Indigenize!

Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Jay Bird Service April 21, 2015

stellers jay mid-flight

I am allergic to bee and wasp stings, so when I realized that wasps were building a large nest beneath the porch roof right above my front door, I naturally felt concerned. Every time the door opened, there was a high chance that a wasp would fly in – and then I would have to deal with it. I lived alone and was new to this community, so didn’t yet have any brave helpers to call upon to remove any interloping hymenoptera, let alone the whole dangerous nest.

When a wasp came into the cottage, I felt both scared and relieved to have noticed it before I inadvertently touched or grabbed it along with whatever it was sitting on. I would carefully capture the beastie against a windowpane with a drinking glass and a piece of paper, take it outside, and release it in a nearby wild field. But that nest? That was beyond me. If I messed with their nest in this warm weather season when wasps don’t sleep that deeply, there’s no way I could’ve gotten out of being stung. So I was stuck, and the nest’s presence there felt like a time bomb.

One day, something amazing happened.

I was inside, thinking about this dilemma – what to do; how long it would be before I wind up taking a trip to the ER; whether or not I should compromise my deeply held ethics by just using some bug killing spray like most Americans would without batting an eyelash.

At that moment, I heard a giant clanging sound outside. Clang, clang! Bang! What on earth was going on out there? I looked out the window, and noticed my porch wind chimes swinging wildly – but there was no wind. I went to the door for a closer look.

As I watched, I saw the source. A Steller’s Jay was swooping down under my porch roof, repeatedly, his wings hitting the wind chimes as he swooped and dived. Why was this happening? I went closer yet to investigate.

What happened next, I would never have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes. That jaybird swooped down one more time, then hovered, fluttering, beneath my porch roof, and snapped off the entire wasp nest with his beak. He then flew off with it to that same field where I had been releasing each individual wasp and threw the nest down in the grass over there.

I don’t know why he did that. Perhaps it was in order to eat the larvae later. But why go to the trouble of moving the nest for that, thereby riling up the entire swarm of adult wasps?

All I know is that this bird’s act served as an incredible kindness to me. He took the wasp nest far enough away where it would do me no harm. In one clean swoop, my worries were over for another full year.

A month or so, some afternoon guests (humans) and I were sitting together in lawn chairs in the back. They were admiring the many birds who came to my feeders and small open water source. But when a jay came among the songbirds, they expressed disapproval. “Jays are such nasty birds,” one opined. “Always thieving, and their voices are so loud and unpleasant. I wouldn’t let them feed here. If I were you, I’d chase them away.”  I just laughed and told them I saw things a bit differently from that. Those jays can have anything they want from me, forever.

*

*

Notes:

I have no idea about this bird’s gender, but decided to go with the pronoun “he” in this story to offer a bit of concessional balance to its main point of view that bucks current societal norms.

I enjoyed writing this love letter to a member of the avian family Corvidae, which includes crows, ravens, jackdaws, magpies and others along with jays. Thanks to my students in Transpersonal Service Learning at Naropa University for inspiring me to finally write it down by sharing their own wonderful stories of awakening through bird encounters.

Photo credit: Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) photographed mid-flight, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk

***

 

Caliban, Prospero, and the Animate World April 30, 2013

Two types of relationship with the animate world, as seen in The Tempest‘s characters.

Which do you most resonate with?

*

In his new article, Prospero – Shakespeare’s Shaman, Robert Tindall proposes the interesting idea that Prospero’s island in The Tempest can be seen as “a metaphor for the realm of the transpersonal unconscious.” And he offers up Caliban and Prospero as, in essence, models for two types of relationship with the animate world.

[Edward] Tylor’s theory of spiritual evolution is dramatically realized in the characters of Caliban and Prospero, who both perceive the cosmos as vital and sentient, yet from different ends of the spectrum. In Caliban’s naïve animistic consciousness, trees, streams, stars, are all alive, filled with music and strange wonder, and his most haunting evocation of that sentience comes in the lines:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open, and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again.

I like Tindall’s descriptions here, but personally feel leery of the idea of spiritual evolution: it smells of musty old linear hierarchical thinking. Caliban’s relationship with the place is much more primal, indeed – but is it lesser? Need these two go together?

The way in which these two characters are often portrayed, like in the images below, subtly gives us the message that it is lesser indeed. And there’s a scary bit of western egoic chutzpah evinced in Tindall’s line,

… Prospero’s magic perfects God’s creation.

caliban and prospero

This pairing of primal connection with lesser, and a more complex relationship involving the will to control with being somehow superior, unconsciously whispers in the collective western psyche. It echoes early European explorers’ views of indigenous peoples they encountered whilst seeking gold and land to colonize. These ancestors were taught by the Church to view our species as caught between the angelic and demonic realms; the latter, of course, being rooted in the earth and the former in the aether.

caliban prospero angel

Moving forward in time, contemporary industrialized western culture as a whole tends to overvalue the cognitive mind, neglecting the gifts of other ways of knowing like kinesthetic, emotional, and spiritual – the very ways that can lead to a deeper relating with one another, with our own bodies and souls, with the numinous, and with the wild planet. Exiled, people both shy away from, and hunger for, these.

Tindall may well agree with this.

Could it be that Caliban, with his indigenous visions and uncanny local knowledge, represents that mythic line, that symbiosis of human and animal that Euro-Americans simultaneously abhor and secretly yearn for? Is not the island itself, stranded half way in a dream, the shamanic realm where powerful magic and discourse with spirits and supernatural beings is possible?

If the island is a metaphor for the realm of the transpersonal unconscious (where Shakespeare, who wrote three of his greatest plays simultaneously, no doubt resided for much of his creative career), Caliban, we suspect, is the genius of the Earth — “You earth, thou” — the impulses arising from the depths, the wild vitality, the Dionysian trickster, which still sparkle in the Bard’s work.

And he offers a beautiful alternative view of how the cognitive mind might be put to more skillful use. Where might the state of this world be right now if the field of natural science had remained separate from the damaging philosophies emerging from the so-called “Enlightenment” – for example, the ideas that nature needs to be controlled and that all physical matter is, in essence, dead? And how can it be made different if based on a radically different view of the world – an animistic one based on respect rather than conquering?

If Caliban is mother nature’s son, Prospero is her shaman. As a Renaissance magician, Prospero has a similar mode of perception as the savage Caliban — he releases spirits imprisoned in oaks, calls forth mutinous winds and, above all, creates visionary worlds that enrapture their beholders — yet his apprehension is aesthetic, not raw or sensual. In Prospero, Shakespeare gives us a glimpse into one of the directions that science, as we now know it, was developing in his time (and would have kept developing if not for the interventions of the Inquisition, Galileo, and Descartes).

…Rather than splitting the atom, Prospero catches rides on the movements of the stars.

Two types of relationship with the animate world, as seen in The Tempest‘s characters.

Which do you most resonate with, and why?

Personally, I’d like to work toward a world where our species’ Caliban and Prospero natures can dance together in tandem: the raw and sensual with the aesthetic and visionary.

Now that would make a paradise island.

Purr.

*

To read Tindall’s full interesting article published April 18, 2013, go to Psychedelic Press U.K.:  http://psypressuk.com/2013/04/18/prospero-shakespeares-shaman/