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Only The Poets Can Save Us Now
© Richard Reese 1997


My name is Richard Adrian Reese, and I'm here today to talk a bit about humankind's oldest profession -- storytelling. Please understand that I'm an expert at nothing, just an ignorant unwashed heathen barking at the moon. I'm not here to mock or condemn what you believe, I'm just a fool playing with ideas. My only intention is to tickle your thinker. Trust nothing I say. Learn for yourself. Think for yourself.

For the last two and a half years, I've lived a hermit's life in the forest, and have avoided contact with society. I have lived without television, hot water, refrigeration, alarm clocks, garbage service, and daily papers. I've heated my home with wood. I've grown my own food. I use 97% less electricity than the average American home. I drive few miles.

Many people think that I'm some kind of wacky martyr, punishing myself for the sins of the world. The reality is quite the opposite -- this period of simplicity has not been unpleasant at all -- it has been the most creative and rewarding and enriching period of my life.

During this retreat of seclusion and reflection, I've been trying to solve the greatest riddle of all -- why humans are destroying themselves and the planet. I've read mountains of books and magazines. In a nutshell, we have two problems: there are way too many people, and we are living way too hard. It takes about 30 seconds to figure out the solutions to these two problems, and any kindergartner could quickly do it.

If we were rational beings, these two problems would have been solved centuries ago. But human beings are essentially irrational. I came to see that, in addition to population and lifestyle, there was a third problem, the biggest problem, a purely irrational one -- a black magic spell, a voodoo curse. This problem is rooted in our myths, fantasies, and hallucinations of progress, and human superiority and infallibility.

Every day we hear stories that humans are the greatest. The world was created just for us. We are the successful conclusion of the entire evolutionary process.

Our faith says that we are the smartest -- but the data says that the way we live is incredibly dumb and destructive. Faith is the ultimate truth. Data that conflicts with our faith, therefore, is impossible and unbelievable.

Our society is in a headlock. It is impossible for The Greatest Story on Earth to be a tragic comedy, a ceaseless disaster of repeated mistakes. Our society's soul is like a crashed computer -- it has locked up, it no longer works.

There are many viewpoints on this crash. George Steiner calls it collective personality disintegration. John Trudell calls it a disease of the spirit. Carl Jung says that the mass consciousness has become hysterical. Chellis Glendinning says that we suffer from domestication. Daniel Quinn calls it a breakdown in our stories. Many different names for the same voodoo. In today's talk, I'll approach the problem as a failure in our stories.

Are Humans Number One?

Human beings are among the newest and youngest of all the creatures on Earth. We are so new that we have yet to truly integrate into any of the bioregions on the planet. Not a single ecosystem depends on us.

If human beings disappeared tomorrow, no ecosystem would collapse, or even be harmed. Indeed, in most places, the disappearance of humans would be beneficial.

On the other hand, if trees were to disappear tomorrow, the entire planet would be rocked with convulsions. Trees are important. So are ants, earthworms, termites, honey bees, algae, and fungi. Humans are among the least important species on Earth -- except in the human stories of the last 8,000 years.

The Importance of Stories

Over the years, there have been dozens of cases where human infants have been raised by wild animals, including wolves, bears, and tigers. These feral children ran on all fours, and were so fast that it was almost impossible to catch them. They had tremendous senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Amala and Kamala the wolf girls could see in the dark, and smell meat from a great distance.

These feral humans were always naked, and were indifferent to the cold. Wild children would learn the languages of their adopted parents. They would whine and howl and shriek and bark. When a wolf boy was captured by humans in India, his wolf family would come right into the village at night, to play with their human relative. On a hilltop they would sit together and howl at the moon.

When feral children were caught, and returned to human society, most of them never learned how to walk well on two legs. They were uncomfortable being upright, and their walking was a clumsy hobble. Few of them learned to speak more than a few words, even after years of teaching.

So, we see that most of the magic that humans possess -- like speaking or walking on two legs -- is not built into our hardware. Our magic lies in our software, our learned knowledge, that is accumulated and passed on through the generations in our stories.

