Previously, I mentioned the workshop series I took “on the road” during the second half of 2016. This post will provide the “raw text” used in that workshop. While I would like to retain ownership of whatever poetry emerged with it, I freely authorize anyone who wishes to to take it and replicate the workshop experience.
The texts emerged in two parts: first in a brief talk given in a meditation included within a service for the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches, in July, and later at the Summer Symposium of 2016 by Love the Everglades Movement, in August. For the workshop, the order was switched and an “active listening” component was added to the end. I spoke last and shared all the information I had received/collected up until that point. This was never meant to belong to me, alone.
Once I learned the general beats and feelings the story was meant to evoke, I was able to do the workshop without a print-out and adapt the text to the audience and situation. Now a days, I do the workshop sparingly, though I am always available for a repeat. The few times I do the workshop now is with my good friend Whale Maiden, from the West Coast of Florida and Central Florida. I will feature her and her work, which dovetails ever-so-nicely with Our Sacred mother, Lady Florida.
FIRST PART: The Story
So, today, I’ve come with a story. It’s both an old story and a new story. It starts millions of years ago and carries a message for me, my fellow pagans, and any who would listen to the spirit of Our Lady Florida.
She was conceived in the upheaval of the Mesozoic Era—yeah, the time of the dinosaurs—when a piece of the African plate was split off in the breaking of Pangaea. This became the foundation of our land, and over the next millions of years it was built up below the Ocean.
It wasn’t until later that she was truly born–thrust up from the water’s deep embrace. Exposed to the air and sunshine for the first time, Florida began to bloom with plant life. Animals followed and the diversity we praise as a national treasure today slowly came into being. All manner of beings lived in Florida—mastodons, bats, mammoths, corals, saber-toothed cats—Florida fed them all and nurtured their young with Her bounty.
Her children eventually included humans. The first people came early and settled in well, leaving behind artifacts to tell us of their lives of balance with Nature. Our Nature. Though most have inevitably passed on, their spirits linger sometimes, as do their names. Timucua, Ais, Jaega, Mayaimi, and the mighty Calusa.
Even when they came with their own faiths and ancient spirits, She made them welcome in a land of warmth and plenty. A land so rich they could feed hundreds of thousands through hunting the wildlife in its season, gathering plants, and fishing. The hard work of tilling the land was unnecessary for Our Lady’s peoples.
But those who came to the marshlands with dreams of conquest, religious conversion and ecological devastation soon discovered the rage of a goddess in the oppressive heat, the swarms of mosquitos, the deadly wildlife, and destructive storms. “Tame me?” She laughed them away with an afternoon’s gale or a flood. Our cities are still marked by the graves of those that perished.
Other newcomers to this land came with hopes of survival and peaceful co-existence. Those ancestors of today’s Seminole and Miccosukee tribes migrated south on the promise of a new home. In the early years of the 1800s, they found a different Florida. Already, the American people controlled north and central Florida, so they went south. Settlers struggled in the coastal swamps, so they claimed the interior. In the heart of Florida, surrounding Lake Okeechobee and everything that was the River of Grass, they settled. Here, they found shelter and sustenance; a land that walked with each step in prayer and thanks. A nearly-impenetrable fortress in times of violence and war.
But times changed. People built more powerful engines to expedite their march toward progress… and railroads to carry them south to a new Eden. The old dream of draining “the swamp” manifested, little by little. Folks like Henry Flagler settled the southeastern coast through sheer willpower and against all logic. Lands were sold and went bust in a frenzy. Dykes and canals were built–early attempts at controlling the marshes.
But then, the hurricanes came. In ‘26 and ‘28 they flooded out cities whose names we no longer recognize. The dead were in the thousands–whites given hasty burials and blacks thrown into mass graves. The agencies of Washington finally came to bear with the full might of industrialized America.
In time, we bound and quartered the lands, the waters, the wildlife. We made national parks and protected endangered species, but we cut off the flow of water. Out of the new bounty, we built towns and planted vast fields of sugarcane and slowly, but surely, came to our present state.
