Quillwood Podcast

QP5: Healing Amid Turmoil, with Sophie Strand

February 16, 2022 Eric Garza Season 1 Episode 5
Quillwood Podcast
QP5: Healing Amid Turmoil, with Sophie Strand
Show Notes Transcript

Sophie Strand is a writer, poet, and compost heap based in New York's Hudson Valley. Her writing focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology. In this episode she and Eric talk about rewilding the sacred masculine, apocalypses past and present, healing and trauma in this age of turmoil, making kin, and embracing incompletion, among other things.

Outline

  • 00:00 - 03:36 — Episode introduction
  • 03:36 - 07:58 — Lunations of masculinity
  • 07:58 - 10:37 — Apocalypses past, present, and future
  • 10:37 - 23:31 — Healing and trauma in this age of turmoil
  • 23:31 - 30:07 — Making kin with life and land
  • 30:07 - 37:16 — Looking critically at trauma
  • 37:16 - 46:30 — Embracing compost and incompletion
  • 46:30 - 49:38 — Episode wrap-up

Links and Resources

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Eric Garza: Welcome to the Quillwood Podcast. I am your host, Eric Garza.

Today's guest here on the Quillwood Podcast is Sophie Strand. She is a writer that I've been following for a while and who's writing I really enjoy. I will give her a chance to introduce herself in just a few moments. You can find Sophie on Instagram at the handle at @csmogyny. You can find her on Facebook, and you can also find her on the web at SophieStrand.com. You can also subscribe to Sofie's newsletter on substack at sophiestrand.substack.com. I signed up for the paid level just so that I can offer her some support and also gain access to all of the stuff that she writes. It is well worth the price. You can find all of these links that I have mentioned in the show notes. If you want to find those head over to quillwood.org, in the offerings drop down menu click on podcast, and then click on this episode. And also, if you enjoy today's episode, please leave it a five star review on whatever podcast app you're listening on, and I encourage you to share it with friends.

Speaking again of Quillwood, this podcast is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. Through Quillwood Academy I offer educational events to help people just like you learn to navigate the changing world in which we live. I've got a couple discussion groups coming up that both revolve around the nervous system, autonomic nervous system in particular. One of them is Learning and Safety. The other is Nervous System Tracking. I've had folks asking me to add these to the schedule for months now, it seems like, and I finally found some space for them. I've also got a couple Apocalypse Cafes coming up. One of them is scheduled for the evening of the same day that this podcast episode goes live, that is February 8 of 2022. Another one is coming up on February 12. And I've got some other dates that I'll be adding to the website soon. Head over to Quillwood Academy's website, quillwood.org, to learn more about all these events, and to register. You can also sign up for Quillwood Academy's newsletter there, which comes out on or pretty close to each new and full moon.

With all of that out of the way. Enjoy my conversation with Sophie Strand.

Eric: Sophie Strand, welcome to the Quillwood Podcast. You mentioned that you'd like to introduce yourself, so please feel free.

Sophie Strand: Thank you for having me, Eric. My name is Sophie Strand. I live in the Hudson Valley. I am a writer, a poet, and a compost heap. I write at the intersection of spirituality, ecology, and storytelling. My first book of essays, which is about ecology and myth, called the Flowering Wand: Rewilding the Sacred Masculine, comes out in fall 2020 through Inner Traditions, and my ecofeminist historical fiction reimagining of the Gospels, The Madonna Secret, comes out in the spring following that. I think that's an adequate gloss of who I am today.

Eric: I had other questions I was going to start with, but hearing sacred masculine... I feel like there's a lot of talk in the world today about masculinity and femininity, and those binaries. When you use the term sacred masculine, what do you envision with that?

Sophie: Well, that's the title I was given by my publisher and not the title I chose. I think it's important to demystify the ways things get simplified when trying to be offered to a wider audience. My initial title was The Flowering Wand—and this is still on the cover, this is still part of the title—Lunar Kings, Trans-Species Magicians, Lichenized Lovers, and Rhizomatic Harpists Heal the Masculine. So I think sacred masculine sounds a little trite. I think it sounds a little anthropocentric, a little gender essentialist. It's not something that I'm really devoted to, but if it's a way of simplifying what I'm doing, and saying that I'm interested in composting masculinity into a kind of animist ecological ferment, then I'll take it.

Masculinity for me is closest to a morphic field, like a pattern of behavior which brings beings into their shape. And not into their biological shape, but into their patterns of behavior. And I think we have more of those than we do cultural dualisms. I think we have many, many different fields of becoming, and that evolve over time. To the detriment of masculinity, it's been conflated with patriarchy so it doesn't give many options for healthy modes of masculinity, no matter what body or identity you have. If you're interacting with the masculine, you're being given a pretty impoverished narrative zone to work with. So I was interested going into this project to see if there are ways I could go back to earlier mythology and folklore and compost them with modern science, philosophy, ecology, and see if we could add a biodiversity of voices to a monologuing pathogen.

Eric: A pathogen. That's a fun way of putting that. I'm cisgendered and heterosexual, and at the same time I've also played a lot with these understandings of what masculine is. One of the places that I've gotten to, and I have not written about this widely—I'm actually really careful about who I even talk about this with—but I feel like there's a lot of character traits that people can embody, and you're not necessarily required to embody any particular trait all the time, you can kind of shape shift. What's more valuable to me than trying to buy into masculinity, for example, is to try to be discerning and sensitive to what is needed in a moment. So sometimes assertiveness, which some people think of as a characteristically masculine trait, is useful. But sometimes not so much. So and I don't pretend that I am good at that in any stretch, I suspect that is going to be a lifelong set of skills to practice. I'm curious if you had any thoughts on that.

Sophie: I'm very interested about the movement from lunar kings and lunar cyclical time to the solarized Darwinian arrow of time, mythology, and narratives. And I think that for me, lunation and lunation cycles are a way of problematizing stable identity. So I oftentimes invite people who identify along some kind of rhizome of the masculine into a lunation of masculinity, or gender, or whatever. Let yourself change every day. The moon is always the moon, but sometimes it's occluded, sometimes it's replete, sometimes it's waning, it's waxing. So let yourself change on a day to day basis. Let yourself adapt to changing ecological pressures, social issues. I think adaptability is important individually and ecologically right now.

Eric: Yeah, I think it's hugely important on both of those fronts, and probably will only become more so. I lead an event through Quillwood Academy, which is affiliated with this podcast, or I should say the podcast is affiliated with Quillwood Academy, called Apocalypse Cafes. They are organized along the thread of a Deaf Cafe, only people come there to talk about apocalypse, both in the modern sense of death and destruction and cataclysm, as well as the original sense, which is uncovering and revealing. When that word was coined back in the ancient Greek, and when it was used in Latin and written into the Bible, it was more of a synonym for the word revelation than it was associated with death and destruction and all that stuff. So I've had obviously well off people who have access to the internet show up to these Apocalypse Cafes, and talk about how their lives have already been upended. A number of people who are forced climate migrants in Australia and also in California have joined and talked about their experiences. It's been very enlightening to those of us who still live in places where the climate is very stable.

Sophie: I don't experience the climate is stable in the Hudson Valley. We're undergoing massive shifts at this point. I've lived here my whole life. So I've seen how it was gradual, subtle, and recently, it's just been completely different. Flooding that washes away people's homes and kills people, and hurricanes, storms. It's been pretty intense to watch it happen, and watch how feeble the infrastructure is at responding to these predictable yet chaotic events.

Eric: Yeah. And I guess to qualify my statement, when I say stable, all I really mean is that we don't have 1200 year droughts.

Sophie: Yeah, exactly. It's been the apocalypse in third world countries for a long, long time. And in the Global South. The apocalypse is not something that has a schedule, it's emergent. Death is everybody's personal apocalypse. We've experienced a kind of a swarm of personal apocalypses in this pandemic. People's lives were just ruptured.

Eric: I want to go back... You mentioned the word healing earlier on, and I would love to spend some time on that, now that we're talking about apocalypse. In this time of apocalypse, or in this time of climate change or overshoot or Anthropocene, people use a lot of different terminology around this. I would love to pick your brain on what the role of healing is, right now, for people as individuals, but also collectively or communally.

