This piece was originally published in A Beautiful Resistance, Issue 4. I am republishing it here in memory of the rain I hope will soon visit us here in California.
I find myself at the top of a barren hill. The light is dim and grey, without a definite source. The earth around me looks like it has been torn by giant claws and there is no smell of life anywhere. My feet are sinking into mud that sucks at my ankles. The clay is so cold I shiver. I cannot see far because there is a misty darkness all around that seems to be increasing and contracting like a long, slow breath. I hear the words “this is a place of ashes and danger” rolling past. The words are calm and firm. I feel them in my bones. I don’t look at myself because I suspect that I am only the dry, white specter of a skeleton standing here waiting. This is not a place where humans voluntarily arrive, yet I know that I must be here at this exact moment.
At the top of the hill a blackened wood pole stands driven into the earth. There are scraps of charcoal around it on the ground. I see a log larger than my leg would normally be lashed to the pole high up above my head. Huge lumps of fat are held aloft by it. Some are forcibly skewered on it and some are tied to it with filthy-looking ropes. There is so much of it that globs of oil begin to drip down and slop onto the earth around the pole. The smell should be terrible because most of the fat seems to be partially rotten. But there is no odor of anything here.
Suddenly I become aware of creatures crawling towards me from the breathing of the mist at the edges of my vision. Some of them I have seen in the most ancient stories I have read. Others are too disgusting to ever be explained in words. A few seem very familiar, though I can’t say from where. But they are not here to consume or destroy me. They have come because they know that I can hear them when they speak. I listen as their voices float across the dead clay towards me.
“The Old Gods are awakening. Did you think the Ancient Monsters would not also return?” I sense that they are part of a large wheel of balance that I did not even know existed until this moment. Something bigger that turns more slowly than most stories allow for. The voice rumbles through the air towards me. It comes from all of them at once.
“The Monsters and the Gods fought in the oldest of the old stories so that humans could have a place to live. Now we have come back to take from your people what your people have taken from the Earth and are refusing to share.” I thank them for the message they have delivered to me and leave the pole with its grotesque burden behind.
Several months later the seasons have turned and I find myself in a new place. This one is familiar to many. It is the land of Banba, Fódla and Ériu and I am seeing part of a story that has been told again and again over thousands of years. But I am seeing it after the vision of the monsters from the place of ashes and after years of dreams full of fires and falling buildings. The monsters explained themselves, but the dreams of fire did not. I had to comb through books and websites and write many stories before I started to find any clues that I could use to learn what I was being shown or why. On this voyage I travelled the world and learned many interesting things. As I read and asked questions and went on trance journeys there was always a voice there with me. It was a kind voice, but also very insistent. The phrase “this has happened before” came again and again into my dreams and into my meditations.
Now I am standing here looking at a vast expanse of grassy land that has been marked here and there with the scars of a war. This war does not destroy the entire area it touches because it is long before humans gained the power to explode and annihilate. In this conflict they were simply killing each other. Though this war and this place are familiar to me and to many others, it looks different now because of where I have been before arriving at this moment.
The final battle has just been finished. A people has been released from bondage. The coalition of the oppressed has successfully rallied behind their populist leader and his inspiring rhetoric of freedom. Now this hero stands in front of the beaten foe who once held them all in his selfish grasp of power. He was thirsty for all of the riches of the land to the point where he would share none. First he took away the support for the arts. Poets went hungry and storytellers had no bread. Then he began to hold back from the farmers and those who lived outside the walls of his shining fortress. The proof of his might could not be dimmed, but the lights of life within the eyes of many of the weaker ones who needed the help of others went out.
Mothers cried for their children starving as the grain withered in the fields from drought. Strange new illnesses arrived that nobody understood. They took away the elders whose long memories were needed to understand what was happening. The strongman with deep ties to foreign lands even went so far as to throw the Good God of the land into bondage and attempted to starve him. When this did not work, he tried to frame the Good God for a crime he did not commit and to sentence him to death. At first the people did nothing to stop any of this, though many complained bitterly and hoped for things to improve.