Today there is a popular myth that humans became powerful because of our ability to make and use tools. Not true -- we had big brains long before we learned how to make stone tools or build fires.

Humans became powerful because of our mastery of language -- the power of our stories. We studied nature intensively, learned a great deal about the ways of plants and animals, and built stories around this knowledge. We learned stalking from the cats, tracking from the wolves, deception from the opossums, trapping from the spiders, community from the apes, and joy from the chipmunks. We learned the finest magic of all beings, and enriched our stories with it.

Stories are our software. Stories are the heart and soul of every culture. Stories define who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. Stories are our most important and powerful possessions.

Good stories produce cultures that live in balance with the Earth, and bad stories produce cultures like the one you see around you. Stories created our problems, but stories can be changed. Stories must be changed. Only the poets can save us now.

Stories That Work

Please do not confuse me with a misanthrope -- a hater of human beings. What I despise is the senseless destruction that modern people cause, and the stories that promote and celebrate this destruction.

Many humans are wonderful and admirable. There is no music, sung by any species, as beautiful as the music of the jungle Pygmies. That is the music that plays in my head. The songs of the Pygmies celebrate the sacredness of the forest. The purpose of their songs is to keep the forest awake, and to keep the forest happy. They are the finest love songs I have ever heard.

Civilized people have forgotten how to keep our forests awake and happy. We do not sing joyful songs in our homes, workplaces, or streets. By forgetting our ancient songs, we have forgotten who we are, and our purpose for being here. We have forgotten how to live.

In 2500 BC, Egyptian explorers came across the Pygmies. The report to the Pharaoh noted that these jungle people sang to the forest, and danced for it. They have been doing this continuously for four and a half thousand years, and probably much, much longer.

While countless civilizations have come and gone, the Pygmies have been singing in their sacred forests. The Pygmies have stories that work. Successful stories are the norm.

Indeed, the bad stories are very new. For 99.9% of the time that humans have lived on Earth, we have lived in relative peace. We cooperated with other species, respected them, and revered them. If humankind's history were a thousand page book, the bad stories wouldn't appear until the final paragraph on the last page.

The stories that worked -- for close to three million years -- are those of the hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers lived successfully in every continent and climate, except Antarctica. All around the world, the successful stories of these nomadic people had a number of beliefs in common:

Therefore, individualism was not known, taught, encouraged, or tolerated. People with big heads were relentlessly mocked and teased until the swelling went away and they returned to a state of health and cooperation.

Civilized people look down on the hunter-gatherers. We call them savages and barbarians. We believe that their lives were nasty, brutish, and short. Most of this is myth -- read some anthropology books. Certainly our ancestors were not angels, but there is a great deal of useful information that we could learn from their stories.

What's amazing is what modern folks do on their vacations. We journey to the wilderness and camp with our families. We hike and fish and hunt and swim. We sit around campfires, feasting and telling stories. This is how we spend our one week of freedom, the greatest week of the year -- attempting to find our lost inner cave man.

In a nutshell, when our stories were filled with reverence for the natural world, we lived in harmony with it. The stories worked. Your ancestors once told these stories. Your flesh and blood once knew how to live. Your dreams can take you back to this knowledge.

The Fork in the Path

Over millions of years, hunter-gatherers gradually grew in numbers and spread to every corner of the Earth. About ten thousand years ago, people were everywhere, there was no more uninhabited land, and people began to bump into one another. We discovered that there was a limit to the number of people who could live in a sustainable relationship with the Earth. This limit is somewhere around five million people.

Hitting the population ceiling presented us with a new problem -- and our ancient stories provided us with no solutions. There was no script for dealing with too many people.

Survival was our driving force. We did not have the lemming's instinct for self-destruction -- in those days. We did what seemed right. We lived harder on less land. We domesticated animals. We ripped apart the earth and planted seeds.

This new way of life was much more work than hunting and gathering, but it permitted survival. In the early days, the soil was rich, and the gardens were very successful. Gardening was a very clever trick, and the gardeners became proud and big-headed.

We also began to domesticate animals. Much time was spent wringing the milk from swollen udders. Much attention was paid to the sexual cycles of female animals, and when they came into estrus, they were bred.

Seeds planted in the fertile womb of soil. Sperm planted in fertile wombs of animals. Milking the female animals at sunrise and sunset. The world of the gardeners and herders was one that was dominated by the feminine.

This was the goddess era -- the land was a fertile, loving, and abundant Earth Mother. Animals ceased being our brothers and equals. We fed them, bred them, milked them, and slaughtered them. Humans began to manipulate, exploit, and control the natural world. In our stories, the Great Spirit of the hunting people was replaced with human-like gods and goddesses of fertility.

The goddess cultures were relatively peaceful. Excavations of their remains in Eastern Europe show no fortifications and no weapons. What we find are many goddess figurines, magical tools for fertility rituals.

The shift to herding and gardening was an important one. At this point, we ceased living in harmony with the land. We began to cause injuries, to leave scars, to permanently alter the landscape. We opened Pandora's Box. We abandoned the Garden of Eden, ate the forbidden fruit, and experienced The Fall. Cain the struggling farmer killed his brother Abel, the singing nomad, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, gardening allowed rapid growth in our population. Hungry people began raiding others' gardens. Bands began warring. This led to walls, warriors, and aggressive leaders. A permanent military class needed food, so we shifted from gardening to farming.

Cities grew. Individualism tore apart ancient family bonds. Society was stratified into a hierarchy of classes, and inequality became the rule. With the rise of males in military and religious institutions, matriarchy gave way to patriarchy. The Earth Mother took the back seat to Zeus, Jupiter, and Odin -- male war gods.

The concept of evil emerged. Our fixation with wealth and property grew to ominous new heights. Our ancient tradition of sharing was replaced with the harsh buying and selling of the marketplace. Poverty was invented. Healers no longer served for free, but for a fee.

My middle name is Adrian, which means a person from the region of the Adriatic Sea. This sea was named after the Etruscan port town of Adria, a town on an island several miles from the coast, offshore from the mouth of the Po River. Civilization ripped the Po River bioregion to shreds. The forests were decimated to feed the fires of metal-workers, potters, and glass-makers. With the trees gone, the soils washed into the sea, and destructive floods followed every big rain.

Today, Adria is no longer a seaport on an island. It is a farm town, 15 miles from the sea. Adria's ancient Etruscan streets are buried under 15 feet of eroded soil. Most of the watershed of the Po is now a wasteland.

The story of Adria has been repeated countless times. The Tigris-Euphrates valley is now a wasteland. The tremendous cedar forests of Moses' Promised Land are now a withered desert. Greece, Rome, Turkey, North Africa -- the entire Mediterranean basin has been laid to ruin.

Today, we are working feverishly to ruin the rest of the world. Every year, America loses close to two billion tons of soil. Each bushel of corn costs six bushels of fertile earth. Each year farmers lose what it took the Earth thousands of years to create. This is exactly how the Cradle of Civilization was destroyed, the same mistakes, but played in fast forward. Each trip to the supermarket feeds this devouring beast.

The stories told in our history classes have nothing but praise for civilization. The Pygmies are stupid brutal savages, but we are the most brilliant people to ever walk the face of the Earth. For 8,000 years, each generation has been taught the same stories, and repeated the same mistakes. Soon, there will be nothing left.

Progress Is A Pipe Dream

The story of progress -- that each generation is better than the one before it -- is about 200 years old. These 200 years have been the most tumultuous and destructive years in the history of the planet. In fact, the history of civilization is not a story of progress, but a story of continuous decline.

The Christian tradition begins in the Garden of Eden of the hunters and gatherers. The Fall symbolizes the dawn of civilization. Yahweh, a Semitic storm god, could see that farming was destroying Creation. For much of the Old Testament, he urges his Chosen People to destroy the hideous cities of the defilers of the Earth. But the farmers beat the nomads, and the Christian prophets tell us that we are now sitting in the shadows of an onrushing Armageddon.