Sophie: So as someone who has a genetic condition that's incurable, who has complex early trauma that has deregulated my nervous system in a way that doesn't seem to ever complete, or stabilize, I find myself exiled from healing narratives often. And I've been inside of every single world of healing: the medical industrial complex, the New Age scene, holistic healing. Everything. I've done everything. When you're dying you want to try everything, you want to see what could work. You get desperate. And I've been worried at how uncompassionate all of the different worlds are to people who don't fit the narrative of progressing towards healing and completion. So for me, healing is about incompleteness. It's about absences that actually create relationship. It's about always being the compost heap. Maybe you're in the process of decay, maybe your healing doesn't move towards vitality and robustness. Maybe it's about becoming the good dirt that grows someone else's sustenance, or some other being's survival.

I've been very inspired by the work of Donna Haraway, and making kin, and sympoesis, becoming with. For me, a very personal example, I have been so sick for a very long time and got multiple diagnosis that melted. I would go in, they'd think it was something, and then it would get worse. And they'd be like no, it's not that. And while this descent was happening, I was becoming increasingly interested practically, scientifically and philosophically with fungi. And then there came this incredible synchronous moment where I was finally diagnosed with a connective tissue disease. And I realized that fungi were the connective tissue of the soil and the ecosystems. And so for me, what I've been thinking about is healing is less about this reification of the self and the self as needing to reach some kind of integrated whole, and more about realizing that your wounding is a compass directing you out of the human towards something else. So how can we look at our pain, our struggles, our sorrow and physical dysfunction as being the silhouette of something else that needs our kinship?

Eric: As you were speaking, one of the things I was thinking about... I've never really been involved in in New Age circles particularly deeply, but for a time I was actively training in Zen meditation, in a particular school of Zen. Zen being Buddhist, at least on paper, they play around with the idea of non-attachment, and letting go of things. In your framing of becoming, one of the things I'm wondering, and maybe this even relates to compost too, I'm curious how those ideas relate for you to this idea of letting go of things, or practicing non-attachment?

Sophie: I think that all of the religions of non-attachment are relatively modern in the history of human beings. And I think that we actually see them emerge, we see this bifurcation of matter and spirit, mind and matter, happen at moments when populations are dislocated from their situated ecologies. There's mass extinction, there's climatological pressure, and there's massive trauma. And I think that when bodies are traumatized, they disassociate. And I oftentimes think of all of those monotheistic disassociated religions as being part of a kind of cultural body of disassociation. My dad was a Zen Buddhist monk for many years and he ran New York Zendo, so I was raised inside a lot of this thinking, but trying to compost it, trying to say like, there's some really good stuff here, but there's also really dysregulated craziness that's all about trying to exit from being responsible for your ecosystem and for your relationships.

And here's the thing. There's no criticism attached to a trauma response. It's a survival mechanism. And I think that a lot of these religions and their rules are survival mechanisms that were created in a situated moment. The problem is, they're not adapted to this particular moment. Sometimes I think of evolution. Evolution typically is about forking. Species diverged. It's a process of negation. The ones that are left are the ones that managed to not get subtracted. But then there are these moments of fusion. The process of our very cells of modern mitochondria and prokaryotes creating our very molecular makeup. And so I think that there are moments in the history of human beings where we've been meant to fork, we've been meant to create these survival mechanisms. But our imperative right now is to fuse.

Eric: And the continuation of my story, I was training in that Zen group from 1999 to maybe 2003. And I extracted myself because—I didn't have those words for it at the time, I didn't know the word dissociation—but I realized that a lot of the stuff that I was being trained to do, a lot of the practices if you will, were taking me away from what was actually going on in the world. And it was more than a decade later than I started learning about trauma and dissociation. You mentioned there's a reason why this is part of their training, a part of their practices, but the risk of practicing something is that you're going to get good at it. And I want more than just dissociative tools in my toolbox at this point.

Sophie: That's a nice way of putting it. There are tools, and they're neither good nor bad. An ecosystem is resilient, as much it has complexity. You'd want your toolbox to be complex, you'd want it to have a lot of different tools.

