Embracing the Wild

What were you taught about nature and her ways? 

The first messages I received about the wildness of the natural world were diametrically opposed. My mother taught me that nature is splendid when controlled in a garden or observed from the boxy windows of the house or vehicle. She would have made a fine Victorian lady. My father taught me that the wild is the only place where one can truly escape the pain and sorrow of life, and that anything one might possibly need is there. He would have made a fine pioneer.   

If I believed my mother, then nature was a frightening and unpredictable place where all sorts of horrible tragedies might befall me. If I believed my father, it was paradise and my salvation from too much civilization.   

I wish my father had taken the time to teach me all of his practical outdoor skills, but there were obstacles. I was bookish, dreamy, a bit awkward, and I was not a boy. Even if he had maintained the patience to teach wilderness survival to a little girl who didn’t like baiting a fishhook, it’s unlikely that my mother would have allowed such expeditions. Death had taken her first daughter, and she worried, constantly, that he was stalking her second. 

I lived much of my childhood through my dead sister’s shadow, trying to find some middle ground between gaining my independence and not increasing my mother’s anxiety. A fearful, depressed, and controlling mother was too hard to bear in the end, so independence ultimately won. I left home at 18 and only told my mother what I thought she was able to handle about my life, which was mostly the acceptable highlight reel.    

Relying on field guides and advice from seasoned hikers to fill in the gaps in my outdoor knowledge bank, I certainly didn’t tell her when I backpacked on a portion of the Appalachian Trail for the first time or any time that I went out into the woods with the barest essentials. I couldn’t explain the benefits of hiking and camping to someone who said, “I will not sleep on the ground when I have a perfectly good bed at home.”  

But there are waterfalls that can only been reached by traveling miles into the forest on foot. There are wide vistas that can only be enjoyed by climbing, step by aching step, to the top of the mountain. There are meadows full of wildflowers and gurgling creeks and the simple comfort of a fire at night under a canopy of bright stars. 

We spoke completely different languages, she and I. She craved walls and security. I craved fresh air and whatever is around the next bend.     

I reserved my nature-loving conversations for my father, who understood the peace of wild things and that my soul was being hurt by too much domestication from suburban living. The outer trappings of my life looked like progress. Degrees. Job. Paycheck. Retirement fund. House. Car. Boxes all checked, but there was less and less time and energy to be outside exploring. Weekends were taken up with maintaining the lawn and the house and running errands. Then it was Monday again, and I would try to push away the feeling that my life had been stripped of all meaning and purpose. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this. I took no pleasure in any of my accomplishments. What had I won? A concrete jungle? I didn’t want it. I wanted a forest. I wanted to wake up and see trees all around me, instead of the neighbor’s back porch, the rows of privacy fences, and the asphalt leading to places I did not wish to go. Even the local nature trails had become too familiar, predictable, and heavily occupied by joggers and cyclists.   

My own search for a connection or reconnection to the earth was really a search for self and identity. How a woman feels about the earth reflects how she feels about herself. Either she embraces all that is wild, unapologetic, fierce, and untamed within her, or she lives in denial and represses her natural instincts. Either she accepts that the feminine is both nurturer and destroyer, or she feels that a part of herself remains caged as she struggles to fulfill the impossible cultural expectation of flawless motherhood and domesticity. It is still shocking to some that the Goddess has teeth and claws.  

Such profound realizations often occur on the cusp of the final transformation. Nearing the end of her life and unable to walk, my mother actually loved seeing photos of my hiking trips. Faced with her own mortality, she became keenly aware of all the places she would never go in this life and all that she would never see or experience. She said that my photos made her feel like she was out there with me on the trail, seeing the world through my eyes. I brought her the wild, and at last, she understood this sacred, primordial part of me and of herself and of all women. 

“Go,” she told me. “Let your hiking boots take you every place that calls to you, and I’ll be with you every step.” 

And she is. I feel her, and I feel the Great Mother surrounding me every time I leave the known for the unknown, the safe for the precarious, the tame for the untouched and irrepressible wildness of the world.       

Veneration of the Wild Witch

There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame.

I won’t deny that I love the wild one most—

she who resists order and structure,
she who prefers the loamy smell of woodlands and the sand of untrodden shores,
she who calls the lightning bolt down to shatter the tower,
she who gives not a single flying fuck about your opinions.

The wild witch knew magic long before it was sifted down and spread categorically into the pages of dusty books and grimoires. She knew it well before the Golden Dawn, before Gardner, before Cunningham, before replicated lists and correspondence tables. She knew the Goddess before they gave her names and the Horned Hunter before they demonized him.

The wild witch walked in the forest, lifted her hands to the sky and felt the radiance of the noonday sun pulsing through her veins. She pulled the power of rocks and soil and gnarly roots up through her bare feet into the core of her being, renewing her connection to the Earth Mother. She waded into the stream, and the water swirling about her calves and thighs was her very first lover.

The trees spoke to her in every season, bearing the changes of growth and dormancy in equal measure; so she learned to do the same, dropping her leaves like the oak in autumn…blooming like the hawthorn in spring. The flowers and herbs beckoned to her, revealing all of their secrets one by one, and they became her strongest allies. Rosemary grew tall and strong at her door. Artemisia graced the entry to her garden. Primrose danced between the stones of her walkway.

The wild witch attended the university of the winged ones, the four-leggeds, and the creepy crawlies. Lessons arrived daily. She listened to the hawk’s piercing cry and reveled in the raucous laughter of crows…caught a glimpse of the elusive fox and the owl’s golden eyes at dusk…watched the shy, gentle deer and the steely serpent shedding its skin.

The moon waxes and wanes, and so does the wild witch.

The cycle of

intentions

expansions

culminations

reflections

releasings

replays over and over again with the ebb and flow of Luna.

Her world is fearless inspiration…blood and fire of creation…bitter ashes of death and destruction.

She recoils from domestication.

Don’t try to “save” her, please. You will find her in the deepest of caves, drawing portraits of her yoni on the walls with red ochre.

The wild witch loves as only feral beings can love…completely but without attachment, deeply but without anchors.

There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame…and how fiercely I love the wild one.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.