Replenishing Oral Culture
The Alliance for Wild Ethics is engaged in the ongoing and many-faceted work of rejuvenating oral culture – the culture of face-to-face and face-to-place storytelling.* We excavate stories that live in the land, stories rooted in particular places, stories that contain not just human characters but in which other animals figure as tricksters or mentors, wherein local herbs dynamically deploy their powers, wherein river-bends and boulder-strewn mountainsides enact their own active part in the tales. Our allies seek out and learn from the native elders and healers in the region, from local songbirds and streams, visiting with old farming families who have lived with and learned from the land generation after generation. We invite folks to join us on rambles, to share with us songs and tales that hold something of the unique efficacy and dreaming of the place, and to help us discern the most potent ways to renew and replenish those traditions.
In each case we seek ultimately to bring communities together to participate in fresh tellings of these stories, weaving the tales – and the songs and even dances that might accompany those tales – into seasonal rituals that can quietly, year after year, bind the community more deeply into the more-than-human dynamics of the local terrain.
* The very useful term “face-to-place” was coined by Marc Tognotti.
Eairth and the Commonwealth of Breath
While climate change affects every aspect of our lives, it remains – for most persons – a fairly abstract process with little bearing upon how they live their daily lives. Hence politicians and policy makers are still able to ignore the mountain of evidence, and to avoid making decisions regarding the changes necessary to protect our descendants, and to safeguard the rapidly-dwindling biodiversity of the earth.
As a counter to such abstraction, the Alliance for Wild Ethics works to galvanize awareness and to catalyze action by communicating a much more direct, visceral experience of our interbeing with the rest of the biosphere. We offer fresh ways of articulating our participation with the soils, the waters and the shifting winds of this planet. We have helped many thousands of people to discern that we live not ON but rather IN the eairth, in the depths of this breathing planet. In contrast to conventional discourse which articulates global warming in rarefied language of chemistry and parts per million carbon dioxide, we help others to recognize that the climate is as close to us as our breathing, as easy to take for granted as the unseen air flowing in and out of our nostrils.
The Alliance for Wild Ethics draws steady insight from the sciences, attentively engaging current developments within biology, ecology, and earth systems science, interrogating the rich discoveries arising within such fields as medicine, ethnobotany, and even cosmology. But while the evidences of our science, today, are conventionally framed in highly abstract and often arcane language, interlaced with quantitative data and statistics, the Alliance strives to steadily translate these disclosures into the more qualitative language of felt experience. What bearing do these findings have upon our direct, visceral encounters with one another and with the animate terrain that surrounds us? By undertaking such translation we work to correct the dangerous misconception that the human intellect is in any way separable from the human body and the body’s intimate entanglement with the breathing earth.
Reciprocal Medicine: Collective Practices for Healing Places and Empowering Persons
In response to the oncoming storms of climate change, and in the face of steadily mounting droughts, wildfires, forest die-offs and local extinctions, along with the internecine human violence sometimes sparked by ecological stress and calamity, members of the Alliance are slowly developing, through trial and error, a secular practice of place-based healing. The practice of reciprocal medicine between persons and places brings various members of a community together in a regular fashion, binding their intelligence to the broader intelligence of the land, affirming and honoring the more-than-human agencies that inhabit and compose the surrounding terrain. A wholly non-sectarian ritual, open to deep-hearted and spontaneous expressions of gratitude and earthly praise, its participants are mostly engaged in deep listening to one another and to the silence, attuning and remembering themselves to the wider collective of active agencies (to the particular creatures, plants, elemental landforms, waters and weather patterns of the local bioregion). Consciously and carefully feeding that wider collective with our attention and our affection, we draw upon the unique medicines of that more-than-human community in order to acknowledge, soothe, and alleviate the grievous wounds felt by particular families that have experienced profound and unexpected loss, and know not how to reconcile themselves to such losses.
At each such gathering, too, we carefully and collectively draw upon our solidarity with the soil, with the rain and the rivers, with the local woodlands, with the species that lend their unique savvy to the ways of life in that region, asking the elemental powers of the place to intercept, interrupt and transform our age-old impulse toward scapegoating and blame, drawing upon the land to undermine and dissolve the instinct to inflict violence on others whenever difficulty and trouble visits.
For it is now apparent that instability, difficulty and loss will intensify in every part of the biosphere throughout the present century and beyond. In this technological age neither humankind, nor the rest of the earthly commonwealth, can long withstand the internecine hatred and reckless violence to which our species has shown itself to be susceptible.
The practice of reciprocal medicine, between persons and places, is thus an ongoing practice of solidarity, an evolving culture of awakening and earthly alignment, to which we commit ourselves. There is nothing religious about this practice (which may be practiced by persons of every faith and of no faith), which affirms and honors no metaphysical or supernatural intelligence, only the vitality and genius of the intertwined entities that compose the sensuous place where one currently dwells. Nor is there any allegiance to science in this practice, although it is readily resonant with all of the sciences. The practice adheres only to our most immediate and directly-felt encounter with the more-than-human commonwealth, and with one another as plain members, or citizens, of that breathing commonwealth.
Launching the International Alliance for Wild Ethics
We listened close to the many-voiced silence of the forest, feeling our way toward new ways of seeing, and of speaking, that might spread like a benevolent contagion through the human population. If a new mythos, a new modality of the sacred is struggling to be born at this difficult moment in the world's unfolding, then what is its shape?
(click here) for Description and Video
United Nations Keynote:
In the summer of 2005, AWE director David Abram was asked to deliver the final keynote address for the United Nation's "World Environment Week" in San Francisco, to 70 mayors from the largest cities around the world. David's speech was given under the towering redwood trees at Muir Woods, at the very spot where the United Nations charter was originally signed into being sixty years earlier.
(click here) to Watch the Video
Ecological Intelligence for a New Millennium:
Audubon Lecture Series
In the winter of 2006/2007 the Alliance sponsored a seven-week series of lectures and spirited discussions at the Randall Davey Audubon Center at the edge of the mountains above Santa Fe, New Mexico. Originally scheduled for 2 ½ hours, the sessions commonly stretched on much longer, each lecture followed by animated conversations on biospheric perception and the ecology of sensory experience; wilderness and wild language; environmental dimensions of the psyche; bioregional politics and the powers of place; shapeshifting; animals and animism; restoring and re-storying the land.
With the conclusion of the series, many participants refused to quit: they decided to continue meeting regularly on their own, carrying the collective explorations further…
Film in Progress
How can the earth sciences serve to awaken a new and deeply felt solidarity between ourselves and this breathing planet? Can we translate the rapidly growing body of facts regarding the metabolic functioning of the planetary biosphere into a storied language — a way of speaking that is not just analytically precise, but also sensorially and intuitively resonant? A new film-in-progress about the work of AWE founding member Stephan Harding tackles these questions directly.
(click here) to watch a brief clip