Calling Up Stories From Our Bones

A couple of weekends ago I joined something very special: A Council of All Beings, a communal ritual first created by Joanna Macy and John Seed, where, in our case, about 15 people gathered to call up a species that spoke to them and personify that being and express their concerns. The whole weekend was powerful, from the actual council1 to the warm-up exercises, to the making of our masks. But perhaps most powerful was simply singing by the campfire, and in the council circle, and before and after meals. An amount of singing I admit I generally find difficult! But it was the simplicity and the power of the songs that made them work.2

Eastern White Pine trees (the being I represented) aren’t known for taking photographs, so here instead is a DALL-E imagining of a Council of All Beings.

Some were funny, like Squirrel Nation3, others, wonderful meditative reminders, like this one by Wendy Lu Perkins to slow down and stop rushing:

What am I rushing to – oh? What am I rushing for?
What am I rushing to – oh? What am I rushing for?
Slow down, slow down, & savor
Slow down, slow down, & savor.

But the one that moved me most was a song called Bloodlines, by Ahlay Blakely.

There are songs singing in my bones
I can barely hear the notes
They are older than I know
They sound like
The ones I’ve not brought home yet
The ones I’ve not yet named
The ones I’ve pushed away
How can I be whole until all of you
All of you I have claimed?
Why deny this lineage
It’s why I am alive. 

Here’s one more. Sillier, but I love that the rabbit is holding a talking stick. And if you’re wondering how the whale got onto the tree stump, then ask yourself how she got to the forest in the first place. (DALL-E)

Gaian Wisdom is in our bones

This song speaks to the Gaian in me—the Earth-connected being that has been suppressed by living in ‘civilization’ (particularly the consumer society that has shifted our attention away from nature and to the human-centric stuff and entertainment that makes up 99% of our lives). This has led us to forget how to live with the land, to instinctively heal Gaia with our every action4 rather than draining, draining, draining Gi. That’s certainly a feeling I get every time I join an Earth Skills gathering, where I observe and learn from people with ancient skills, where I live more lightly,5 where the trappings of daily consumer living fall away and patterns, needs, and expectations simplify.

But the song speaks to me in another way. These past four years of trying to call up what it means to be a Gaian (without simply appropriating other cultural lineages) has been joyful, and has at some level been drawing up songs that have been already in my bones. Even what I thought were new ideas often turn out to be well worn. I was proud of the idea of fasting with the moon cycle—drawing our eyes and rhythms back in sync with the forgotten heavenly body that orbits Gaia every month. Of course, someone quickly told me that some Buddhists do moon fasting (as I imagine other cultures do too—but why wouldn’t they, considering it’s the perfect monthly reminder beacon!?).

And then a few weeks back, after writing a reflection on the power of the number four, Krista Hiser pointed out that four is “the sacred number in Hawaiian ‘aina-based spirituality.” And Bob Engelman shared a photo of the New Mexico flag, made up of the sun symbol from the Zia Pueblo people, which incorporates their sacred concept of “four fours:” the four seasons, the four directions, the four parts of the day (morning, noon, evening, night), and the four ages of the human being (childhood, youth, adulthood, old age). Almost the identical focus of what I drew from my bones!6

A beautiful depiction of the four fours, with the sacred sun shining out from the center. (Image from New Mexico State website)

What this makes clear is that humans are trying to distill meaning from the systems they’re part of—the Earth, the lands and food webs they inhabit, their social orders, their bodies. We draw from nature, from lived experience, from ancestral practices—of course. And there’s nothing wrong with that—if anything, it’s completely natural, our very nature!

My efforts these past years have been to weave together some practices that bring us back to a deeper connection with and reverence for the living Earth. And my hope is that—like an irritant in an oyster—they coalesce into a pearl over time, after years of playing with these, working them, refining them, adding to them. Perhaps instead they’ll be expelled, or simply digested, and that’s okay too, as I’ve had the chance, as have others who have joined me these past years (and special thanks to all who have), to draw stories from our bones, and to sing them together.

Will Gaian practices coalesce into pearls of wisdom or be dissolved by the passage of time? (Image from Hannes Grobe/AWI via Wikipedia)


1) Species from around the world joined: a blue whale, coral, a marine otter, muskox, cottontail rabbit, a moth, a flower and bee, and several trees. I was the Eastern White Pine. These species had a great sharing of minds, though whether humans are redeemable remained an open question at the end of the council!

2) Special thanks to all those who made this weekend possible as well as our songkeeper, whose presence and beautiful voice made singing easy.

3) First lines: “There’s a squirrel inside my head; He’s demanding to be fed; he is looking for his food; in my ever-changing moods.” (The song’s second verse explores ways to “bring peace to squirrel nation.”)

4) Deepening soil, planting trees, culling older animals, spreading ranges of different plants. Much of ancient peoples’ efforts improved Gaia’s wellbeing rather than undermined it. That’s something to aspire to.

5) If I ignore my plastic umbilical cord of tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cooler, and so on. But even then, that’s surely less than sustaining a whole house worth of stuff, heating, hot water, and so on.

6) Though I could easily see a five-based system as well, depending on location and other cultural aspects. A fifth element: void (as came up at the council); a fifth rite of passage: birth, adulthood, union, elderhood (symbolized by menopause for women) and death are a couple of examples. The sacred number surely depends on regional and cultural variability and what patterns one initially draws from one’s bones.

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3 Responses

  1. Rolande Marie Duprey

    Thank you for this eloquent perspective, especially ” practices that bring us back to a deeper connection with and reverence for the living Earth.” — I, too, am developing these…

  2. V. Amarnath

    In Indian tradition, there are five elements – soil (earth), fire, water, wind (air) and sky (space).

    • Erik Assadourian

      Thanks for sharing that! Five, even six (with the infinitely connectable hexagon) could easily be a central framing number as well! We seek out patterns–a trait of all living beings, and especially humans!

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