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
°You

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Gospel of Goa - A Homily to a Technoshamanism

And now, a brief interlude from the "classical learning" and austere monasticism of the academy to meditate on its opposite: ecstasy, collectivity, and the profane fusion of fiction and reality.

Often I find myself in dire need of psytrance, a favorite spiritual aid, to empty the brain of thoughts…. much needed in the business of sense-making.

As many know, there is no worthwhile productivity and sustainable creativity without contemplation of and within a realm beyond words, things and meanings… where there is only form, and pattern…

Perhaps I could call psy-trancing a yogic practice -- a process by which mind, body and cosmos are harmonized, if even for an instant, before being plunged back into a more logical existence. Psychedelic trance, or Goa trance is the eternally underground music of the cybernetic heir to the drum circle, representing a strange, always-peripheral cultural project where technology’s highest purpose is shamanic divination and the re-invention of the vision quest.

The word “rave” enters naught into the culture of psychedelic trance. These are not raves, they are more political than that. But they are also less political than that. Raves are urban phenomena, constructed by the city… Psytrance festivals ARE cities, alternative, ephemeral cities in the proverbial desert or in the wilderness. They are socio-political spiritual experiments, training grounds for post-modern magicians, experimental technophilic liturgies, bionic passion plays, meditations on creation and destruction, parodies of culture, functional engines of art in which people are the fuel, the means is the end, combustion is the point. They are mappa mundi, navels of the world that pop up like mushrooms; the fleeting fruiting bodies of a whimsical subterranean intelligence…thus they also subvert the idea of a center, of a temple, of Mecca. They are the sacred grove of the Druids, existing in both the Edenic past and the apocalyptic future. They are open source mythology, allowing users to create their own content. (Garden of Eden Creation Kit anyone?) They both renounce the world and embrace it. They connect Atman to Brahman… they continually comment upon themselves, giving you no room to complete a thought. They wink and urge you to forget what they’ve just said. There is no performer, even the DJ is just the mediator of the divine word: the beat. And the word is pure form, Pythagorean mysteries inscribed with ink drawn from the entire palette of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the scribe’s medium is flesh—not vellum, but your living flesh, the interpreter of the signal, your body is an integral part of biological semiosis: Nature’s ongoing contemplation of itself, it’s offering of itself to itself, which began long ago with the first Sign… some say that the most fundamental recognition of a sign involves the perception of pattern, and concomitantly the ability to perceive the space between, the Nothing. And so is not the beat of the drum, our choral response to the mystery of our own heartbeat, the primal mimicry of the punctuation of life with oxygen, blood, semen… is that not the most elemental form of worship of all? Baptism, sacrifice, consumption, ordination all become one. Darshan, both seeing and being seen by the deity simultaneously, is the rule of the dancefloor, where hundreds of animated statues apprehend each other, and speak in a kinetic language of libations, but there is no center, no most holy icon. Mundane objects become icons. There is a theophany of the everyday, the quotidean, and this vision will never leave you, it will dart out occasionally into your unsuspecting surroundings, and out of the corner of your eye the concrete world will dance, as the trees do, as worlds are supposed to. You will meet Pan on the dancefloor and he will have now the face of a demon, now the face of an angel. He’s almost too intense for you—you get the sense watching him that if it’s possible for him to die he will die on the dancefloor, slain by the Word, burst apart at the atomic seams, because having a body obstructs the perfect dance, which is unity, immolation. How to possibly appease such a God? But your terror wanes into the realization that he is a veritable monk of the dance: he is merely carrying out his cosmic function, his duty to all creation. Time passes and he continues to keep the vigil, somehow, guarding his people from demons and evil spirits.

You turn towards the same altar, for the thousandth time.

(By the way… He felt the same way about you, too.)

Who would have guessed that the sound of the angelic choir is so machine-like? But this machine is a sub-woofing Ark, a weapon of mass instruction, a praying-mantis midwife with metal hands that gives birth to the world anew at the flip of a switch, it breaks down the dichotomy of good and evil, human and machine, organic and inorganic for a living, and it takes you along with it.

"There is no such thing as fiction"

-Alex Grey

Friday, November 4, 2011

Memetics, Religion & the Ancient Greco-Roman World

This semester (the first semester of a Master's program) I'm taking two classes in the early (first millennium) history of Christianity and a class on New Testament Greek - so thus far my brain has essentially been bathing in a vat of history, anthropology and semiotics of the late Roman Empire. The environment on which this intellectual activity rests is characterized by my recent relocation from rural Vermont to Los Angeles county, home to one of the strangest urban 'empires' in the modern world. As some may know, studying ancient cities, especially the ones in the area of the Mediterranean and Near East where three continents meet, is an amazing way to sort of study 'everything at once' (with respect to human ecology), or to at least train yourself how to think critically about urban civilization—Indeed, the city is one of the defining creatures of the Holocene period, for better or worse...

