I am certain that all of you have had celebrations marking the Vernal Equinox, Oestare, Spring Thaw, or whatever seasonal and cultural markers you celebrate in your Pagan tradition. There are many possible ways to view this season...people are honoring the Goddess Oestare, or celebrating the fertility of the Land, or planting seeds, or making intentions for personal change, or building nests, or adopting stewardships, or driving out Winter, or a great many other ritual foci. But there is a certain facet to this season which is scarcely mentioned, which I am sure goes nearly universally uncelebrated, and which in the Real World is probably seen more as a nuisance than it is as a Sacred Tool. I am speaking of, and I wonder about your attitudes towards, a certain seasonal constant which is, in my guesstimation, far more likely to receive contumely than celebration.
I am speaking of the sacredness of……Mud. Plain old, dirty, sticky, sloppy old Mud. And I do wonder how many of us can see the ways that this inconvenience can be, and is, transmuted to a Sacred Tool…without doing anything to it save acknowledging its presence.
I remember an old musical…yes, I’m dating myself here….remember “Paint Your Wagon”? And remember Lee Marvin, who can scarcely sing but did himself proud in that film, perorating on his perception that “The Best Things In Life Are Dirty”? At this time of the year, we might be hard-pressed to acknowledge that fact. I am thinking of such things as the massive flooding in the Midwest, the mudslides on the California coast, the possible inundations of dirt and muck and mud that all of us will face as we once again attempt to make garden space out of our frozen and withered yards. And of course, I have to remember that in Lee Marvin’s song he was not actually talking about the mud, but about the gold buried therein; the song doesn’t really celebrate the mud itself, but focuses on overcoming it to mine nuggets of worth. And so…how is it then, that I can believe, and try to convey to you, the idea that the mud itself is useful, that it is an importance, not a mere inconvenience, and that acknowledgement of, and celebration of, our universal muddiness is actually necessary for the development and re-growth we seek in this season? Bear with me a little bit, here, and I will try to convince you.
Mud is, in the natural world, the mixture of dirt and water. For us as Pagani, then, the first association we might make when attempting to understand the “IS-ness of mud” is a complementary set of correspondences, that of Earth: the body, physical health, material goods, real-world circumstances, the Land where we live, our homes, jobs, families and resources; and that of Water: emotion, intuition, dreams, insights, feelings and reactions, vulnerability, mutability, transparency. As with the old children’s game of “rock-paper-scissors”, our possible comparison of these two sets of correspondences is likely to set up in our minds an involuntary focus of competition…which of these Elements is more likely to overcome the other? If you’ve been following the news lately, many of you might cast your vote for Water….the causing of landslides and flooding seems a clear indication that Water can easily, and to our detriment, overcome Earth. On the other hand, if you look closely at Utah and the Western United States, including places like the Columbia River Gorge and Lakes Powell and Meade, the persistence of drought in the last several years and the resultant drop in the levels of lakes and streams might serve to illustrate ways in which Earth can overcome Water. But…..how about a more esoteric-paganish-witchly way of looking at this?
Suppose we contemplate the ways in which earth and water can work harmoniously together for the greater good? And suppose, in doing this, that we try to concentrate more on the process than on the product? How then might our views of earth and water in combination, i.e. MUD, be modified by this exercise?
Mud has uses which rely upon its being, and remaining, mud. I know you have heard of “mud-baths” and “mud-masks”, even though you may never have experienced one. Many practitioners and clients of the arts of beautification and health swear by them. Of course, there’s mud wrestling, and motocross mud racing, both having become sporting events accepted and enjoyed by at least a portion of the popular culture. Mud is the slurry, called “slip”, which is essential to one phase of the production of ceramics. Mud is the term used by construction workers for the mixture of wet plaster, stucco, or cement that forms an essential aggregate in several parts of the construction of the house you’re sitting in whilst reading this. Mud, as mud, is the essential substance which houses certain life forms that can’t survive anywhere else, including crayfish (commonly referred to as ‘mudbugs’), clams, and certain varieties of worms, frogs and snails. Plain old mud is the incubator for many, if not most, of the seeds in your actual garden, seeds which will produce herbs for healing and magical uses, vegetables and fruits for the table, trees and plants for shade, adornment, and the production of life-giving oxygen. And of course, in certain creation mythologies, including the Christian, Mayan, Native American, Indian, Aboriginal and Egyptian, mud is the substance of which was first formed human life. So, yes, there is a case for the contemplation, and even the celebration, of the existence of mud, just as its own brown, gooey, sticky, slimy self.
However, if you move the discussion into the realm of the symbolic, something rather strange happens. Our concept and acknowledgement of the idea of mud does a 180 degree turn. Indeed, mud in the symbolic sense is often an archetype for exactly the opposite of nurturance or essence or transmutation. Instead, in most modern parlance, the archetypal meaning of “Mud” is “difficulty, confusion, obstruction”. When, for example, your feelings and emotions collide with the mundane world, real life, someone else’s existence, things can rapidly become (and can even be described as) “muddy”. Certain kinds of issues are referred to as “muddying the waters” between people. Right from the pejoratives of the Civil Rights era in the USA to JK Rowling’s use of the term “mudbloods”, we can see in our societal and literary contexts that there is scarcely a positive referent for the idea of mud. Whereas the natural world accepts the necessity of, and usefulness of, mud, the world of symbol seems to have made it nothing but an obstacle to understanding, clarity, and a “clean finish” to events and circumstances. I wonder….why is that? Why have we so disconnected ourselves from the truths mentioned in the above paragraph, especially those about gardening…the truth that, in the natural world of growing things, nothing much can happen without mud?
In symbolic terms, the concept that mud is a GOOD thing is another thing I think we need to re-claim. As many of you know when looking at our current national political, economic, social and humanitarian (or not!) situations, right now, on many fronts, the waters are “muddy.” From gay rights to women's rights to right-wing fundamentalist thought, to "It's the economy, stupid!", we are sitting in a deep, sticky, somewhat hampering and certainly sloppy mud-puddle…..and wondering how on earth to de-obfuscate the situation.
So, it appears it is time to re-invent ourselves. It appears that the mudbath in which we are now sitting is a cauldron of contemplation on ways in which we can and must change our ethos, our interaction with one another, even perhaps the mission statements of our political parties, religious groups--yes, even of our lives. And… it is Spring. So…what seeds are lying dormant in all the confusion? What shall we grow? What shall we discover together?
Think hard, now, about mud. Think of all the ways its damp, earthy smell signals the onset of new life after the bleakness of winter. Think about how it is soft enough for baby roots to push through, succulent enough for nourishment to be drawn from its spongy loam. And decide for yourself that you will find one way in which the present state of confusion can become an asset for you, the beginning of something that will flower forth into beauty. In other words….yes, I am going there…..MUDitate. You're here, right here, in the mudbath. What are you going to create from it?