Why, when we encounter something such as a beautiful work of art, or a stunning vista in nature; or hear the wind blowing through the boughs of a stand of tall trees, or waves crashing on the beach, do we experience awe and reverie of the beheld object that is felt deep within of our psyche and in our soul, the essence of what makes us who we are? Is this absorption the same that our deep ancestors felt as they gazed upon the surrounding world that they inhabited? Or looked at when holding a carving of a person or animal created from a piece of mammoth ivory, or as they painted with crushed ochre the animals, symbols, and handprints found upon a deep cave’s wall? Are these hierophanies? Manifestations of the unseen, underlying sacred making themselves known? Why do shamans and spirit walkers seek to penetrate the veil between the seen and the cosmic to commune with the supra-natural mysteries?
When I am in wild nature, far from the trappings of civilization, I no longer question the meaning of life, of existence. I am as much a part of the world as the trees and rocks and animals around me. The existential angst that I feel when surrounded by the concrete-plastic jungle and its denizens is wiped away. Everything that I encounter once I walk away from human mass-industriousness takes on a quality of the numinous. The Old Gods, the Gods of our deep ancestors, reveal themselves, they call me to join them. I am no longer Homo sapiens, but transfigured into Homo religiosus, a spiritual being who has fully and inseparably integrated the Old Gods into my being, just as our deep ancestors were long, long ago.
For me, one of strongest reasons I yearn to rewild is not so much to live away from the destructiveness that humanity has created on this world, but to reestablish contact with the Old Gods, with the spiritual magic that they shared with our ancestors. As our species spread around Earth, and eventually turned their backs upon the Old Gods, ignoring their gifts of life, and forgetting their names; we created new, corrupted and bastardized mythologies that justified and rationalized our wonton exploitation and consumption of the world we once shared with the Old Gods. We created sterile ideologies of reason as if that would placate our now all but ignored sadness and guilt for what we have lost. A blind existence that promotes as a virtue both atheism and derision for the sacred.
I was once a victim of such a disease. A devout atheist, a proselytizer of reason. The strange paradox being that even though I knew that the sciences we embraced were killing the planet, I ironically held what we have wrought in high esteem; a proud celebrant of post-modern folly. A fool was I. Then a series of fortunate circumstances occurred. Encounters with the numinous just prior to and while spending time in reflective solitude in the wilds around Mt. Shasta, a college class on the study of religion, and my own curiosity being piqued so that I continued to investigate, research, and experience the new growth of the spiritual seed planted within me. I embraced humility; which was –and still can be—a struggle for this prideful man. Not everything has been a smooth ride. I still have doubts. Was my encounter around Mt. Shasta just a bunch of chemical reactions within my brain? Was I simply enamored by a smart college professor? (He was smart, but also somewhat of a dick.) Am I fooling myself? But I’ve learned the there is nothing wrong with doubt, and doubt can lead to stronger faith. I know that what happened on that mountain was something that I had never once experienced before. It was something that is wholly inexpressible, and that I do not expect those who have not had similar experiences to understand. It was one of those “You had to have been there” occasions. The door has been opened, and I find that door impossible to shut.
The questions that I asked above are ones that a person can only answer for them-self. The asker can seek the counsel of reason, or maybe ask through the lens of a lifetime of social conditioning. But I think the best way to answer such questions is ask them by way of placing oneself in the circumstance when they are best asked, during direct experience. There really is no wrong answer; to each her and his own. I only put this forward in the hopes that as we spend more time in the wild, beginning to create new lives there, that we take the occasional moment to look at the natural magic that we have purposely put ourselves in. Open ourselves to the Old Gods, listen to their whispers as the wind blows through the trees. Maybe carve a figurine and create a ritual in honor of them. I’m sure they’ll appreciate your company and visa-versa as they make themselves known. They have always been there, waiting.
Pariah Sojourner popularizes rewilding on The Mystic Horn.