I've been realizing that study of the ancient Greco-Roman world is also an amazing arena in which to think about and test theories of memetics - or the transmission of ideas. At the height of Roman rule, trade and travel throughout the empire were easy and safe, and also were possible over a more expansive geographical area than ever before. Travel from Britain to Jerusalem (approximately 2,500 miles) among wealthier pilgrims was well documented, if not routine. You have to remember that this was highly anomalous in the course of settled civilization (or before for that matter), and indeed European people would never enjoy such ease of travel again until the 19th century. The Empire at its fullest extent (1st and 2nd centuries C.E.) completely enclosed both the coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea to the Northeast. Port cities were central urban nodes in the network, travel was be quick by ancient standards.

As a side note, the Roman Empire's size, along with the economy that it enabled, was certainly comparable to the contemporaneous Han Dynasty in China (206 BCE - 220 CE). Both empires spanned an area that enabled them access to (and trade of) a vast range of natural resources due to the diversity of constituent biomes and unique ecological niches that lay within the empire's borders. Although the Roman Empire is unique because of its enclosure of a sizable sea (two, actually), which as I mentioned completely accounted for the way trade routes were established and on which the [quickest] lines of communication (idea pipelines) were hence based. The land area of the Roman Empire at its height and the Han Dynasty at its height are remarkably comparable: 6,500,000 square kilometers for the Roman Empire (c. 117 CE) and 6,000,000 for the Han (c. 50 BCE). However, I unfortunately know very little about Chinese history, other than having the general sense that it is a really badass culture that had little direct contact with the Hellenistic world B.C.E with the notable exception of the trade of silk. Btw, if anyone is interested I found this cool gif on Wikipedia that shows the morphing geographic map of the Chinese Dynasties over the last couple of thousand years! Very helpful indeed.

I don't think it would be silly to say that the Roman Empire represented one of the first instances of globalization of the culture of the dear great ape.

A tribal species, mind you. As such we still remain. And the inoculation of this social animal, this creature of the tribe and the clan, into an ancient Greco-Roman city was perhaps even more antithetical to our evolutionary programming than is habitation of the urban built environment today. The population density of Antioch in Syria, for example, is estimated to have been over 150 inhabitants per acre. That is within a fortified city a few square miles in size, with not much vertical development (20 meters at the very highest). Moreover, much of the area of ancient cities (as much as 30%) was taken up by civic buildings and structures, like stadiums, amphitheaters and temples, that were not inhabited. Shit was crowded!

It was in this ecology - that of the Greco-Roman city, that Christianity—that curious, viral compendium of ideas, the "religion" that would come to define all religions—was born. It was a cult of the urban underground.

Christianity was a new beast in the ecology of the ancient Mediterranean world because it was a sacred cosmology that quickly became based on, and fully comprised of, ideas and philosophy, not ritual, ethnicity, nationality, tribal identity or ecology (many have compared it to Buddhism in this regard, which began on the Indian subcontinent around the 5th century BCE). Indeed there were cosmological, philosophy-based religions preceding it in the ancient Near East like Zoroastrianism, but what I'm trying to get at here is the semiotic ecology from which Christianity directly emerged. There was no similar idea-based religion or philosophy of salvation seeking to universalize itself that characterized the landscape of the ancient G.R. world. Christianity quickly became "disembedded" from the Jewish cultural topography from which it had sprung—philosopher of religion Daniel Boyarin explains that it was the polemical need to distinguish the Jesus movement from encompassing traditional Rabbinical/Temple religion that constructed the idea of the "Jewish religion" in the modern sense, and even the conceptual category of "religion" itself! An interesting reference point: The word "Judaism" or Iudaismos was almost never used before the 1st century (per the historical record and all that it implies of course). In any case, it becomes very clear when studying the development of the Christian religion that as with all identity, collective or individual, the construction of Christian identity involved the concomitant construction of what it was not. And thus in the act of naming the other, the opponent, the not-us, we actually inaugurate a new phase in the evolution of that identity... a project which in many cases quickly leaves the hands of the namer and is undertaken by the group that is named (Judith Butler articulates the "violence of naming" quite well). Daniel Boyarin mentions that the followers of Jesus themselves were first called Christians in Antioch by non-Christians, and it is implied that the term was objectifying and derogatory.

The history of the initial spread of Christianity, through its legalization by Constantine in 313 for essentially imperial and military purposes, its later adoption as the official religion of the republic by Theodosius in 380, to the fascinating ways in which it fused with Germanic and Saxon culture is a very thought provoking meditation on the nature of cultural transmission. The mingling of Roman and Germanic cultures in particular, despite the common conception of Christianity "winning" over "barbarian" or "pagan" religion, subjected Christianity it to a dynamic, reciprocal morphology which trickled back to have top-down effects on the development of Catholic liturgy in particular. It made Roman Catholicism and for that matter all Protestant developments what they are today.

