Green Makes Your Worries Stay Still

Green wants to keep changing, hard to make it stay still, but it makes your worries stay still.

It’s said the human eye can see more hues of green than any other color. I sit here thinking about green, with turquoise, my colors of love. Scribbling these words between episodes of bounce-house supervision of children on this day in summer at work. Here in Cascadia there is no shortage of greenness in summer rains. Where I’m from in the great San Joaquin valley of California, all is crisp and dry-brown gold in summer. It is big news on the rarest of days when rain appears in the long summers.

I’ve lately heard again the myth of persephone, how the earth is barren in the months when she is in the underworld. Not available to bless the plants with her life-giving powers. And so the earth is barren during this time. The story collectors of northern Europe thought it must’ve been winter, the dead time of year. But I think it is summer. Greece is is the same climate as California, with those long, hot, dry summers, and this season is the most deadly. My early childhood observations of California’s lush winters may be my root appreciation for the color green, when the winter rains bring verdant growth back to the land.

Green, the eyes of the forest, green taking a moment to zone out and not try, look out the window at green and sink-fall into the unconscious reverie of leaves with dew, even if the dew is from sprinklers, it still does the trick. Green is branching into brain patterns brightness flashing inspiration. Green is the color of reptiles and genius and ecstatic desire. The color of the god Pan in the thicket, this glory-green is the original color, maybe the first we ever saw, telling one green from another to sift apart the multitude of species upon species together in chorus. Green is mind-thought and no-mind imagination. Other colors look better with green. I like to add many blues as the most beautiful companions of green. In fact, there are many blues and many greens. Spin with gold-yellow-amber and paintbrush-fur-brown.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Thomas Lambert on Unsplash

The Obelisks

 

Now falls the city streets’ grey weight and shaking
on the modern heart –their shouts persist,
the crowds of angry angel-apes,
so far to fall again to waking,
falling on my ears, the sounds,
the anger of the obelisks:
brooding, menacing their eyes of spears,
the red-crazed mob resounds.

Is wisdom gone? Is she not here,
but risen to where humans step beyond
the riot’s fray of fear,
and once again will listen?
–Listen!
Our every harrowed heart,
our grasping minds that seek,
be calm this obfuscated day:
lay down your bloody weapons
in the ground
and walk unarmed away.

Come quicker, Evolution’s inmost sight,
come orient our primetime agony tonight.

 

 

image source: public domain

Mammal Fur is More Fun Than Differences

 

Lately I’ve been working with kids at a school this summer switching off between restorative outdoor playtime (our much-loved extended care program) and more structured day camps. All kinds of magic can happen in these places. Today I had the honor of talking with a little five-year old boy out on the playground about mammals, and how they are different from reptiles, birds and other families of life. I used a big word, characteristics, and he stumbled over the pronunciation rather adorably. But through more discussion he got that big word in his hands and started playing with it (this is how we humans learn!), saying “a characteristic of a sheep is fluff,” and, “a zebra has a characteristic like a horse. Is a hippo a mammal? What about a lion? Hey, do any mammals lay eggs? I think a hippo and a lion have a fur characteristic.”

Whenever I get to share knowledge about the animal kingdom, I am brought back to my similar love of anthropology; how our human family tree echoes the branches of greater groups of life reaching out to species and kingdoms. It was during a lull in our conversation when the boy, staring into the big sky and thinking really hard about all this stuff, asked about human characteristics. Sometimes we educators feel awkward when talking about how human groups are different in some ways, but actually more deeply the same in others. And so I turn to anthropology, a way to track our shared human story’s characteristics so that the science of who we are need not be intimidating nor divisive to us.

Anthropology is the study of human cultures, a telling of our ancestral developments which influence us even today. I first became excited about the study of anthropology when I began exploring some of the technologies used by indigenous hunter-gatherer groups: making fire by friction, edible wild plant medicines, and the tracking of animals. Later, I took an introductory anthropology course during college which further illuminated the academic modes of study for this topic. Let me introduce you to a few of those pathways. See if you can imagine how these modes of study can help you better understand our human family, the one you see all around you.

There are four fields of anthropology as recognized by formal scientific study: the cultural, biological, linguistic and archaeological foci. Cultural anthropology studies the cultural aspects of people in groups, such as their social, religious, and moral practices. Biological anthropology studies the physical and evolutionary parts of our human physiology as distinct from our cultural practices. This includes studying near-humans, our fellow primates and our shared fossil records. Linguistic anthropology tracks the patterns of languages across cultures, giving clues as to our ancient movement over time and geography (as well as how the earth’s environments have influenced the development of our many languages). Archaeological anthropology studies cultures of the ancient past, in particular the preliterate cultures making up the mammoth mass of our unwritten history. Techniques used in this field are similar to the research methods used in paleontology, and extends to include paleo-zoology and other interrelated fields.

A smile lit up his face, the child who wanted to know more. “And we humans have characteristics that make us mammals?” It’s good for the heart to encounter this, a child’s preoccupation with needing to know that humanity is related to mammals -that we are mammals- more than any need to worry about the differences among us. When held up to the light of our nonhuman relatives, we all look very much the same. Studying anthropology is a delight for the mind. It serves to inspire in us a deeper joy in our fellow human beings.

 

 

Image © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.

Rosie’s Life Memoir – In Memoriam

 

My earliest memories are obscured in darkness, but this is what I do remember. I was being carried in a large paper bag by someone whose face I don’t recall. They took me to a place made of stone, a big building with lights and strange smells and someone put me in a little cage. I was cold and scared there and I cried for my mom, but she was nowhere to be found and couldn’t hear me. I had water and food and a place to relive myself, but where was my comfort? I was so small.

And then I saw her. She was so beautiful, enormous compared to me, a giant so much larger than me that she could hold me in one hand without effort and put my whole head in her mouth if she wanted to, but she didn’t try to eat me. Instead she picked me up and nuzzled me into her neck, and I loved her at once. I realized she was only a little one of their kind, even at her size. I decided I would make her mine. She made a weird sound come out of her mouth, a string of noises I would come to understand meant “unconditional love”.

young Rosie

After another strange happening where I was being carried by another big someone I don’t remember into a room with metal shiny things that poked me, I woke up with a shaved belly and a green “x” tattooed on me. Who knows what that was about?

And then SHE took me home, my little-big one I chose to love forever. She became my Real Mommy and she gave me a whole backyard to play and explore in and practice hunting bugs and rodents. One time I caught a dove in my mouth that was about twice my size and to this day I don’t get why the bigger ones of her kind her yelling like they were horrified because my Mommy thought it was awesome. I brought it to their door as a most sincere love offering of my talents.

It was a year into my young life when the unexpected happened. My heart was nearly broken when another little one of my own kind showed up at our house. The nerve! Was I forsaken? Suddenly unloved?! My mommy assured me I was still #1 in her heart but this little pipsqueak was invading MY territory. I was about to bite his little head off in revenge when I decided, no, I would spare his life because he is cute, and I can lick him and give him comfort. And I let him know who’s boss.

Simba and Rose playtumble

The years passed on and soon I was approaching my early middle age after a successful young adult career of hunting, fastidious grooming, patrolling my land, campaigning the big creatures for more and better food with my calculated vocalizations, olympic snoozing, and most importantly, snuggling my Mommy, who was always there for me and loved me every minute. But soon I came to realize that, although my big mommy loved me and would never leave me, her mommy was mean to her and yelled at her a lot and it scared me so my Mommy took me to live with her in many new places over the next half of my life until now. Besides, my mommy had reached adulthood of her own by this time. In truth, though this loss of my first precious territory and the little guy of my own kind was difficult for me at first, I soon adapted elegantly and put ever more of my security and love into Mommy as my mobile territory, you could say.

This was, however, all nomadic movement within one great landscape of similar weather, trees, smells and colors. I loved this place, it’s dry air and stony warms I could have my sits on outside of our houses. My favorite part of all was the grand, beautiful, snowy, pink light-spangled mountain range to the east and the delightfully sparkling blue-green river snaking down the valley from it, just out our backyard. Even though my kind are little creatures who frighten easily at too much travel in those big rumbly boxes that move really fast, we can still sense deeply in our hearts the presence of beautiful lands around us and nearby –we are territorial, after all. How do you think we stay so entertained when we are home alone all day? We go prowling for joy in our visions.

