Some people from a local pagan styled spiritual meetup were lovely enough to welcome me to their pre-Samhain meeting last week, a chance to talk about those who have passed through the boundary that gets thin this time of year.
I offered a few insights during the event. They asked me if I would be interested in doing a presentation at one of their monthly meetings. What would I say to this group?
Most of them identify their relationship with spirit as “nature centred.” Animals, sky, sea, terrain and the diversity of life are the images they use to share what is real, eternal and potent.
I love nature too, but the nature I most revere is the nature we all share: human nature. I know that for some human nature and the society humans have built seems corrupt and soulless, but where does the soul reside if not in our nature?
The big difference between humans and any other animal we know of on the earth, even whales and elephants, is that humans have created a symbolic language. We are the only storytellers, as far as we know, starting with oral traditions and moving to a great written & dramatic heritage.
When pagans talk about nature, it isn’t nature as biology that they revere, analyzing the habits of animals or the structure of plants, rather it is nature as symbol that is powerful to them. They take the stories, the tales, the legends of humans which use the world around us as symbol to claim something that they find pure, essential and potent.
The tales of the rabbit, hawk or snake are not from the tongues of those creatures, rather they are from the voices of humans who saw those animals and imbued them with spirit, with the spirit that threaded through their own human heart & brain, through their own human society & culture.
It is the meaning of the story, not its symbols, where power resides. This is how Joseph Campbell could look at mythology across cultures, examining the stories humans tell to convey meaning in a symbolic way, and find connections, shared truths, across the world and across history. The characters in the stories may be specific to our location and cultural context, but the content of the story is universal, directly out of the one human nature that we all share.
Our calling is to tell the old stories in new language, the language of where we are now. This not only makes the wisdom continually fresh and accessible, it also demands that we own the stories deep in our soul. We cannot just repeat the words, we have to internalize the meaning, integrate it with our own experience, and create our own symbolic interpretation of essential and traditional human knowledge.
All human stories are nature stories, attempts to capture the nature of humans in symbolic language. The more time we spend being obsessed with the symbols used, the less time we spend opening to the human nature captured in the tales.
Too often, humans choose to revere the ladder rather than where that ladder can take us. It is not the smells & bells, the symbols of our shared structures of belief that are the powerful part. They are just means to an end, a structure that lets us climb to a higher view and a deeper understanding.
When I speak about my own spiritual journey, people are often surprised by my very personal cultural references. I collect stories, stories with meaning, and they become how I hold what is important close to me. They are my own nature stories, moments that remind me of the continuous common humanity that threads through and connects us all.
My journey has been about claiming my own nature from the social conventions and expectations placed on me because of my history and my biology. I needed to find ways to understand, cleanse and focus the truth in my heart, to become a “stand-up” version of me who didn’t just respond to others but who trusted her own nature. To move beyond corruption & venality to integrity & compassion is not easy, especially while other people have not yet done the healing, but it seems the only way to claim a full and blessed human life.
That hasn’t been an easy or simple journey. It wasn’t just my nature I had to learn about, it was my shared nature, the nature that connects me with all other humans. I need to move past simple groupings of us and them, needed to move beyond comfortable boundaries to engage continuous common humanity.
I needed to move beyond symbol to meaning, not using words as barriers but rather using truth as connection. I may be essentially different from any other human ever, with my own very unique story, but I am also fundamentally the same as any other human ever, sharing the same human nature.
Nature is wonderful. As humans, we are not separate from nature, we are profoundly and deeply a part of that nature, just another creature living on this Earth.