“Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.”
– Rebecca Solnit
This writing excerpt is based on a presentation offered by rain crowe at the Cascadia Rising Bioregional Confluence, held in Portland, OR in 2014. The exploration of the intersection of white settler-ism and bioregionalism is intended to speak to those of us who identify as non-native to the North American lands, and who are of European descent. The invitation is to begin an exploration of the genocidal roots and ongoing impacts of our white settler presence on Turtle Island, while also holding a connection to our own indigenous ancestors and their subsequent colonization.
For those of you who are not familiar with pagan practices, the piece is written in a Wiccan ritual form (with roots in pre-Christian traditions of the British Isles). You are invited to read this piece as a poetic essay, or enter into the offering as a practice. The form of this practice is available for you to use, respectfully and with acknowledgment of the source, in other contexts as well.
The basic framework of the ritual form: prepare yourself and the area through centering, calming, and/or focusing practices (“Grounding”); create sacred space (“Casting”); invite spiritual powers to guide you (“Invocation”); and do the work you are there to do. Though not explicitly outlined in this written excerpt, it is best to “open” the circle that has been cast by thanking the spirits that responded to the invocation, and releasing the energy that was built, while affirming the intention of the work. As a reference point for Buddhists, a similar concluding practice is the dedication of merits.
You might want to engage in this inquiry alongside the interview with David Dean, whose experiences with residents of the Crow Indian Reservation prompted him to ask questions about his European ancestry, the forces that led to a culture of violent conquest, and the possibility of healing and reconnection to more life-giving ancestral ways. This excerpt has been modified for White Awake. You can read the original version of rain crowe’s piece in the Zine “Cultural Appropriation and Spirituality”, housed online at Witches Union Hall here.
Into a deep sense of place, the exact place where we are, we send down our roots.
How did the terrain come to be the way it is in the process of deep geological time? How did the elements shape it? How did the waters flow upon it? How do they flow now?
What creatures of the world have lived here, are no longer, or still remain?
Who were and are the first peoples here, and where are their descendants now?
How did we come to be where we are, and what does our presence mean?
The sphere of life is omnipresent and we cast ourselves into its embrace with a remembering of wholeness that dispels the ensorcellment* of Estrangement, Entitlement, and Enslavement, those markers of a pathology that is insidious, addictive, and life-diminishing.
(*ensorcell: to bewitch)
Ancestors of path, land, blood, and love, for those of you who are called to be with us, we invite you to join the feast we set for you, the feast of praise for your willingness, the feast of grief for your sufferings, the feast of longing and delight for all your gifts…
To the Descendants of Life, we invite you to our magical workings that we might leave a living world for you to embody as creatures dancing the preciousness of the good Earth, our only home…
And to the Stars of Possibility, and the Underworld of Mycelial Wovenness, and to all our guides and allies,
Feeling for a path of right relationship: an inquiry and spiritual working
If our words are spells, and the language we use creates the consensus reality in which we live, then let us choose carefully, intentionally, and wisely how we language ourselves into the consciousness of a journey of healing, of decolonizing, and of calling ourselves home.
This is a slice of a template used to work with the difficult and necessary conversations of cultural appropriation, presence to the privileges of white settler colonialism, and healing of inter-generational and cross cultural trauma brought about by the global wounds of Empire consciousness. Since some of our oldest stories live in the language we use, we begin with the words “inquiry”and “complexity”.
Inquiry is any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem. It is a question, a query, and a close examination of a matter to find truth. The etymology is Old French borrowed from vulgar Latin and the root means: to seek.
Moving from inquiry can be a redemptive act in that it helps us craft the map of enduring questions, those which have no easy answer, to which we can only aspire to lend to some small piece of knowing in our time, and from which we might preserve the layers and registers of our collective glimmers of understanding.
Complexity is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways. The word comes from French borrowed from Latin and the root means: to braid or twine that which is intricate.
Complexity, within the inquiry at hand, means understanding that we [“white people”] come from many different places, and that for thousands of years our European ancestors lived indigenously in cradle to grave cultures of right relationship to place and life. This is one lineage.
There are many stories about how and why the shift away from right relationship happened; suffice it to say another one of our lineages is that of colonized linguistic cultures of Empire defined by a consciousness that shifted to definitive oriented understandings rather than relational-mystical understandings. These linguistic cultural ancestors are the ones who were displaced, assimilated and colonized themselves, and who would come to perpetuate an “orphan trauma” of disconnection to place. They live within us as well.
Having a foot in two worlds of ancestry, how do we proceed? Can we be a hinge in time, inviting spiritual home into our lives with the vestiges of amnesia still tangled in our hair?
What is right relationship? An incomplete answer, to put something on the table for each of you to contemplate and explore, is: Being right sized with our power, our presence and absence, our consumption, and our impact. We feel for it because we are making the path as we go along, using all of our senses to ask the questions, take the actions, grow our tolerance to the distress of not having the answers, and our resilience to the discomfort of not knowing.
For those of us thoroughly indoctrinated in the culture of shame and punishment, it can be terrifying to endeavor into the very necessary conversations about our tendencies to fill the holes of our own longing, and unrequited needs for spiritual wholeness, in ways that may be perpetuating the harms of our colonized and colonizing ancestors.
Un-shaming our mistakes, while not letting ourselves off the hook of response-ability, is imperative to feeling out the path. Acknowledging that our shadow – the sum total of all the parts of ourselves that we repress, neglect, deny and disavow – is always in the room, and is always in the conversation, can make it easier for us to access empathy for ourselves and our communities of conversation and connection. Our shadows are the edge places of discomfort, learning, and enrichment. Learn to notice them and to befriend them.
You are invited to read these aloud and to notice the sensations within your body.
What is home?
What is culture?
How do we begin to unravel what it means to be a person of European descent in this time, who comes from both far off indigenous and, most recently, colonizer ancestral lines?
How can we make sense of, and possibly respond to, the inter-generational and cross cultural trauma within Empire culture?
What did relationship-to-place mean to our ancestors? What could it mean for us?
Who were and are the first peoples of the land where we now live, and what does their presence or absence mean?
How did we come to be where we are, and what does our presence mean?
You are invited to resist the impulse to answer the questions. Instead allow more questions to fluidly move through you. Where does the pathway of questioning take you? What other doors open, what other insights arise, what is your body telling you?
Re-member. Sitting with the complexity of your inquiry, guided by your intuition, and holding a steadfast gentleness alongside a commitment to persevere, make symbols of your questions, or work with your hands as you ruminate, contemplate, and meditate. Let your body sense the next steps; maybe you will reach out, find a book that calls to you, make art to express, or ask for guidance in dreams about what is coming through. Continue to resist the impulse to “know”, and instead make offerings to feed the Sacred with gratitude as you stretch your capacity to be in the wonder of midwifing a beyond-our-lifetime vision of right relationship to the web of life.
rain crowe works with and from a body of work dedicated to cultivating the arts of interdependent relationships through group facilitation, mediation, and educational opportunities. She is a regenerative culture events organizer who engages with spiritual, political, rewilding, and intentional communities. She teaches and writes about magic and ritual, the ancestral skills of council making and restorative conflict transformation, systems thinking in radical organizing, and ecstatic connection to the sacred.
rain is grateful to all of the teachers with whom she has studied: Dominic Barter, Martin Prechtel, Starhawk, Arnie Mindell, Cynthia Jones, Suzanne Sterling, and Geri Ravyn Stanfield, and to all of those teachers who have influenced her from afar: Bill Plotkin, Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, and Pema Chodron. Special thank yous to all the peer teachers in life who keep her on her toes.