Part of what makes the fusion of Roman and Germanic culture so interesting (and the attempts by the ruling classes to reconcile the differing world-views) is that 4th and 5th century Germanic world could not be more different from the Roman world. Just a disclaimer, I'm going to engage in gross generalizations here, but luckily the point will still remain, as there is no question about the vast differences in values and cosmology between these "two" cultures. The very fabric of society was woven differently: the peoples living north of the Danube River were a largely clan-based, rural, often land-locked society, totally decentralized compared to Rome. They were a boreal forest-dwelling warrior-culture, to whom warfare (raiding) was a routine part of their economy and self-protection. Additionally in-group and family solidarity was high — unlike in the increasingly specialized world of the Roman city, where the symbolic systems of writing and money colonized and organized life, there existed a veritable marketplace of religious ideas and philosophies that naturally were divisive, and also Roman girls were often married as young as 12. Group solidarity in Germanic society was maintained through multiple social structures and mechanisms—the family or kin group, the local warrior-group or "company", and the relationship between each man and their Chieftain. The patronage system provided comparable (but much weaker, or not as empowering to smaller groups of people, in my opinion) social glue in Roman society, as it only operated in a vertical fashion, tying one person to a wealthier one who was in turn indebted to an aristocrat of even higher status, all the way up to the Emperor (theoretically). Although, this system was built on the proto-globalized financial structure of the empire - that is, it was concerned with the vertical flow or "trickle down" of symbolic prestige and did not incorporate mechanisms for "horizontal" group cohesion. Of course, much of this simply represents the natural differences in the valuation paradigms of "city-dwellers" that live within a very large system that naturally necessitates widely-deployed complex symbolic framework in order to function, and pastoral people who occupy loosely connected islands or pockets that are much smaller, more easily "closed" systems.

One fascinating reference point for the syncretism between Germanic and Roman cultures, and the task at hand therein, is the Heliand, an amalgamation of the four Christian gospels into a 6,000 line epic poem. It was written in Old Saxon in the 9th century and to the modern reader would perhaps be redolent of Beowulf, the famous Germanic saga from around the same time period. The Heliand is a tacit (though not overt) re-interpretation of the gospel story since the author took great care to present the story in a meta-language familiar to the cosmography and cosmology of his audience. Like Beowulf the Heliand (Old Saxon for "Savior") is the story of a great warrior, although in this case it is a warrior of peace: Christ. He is repeatedly referred to in the Heliand as "Chieftain" and has many epithets including the Champion of mankind, the Ruler's Child, the Guardian of the Land, The Land's herdsman, the Healer, and the Rescuer.
The twelve apostles are pictured as Christ's loyal band of warriors ("fighting men"), temples are referred to as shrines, the last supper and wedding at Cana take place at great mead-halls, and Christ is hanged on a tree (a "criminal tree"), to name just some of the amazing native imagery evoked by the Heliand poet. After Christ's 40 days in the desert, it is out of the "deep woods" from which he emerges - echoing the sacred ecology of the Germanic people. It is an important comment on the way environment, especially ecology, become small-scale maps of the entire cosmos, particularly in the "pre-modern" world (although the cognitive vestiges of this world-mapping I believe are very much still with us).

Runic magic also exerts its presence in the text; the author of the Heliand begins the first "song" (or verse) by explaining that sacred knowledge of "God's spells" was exclusively passed on to the four evangelists - thus it was them who were able to write and "chant" the true gospel. Here the word of God, or Christ's deeds, is also described as the "secret runes". A footnote by translator and commentator G. Ronald Murphy elucidates:

giruni. The word not only implies that the gospel is a secret mystery, but that it is of the power of the magic spells and charms written in the Runes of the Northern world. This same rich expression, giruni, will be used by the author to introduce the 'secret runes' of the Lord's Prayer.

Also alluding to runic power, the song which retells the story of the last supper is titled "The words of Christ give great powers to the bread and wine".

The Heliand is haunting and enchanting thing to read, especially I think for those with Anglo-Saxon heritage or who have grown up in a similar bioregion to that which was the setting for the Heliand. It may be one of the most beautiful texts in the Christian West.

I'm going somewhere with all this, I promise! I suppose what fascinates me in the study of the "epidemiology" of a belief system is the continual reminder that in the mechanics of idea transmission within and between cultures and the "world-view revolutions" that sometimes result, no one ever creates a new ontological category. Ever. An ontological category is a cognitive designation into which a thing or object falls, and coupled with each ontological category (I speculate) is the subject-object relation that category of thing implies (in other words: its functional relationship to the one perceiving).