In the Norse myths, it's the same cycle. The human gods conquer the powerful forces of nature, rule for a while, then are destroyed by the revenge of nature at the battle of Ragnarok.

The ancient Greeks saw human decline as a series of historic ages. Hesiod writes of the Golden Age: "They lived like gods, free from worry and fatigue; old age did not afflict them; they rejoiced in continual festivity." This was followed by the Silver Age, a matriarchal era of agriculture, when men obeyed their mothers. This was followed by the Bronze Age, a patriarchal era of war -- "Their pitiless hearts were as hard as steel; their might was untamable, their arms invincible." This was followed by the Iron Age, a time "when men respect neither their vows, nor justice, nor virtue."

Today we live in the Toxic Age. The planet is overheating, there is a massive hole in the ozone layer, species extinction has become a global epidemic, the remaining forests are being furiously destroyed, the fish in the ocean are almost gone, our soil is pouring into the sky and sea -- and every day we teach our children stories of wonderful progress, and the glories of civilization.

The Vital Importance of Fairies

My ancestors come from northern Europe. I'd like to share a bit of their story.

In the beginning were the giants, beings older than time. They were very big, very strong, and had tremendous appetites. We can still see them today, covered with soil and trees, sleeping peacefully -- they are the mountains. When they awaken, they can become very fearsome -- they cause earthquakes, tidal waves, thunder, and volcanoes.

Later came the little people -- wee folk, fairies, sprites, brownies, kobolds -- they had many names. The little people were small, lively, and incredibly intelligent. They lived primarily on nuts, roots, and fruits. They neither tilled, nor grazed, nor hunted. They knew the language of every species. They were very skilled at healing with herbs.

The primary passions of the little people were music, song, and dance. They were a very gay and joyful and carefree people. You can still hear their happiness in the sounds of Irish jigs and reels, Cajun waltzes and two-steps, and the ancient music of darkest Africa.

The wee folk were the spirits of the land. Every plant, tree, animal, fish, insect, mountain, and body of water had an alive and vital spirit. In European legends, the little people had names such as: Pea Blossom, Mustard Seed, Oak, Pear Tree, and Daisy.

When an aboriginal human walked across the land, it was like walking through an endless crowd of living spirits -- the huge community of the family of the land.

Years ago, I saw a movie about Roger Rabbit, a cartoon hare. In this movie, there was a land on the outskirts of Hollywood where all of the cartoon characters lived. This place was called Toon Town.

Toon Town was a pulsating, vibrant, multi-colored land where everything was alive and dancing and singing -- the trees, the flowers, the clouds, the houses, the animals -- everything. Not a square inch of the movie screen was static or lifeless, a neutral background. At risk of sounding irreverent, I see our ancestor's world as something much like Toon Town.

From the dawn of time, Earth was Toon Town -- until eight thousand years ago -- when the modern, civilized, and superior Big People arrived. We can walk across a land and neither see the spirits or hear their joyful music. With a chain saw we can clear-cut a Toon Town forest -- turn it into text books, newspapers, disposable diapers, and toilet paper -- and never feel the slightest pang of grief, shame, or sacrilege. Big People are the only creatures on Earth who do not spend their days making joyful music.

The stupidity of the Big People brought endless grief to the hearts of the little people. They detested our meat-eating, our lumbering, our ripping of the Mother's flesh with sharp plows, our idiotic fascination with numbers and counting, and the blackest art of all -- metal making.

With time, the growing madness of civilization became just too much for the little people, and, clan by clan, they tearfully and painfully said good-bye to the lands that they so deeply loved and cared for, packed up their belongings, and set off on long journeys to unknown places. As soon as they left, the Big People proceeded to pound the Earth to a bloody pulp.

But, in all truth, the wee folk never actually left the land -- they just became invisible. They still live in my forest. People with open hearts and loving souls can still see them, sing with them, and dance.

Jesus -- the Green Shaman

One day, I was out in my woods, sitting on Hugo's stone, enjoying the sunshine and the music of the trees. In the chatter of the leaves I heard a small voice, and this voice told me a story about Jesus that I had never heard before. It's a story from the little people, so please don't take it seriously. The story went something like this:
A long, long time ago, when Jesus was alive, it was a lot like today. People were suffering and struggling under the weight of civilization. There was a powerful military system running everything. Few were rich and many were poor. Common people had no power at all. It was not a happy time.