Now the warriors stand behind their leader dripping blood and sweat. Their faces are dirty and sunburned from many days of battle. The air is full of raven’s cries and the rank odor of the aftermath of death. Some of the standing cry for the fallen and wonder how they are still alive. Others touch the earth and give thanks for another day. The area is full of the spirits of the newly dead struggling to learn how to exist without the body that was suddenly hacked away from them. Weapons lie about collecting the heat of the sun on their blades and awaiting a new set of hands to work with.
The man who has led his people to victory is listening to the treaty proposal of the defeated. He can barely hide his anger and disgust for his enemy as he hears what is being offered. The former despot has the audacity to attempt to give them two seasons of crops every year! He is suggesting that he can and will throw the entire cycle of the seasons out of balance so that they, the Tuatha Dé Danann, can be as greedy as he was and ask the land for more than She is willing to give! Nuada stands tall and flatly rejects the offer because he will not lead his people to their own destruction. Under no circumstances will he saddle them with an eternal summer because to leave out the dark of winter is to break the circle. To break the circle is the worst that can be done by any human, and he will do everything in his power to keep this from happening. Since he has just risked his own life for exactly that reason, nobody questions his resolve. Bres stands across from him and knows that he has been beaten yet again, this time in the battle of wills and ideologies that was contained in his proposal and Nuada’s refusal.
But there is more to this story of the hero and the villain. There is always more creeping in below the surface and around the edges of all the stories of conquest and rebellion that seem so clear-cut and easy to solve. To my bard’s eyes thousands of years later, a question appears from around the edges of the battlefield talk. Why did Nuada need to fight Bres? It is not a long question, and attempts have been made at the answer, but I believe that the full ramifications of the response to this question still reverberate across the ages between that time and this. We are now living the results of it on many levels that often go unnoticed.
Nuada had to fight Bres because he had been declared unworthy by his own people to lead them. The reason for this was that he had slipped below their collective standards of beauty. He lost his hand and that made him too ugly to lead. But that is not the part of the answer that is so important now. What I saw as I listened to the two leaders argue is the fact that it was the combined will of an entire tribe that culminated in Nuada’s dismissal as leader, even though he had proved to be a just and capable one who took his position in the culture of his time and used it for the benefit of the tribe. This mattered less to the people around him than their collectively held idea that he must fit their beauty standards in order to maintain the same position. Together they exiled the leader who worked well in the multi-layered society that had created him and chose instead a beautiful and charismatic despot. The idea of what a leader should be that they had created, and that they held in their hearts and minds, was stronger than the practical realities of their situation. Yet they held to the idea and did not allow it to be flexible. Because of this, they suffered and many died in sacrifice to the attempt to uphold the ideal.
I know this type of group creation through shared intent by the name of egregore. As an Animist, I believe that all ideologies and shared beliefs can take on their own existence, which can become more powerful than the people who created them. A group of people create an egregore together, either consciously or unconsciously. But once created, it has a direction that it will follow, even if this destroys the people who created it. Egregores are by nature inflexible, and I see the story of Bres and Nuada as a story of inflexible beliefs where the Danann created an egregore that nearly destroyed their entire world. Fortunately for them, they were able to be flexible enough at the last minute to ask Nuada to resume his place in their collective. By doing so, they destroyed the being born of their shared belief that a ruler must meet their beauty standards and were therefore able to win the war and restore the balance. But if they had not created that egregore in the first place or had been more flexible earlier, the story would have turned out very differently.
This realization brings up another question for me. When you hear the phrase “nice day” what do you think of? Personally, I think of a misty, foggy place that is near the coast of a cold northern ocean where there are a lot of evergreen trees (or maybe oaks in an expansive field) and very few people around. The temperature never goes above around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (though it sometimes dips to the edges of the ice realms), there is some wind and I don’t see the sun directly most of the time. All of the edges of everything are soft and indefinite so that one state of being flows easily into another as I walk long distances just to be out in the embrace of a day as wonderful as this.
I realized early in life that mine is not the most common image that comes to mind when a person uses this phrase. So I decided to listen to find out what others meant by this series of words that I heard so often. These words are typically said with genuine intent. To me intent equals magic. What kind of magic are all the people who hold an image in their mind as they say these words performing? Put another way, what type of egregore is being created by them, and what is it likely to do once created?
