POEM: Hymns for the Forest God #23

If the world ends, he will still be here.

Gods are hard to kill, and he is one of the oldest.

He will still roam the forest that sometimes 

sheds its leaves into this world, but has its roots 

in another. He will still shepherd the wild things, 

the fox and the wolf, the rabbit and the deer. 

In the silence of a world without human voices, 

he will remember how we sang. He likes to hear us 

singing. His birds taught us our first songs.

 

But the Forest God would be much happier if we don’t 

destroy the world, if we listen to the song he is still singing, 

accompanied by bird and beast and leaf, the song that 

rocked our cradle in the earliest of our memories, 

a song about gods and humans, animals and plants, 

mushrooms and mysteries dancing all together, 

the angels dancing, too, and the faeries, and 

our ancestors, and our children, and all the stars 

and planets, all of us in the eternal spiral dance 

that will still go on, only poorer for our absence, 

if we try to destroy the world and destroy ourselves.

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #18

Who still dances the first dance?

Who still sings the first song?

Who still carries the undying light?

It is he, the Forest God, 

whose hooves first touched the earth

before any differences 

between human, god, and beast.

He was and is all three 

and calls us to remember 

that we were also thus, 

we were dancers in the light, 

we were singers of the song.

He knows us better than we know ourselves,

he remembers what we have forgotten:

the sound of all the voices together, 

the interlayered rhythms, the sweetness 

of the dance that circled ever round 

yet none ever grew dizzy. 

When our cities are in ruins, 

our machines are silent, 

when we sit like tired children 

who have broken all their toys, 

he will walk our emptied streets 

and notice those who notice him, 

who are ready to hear the message 

that we can begin again.

Let me give you an origin myth

In the beginning are these animals who walk on two legs and manipulate things with their paws and look up, above their heads–not at predators diving but at the trees, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Then one day something changes and they know they are not just animals. They are spirits. Spirits in bodies. And there are many other spirits around them.

They are humans.

The humans get to know the other spirits. Some are neighbors, the spirits of tree, rock, spring, plant. Some are the plants they eat and the animals they hunt and the animals who can hunt them. Some are neighbors but strange, near and yet distant, what their children in the far future will call fairies, angels, daemons. Some seem to be former humans. These spirits inspire friendship and collaboration; they have things to give and things that they want. Some other spirits seem to be threats and inspire fear; they can feed on human life without touching the body directly. And some spirits are so much more than all the others that they inspire awe, adoration, worship. Later generations will call them gods.

To connect with the spirits, humans give of their all, their best. They gather together wearing fine clothing and jewelry. They play instruments and sing like birds. They dance, imitating the animals. They put on masks and costumes to resemble the spirits. They act out things that have been and things they desire. They share their own food and drink. The spirits come to sing and dance with them, teach them, make love with them. From the greatest spirits, the shining ones, come the greatest gifts.

Over thousands of years, small bands become tribes, tribes become villages, villages turn into cities. Civilization means specialization, and the things that were once part of celebrating the spirits gradually separate into discrete disciplines. Music, theatre, and dance separate from religion. The knowledge of landscape and times, the movements of the heavenly bodies, the behaviors of other beings becomes science. Religion turns on the remaining branch of knowledge, magic, and pushes it out of the temple. Magic, the rejected teenager, grows up with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

But all human knowledge, all human art, began in what we would now call religion, in the dance around the fire to establish and celebrate connection with the spirits. In the exchange between the visible and invisible worlds that we now call magic or shamanism or animism or some other word that means “that wasn’t real, we don’t do that any more”. Our creativity flows from knowing ourselves as a kind of spirit among other spirits and an exchange of gifts with the otherworld, an offering and a blessing, a blessing and an offering. The arts and sciences, including magic, grew up and left religion at home, but she is still there, tending the hearth, waiting for her children to come back and dance around the fire with the other spirits.