When Jesus was about 30, he'd been working for many years, watching the suffering, and thinking. One day he came to realize that carpentry was not the answer, so he set off for the wilderness. Out in the wilderness, he met a wild uncivilized holy man named John, who wore animal clothing and lived on locusts and honey.

John's story was one of baptism and repentance. He called out to civilized people -- the warriors, carpenters, farmers, and priests -- and he begged them to repent of their sins and return to a state of harmony. Those who repented, he immersed in the River Jordan, and thereby opened their hearts to the perfection of Creation.

When John baptized Jesus, the sky opened up, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a shining white dove, Jesus was filled with divine ecstasy, and he instantly recognized the infinite beauty and power of the Creator.

Immediately after his awakening, Jesus went off into the mountains for a 40-day vision quest. During that time, his soul was deeply imbued with the perfection of Creation. It was a time of profound healing and growth for him. Many important answers were revealed.

One day, Satan, the King of the Yuppies, saw this scruffy long-haired blue collar pilgrim sitting on a rock in the sacred forest. Satan offered Jesus a free ticket to Consumer Nirvana -- a lifetime shopping spree at every mall on planet Earth. By this time, Jesus was so high on Creation that he just shook his head, laughed, and said "Nah, that sounds like a bad trip, man."

Out there in the wilderness, Jesus found what the people of Palestine had lost. When he finally came back into town, he was floating, glowing, and utterly radiant with holy energy. Folks picked up on this right away, and they asked him what he'd been smoking.

Well, Jesus would just break into a big grin, laugh, and sit down and tell them his story. Accumulating riches isn't the answer, he'd tell them. Wealth is a disease of the soul. Blessed are the humble and poor, and woe unto the consumers.

Another thing Jesus talked about was unconditional love. The Romans ruled the land by using the tactics of divide and conquer. They kept people alone and afraid. Love was the antidote to this tyranny. The miraculous power of love could bring people together, unite them in action, and make their journey easier and brighter.

Jesus told them about the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Most of the great theologians of Christendom have never taken a 40-day vision quest in the wilderness, so most of them have completely missed the great meaning of the Golden Rule. This rule doesn't just apply to human matters, it applies to interactions with every species that walks, flies, blooms, and swims.

Well anyway, it didn't take too long before this talk had the priests and generals riled up. We all know what happened next. Jesus got killed long before he could live out his vision. The truth of his vision still stands. His vision still remains to be completed -- and it's up to us to pick up where he left off.

Three centuries after Jesus died, when Christianity became the sole official religion of the Roman Empire, people of many different stories were suddenly all jammed together under one roof. It was like the bar scene in Star Wars. A lot of compromises were made. Christianity became a melting pot of many diverse and unrelated stories.

From the Hellenist mystery cults we absorbed the story of a lord who dies and is reborn. From the Gnostics we absorbed the story that the world is a place of evil, that humans are alien to this world, that the world is our enemy. From the Mithraists, we absorbed the tradition of Sunday worship and fasting at Lent. From the German pagans, we absorbed the notion of Hell, and the celebration of the fertility goddess Ostara -- Easter.

From the Sol Invictus cult of Rome, we absorbed the story of the Son of God being born of a Virgin on December 25. These are just a few examples. The result of this infusion of strange stories is that the story of Jesus, to a large extent, got diluted and scrambled in the confusion.

In 1945, a farmer named Mohammed Ali found an ancient jar near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Among the contents of this jar was a book containing the Gospel of Thomas. This gospel of Jesus' life had never been edited, corrected, clarified, or blessed by the official Holy Roman Church. Perhaps the words of the Gospel of Thomas are clearer and cleaner. Perhaps they contain less static from pagan cults.

In chapter 113 of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is talking about the nature of heaven -- God's kingdom. He said that it was not an event that would occur in the future. Here is what he said: "The kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it." In other words, Heaven is where your feet are standing.