Eric: If we want to expand our toolbox beyond dissociative tools, which I feel like abound in modern society, what are some things that come to mind for you?

Sophie: I like to make it simple. I like to not have a lot of rules. So I always tell people follow what you love, and like a bee going to drink nectar you'll incidentally pollinate something. But if you follow your appetites, your actual appetites, and your mental, your emotional appetites and desires, you'll incidentally pollinate something, you'll find your ecological niche. Right now, a lot of people ask me, How can I become an environmentalist? How can I become ecologically educated? It's a terrible thing to feel like you have to go back to school, you have to learn everything, read every book. And I always tell people, Don't try and learn everything. You can't. Information is being produced at an abnormal speed right now. It's exponential. Find what you love. Learn about what you love. Become a mouthpiece for what you love. Marry yourself to a mountain. Perhaps you care about black bears. Learn everything you can about black bears. For me, it's fungi. That being, or that landscape, will become a portal to greater understanding.

So I think that symbiosis, kinship, making kin, fusion, I think that for me it's all about these ways of enchaining ourselves to other beings. And in a very practical sense I think about the word haptic. That word has been co-opted by cybernetics and all sorts of stuff right now, and AI, but at its root means to touch and to and chain, which is that every time you touch something you're creating a chain. Every time you touch something, you're part of it, you're involved in it. And when we think about our very senses, they are haptic. A photon touches into your eye and cascades a molecular domino effect into your brain. Sound is particles of air moving into your ear, playing you like a drum. Everything is haptic. Everything enchains and touches. Everything is erotic. So make the revolution pleasurable. Make it about what you love, what you care about.

Eric: Yeah. Going back to dissociation, I teach at a university and my job in that style of teaching is becoming more and more challenging for me because, even setting aside all the crazy pandemic stuff that's going on, I feel like learning a lot of intellectual stuff can be an escape mechanism for people. And I can look back in my own history, and I can see that I used that. Talking about getting good at dissociated practices, I used that at various points in my life. And it served its purpose. I'm still here. I'm getting to a point where the world is asking something very different of me, and I'm trying to figure out what that is. And it's very common for me to have students, not always in this blunt of language, but ask me what they should be doing with their life. And I struggle so much when I get that question. I just struggle so much.

Sophie: Oh, it's hard to be able to answer that for anyone. Especially when things shift so much on a day to day basis right now. What have you arrived at personally? What is giving your life nourishment and meaning today?

Eric: At this moment, there's a number of things that are giving my life meaning. Connecting with people is giving it meaning. Learning subsistence skills is giving it meaning. Using all of my senses to touch all kinds of plants and animals and fungi and elements, water. I've invested the last couple years learning how to process acorns into an edible flour. So I've gotten to know oaks very well, the different kinds of oaks that live in my area. I am starting to teach those kinds of skills, or mentor people in those kinds of skills, as the pandemic allows. And I alluded to this already, but just reengaging with senses and trying to use that as a tool to draw myself out of my head and back into my body experience.

Sophie: That's amazing. And it's just about actually touching things and smelling them and surviving off eating them. It's really as simple as that. Although I do think, as someone who loves to read, I think it's also about oscillating in and out of different experiences. Like sometimes I need to read a scientific paper to learn something, but then I have to translate it into my body. I think the issue is getting stuck. Sometimes, for me, I get stuck in the head. And that's when things are really problematic.

Eric: I didn't mean to imply that I've divorced myself...

Sophie: No, you didn't. I just wanted to honor my professors that taught me heady intellectual ideas and have been formative in the way I live my life bodily and practically in ways that are life supporting.

Eric: I've definitely gotten feedback from past students that the experiences they've had in my classes have been extraordinarily formative. Every instructor likes to hear those words.

Sophie: I bet.

Eric: You mentioned making kin. And of course, that was a title of an essay that Donna Haraway wrote, and she brings it up in her book. I feel like we could dig deep into that topic. But what are some of the different ways, and I know you've alluded to some of them already, but what are some of the ways that you explore that? The idea of making kin.

