It takes my teacher Martín Prechtel several hours to walk a short distance because every stream and river, rock and valley in the village is sacred and needs to be sung to, fed by our beauty-making. We are too fortunate for our debt to ever be paid, so instead we cultivate indebtedness as a way of life.
You might say that our abandonment of ritual practice is the greatest loss felt by modern society. Under the spell of rationalism, we have forgotten what indigenous people understand to be cardinal: that this world owes its life to the Unseen.
Our disconnection from the Old Ways expresses itself in our culture’s affliction with depression, anxiety, violence and loneliness.What we are experiencing, explains Marion Woodman, is the loss of the symbolic life. We have displaced our natural impulse to worship the sacred onto the material. We accumulate wealth instead of strengthening our values, pursue knowledge instead of wisdom and choose status over village-making.
In tribal society, every inheritance, every yield, every loss and every yearning must be distinguished by an offering made to the Invisible. Vicariously, in this practice of making gifts for the Holy, we are being fed. The meals we eat, the land we steward, the clothing we wear, even the losses we sustain become thick with intention and we wear them like the jewels of human wealth that they are.
In the Dagara village, writes Malidoma Somé, it is considered criminal to go on with ‘business-as-usual’ when someone has died, because without everyone’s grief, the dead person will be trapped between worlds, unable to shed the “ragged clothes we call a body, and walk naked” in the spirit world.
But ritual is also needed by the griever, who might otherwise remain attached to places and people who have passed, draining them of their vitality in present time. Without the ritual support of our community, the entirety of our grief can never be emptied, our losses clinging to us like old skins, creating loops in our dreams, and stuckness in our lives.
This is why we write down the dreams we have been given. Each one is a precious gift from Unwhere, to be acknowledged for its generosity, courted for its wisdom and honoured with action. The reward of our remembering is that we are ourselves remembered. Life becomes evermore meaningful as the conversation between this world and that gets stronger, our days grow potent with night-magic, (what we call synchronicity), and every day jumps alive with the normiracles of living.
“Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” ― Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World.