 

DSCN4179

Alas, I am old now and a year ago the time came again to move, but now to leave this place I heard them name “California” with the mouth-sounds they make, and go with my mommy to the place called “Washington State” where it is rainy and dark and green but still so very beautiful, and in the summer it is sometimes not so different-looking from my homeland. I like these forests very much because I could hide and pounce in them easily if I were a younger dish. I stay indoors only now because I need an inhaler twice a day to breathe and I can’t hunt for noms outside now at my age, but my mommy loves me still, and she has a mate who I love very much, too. He’s good to me and he lets me sit on his head and he gives me loves, kisses and pick-ups like Mommy does. I hope I will live for a good few years more. I am old now, and I hope to spend the rest of my days in snuggly peace in Mommy’s arms, dreaming of my wild ancestors and the purr of the beautiful universe.

DSC_0570

Originally written January 15th 2015
Rest in peace, little Rosie, first beloved kitty of mine. January 2003 – November 2015

 

 

Images © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.

Conservation of Energy

“[Soil] is where the dead are brought back to life.” –Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden

Look up the Law of Conservation of Energy and you’ll get a long pile of words. Within all those words is the infamous idea of the ultimate circle –matter is never created or destroyed. Matter goes about in a continuous loop, firing the will of movement into suns and animal bodies and small green plants pushing up form the black earth. Is energy another form of matter? I go ahead with my wondering.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, paleontologist, Catholic priest and beloved edge-walking mystic of the atomic midcentury once said, “matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.” I walk out to the modest garden, observing each day the tiny green sprouts of my beginner gardener’s hope and frustration and awe. And I see in my mind’s eye their delicate stipules as so many shimmering stars all compacted together unhurriedly, taking time to taste the water seeping gratefully into the breathless soil, now pushing upwards as if to reach back again into the celestial abyss without gravity.

A tiny plant is compacted energy. It must draw up from the dirt and down from the sun all the food it needs to live and survive the test of uncertain Nature. My species has taken steps to comfort the baby sprouts, sheltering them in greenhouses, within copper wire to fend off the slug beasts, befriended by the aphid-eating cotton-balled Green Lacewings, watered conveniently, bred for battle and pampered in domestic luxury. It can be argued that domestication preserves energy on both ends: the plants get to not die so often while we get to eat them reliably.

And yet gardening takes a tremendous exertion of energy, especially in the beginning, when mistakes are more abundant than edibles. It takes my vital energy, that which I am programmed to want to preserve, and which I have fought battles with myself to have more of. But it has also surprised me with a sweet delight: gardening is a kind of labor which, though it necessarily takes energy from me, it gives back in return. Here I do not need or desire to cut corners in defense of my lifeblood as we sometimes do in the parade of other jobs worked for survival’s sake. Already I have found this labor to be an effort of returning rewards in a generous circle. Long before a crop of edibles, I bring in the freely given health that is putting my actual head to the big solid earth when I need to quiet the anxieties of a human life. There, in the crepuscular light of a summer’s eve, beside the sleeping dust of dirt as yet unactivated by tilling or by compost, I go down on my knees and put the crown of my head to the ground. It is where the vital energy of stars and sprouts and animals are kept, and awoken.

 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Welcome to the Lifeworld

Welcome to The Leafy Paw, a place where I will burrow into The Big Questions concerning culture, the soul, and the changing earth –and all the shimmering strands that weave between them. Some questions we will get into here are; why is a string of words, arranged like so, so beautiful? Why does it make you feel power in the middle of your chest? And how is that experience of power and deep beauty urgently relevant to humanity’s current cultural struggles to know and care for the world?

Where do theology and science meet and lay down under a great big shady tree together? Why does nature demand blood? What is evolution seeking?Where do dreams go to live? Where can wisdom be found? Why are cats adorable?

I will also share my own poetry as well as others’.

My name is Gentle J. Pine: join me in drawing closer to the sacred heart and soul of The World.

Grandpa’s Words On Love & Marriage

GRANDPA’S WORDS (Robert Edward V.) On Love & Marriage

At the wedding of his son, 1998

Love is one long, sweet dream and marriage is the alarm clock. Love is the only game that two can play and win! Love is something that when you give it away, you end up having more. It has been said that marriage is a bond of love and that love is often blind.; therefore, marriage might be an institution for the blind — but marriage is always an eye-opener.

Marriage is an alliance of two lovers — one who remembers birthdays and the other who never forgets them. All marriage ceremonies are happy — it’s the living together afterward that causes all of the problems. Sometimes marriage can be a three ring circus — an engagement ring, a wedding ring, and suffering! But if it weren’t for marriage, men and women would have to fight with total strangers. We live by admiration, hope and love so remember that marriage has joined you in a holy wedlock — not deadlock!

A good husband is a man who is on listening terms with his wife. An optimistic husband is a fellow that doesn’t know what is coming to him! A smart husband is a man who is never so busy bringing home the bacon that he forgets the applesauce.

A good wife is a blessing in disguise. An optimistic wife gives her husband a push when needed — and a hug otherwise! A smart wife is a woman who makes her husband feel as if he is the head of the house, even though he may only be the chairman of the entertainment committee.

A good marriage is created by mutual love, respect and determination to make lemonade when life gives you lemons. A successful marriage is not so much finding the right person, but being the right person.

Toast: May your love be modern enough to survive the times and old fashioned enough to last forever. May “for better or worse” be far better than worse! May your marriage be long and happy, your cares and sorrows few, and your many friends remain well, good and true!

***TIME TESTED WISDOM TO REMEMBER***

Love is patient, love is kind… there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and it’s endurance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

With all thy faults I love thee still. (Samuel Butler)

Love one another, but make not a bond of love; let it be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. (Kahlil Gibran)

Marriage is a success when you can introduce your spouse with the words of King Solomon, saying, ‘This is my beloved and my friend’. (Song of Solomon 5:16)

 

Poem for Charleston

It was a Thursday evening
when you descended into the earth

in the house of God,
in Charleston
now too quiet, dark.

I put all the end of my thoughts
in that place
where you fell down in a pool of red,
immense without words,
big as the silence of bullets.

Heavy death is in our useless hands,
our chests are full of stones

down deep in the quiet
where the bones of the loved ones lay,

where arguing ends and seeds
curl up to sleep and dream through all winters

and idiot words and deeds are made silent,
unwinding the choke-cord of ages
at wars’ end.

written 6.17.2015

 

 

image source: public domain

The Anthropology of Princess Mononoke

The much-loved 1997 film Princess Mononoke, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, is a profound entryway into understanding modern humanity’s hunger for our ancient roots in nature and animistic spirituality through the lens of one culture, Japan. The culture of the “land of the rising sun”, as it is famously called, began as every culture did: foraging hunter-gatherers arrived in their current homeland in a seemingly mythological age of long ago, a time when the earth was ruled by pristine wilderness and the land enchanted by the spirits of animals undomesticated by humans. Though this legacy is, in part, a somewhat nostalgic and simplified view of humanity’s “primitive” past, it is nevertheless important to honor the spiritual, cultural and psychological meaning of this pan-human yearning for communion with the ancient spirits of the wild.

Princess Mononoke explores these dynamics well. Japan is, today, one of the most technologically advanced, democratic, modernized, and industrialized of the world powers and has become a poster child for Asian success in the global market. Yet Japan retains a living link to it’s ancient roots, particularly through the beautiful animistic religion of Shinto, wherein a rich cosmology of nature-spirits called kami interact constantly with the human world through an innate aliveness perceived in all of existence. This offers a unique opportunity to study the relationship between a modernized country and it’s animist origins, a relationship which is sometimes harder to discern in Western countries where Abrahamic religion and subsequent Enlightenment-era thought have largely obscured most clear signs of continuously intact “earth-based” spirituality and culture. But Japan, like every other modern country, has itself passed through an era of rapid and alarmingly destructive deforestation and destruction of nonhuman lifeforms. The country has since increasingly come to realize it’s spiritual lifeline in nature as well as it’s practical need to conserve natural “resources”.

