At the National Storytelling Festival last month, I performed an hour long "set" of stories on the problem of feeling like an alien on Earth. The response was mixed, some folks drifted away because I was not funny enough. Others, however, were visibly moved. For the second group, I hit a nerve; I found my tribe.
What was it about? It came from the sense I have that we live on earth as if we are not from here. All my life I have been "not from here." The name "Novak" means "new comer" or "new man" and the name comes with a deep felt sense of strangeness. As a child of the Baby Boom, raised during the Space Race, it was easy to imagine that Earth was some kind of cosmic way-station, the place we were stranded while repairing our spaceships. Our religious cosmology certainly reinforced that notion, characterizing our time on earth as some kind of penance for unforgiven sins. Such was the story that raised us, that goes deep in Western Civilization and finds new iterations in the present day. Whether you are awaiting the Rapture or simply looking to be retrieved by our sundered extraterrestrial ancestors, the attention is directed away from Earth.
But there are other stories. My favorite is the Maori story of Tane (recounted below) which suggests a different relationship to Earth as home. The recognition that Earth is our home has been rising in the mythic mind of the West ever since we saw ourselves from the moon in 1969. That mythic realization is finally showing up in our popular imagination as well. I recently saw the new film, Gravity, and saw very clearly a myth of return. It is time to get back down to Earth and stand upon it as true children rather than cosmic orphans.
So I am re-posting an earlier blog on the topic:
DOWN TO EARTH
I find it interesting to compare two stories of the separation of heaven and earth:
is the familiar story from Hesiod's Theogeny, concerning Ouranos, Gaia,
and Kronos. Ouranos, father sky, and Gaia, mother earth, are separated
when Kronos castrates Ouranos with a scythe he received from Gaia. Thus
begins Time according to some who associate Kronos with Chronos, though
this is disputed.
Second is the Maori story, from New
Zealand, of Rangi, father sky, and Papa, mother earth, separated by
their son, Tane. Tane separates them by placing his head upon earth and
feet upon sky, then pushing them apart and becoming the first tree. In
this way, Tane, the tree, separates heaven and earth and holds them
together at the same time.
It is meaningful that in the
first, separation is caused by violence - cutting and castration,
whereas in the second the separation is accomplished in a more gentle,
and conciliatory manner. This certainly presents inherently different
cosmologies. It is worth noting that trees play a role in creating an
atmosphere and thereby separating earth from sky (space) making life
possible. It is also worth considering how the notion of psychic
separation from spirit and matter creates an alienating sense of self
moving through time. Without a sense of time, narrative could not exist.
the thing I think about most, lately, is how Tane becomes Tree by
putting his head upon his mother's breast and feet against his father's
chest, stretching upwards in a deep-rooted head stand. The storyteller
could have had Tane simply stand on earth and push on sky like Kronos'
younger brother, Atlas, holding up the sky. But the story has the head
of trees in the earth. As I look out at the trees, I imagine them that
way. The visible part of trees is only half the whole, waist to toes if
you will. The head and arms are below ground.
Western Mind, inheritor of the Greek cosmology, is alienated from earth
and sky, perhaps we would do well to take an idea from the Maori and
turn our heads around.