It is absolutely fair to wonder why we need to rewild divination. Whether it’s divine inspiration or ridiculous superstition, whether you’re for it or against, it would seem a subject not open to evolution: it is what it is, right? So let me explain why it’s not only necessary to rewild divination but also why the effort is urgently overdue.
Let me begin by saying that a rewilded divination would be one which has no particular use for abstract symbols – you could have astrological charts, tarot cards, runes, whatever, if you wanted but these would no longer stand alone. This is because abstract symbols arose with civilisation and that is where they have their natural home. As cultural products, they speak its language and repeat its stories thereby entraining us to them. In contrast, a rewilded divinatory system offers our culture a critique. Through contrast, it shows another way. Most especially, it is necessarily visceral, participatory and observational. Let me show you why all this matters by, first, comparing two epochs running alongside each other, sometimes parallel, sometimes disagreeing and deviating madly. They are the astrological Age of Aquarius and the geological Anthropocene.
Has the Age of Aquarius dawned?
First, the Age of Aquarius is the fabled age when, as it says in the song by 5th Dimension, “the moon is in the Seventh House/And Jupiter aligns with Mars/Then peace will guide the planets/And love will steer the stars/This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…”
It is one of the twelve astrological ages (because there are twelve zodiacal signs in western astrology) through which the world cycles. These ages are an astrological expression for an astronomical phenomenon. In other words, each age is a Platonic month lasting something in the region of 2150 years and is a twelfth of the Platonic or Great Year which lasts a full 26,000 years while the earth rotates gyroscopically through one spin on its axis. Then the cycle repeats. As the earth’s axis tilts through the spin, our view of the starry backdrop reverses through the constellations so that the fixed stars as a whole gradually shift their position in relation to the annually determined locations of the sun. Thus, if we are in the Age of Aquarius, when it comes to the vernal equinox and the sun enters Aries, Aquarian stars form the backdrop.
There’s no consensus on whether we’ve reached the Aquarian Age and calculated start-dates range from 1447CE to somewhere as late as 3597CE. But the idea is that each age describes the nature of the major themes in the development of human culture, society and politics (note well that the axis of the world turns on the evolution of our civilisation!). Therefore, the expectation is that, in the Aquarian Age, Aquarian themes begin to dominate the bigger picture as we transition into it. These, according to new age exponents, involve the expansion of human consciousness as humanity takes control of the Earth and our own destiny in the process of becoming the true sons of man. Traditional astrologers tend to take a more negative view because Aquarius is ruled by those malefics old and new, Saturn and Uranus. But, either way, Aquarius’ qualities are airy, human and masculine, diurnal, semi-barren, hot, moist and sanguine, fixed and rational. Without new age spin, it would clearly be foolish to prophesy that life in the Aquarian will coincide with humanity’s apotheosis. It would be far safer to predict that we will become increasingly preoccupied with ourselves.
OK, what about the Anthropocene?
…And geologists proposing the geological epoch, the Anthropocene, would agree in spirit with the pessimistic view of the Aquarian. The Anthropocene begins when human activities started to have such a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystems that these begin to show up in various geological records, and this focus on us and our activities makes it like its astrological counterpart. But, in contrast, it is absolutely agreed that we are already in the thick of it although it’s not agreed when we got here.
For instance, some make the argument that it began with the mass extinctions of the mega-fauna and the advent of agriculture something like 10,000 years ago. Some suggest the Industrial Revolution. Still others propose the 1950s and the accompanying Great Acceleration. But the important dissimilarity between the Aquarian Age and the Anthropocene is that while, with the former, the tendency is to predict good things for humanity’s future, it is only possible to feel negative about what the Anthropocene says for our forward-planning. It must also be said that the optimism that awaits the Aquarian goes well beyond new age and human potential wishful thinking. It is found in all our dominant institutions – religion, politics, education, the economic markets, medicine, so on and so on. This is because it comes right down to the way we each view ourselves. In other words, confidence in humanity’s ability to prevail against the odds is a cultural foundation stone.
Is it true that we’re the son of man?
So who’s getting it wrong? Are the signs of climactic and cultural distress false? Or is there something wrong with the myth of exceptionality that we’ve been telling ourselves?
Well, in the words of Ishmael:
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.
…More than that, Ishmael! The story allows us to step blithely over the body of our bleeding foe, as we do, and it allows us to play out the Tragedy of the Commons on our way to our own evolutionary suicide.
