May 19th, 2008

Cultural Conservers

The temperature hit 90 degrees here in this mountain town yesterday. Very odd for May...more like July temperatures. It feels like July, not May. And two days ago while wandering downtown, I noticed within a week all the trees had burst into leafy splendor and many have white blossoms out. My garden is poking out some radishes and we will see what happens.

I am currently very interested in the discussion of "cultural conservers" that is going on over at John Michael Greer's The Archdruid Report.

I've always been out of step with the current paradigm, and as a kid I shadowed my grandfather and any old people I could find to learn something of what they knew. Because of that, I know how to hunt big game (both by bow and gun), snare small game, and gather medicinal plants and eat wild plants and read sign, but do not know much (compared to my peers) about sports teams, stocks and bonds or cars, or money, all my own choice.

I am a cultural conserver for my tribe, one of the last to have a working knowledge of our language and culture. An old man also passed on to me his knowledge of brain-tanned hideworking, making rawhide and parfleches, hide clothes, tipis, etc. I learned the basics of lithics, both grinding stone (manos and metates, etc) and chipped-stone (arrowheads and blades etc.) Books are fine and dandy, but even the best written source is a shadow of what you need to actually do the work.

Besides the monastic and religious center models of the world's major religions, there are many examples of cultural conservers, the most obvious are among the elders and practitioners among the various indigenous peoples, conservers of much practical knowledge even older than Mesopotamia and Rome.

And even as a nonindigeous person you can learn some of this knowledge kept among black powder enthusiasts, historical re-enactors, and folklife centers (the national folklife festival is being held in Butte, Montana this year). Many states have living history farms and villages, as do many national historical parts. You can be a parttime volunteer and learn much at these places. Every state has a folklife department of some kind, often attached to the historic preservation or art state bureaucracies (your local museum is a good place to ask for starters). You can support such things in many ways, whether as a volunteer, a fundraiser, or even just attending events and visiting sites.

Besides my lifework in tribal ways, and linking up with JMG's work as a druid, and getting my hands dirty in horticulture this summer, I am adjunct faculty at a local branch campus of the state university, where I teach anthropology and archaeology (I used Jared Diamond's "Collapse" as a required text this term), art (painting and drawing the traditional ways), and art history and aesthetics appreciation. I also care for my nephews and niece and teach them what I know about anything and everything. I am trying to get it imparted between now when they are 3 and 4 and before they become teens when most kids lose interest in old ways. They will get my hundreds of books, old tools and whatever they have. It will be up to them to keep, toss, or sell. I will teach them Ars Memoria as they get older. Right now, even at three and four, I am teaching them to identify wild plants and to be observant of nature and their surroundings.

I live hand to mouth, do not own a car or house, make lots of soup, eat whatever is at hand, and don't focus on the future. It makes things easier if you don't want all the toys or status symbols, or care much about money and what people think. After all, did our Neolithic ancestors worry about retirement packages? Nope, they counted every day above ground as a good day and knew their coming Death as one of their most important life-coaches :-)

Hopi Message

From the Hopi Elders of Oraibi:

"You have been telling people it is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people this is THE HOUR.

There are many things to consider:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community. Be good to each other.
And do not look outside of yourself for a leader.

This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its own destination.
The Elders say:
We must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river,
keep our hearts open and our heads above water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.
For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

For WE are the ONES we've been waiting for."

The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation