This month marks a substantial change from the material you're accustomed to receiving from me. I'm podcasting my second year of archives, and the dispatches are already available at folkloreandfiction.com, so there's no sense shipping them out to you as newsletters. Instead, I'm introducing a new newsletter format that combines my Folklore & Fiction work with whatever insights I happen to have on folklore, storytelling, and spirituality along with any news I might have about my own career. Hope you like the change.
Folklore & Fiction
The January 2020 Folklore & Fiction dispatch has been recorded as a podcast, and you can both read it and listen to it here. In this edition, I'm introducing rites of passage with help from scholars Arnold van Gennep, Alan Dundes, and others, discussing rites of passage in fiction, and providing you with storytelling insights related to the topic.
Re-enchantment is Resistance
I found the phrase "re-enchantment is resistance" on the Twitter feed of author David Southwell (@cultauthor), who also writes that "The England that never was is more powerful than the England that has come and gone." As someone who makes irregular pilgrimages to Glastonbury in England and Ásbyrgi Canyon in Iceland, I'm intimately familiar with the split between body and soul that permits me to walk in the enchanted places I love without coming to inhabit the day-to-day realities of the spaces those places inhabit. I've listened to people who do inhabit both space and place though, and they weave the sacred and the mundane together in conversations about shopkeeping in Glastonbury and protecting the fragile flora growing in Ásbyrgi.
Chinese-American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan points out that when we imagine what lies beyond the visible in the landscape, we engage in the process of constructing mythical geographies.1 This calls to mind Foucault's discussion of utopias, which are sites with no real place.2 I live in one of the most beautiful spaces in North America; Cape Breton Island, and there are times when the sunlight reflects on the bay or storm clouds roll over the mountain that I am almost somewhere else, an ineffable place where anything might happen. It's the same for me in Glastonbury and Ásbyrgi Canyon, though the particulars of each mythical geography, each utopia are different from one to the next.
What role, I wonder, do these landscapes of the soul have in our struggle to protect the Earth and its beings against the ravages of the climate crisis? Can we imagine our way to a better world? Many of my fellow Pagans practice in sacred groves where the actual trees and mosses and stones co-exist with an enchanted place they co-create in ceremony. Some of these same Pagans (me among them) are homesteaders and environmental activists who weave a wholly modern commitment to the Earth into their wholly enchanted conceptualization of sacred place. In our re-enchantment of the Earth, we resist the wounding of Her.
Michigan Urban Farming Initiative
As a writer and teacher of writing, I think we are called to create fictional geographies, utopias, or landscapes of the soul for our readers to inhabit. This means learning how to find them for ourselves, in spaces of beauty like the one I live in and also in wounded spaces that need our imaginations, our re-enchantment, our hands, our resistance. One of the most hopeful examples of this in my lived experience can be found in downtown Detroit, a place I visited often as a djembe player and drum circle enthusiast in the late 2000s. Back when I was there, a new urban gardening movement was gaining momentum as it reclaimed the abandoned and crumbling infrastructure of the city for food. Fifteen years later, downtown Detroit is an agrihood working toward food sovereignty and an example of what can happen when people imagine a healed place out of a wounded one.
What mythical geographies arise out of your own sacred spaces, what utopias exist only in your imagination, and how can you transform that enchantment into re-enchantment that resists? These are my thoughts this month.
Dispatches from the Word Mines
My podcast radio play "The Belt and the Necklace" is out now as part of The Other Path series. I hope you'll give it a listen. Here's the link.
That's all until next month. Blessings from my house to yours,
Folklore & Fiction Facebook Group
Are you a storyteller with an interest in folklore? If so, the Folklore & Fiction Facebook group might interest you.