Sophie: I think that fungi, for me, are a metaphoric tool, but they're also a teacher. And fungi tend to get involved in neutral to chaotic ways. They're very capricious, they map on to the ancient fairy archetype, which is not really interested in humans and sometimes chaotically interested in humans. And for me, they've taught me to involve myself in my world and situate myself in exactly where I live. A practice I always offer to people is, I wake up in the morning, and the prayer I say is summoning every being, fungal, indigenous population, land form, body of water, bird, insect that I know by name, so that as I go throughout my day and make decisions, I realized that my decisions are relational, and they're going to affect a lot of other beings.

So that's the kind of heady version of it. But the truth is that I spend most of my time outside when I'm not working. And I think for me, it's really as simple as—an even if you live in a city, you can do this—I get to know the beings that I see every day. Like, if you see a weed and you live in the city, and it's always growing up, get to know it, figure out what it's telling you. I really do believe that these beings are showing up because they want to be in relationship with you. When you notice something, it's because it's noticing you. There's that biophilia experience. So I always encourage people like find the anarchic city herbal walks, do an herbal apprenticeship, go on a mushroom walk, go hiking, smell your dirt.

A really great simple thing is to just ground in a sit spot. So to go somewhere every day for like, 365 days outside and sit, with no expectations, and just see what arrives. I would say in my life, just very simple practices. I wish they were cooler. They're not super cool. I do try and have full body immersive experiences in water. I don't think that will necessarily translate to other people, but for me being in water really wakes up my entire experience of having a boundary, having it be semiporous. I can feel my whole body entering into my ecosystem in a way that doesn't quite happen when I'm just walking around in the air.

Eric: Yeah, full body immersive experiences in water are something that I like too. One of the things that I've been doing this for quite a long time, so my experience of it is today is different than it was a long time ago, but I enjoy cold water swimming, cold water immersion.

Sophie: I was gonna bring that up. Yeah. And it's so, so good for you, it turns out! This is something that I did for a long time. And then I found out that it was actually good for you.

Eric: Yeah, and back to sit spot, you brought that up. And I mentioned how I was pulled out of my my Zen practice, and it was actually the sit spot. I had just started, this was like 2002 or 2003, I had started learning—at the time, we called these "primitive skills", I despise that word— place-based skills, and one of the things that one of my mentors invited me to start doing was going to a sit spot. I lived in a suburban area, but I just sat in my backyard. One of the things that I learned from that is that, wow, there's a lot going on here that I never even realized. And the other thing was that over time, I relaxed into that place and my body, my whole body became this sensory organ, so not just reliant on eyes, and maybe to a lesser extent ears, but the whole body became a sense organ. And that was when I started realizing how much time I spent in my head. It took years for me to learn a broader, maybe ironically theoretical context for what had happened to me up to that point in my life, but eventually I did. That sit spot was a very, very powerful tool to give myself a tool in my toolbox that was not dissociative.

Sophie: That's beautiful. Yeah, I oftentimes think that these spots need us too. We always ask what medicine we need. An interesting question is also, How can we be the medicine? And I oftentimes think that we're drawn to places like acupuncture needles, like the land needs us in ways that perhaps we're not aware of. And it doesn't need us to do much. Maybe it just needs us to step. And then if we think of the fact that one step reverberates through miles of fungal mycelium, what messages and cascades of bacterial communication are happening because of your footstep?

Eric: And I was thinking about that, in the context of making kin too. You mentioned mycelium, and you obviously know this probably better than I do, but they have enormous amounts of connections throughout forests. And they have unique sets of enzymes that let them digest rocks and minerals, and make those elements available. And they give those to trees and plants in return for sugars. And I'm sure there's all kinds of other relationships that they're intimately involved in too. But situating yourself in this place, and this is what I give and this is what I need. A few hundreds of millions of years go by and suddenly you have this amazing ecosystem where everyone's kind of coadapted to this particular symbiosis.

Sophie: Yeah. And also, there's no such thing as a climax ecosystem. We're all changing all the time. We always think of evolution as having resolved for us. This is what we are, technology will evolve, but we're gonna be the same, but we're not. We're constantly in process. We're just doorways for matter. Which is healing, because then nothing is static, you know. Our shame can alchemize and ferment into something else. Our pain can flow through us.

I've been struggling a little bit lately with a lot of trauma vocabulary, about how trauma sticks in the body. And I do get that, I very much personally get it. But I also think that there's something overdetermined about it. Our cells turn over completely. We're breathing in our microbiome and being reconstituted by our ecosystem. I do think that there's a way in which we can recycle this stuff, and see ourselves as processes and less as stable concretized identities.

Eric: Yeah. I've also been struggling with trauma. And not just for that reason, but also I feel like the fact that the Body Keeps the Score, if we can snatch that title, if that is true, the Body Keeps the Score, it's not just keeping the score from bad things that happen that we might think of as trauma, but it's probably keeping the score from overwhelmingly amazing things that happened. And so I almost feel like, in some respects, trauma is akin to, may be not the only way, maybe not even the most important way, but is one of the ways that our bodies learn outside of our intellectual engagement. There is this thing that happened and we're going to internalize this other response to it so that maybe it happens more, or maybe it happens less.

Sophie: I think it's an overfixation on one type of bodily tattoo that we can get. But we're getting one all the time. I love that. Think about all the times that we smell something and then that's so directly neurologically connected to memory. And that suddenly we can think about the smell scapes that constitute our worlds as being a kind of landscape of memory. There's so many different ways to open up this conversation of the body passive-aggressively keeping the score. There's something so colonized about the whole westernized somatics approach. There are a lot of critiques of it recently. It's hard, because reading the Body Keeps the Score was an aha moment for me. But then it didn't help me much after the aha moment. And that was interesting. It didn't actually deliver me to any healing. It was a portal into something, but I'm not sure if it's as medicinal as people think it is.

Eric: Yeah, you mentioned aha moment. I was on another zoom call with a friend before you and I sat down to record, and we were talking about a book. I'm not gonna remember the author's name at this moment, and I don't have it handy, but Hospicing Modernity...

Sophie: This is crazy. Guess what just came in the mail today!

Eric: Oh, yeah, I got my copy last week but I have not had a chance to read it!

Sophie: I'm just finishing up this other brilliant book, and this is the next one on the list. I've heard this is really, really good. It comes highly recommended.

Eric: And what I was going to bring this up for is my friend felt inspired to read me a paragraph from that book that is not exactly related to what you just said but it but it struck me as very relevant. And in the book, Vanessa—and I'm not gonna remember her entire last name, I know she goes by Vanessa Andreotti, but she went by a different name for this book—

Sophie: Machado de Oliviera.

Eric: Yeah, Vanessa Machado de Oliviera. One of the things she talks about is people will read explanations—and she wrote about this in the context of racism—so people will read explanations of some some issue and then the clarity that they get from having done that releases endorphins. And then if their learning in that context is not redressed in some way so that alleviates their pain and suffering, then it's easy for people to become addicted to all these insights because those insights are connected to endorphins. I've done a lot of reading in the realm of trauma, and I've gotten a lot of insights, and I wonder if we can say the same thing about that context. Where people are becoming more and more dependent on the endorphins of this understanding, and it's taking people down this particular path, and people are going on that path without necessarily realizing or recognizing where it leads.

You mentioned colonized. And it strikes me that a lot of the rhetoric in the world of trauma therapy, and even in somatics and embodied therapies, is like: You can conquer your trauma. You can obliterate it, you can heal, and you can become this pure, untraumatized organism.

Sophie: My two essays that have had the widest reach are just about this. No one's ever actually going to be able to do these things. And yet, because the text exists, that makes you feel like it must be possible, so you constantly are feeling like you're falling short. I think especially for trauma survivors, the thing I've been really interested in is none of the trauma approaches that are purportedly supposed to work really work for early childhood sexual abuse, and that these people who've experienced this, including me, will spend thousands of dollars, which is pretty criminal, trying to heal themselves and then experiencing failure.

