Ancient and modern
On greeting magpies from the driver's seat, tea bags, Lucifer and a conscious Earth.
As humans in 2023, are we able to live in an existential dilemma? Do we have any choice? Can we be two things at once. Are we contradictions, or just complex?
My deepest values and beliefs lie in the understanding that I’m a part of this planet just like the mountains, seas, insects, trees etc. Enclosed in our bubble of life, this system recycles everything including us, even as we live. As Jarod K Anderson says:
By that measure, we are ancient indeed.
Also as part of the lineage back to ancestors still deeply connected to the earth, their environment and other beings. Living as part of nature, not outside it. We don’t even have to go back that far to find them. Of course there are peoplestill connected in that way, but sadly they’re the minority.
My thoughts go to things described as “the old ways” and how they still show up in my life. Example: what some call superstition.
I still greet magpies. I interpret sightings of some animals and plants as signs. I read patterns, symbols, the weather. Humans have divined and interpreted the natural world this way probably forever. In the absence of modern science, information and proof, we made our own stories and the favourites stuck around. Often because they held true. Perhaps now, we do it because our heart tells us there is more to life than what you can see under a microscope. Or maybe we just can’t help it. It’s a thread of being human that hasn’t yet left.
That thread has some of us believing that rather than this being superstition, it’s an understanding of the liminal spaces between what we see/feel/taste/smell/hear, and what exists on the metaphysical plane. I’m one of those people, are you? I believe that there is a metaphysical plane. I believe we have a sense for that too.
Meanwhile, modern thought says we don’t need stories when we have facts. Because science. Science offers “proof” (that’s quite often just theory and a lot of maths) and “information”. I know I’m being reductive but it kind of goes with the territory.
I like science. My scientific education goes no further than O Level biology and lots of documentaries, but I’m grateful for it. I benefit from science every day and without it, I probably wouldn’t be alive at nearly 60. Also, I believe that there can be a science of metaphysics as well as a philosophy. And that a sighting of an animal can be a sign.
How we identify is a hot topic right now but it’s not new. A persistent line of self-enquiry for me has been: do I identify more with my ancient nature, or my modern? Lawd knows I love my gadgets; my car; my air travel; my health; my modernness. At the same time, I am most myself when merged with the natural world. It’s just a pity I wouldn’t last a week left to my own devices.
There’s more than a touch of the Not Good Enoughs about this line of questioning. Even away from ironic 21st Century tropes, I don’t celebrate the wheel of the year. I don’t grow my own medicine. I live on grid. I tend to pick mean-spirited holes in pretension around definitive versions of Pagan Ways because come on they’re only as old as my Nan.
<insert teen eyeroll>
I do live relatively close to the earth, literally, but don’t utilise, understand or venerate it as much as my ancestors would have. I’m such a loser at being ancient. So even as I feel my blood flow faster and more deeply red for reading the work of writers whose wise words on the history, mythology, and indigenous knowledge of the planet just thrill me, I feel like a fraud for thinking I belong in their clan.
So am I modern? My lifestyle largely is. My country’s developmental level is (for a while longer, anyway). I enjoy and indulge in a lot of creature comforts whose manufacture no doubt damages this precious planet. I am, for the most part, “free” and spoiled for choice. But it’s years since I didn’t look at All The Stuff with disdain, even as I salivated and paid for it. Since I didn’t wish life could just be a whole lot simpler and slower. I’m completely fascinated by the work of successful business people, but I hate the end results. So I’m also a bit crap at being modern.
Why do I think I have to be all or I’m nothing? Why do I feel like I have to have the right outfit (not literally but YKWIM)? The credentials? The spotless record? The all-in commitment? Here’s a thing…I don’t expect it from anyone else and if I saw it, I’d find them to be a caricature.
Ultimately, I feel old. I don’t mean elderly, just sometimes [of the] ancient. I like that I still have that in my blood, bones and breath. I cherish the fact that it’s apparently still not too late to remember where I belong, even if that place is being systematically destroyed. It doesn’t matter if I wear jeans and thick-soled boots, not hand-woven nettle cordage. If I choose mascara and tea bags and reruns of Lucifer but believe in this living planet as conscious. I am what I am and I am ancient. So are you. We just live in a very strange zoo these days.
As this post percolated and, let’s be honest, spun without words or form through my head this week, I found myself watching Vandana Shiva. What an embodiment of ancient and modern. Earth activist and quantum physicist. An extraordinary person and leader. She couldn’t be further from a caricature.
This morning my copy of Martin Shaw’s Red Bead Woman arrived. Reading the back cover, I see:
[Dr Shaw] claims that we have been caught in a dichotomy of culture or wildness, and hence a great divorce has fallen upon us. A divorce between us and the earth, and the ensuing settlement threatens to be wretched.
It seems I bought the right book.
If I can get past my simplistic Not Good Enoughs, and ridiculous metrics for either state, perhaps I can be just one more person who manages to embody them both. Because I have to. We have to. There’s no turning back but we can’t turn our backs. We are animals. We are part of the earth, even as we tear her apart.
We are Ancient and Modern, Cultured and Wild.