Jesse Wolf Hardin's Earth Magic
Rites of Passage
The slow roar and tinkle of the river is the first thing many notice, along with the red and purple cliffs that climb from there straight up. An eagle sails from it’s perch with an audible whoosh, alerting the rest of the canyon that someone new has arrived.
From all over the world they come, couples facing whether to end a difficult marriage or discover some secret to make it better. Men searching out just who they are and what they want to do with their lives now that they have their own businesses or are retired. Women booking a primitive cabin, next to a river that will reflect for them clearly the beauty of their soul-filled faces. Young families hungering for greater connection and wisdom, and those both wise and long lived who are at last ready to take on the guiding role of elders. What they all share in common is the knowledge that they are seekers, each seeking out additional experience and knowledge, individualized purpose and sense of place, sweet affirmation and beneficial disruption, the undeniable taste of magic or the enlivening touch of spirit like a soft gust of wind on their face.
It’s a four to five hour drive from the nearest airport in Albuquerque to the Sweet Medicine Sanctuary, two hours of freeway passing through the largely uninhabited Southern stretches of the Rio Grande Valley.
Turning West from the mostly Hispanic town of Socorro, one turns onto a twisty two lane road that was once the main wagon trail for the gold laden freighters of the Mogollon mines. It winds ever higher into the mountains from here, the fabled Gila that was Geronimo’s birthplace and the spirit land of the Basket Maker culture before that. Like ascending the ramparts of some fairyland castle, one drives into a land still barely touched by the hand of the modern age.
With each mile the mind quiets a little more, and soon dialog is replaced by the penetrative sights and smells of the countryside. Yuccas and blossoming cactus gradually decrease in number, along with the appearance of juniper and oak, then red skinned ponderosa and quaking aspen with their signature ghostly white bark. Another hundred and thirty miles and the road drops into a canyon lined with giant cottonwoods and the stream where their thirsty roots drink. Tiny hamlets line the waterway, like Aragon, Cruzville and Reserve– named after the first forest “reserve” in the United States: The Gila National Forest.
The sanctuary sits a further mile and a half from where guests park to avoid getting stuck, seven river crossings passed delightfully on foot, or shuttled inside the Sanctuary’s 4X4 truck. Just to get here requires strong intentions and follow through, to the literal end of the road and beyond. No one arrives at the Sweet Medicine by accident. Whatever combination of inspiration and circumstance might have led them to consider time out in nature, in a place of power, the responsibility and credit for getting here is theirs.
Elsewhere, in the hills of Appalachia folks are gathering to formally celebrate a woman’s evolution from the archetypal maiden into the farseeing crone, a repository of common sense and uncommon vision, an intermediator and healer. A few miles away a more conservative group mark Grandpa’s birthday by joining him horseback on the roughest of trails. In the nearby city a courageous fifty year old decides to quit a lucrative position in order to try to live of off her budding art. In New York, Portland and L.A. folks are altering their busy weekly schedules to accommodate centering trips to the local Buddhist Center, a sabbatical to the mountains, a guided sweat lodge or an alpine retreat.
They’re not taking time out to avoid reality, but to seek and to find.
Note that we are on the whole healthier at age fifty or sixty than even the youth of previous generations, thanks to modern medicine as well as intentional exercise and our shift to a more natural diet. At this point in life we’ve likely either made income producing investments, or rearranged our work commitments to allow ourselves sufficient funding to what we really want, as well as to provide the free time in which to do it. It buys us the wherewithal to practice the values and explorations that some will remember from the 1960’s and 70’s, and that we may have at least partly relegated during the years between then and now. Our quest at this stage is determining how best to meet any long untended needs of the heart, body and soul.... and how to best serve whatever it is that we personally believe in– from social justice to the art and act of love.
There is, of course, really no such thing as “free” time. Each second is a finite and irreplaceable resource that we all spend, consciously or not. Ideally we recognize each as in investment of self, energy and purpose.... investing ourselves wholly in every act, in our work, in savoring our meal, tending our families, or deliberately and consciously relaxing at the end of another day. Always the real question is where to best make those precious investments of being and time, what risks are worth taking for what reason or end, what price we are glad to pay, what responsibilities and rewards we are finally ready to accept!
The answers come whenever we set aside our schedules, preconceptions and fears... and devote the necessary hours and days, our tender attention and fierce focus to what is in many ways a vital mission. They can come when we are unprepared and even unwilling, such as when unforeseen circumstances thrust a young girl into womanhood or force a boy to think and respond as a man, when we’re fired after a decade at the same job or lose the marriage that made us feel stable. Or it can happen when we make it so, signing up for the scary assignment of change, embracing what had been denied, reaching for what was supposedly unreachable. But either way this leap in self understanding is nothing less than a rite of passage, a pivotal juncture when the compass needle suddenly shifts and the heart is drawn yet again to a deeper lodestone, pointing towards some still deeper way of being and doing. In this mission there’s no need to be frantic or hurried.... and yet truly there’s not a moment to waste.
I imagine I can still hear the echoes of the gals from the last women’s gathering, beings of all ages expressing honest anguish and frustration as well as wonder and joy, their howls sounding not unlike the elk that bugle from these ridge tops, their counsels a river-like melody that trickles and expands out into the mountain air. Those who came for the quiet of a solo retreat, for simple feasting and reflection, arrived knowing there was something more that were on the brink of, something at once familiar and unknown. Though they may leave this Sanctuary on the same roads they came, they are nonetheless heading in a new direction.
Whether one considers themselves spiritual or not, we arrive again and again at this important point of transition.
Might as well make it deliberate, a gift to ourselves and world. After all, it’s our life. And it is our rite.
•Practice presence in all situations, avoid avoidance.
*Jesse Wolf Hardin* is a teacher of Earth-centered spirituality and nature magick, living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power. His latest effort is _Gaia Eros: Reconnecting With The Magic & Spirit Of Nature_ (New Page 2004), a book acclaimed by Starhawk as "a must-read for those who want to worship nature not as an abstraction but in ways sensual, practical, and transformative.” When not presenting at conferences and festivals he can be found hosting seekers for retreats, quests, events, workshops and resident internships at their enchanted wilderness sanctuary: Animá Center PO Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Jesse's website by going here http://www.animacenter.org/
©Jesse Wolf Hardin 2005 Reproduction in any form is prohibited without express written permission from the author.