There is a difference between seeing nature as innately alive and animate with feeling and worth in it’s own right, as opposed to merely a dead object which we harvest to put on shelves at our whim, for our exclusive disposable use. Japan, a country which is 75% forested mountains, now officially preserves 5.4% of its total land area as protected national parks (there’s room for improvement, compared to New Zealand, for example, which protects 11.5% of its land, but this is progress nonetheless) (Knight, 2015). Increasingly the Japanese people feel, along with much of the developed world, a growing desire to be in relationship with the spirits of the land as their ancestors were. Communities are discovering the need to dial down the unhealthy consumerist excesses of modern life which pull a dull smog over the senses, contributing to depression, suicide and emotional isolation.

And so we see that nature and culture are not and need not be separate: the origins of human culture were, in fact, inseparable from their sacred surroundings in the earth. The modern yearning to rediscover that connection is necessary for the wellbeing of the whole world. In the words of Motohisa Yamakage, author of The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart, “It is important, therefore, for the Japanese people to rediscover their spiritual essence and their cultural roots, and to make these a force for the good of humanity as a whole.” (Yamakage, 2006)

Princess Mononoke opens with a scene of trouble in paradise. A giant boar the size of a house, one of the myriad kami, has become crazed with possession and rampages into attack on a small feudal Japanese village. Prince Ashitaka, the story’s protagonist, fights the boar-god, and defeats it, but only after the demon’s poison wraps around his right arm in the struggle, wounding him severely with an unnatural curse. The medicine woman of the village emerges after the boar is fallen to bless the animal-god and ask its forgiveness for whatever grudge it bears against humans. But the boar is full of rage, and dies swearing that the humans will suffer as it has suffered. The people of the village hold a council and decide that the village is no longer safe with the curse upon Prince Ashitaka’s arm in their midst. He is then sent away, regretfully, to discover a cure that may save him as well as an explanation for the violent unrest of such a formidable kami.

Ashitaka journeys a while and encounters a wandering monk, Jiko-bo, who tells him that he can help him find the Great Forest Spirit, Shishigami, who can save him. They wander together and come upon the settlement of Iron Town, a place commandeered by Lady Eboshi, who is at war with the forest and all it’s spirits over the iron it contains. She desires to decapitate the mountains and the Great Forest Spirit with them so that her metal-making endeavors will not be restrained by the needs or limits of nature. With the head of Shishigami in her hands, she would present it to the emperor of Japan in exchange for his protection and support, and her supposed immortality, or so the legend goes. But the Wolf Clan and their adopted human, San (Princess Mononoke herself), are throwing all their efforts at stopping the works of Iron Town. San is furious that her forest is being destroyed.

What follows from here is the conflict between the animal clans of the forest as their anxiety is heightened due to the tension put upon them by humans; the wolves, boars, monkeys, and more cannot agree about how to combat this destruction. At the same time, Eboshi catches Shishigami at the one vulnerable moment when he turns into his Nightwalker form, a majestic deer-man figure who is so large that he towers even over the mountains. She decapitates him: poison pours forth from the body of the creature who was to be the eternal lifeblood of the mountains themselves. The corruption flows through the grieving forest, killing many kodama,the numerous small and childlike ghostly kami who populate the sacred groves. The monk, Jiko-bo, becomes a traitor and steals the god’s head from Eboshi for himself, but San and Ashitaka pursue him into Iron Town to retrieve it. Shishigami’s head is returned, and eventually harmony is restored to the sacred wild. Ashitaka’s curse from the boar’s attack is lifted, and the mother-wolf of the Wolf Clan bites of Lady Eboshi’s arm. Humbled, she accepts the lesson of respecting nature, and Ashitaka helps rebuild Iron Town with the understanding of the need to live in harmony with the earth. The forest recovers.