Jesus was baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, went to the wilderness, and spent 40 days in the company of the giant trees, the wild animals, the birds and the bees, and the wee folk -- the angels. This experience flooded his heart with profound knowledge that later sent shock waves through the civilized world. Heaven is all around you. Give away your wealth and live a life of unconditional love. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- make the forest happy with your songs, and the forest will make you happy.

Forty days in the wilderness -- five vital words -- perhaps the most important words in the entire Bible. Five words that clearly describe exactly where the treasure lies, where the Holy Spirit is to be found, where the mystery of Heaven is revealed, where one can throw off the chains of civilization and find beauty, love, meaning, and salvation.

A weekend trip won't do it. A two week quest won't do it. It takes forty continuous days to unwind, to forget your past, to become purified, calm, trusting, loving, open, and receptive. It takes forty days to begin to catch mind-exploding glimpses of the perfection of Creation, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Seek and ye shall find.

The interiors of churches are imitations of the wilderness where Jesus quested, the sacred grove. The high walls are the massive tree trunks, and the high vaulted ceilings are the canopy of foliage. The music of the church represents the songs of the animals, the birds, and the breeze. The burning incense reminds us of the fragrance of blooming blossoms. The church is a poor imitation of the wilderness. I encourage you to do what Jesus did -- seek out the real thing. Maybe you'll find what Jesus did.

Odin's Three Gifts

Meanwhile, back in northern Europe, Odin, the chief god of my farming ancestors, was thinking along the same lines. Odin was an interesting and unusual god. He was not all-powerful, all-knowing, or immortal. He was a shaman and a poet, a magician and a singer, a god of wit and wisdom. His journey was a quest for learning and understanding. He was a god of personal growth.

Odin was a symbol of The Fall -- the shift to farming. He and his band of gods and goddesses fought a mighty battle and subdued the powerful forces of nature -- the Fenris wolf, the Midgard serpent, and Surt the giant. Then they created people -- herders, farmers, and metal-makers.

The Volvas were wise women who could foresee the future. They predicted that the reign of Odin was temporary, that the forces of nature would eventually come unbound and destroy what Odin had created. Nature was more powerful than the gods of agriculture.

Odin could see that the world he had created was not in harmony with nature, and that it was doomed to fail. This knowledge inspired him to think, to search for answers, to try to find a way for people and nature to live together in peace. Odin's seeking bore three fruits, three tools for healing the injured world. The first of these gifts is remembrance.

The stories of the fairies were tales passed on from an earlier era, one older than the age of farmers. The wee folk were not only symbols of the spirits of the land, they were symbols of the hunters and gatherers. Symbols of an ancient age when people lived in harmony with nature, an age of song and dance and joy.

These ancient people possessed vital knowledge that had been forgotten. Odin realized that this knowledge must be remembered. The coming of civilization had dismembered peoples' souls, and turned them into psychotics. These dismembered souls needed to be put back together again -- they needed to be re-membered.

Odin was a one-eyed god. He valued remembrance so highly that he plucked out one of his eyes as the price for a drink at the well of the giant Mimir. Mimir was known as the Wise One, the Rememberer. His well had two names: the Well of Remembrance, and the Well of Stories.

Odin had two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who flew out over the world every day, observed the events, and returned to inform Odin. The names of these two birds mean "thought" and "memory."

Odin cherished these sacred ravens. He knew that the loss of thought would be terrible, but that the loss of memory would be far worse. Thought is clever and useful, but memory is essential and indispensable.

Odin understood that the solution to the ecological dilemma was not a new idea that could be conjured up by thought -- the solution was old stories. Ancient wisdom had to be remembered and re-taught. Ancient mistakes had to be remembered and redone. Ancient wholeness and balance had to be remembered and restored.

All that modern humans know about the three million year story of humankind is the last paragraph on the last page. The first 999 pages in the book are blank. Our culture suffers from dreadful amnesia. We don't know who we are, or where we came from. The Pygmies, on the other hand, know exactly who they are. They've been singing the same songs, and telling the same stories, since the Ice Age.