If a brand new concept is created that does not "fit", even awkwardly, into a pre-existing ontological category, that idea or meme rarely survives. In the same way, nature doesn't ever create a brand new kind of organism with no evolutionary antecedent, and perhaps the closest nature comes to doing that is in the case of extreme mutations, most of which are crippling to the organism and result in its death. Ideas, too, must evolve -- and I am talking specifically about epistemological ideas—ideas constitutive of one's world-view. The question is, how much can an ontological category be stretched—or have its rules bent—before it ceases to be that category? It seems to me that concepts can be re-shaped to surprising degrees but must retain their essential categorical functionality. This is related to the idea in the cognitive science of religion of minimally-counterintuitive concepts.

"Conversion" is an illusory concept that in its more abrupt and propaganda-friendly form is merely an incredibly sped up (and also retroactively understood) paradigm shift. Even such conversion does not constitute the creation of new ontological categories, it merely fills to the brim categories that were almost so withered or atrophied as to be unknown, or replaces almost everything within an ontological category with new parts (still not creating something ex nihilo). "Conversion" never happens en masse on a phenomenological level, but rather it takes on the same pattern as scientific revolution as outlined by Thomas Kuhn (although some tellers of history with theological agendas would have us believe the former). As one of my classmates said of colonial religions that often spread initially forcibly throughout new cultures, Christianity is often "as wide as the sea but only an inch deep".

Christian ideas, particularly with regard to the persons of Christ and Mary, have been re-made century after century— their nature and character at any given time, in any given "text", simply the current manifestation of the cognitive history of an entire ontological category. Their relationships with or relations to human devotees are re-conceptualized and I am convinced are as numerous as are ecological niches throughout the world. This is no coincidence, as sacred presence (if not "religion") is an ecological category - even in the urban landscape where the "ecology" is a concrete, geometric, mostly inorganic one. That environment too creates its own God, creates its own unique definition of the sacred. The Christianization of the warrior-God Odin or Woden (and also to a lesser extent the Saxonization of Christ) merely represents one of the first most monumental acheivements in the history of globalization: the fusion of two very different concepts that shared an ontological category—or if you like the mutation of the Christ meme, resulting in it emerging more 'virulent' and successful. This is why its important to study religion, and why it can't just be ignored or deemed a 'cognitive delusion'. That charge misses the mark. The history and morphology of the idea of what is sacred form a snaking path through the complicated, messy story of the homo sapien: and every link in the chain is like a crystal ball at each vertex of Indra's net: simultaneously reflecting the entire encompassing world at that instant and also condensing that same world into a shimmering semiotic amulet, a sigil whose footnote is a view of the entire universe from a very specific place within it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Was at Occupy Los Angeles today, in solidarity.

Today was a historic day. I can't even quite comprehend the magnitude of what is going on right now in the world. If nothing else, people are realizing their power.... they are realizing the truth that power comes from everywhere, and it can never be given, only taken.

I come home tonight with a renewed resolve to persevere on the mission to walk the line between scholarship and activism - to be an ambiguous mystic, straddling those two words, refusing to be confined by either one. Unfortunately I'm learning the system is configured to prevent exactly that. Fellow academics: Postmodern thought is a tool to be wielded very carefully, for as John Zerzan warns, after the human subject is completely obliterated and designated as a product of history, “who or what is left to achieve a liberation, or is that just one more pipe dream?” No, it’s not a pipe dream.

Us queers and freeqs within the academy shall not let postmodern rhetoric get out of hand. It shall not replicate like a virus, colonizing all of our thoughts, even our thoughts about ourSELVES. That’s what the corporate powers that fund university research are hoping will happen to the humanities — weakening them even more than they already have been. Rein it in. Postmodern thought has allowed many great insights to be established within the great Conversation: And yes, there are many truths, and yes, everything should be examined in context, and per its situadedness - but ecology and its related fields are just as good a framework for that ethic.

Just don’t take it to the point where YOU are the “subject” that is destroyed.

Don’t let universities work for the corporate state — recognize that many of them already are and consciously make the choice to resist — don’t be afraid of living in this world and advocating for social change.

