I’ve always interpreted the story of Adam and Eve in the garden a bit differently from my dour Protestant forebears (and contemporaries). I believe the story symbolizes our fall from being active participants in Nature to exploiters or “Masters” of Nature. We gave up some rather amazing skills in order to become rational, “civilized” human beings. Birds can navigate using the stars because they are active participants in Nature, not because they sit down and calculate routes and shit. Dogs know which grasses to eat to ease an upset stomach not because of trial and error, but because their active participation in Nature grants them that knowledge. So-called “primitive” peoples know which plants are edible and medicinal not because of trial and error or the scientific method, but because their healers and shamans go into a trance and the plants they need are somehow revealed to them. I don’t believe some great Sin or blemish got us expelled from the Garden, but rather some evolutionary necessity forced us to develop different capacities.
Now those capacities have blinded us to much of how Nature really works. We have lost our relationship to the Earth and its other denizens. We have forgotten how to participate in Nature, how to hear her communications, how to learn from her. We need to get back, to blend our new mind with our old mind, in order to achieve the next step or phase.
I also don’t believe that some ethereal bearded dude in the sky created everything and has a plan or whatever. So, I’m an atheist but I’ve got some far-out ideas. Sue me.
Mother Nature keeps indigenous (what used to be called “primitive” peoples) living in extreme environments for a reason. Nobody’s ass wants to live in extreme altitudes. Nobody wants to freeze they bullocks off all the time. Nobody likes chasing herds of desicated animals across the fucking desert for years. But people live in remote, shitty, uncomfortable, undesirable locals to this day because whatever calamity is about to befall us will require their skills to carry us forward. If we have an Ice Age, or a complete desertification of the Earth, there will be some tribe somewhere who know how to deal with that shit and carry the species forward.
It happened before, during the last Ice Age. Those who knew how to manage, or who could quickly adapt, where the ones who made it and had families and kept them going. How many of us could have made it through that? That achievement alone makes the idea of “primitive” peoples seem totally ridiculous to me. “Primitive” people came up with language, story, math, astronomy, farming, hunting, tools, weapons, clothing, shelter, art, religion, fire…many could track lunar eclipses and the movement of planets and tides. They built shit we still can’t replicate with all our fancy machines.
The disappearance of indigenous folks, the destruction of their habitats, the loss of their knowledge and traditions and their still-vibrant connection to Nature, their ability to communicate with her…these traits are direly needed, now more than ever. And we are through greed and a reliance on “convenience” digging our own graves by allowing them to be cleansed off of land needed for natural resource extraction.
I’ve read several books along the lines of Wolff’s charming little memoir of his time amongst the Sng’oi. This is one of the best. Check it out.
And just by chance the Library Faeries dropped Foreign Gods, Inc into my lap at the same time I read Original Wisdom. Here we have proof of the challenge of moving back from Western, Modern, Scientific, Capitalist to Nature. The angel guards the gates to Eden with weapons forged against thee. A brilliant economist from Nigeria can’t land a job in NYC because of his thick accent, so he drives a cab. After a decade of that mess he’s had it, and hits upon a scheme to sell a deity from his home village to a gallery which specializes in foreign gods. The market is hot, Ngene is a cool war deity, it’s just a matter of bribing some customs dudes and bringing home the bacon!