It will appear obvious to those in tune with the environmental movement, and especially the growing popularity of nature-based spirituality, that Princess Mononoke is a spiritual and environmental epic. Japan’s origins dwell in the mystery of the earth: the islands of the nation are said to have been created by the sun goddess, Amaterasu, along with the ill-fated lovers Izanami and Izanagi. Izanami is a rather Lillith-type character, in particular: unlike the shining and admirable Amaterasu, she becomes the goddess of death, the Dark Mother and ruler of the underworld after she dies giving birth to the god of fire. Izanagi, her lover, parts ways with her once she becomes the goddess of death, vowing to give life to more humans than Izanami devours. Creation stories such as these signify an awareness on the part of ancient peoples of the power of nature to be both live-giving and death-bringing, both gentle and fierce, but always powerful beyond comprehension. This belief in the intermixed goodness and unpredictability of the natural and spiritual worlds is reflected clearly in the first part of Princess Mononoke when the old medicine woman speaks a prayer of honor and forgiveness over the body of the rage-filled boar.

The first people to arrive in Japan probably set foot on the islands around 40,000 years ago, though the exact phenotype or culture of this ancient group is unknown. We do know, however, that the Jomon people were the indigenous group of the islands that are recognizable today, the minority Ainu population being their closest living successors. The Yayoi people, originators of the current dominant group comprising 98% of Japanese people, probably arrived from the Korean peninsula around 300 BCE It was around this time that rice farming also took hold in Japan, as the knowledge of it arrived with the Yayoi. This allowed the people to settle down into fixed villages with storages of rice, no longer reliant on hunting and gathering for subsistence. A population boom soon followed, and many of the Jomon group are thought to have been either assimilated or defeated. Not long after, written language was imported from China, what is now known as the kanji script of Chinese characters altered to fit the Japanese language. With both writing and agriculture, Japan soon became a more complex, hierarchical society (Dolan, 1994).

The story of Princess Mononoke takes place during the Muromachi period (1333 – 1568 CE) during the deterioration of the medieval social system. It is significant because the era marks the onset of the societal transition in Japan from an agricultural society to a nation increasingly unified, militarized and urbanized. The realm of the gods was felt to be at odds with this new direction society seemed to be heading in. Shinto, a religion native to the country and older than time itself, saw the mountains and forests as sacred, mountains in particular having long been ascended in reverence throughout Japanese history as a means to attaining spiritual purification. Now, the mountains were seen as selfishly withholding the treasure of their iron ore, instead of enchanting the people with their spiritual treasure that was the beloved kami. The relationship of the people to their mountains and forests was suddenly warped, strained, and severely tested (Wright, 2004).

Modernization, spirituality and gender are three anthropological themes of particular note in the film. Japan has traditionally been a country highly suspicious of outsiders, and perhaps for good reason at times in their past: they knew of the strength of China and the Mongols and wished to hold them at bay. Later, upon meeting Europeans, they realized they did not want to end up another version of the colonized Philippines, hence the subsequent and dizzyingly rapid modernization. But this response only shows that influence from the outside world to some degree is inevitable. Japan experienced a first major shift in religious thought with the introduction of Buddhism to the islands in 538 CE. Shinto, the indigenous religion of the land, had not as yet so much as a name for itself, as there was not enough of anything that wasn’t nature to distinguish itself from. Shinto was forced to adapt to this new religion’s more complex, ethereal doctrines which emphasized transcending or overcoming nature more than connecting intimately with it. The sudden need to see nature as something other, separated out from the rest of life, was a major shift in worldview. Shinto adopted the Buddhist practice of building large temples and establishing an ordered priesthood. The nation adjusted, as well, to new monetary systems of accounting and foreign trade with the mainland inevitably brought along with Buddhism. Princess Mononoke follows the trail of these changes continuing to play out socially hundreds of years later in the lives of common Japanese people of small towns and villages who were likely not literate, and so retained a more “primitive” lifestyle compared to the day-to-day baseline of the Emperor’s court where the influence was most clearly felt. The Muromachi period was the turning point when the Pandora’s box of modernization began for the whole of Japanese society, not just the elite, brining along with it all the complicated advantages and losses that modernization involves.