To paraphrase part of Ghandi's philosophy: Knowledge without character, and science (including social science) without humanity... are some of the greatest dangers to human virtue.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Survival Trip (Part 1) and a foreword about environmentalism

The first day of our wilderness survival trip (Saturday the 11th of June), we were to meet at the parking lot of the school at 7 AM, whereupon our three instructors would take us by car to an undisclosed location. This would be the location of our 4-night/5 day survival trip, for which we’d undergo “pocket checks” to make sure we weren’t bringing anything but the clothes we were wearing. Yes, this is actually what we signed up for!
Of course, having known “the rules” in advance, we were able to strategize a little bit by wearing several layers, top and bottom, including (hopefully) rain gear. Rain gear—along with the synthetic clothes some of us were wearing—are not admittedly neolithic, but this was at the same time quite a bit closer to that reality than many of us had ever gotten. We were all very, very pumped.
We ended up experiencing one of the wettest and coldest trips that our instructors had sent out (although we were only the third such group) — but in the end, the rewards only multiplied in the face of such adversity. Over the next few posts I’ll try to recount the highlights of the trip — which will tie in to the class of which it was a part, and in turn the larger social movement of re-skilling and stewarding ancient living skills of which that class is a part…
We were incredibly lucky to be a group of 7 very independent, upbeat people who were all really motivated to learn these skills. Together we took a 9 month course in which we learned the foundations of wilderness survival—including but not limited to what was needed for a “successful” 4 night survival trip in June in Vermont (a time of year where Mother Earth would be predictably generous—within a certain range of possibility, of course). Successful here means (true to the genre), simply surviving, not necessarily thriving (but trying to!) We met approximately one weekend a month, with a longer meeting in the beginning, and lots of homework in between, on everything from primitive hunting weapons (throwing mostly) to plant identification, to martial-artist-like perception and awareness training. It was hard to keep up with the homework, especially because of the contrast between the group solidarity and isolation from the civilized world we enjoyed during our weekends—very conducive to focused study and practice—and the clock-and-work driven life that we inevitably led plugged into the grid of the modern world. The latter, I came to realize, introduced its own brand of loneliness and isolation. In the living forest, with a few present and good-hearted people, or even no other humans at all, one can somehow never feel lonely or bored… especially when you have a task at hand, for which out of necessity you must in some way or other merge with your environment.
Over the year we studied, constructed and slept in several different forms of primitive shelter for short-term (or emergency) use, including tight little burrow-like debris huts that slept one person, quincys (snow shelters), and the teepee-style group shelter that would most likely be our home on the survival trip (unless unforeseen circumstances forced us to go with a quicker, less optimal structure). One of the core relationships we cultivated as a group and as individuals was with fire—preparing the way for it, making it, stewarding it and keeping it alive to cook for us and boil us water. In some ways primitive fire seemed to be the backbone of our training, as it is quite literally the hearth that makes a home, however temporary that home may be…
We mainly focused on two methods of firemaking: Bow drill and hand drill. Bow drill consists of five parts, hand drill of only two, but bow drill is significantly easier to get a coal if all the parts are tweaked right; the success of hand drill is more contingent on individual skill. Thus emphasis was placed on the former (although by myself I have been stoked to get a lot of great practice in with hand drill — and there is nothing like starting a fire that will spit roast an animal for your whole family just using your hands and two sticks!), and as a group we graduated through many challenges throughout the class whereupon we would be asked to procure a bow drill kit and make a fire using less and less modern amenities (like a knife or a modern string for the bow), and with more and more parts for the kit sourced on-demand from the woods, where you have to work more with what the forest gives you and things might be wet or partially rotten. Finally, in a few hours we could make an entire kit, get a coal and turn it into a fire using no modern technology at all — just local stone that we knapped into something approximating a blade.
We also learned water-skills — finding springs, making primitive filters with charcoal, moss and sand to eradicate chemical contaminants as well as of course boiling, which for us was done by carefully skinning the bark of young white pines to make origami-like watertight vessels. In these vessels we would boil water by transporting glowing-hot rocks from our fire, using a green branch as tongs (on the survival trip I found a cow or moose scapula that worked like a dream!) If you get enough large rocks that are hot enough, you can boil almost a quart of water in like three minutes. Neolithic technology can literally can beat my MSR backpacking stove!
10,000 years ago getting water would have been as simple as finding a clear-looking stream. Now, because of pollution and animal agriculture, very little surface water is safe to drink, and in a true survival situation the last thing you want is diarrhea. Like, really. Springs that bring water to the surface from deep aquifers are the only reliable sources of clean water, where in some cases the water bubbling up has not seen the sun in a thousand years. That there is one of the most valuable things I know of - ancient water.
Just an aside that is worth mentioning: You won’t see me demonize “civilization” or the like in these pages, or anywhere where I express my experiences as an earthling discovering the possibilities and limits of what it is to be human. I may be an anarcho-primitivist of sorts, but I don’t hate modernity or modern technology, and I don’t blame individual people—historical or living—for “not being connected to nature” or whatever, and I don’t think very highly of deep ecology or any environmentalist philosophy where humans are considered a “cancer” on this planet. I think we are all connected to something and it is our intense propensity for connection—through many modalities both sensuous and subtle—that makes us both experience suffering and joy, separation and oneness. When I’m at school working on a big term paper, my human nature allows me to be almost completely connected within a very tightly-wound ecology consisting of my computer, desk, a stack of books and a word document… so much that for a time my whole world is made up of those things; mantras of academic text flow through my mind at random, and what I sense and perceive is often filtered on some level through the creative work going on within me. The sensory “deprivation” of a white-walled room takes the experience to new, often unexamined heights of mental trance.
It is this same capacity for connection that can connect us to the earth and has evolved to sustain our life and allow us to survive. As humans in today’s world, our environments can be so radically different from one place or culture to another that it is hard to grasp that the manner in which we merge with our surroundings always has the same mechanism. The forest, unlike a classroom, is exceedingly multi-dimensional, extending in all directions; moreover almost everything you look at is alive! The forest sucks your consciousness into it, beckons your awareness to expand into its every crevice, whereas being isolated in a small, geometric man-made chamber can do the opposite: keep your awareness inside of you. This isn’t a bad thing, because sometimes it might be necessary to get a job done. But it behooves us to know about this way of the mind - this respiration of consciousness, so that we may navigate our way on this undulating sea, avoiding storms and making use of winds and waves. The type and quality of the connection merely shifts with our attention and focus — or lack thereof. We have an amazing ability to connect with and synergize with many different types of complex dynamical systems. Whether the yields of such symbioses are “good” or “bad” is not up to me to judge. What I see is evidence of potential.
Hate and cynicism (and most emotions) are not the ways in which I like to approach the world in which I live. Mostly the things I feel about the world are curiosity, and sometimes a kind of sadness that actually feels a lot like love… I’ve thought a lot about that ineffable feeling, in myself, in others and in history, and one way I understand it for myself is that it is the feeling of beauty and harmony imprinting itself on our neural and limbic systems. It is sad because it is very often fleeting, and even the feeling itself quickly becomes indistinguishable from its own shadow. I digress, but to return to my original point: As an anarcho-primitivist (but also a humanist and believer in social ecology) Love for natural ecologies, animals and wildness does not create inversely proportional hate for “civilization”… because “nature” and “culture” are not opposites (and neither are hate and love for that matter). I think that dichotomy, like many we create, is worth deconstructing.
Stay tuned … there’s so much more to tell, and although my wilderness survival class is now over, in the institutional sense, the warrior’s journey has really just begun.

