Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jedi training in the hundred-acre wood

The pivotal moment of my week-long wilderness survival class occurred a little more than halfway through the week.

We had gotten into nuances of stalking and camouflage - the art of movement and the skill of blending your form into the baseline pattern of the woods. Not only these, but almost every art and science that we'd studied that week finds consilience in the hunt. The hunt requires you to recollect the primordial language of animal tracks and signs - deciphering scratches on trees and snapped twigs and turning them into meaningful propositions; it requires you to be wary of the wind, temperature and humidity, and note when they change; it requires you to recognize patterns at ever-expanding concentric levels of existence - to know the earth like you know your mother, and to feel her beating heart wherever you sit or step.

The scope of 'the hunt' goes beyond looking for animals - it also includes foraging for plants that are edible or useful in some way - or searching for water, or looking for the right stone, or tree that for some reason the situation calls for. The hunt is a 'geomantic' state of mind wherein you are on a search for some soon-to-be aspect of yourself. It is both curious and intent, playful and somber. It is realizing that you belong in the web of life - you are welcome there if you practice humility and patience. Yes, you belong there - it's your birthright.

Most of us didn't grow up learning traditional ways of questing in the wilderness - whether for visions or for resources - so for me at least, that space feels distinctly, indubitably sacred. I felt that same dark, visceral enchantment when my partner and I slaughtered our lambs last fall, or when I went to a primitive hide-tanning gathering for the first time and spent a day scraping a cow hide that I'd brought with me - becoming absorbed in navigating the miniscule landscape of the creature's skin with my scraping tool. The power in such experiences can feel downright profane when you aren't prepared for them. I've experienced such 'profane illumination' myself, where I feel that I've stepped into a river of mana that is almost too swift and strong for me to bear - so I simply forge ahead, putting one foot in front of another (and this is where protective rituals and spell-casting come in!) and am left bewildered as Pan disappears back into the forest...

This past week, however, I never got the sense that I tumbled or crashed into that holy wild space… I slipped into it, like dozing into hypnagogia. And in that dream-time I found nothing like the Revelations of St. John, but rather a sort of mundane sacredness, characterized by such a subtle change in vibration that I can see how easily it can go untapped.

It is in the most quotidian aspects of modern living - things like conjuring calories and warmth - that in the wild are clearly times of high alchemy. Those are the times when we feral sorcerers oversee the transubstantiation of one element into another. They are when energy and matter trade places. Friction turns into fire, and other organisms give their life-energy to us. It is at those times of creation and participation that, if we were to lift our heads and look around us, we would see the gods seated there in a semicircle, silently watching with broad elfin smiles and half shadowed faces.

There's something about that mundane vanilla holiness that makes it so much more preferable to the contrived, liturgical holiness that only occurs at set, formal times. The latter abounds in the modern world. What if a ritual is there but there is no spirit inside it, no god? Indeed, I think this is how many people experience various organized religions. They see (and feel) an aesthetically pleasing vessel - but it is empty - it contains no nourishment. And many of them know that there is something missing. I fear that we aren't routinely empowered to ask the questions necessary to dismantle the distraction of dead ritual - and we definitely aren't empowered to create our own rituals - to fashion vessels for our own gods. (And I think "our own" gods are the gods of us all - the gods of fire, food, thunder, sex, death…) People ask me what studying religion has to do with farming (because those are the two things I pursued as an undergraduate) - and I often find myself talking about rites-of-passage and vision quests… our society suffers a lack of such traditions, that really reveal to us personally how much stardust and energy goes into supporting the life and well-being of our bodies and minds. Moreover, we lack even a grammar for such things - which prevents us from hacking new rites, rituals and myths - we've forgotten that they are [open-source] things that can be parsed and recompiled. They're not supposed to be static… or at least, only as static as Mama Nature herself.

There was a point in the week where I did hear a couple of angels sing, though. We had practiced transforming our gait, widening the angle of our vision, and using one of the simplest weapon-tools known to primates; a throwing stick. All these things we had approached independently earlier in the week, with accompanying lectures, demonstrations and anecdotes. On Thursday, we did an exercise that gave us a context for combining these sensory and kinesthetic skills - we were to go into the woods wielding a stick (a solid, wrist-thick piece of wood about a foot and a half long) and practice stalking, approaching and throwing at targets as soundlessly and seamlessly as possible - using trees or stumps in place of actual woodland critters.

I had been at a slow fox walk for about 20 minutes - periodically sliding up to large trees and crouching in their shadows for a few minutes to motionlessly observe the forest. I concealed the stick behind the arm that was holding it and kept both arms close to my body - at times I was almost at a crouch.

It didn't take long for me to notice that being 'armed' (or thinking of myself as armed) exerted a very potent psychological influence. It was nearly subconscious - my posture registered in my limbic system as being one poised for attack and this went straight to my muscles and senses - causing me to slow down and enhancing the precision of my movements. I felt like a cat. This way of moving felt strangely familiar and simultaneously alien. I let these feelings register as thoughts and swirl around my head, and did my best to feed them back into my body - I didn't want my 'thinking' mind to be in charge.

The stick was like a magic wand, I realized - it was acting as a conduit and guide for my awareness. Magicians often speak of magical items used in spellcasting and ritual as being devices for amplifying the 'signal' of our intention. I suddenly had the experience of what that meant.

I sat down in front of a large tree and savored this body-buzz. I looked forward into the forest with all its dimensions and textures and felt that my vision was different - as if I was suddenly seeing in high-definition. I didn't feel anxious at all, or like I was 'waiting' for anything - a rare state, I think, compared to the humdrum of everyday civilized life. I knew that when I moved a muscle next it would be a totally intentional movement, not hasty, because I wouldn't be trying to get anywhere - I would just be continuing a kinesthetic conversation with the woods, with perhaps just curiosity as my guide. I knew that by the time I stood up, I would be part of this forest. And when I did stand up, I felt all the hairs on my body raise - as if in praise. As I continued on my stalk, I decided to try my hand at some target practice. And miraculously, my aim was radically improved from when we'd practiced throwing at targets back at camp. The targets I chose were further away, too. It made all the difference for the throws to be in the context of a meaningful activity. My solitude helped too - I didn't feel like I was performing in front of anyone, and was able to approach my targets and get into position slowly and deliberately. At one point I found the precision to hit a mushroom off a tree trunk from 20 feet away!

Being a human can be fun again when you realize you're a special kind of animal with a unique and wonderful skill-set. It is, indeed, something to be admired - just as we so admire our beautiful hooved, winged and pawed brothers and sisters.


Zed said...

Wow. Your writing is hypnotizing. At any rate, again, wow.
You are learning now what I learned as a kid: to be one with and yet aware of nature. I spent hours hidden in bushes watching insects when I was little. It makes us insanely aware of how BIG and yet tiny we are. :)

d.a. said...

Just stumbled onto your blog. As a former professional tech geek, now turned farmer, I like how you're blending the two together. Subscribed :-)

the faun said...

Aww, thanks guys! Writing and thinking (and combining the two) about this stuff makes me happy - I'm glad that others enjoy it, too! The comments are much appreciated :)