Our story of exceptionality began to take shape with the advent of agriculture somewhere in the region of 10,000 years ago. The Dinka people of the Sudan have a story about the disobedience of the first woman, Abuk, who planting two extra millet seeds instead of the one that God allowed. He left in disgust and subsequently we have taken on the burden of producing our own living. In that effort, over the millennia, our control over our lives has increased exponentially and this has, understandably, had an inflationary effect on our collective psyche. For one thing, it has allowed the idea of hierarchy to take a hold – life flows from the top down, from heaven to earth, mind to matter, king to subject, land-owner to worker, master to slave, man to woman, rich to poor, civilised to wild.
And this is a big problem because, while many humans over the ages may have done very well out of this view of earthly-organisation, countless more have not. This is not to mention the ecological damage it has done. And this is all because it is a model that grossly contravenes natural conversational etiquette and is a cultural misinterpretation of natural dominating forces which might govern in some respects but are subordinate in others.
The thing is, hierarchies tend to dampen voices from the lower levels while amplifying those from higher levels But, actually, a healthy environment requires bidirectional flow between all things, a fact well understood by our foraging ancestors and those few hunter/gatherer societies that remain. They understood and understand that the environment, including heaven and earth, is conversational and they knew and know that everyone must make an appropriate contribution to the conversation, be they animal, vegetable or mineral, man, woman or child. Meanwhile, our culture has made a habit of shutting up and dismissing dissenting voices. These are seen as having little to contribute and so it becomes true because, the more we homogenize difference and the more we kill and cull wild flauna and flora, the more monotone our environment becomes. Eventually, the idea of conversation with it becomes utterly absurd…And here we are, where we have turned away from the wild things in and around us and are talking to metaphysical symbols, such as a distant god, who addresses our spirit, not our materiality.
So hierarchy is one big problem with our story. Another is that we reckon on having immortal souls which are exempt from death. The issue with this is twofold. First it allows us to imagine ourselves singular points of focus when we are not. In fact, even as individuals, we are each whole universes – our bodies are self-regulating systems, holons we might call them, providing the context for trillions of autonomous cells, some of which are us, most of which are not, but which, through their organisation, give rise to our cohesive sense of self. In other words, the individuality that so defines our culture is another myth. Taking me as an example, I have agency and some control over my constituent parts but, although I seem to transcend these, I don’t rule them – I need to cooperate with them and vice versa. So I am a self-organising system, living amongst trillions of other such systems like you, and I am held within and subordinated to countless other larger systems. I could, if I liked, call these macrocosmic systems the gods; I could call the one almost immediately above – the earth – Gaia. I’ll do that from now on. But, just as I require my subordinate parts, so these ‘gods’ require me – in part, they take their life from me and, in return, I need them. All these systems – inside, outside, smaller than us, greater than us – require each other. In other words, we are anything but singular points of focus.
Second, our story of immortality means we have quite literally made a religion of ignoring and suppressing our earthiness since way back before Plato. “We are a plant not of an earthly but of a heavenly growth…” he says in his Timaeus. He also asserts that our kindred are not to be found here on earth but in heaven. This is in direct disagreement with the way hunter/gatherer societies feel towards their surroundings. To them these are formed entirely of kin – animal, vegetable and mineral: it is all family. It is true that there is usually no hope for redemption and eternal life in such societies. But that’s a problem only for those who invest in such ideas and they come, in any case, with the cost that we must ignore the signals arising from our physicality, and from the material world around us. This is because our myth of immortality requires that these signals are fallacious and the source of faithlessness and despair. So we have kept the faith and believed hard in god, or some self-similar secular symbol… until, again, we are here, in a place where the environment is a dead thing or, at least, not as alive as we are or it’s a dangerous thing dragging us down.
We don’t talk anymore…
So here we are…our culture is crumbling under the weight of enormous inequality, our relationship with the environment is broken down and none of us are talking anymore because we’ve argued our way out of all inconvenient systems. And now we ought to be worried at last because, despite what we’ve been telling ourselves for millennia, we are waking up to the fact that we are actually embedded in Gaia’s system. So the issue now is, what to do, and how to do an impossible thing – which is, according to our myth, remain human and prevail against the odds.
Well, the plain fact is that we can’t. That’s what the natural signs say and, if we read the sign Aquarius in conjunction with those and with a more jaundiced eye, that says it too. Well, to add a little naunce, what these really seem to say between them is that, although the individual will struggle, our species ought actually to survive the next 2000 years – albeit by a margin. But the survivors will be those sufficiently privileged to live in high up places away from encroaching waters. These will be ideologues who will hold onto their ideologies because their ivory towers will protect them. The masses will lose their livings and suffer the way they have always suffered.