Similar posts:

My Vision Quest and some Notes on the Nature of Anarcho-Primitivist [Trance]endence
Jedi Training in the Hundred-Acre Wood

Friday, June 10, 2011

My vision quest and some notes on the nature of anarcho-primitivist trancendence

Seems like the dog days of summer have come early this year, because the demons have been loosed on my psyche with a special force as of late.
In less than a month, I move across the country, and in the meantime (tomorrow, actually) is a 5 day survival trip that I’m embarking upon with 6 other people with whom I’ve been training in wilderness survival/primitive skills for 9 months at ROOTS School. On the trip, we will be “set loose” in an unknown (to us, not to the instructors) woodland (rich northern hardwood, I’m assuming) and bring nothing with us but the clothes we are wearing for 4 night and nearly 5 days. We will build a primitive shelter, collect and boil water, make fire, and make primitive traps and weapons using no metal knives, only local stone that we find on site. No matches either, only completely neolithic methods of starting fire. Nearly all of the aspects of our survival trip we’ve already had some sort of preliminary or prototypical run-through of, so all that remains are the meteorological variables of Mother Nature, and perhaps our attitudes, as those are where all this creation must come from.
I signed up for the course at ROOTS because I knew I needed a space this past year where I, alone, could galvanize my power as a human being, an earthling — in a space beyond gender. That space is the woods. This is my space where I get in touch with my sacred identity. It is different from my “social” gender identity, or what I present to the world of people, to culture. In the woods I can connect with something that represents the blending of the sacred masculine and the sacred feminine. Mother Earth is also a father, and this parent-of-all is the stage on which all masculine and feminine energy collides and interacts. But the dualism of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, while very fundamental, is still more superficial than the most primary coupling of all. This is the energy of “predator” and “prey”; the eater and that that is eaten. This relationship is fractal, scale-invariant— it exists on all levels where there is life. And it even exists beneath biotic life — in chemical interaction, where some atoms have electrical control over others, and beyond life — in the birth and death of stars.
My seeking to look this binary-star of BIRTH/DEATH in the eye is not new. I have sought this, in many forms, since almost the beginning of puberty. For it was when I started to evolve sexually, that I began to want to connect — not just with HUMANS, but with ALL OF LIFE, in the tantric sense. Although of course, I haven’t always been able to articulate it like that.
**Some notes to keep in mind on this voyage of mine**
Becoming animal doesn’t mean putting on a new set of clothes, it means letting the earth put you on as her clothes.
Every once in a while, accepting your duty as part of the living body of the earth and relinquishing ‘the game’ of civilized life is, ironically, the only way to feel completely free. Completely “independent”. I put that word in quotations because, as the Zapatistas say, the only way to truly find one’s identity is through the collective, NOT through the individual alone, wandering aimlessly through a jungle of free markets.
The collective where you find your sacred mirror—a sustainable and empowering way to see yourself—doesn’t have to be a collective of humans either… it can be a collective of plants and animals… an ecosystem. Because you are a human, but you are also an animal, and so you can find community anywhere on this earth where there is life. It can be any collective of things that live and breathe, and exist in synergistic interdependence. Find a place that has that, and hang there for a while. Go hunting — not to kill things, but just to see how deep your awareness can go into the natural world. Go hunting for things that can absorb your entire being within them.
The promise of ‘independence’ made to us by neoliberalism… that is an illusion.
There are big and little ways to do this—to “let the earth put you on as her clothes”… to let her pick you up, like a hunter picks up a bow and arrow, and draw you, make you ready. You don’t have to run away to Alaska with no experience like that kid in “Into the Wild”… although, props to him — that kid had heart.
It’s like permaculture. You can do it on any scale. On 200 acres, or in a few square feet in your kitchen. I’ve done it by volunteering on a farm or with a trail crew. Apprenticing on farms for a summer. Learning to work with animals, herd sheep and drive draft horses. Enduring all the pain of not being able to control mother nature. Finally accepting it. Hiking - for a day or for twelve days. Hiding in the woods. Sitting in the woods for an hour without moving. Blindfolding myself and finding my way back somewhere. Running or rock climbing until I feel like I have a new body, running on spiritual energy. And I want more — I want so much more. I have hardly done anything. Sometimes it feels like that.
I’m still trying to figure out how to do this, in little ways, each day.
Because I don’t want the lies and bullshit in this culture to build up so much that one day I just run away to the Tundra. I’ve got to be more emotionally responsible than that. We all do.
***
A mere two weeks after I come out of the backcountry, I’ll be driving across the country to Claremont, CA (Eastern LA) to tackle the next adventure: graduate school.
Let the Games Begin, and let the Dark Mother guide me... Peace.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fight globalization with dandelion coffee

