“A gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed upon us. A gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”
~ Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
A central theme of Hypha is the gift. To my mind, art, knowledge, and the abundance of nature are gifts. Our capitalist society, however, is predicated on scarcity and profit. Have we lost track of the generous spirit of gift giving when our culture views everything solely through a lens of economic gain?
There are other ways of living, to be sure. I've drawn inspiration from the reverence of First Fruit ceremonies. Historically, cultures all over the world celebrated the first harvests of corn, berries, salmon, deer, and bear, among others, with a ceremony of sharing the harvest among the people of the tribe and making an offering back to the earth, often in the form of gifts to the gods or a shaman, or alternatively, in the form of saving plant seeds or returning bones to the sea. Some Pacific Northwest tribes believed that if they returned the first salmon bones to the sea, the fish could return to its home and begin the cycle again, ensuring future abundant harvests. The salmon was seen as a gift, with part of it eaten and part given back to the earth.
Lewis Hyde comments in The Gift, “the myth declares that the objects of the ritual will remain plentiful because they are treated as gifts... The first salmon ceremony establishes a gift relationship with nature, a formal give and take that acknowledges our participation in, and dependence upon, natural increase. And where we have established such a relationship we tend to respond to nature as a part of ourselves, not as a stranger or alien available for exploitation. Gift exchange brings with it, therefore, a built-in check upon the destruction of its objects; with it we will not destroy nature's renewable wealth except where we also consciously destroy ourselves.”
Hypha is my response to our culture's desecration of the earth. I assert that plants and knowledge should be received and given as gifts and that art and storytelling can be employed as pathways to reconnect and repair our relationship with the earth. We are not separate from nature. We are unconsciously destroying ourselves as we plunder the earth for financial profit.
What happens if we reintroduce the concept of the gift, an offering that grows in abundance only if it is kept in motion? (I realize fully there are societies that still retain this way of thinking, so I am speaking of the dominant culture here.) Hypha is an offering to the land and community that sustains me; it's a love song to Seattle.
I'd love nothing more than to stimulate a conversation in my urban environment, my adopted home and a place I dearly love, about reverence, gratitude, and other ways of living.
Future posts will examine these ideas further.