The second gift of Odin was questioning. There is an old German proverb that says: "To ask a question is the beginning of wisdom." Ignorance is the most dangerous force on Earth. The Earth is being destroyed by billions of ignorant people.

Our schools and churches teach submission, obedience, and blind faith. We fill our children's minds with ignorant stories of progress and human superiority. Our national anthem is Shop Till You Drop. We do not teach critical thought, skepticism, questioning. Children who do not question are children who do not find wisdom. They will grow up to be ignorant destroyers.

Odin could see that his human subjects were ignorant, and he wanted to change that. He sought wisdom, and he did this by asking questions. He questioned the skull of Mimir to learn the wisdom of the giants. He questioned convicts as they hung dead on the gallows, to gather insights from the other world. He questioned the Volvas, the wise women who could foresee the future. Everywhere he went, he sought out the wisest ones and asked them his questions.

Questions are the bridge between ignorance and wisdom. Wisdom never leaps across the chasm. Wisdom is never a free gift. Wisdom only comes in response to questions. Wisdom is not generous either -- it will never give you more than you ask for. Shallow questions will bring shallow wisdom. Powerful wisdom only comes in response to powerful questions.

You can ask, "shall I buy a Toyota or a Ford?" Or, you can ask, "would Jesus drive a car?" "Would Buddha buy toilet paper, paper towels, and newspapers?" "Would Odin spend a single minute watching television?" "Is it intelligent and good to bring another child into this tremendously overpopulated world?"

The third gift of Odin was the gift of tools of transformation. Odin was the god of poets, the inventor of runes, and a great singer. Songs, verse, stories, and runes possess fabulous power.

The Finnish equivalent of Odin was Wainamoinen. In Wainamoinen's story, we have the Finnish equivalent of the Pygmies singing to keep their forest happy. Jacob Grimm writes: "When Wainamoinen touches his harp, the whole of nature listens, the four-footed beasts of the wood run up to him, the birds come flying, the fish in the waters swim toward him." When he plays, "tears of bliss burst from the god's eyes, and fall on his breast, from his breast to his knees, from his knees to his feet, wetting five mantles and eight coats."

At the beginning of this talk, I said that humans became powerful because of our ability to communicate stories. Our power lies in the word.

The Gospel of John starts out: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Jakob Grimm writes of the ancient Germans: "A yet stronger power than that of herb or stone lies in the spoken word, and all nations use it for both blessing and cursing. But these, to be effective, must be choice, well knit, rhythmic words, must have lilt and tune; hence all that is strong in the speech wielded by priest, physician, and magician, is allied to the forms of poetry."

He adds: "Songs and runes then can do very great things. They are able to kill, bring to life, prevent from dying; [they can] heal or make sick, bind up wounds, stanch blood, alleviate pain, and lull to sleep; [they can] quench fire, allay the sea-storm, bring rain and hail; [they can] undo chains and bolts, open mountains or close them up; [they can] forward or delay birth; make weapons strong or soft, dull the edge of a sword; spoil a crop; call up evil spirits and lay them. These wonders lie in the very nature of poetry."

Dr. Charley Tart understands the power of spoken words. He discovered that he could put almost anyone into a trance state, in a matter of a few minutes, by simply talking to them. At the Nuremberg rally, Adolph Hitler whipped thousands of people into a delirious trance with his magical words. If these words had been printed, distributed, and read, nothing at all would have happened.

Writing was invented to allow the accurate transmission of messages. This permitted emperors to dominate larger empires. Writing conveys information, but it has little power to enchant or entrance -- compared to the sung or spoken word. The ancient Celts believed that reading and writing degraded a person, and the Druids strictly forbade these dark practices.

The ancient Gauls of France revered the mighty Ogmius, a god of speech and language. Thread-like chains of delicate golden links connected the tongue of Ogmius to each person's ears. When Ogmius spoke his golden words, his tongue pulled everyone's ears, and all joyfully followed wherever Ogmius led.

