the northern latitudes the set is always changing. We share the stage with many organisms, human and non, in relationships that are themselves forever in flux. Hutchinson likened this to an “evolutionary play.” We are, then, engaged in an evolutionary play acted out on an ecological stage. How cool is that?
Speaking of plays, my wife and I are busily constructing an extensive set for a piece of toy and object theatre that will accompany, we hope, a presentation we are to give in New York City next month. We are also working on the text and movement visuals for this third major iteration of a project that has changed remarkably over the past few months. Time has passed and we find ourselves at the point where we must put aside other almost necessary tasks and focus on the one at hand.
I am reminded that Mother Teresa once reportedly told a young, New York based, theater professional that rather than going to India to work with her (Mother Teresa), she should stay here and try to melt the frozen hearts of North Americans.
I wonder whether Mother Teresa knew about Windigos, cannibal giants with frozen hearts, who, given the opportunity, devour entire families and villages, if not ecosystems. Even now, every now and then, someone falls under the Windigo’s spell and goes on a murderous, blood lust driven, binge of violence. There used to be a Psychiatric diagnostic category for this, “Windigo Psychosis.” No, really!
It seems to me we humans, especially those of us living under the influence of late Capital’s consumer culture, have pretty much gone Windigo. Our collective heart is frozen solid, and we are going about the task of devouring our many relatives.
So, what are we to do about it? I like to think about the seasonal round as a complex teaching metaphor and a healing ritual. I’m hardly alone in this; for many Native people the central metaphor is that of the Medicine Wheel, in which the four cardinal directions and seasons are understood as standing for life stages, cognitive schema, and seasonal maps. I believe life looks, and is lived, differently in each of those diverse quarters.
Within the Wheel there is an implied fifth direction, which is often portrayed as up; that direction is time. When we move concurrently around the circle and through time, we traverse a spiral. With each turn we return, as T.S. Eliot was given to say, to the same place, only to find that it is different.
It seems to me that autumn is the best time to remember this. Now, we are busily gathering in what we have tended all summer. Soon we will place our attention on the Ancestors and the debt we owe them for Dreaming us into existence.
I find myself thinking a good deal about the sacrifices our forebears made so that we might have life. For some reason, I find myself returning to thoughts about anaerobic bacteria who, way back at the beginning of life on our planet sacrificed themselves so that those of us who would come later might breathe.
In the background is the approaching winter, the time of darkness and Dreaming. Autumn returns every year, yet the particulars, and our life situation, are different from one autumn to the next. Those changes make memorable stories.
If I might refer back to the puppet play for a moment, I will share with you that it is partially about healing in the face of consumer culture’s overwhelming greed. Given this, I doubt it is an accident that the Ancestors have found their way into the play. After all, when we forget our indebtedness to them we are likely more susceptible to the whispering of the Windigo, more given to all consuming hunger and greed.
The play is a sort of healing ritual and a playful ceremony. After the play, we will share with the audience a bit of knowledge about the ways we use puppetry to address social, spiritual, and psychological trauma, and encourage the participants to try out some of those techniques for themselves. This teaching and sharing is, of course, another healing ritual.
It seems to me that ritual and ceremony seek to return us to a richly connected relationship with time, place, and others; in doing ritual helps to awaken the Healer Within. It can be formal or informal, high or low, unique or everyday. There are times when it is good to spend weeks or months preparing for healing ritual or ceremony. Often, when these more formal activities go well, they are both memorable and life changing.
I have a warm memory of traveling for two hard days, with two of my teachers and a few other apprentices, to a cave deep in the Amazon. Healers had made the trip to do ceremony in that cave for some twenty thousand years. The ritual itself took maybe twelve minutes, then we went swimming. Of course, the trip to and from the cave were also the ritual and ceremony, as were the preparations made before hand, and the stories told afterward. As far as I can tell it was all part of the healing.
I suspect that when we pay attention, simple rituals like attending puppet theatre or placing ourselves squarely in the midst of Nature and seasonal change are also healing. One thing’s for sure, when we are awake to the sacred in our lives, feeling connected to our selves, families and larger communities, and to All That Is, the Windigo find it very difficult to ensnare us in their web of greed and hunger.
I’d like to believe that my writing, and your reading, are another form of healing ritual. Nothing fancy really, just time and space shared by two, or more, people, and just perhaps, the spirits. Let me know what you think.
© 2016, essay and photograph, Michael Watson, All rights reserved