So, if you are into permaculture/sustainable living like me, you probably have wondered many a time… in the midst of dreaming of your post-oil, decentralized homestead… what the hell will you do without coffee? Thus, coffee remains one of the biggest international commodities ever… the politics of which are sometimes questionable and at best even when fair-trade/organic… it still comes from half way around the world for us here in Vermont. But there is an answer!

This is some dandelion coffee I made a couple days ago. My girlfriend and I have been going dandelion-crazy (it’s been a long winter here in Vermont…) The “coffee” is made from the root, dried and ground, and is an amazing coffee substitute, and much more nutritious (also caffeine-free). It’s really something that has to be tried to be believed. Mostly because everyone thinks trying it is going to be something they have to “endure” rather than enjoy and savor (the latter is what happens). The roots can be dug from any dandelion plant, and it’s actually preferable if they are older because the root will be nice and big (you’ll have to use a shovel or a really badass digging stick to get at them). Contrast this with when you are digging the roots to roast and eat like potatoes — then you want the younger plants, and you want to dig the root in the spring or fall, before or after the plant flowers. For the coffee it doesn’t matter - you can dig the root anytime you see a dandelion plant — unless it’s not on your property, in which case you’d be engaging in some questionable guerrilla wildcrafting… but maybe your neighbors want their “weeds” removed from their lawn?

I dig the roots (a quart or so will make a couple of cups of coffee… if you’re fast you can dig that in under an hour) and roast them in the oven for two hours at 250 with the oven door cracked open (to let the moisture out). This is like dehydrating them but obviously a little more inefficient. This is one of the best reasons I’ve come upon to invest in a dehydrator! Then, I actually have been doing such small batches that I just take the dried roots and grind them in our little coffee bean grinder — those cylindrical ones with a plastic top. Then, since the grinder gets the root to such a find powder, I can basically decoct them using a coffee filter and a melitta (with boiling water — just like how you make coffee with a melitta). If you can’t get the dried root to a powder, you might want/need to infuse it in a tea bag or just loose if you want to get the best flavor.

The flavor is roasty, nutty, earthy, and a bit bitter, but honestly not as bitter as black coffee! Also, if the root is fresh, which it pretty much always will be if you dig it, it always has a fresh, live taste… can’t say as much for coffee.

Not many people realize that every part of this plant can be eaten or used in some way. The leaves are best when young, and it’s good to sautee them for a minute or two or blanche them and eat them with olive oil and lemon juice. You can also just eat them fresh, mixed in with some sweeter greens. You can pluck the buds and pickle them right before they flower, and after they flower you can pick the flowers and make amazing fritters with them. We did this last week by dipping them in batter and frying them. The texture was amazing, it’s like tempura, but has that nutty dandelion flavor. Not bitter at all — the high heat really transforms the flavor.

