Tree and Well
Over the millennia human imagination in many cultures has pictured a cosmic tree growing from a sacred well. A cylinder-seal from the Indus Valley (dated around 2200 BC) represents the adoration of the Goddess who indwells the Tree. Kneeling before Her is the shaman in horned attire, the ancestral Hunter who represents one aspect of the primordial religious orientation of the human species: awe in the presence of the animating powers of Sacred Nature. The conical buds at the ends of the limbs of the Sacred Tree are notably mushroom-like. The flattened circle at the root of the Tree represents the Well.
Ascent and Descent
It was said that to drink from this well would give one knowledge of the beginnings and origins of things of humans, of life, of the worlds... In German translations, the term used to describe Mimirs well is marchenreich, filled with stories a clue that to drink from the well was an experience that involved both visioning and storytelling. Stories tell us about our past, and visions tell us about our future. To drink from Mimirs well, then, is to enter into a state of consciousness of recollection, where we can remember our evolutionary origins, our relatedness to the realms of animals and plants, and our primordial nature as children of Earth. (Green Psychology, p. 155-6)
The Metahistory logo shows a well filled with stories and the language- tree that grows from it represents the many-branched (multi-cultural, multi-racial) expression of those stories in verbal and written form.
Metahistory is an
experience that involves both visioning and storytelling,
and something more as well. Our capacity to be authentic, true-speaking
channels of the wisdom endowed in our species is hampered by
conditioning. For modern humanity, communion with Sacred Nature (the Goddess
in the Tree) has been overwritten by socialization: that is,
by education, by racial-political conditioning and, most
all, by centuries of religious indoctrination. Encumbered by
our cultural habits of thought and judgment, we cannot access
wellspring of ancestral memory. Our conditioning blocks
our capacity to draw upon the innermost resources of
our own species-specific biogenetic
matrix. Unable to realize the full benefit of our own intelligence,
we are reduced to following a set of behaviors that do not reflect
the true promise of human sapience.
We all have cultural, learned behavior systems that have become embedded in our subconscious. These systems act as filters for the way we see the world. They affect our behaviors, our speech patterns and gestures, the words we use, and also the way we gather our thinking. We have to find ways to challenge that continuously.
Jeanette Armstrong, Okanagan author, artist and bioregional activist,
with Derrick Jensen (Listening to the Land, p. 297ff.) She
explains that her indigenous group, the Okanagan of British Columbia,
long-standing tradition called Enowkin. This involves a process of conflict resolution
in which all parties agree to put their views in question. To be
a practitioner of Enowkin process, Jeanette Armstrong says, is
to constantly school myself in deconstruction of what I believe and
perceive to be the way things are, to continuously break down in my
I believe, and continuously add to my knowledge and understanding.
by which we are linked to all other species, to the Earth and
the cosmos at large, dwells in poetic-visionary imagination,
takes the self-effacement of the conditioned mind to release
our imaginative powers. True knowledge is earned, through disciplined
learning; it is not given away (Metzner, p. 155). Nordic
myth says that when Odin came to the Well of Mimir, he was confronted
with a test by its guardian. The giant demanded an act of surrender
before allowing Odin to drink at the Well. To gain illumination
by mystic memory, Odin must surrender one of his eyes. Hence
this shaman became known as the One-Eyed Seer.
The course of human experience over
the last 6000 years has seen a steady decline in human capacity
the poetic-visionary resources represented by Tree and Well.
For reasons that are eminently difficult to understand, the
primordial wisdom preserved in bioregionally oriented shamanic
has degenerated, or been repressed. In its stead there has
arisen another religious orientation, a totalitarian and dogmatic
of beliefs represented mainly in the doctrines of the Abrahamic
creeds, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The belief-systems that currently
the world are believed to originate from male sky gods who
sanction territorial aggression, genocide, control by violence
of violence, and wholesale destruction of the natural habitat.
By some accounts, the religious ideology that sanctions such
represents a pathological deviation for our species—quite
literally, a drift into insanity.
