The grassy marshes of the Everglades extend in every direction around me. It is a sight vast and almost incomprehensible, made just a little better by traveling on the roaring airboat. But on a canoe or on foot? It could easily encapsulate the whole world, then, even as it encapsulates the horizon. And yet, here the sawgrass dances its ballet with the wind and the water ripples. Birds glide and swoop, while just below the surface and a little bit away alligators prowl their waters. I could compost here, quietly, and happily.
There is another element to this miracle place: the gracious Sun beating down on everything with equal love. Few places here fall to shadow, and do so only to grow and riot with life all the better. Few places here do not shine. And, when the water’s still and smooth as glass, the heavens greet you from below. You become suspended in a world of utter peace and light.
I hear only one message here, beyond life’s melody, a pure note of contentment: I thrive together. The Ancient Mother of this sacred place sings in ecstasy to her own ears only, and yet every creature and element joys in the chorus: We thrive together! I take this song with me to the concrete and asphalt, nursing it with my own participation for days to come.
Naming Mother Florida
There are times I call her Lady Florida, but then I check my “Wiccan” understanding and switch to more appropriate names. Yet still, I do not have anything better than the same word that was inspired out of Ponce de León upon landing near St. Augustine in 1521.
Despite the colonial complications this brings up, the Land herself demands little else. We must remain with the troubled history of religious conversion, cultural genocide, and actual genocide that flavors the so named. She says, “Remember the dead. Mind the dead. The past is your present.” Ponce de León ignored the warning signs until mortally wounded by the Calusa and sent to die in Havana.
Nonetheless, after almost four years of interacting with this Ancient Mother, the gay (in its original meaning) and ecstatic abundance of flowers dancing in the seabreeze is a perfect lens to see her through. Her colors riot in the sight of the beholder, conveying their message of perennial abundance and soil-born richness. It is wild enough to be holy and be celebrated, at least in part, on April 2 (honor the native species first).
Coming to Them Rightly
Here we already have hints that this Ancient Mother, and indeed most Ancient Mothers, encompasses more realm than one. They are sovereign of the glorious fertility of the earth, as well as the dark decomposing underground. They give birth as well as host the dead–sometimes even feast the dead! They are of “the depths” where roots may reach and aquifers recharge, and of the turbulent skies that return the rains from their evaporated lakes. They burn with fiery passion that is all their own. Storms become their moods. Matched only by the heavenly bodies shining above and the seas and oceans crashing ashore, these titanic beings enshrine and nurture life.
One must come to them with the humility of the drowned and rescued, the devastated by the storm. But also, one must rest firmly in the sense that they already cradle your life in their embrace. They already know you in ways you may never know yourself. From them you sate your needs and return the daily exercise of living… and sometimes the art of life well-lived. They frame your thoughts and shape your ambitions, whether you regard them part of your decisions or not. They’ve always been here, the scent of the air you breathe and the weaver of needs you cannot fully recognize.
One comes, in fact, with a deficit of knowledge, an embarrassing gap. These modern times rarely prepare us for the encounter and you will seldom find the moment where such a thing is possible. Study the ecosystems you inhabit and get to know her Other Children: plants will be her messengers, the pathways to future wisdom; animals will walk the road to gnosis with you as siblings, and share of their lives. But there are other beings with you, also. There are the hidden ones, whether too small to see or downright unseen. Some are living presences, others exist in other forms: imprints in the world fabric she weaves as her body, ghosts of former selves. All are living with you, and sometimes through you, even if you’ve never before noticed. She lives through us/them all.
Rites of Passage
Sight will return to your life in ways you cannot yet predict. Colors will be sharper and that is the least of the experiences our Ancient Mothers have to offer–they are in the air, bending light or diffusing it through water lenses. When you see again, the outlines of the hidden world will stand out clearer. A realization follows; a grounding of experience into the world of the possible, beyond the fanciful notions we amassed through dismembered media. There will be feeling in the world, again, that which matches you and that which you’ll reflect in time. Curious consciousness will peek out at you from behind still leaves and tree trunks, wherever they can shyly hide. Leave them offerings.
Their stories, in time, will be revealed. The sense of them will rush at you as images or whispers, or you may relive them in your dreams. You will see things that left no evidence behind, and other things that have already been discovered and cataloged by unwitting archaeologists. Delight in the knowing of these secrets and be mindful in who you share them with. Remember that every story can be equally told from many different points of view, and not all your companions in the wilds share the same stuff.
When you have gathered a corpus of knowings, and their shape begins to suggest a clear story, write them down. That is, after all, our function as human beings. To preserve what is known and to pass it on to others. But when you find a sequence of actions that speaks to you of ritual, when such instructions for acting out the sacred manifest, manifest them! Seek those willing to follow along your strange/forgotten ritual structures, honor the Ancient Mothers that enfold them too. Make these works real by your actions and become the vessel of new bounties and blessings.
Speaking the Words
There is a long-standing abhorrence to proselytize in modern pagan circles, and it is quite reasonable. After all, we each follow a million different paths to truth and actualization. Though compatible, we are seldom inclined to follow another’s vision. Remember that when you speak of the Ancient Mothers, wherever your may be, because few will want to be converted. Rather, you must speak of the world as it is that we each individually and collectively inhabit. That which we cannot get away from–the rains, the breezes, the trees in pollen season and the migratory birds–those are all fair game. No one should deny the world.
When invited to speak, share your journey, as personal as it may be. It is important for others to see you still struggle for understanding in this new framework and how you bridge the gaps built into our modern lives. Do not expect them to follow your path as you did, but help them see how theirs might manifest following the natural contours of the Land and their interest in it. If you’ve been successful, share it. Give away all your knowledge and techniques freely, demand nothing back but what’s due to the curious: Tell me your stories, when you find them.
And, finally, make spaces where these social miracles may take root and reproduce themselves on Earthly and Divine behalf. Speak the words that Florida spoke to me once (she said, “I thrive together!“) to every soul you meet. No one is excluded. We are already in relationship. They sustain us.
If you’d like to read more about my “revealed knowings” from Mother Florida, go to my other blog here: Our Sacred Mother, Lady Florida.