An Excerpt from ‘Gods-Speaking’
I have a friend who picks trash at his neighbourhood riverside more than once a week all summer and has for years. My Grove also picks trash, but we pick numerous places once a summer and the quality of trash differs with these two types of offerings.
First pick of any place is a lot of trash and some of it very odd--- the spring and fall ‘Clean Up the Capital' community events have a space on the trash report the volunteers fill out for ‘weirdest'. But once you've picked up ‘first trash' or ‘first trash of the season' then it's mostly just visitors' litter--- water bottles, beer cans, cigarette packs, snack wrappers and bags, occasional underwear..... which is disheartening, of course, but doesn't make you wonder what went on. ‘Bush Parties' is the local name for it.
My Grove mostly picks parks, so we get the occasional passer-by thanking us and occasionally sideways looks, nothing more. My friend's venue isn't really a park. There are some mowed stretches above the river with the bike trails and their acolytes.... the more apparatus strapped on and outrageous specialized clothing worn, the more those people are not present. If they have more than three pieces of electronica they could be on Mars for all they are aware of their surroundings. The other long stretches of the riverside are just left. It's accessible by walking and has paths but that's all.
In the summer, there is a significant population of homeless campers in these stretches. Not camps but individuals, almost all men. My friend doesn't quite look homeless but he's not wearing spandex and a heart-rate monitor either, and he always looks right at people and says hello when he trashes past them. So he often gets in rambling discursive conversations (which he sees as a part of the offering) with the campers and then tells me about them afterwards if he wants an interpretative opinion.
For example, one summer his section of riverside had a disproportionate number of seagull carcasses, many troublingly dismembered-looking. He has a strong bond with Seagull Spirit:
It bothered him, and then he came back from a trash run with a story:
One of the presumed homeless campers had identified him as picking trash (as opposed to collecting empties for return to the beer store), praised his efforts, and embarked on an explanation of how they had a connection, each to each, because while my friend was picking trash on this plane he (‘Native' is how he identified himself) was in connection with Aboriginal Gods and was cleansing the river on a spiritual plane, as instructed by the Voices he heard. Then he trailed off into a soliloquy about how geese are the best with ducks in a close second place but seagulls are just evil and crows not much better seemingly based on their diets as either vegetarians or scavengers (although, really....bugs!) but with a lot of repetition.
In my friend's somewhat simplistic but workable religion, he is a foot-soldier for Manannán macLir (and so an enlisted man) whereas I am the troop chaplain (and so an officer), meaning that he turned the problem over to me:
“Do you think he is shooting gulls with a bb-gun and ripping them apart?"
“Well, that certainly could be."
“Then we must DO something about it! You must do....... Magic."
“We will have to address the Great Gods."
We circle around the problem, giving it a good look from all sides: on the one hand the police should and do (more than they used to) take animal cruelty seriously but we don't want the homeless campers rousted either; as well, neither of us wants to physically challenge someone who is clearly not strongly seated in our reality. On the gripping hand, while I believe that there are non-human Beings who are interested in destruction and either wholly do not care about or actively engage in the ill-use of Their followers and I believe as well that the ‘good' Gods (those interested in creation and rescue) are more powerful than the ‘bad' Gods; I do not think that engineering a throw-down between Homeless Man's Gods and mine is appropriate nor part of my responsibility.
I do not tell the Gods what I want Them to do nor assume that I have anywhere close to a handle on a complete sense of what is ‘best'. I know what I want to have happen but I have a very limited belief in favour-asking from the Gods--- and just in case you-the-reader are thinking about atheists in foxholes let me testify that I stood in a neo-natal ICU in front of a baby who's prognosis was death (he's now 32, thanks) and put ourselves in the hands of the Gods. I believe that the Gods can know whatever They wish to including my opinion and desired outcome; that They actually know considerably more than I about whatever situation; and that They are not constrained nor even much influenced by my wishes.
Why then ask? Humans are that animal who cannot speak to the Gods reflexively, without exertion, as the other animals do and the Gods wish it to be so. So when I make the effort to communicate on a specific topic it allows a connection to be made and a different level of interaction to ensue. This is the source of those folkloric axioms -- ‘Vampires can only cross thresholds if invited', ‘Angels can't use people as sock-puppets', 'only following a preemptive act can the F...ies mess with your physicality'--- that keep the worlds somewhat separated. So when I make that connection something then happens, perhaps different from what might have otherwise happened. I'm good with that.
So myself and the trash-picking soldier work out what to do....
He spoke to the parks commission and the police and they declined to take any action in the absence of anything but incoherent ramblings but cautioned against vigilantism (thankyouverymuch). So I work up a petition to the Great Gods and hoick it into the river with a ceremony.
We talk about what I/we do (I do the making, as you can see he does the hoicking). I love discussion, I find it clarifies the ideas and points out errors in logic—it’s like the moment that you read the poem you’re working on out loud and suddenly the flaws leap out into your ear.
“But don't we talk to the Gods every time we go to the shore?"
“We talk to the River Spirit and the Goddess of the Urban Animals, that's not such an undertaking. At this level, we have to talk to your dedicated God, Manannán mac Lir, and also The Great and Terrible Queen about the topic. Addressing the Great Gods is a different undertaking...."
The Spirit of My Yard and I work together to take care of the Tiny Urban Farm; the yard and I join together with all the other yard-spirits, the slightly feral Park Spirits, the pack of coyotes in the Agricultural Canada wood lot, the other people who (knowing or unknowing) live here, and the various animals domestic and wild, under the attention of Spirit of the Watershed (Who has politely joined our Grove in acknowledgement of our on-going concern and garbage-toting); the Spirit of the City in partnership with the Ottawa River Spirit care for the region......
and so on up through the Great Mother Earth, the Solar System Deity, and the Beings Who Put the Stars in Place (Who, I suspect, care about as much about us as we do about pond scum).
If I don't ‘believe' in asking for favours, what do I and other believers get from our Gods?
Manannán Mac Lir's soldier gets tangible rewards; some years ago he had a catastrophic and disabling brain-storm and gradually, along with the picked-up trash, the Gods have been giving him back his marbles.
Apart from suggestions on what I should be doing, the Gods show me care.... multitudes of times the worst doesn't happen. There's the time I was protected from the hurtling pumpkin, avoided the gunman who ran in the other direction--- but those are other stories.
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).