Our Lady Florida still laughs with seasonal downpours and the occasional hurricane, but sometimes there’s a rasping dry cough… and Her wetlands shrink. The life’s blood of Her ecosystem doesn’t flow all the way south, and so her riot colored estuaries wither. Nutrients in the water make some of Her children blossom and choke out the life out of others, clearing the old balance in favor of new life. Her aquifers are overdrawn and filling up with salt water along the coastal cities. Lake O rises and the discharges shoot east and west, where they were never meant to go.
So the land calls on anyone ready to listen. Her voice is in the soft breeze of the afternoon, in seasonal downpours, in the algae and dead manatees, in bleached and dead coral reefs. Her voice is in the asphalt, dancing in the noon sun, in the air you breathe, the endless fields of muck and ‘cane, the belching refineries, and the sands in the beach.
You might notice that this story doesn’t follow the usual tropes established in most myths. I shy away from strong anthropomorphism and try to stay close to the facts. Much of this might seem redundant if you read the previous post. The reason for doing this was to “prime” the attendees, but also to avoid imparting my personal views and encounter with Florida. You may decide to be more explicit, but there is value to having people come to their own visions and encounters.
SECOND PART: The Meditation
Find a comfortable position, relax with your soles touching the ground. Take deep breaths that fill up your lungs and release your worries as you exhale. We will go deep into the wilderness of land and spirits, seeking to connect to a sacred landscape we already live in.
Close your eyes, breathe. Remember the blessings of community and those who’ve come before. Your breath is their breath, shared across space and time. Breathe deeply, let it soothe you and restore you.
With your eyes closed, you begin to drift away from this world, this life, and your daily struggles. In this enveloping gloom, your breath–coming in and out, slowly, fully–awakens your heart beat. Its rhythm is the drumbeat in your bloodstream, it pulses at your throat–breathing–and at your ears. It courses from head to toe, bringing with it relaxation. Let yourself flow with it, carried on a gentle stream, warm and safe.
As time passes, you feel yourself carried to a muddy bank, the shallow, warm waters gently lapping around your body. Resting against the earth, green and curious roots emerge from your joints. The soft earth accepts these roots and nourishes them from the land’s richness. It seeps into your body and draws you into its consciousness. As your roots grow further into the land, you flourish and grow amid the cypress and sawgrass. Every inch of soil is a different world, marked by the nearness to the water’s flow.
As breath and spirit pass through you, rooted in the land, sunlight descends from the ever-shining sun. This golden light warms you and completes your transformation, this magical union with the marshland and the elements of life around you.
Time passes in cycles of gentle breath and flowing water, shining moons and sparkling stars, thunderstorms and dry months. Life surrounds you, a myriad of beings going about their lives in delicate balance with nature and with you.
[Pause for 1 minute]
Relax further, deeper into this natural wilderness. Around you a dance of life unfolds in a web woven of need and love, stretching back for millions of years. Let your point of view expand to take it all in: the wading birds floating on the clear waters, frogs perched on branches and roots sticking out of the soggy earth, schools of fish darting below the water’s surface, turtles and manatees making their lives here; alligators making furrows and waterholes in the dry season, giving fish and birds shelter as the water levels drop low; great blue herons and snail kites, woodpeckers and the common egret dance aloft.
There is a pattern woven through this wilderness, a presence that emerges from each heartbeat and blade of sawgrass. Relax, breathe. If you allow yourself, it’ll come to you, unfolding like dawn or shrouded in dusk. She’ll come to you.
[Pause for about 3 minutes]
Return your focus to breathing, the roots anchoring to the land are coming back to you now. Breathe deeply, gently, and remember you can always return to this wilderness in body or mind. It is all around you, even in the concrete maze we built. Nature remains at the heart of Florida, waiting to know you and be known in turn.
Take your time to return, but when you’re ready, say, “Blessed be!”
Once again, the meditation is done sparingly. My friend Whale Maiden takes a more shamanic approach to this journey by orienting those undertaking it to the four corners. She is marvelous at leading journeys with drum or rattles, a skill I cannot possibly match live. I trust her expertise in this matter.
Now it’s your text! Use it wisely, let me know how it turns out.