Ancient Tales for Modern Times
The threshold of when we were landscape
For twenty years, I’ve been working with people and places, and I also write fabulated tales (1) from pre-agrarian realities, echoing whispers from the land, recollecting shamanic ancient ways of life in the Iberian Peninsula. These contextual stories are not escapes from the perilous times we live in. On the contrary, they demand we return whole, accountable, and fully present, so we are reminded that we are landscape. These yarns weave recollections of who we are — not our superficial, egoistic selves, enabled by modernity(2), but the deep-rooted, living, and communal wisdom that beholds life as sacred and is part of its cosmic-chthonic cyclical web.
Let’s face it, here in the Iberian Peninsula, we’ve been losing fundamental parts of our local indigenous wisdom for three thousand years. This tragic loss of cultures of reciprocity and responsibility enabled, 1500 years later, the invasions, genocide, and ecocide perpetrated by European nations in the fifteenth century. Modernity has been cooking for a long time, one trauma at a time, so who were we before all this violence and dissociation?
Of course, there are still fragments of this ancient ecological knowledge in Portuguese rural areas today. We can touch this ancient wisdom through folk stories, songs, seasonal rituals, prayers, and herbal wisdom and healing. The original dignity is mostly lost and the connective tissue is too frail, but this ancient way of being in the world is within our bones. These tales are a way to remember.
So, why are these tales important now?
Modernity has led us in a one-way linear path, with a mechanistic gaze, where the world is dead and can be categorized and fragmented in an allegedly value-free way. The cosmos is clock-like in this reductionist, anthropocentric gaze. This catastrophic dissociation of contextual living wisdom has been assembled by a single god up in heaven; fear; and the need for control, giving way to the deadly extractivism that makes modern technology and its comforts possible.
I believe ancient myths and tales are complexity keepers, testimonies of interrelationships in a cosmic ecological system. This deep and mysterious systemic interpenetration between self, world, and others is something Indigenous peoples, artists, and poets have always known. Recalling this responsible and reciprocal way of being in the world is reweaving Life itself.
So, these arrational — not fully rational or irrational — fabulated tales pick up on threads and shards of neolithic archeological findings in Portugal, reweaving symbolic archetypes in short narratives. Every story has its own research of what threads and textures give it voice.
The invitation made by these tales is not predictable, of simple cause-and-effect relationships, because the whole is not exactly the sum of the parts. The fractal and kaleidoscopic dimension in which we now move opens the door to non-linear systems, where interdependent parts contribute to the whole in multiplicative ways, and simple cause-and-effect relationships break down. Through non-linearity, we open a direct bridge to the ongoing complexity of life. As Marks-Tarlow3 says, everyday logic, by which we use left-brain thinking to separate and understand experience, discerning cause and effect to mentally calculate our next step, is both linear and reductive. The journey in Cosmic-Chthonic Cartography implies that we cannot separate people, landscapes, or relationships at any level, either literally or symbolically, without destroying their wholeness and integrity, for the dynamic metamorphosis and transformation essential to life always occurs organically and fractally, in a non-linear rule, in contrast to the linear exception.
The narrative of these tales takes place in an ancient time, where animals still speak and the “other” is within reach of sacred dialogue because they are not yet demonized.
These are tales of landscapes where women have not been drastically forced to forget their sovereignty, and where they have not been raped, kidnapped, or taken by force. These tales counter the hagiographies, the stories of saints, where the sacred is exclusively anthropomorphized and solely in human dialogue, which creates a monoculture of the transcendent limited to the myth of the male hero.
Here we deliberately walk in a feminine and chthonic mythic landscape, in visceral intimacy with the sacred depths of the earth, in an immanent pilgrimage of katabasis, the pre-helenic descent into the subterranean sacred worlds that comprise the geography of death.
Therefore, the Tales of the Serpent and the Moon follow the profound principles of shamanic and animistic experience.
May we remember!
When you move with the living tales, your whole ecology moves. Fiercely and gently, we become landscape once again:
- We remember our complex pre-colonial roots and cultures of responsibility and reciprocity.
- We recover the ancient contextual, somatic, ecological, shamanic, and animist wisdom from the Iberian Peninsula.
- We recall that we live in a sentient, living and ensouled cosmos.
- Mystery, Metaphors, and Myths urgently recollect our primal and complex wisdom of paradox.
- We remember other ways to belong and fiercely protect our landscapes, regenerating our consciousness back from the wasteland and the ruins of modernity.
- We come back fully accountable, weaving communal local threads rooted in ancient archetypal matrixes.
The first step is to read/listen to a story and let it work within you…
1 These tales were originally written in Portuguese, in my book “Contos da Serpente e da Lua”, ISBN: 978–989–9005–84–6. All illustrations are from Carolina Mandrágora. Edited in Portugal by Mahatma Editora.
2 This concept of modernity — a western a-historical, scientific, capitalist, and moral exceptionalism myth — follows the lines of authors like Vanessa Andreotti and the GTDF Collective, Bayo Akomolafe, Nora Bateson, Pegi Eyers, Pat MacCabe, Julie J. Morley, John Broomfield, Donna Haraway, Fikret Berkes, Barbara A. Bickel, Bill Devall, David Turnbull, Gordon Whyte, Marna Hauk, Jo-Ann Archibald, Jürgen W. Kremer, Nick Totton and countless others who do essential work, not from a binary/pure point of view, in criticizing modernity’s limited and violent lenses.