Reflections on Sand Talk

Following the recommendation of Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen I picked up Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World ny Tyson Yunkaporta a while back. These are my immediate reflections and thoughts on finishing it.

It took me some time to work through. Part of that was the material is dense in what it brought up for me to think and reflect on. Another is that I was consistently making notes because Yunkaporta’s style brings those thoughts up and trying to catch them can be hard. I may go back through the book sometime down the road and not take notes and just experience the book. However, each time I engaged with it I felt like a dozen little threads of thought erupt with each chapter so I wanted to wrangle at least some of those thoughts.

Something I really appreciate about the book is that its yarns are not simple, straightforward, or easily able to be bullet pointed -except when they are. I kept coming back with every story thinking on the stories that infuse my own life -that of the Nordic Gods, my Ancestors, and the vaettir. The stories of the place I live, and the names and stories of the Beings who lived here long before my Ancestors. Like the stories that infuse his life and understanding I found relating to his stories and yarns through my own.

Yunkaporta asks us to take some heavy, deep, and equally light-hearded and amused looks at ourselves. In doing this, in embracing his way of speaking/writing, and reflecting as I yarned through the book with him, I found a lot of affirmation in my own path as a Heathen, from the way I understand how it unfolds in worldview and the direction it goes. It was also cool to see different cross-currents in thought and direction between our worldviews.

For starters just the concept of yarning as a way of co-creating, co-weaving, if you will, knowledge and understanding, has so many implications for a path where weaving and carving is an active and ongoing co-creative process with the Ginnreginn. Urðr is definitely reflected in yarning. What Yunkaporta calls a yarn between people we might also call a saga or even þing. Yarning and sharing a saga or sitting down to a þing is a co-creative and collaborative working that has certainly changed through time and yet has remained similar enough that we can recognize it today.

The process of encoding meaning through carving, umpan, we call rísta. It is to carve. Umpan is also used to mean writing, now, and rísta easily fits this as well. Much as with umpan, rísta brings the symbolic language to bear to bring and communicate meaning, and to change the carver and who observes and interacts with the carving.

Like the symbols he and the us-twos have brought forward, the Runes are living symbols, because, as with the Aboriginal symbols, the Runes are vaettir.

Much like our own experiences as Heathens, the Aboriginals do not just bring in new ways of understanding or doing things without vetting them. For them, as noted in p62 regarding the ceremony to “open” that first headstone, shaped by multiple Elders and family members, incorporating older elements of the traditional mourning process that had fallen into disuse. The demotic is not a sudden acceptance or made on a whim, arbitrarily. Likewise, we do not just change how we do things. We weigh it against established lore, divination, and what makes sense for us to do with where and when we are, and what obligations and needs we have.

Something that Yunkaporta and the various folks who have contributed to the yarns in the book come to again and again is that we need to move into societies of transition. Our communities do need to share knowledge while maintaining their own unique systems grounded in the diverse landscapes they care for. That is what I and others in my Kindred and tribe are working to do. It is what we are doing at Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm. We US Pagans and polytheists are in development of these societies now.

He hits this especially hard here:

“I have previously talked about civilized cultures losing collective memory and having to struggle for thousands of years to gain full maturity and knowledge again, unless they have assistance. But that assistance does not take the form of somebody passing on cultural content and ecological wisdom. The assistance I’m talking about comes from sharing patterns of knowledge and ways of thinking that will help trigger the ancestral knowledge hidden inside. The assistance people need is not in learning about Aboriginal Knowledge but in remembering their own.” pp 144

Yes, absolutely this. I consider Runework, seiðr, spá, taufr, and other such things to be part of it as much as hearth cultus, Ancestral veneration, worship of and communication with with the Ginnreginn, and spiritwork. This is ongoing work: relationship-building, knowledge-building, spirit-building we are doing with the Ginnreginn, and part of doing that is building good relationships with the lands we live on and in.

Heathens here in the US once operated primarily from the locus of ‘if it is not written down it did not exist’, and it is a blessing this is changing. More, Heathens are taking inspiration and understanding of the lore as a jumping off point and perhaps a map, but we, we Heathens and the Ginnreginn, are the arbiters of our relationship together. This includes the world around us. We are coming out of the supremacy of the pen and printer and into the full appreciation of all our faculties.

He says “Kinship-mind is a way of improving and preserving memory in relationships with others. If you learn something with or from another person, this knowledge now sits in the relationship between you. You can access the memory of it best if you are together, but if you are separated you can recall the knowledge by picturing the other person or calling out their name. This way of thinking and remembering is not limited to relationships with people.” pp148-149

This immediately reminds me of Odin’s interactions with and ongoing relationship with Mimir, Saga, Loki, and other Gods. He maintains ongoing relationships with each, drawing wisdom and being the way through which inspiration reaches us through His interaction with Them. If Odin is the Utterer and Inspirer, then it is through Wisdom (Mimir), Stories (Saga), Creativity (Loki), Knowledge (Vafþrúðnir; His Name means “Mighty Weaver”) and so on.

“In Aboriginal worldviews, relationships are paramount in knowledge transmission. There can be no exchange or dialogue until the protocols of establishing relationships have taken place. Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going? What is your true purpose here? Where does the knowledge you carry come from, and who shared it with you? What are the applications and potential impacts of this knowledge on this place? What impacts has it had on other places? What other knolwedge is it related to? Who are you to be saying these things?” pp149

It is worth pointing out that most of those Odin meets with regularly are relatives or closely related to Him in some way. Mimir is His Uncle, Saga His Wife’s Handmaiden, Lok His Blood-Brother, and Vafþrúðnir while not directly related is one He seeks to test His knowledge and mettle against.

“In our world nothing can be known or even exist unless it is in relation to other things. Critically, those things that are connected are less important than the forces of connection between them. We exist to form these relationships, which make up the energy that holds creation together. When knowledge is patterned within these forces of connection, it is sustainable over deep time.” p149-150.

Yes, and this is true of the Ginnreginn, the Runevaettir, and Urðr Itself. It is true of ourselves and our relationships with one another. It is true of ourselves and our relationship to this world.

There are five different ways in the Aboriginal way of thinking in his yarn (pp 150-152):

Kinship-mind.

Story-mind.

Dreaming-mind.

Ancestor-mind.

Pattern-mind.

He advises in pp 173 to come up with our own words for these.

“They are not capitalized because I don’t want them to become buzzwords absorbed into the marketplace. There are no trademarks in this knowledge. It is not specific to any single cultural group; instead, it belongs to everyone. You should come up with your own words for these ways of thinking if you decide to use them. You should alter them to match your own local environment and culture. This is all open-source knowledge, so use it like Linux software to build what you need to build for a sustainable life. If you want to do this you can use the symbol and your hand now to work through a logic sequence that will help you understand holism and enable you to come to Turtle story later on.

He goes on to yarn at length about how we can develop ways of knowing, understanding, co-creating. The entire book is this exploration. It encourages the reviving, embracing, and developing of our worldview. It encourages us to embrace old and new ways of understanding and knowledge. It encourages us to bring our relationship to the Ginnreginn and so, the World we inhabit and the Worlds around us, to the fore. In living in this way, he puts forward, we can save the World.

I found Sand Talk hopeful, insightful, and utterly useful for anyone willing to sit and yarn with Tyson Yunkaporta for a while. It is well worth the time. It is my hope that more Heathens, Nordic Pagans, and Nordic animists embrace this more holistic, and integrated way of being.

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