A few nights ago I dreamed there were bears in my house.
Now, I have some friends who are bears by one definition or another and they’re welcome in my house any time. This wasn’t them. This was Ursus americanus. There were also foxes and possums, but I wasn’t nearly as concerned about them as the bears. They weren’t hurting anything, but I still wanted them out, because they were bears and bears can rip things to shreds if they decide that’s what they want to do. How can I relax if there are bears in my house?
I’ve been exploring and practicing Paganism for almost 24 years. Along the way I’ve developed some pretty clear ideas about the Gods and our relationships with Them. I have a theory of magic that while subject to constant revision has proved to be quite useful. I have ideas about Nature and our place in it. But I still don’t know the proper role of wildness in Paganism, or at least in my Paganism.
I’ve always felt comfortable in wild places. If you visit them mindfully and respectfully, they can be inspiring, comforting, and even nurturing. Visit them arrogantly and they can be deadly. Our very ancient ancestors lived in the wild and did just fine or we wouldn’t be here. Humans have a place in Nature, it’s just not at the center of things.
But for all my love of wild places, I like order. I like predictability and cleanliness and I like sleeping in a comfortable bed in a climate-controlled room. I think a little OCD is a good thing, and I have more than a little myself. I get frustrated with chaos, and chaos plus crowds will send me into a panic attack.
And yet for some reason, a wild God of Nature called me to His service. Some of that service is caring for Nature and advocating for wild places. Some of it is promoting a reverence for Nature. A big part is reminding everyone – including myself – that humans are part of Nature, not separate from it.
When my father would see people behaving in a way he didn’t approve of, he’d say “they’re acting like a bunch of animals.” One time in my teen years, when I was starting to assert my independence just a bit, I said “but we are animals” – which, biologically speaking, is true. That precipitated a long rant about how humans are “made in the image of God” and categorically different from other creatures.
Now, those differences of degree have become huge. They’ve allowed us to go from an insignificant species hunting on the savannahs of East Africa to the shapers of the planet and the explorers of the cosmos. But in our quest for more and more control and for more and more order, we have changed things we have no right to change and we have empowered those who promise a return to order in exchange for our freedom… or at least, in exchange for the freedom of some.
But there are bears in my house and bears don’t care about order.
Bears pretty much keep to themselves, eating and sleeping and doing bear things. But threaten a bear and it will attack you. Bears are powerful and wild. Foxes are smart and clever. Foxes figure out the rules and then use them to their advantage. When faced with overwhelming odds, possums will hide and play dead, and live to fight another day.
There are bears and foxes and possums in my house. They’ve always been here. I’ve kept them caged up because I wanted neat, clean, predictable order. I wanted – and to be fair, needed – to build some things where wildness would be a distraction: a base of knowledge and learning, a professional career to provide material resources, and relationships that required careful nurturing. Embracing wildness would have kept me from reaching those goals, and I have no regrets for the choices I made.
But the Forest God is whispering that it’s time to open those cages.
I don’t think the possum ever made it into the cage. He hid in the closet until the danger was gone, then went back to foraging for food. The fox learned to pick the lock a long time ago. He’s always there for roll call, then goes back to seeing what he can salvage. His cage has some cool stuff in it, and sometimes he disappears for a week or two to travel with other foxes and do fox stuff.
The bear has been caged for so long about all he does is sleep. Bears sleep a lot, even in the wild. But just as Spring signals a hibernating bear that it’s time to wake up, current events are telling this bear that it can’t stay caged much longer. He’s waking up.
What does all this mean in plain non-metaphorical English? Honestly, I don’t know. Human society requires order to function, and so do I. But part of being human is being an animal, and our animal nature has to be acknowledged, honored, and at times, embraced. This needs more thought and reflection, and it especially needs more time outdoors in Nature.
All I know for sure is this: I dreamed there were bears in my house, and they’re not going to go away.