January 17th, 2008

Part I: A Cosmology of the Helena Valley

One of the most important things a person needs to do as a modern-day Druid, pursuing a spirituality connected to nature, is to integrate one's cosmology, or world view, within one's home territory. This is a major and necessary task. Following some supposed Druidic cosmology based on a few fragments of Roman commentary, and on a mythic system set in a Celtic ecosystem alien to the American land in which one finds oneself, has some obvious problems.

This is discussed thoroughly and well in Gordon Cooper's landmark essay, "Wild-crafting the Modern Druid" at the AODA website. His example of the cosmology of "Velociraptrix" is most telling. It is essential reading for the aspiring "neo"Druid: "Why should a potential druid care about anything beyond Ireland, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany or England? Because many potential druids do not live in these lands, nor are they necessarily related by recent ties of cultural heritage or ancestry to the peoples of these lands. If druidry is based on universal principles and is a philosophy of earth, stars and trees, then local features have immense power to shape the grammery and body of the druid."

One of the major goals I have set for this "Once and Future Druid" blog is to examine the local landscape in this light. I was raised in the Helena Valley, from the age of 5 through young adulthood. I have a lot of familiarity with the natural world here, the patterns of wind and weather. I can already see the differences caused by climatic changes. I also have a good historic and cultural understanding of this valley, gained from childhood, but also in a focused way during my tenure as an archaeologist for the Helena National Forest from 1991-1996.

Some of the topics brought up in the essay, and how they connect to the Helena Valley:

The solstices and equinoxes as marks of the journey of the Sun across the valley landscape from north to south and back again are very noticeable. I have watched them since my childhood. The Winter Solstice is marked by the sun rising over the Elkhorns and setting behind Mount Helena. The Equinoxes are marked by the Sun's rising over the Big Belt Mountains above Canyon Ferry Reservoir on the Missouri River and the Sun's setting over the Continental Divide near McDonald Pass. The Summer Solstice is marked by the Sun's rising over the Big Belt Mountains reaching towards Lake Helena and setting over the Continental Divide, almost to the Scratchgravel Hills. However the other marks are based on an agricultural system (Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, Samhain) which has no real connection to the land here. Agriculture is not the main feature of this landscape; hunting and the cycles of wildlife are more significant. While remembering the traditional Celtic celebrations in a symbolic manner, I am instead constructing a cycle based on the wildlife, wild plants, and Native American calendars of hunting and gathering. Bull elk bugle here to gather their cows during the month of September; the mule deer rut during the month of November. The chokecherries and most berries ripen during July and August. This is the cycle I prefer to follow in this landscape, not paying really much attention to Imbolc or Lammas (Beltane and Samhain are just plain fun!). As a Catholic, I also have a liturgical year of holy days and saints feasts I must integrate as well. And of course astronomical and meteorological phenomena are integral parts of the year's cycle, such as the arrival of Orion, the appearance of the Perseid meteors, the midwinter Chinook winds, and the first summer Thunderstorm.

There are no known current sacred pilgrimages for the Native American tribes that once travelled through the Helena Valley and surrounding mountains and who once considered them a homeland: Salish (aka Flathead), Kutenai (or Kootenai), Blackfeet (Piegan or Pikuni), Shoshoni (Shoshone), and others. The treaty period of the late 1800s divested these tribes of their use of these lands, though some oral history projects and archaeological research seem to be bearing interesting fruit. However-- Lewis and Clark travelled through the area during their 1804-1806 expedition, and so the area is a part of a sacred pilgrimage for many history buffs. And even more anciently, the Helena Valley was once part of the Old North Trail system, along which the PaleoIndians once traveled on their way from Asia to populate the rest of the New World, over 14,000 years ago. Both Clovis and Folsom culture sites have been found in this area, indicating the presence of mammoth and other megafauna of the Pleistocene Ice Age. There are sacred hills and mountains to honor as well, such as the Sleeping Giant (also called The Bear's Tooth) and Mount Helena. This area was also once renowned among tribes as a refugia where wild game could usually be found in difficult times. And the Sacred Red Paint was found near the Missouri, and there are quarries where the ancient ones found the stone for spear points and tools.

In this intermontane valley, there is currently no sea. However, in Deep Time, water made its mark in the geomorphology and geology of the valley and surrounding mountains, as both inland sea and as cordilleran glacier. And water still makes its mark. The Missouri River travels in a corridor carved through the mountains from the Three Forks headwaters, down to the Gates of the Mountains (named by the Lewis and Clark Expedition) on its way to the open plains near Great Falls.</ul>

I am currently working on a Northern Rockies/Northern Plains ogham. Here on the east slope, instead of oak and yew, we have Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir, and Cottonwood. I will talk more of the ogham I am developing in a later post.

Here, I am learning the Blackfeet stories of Napi (Old Man), the Salish-Kootenai stories of Coyote and Jay. And of course, the scientific stories of Deep Time, as I mentioned in a post about the "Telling the Beads" a week or two ago. I haven't yet tackled a musical instrument. I don't think my saxophone from Junior High would probably do it though!

It's getting a bit late, so I will close for now...