I started when I was child with a taste for dark shadows in the forest. As I grew older and walked farther down the path of the bard, I slipped into the accidental images that were thrown off by people in public as they wished each other well. I floated at the edges of daydreams to learn what the climate was like there. I listened between the words to learn the color of the skies behind them. I stayed long outside the doors of night dreams until a traveler emerged to share with me the flavor of the wind where he had been. I read the tales from the past and the accounts of the present to see what they assumed the listener was seeing when the teller said the day was fine. From all of these, here is what I learned.
A nice day
Should have no wind
If air must move
It goes by gentle breeze alone
The bowl of sky
Is always painted blue
No clouds to mar
No mist to stun
And never, ever rain
Will fall upon the
To catch the rays of Sol
At all times
Thermometers will stay
The warmth of naked skin
To keep it a nice day
As it turns out, this is also what many think of when someone mentions the climate of the place I now call home here in California. This land’s most recent name was given to it by a group of male sailors desperate to find the willing females they were all reading about in their favorite romance novel, The Adventures of Esplandián, with its lurid descriptions of the island of the Amazons. Calafia became California as they hoped to find here a repository for their carnal and material lusts. Since that time this land has been a place where many have projected their unrealistic dreams and millions have gone to seek them out.
For me, this makes it a perfect place to study egregores. With so many dreams flooding into this area for almost 500 years, they are now everywhere in all different configurations. In this shifting sea of dreams, constantly fueled by the addition of more and more fantasy, the careful eye can slip in between the layers and see where impossible things can go if they stop being impossible and start being real. What might happen if this particular egregore of the nice day came true? Is there a place where the climate is actually like this? If so, what happens there?
I asked myself these things as I learned more and more on my search for what exactly had happened before and what I was to do about it. Great halls burned in my dreams and something that looked like the sun tore out of the sky and turned a fertile land into a desert. I saw the walls of a city at the edge of a plain engulfed in flames so hot they melted its bricks into vitrified lumps that shone like glass. Men jumped from ships pulled up in front of great cities of commerce and charged in to find them in ruins. The skies were unnaturally dark and the spear tips were all made of bronze.
In my waking hours I went to work at a school’s photography department and tried to convince my co-workers and the students there to accept the fact that there was now new chemistry on the market that was not carcinogenic like the ones they were used to. It also produced results that were better than the old chemistry. There was a great deal of resistance to the new procedures that had to be used with it. I wanted to stop my place of work from poisoning the waters that could easily be seen down the hill from the lab. Most of my co-workers were more concerned with the fact that the budget had to be allocated in a slightly different way to purchase the new chemistry and the fact that it could not be used with the same procedures as the old chemistry had been. Eventually the institution was able to be flexible enough to give the new chemicals a try. I continued to take naps under a redwood tree during my breaks and to cast my questions about the egregore of the nice day out into the worlds.
Slowly I began to get answers. Sometimes they came in my dreams as I watched houses with heavy timber roofing supports collapse in flames and leave only mud brick walls. Other times they popped up suddenly while I was driving or arrived uninvited when I was taking a bath. Most of the places on the earth called Temperate Zones experience at least brief periods that would qualify for the commonly-wished-for Nice Day. Short bursts of nice days are reasonably common, even out near the ends of the planet where ice still holds onto the oceans. But there are only a very few places where this type of climate carries on for weeks or months at a time. Those are the Mediterranean climates found in Europe, Africa, Australia and around me in Central and Southern California.
These Mediterranean climates also share other features. They tend to be places where people want to be on account of their fairly mild weather. Some of them also turned out to be the places I was dreaming about. I started to get more specific clues in the form of objects and the whisper of dates that led me to find some research on the phenomenon of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) Collapse. As I dug deeper into historical sources with the aid of my trance journeys I started to learn that the world centered around the eastern Mediterranean sea in the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.E. was as cosmopolitan and interconnected as the one I am living in now.
It was a time of intensive trade between nations that often quickly alternated between allies and enemies. They fought over raw materials, quarreled over territories and clashed their ideas of how things should be against each other in much the same way that the politicians I saw on the news were doing as I read about their ancestors. I also started to come across evidence that this network of connection and dependency reached out to include other continents and cultures well outside the area where the preserved documents of the literate societies I was reading came from.
