“We live in extraordinary times when people disbelieve in spiritual worlds and beings. This total disregard for subtle reality makes it very hard for the mystics and visionaries who perceive it to live in our society. I am not speaking of people of extraordinary gifts, but of everyone who experiences mystical insights and knowings on a daily basis. The common, mundane nature of mystical experience is one of the best-kept secrets; its neglect and cover-up has given us a society in which we have no framework for speaking about our mystical perceptions - be it a sudden impulse of synchronicity, the urge to write a poem or song, or a vision of immense beauty.” - Caitlin Matthews , in Singing the Soul Back Home.
I have in many ways always walked “between the worlds” from birth. I was in the borderlands of life and death in March 1984, two months early c-section with a 50/50 chance of survival due to my mother’s sudden life threatening illness. Both of us, if in a different time, may have passed together that day. My recent third shamanic training week brought this “memory” from somewhere closed and deep back to the surface, in a warm safe way - one filled with gratitude and joy - that wow, this explains so much about me! As much as I advocate the necessity of wholefood organic nutrition, ancient arts, crafts and folk herbalism for health; modern science offers some incredible inventions. To which I owe my life in this case. However the tension between herbalism, alternative therapies and mainstream medicine in the west is a sad reality, one that could be the subject of an entire post sometime. But on to the theme of this post, which has been percolating for several weeks now: what it means to feel liminal. I explore this concept a little here through my own eyes, relieved to find a word that seems to go some way towards describing my experience of life. I also share the stories of others I have recently found, as well as delving deeper into cultural and historical perspectives...
Since a significant part of me made a return "home" I have been considering, or encountering experiences that have prompted the question what has consistently made me feel “other” in the human world especially. This returning I speak of is a process I can’t locate a beginning for; but it’s had it’s cycles and quickening since the Shamanic work became more guided and structured in my life over the past 3 years or so.
I have been exploring this blending and merging more deeply with earth connection / earth-centered spirituality, which brings the animal-self David Abram refers to below into view – symbolically or literally – as that "polyrhythmic pulse" beats stronger and with such depth that it can no longer be ignored. I more consciously walk the path of bridging human-animal/wild-spiritual/divine. In my many wanderings into blogs, podcasts and increasing immersion in the crossing and gorgeously close-knit worlds of folk herbalism, shamanic techniques, hedge-witchery, wild crafting and the visionary / outsider social human threads that bind them; I am finding my lifelong anxiety about who am I and why do I struggle so much to simply survive (in my often unseen ways of struggling) is becoming as we say in permaculture “the problem = the solution!” In this case acceptance combined with connection. I feel this blog is representative of that process.
"Owning up to being animal, a creature of the earth. Tuning our animal senses to the sensible terrain: blending our skin with the rain-rippled surface of rivers, mingling our ears with the thunder and the thrumming of frogs, and our eyes with the molten gray sky. Feeling the polyrhythmic pulse of this place - this huge windswept body of water and stone. This vexed being in whose flesh we're entangled. Becoming earth. Becoming animal. Becoming, in this manner, fully human.
- David Abram
After sitting on the floor of my Mother’s sparse new home in Cumbria by the fire, during recovery from weeks of lymphatic pain and fatigue in early March, this podcast via Queer Nature and accompanying Facebook page landed words and concepts for some of my experiences of life. Of course Pinar's experiences are different to mine, but the concepts they use - including this term liminal - work well for me too. And the idea of two or even five-spirit peoples and indigenous experiences of sexuality and gender expression, of gods and humans in all the spectrum of the rainbow, or of - I can't recall where I found it - but the concept of being a spirit inhabiting a human body - all fired me up too. And until I started exploring these themes more and the often associated wounding and trauma that has cultural roots - I had few words or conscious ways of describing my edge-dwelling, one-foot-in-spirit, one-foot-in-the-earth existence! A good friend and I recently shared my first non-shamanic-training open discussion (since childhood faery encounters!) about spirit and otherworldly beings, in a very present place with eachother(s). This took me out into the twilight to walk-float with the buzz of this energy, long untapped in my human community world so deeply, into birch holly woodland tunnels. My gratitude to this friend for showing me words and expression for experiences I had long witheld in my adulthood so far, which also led me to explore the concept of neurodivergence. I found this amazing blog article which sums up much of what I am attempting to ramble about here: Capitalism, Neurotypicality and the War on Consciousness. The below is from my liminal twilight wander! (Image above left: The Star Tarot card).
This reality for me was fluid and natural in my childhood, as for many children, and up until my late teens - but then the seeds of dis-ease showed themselves, of my awkwardness as a shape trying to shift into the expectations of a society and systems that I always found and still do find incredibly exhausting, stressful and debilitating at times. As an environmental activist I figured this might give me some compromise in career path whilst being "on the edge," but doing something revolutionary enough to make some difference. With the path I took that became strangely corporate when government shifts meant less money for NGOS until the charity sector crumbled, an on-going dismantling. It turned out to be more of the same experience, just in different forms that were often harder to leave because of the deeper sense of obligation. But I kept feeling tired, was becoming chronically ill (which I ignored or felt overwhelmed by) or frustrated by a deep sense of not being valued by my society and frustration at not belonging.
