Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild
Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild
For just a little while, we ask you to consider trading comfort for shelter. To ask: what does it mean to be dreamt rather than dream, or to be claimed by a place? For some of us, these are yearnings almost painful to contemplate.
The wilderness vigil is something immeasurably ancient, and the way our ancestors tuned their ear to the furry emanations of the living earth.
Here, under the emerald bough of Dartmoor forest, we invite you to seek what they sought. In this place they called Dumnonia, or Defenascir, on the island they used to call Albion, we invite you to walk out of this century altogether.
What does that look like?
Four days and nights alone in the forest.
Just like the fairy tales.
Everywhere people are talking about the desperate need for a new story. We suggest that the stories worth attending to arise from the earth itself. We don’t need commentary about the earth, we need disclosures from the earth.
The wilderness vigil is a moment when the grinding of your ambitions and your griefs settle into the ground of something far deeper. This is always the place we have gone to mark transition – from one stage of life to another. It can be difficult, wonderful, resolutely un-ecstatic, and absolutely life-changing. Tribal folk have always known it was where you go to die and get born. A place where big questions get asked, things bend their heads to die and green shoots spring up.
This is not a teaching from a human realm. This is the old bones of the mountain as teacher, the swift raven overhead as guide. This is ancestor time. They can be tough instructors, but grip blessings in their beaks.
These vigils involve a re-calibration of what some of us understand by the words wilderness rites-of-passage. There has, we believe, sometimes been a little too much emphasis on a giddy upswing of psychological transformation as the wilderness cheers us on. Nature as a trilling and warbling backdrop.
We join the voices of many before us and say we believe it’s really about the move from the psyche that lives in your chest, to you within a wider psyche of lapwing, oak root and granite tor. That’s the big move.
We are out there to hear more than the whirring cogs of our own drama.
That is the journey from dreaming to getting dreamt, getting claimed by a place. It’s usually a slow, sometimes difficult and often mysterious process. Without a long term commitment to stewarding the experience afterwards, it can be hard to grasp quite what transpired. Friends, that’s where the work begins. Don’t come looking for honey if you don’t want to become a bee.
These vigils are part of a long standing engagement from the School of Myth to offer deeply experiential work with the living world. We are really interested in a deepening conversation with a specific stretch of land over a long period of time.
Having long been in love with oral culture we are paying specific attention to the local, rather than an emphasis on the pan-global relevance of the ceremony. This will grow straight out of the dark soil of Dartmoor.
The School has a particular way of approaching the wilderness fast; to develop what has been called “a community of wild ethics” (Abram). We place an emphasis on mythological literacy as a profound medium with which to deepen understanding of what actually transpired out there out the hill.
It sees these forages into the bush as a dialogue with a non human world, and such an experience needs subtle handling. What makes this experience so nourishing is in part the holding – the professional support, the telling of your story to trained guides who have both fasted themselves and can assist you in the locating of the deeper story within your experience.
The wilderness vigil spans eight days in total and includes four days and nights fasting alone on private land on Dartmoor – no tent, no fire, no food. Just a tarp, sleeping bag and water.
If you would like to be kept updated on details for 2023, please contact . However, interest is really high for these vigils and participants of our Stalking the Rebel Soul 5-weekend programme get priority for places. It’s likely that all or most places will be taken by previous participants of this course, which is the ideal preparation for the vigil. The next one begins in September 2023.
Also highly recommended is Martin’s book Wolf Milk which you can find here.
Please note that currently, Martin Shaw is not personally guiding Wolf Milk. These vigils are led by wilderness rites of passage guides and School of Myth faculty Tim Russell, David Stevenson and Tina Burchill, trained by Dr Martin Shaw. You can read more about them here. Trainee guides Lucy Cooper and Michael Martin will be joining each group.
What does it mean to be dreamt rather than dream, or to be claimed by a place?
It’s a radical position, to enter a wild place and willingly go without food. To be a different kind of hunter, to leave more than you took, to make prayers not chainsaw cuts.