And what would it mean to instead talk about the ways that incompletion and sensory hypersensitivity are superpowers? Maybe it's not about fixing it? Maybe it's about recontextualizing something. Not saying it's good, but saying maybe we're not going to try and bring you back into a normative experience, because maybe the normative experience is actually just perpetuating capitalist imperialism. Something I'm very interested in is how can we look at survivors of trauma and assault, disabled people, neurodivergent people, as being portals into types of consciousness we need right now.

Eric: Yeah. And I wonder, you use this word a couple times, and in your writing too, and I know that people use this word in a lot of different ways, but you mentioned composting. I would love to have you explain what exactly you mean when you use that word?

Sophie: Well, for me, I experienced this purity regime that came culturally, that came spiritually, that came medically, and actually purity, all of these different narratives of purity, worked to completely destabilize my gut, my health, my self, my mental health. I think that we have a very antibiotic approach to life, and even to conservation and ecosystem management. Homogenized tree farms are not resilient ecosystems, and you can't really manage an ecosystem. I'm much more interested in a probiotic approach to everything. It's not about trying to manage something and to figure out how it works. It's about adding enough complexity in that something sprouts. And as someone whose body is actually decaying and falling apart at a rate that is much faster than most other people, I have to begin to work with rot and decay in a more curious, interrogative way. And so for me, I am a compost heap. But you know, a compost heaps is strung between ripe and rot. Things sprout from it become good soil, it becomes a home for bacteria, and worms and insects and fungi. So for me, the compost heap is very personal metaphor. Cancel culture feels like a symptom of an antibiotic culture, which is that you kill a pathogen off, and that makes everything better. But the truth is, you end up killing everything off, and then you have a lot of open real estate in a ravaged gut for a yeast takeover. So for me, I'm much more interested in, especially in terms of bad stories, is not trying to kill them off, but how can we add them to a compost heap where there's so many other things there, that a more alchemical transformation is going to take place?

Eric: Yeah. And you mentioned that you play a lot with with mythology. I remember from a couple of the things of yours that I've read that you have reached into Greek mythology, but knowing that that comes, I would say, from a fairly conquest oriented people, not quite as much perhaps as the Romans, but how would you use those kinds of myths?

Sophie: My scholarly training is in the transition from pantheism and folkloric animism to monotheism in the Mediterranean basin. So I'm much more interested in that transition point. What I write about a lot of my book coming out is actually the Kurgan hordes coming down, the Greeks coming down and conquering Minoan culture. And actually this transition point where more partnership, to use Raine Eisler's term, societies become these kinds of solarized dominator cultures. Something I'm very interested in is how myths get composted and changed and re-articulated by dominating empires so that a figure like Dionysus reaches us, and he's a drunkard. And we forget that he was actually the instigator behind all these revolutions. And he was submitted to a smear campaign, because he was seen as such a divisive revolutionary figure to the Roman Empire.

So I think it's really interesting to go back. A lot of our myths are deracinated. I've been thinking about myths like mushrooms, which is they look superficially like individuals, but they're just a poem of a certain place and they're just a reproductive flourish of a much deeper, older, sometimes pre-patriarchal mythic mycelium underground. So you can think of perhaps like Dionysus, Orpheus, Addis, Adonis, Yeshua, Osiris in the Mediterranean basin, as looking like superficial individuals, mushrooms that are situated in their particular political and ecological context, but are all connected below ground to a mythic rhizome. And, for me, I'm coming from—and I state this pretty explicitly in at the start of this project—I'm not going to attempt to rewild or compost myths from cultures that I don't have any attachment to. But I want this to be a polyphony of voices rewilding masculinity. I do not want it to be a monologue. So I'm going to do my part. But this isn't really about—incompletion is a theme that's been coming up for us a lot—to create an open text where there are necessary absences for other voices can come in.

Eric: You mentioned completion, and that word really struck me. I feel like right now in the world a lot of people want answers. A lot of people are desperately reaching out for some sense of certainty. And a question that I've been playing with myself is, What sorts of practices can I engage with that will help me be able to stay settled with all the uncertainty and the incompleteness and all the crazy that seems like it is a lot more abundant in the world at this particular moment, then all the alternatives. So that's a question I'll put out to you. Do you have particular practices?