As Sean Donahue so lucidly expressed in the most recent Medicine Stories Podcast, which resonates with my experience: "accepting and embracing my own power that I had spent a lifetime rejecting...because I rejected the way that our culture treated power, but in doing that I was giving my power away to the very culture I was trying to dismantle." This was in the context of his early experiences with herbal medicine.
The bigger picture of these feelings can be traced far back in ancestral memory to deeper places of wounding, of the systematically-enforced disconnection from earth-centric ways of living and the spiritual and creative practices humanity has embraced for the largest part of its existence. Lara Veleda Vesta explores the "witch wound" in her podcast with the amazing Medicine Stories (episode 7 - the show notes have some worthwhile links to explore too); referring to the truth that "we are all survivors" - including those of us with European descent who have lineage within the reformation and violent inquisition times of the medieval period.
The Suppressed Histories is an incredible lovingly compiled (a life's work it seems!) resource by a prominent researcher of this era and before / beyond, at a global level. I have yet to delve deeper into this archive of film and research, but Max Dashu it's creator also has a book recently published I am sure to acquire, and Lara talks about this work and it's relevance to women, women-identifying people and those of all genders and backgrounds who were persecuted for their differences as a "threat" to the increasingly monotheistic, patriarchal and capitalist-root-forming shifts of this violent time. Many say this era fueled colonial atrocities worldwide, momentum was becoming unstoppable and was the bedrock politically, socially and morally to the narrow views society still holds of the shoulds / norms of human experience. The human purpose as a result became as the source of productivity and wealth (a slower process to develop prior to the burnings, indigenous genocide and witch hunts, that began much sooner no doubt when humans were beginning to own "stuff" / land / animals and eventually each other!).
So is this ancient stuff still relevant? Surely society in the"civilised" West is free from the memory of the burning times? Well, perhaps in conscious memory, but many more inter-connected traumas and legacies of colonialism, "witch hunts" of all kinds and ecocide still exist globally. And the lack of earth-based reverence, connection and spiritual continuity since these times is deeply damaging to he wild being in us all. And as I delve deeper in ancestry - a core element of shamanic experience - I see that these wounds are held by all of us, to some extent, even if in a wide spectrum of impact. Genetics now reveals we hold trauma in or bodies - Epigenetics studies this fascinating field - so even science now catches up providing "evidence" for thousands of years of ancient knowledge of how trauma, wounding and also gifts and skills can be carried far, far into our descendent's DNA. And as I combine this with the research, podcasts, books and conversations coming into my world - and the clanship and friendship that supports me so well in all of this - I see that these wounds hold the key to healing. To transcending limiting paradigms and rigid systems. To acknowledging unhappiness / dis-ease, giving voice to trauma and releasing pain. It starts with the individual and reverberates / ripples outwards and beyond.
Chiron the Wounded Healer passes through my Sun Sign Aries from a week ago for several years now, in and out, and the Wounded Healer half-man, half-beast figure couldn't have timed their presence more perfectly (in some ways, I won't lie it's frustrating to go over old ground again!). I begin to understand revisiting old traumas, old wounds, can actually begin to empower - but only with support, community, courage and inner-fire to burn through the old snakeskin.
An earth-connected, psycho-spiritual path (and there are many versions of these worldwide, shamanic roots lie in all) seems to fit so deeply with this work, alongside my revolutionary connections with herbal medicine (treating chronic digestive and immunity imbalances very successfully), psychotherapy, plant healing, moving to live in a rural location from the city and renewing my childhood connection with land and spirit more deeply each day. A multi-faceted holistic approach over several years has saved my spirit, which was progressively being numbed by the insidious self-medicating coping strategy of alcohol addiction and disconnection / avoidance of my pain and my pleasure. "The Wild Indigenous One" Bill Plotkin celebrates in his Wild Mind book feels like it is starting to find its roots within my heart again! Body and land are joining it. And it, happily, doesn't need to fit in just one or two definitions of human reality. The joy of wildness is it just is. Being.
Life on the edge for anyone who rejects the dominant power and it's ideologies is a barren, harsh and often challenging place - until you realise "the edge is best!" Habitat edges meeting are where ecologically the richest biodiversity can dwell. This can be so for the human world: we need diversity of ways of living, being, feeling, perceiving, loving, creating, connecting...to be resilient, just like the land...So I welcome all the *wyrd / weird (and curious!) folk out there to join my campfire (at the edge of the woods) and let us start to open to our gifts and share our stories...
*The Wyrd: [the Norse Heathen spiritual concept] "that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn in toward and moving out from its own origins..."
The Nettle: as I write this drinking edge-foraged nettle tea from the woods-meeting-field-meeting-ruined human habitation; I feel richness in my body and awakening. Gratitude for this mineral-rich fiery teacher plant!