The voices of my allies that had led me on this journey started to change. They no longer told me that “this has happened before” because I had found what it was that had happened. An entire globalized network of trade and cultural exchange had disappeared suddenly between around 1150 and 1250 B.C.E. The bulk of the change took place between about 1170 and 1225 B.C.E. That meant that a child born in 1140 would have seen the world their parents knew falling apart around them and disappearing completely by the time they turned 40 or 50. And it wasn’t just individual cities or nations. Most of the civilizations existing at the time that child was born vanished and very few of them ever returned. This is where the fires in my dreams had come from. I had been sleeping with the fall of the Canaanite city of Ugarit, of Hittite capital of Hattusa and many more across Europe, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean as they were wiped out one after another.
I sat in horror as I realized what I had found. But not for long. My guides who had brought me to this place began to speak again. “We were there when that happened. We guided your ancestors through it. If you listen, we can guide you now.” After that conversation I slept a deep sleep without flames or the screams of the dying for the first time in years. When I awoke, I was thinking of egregores and the Nice Day once again.
Traces of this ideal have come to me from literature as far back as the Middle Ages, so I know it has been with us longer than most of the current nations and much longer than Capitalism or even most of the current incarnations of Christianity. What do things look like if this group body created by all of those wishes comes to life and carries out its intentional goal? The answer to that is unfortunately not very pleasant.
The signal feature of the Mediterranean climate is drought. The clear skies, bright sun and lack of rain sometimes last for many months at a time. Under the consistent eye of the golden orb traveling across the blue expanse day after day, plants wither and become dust. The earth cracks and fires break out at the slightest suggestion. A prolonged Nice Day is actually a recipe for destruction in the current situation because there are only two possible human responses to the presence of it.
The first is low population density like the mountainous areas of Greece and Crete have had since the LBA Collapse I had been dreaming about. The Mycenaean Greeks and Minoans were far more numerous than today’s residents. In places as much as 70 percent of the population died in the course of a few years or a few months. A combined series of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and a comet burning a swath across parts of Europe and North Africa changed the climate to the arid one we know of now in those areas. The same events also killed most of the people who had been living there. There were few enough left that they could survive on the reduced amount of food available after the change.
The only way to achieve that in areas like Southern California would be through famine, plaque and genocide. Or perhaps another series of earthquakes, fires and droughts like the LBA Collapse brought. Many Mediterranean climates have been attracting fairly high populations for the last few centuries precisely because of their weather, so the City of Angels is not alone in this position.
That leaves the other possible response, which is heavy reliance on industrial-scale irrigation. In the short term, this produces impressive and productive results like those that have been achieved by the San Joaquin Valley farms in the past century. In the long term, which we are now at the end of in some places, the story changes and takes another turn. Acres of trees fall dying and the soil itself blows away in clouds of dust. As She shrugs off our presence, Mother Earth goes dormant and quiet. He skin becomes a desert waste where we can no longer live in any quantity. This has been going on in Africa since the LBA Collapse and the comet that dried up Lybia and changed it into the semi-arid region we know it as today.
Now it is beginning here in California. There is a photo of a man standing at the foot of a telephone pole. He leans against it in his pointed leather boots and wide-brimmed hat. Nothing grows around him except furrows turned up by tractors. Near the top of the pole is a sign that marks where the land used to be less than a century earlier. Since the time his grandparents were children, so much water has been sucked from this place that the valley floor has fallen the length of a utility pole. They would have been standing at the bottom of a deep well full of water had they stood where he is now placing his feet on dry earth.
For at least 500-800 years, millions of people across the globe have been focusing their intent on manifesting a specific set of climate conditions. From my perspective, this cannot help but be very powerful magic. It has continued across multiple generations and cultures, always with the same very specific goal. I believe that collectively this desire for a very specific set of climate conditions has created an exceptionally powerful egregore that is manifesting exactly what has been wished for. Whether those wishing ever stopped to acknowledge it, what was being wished for is a prolonged drought and increased desertification. That is what happens when those climate conditions stay around for the long term. For centuries, so many people have been pleading for the false bargain offered to Nuada that it has started to appear around us.
