Monday, January 17, 2011

The gods. Are they primitive or are we?

The other day while writing about my carving process I wrote about having dreamed repeatedly, while still a little boy, of The Thunderbird, a North American Indian spirit being, and how that experience lead me to be a carver and ultimately an artist. I imagined readers thinking, “How weird is that?” I was, after all, born in England and have no aboriginal blood. How could I have experienced this intimation without even the cultural background to suggest that this could happen?

I can only think that some children are more suggestible than others and that solitary time spent in the forest and along the seashore opened me to that experience. Perhaps too, although I missed the usual means by which Indian boys traditionally escaped briefly from their cultural ways to experience their guardian spirit; hunger, lack of sleep, solitude, I did something similar, - I had been moved from one country to another, all around me was strange, and in a busy family time I was left to wander. For that important opening into a new reality, I was ready.

What that tells me is that there is a relationship between landscape and people that expresses itself quite naturally in the form of intermediary spirits: that thousands of elements of the natural world combine with our own sensibility and communicate what we need to know in order to exist together in harmony.

This is not a novel or revolutionary concept, just the accumulated experience of humankind since the world began for us. The real novelty is that there should exist people for whom this would sound unusual. Many of us today would find belief in the gods and spirits of hill and stream to be ‘primitive’ and backward. We are beyond superstition. Some of us may still believe in a universal spirit, but many have cheerfully chucked that out as well. God survives as a swear word only, or accidently slips out in times of stress or passion. Fair enough, but from a practical viewpoint what also goes out the window with this ‘enlightened’ world view?

Is it possible that the ‘Gods’ and all the stories associated with them ( remember Zeus, Apollo, Athene, etc.?) represent a complex and sophisticated system of thought, and without access to that tool of relationship it is we that are underdeveloped and our thought systems primitive? We have thrown away a form of thinking that grew along within our physical and cultural development. How to synchronize our human ways with the greater systems we call ‘our’ environment is a current concern with dire consequences if we don`t. Libations to the Gods may not be popular in the modern context but a deep understanding of our place in the partnership is still needed at the most instinctive as well as intellectual level.