Breaking the Spell V: The College of the Round Table

Every Place a Riddle,
Every Riddle a Poem,
Every Poem a Spirit,
Every Spirit a Place,

When my friend Julie and I first conceived of the College of Mythic Cartography, it inspired me to write the above riddle. But who would see the riddle in it? Though for me it encapsulates an entire universe of experience, from the perspective of a mythic cartographer, to someone else it may just seem a pretty saying. Why write riddles, with no-one to see them?

It feels foolish, though Nature does it all the time.

Once my mom came back from a trip to England and told me a story about the origins of the word “college”. Colleges, she said, came from pubs. Traditionally, people had met in pubs to discuss subjects with folks of like (or satisfyingly different) minds. As time went on, they began to plan ahead, to set aside certain eveninings every week for certain subjects. Over time, as they organized themselves more and more, they lost all of their informal nature and made the leap to a whole different level of organization.

But in the beginning, they began as a group of villagers, a group of colleagues, sitting around a table. The original College.

I wanted to revisit this idea, that no outside authority exists for our own education, our own curiousity. That talking with our friends, family, and community about what we feel passionate about embodies vital and constructive action. Shouldn’t our curiosities nourish relationships with people that we wish to have in our lives? Why go to an institution in some distant land or city, to create temporary institutionalized intimacies while leaving old ones (family and friends) to wither? Can we not explore a full realm of life, and living, right here where we actually live? Doesn’t it seem foolish to think we couldn’t?

Certainly we need share information across distances, in order to accelerate and empower our ability to rewild ourselves (just as you and I do right at this moment), but won’t it only increase the power if we stay rooted in our place?

Back to the riddle at the top. Taking back our humanity from an inhuman culture involves a lot more than saying “no” to things. We have to start planting seeds that we used to plant, before cilvilization, and once they grow to fullness, we have to pick and eat the food hanging heavy from the greenery. We have to not just say “yes” to these old/new things, but actively pursue them, feed them, tend them.

Modern ecologists generally understand that nature doesn’t act like a hierarchy, she acts like a web. To say “top of the food chain” doesn’t make much sense, because everything finds itself eaten by something else eventually. The natural web can have no pinnacle, any more than a spider’s web. It can have a center. But then, we can make anything the center of any particular web. This illuminates one aspect of the infinite pieces in the animist’s puzzle game.

Humans have played this game since they became human, as trackers. We also call it the riddle game.

One could say that the world has built itself out of riddles. Riddles frustrate the linear mind, and annoy it, yet once one has heard or found the answer to a good riddle, it seems obvious. It doesn’t seem foolish, or impossible to have discovered it. In a good riddle, you smack your forehead and say “Damn! I should have thought of that.” A riddle shows you a fresh way to perceive a familiar object, they show you hidden relationships, unlooked for associations.

Riddles work on the basis of something that one could call “associative reasoning”. In the human brain, connections manifest naturally this way, firing randomly with searching fingers, like lightning bolts, to find and forge new connections between formerly unrelated areas. This kind of thinking, this kind of inquiry, works. It solves riddles. When a scientist creates a hypothesis (“Eureka!”), they create it in this way, without understanding what they do, or having trained the faculty to do it. For this reason, Einstein made his famous statement, that in science, he valued imagination more than knowledge.

This ability grounds the village philosopher in the world. This ability acts as their foundation. This ability fires the engine of our dreaming selves, our myths, our bodyminds. This ability we must endeavor to develop.

So, how to do it?

Written by Willem