I confess: I was one of the ones so deeply affected by news of the koala’s functional extinction last year that I nearly fell apart. The idea that one apocalyptic fire season could bring such an iconic and beloved species to the bring of extinction shook me to the core. We have since learned that such reports were exaggerated somewhat and I probably should have seen through the headline, with my graduate level training in biological anthropology.
Nevertheless, hundreds of millions of individual animals have perished in the fires. Kangaroos will jump into the arms of their human rescuers, while Prime Ministers dismiss a pregnant woman’s worry in front of the cameras. Mothers (I will not say which mothers) are leaving their babies in “starvation events” in order to merely survive, breaking down deeply ingrained mammalian instincts for the survival of the species. It seems that in some cases of extreme catastrophe, the species gets narrowed down to the individual. Such a concept might alone explain the popular disinterest on these events.
Halfway across the world, I can only scroll by the headlines on Facebook, barely needing to read them any more. They’re worse, worsening: a seeming collapse of what civilization ought to represent in such times. I have a friend in Australia–he’s fine, doing what he can… surviving. Everything seems entirely abstract as I donate and repost more incisive analysis and news stories. Is this the shape of things to come, until a Cat 5 hurricane plows through south Florida and gets me? Will my friends in other states and other lands also feel this perverse sense of voyeurism and paralysis?
I toyed with the idea of creating a mass ritual to “raise global ecological consciousness” in light of these fires (not just Australia, but California, the Amazon, the Congo, and Siberia). It’d be a working done regularly, much like Michael Hughes’ binding of #IMPOTUS, and building up to a crescendo in November 2020. Critical climate talks will happen in Glawsgow right after the States holds its general election–whatever way that goes, Trump will be the sitting President and in position to act. But what of the other world leaders? Can magic pierce the fog of power and privilege woven by their wealthy donors and root them into the living nightmare of this Mass Extinction? Be it baneful or benign, I no longer care. More than FOUR HUNDRED MILLION beings have died in a blaze fueled, ultimately, by their inaction and greed. The time for asking “pretty please” is very nearly over.
I’ve spent all day contemplating such a spell and what networks I have available to propagate it, to get everyone on board. I’ve prayed for guidance and clarity on to my gods and guides. No answer has come beyond, “Do what you will regret not having done.” I suppose that’s answer enough.
The local Caluusa people of south(west) Florida had a particular belief about their dead. Two out of the three parts of the soul went “elsewhere” after the cessation of biological processes. One of them went into the animals that filled the Florida peninsula at the time. There were hordes, and flocks, and swarms in the millions–an abundance of life so great that the Caluusa were able to sustain complex urban societies built up out of the waters of Estero Bay numbering in the tens of thousands of people. The animal companions on the Land of Florida were ancestors, now living in the gator and deer and panther. To kill one of them was to force that piece of a dead relative to “descend” into a lower life-form. In this way, the entire animal world was also the ancestral realm, and very real obligations had to be fulfilled by all who sought to survive in Floridian wildlands before the 1500s.
The Spanish did not conquer or convert the Caluusa, and almost every attempt to establish relationships failed because they could not grasp the reality of life in south Florida. Nature and her native children defeated them time and again, no matter their canons and muskets and naval prowess. North Florida yielded more easily and with predictable results. Enslavement, forced conversion, torture, rape, and disease. Perhaps that was how all native populations became decimated by the turn of the 18th century. When Spain “handed over” the colony of Florida to the British in 1763, only about 200 native families of Caluusa, Tequesta, Jaega, Ais, Tocobaga, and more, were given “asylum” in Havana. Most died within decades of being torn from their homeland, usually attributed to disease. None of them remained behind to tend to the old kinships with the animals and the Land, though one would like to imagine the incoming Creek people continued some of these relationships, perhaps.
So much of the world has been deprived of these ancestral relationships, and so many of the lands and groups that remain are being actively threatened. The resiliency of the native spirit in the face of colonialism and imperialism is perhaps one of the few remaining sources of inspiration left to me. We ought to remember them and listen. We ought to return autonomy and custodianship of stolen lands–all of them–to the remaining native peoples of the world. We ought to undo the damage of our civilization.
In Australia, the native people have long been oppressed and marginalized, offered no way out of crushing poverty, addiction, and systemic violence than to assimilate to the society that is destroying the world in actual, measurable ways. In the Congo, predatory capital advances in the form of multinational corporations seeking grazing lands and palm oil. The same is true in Indonesia and Borneo and the Amazon. In California, the native people were exterminated long ago by the cruelty of Spanish colonial rule and subsequent American gold prospecting and land-grabs. Siberia’s future warms and Russian oligarchs see ways to displace its native population for the sake of future development and growth.
These fires are the consequence of our actions, a massive offering spanning continents of the life we need to survive and the animal voices we refuse to hear. They are the final colonial conquest because our dead have long haunted and possessed our deep unconscious dark, and re-enacted the genocides we carried out in Europe and the Mediterranean, over and over.
We offered up the dead to God as thanks for all our power.