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Speaking for the Land

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

At the dedication ceremony for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in June 1934, the pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold began his remarks by declaring: “For twenty centuries and longer, all civilized thought has rested upon one basic premise: that it is the destiny of man to exploit and enslave the earth. The biblical injunction to ‘go forth and multiply’ is merely one of many dogmas which imply this attitude of philosophical imperialism.”

Leopold was not shy about making such grand claims, especially when, as in this brief talk, he wished to distill a complex argument into a few words. One could cite many examples of “civilized thought,” including the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Native American cultures, that do not advocate enslavement of the Earth. And one could cite biblical injunctions that urge us to be caretakers rather than exploiters of the creation. Still, there was ample evidence in Leopold’s time that the majority of his fellow citizens regarded the Earth as purely a source of raw materials, to be mined, dammed, deforested, plowed, paved, and otherwise manipulated to suit human needs, without regard for the needs of other species and with scant regard for the needs of future generations. This attitude of “philosophical imperialism,” which wrought so much damage in the Dust Bowl years, remains powerful in our day, and is now wreaking havoc on a global scale.

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Nine: Female Powers of Healing

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The forty-one girl knights. Although the Bear Spirit may on occasion appear in the form of a female bear, his power seems to be predominantly male. There is another posture, however, which apparently summons a special kind of female energy.1 The posture first came to my attention early in 1985 in a publication about antiquities from Tennessee.2 The stone sculpture, created about A.D. 700, represented a woman who had her arms placed on her chest in a special way, so that her right hand came to rest above the left (see pl. 31). Subsequently, I saw the posture also in Marija Gimbutas’s book about ancient Europe.3 The terra-cotta figurine, once more a woman (pl. 32), was much older (5th millennium B.C.), but there was no mistaking the position of the hands. I was anxious to explore the posture, but in neither case was there any indication about the position of the legs, and I was at a loss about what to do about that.

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Wildness

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Hope caught me by surprise a couple of weeks ago, when the last snow of winter hit town on the first day of spring. It was a heavy, slashing snow, stinging the skin, driven by a north wind. Because the temperature was near freezing, the flakes clung to everything. A white streak balanced on telephone wires, on clotheslines, on every branch and twig and bud. Many buds had already cracked open after a spell of warm days, so we fretted over the reckless early flowers and eager trees. By noon, snow piled a foot deep, and more kept falling. The few drivers who ventured out usually wound up spinning their wheels in drifts. Soon even the four-wheelers gave up and the city trucks quit plowing and the streets were abandoned to the storm.

I made the first blemish on our street by going out at dusk for a walk. The light was the color of peaches, as if the sky were saturated with juice. The clinging snow draped every bush with a lacy cloak. Even fire hydrants and cars looked rakish in their gleaming mantles. I peeled back my parka hood to uncover my ears, and heard only the muffled crunching of my boots. Now and again a siren wailed, a limb creaked, or wind sizzled through the needles of a pine, but otherwise the city was eerily silent, as though following an evacuation. In an hour I met only three other walkers, each one huddled and aloof. The weight of snow snapped branches and toppled trees onto power lines, leaving our neighborhood without electricity. As I shuffled past the dark houses, beneath unlit street lamps, through blocks where nothing moved except the wind, my mood swung from elation toward dismay. The snow began to seem a frozen burden, like a premonition of glaciers, bearing down from the heedless, peach-colored sky. The world had been radiantly simplified, but at the price of smothering our handiwork and maiming trees and driving warm-blooded creatures into hiding.

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The Mystique of Money

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Anyone who pays attention to the state of the planet realizes that all natural systems on which human life depends are deteriorating, and they are doing so largely because of human actions. By natural systems I mean the topsoil, forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, oceans, atmosphere, the host of other species, and the cycles that bind them together into a living whole. By human life I mean not merely the survival of our species, although in the long run that will surely be in question; rather I mean the quality of our existence, the prospects for adequate food, shelter, work, education, health care, conviviality, intellectual endeavor, and spiritual growth for our kind far into the future.

So the crucial question is, Why? Why are those of us in the richest countries acting in such a way, individually and collectively, as to undermine the conditions on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generations depend? And why are we so intent on coaxing or coercing the poorer countries to follow our example? There are many possible answers, of course. It may be that on average we humans are too short-sighted and dim-witted to take stock of our situation and change our behavior. It may be that evolution has ill-fitted us to restrain our appetites. It may be that selfish genes and tribal instincts prompt us to define our interests too narrowly, excluding regard for people whom we perceive as different from ourselves, not to mention other species and unborn generations. It may be that the otherworldly religion preached so fervently across our land has convinced many believers that Earth, indeed the whole universe, is merely a backdrop for the drama of human salvation, destined to evaporate once the rapture comes. It may be that we have been so stupefied by consumerism and around-the-clock entertainment that we have lost the ability to think clearly and take sensible actions. It may be that global corporations have achieved such a stranglehold over the mass media and the political system as to thwart all efforts at reforming our way of life. It may be that the logic of capitalism, based on perpetual growth, is incompatible with a finite planet. It may be that preachers, pundits, pitchmen, and politicians have deluded us into thinking that financial wealth represents real wealth.

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Seven: The Many Faces of Divination

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Divining is as old as humanity. The hunters developed it as a ritual to discover the location of game, a matter of vital importance to them. As other types of societies arose, divination was adapted to the changing circumstances, but it continued to serve important societal goals. It is regrettable that in the Western world divination has been decried as irrational, antirational, or a fraud perpetrated on the ignorant and the superstitious, because divination is not that at all. It is soothsaying, that is, revealing the truth. What the diviner does is uncover to his clients some hidden truth about themselves, or about what is going on around them. There are certainly situations in everyone’s life where such insights could be of overriding importance. This is why within and outside the Western orbit, divining continues to play an important role, exposing that which is hidden, soothing anxiety, and aiding in decision making.

In Western-type societies, ours among them, quasi-mechanical means such as tarot cards are frequently employed for “fortunetelling.” However, the repository of much of divinatory knowledge is the alternate reality, and access to that treasure trove can best be gained in trance, and in the appropriate posture.

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