“The Dead Can Dance, Part 1: The Totemism of Evolution” by Mathieu Thiem

The first in a 4-part series, originally published at The Woven Song.


I. Falling Towards the Ancestors (Sacred Space)

“When the leaves fall, the bones are laid bare. Old scars are revealed.” – Émile Wayne

Hauntings of autumn are carried on the wind, ebbing and flowing like tides of nostalgia. The trees begin to whisper with a flaming tinge, speaking out to the bright blue Texas sky with kisses of red, yellow, and orange. Crisp mountain northers are creeping down the plains, bringing the ghosts of bison herds rumbling South ahead of the October rains.

The wild wheat is waving full and lush from apparitions past, making the fields blush when the blue grass peaks through. Juniper trees dot the landscape, bright green with bittersweet gin sopped berries dripping onto the ground where the morels bubble up in their rich damp underbellies.

Fall is coming, a time of preparation, a time of ghosts, a time of spiced kindling in the deep dark places of the soul, where sparks set flame to memories both beautiful and tragic, where we light candles to guide our ancestors back for a season. The mulled ciders sit rich on the stove, the blankets prepared and ready for the chilly nights, we revel for a while with a spiced wine….or two.

It is time to prepare our hearth and home. Time to reap what we have sown in the heady days of summer. Time to once more talk to the ancestors, spirits, and ghosts that rise up from a sighing heat soaked earth. Time to learn from our mistakes and store them away as little reminders for tomorrow. When Fall comes we must fall into ourselves, into each other, into the land, into the in-between spaces of incubation and transformation. Our journey inward begins, to hold out for the dark times ahead.

Fall is a time when it is best to contemplate the ancestors, and uncover the deep wisdom they have for us. The harvest is being reaped and death is all around us, feeding us, lighting the way into the darkness. But what exactly makes an ancestor, an ancestor? Some folks would think they have to be from a direct bloodline, but this isn’t as true as one might think. Ancestors abound in our world as people, places and things. I am excited to show you perhaps a new way in which to understand them from a more sensually derived phenomenology, from a more integrated sense of being with the more than human world we call Earth.

II. The Totemism of Evolution (Fire)

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars”- Walt Whitman

It is true what they say, you know? That we are made up of star stuff. Science knows it. Spirituality knows it. Walt Whitman knew it. The stars are the origin of our existence. They are the ancestral giants of our great beginnings. Though the beginning to anything is always questionable, the mythic relevance of the stars has always held sway over us. They were once in the heavens, and in a real way, they still are. They still capture a sense of wonder and awe in us. How could they not? When we look up into the deep dark twinkling expanse of the milky way, we are looking into the past itself, into the origin of our existence. Into the realm of ancestors.

The same fire that came from the big bang, that transformed into the stars, is the exact same fire which created our own local star and the planets that live around it. From our sun came the energy necessary to warm the Earth and provide energy for all life upon this planet. Our existence is possible because stars died and fertilized the great vastness of Space. What we are is the continuation of this cycle. We are born from space and energy given to us by our ancestors, the stars.

This star fire runs through everything. From the plants to the insects, from the fish to the birds, all the way up the trophic pyramid. All beings, animate or inanimate, ensoul this original fire; for even the basic elements themselves were born of this star fire. The beings which contained it, gave it to us to carry forward. We are in every sense of the word, the journey-work of the stars. This can be most notably seen within the totemic premise of evolution itself.

Within the framework of evolution, we are not just adapting to new conditions as beings on our own merit, but carrying with us the building blocks and sensual experiences of our ancestors. Evolution is the work of ancestors!

Inside your being is the long and glorious history, not only of your immediate blood line, but of all the shared ancestry you have had in common with the more than human world itself! You share the ancestors of a chimp, you share the ancestors of a tiger, you share the ancestors of a bat. On and on and on there is a beautiful lineage of our connection to the more than human world.

What is even more beautiful and breathtaking is that when you come to trust in the sensual phenomenological experience that is your sense of being, the same sensual fleshy interactions you experience with the world around you is built up from the ancestors as well. Meaning that your feelings of fear, joy, amazement and even awe have roots in the depths of the evolutionary chain. Your feeling of love is founded upon similar emotion from non humans as well. It is absurd to think it otherwise. Your phenomenology is deeply connected to the queer nature of your ancestry.

How do you know, that when you look out upon the field and see an orange shape stalking in the high grass, that what you see is a predator? It is because the ancestors before you evolved to create eyes that can discern shapes like this and passed those eyes on to your current evolutionary form. It is because your ancestors eyes had worked to keep them alive, that your eyes work as well. It is because your ancestors suspicions and intuitions had worked, that yours work as well. It is because their love was real, that you are able to feel love yourself. Sure none of these things will be exactly the same, each new formulation of descendants is unique, and so to are the properties passed on. Change is how you know the story isn’t over yet.

Let us shift our totemic focus from the deep past embedded within the layers of our present interbeing, towards the multitudes of your current self. Inside of you is an entire ecosystem teeming with life. Microbes, cells and mitochondria, all life forms in their own right, many with their own evolutionary distinction that have found a way to coexist within you. These beings live and die through an expanse of generations, all inside your being.

You are a place of ancestors. Within your very interbeing exist ancient timelines of the embedded past, and as you descend from the depths of this long history, you too are an ancestor to them. Your cells are dying and renewing on a regular basis as any healthy ecology would do, changing throughout the seasons.

What exactly have you honored in that part of you? What have you done to give praise to that long history within you? Do you think perhaps you could go to your cousins of the more than human world and honor your common ancestors together? What would that be like to do ritual with a dog? To share in honoring the deep hungers of your reptilian mind with the serpent? I bet it would be brilliant my love. Bloody brilliant.

To be continued …

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