Nuada and Bres fought each other with bronze swords and bronze spears much like the weapons the men in my dreams held as they leaped from the ships beached below the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. Those weapons fell from the hands of warriors as they died all across Europe and North Africa in their search for new homes to replace the low-lying islands and seacoasts they were forced out of by the rising sea levels. They ran from the sea and into lands of drought where water was poisoned, the earth cracked open and trees fell from the sky as mountains tumbled down. The Egyptian priests recorded these events on the walls of the temples that made it through those dangerous times.
As I found at last the first-hand records of what I had been dreaming about for years, I wished that I had been able to learn hieroglyphics so that I could read them directly. My guides had other plans. I read the translation into English and saw the world of that time dying around a very few who made it through. Many could not imagine anything so unlike what they had grown up with. Their lives had become so unrecognizable to them that they no longer knew how to live them. They lacked the skills to respond to such dramatic change and did not possess the insight necessary to acquire new skills in the extremely short time they had to react. Because of this, most of them died.
There is nothing unusual about this. It is still true today. There have only ever been a few people who could see clearly the situation in which they were living as well as the future that a given set of actions will bring. It takes daily experience and regular sacrifice in the form of offerings, time and energy given willingly to develop these abilities and maintain control of them. Most people are more concerned with other ends such as personal comfort, status and the accumulation of wealth and power. In most situations throughout history, the many who build palaces, collections of precious things and large retinues have co-existed with the few who live at the edges and speak with the Otherworld. Some times those few are honored and sometimes they are not, but there has more often then not been space in life for both. But in times of great danger and great change, the dynamics are a little different. The LBA collapse was definitely one of those times.
Those who could see what was there and react to it had a chance to live. Those who led the people after the fires burned out were not the power brokers and hoarders of gold who had led them before the Earth decided to throw off what had come to be upon Her skin. Those who led the way out of the days of darkness when the red ashes fell from the sky were the most flexible, imaginative humans in existence at the time.
They were the edgewalkers and shapeshifters who knew how to take on things as powerful as egregores and how to mediate between monsters and gods for the good of their tribe and the web of life. Above all else they were Animists because in a time of change such as that was, when the Earth Herself rearranges how most things relate, you are lost if you can’t have a conversation with the trees, the air and the stones around you.
We are once again facing a time of great change. Now it is the turn of the Shamans, Bards, Druids, Priests, Witches, Awenyddion, and all of the other names for those who can imagine a world very, very different from the one we live in to use their skill in this area to pull towards us a future we can survive and to call in a future where we can thrive. Just as when Nuada faced Bres, it is time to reach deep and see what is really needed for our people to live and for our great-grandchildren’s generation to have the same chance.
I believe that it is with the egregores that we create collectively that we can start. Because they exist in the realm of magic, the powerful egregores such as the Nice Day are not as invulnerable as they might seem. They are actually what control so many decisions that shape the physical and cultural worlds where wars of ideas and words are fought. The ideologues and magicians behind the currents that wish to birth a more violent and oppressive future are already working on this by reinforcing existing egregores and working to create new ones that foster domination and control. Though it is not listed as such, the Nice Day is one of the favorites in this game because it is the practical arm of the support for the unchecked power of solar masculinity that is so dear to these destructive ideologies.
I am not suggesting that magical workings of this sort take the place of other more direct and physical ways of working towards more egalitarian and sustainable future. As I see it, both must work together because physical resistance without a basis in something as powerful and sustaining as a deeply held spiritual connection will either fail or simply become a mechanism for replacing the old systems of power with something else based on the same principles. A force in this realm that works towards balance is needed. We who walk the paths of Animisms are uniquely suited to doing this important work because we already know how to listen to many voices not our own and how to work with the owners of those voices to do things that benefit us all in the long term. As a practical example, it is harder for me to be taken in by ideologies of short-term gain because some of my friends are mountains and trees.
Let us reject the dangerous bargain offered by Bres and collectively accepted by wishing into being the Nice Day egregore. Let us replace it with a group vision that has the seasons in their places and honors the dark and misty wonders of the evening, the grey majesty of cloud banks, the impassible beauty of marshes, the coastlines and all the other liminal spaces where the waters flow and the magic happens easily.