Climate Change: Signs of Witchery

glacier melting

Politics these days features a lot of phony hysteria about the death of the republic, the shredding of the Constitution, etc. etc. Meanwhile, an issue that should be generating panic yet is politically all but ignored is climate change. Despite the U.N.’s recent report that we are on the verge of an irreversible downward climate spiral, our attention deficit hyperactive media chases mini-scandals and makes much ado about nothing. It’s as though we’re arguing about our place in line while Genghis Khan is heaping up mounds of skulls as he sweeps across the border.

To help raise the alert level, I offer a Native American author’s take on what we are doing to the planet. As Leslie Marmon Silko of the Laguna Pueblo sees it, we are in the grip of witchery.

First the latest, as reported by The Washington Post:

The Earth is locked on an “irreversible” course of climatic disruption from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the impacts will only worsen unless nations agree to dramatic cuts in pollution, an international panel of climate scientists warned Sunday.

The planet faces a future of extreme weather, rising sea levels and melting polar ice from soaring levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, the U.N. panel said. Only an unprecedented global effort to slash emissions within a relatively short time period will prevent temperatures from crossing a threshold that scientists say could trigger far more dangerous disruptions, the panel warned.

Silko wrote her acclaimed novel Ceremony in 1977 before climate change was on our radar. If she were writing today, however I have no doubt that she would mention it in the poem below, which is a fanciful description of a witches convention. The various participants are having a contest over who can be the baddest witch. The winner simply tells a story, one which encompasses everything from ecological warfare used against the Indians (blankets infested with small pox, buffalo herds deliberately slaughtered) to the polluting of ground water, the draining of the aquafers, the damming up of rivers, and the mining of sacred mountains. Some of this mining points to final apocalyptic destruction as it involves uranium:

Finally there was only one
who hadn’t shown off charms or powers.
The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire
and no one ever knew where this witch came from
which tribe
or if it was a woman or a man.
But the important thing was
this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals
or red ant-hill beads.
This one just told them to listen:
“What I have is a story.”

At first they all laughed
but this witch said
Okay
go ahead
laugh if you want to
but as I tell the story
it will begin to happen.

Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery
to work for us.

Caves across the ocean
in caves of dark hills
white skin people
like the belly of a fish
covered with hair.

Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun
then they grow away from the plants and animals.
They see no life
When they look
they see only objects.
The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive
the mountains and stones are not alive.
The deer and the bear are objects
They see no life.
They fear
They fear the world.
They distroy what they fear.
They fear themselves.

The wind will blow them across the ocean
thousands of them in giant boats
swarming like larva
out of a crushed ant hill.

They will carry objects
which can shoot death
faster than the eye can see.

They will kill the things they fear
all the animals
the people will starve.

They will poison the water
they will spin the water away
and there will be drought
the people will starve.

They will fear what they find
They will fear the people
They will kill what they fear.

Entire villages will be wiped out
They will slaughter whole tribes.
Corpses for us
Blood for us
Killing killing killing killing

And those they do not kill
will die anyway
at the destruction they see
at the loss
at the loss of the children
the loss will destroy the rest.

Stolen rivers and mountains
the stolen land will eat their hearts
and jerk their mouths from the Mother.
The people will starve.

They will bring terrible diseases
the people have never known.
Entire tribes will die out
covered with festering sores…
vomiting blood.
Corpses for our work

Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery
set in motion
to work for us

They will take this world from ocean to ocean
they will turn on each other
they will destroy each other
Up here
in these hills
they will find the rocks,
rocks with veins of green and yellow and black.
They will lay the final pattern with these rocks
they will lay it across the world
and explode everything.

Set in motion now
set in motion
To destroy
To kill
Objects to work for us
objects to act for us
Performing the witchery
for suffering
for torment
for the stillborn
the deformed
the sterile
the dead.

Whirling
Whirling
Whirling
Whirling
set into motion now
set into motion.

So the other witches said
“Okay you win; you take the prize,
but what you said just now –
it isn’t so funny
It doesn’t sound so good.
We are doing okay without that kind of thing.
Take it back.
Call that story back.”

But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur
and feathers.
It’s already turned loose.
It’s already coming.
It can’t be called back.

As grim as this picture is, however, Silko’s novel offers some hope. If we can learn to respond to the Earth as the protagonist in the story does, then we can begin to reverse the damage that has been done.

Unfortunately, the witchery has a good head start and we’re running out of time

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