The role of women in Princess Mononoke, and many of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies overall, is of interest to understanding the historical and evolving place of women in Japan. Many contemporary Japanese animations portray women as cute, weak and passive, but Miyazaki’s female characters have long been more dynamic and real than the infantilized schoolgirl trope. In Mononoke, the main female protagonist, San, who is Mononoke herself, is a wild human who is extremely capable of defending herself, her homeland and her animal family. Prince Ashitaka (who, as the main male protagonist, is in fact not hyper-masculinized to the point of unfeeling, macho brutality) recognizes that he finds her beautiful, and the story suggests that they form an intimate partnership after the film’s conclusion, but this romance is in no way definitive of San’s character or purpose at all in the story. Ashitaka demonstrates impeccable respect toward San’s strict boundaries and dislike of other humans, allowing her time to decide to trust him as she sees fit. Their eventual romance is a sweet afterthought, and a very natural one, but it is not the defining quality of San’s female role. Their partnership is of importance more because it grows upon the foundation of striving together for justice toward the forest, and their romance is secondary to the story in which neither male or female partner is overly sexualized or defined by their romantic interest. San is, as well, visually presented not as a “sexy” character but as a very natural “tomboy” type, with no particular emphasis on her body’s sexuality. Unlike it would be in many anime films, she is not given a large bust, large sparkly eyes or anything else absurd to her role as a forest creature.

Chizuko Ueno, a household name in Japan who is one of the best known contemporary feminist critiques of Asian patriarchal culture, asserts that the stereotypical image of the submissive Japanese woman is a more recent invention in Japanese history which grew upon the rapid urbanization of the country and was imposed by the hierarchical values of the elite. Harkening back to the legend of Izanami, the dark mother goddess who is anything but a demure, delicate geisha and far more of an ancient creatrix of pre-civilized matriarchy, there persists to this day a buried archetype of the wild woman of Japan, uncontrolled and fierce in her natural power (this is a good thing). As Schnell and Hashimoto write in the The University of Iowa’s article Revitalizing Japanese Folklore, we can see how Miyazaki’s portrayal of a different kind of female character demonstrates a search for Japan’s feminine and natural roots:

Folklore is particularly adept at supplying “the people’s” point of view. As sociologist Chizuko Ueno… has noted, “historical research based on written texts often ends up being about the ruling class and its ideology.” Folklorists, therefore, with their emphasis on fieldwork and oral tradition, must preserve what historians gloss over or ignore—the attitudes and experiences of peasants, fishermen, wage laborers, and small entrepreneurs (in other words, the vast majority of the population). Ueno herself relies heavily on… documentation of pre-industrial village life in challenging the “traditional” image of Japanese women as being subservient. Her work demonstrates that much of the subordination occurred with the transition to an urban-industrial context, when the values of the elite samurai were adopted by (or imposed upon) the masses (Hashimoto & Schnell. 2003).

The film’s antagonist, Lady Eboshi, is also not an exact image of pure evil as is often the case for antagonists in western media. She is at war with the forest and it’s kami, but she is doing so with the intention of using its resources to help many common people who have been otherwise rejected or abandoned by their communities. She takes under her wing several lepers who would have nowhere else to go, giving them shelter and work to survive. She also fosters a group of former prostitutes whose lives, in the words of the women themselves, are of a far better quality communally working the bellows and furnaces of Iron Town, unbothered by the men and given as much food as they hunger for, compared to the demeaning and disempowering brothels of their previous situations. The lives of these women stand out in the film as a further comment upon the complexity of Japanese women’s history, a legacy of subjugation and sharp divisions of social class which increased with the growing dominance of the warrior cults who came to rule the country.

Oct. 24, 1999 Los Angeles Times profile of Miyazaki, Charles Solomon, in his October 24, 1999 profile of Miyazaki in the Los Angeles times, speaks to the complexities of Eboshi’s actions as they reflect Japan’s struggles to modernize.

“Eboshi is not a straightforward villain. Like the Japanese people after World War II, the workers in Iron Town are trying to survive in a troubled world; they don’t mean to destroy their environment. ‘If you portray someone who’s evil, then you off him, what’s the point?’ Miyazaki asked. ‘It’s easy to create a villain who’s a maniacal real estate developer, then kill him and have a happy ending. But what if a really good person becomes a real estate developer?'” (Solomon, 1999)

Thus, the Japanese consciousness around the dual necessity and environmental cost of modernization is a mature one. It is able to integrate cherished Shintoist beliefs about the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of nature, culture, and life, seeing the mysterious kami in the persistent beauty of the landscape into the present day. It is able to reflect its ancient roots in its modern media art, a relationship reaching across time which other modern countries strive to do as gracefully. Japan’s collective imagination is one for the aliveness of the land, the power of the feminine and the uncertain mechanizing of the future. It is increasingly well aware -and regretful- of the loss of wilderness which modern society demands, yet it is understanding of the need to reach equilibrium with nature in order to maintain a society which is able to support itself, defend itself, and fulfill its potential on a new global scale.

