Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Theology is Mycorrhizal

Niki Whiting, just wrote a beautiful essay on the relational and intersectional nature of her theology.  
My theology is also relational and intersectional -- but it is above all ecological.  

I am a Feri priest, wedded to the gods of my tradition, oathbound to my kindred in my lineage and my tradition.    My gods are not metaphors.  But, aside from she-who-is-all-that-is-of-which-all-is-fractal-form (shhh! don't tell the other polytheists that I just confessed to monist heresy)  they are not everything.

I am also an animist, inhabiting a world in which everything is alive.  Gods are one form of life -- like humans and Oaks and Salmon and Mountains and Rivers.  The way in which gods differ from other beings is in their persistence of form -- some have lifespans as long as a river or a civilization, others live as long as a galaxy, a handful are almost as old as time itself.   But ultimately we and they and the Owl calling outside my window and the Cedar the Owl is perched in and the forest floor and the ocean are all made of the same matter and energy infused with the memory of a world born of the love and desire that arose from the Darkness gazing on Hirself in the curved mirror of space and time.

Anaar recently reminded me that in Feri, perception and experience come before belief, an that whatever is true is observable in nature.    So it makes sense that our relationships with gods would resemble our relationships among other beings and other beings relationships with us.

And just as Wolves shape Rivers by preying on the Elk that graze the Willows that change the Rivers' course -- and are changed by the River and the Willows and the Elk in turn -- the presence - or absence - of gods changes an ecosystem.    It leaves holes in worlds, internal and external.

The question is not whether the empty places inside us and  in our world are god shaped of Bear shaped or Lady Slipper shaped holes, because all exist, all are real, the question is what are the relationships among those holes, and what do those relationships tell us about what is missing from our lives and how to invite its return.   And what is ultimately absent is the sense of relationship itself.   We have forgotten how to be in relation with gods because we have forgotten how to be in relation with life in all its complex, emergent forms around us.   And in the absence of relationship, there is a loss of meaning.

Rhyd Wildermuth writes:

"Meaning is a social-act, a kind of intercourse between us and the world, and us and each other"

"Meaning can’t be reduced, it only expands. Meaning has no cognate, and the only other word in the English language that comes close to functioning as its synonym is not Truth, but Love. [ . . ] When I love someone, they have meaning for me. They are meaningful to me, I derive meaning from them, we mean something to each other. When I do not love someone, they hold no meaning for me; they are meaningless to me, or they mean no-thing to me."
Where there is no meaning there is no love, where there is no love their is no deep relatedness, where there is no deep relatedness there is no divinity, for divinity is nothing if not a complex emergent quality of a living system, and without deep relatedness there is no system and no complexity.   

But where I differ from Rhyd is with his claim that "humans are the only seekers of meaning we’ve yet encountered"  When I call to Owl or Raven in sounds that mimic their vocalizations, they respond in kind, even though they know I am not a bird.    When a Cedar exhales volatile oils into the air, they carry messenger molecules recognized by our own nervous and endocrine systems.   We are used to experiencing meaning only through the interpretation of our talking selves, but we all know that around some of the most meaningful things, words and concepts fall away and are replaced by the felt sense of being of our wild selves.   Stephen Buhner writes:

"Human beings, long embedded within their environment, have always been sensitive to the meanings that surrounded them. Those contained within plant communications, as with all communications, generate feelings in us in response. We know the touch of the world upon us, that we have been caressed by meaning, even though we might not be able to consciously say just what that meaning is. A door opens inside, our unconscious gathers it in, and at night we dream and it is woven into the fabric of our lives. We have always been surrounded by such meaning-imbued language; later we created our own. Our language also travels through the air, though it is vibrating waves of sound. (Did you think we made all this up out of our bulging forebrains alone?) We have always lived, surrounded by original language."
The new field of biosemiotics is examining communication within and between communities of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.  I imagine the field extending itself to theosemiotics, which would follow the same patterns observed in the wild world.

I learned what I know of speaking with gods from speaking with plants and fungi.    There are gods who speak like Spruce, their breath calms us, and we stand in their shade.   Their are gods that seduce us like Datura, their breath all perfume and pheromones and opium,   There are gods like fermented Apples, who render us drunk or put us to sleep.    There are gods like the Matronae who are like mushrooms, each Matrona an individual fruiting body with her own experience, but each connected to the whole by mycelial threads.    There are gods like the roots of Oaks.   And there are gods like the coiling of mycelium and rhizome.

Like plants, all of them speak unmediated to the wild self, and the talking self finds its version of meaning in the traces of thought and language and narrative that arise where sensation touches consciousness.

Gods are not plants or fungi or animal, but neither are they human.   They meet me at the edge of the forest.   And it was the forest that taught me how to speak with those who are not human.   And so my theology is mycorrhizal.



Anonymous said...

You said it best!

Anonymous said...

Many feelings of "yes" as I read this.

All is relational, relationships. that is the ah ha that is most frequent in my life right now.


Anonymous said...

Oh Sean, thanks for your beautiful words that, as always, resonate at such a deep soul level.

Unknown said...

"But, aside from she-who-is-all-that-is-of-which-all-is-fractal-form (shhh! don't tell the other polytheists that I just confessed to monist heresy)"

Shhhh, indeed, fellow filthy most heretic! I always like to say that I think that the Gods are all part of the same thing, but so are we, and I don't go around calling every person I meet Sam so I'm not going to go around calling every God Freyja. They might even be able to burn me at the stake for panentheism, but if Gullveig managed not to get burned then maybe so can I. ;)

I really appreciate the article.

Sophia said...

This clarifies much within my own Heart. Thank you for the gift of your vision and your sincerity Sean.