Today we hear from our first of several regular columnists, Glen Gordon.
The Song of the Deer
I’ve encountered a phenomenon which is difficult to describe. It is the gifting of song from the land and the other-than-humans I share it with. The only way I can describe it is a bubbling of sound that comes from the one-soul, and moves through the natural living world, and at moments burst through me in a way that I cannot ignore. These are ceremonial songs I have learned from my relationship with the land and greater ecological community. Most do not have words, though some have one or two English words in them. I only remember them when they need singing. This is the story of how one of those songs was gifted to me.
I was driving home from visiting family and traveling through western Montana during a cloudy autumn day. I had been on the road for two or three hours in silence. I spent the time contemplating the landscape as I drove. It always tells me a different story. I spotted a deer jump across the road a few yards in front of me. Mesmerized, my eyes followed him as he crossed two double lanes of US interstate and made it to the knoll on the other side.
As I watched the deer gallop along the roadside, I heard a thud from the empty passenger side. I turned in time to witness the rear of a second deer impact my side door and its head pressing against the windshield. The car swerved, almost crossing lanes. I wanted to stop, but glimpsed a big SUV breathing down my neck behind me, which would have rear ended me if I made an abrupt stop. I began crying in frustration, my heart pounding, my hands shaking. I looked behind me, desperate to see him scurry off, shaken but unharmed — no luck.
Amidst my panic and dread that I killed the deer, a flash of imagery and sensation overcome me and I pulled off to the side of the road several yards from where I hit the deer. There was no exit or other way to cross the lane and head back to the site. My mind filled with a vision of seeing the world as a deer, feeling the world as deer, smelling the world as deer (there is no other way to describe it). I felt the impulse of four legs darting underneath me, and saw another deer ahead of me. Then an unsuspected blur streaked in front and I felt the pain of impact. I was myself again and sitting on the ground next to the passenger side door which has a deer-sized imprint. To this day, I can’t look at that door without thinking of that flash of being a deer.
I was shaken, as tears swelled in my eyes and I felt the fur that stuck in the crack between the door and rest of the car’s body. (In some places the fur stayed for a year.) I trembled as I touched the bristly fur, and an unexpected sound came from my mouth. A simple string of vowel sounds in different combinations. My voice trembled as the sounds grew stronger in my abdomen and moved through my throat and escaped my mouth. The singing intensified as I got into my car and continued driving. It felt important to me that I not stop the song. It weaved in and out in different arrangements of the same sounds. The tempo would speed up and slow down at intervals and filled up the space of the car. I sang for at least 3 hours before entering the nearest town on the route. My eyes watered and my body was moved by these sounds that moved through me but came from outside of me.
The song has come to me several times since. Once, the song came to me when my favorite professor had passed away. I had given an All Souls Day sermon at my Unitarian Universalist church. I spoke about land trauma and how it connects with human trauma, something we had spoken about in his office before. He would have appreciated the sentiment of the service, which I had dedicated to him. During this service, I asked the congregation to take stones we had collected from a nearby stream and think about someone who had passed, or someone close to them who was suffering, or their own traumas, or the traumas of the land, and come up and place the stones in a bowl of dirt and, if so moved, say a few words. I invited the congregation to join me a few hours after the service to bury the rocks near the foundation of the church.
I returned to the church later to see if anyone would show to bury the rocks. One person showed up. We continued the ceremony by burying the rocks, which the community had placed in the bowl, near the foundation behind the church. The stone I had chosen was dedicated to my professor. He had such faith in my ability and had encouraged me to continue to grad school. I don’t remember what I said as we placed the stones in the ground. Such is the way improvisational ceremony works for me. But at one point, I remember singing the same song from when I hit the deer.
The third time the song came to me was during a road trip to the city. A friend’s dog companion had to be put to sleep due to cancer. We stopped in the small Washington town where the two of them had spent a lot of time together. The three of us humans and two dogs walked into the vet for the euthanasia appointment. We comforted my friend who was in tears as he carried the dog into the room and placed her on the table. The dog had been nervous before, but as she sat there she looked at me for a, long time. I had only met the dog a couple of time, but it felt like she was telling me that I knew what to do. I looked back perplexed, then politely excused myself from the room.
I walked outside along the bank of an irrigation ditch and the song come bursting through me again. I sang for a few moments until the song went away on its own. I returned as the vet prepared the syringe. After my friend’s goodbye, the dog turned to me again and looked at me as if to thank me. The vet completed the procedure and we stood in tears as we watched the last few moments of this magnificent animal (who was husky-wolf mix). When we collected ourselves, we returned to my friend’s mobile home where we cried some more. I asked if it would be alright if I sang the song. In tears he thanked me. The song moved through me again and time froze, allowing us to gather ourselves before we continued to the city.
The song has since come to me on other occasions, like when a feline companion of a close friend passed away and when my grandfather passed.
Glen Gordon was introduced to Paganism by friends while living overseas in Europe during the late 90′s. He underwent both Wiccan and Neodruidic training during his formative years, but had not self-identified as a Pagan when his path diverged into land-centered spiritual naturalism ten years ago. His focus has been on cultivating beneficial relationships with the natural living world surrounding him wherever he lives. During this time, he discovered Unitarian Universalism and has been active in his local congregations for many years. Since 2007, he has worked on varied projects regarding BioRegional Animism, including this five minute video, the words of which came from a short UU sermon he gave. He has spoken on the topic of ecology and the land on a few occasions for his local congregation and facilitated a now-disbanded group of UU Pagans and spiritual naturalists. In the past, he maintained the blog, Postpagan, and is excited to share some of that material at HumanisticPaganism. Currently, you can find Glen writing occasionally for No Unsacred Places and helping achieve Green sanctuary status for his beloved UU community, where he helps create and lead ecological aware earth- and land-focused ceremonies for the solstices and equinoxes.
Next Sunday we hear from a new contributor, Genevieve Wood: “Death and Life”.
Beautiful. Not really sure what you mean by the “one-soul” exactly, but this was clearly a powerful experience. I have had similar experiences, and they are always deeply meaningful for me. 🙂
Thank you B.T.
the one-soul probably deserves an article of its own. The short of it is:
The one soul is similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s over-soul.
Where he saw the over-soul as the collective whole of individual human souls. Where as I do not accept the assumptions of individual souls — instead, at the core of all that exists is a sacred essence that comprises the whole of the universe.
To put it another way I subscribe to a form of physical monism where the one-soul is the unifying materiel — it is the fluid ever changing clay everything is shaped from.
Sounds kinda like the the water of Thales or fire of Heraclitus, or other philosophers who speculated on the “primary substance” of the universe.
Glen, you have such an interesting way of being-in-the-world. That may reflect as much on our society as on you. In any case thank you for sharing this. I feel richer for it.
Thank you for this. I had a similar experience when my father died. A wordless song came to me. It stayed close to me for about a year, before fading into occasional awareness. As soon as I started reading this, it popped into my head again. BTW, when you mentioned that you saw a deer crossing the highway, I thought: “where’s the other one(s)?”. Where I live in Canada we know that they always travel in pairs or there is a doe and 2 fawns, so as soon as we seen one, we immediately slow down and look for the others.
Wonderful column, I really enjoyed this.