References

Yamakage, M. (2006). The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Knight, C. (n.d.). Natural Environments, Wildlife, and Conservation in Japan. Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://japanfocus.org/-Catherine-Knight/3292

Van Zoelen, P. (2012, December 13). Hayao Miyazaki: Recovery of Japanese Cultural Values. Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://culturevisuelle.org/introtovc/archives/727

Dolan, R. (1994). Japan: A Country Study (5th ed.) (R. Worden, Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Wright, L. (2004, February 3). Wonderment and Awe – the Way of the Kami. Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2004/02/03/wonderment-and-awe-the-way-of-the-kami- lucy-wright/

Hiroyuki, H., & Schnell, S. (2003). Guest Editors’ Introduction: Revitalizing Japanese Folklore. Iowa Research Online: The University of Iowa’s Institutional Repository, Department of Anthropology Publications. Asian Folklore Studies. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=anthro_pubs

Solomon, C. (1999, October 24). At the Head of the Pack. Retrieved April 23, 2015, from http://articles.latimes.com/1999/oct/24/entertainment/ca-25527

 

 

Image © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.

Misogi

Yesterday, for Easter, T and I drove to an enchanted Japanese Shinto shrine a half-hour’s travel from Seattle. It was the Great Spring Ceremony. We were invited as guests to celebrate the Kami, the personalities of the earth, waters and sky according to Japanese cosmology. The ceremony was a profoundly beautiful one: chanting meditations, taiko drums, a traditional dancer with the shamisen instrument, and a walk through the mossy gardens by the river where stone statues of frogs, foxes and cats bless the land and the people. There is a deeply pan-human, ancient and natural appeal of Shinto as a surviving route back into communion with Great Nature.

 

In my study of Shinto I maintain a grounding in the mystical tradition of Christianity, because I do not see hard-and-fast divisions between the sacred in its forms. I am fortunate in the ability to see a blending of ideas as a means to wholeness. Antagonism is not wholeness; the refusal to syncretize diverse ways of being has lead to useless suffering. We retain unique traditions: blue can still be blue and green can still be green, but see how beautiful they are when they blend, pigment by pigment. In my cosmology, all the personalities of the Creation are from the Creator. The souls of animals and plants are completely in relationship with the Creator in their own way. They are the ones who were with Jesus in the wilderness.

“He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

so tells the story according to Mark. In this way, a spiritual imagination is an act of maturity.

I have studied how spending time outside in nature, as well as nurturing the better parts of our “primitive” past (handicrafts, learning through action before books, etc) makes us more fulfilled as a species, including the spiritual realm. We will continue to integrate so many lifeways, for to be well is to be whole. To be spiritual is to be bodily.

Keep your eyes on the eternal beauty at the heart of the world. The following is a prayer from the book “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth” by Stuart D. B. Picken, said during Misogi, the ritual of cleansing your body and spirit in the river.

 

Although the impure and polluted appears before my eyes, I will not let it blind me.

Although it strikes my ears, I will not let it make me deaf.

Although my nose senses it, I will not let it deform my soul.

Although it enters my mouth, I will not let it destroy my taste for life.

Although it touches my body, I will not let it cling to me.

Although I may even desire it, I will not let that desire dwell within me.

Purified, we become free.

Purified, our eyes are opened to the beauty and glory of nature.

Purified, our ears can hear the harmony of the spheres even above the discord of life.

Purified, our sense of fragrance and spirituality is heightened.

Purified, our taste can savor the subtle riches of life.

Purified, our hands can touch the world in its strength and delicacy.

Purified, our eyes see and grasp the world as it is.

Through these means, we will magnify the purity of our spirits

and seek the divine within the human.

Works Cited

Picken, Stuart D. B. Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge, 2002. Print.

 

 

image source: public domain