We have no reason to believe that in all time life has been based on the dominance of the weaker by the stronger, nor do we have any evidence that people have always lived in the defensive state of being that characterizes modern life. . Within a group in which warrior males are coming to the fore and dominating the tribe or village, everyone in the village will begin to develop a sort of self that is different from that of earlier epochs, a self that reflects the defenses of the society itself configures . . .
Even today thats what we see in situations where abuse communicates itself from one generation to the next. Over and over again we see the causing of pain destructiveness and abuse flowing out of a prior woundedness . . . Because the people who embody the defensive persona will dominate these societies, this kind of self-damaging and community-destroying and ecology-killing defensiveness tends to proliferate cancerously. (Interview with Derrick Jensen, op.cit., p. 273-4.)
If modern society on the global scale is driven by a system of domination rooted in an original abuse, a prior woundedness, then it would be most enlightening to know how that wounding occurred. Metahistory explores this daunting question from many angles.
In the Indus Valley, in Iceland, and in
many other places around the world, the shaman was the central
figure in the story of how ancestral wisdom is continually accessed
(descent into the Well) and renewed (ascent to cosmic consciousness,
expressed in the language of poetic-visionary discourse: the sacerd Tree). But that
is not all there is to the shamans tale. A secondary
and no less significant theme in shamanic lore concerns the
of the seer. Could this event in some way be connected with
the original wound (not original sin) to which Katherine Keller
others have pointed?
Clearly, the primal wounding of the shaman is an event of central concern to the fate of the human species, a fate we attempt to fathom in this site. The shift from our species original shamanic religious orientation to the domination of totalitarian belief-systems has to be traced from a number of different directions.
Whatever happened to our visionary quest as a species that somehow affected a terrible shift in the course of human experience, can only be known by recovering the true story to describe that event. Theologian and ecophilosopher Thomas Berry insisted that we are living in a crucial moment of human evolution when it is necessary to re-invent the human at the species level. (Cited in Metzner, ibid.) Such an act of re-invention is only possible by accessing the resources of original vision represented by Tree and Well.
Until less than a century ago, the Indus Valley Goddess in the
Tree was still a living image, embodied and enacted. Visionary
powers were cultivated in bioregionally preserved shamanic practices
in various native-mind cultures around the world. The machi,
the shaman of the Mapuche region of Chile stands entranced in the
sacred tree beating her ceremonial drum. Here is the the Indus
Valley Goddess reflected in human form. (Photo in Halifax, p. 85)
This snippet of anthropological lore is evidence of a millennial continuity that now at risk of being ruptured in a final, devastating snap. Shamanic traditions are
dying out all over the world. In the 21st century we are seeing
the willful decimation of the small handful of remaining representatives
of this continuity.
In both its deconstructive and its imaginative features, Metahistory emphasizes the importance of story in the crucial reorientation of humanity toward a sane and sustainable way of life. As space is to place, time is to story. (Metzner, p. 183ff.) We are living stories in a double sense: we are living out (i.e., enacting) stories, and we are stories that live. All our individual stories are interwoven with the all-encompassing story of the human species, but we have lost the plot-thread of that supreme adventure tale. Metahistory is an approach, a preparation to recovering the thread.
Whatever the form of the original vision we seek, it must reveal the mystery of the wounding of the shaman, the single event that has so disoriented our species that we risk losing our way entirely. The discovery of the wounding is the way to overcome the pattern of abuse and domination that is now seen to propagate itself in the waves of pain spreading from the wound. That is, to heal the dominant parthology of our species.
Chickasaw poet and novelist Linda Hogan has said that our renewal often flows from loss, pain, ashes. We are like giant redwood trees, with new life springing from our fallen selves. (Interview with Derrick Jensen, op.cit., p. 122ff) These words express the grief that grounds the redemptive process of species-wide healing. Tree and Well together represent the power of language as instrumental to our primordial knowing, the sapience that makes us human. Linda Hogans comment on language might well stand as the credo for metahistory:
JLL: 3 Sept 2002. Revised 8 August 2007