Pretty much the whole plant when eaten is a diuretic and liver tonic, and in the spring time (in four-season climates) the body needs bitters to help stimulate bile production and clean out the system after the long winter, where people often eat more animal-based fat and saturated fat. The diuretic properties will remove extra water from your system, and so will aid in flushing/cleansing (be sure to drink a lot of water when you’re eating wild foods — they need it to aid their powers!). By the grace of Mama Nature, the dandelion is one of the first wild edibles to come up in the spring… it contains high levels of vitamin A, calcium, and potassium. It doesn’t cost anything, yet it can yield so much — salad, pesto, fritters, roots, coffee, tea (from the leaves). My respect for this plant has skyrocketed in the past couple of years. Also wildcraft with care, don’t sweep one place clean, even an aggressive pioneer plant like dandelion must be protected.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

[Why I love] Yeats and the Enigmatic Science of Gnosis

If you have some free minutes, and don't mind being enchanted by Yeats proto-mythpunk style, read Rosa Alchemica, one of his best (that I've read) short stories.

Ahh, this is such classic Yeats! Rosa Alchemica is a fictionalized narrative of one man's initiation (such as it is) into an occult alchemical order. The plot is very simple, merely providing a frame for a string of detailed descriptions of deep dreamlike and visionary states--the meat of the story. A wealthy and educated man who lives a life of solitude is visited by an old friend. The old comrade, somewhat of a trickster/mage figure, triggers the protagonist to experience a mystical revelation and subsequently coaxes him to come to the headquarters of a certain Order where he shall participate in initiatory rites. The pinnacle of the story describes an ecstatic group dance, which takes place in a round room with a domed ceiling, all surfaces covered with elaborate mosaics depicting a syncretistic amalgam of deities. There are many aesthetic parallels to Greco-Roman art, myth and architecture, and also literary allusions to ancient mystery cults (Eleusis in particular). Yeats masterfully conveys a full-throttle psychedelic experience that arcs through the entire story, and is neither good nor bad, but depicts forces both demonic and divine in unrelenting, psycho-somatic interplay.

"When we came in the grey light to the great half-empty terminus, it seemed to me I was so changed that I was no more, as man is, a moment shuddering at eternity,
but eternity weeping and laughing over a moment"


***

"A couple of hours after Sunset Michael Robartes returned and told me
that I would have to learn the steps of an exceedingly antique dance,
because before my initiation could be perfected I had to join three
times in a magical dance, for rhythm was the wheel of Eternity, on
which alone the transient and accidental could be broken, and the spirit set free."

***

Yeats is one of my most beloved mystics, and possessed that transgressive identity that straddled both artist and scholar (to paraphrase Herman Hesse's definition). You cannot quite call him contemporary, beause he lived at such an amazing junction in history - the Gilded age through to right before World War Two. A pregnant era, but also a time when the mythic realities of the past still lapped at one's feet -- or as Yeats puts it "the Sidhe still pass in every wind".

The ultimate concern of the mystic consists of the myriad and multiform paths to human gnosis. That is, esoteric knowledge that flows, like a river, through the ages, its form changed by the lenses and vessels of culture, but its true content always the same. Moreover, they are concerned with the phenomenology of gnosis, such that you could call them "scientists of God". Many are known to history books as poets, because poems are the field-notes of such a study, and so naturally the dedicated mystic produces volumes. Such people are either cursed or blessed to never leave alone the symbol of "God" on the proverbial shelf of the mind; the condensation of divinity into one word both excites and agitates them to no end. So they continually return to it and unpack it, I dare say even disembowel it in the frenzied search so characteristic of the "insane" or "hysterical" or "ascetic" mystic. (The ascetic is frenzied too, at times, but the wildness occurs deep within the boundaries of skin, and so others do not see it) Indeed, sometimes I think that hysteria and ascesis are one in the same when the object of worship is The Divine. The cults who engage in the trance-dance--both ancient and modern--know this riddle well. The trance dance somehow contains all forms of worship and mysticism folded within itself, and the actual ritual, trapped in time, is some sort of alchemical machine that transforms all moods, emotions and desires into motion, thus into kinetic energy that is absorbed by the earth. Dancing furiously for hours on end, like Yeats describes or Hesse in Steppenwolf, is a kind of ascesis (=discipline, not deprivation), and it is not fundamentally, and in a magical sense (regarding the affective yields, or what is produced), that different from fasting and sitting completely still. They are both spiritual heuristics and they both trigger the body to procure energy from long-untapped sources, deep deep within. In mining for this energy, this light...jewels and gemstones are unearthed. These are the divine entities that people call by many names. And they are thus set free to roam for a liminal time among us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Deconstructing Gender Politics in Dance Music (NPR)