Rewilding as relationship counselling
So what then? Well, it depends: if we don’t care about our personal and collective health, then we can just carry on as we are – it’s all the same, we’re going to die anyway. But, if we do care and suffering matters even when the disease is terminal, then we need to change some things – starting with our story, because this gets in the way of even limited health.
First off, we must accept and embrace our profound materiality. Secondly, we must return as so many prodigal offspring to Gaia’s system. At present, as we continue to buck this, we are a blockage in the bidirectional flow of information between all things. This defines us as a state of disease or, in global terms, pathogenic agents which have pushed our host to the point of collapse. In societal terms, the blockage lies in the fact of huge inequality which threatens our social stability. In individual terms, without bidirectional information flow between us and our own subsidiary parts, we become increasingly prone to sickness and mental distress. This is where divination in its purest form can help us and to understand it we have to observe the behaviour of all foraging individuals, human or animal, who live out their lives in untamed environments whilst sustained by wild food resources.
We are all astrologers at heart (and in the hypothalamus…)
All of these rely on a bidirectional flow of information but, crucially, they are not merely observing the flow but are part of the conversation. For instance, the Australian Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people watch for the annual appearance of the celestial running emu. It appears just after sunset in April and May as the Milky Way stretched at its fullest extent across southern skies. It appearance coincides with the behaviour of earthly laying female emus who are chasing their males about at this time in what is mating season. Therefore the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi know they can search out emu eggs. Through June and July the skies shift and now the celestial emu takes the form of a male sitting on a nest which means the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi expect to find eggs on nests. Thus, as the signs evolve and coincide, so the people change their strategies in accord.
But, if astrology is the practice of taking meaning from the skies, countless animals, insects and plants are astrologers too. For instance, indigo buntings use Betelgeuse as a navigational star. They have it behind them as they fly south in the autumn and ahead as they return in the spring. Then there is the joint-pine (Ephedra Gnetales) and the insects that pollinate it. These navigate using the reflection of July’s Thunder Moon in the shrub’s pollination drops which are sweet and highly nutritious and available at that full moon. Pollination happens as the insects feed and, so though co-evolution and mutualistic ecological behaviour, plant and insect have reason to rely on each other and the moon. The conversation runs as a triangle between plants and animals and the skies, and as a back and forward thing between plants and animals. The conversation is as nuanced as the ecology is diverse, talking about when to germinate, when to grow, when to protect against over-cropping, when to let down defences, when to flower, what to eat, what to avoid and so on. And this conversation is in colour and vibration and sweet scent and foul odour and honeyed bribes and so on…
And this pure-form divination is even in us modern urbanised humans although we might deny it. Our solar- and lunar-related rhythms include circadian rhythms which are endogenous oscillations over 24 hours. We will menstruate in time to the lunar cycle if phases of the moon are not obscured by artificial light. We have gene oscillations which are often photoperiodic which means they are related to the relative lengths of lightness and darkness. Last, we have seasonality. These life-rhythms do function without the entrainment to the sun and the moon. Indeed, we can be entrained to different light sources – like LED light from computer screens – but from that arises a kind of arrhythmia which leads eventually to the lifestyle diseases of the modern world – cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, metabolic syndrome and so on. So, not only do we have the interior apparatus for pure-form, rewilded divination, we also need to pay it attention for the good of our own health, and the health of the environment. Holistic health is rewilded divination. It is observing our interior environments by having an eye to the outside natural world and vice versa.
So that’s it, but in a nutshell, for reasons which we don’t fully understand, our ancestors mostly abandoned foraging and, with it, pure-form divination many thousands of years ago when we entered the mooted Anthropocene and took to agriculture wholesale. Around this time, the inflationary process of excess food production began to result in the unlikely twins, increasing wealth and increasing poverty. As we abandoned nature for culture, pure-form divination for politics, religion and turf wars, we lost touch with our material side and even began to disdain it with the result that we have often lost our health collectively and individually, then and now. Certain things we can’t undo. We can’t undo the damage we have wrought on the climate, and it’s hard to see how the huge wrongs of social and ecological inequality can ever be put right. But we can ameliorate a great deal by re-establishing a reflexive relationship with our interior and exterior environments in order to hear again what the interior has to say about the exterior and vice versa. This is rewilded divination and why we need it.