Spoken stories, poems, and songs create trances. Stories are utterly irresistible. Television is a story machine. People cannot turn it off, no matter how incredibly stupid the programs are. Advertisements are also stories. They create evil trances that strip away your self-esteem. They constantly bombard you with the notions that you're too fat, you're out of fashion, you're ugly, you're not popular. Your armpits stink, your feet reek, your breath is gross, you have dandruff, dry skin, wrinkles, constipation, acne, dirt & stains, spotty dishes, nasty toilets, and germs, germs, germs!

An advertising executive once nicely summed up the purpose of his business. He said, "Our job is to make women unhappy." Advertising is an evil trance. And it works! People are entranced by the commercials, and then they buy the products. If you ever go to a mall or supermarket, pay attention to the consumers. They roam up and down the aisles in a glassy-eyed, zombie-like state. They are searching for the product that will remove the curse on them. They are religious pilgrims seeking salvation. They are eco-terrorists destroying the Earth.

The entire Civil Rights movement of the sixties was initiated with a single rune of power. When Rosa Parks was instructed to move to the back of the bus, she spoke a rune of revolution. She said "No" -- and the world has never been the same.

The Viet Nam War was ended by a bunch of scruffy young kids. They were watching the war on TV, and they thought it sucked. They picked up guitars and started singing songs. They had names like Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix, and Country Joe MacDonald. The war was on TV during the evening news, but on the radio, anti-war songs got regular rotation all around the clock. The positive trance overpowered the negative trance. A dozen hungry dirty kids initiated the avalanche that brought the mightiest war machine in the world to its knees.

Imagine if the radio was playing anti-consumer songs, anti-driving songs, love songs for the Earth. If you can imagine them, you can sing them, and if you can sing them, you can transform the world.

In March of 1945, Adolph Hitler saw he was beat. He sent out orders to destroy or permanently disable everything in Germany -- railroads, airports, bridges, factories, canals, ports, ships, weapons, power plants, water systems. The Good Germans, who had been following Adolph's orders for years, suddenly stopped and gasped. The orders were to destroy their future! The poem of salvation that spread across Germany like wildfire was this one: "Der Fuhrer ist ein Schiesskopf!" [Adolph is a "Butthead"] The orders were not obeyed.

Every day, your television and the fanatics of progress are screaming the same orders to you -- destroy your future. Shop till you drop. Consume like there's no tomorrow. I hope that you have the wisdom to be Good Germans, and do the right thing. Disobey.


Our world is sick and crazy, because it's under the spell of bad stories. We suffer from black magic, a voodoo curse. The solutions lie in the hands of the poets and musicians, the shamans and witches -- people with the power, vision, and courage to change our stories. People like you perhaps. The keys of transformation include unconditional love, the Golden Rule, voluntary poverty, wilderness quests, remembering ancient wisdom, questioning everything, and using the sacred power of your words to put a sharp bend in the mind of the universe.

The first step of the journey is to remember your love and reverence for the Earth, the Creator's astonishing masterpiece. The Pygmies lived in their sacred forest as if it were heaven. They lived like reverend guests in a sacred land. Jesus discovered that heaven was spread out across the earth, and this inspired his ministry of love. The relationship between modern people and the Earth is like the relationship between O.J. and Nicole.

Turning on a light switch is an act of terror. Coal is violently ripped out of Mother Earth's breasts. Mercury and acids spew from the power plant's smokestack, and painfully poison and kill whatever they touch -- fish, forests, lakes, and children. When you can feel Mother Earth's pain, you'll know that you have remembered well. You'll know that you are on the path to health and life when you can feel the pain of buying a newspaper, driving a car, or eating food grown on an industrial farm.

When you can feel the pain, you have remembered the love that your ancestors had for the Earth. When you have remembered the love, then you will have the power to sing the song that will transform the hearts and souls of humankind. You will have the power to speak the verses that pull at everyone's ears -- the verses that will lead us out of our barbarism, our terrible confusion, and our unbearable pain.

That's my story. Good luck to you, and fare thee well! Thank you!

Richard Reese
RR 1 Box 401
Hancock, MI 49930-9739
(906) 482-7873
31 May 1997

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