Sophie: I have a whole essay called the Generous Uncertainty, which I feel like constitutes my whole life. I have a faulty heart that could and may explode at any unpredictable moment. And that's probably how I'm going to go. So there's an uncertainty that is woven, that capillaries out to kind of jump on that vascular metaphor, into my whole life. Everything is uncertain, every step is uncertain, every day is uncertain. We are trying so hard to create stable value systems because things are so uncertain. And that's why all these conspiracy theories come up. People are just trying to figure out something that holds them. I want to offer that ideas, conspiracy theories, dominant paradigms don't hold you, but your landscape does. Your landscape is okay with being uncertain, and it will hold you in uncertainty. When you're feeling uncertain, go put your hands in dirt. Go listen to birdsong. Go smell a tree. 

We can respond to uncertainty intellectually. And I always love the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, which is, "The sign of a true intellect is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in your mind without going insane". But right now, unfortunately, it's 5 million opposing ideas, and it's impossible. And so perhaps the move is less to go into the intellect and trying to figure out how to deal with this, and more to just say, What's gonna hold me? There's no stable value system, but there is a stable ground below me and there's that beautiful push of the gravity that's keeping me on this spinning orb. That's pretty certain right now. I think I'll take that.

Eric: If you live in a place where there's a winter, there's cold water.

Sophie: Exactly! Wow, yes!

Eric: I am a suicide survivor. I attempted in 1999. This was one of the things that pushed me to explore alternative ways of living. That was what eased me into the Zen practice, and then into the place-based, nature-based practices. Of all the different things that I have played with over the 20-plus years since that happened, I feel like cold water immersion is probably the thing that has kept me alive more than anything else. Just having that very acute sense that, wow, I'm here! And this water is cold! And being able to relax into it, and watch my nervous system ramp up initially and say, Wow, this water is cold, you were in danger! And then 60 to 90 seconds later say, Yeah, this water is cold, but actually, maybe we're not in danger, at least not at this exact moment. And then it kind of eases back and I can be there for a few minutes. And then it's like, okay, yeah, maybe we should get out.

Sophie: Yeah, it stitches you to the present moment. It erases your ego, briefly. It puts you into your body and into your ecosystem. It's like a great reboot. That's a terrible system technology metaphor, but it really does feel like that it reboots me.

Eric: Yeah. And another one for me, too, has been hunting. And I don't need to be successful. And in fact, I've only been successful a couple times in hunting, and the fact that I'm so unsuccessful doesn't seem to matter. Just the practice of going out with the intention of pursuing an animal, and just turning my senses on with that intention, that has also been for me a very powerful connective experience.

Sophie: I also think that, for thousands and thousands of years our ancestors hunted. So it's a way of communing with that ongoingness of the dead. Hunting brings you into connection with community in deep time.

Eric: We've been at it 45 minutes. Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to offer, at this point?

Sophie: This has been a great conversation. You've even inspired me to want to go to my favorite creek and to immerse. I wrote a whole book about second temple period, Palestine and Jesus, and so I was really interested in immersion, and baptism as immersion is like cold water immersion. And so yeah, maybe I'll go do my baptism. Totally animist feral baptism.

Thank you for conversationally composting with me. The one thing I'd offer is I think this is a moment for us to create as much connectivity with each other as possible, and to not problematize the ways that the internet does that. It's here. It's doing something very mycelial. So yeah, thank you.

Eric: And it is doing things like that at a time when it's not always as safe as it used to be to interact with people face to face.

Sophie: Yeah, exactly.

Eric: Do you have a website or social media presence or any other things like that you'd like to let folks know about?

Sophie: I have an Instagram at cosmogyny, @cosmogyny, the Facebook Sophie Strand. I have a website, www.SophieStrand.com. And I have a newsletter coming in the next month, which I'll announce on all those other platforms. So thank you so much.

Eric: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Quillwood Podcast. Again, it is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. Head over to quillwood.org to check out upcoming events and to sign up for Quillwood's newsletter.

Until next time, this is Eric Garza, your host, signing off. Walk softly and take good care