Longing for Uncivilisation


Photo Credit: Peter Maerky

At a time when many people have been carving pumpkins, I found myself kneeling before a blazing fire in honor of the great ancestor of the Maya people: El Abuelo, also known Rij Laj Mam.

And whilst I have nothing against pumpkins, and even delight at the beauty of their orange glow in the night, I cannot help but see in this act of carving a metaphor of what our “civilisation” has become.

Let me explain, by taking you on a journey from the high planes of the intellect all the way to the mundane reality of life in a small village in rural Guatemala.

It all started when I read the Dark Mountain Manifesto, an incredibly eloquent analysis of the state of our world, coupled with an urgent call for Uncivilisation: a plea to shatter our delusions of human superiority and separation from nature.

Uncivilisation is a burning call to re-write the dominant story by which everything in our inner and outer lives has been constructed: the story which tells of the glorious future of plenty and prosperity which will result from our complete mastery over nature.

I am easily raptured by passionate writing, and reading this manifesto deeply inspired me, stirring my inner convictions and creative aspirations. Yes, artists must lead the way in re-writing the narratives through which we live and understand the world.

But all of this is so intellectual… How can we move from the high towers of the mind to practical reality?

And that’s where Rij Laj Mam and the pumpkins come into the picture to lend a helping hand.

The Shaman walks in with the statue of the Abuelo on his shoulder – both dressed in their native Tzutujil dress. In the background a young musician drums up a rhythm on a row of turtle shells, accompanied by flute. The Shaman dances around the fire and delicately places the Abuelo on the altar, before telling us his story in minute detail – in the Tzutujil language.

We cannot understand his words. But it doesn’t matter. Before us, the fire blazes higher and higher, its flames avidly lapping up our offerings. Plumes of smoke dance around us. Story becomes blessing. Blessing becomes flame. The fire opens up and whispers directly into our hearts…

Together, we step into a new narrative. An old narrative. One in which we are fire. In which our individual boundaries melt as wax in the blaze, blasting us open into an utterly inclusive sense of self…

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, pumpkins are being carved. The flesh of life is being cut out and discarded, leaving an empty hull. A pale memory of what the human being once was… inside, a small candle. A flame. A painful longing. A distant cry for the depth and substance that once burned at the center of our communities.

Do we dare follow that call? Can we re-member the language of the fire? Can we leave behind the empty hulls that parade as “civilisation”? Can we give ourselves permission to rekindle ancient rituals of wisdom, and cross the bridge into a different experience of self and the world?

Can we live into a different narrative?

It is high time for uncivilisation.

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