Beltane Mountain Moon
Still fascinated by the eruption of Kilauea. The Leilani Estates, houses bursting into flame, residents standing dazed by their vehicles after evacuating, monster movie scenes like the one below, show humans as do many Song dynasty paintings, small and insignificant next to mountains and rivers.
Listening to residents of the Leilani estates describe the shock is a lesson in reenchantment of the world. There were expressions of grief, of course, and bewilderment. All knew this possibility existed, but, like residents of flood plains and the wildlife-urban interface (us here on Shadow Mountain), hoped they would be spared. The lure is beauty. Always beauty. We take risks to live in beautiful places.
Some said things like, “Well, if madame Pele wants the land…” “Pele goes where she wants.” There was, in these remarks, no irony that I could detect. No wink, wink, you know what I really mean. The native Hawai’ian’s faith in Pele, given witness by the offerings at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater and numerous legends and dances, has, at least partially, reenchanted the Big Island for haoles (non natives). Whether they believe in a real, physical goddess or not, probably not, I sense the feelings of awe and the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that Rudolf Otto associates with the numinous, the essential components of the holy.
What’s happening at Leilani Estates is similar, perhaps the same, as my experience here on Shadow Mountain when I came for the closing on our home. The three mule deer bucks in our backyard, curious and welcoming, were mountain spirits blessing our move. I knew it while standing there with them, present with them in this new, strange place. It is not, in other words, that the numinous has disappeared from our encounters, only that we have unlearned how to know it. The reductive nature of scientism, that attempt to totalize our understanding with numbers and equations and laws, and the restrictive arrogant nature of religions certain that they know truth, has blinded us to the numinous.
Reenchantment has a precursor experience, a moment when we embrace the awe and the mystery, a feeling that we each experience, perhaps even experience often (childbirth, death, sunrise, the greening and flowering of spring, a snowstorm, bitter cold, blazing heat, the vastness of the ocean, love), but a feeling we have allowed others to reframe for us. The laws and beauty of scientific understanding do not explain away, as many assume. They are descriptive, a language of their own about the world in which we live. But they have not stripped out awe and mystery though men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens insist on it. Empiricists, fed by scientism, want to suggest only through data and analysis can we know the truth.
Or, the experience of the Celts and the Roman Catholic church is instructive here, one faith’s certainty can leave no room for the numinous anywhere but in their dogma, their rituals. Catholics built churches over Celtic holy wells. They deployed words like heretics and blasphemers and pagans to undercut the authority of the old faith. They appropriated Celtic holidays by turning Lugnasa into Lammas, Samain into All Saints. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism says it well, “It is not the seeking of God that is the problem, it is the certainty of those who believe they have found God that is the problem.”
We can learn from the residents of Leilani Estates. We live in a wild universe, one well beyond our capacity to either control or understand. When we can set aside the certainty of others, the narrow thinking, and open ourselves to awefull and wonder of wilderness home, then we can know the ordinary holy, the secular sacred, the profane faith of those whose revelations no longer come from books or laboratories, but from that wilderness itself. That is reenchantment, that is reconstruction, that is a reimagined faith.