Initiation of the Wild Genius
"Butterfly and wild flower, mountain lion and caribou, blue whale and pelican, coral reef and prairie land—who shall speak for you? My grandchild may need to know you, to see and smell you, to hear and feel you . . . Who defends wilderness?"
Hugh Itis, Ecologist
The wild genius naturally wants to emerge and speak its contribution. But much of the authentic voice has been stifled by the cultural circumstances of the modern world. The good news is that we simply have our own modern version of a perennial problem: apparently it is always difficult to birth the wild genius. Psychologist James Hillman discusses the problem in his book The Soul’s Code. The poetic explanation (seen in myths worldwide) is that the wild genius is from the spirit world and has to survive a transformational process to be awakened in this world as a full partner of the person. Indigenous communities were in an ongoing and vibrant dialogue between the natural, human, and spirit world. This conversation is the profound meaning of storytelling, dance, music, art, and the spiritual life of ritual. Individuals and communities nurtured alliances in a practical, down to earth way with the great powers of the natural, inner, and mythological worlds.
The wild genius can arrive kicking and screaming due to the purity of its passions and knowledge. The solution is not to beat it into submission, but to hear with special ears and heart what lies beneath the surface of the discontent. Working with the wild genius is an ongoing process that involves many dimensions and has to be attuned to each person’s sensibility. The need for many differing styles of communicating with the many different “families of wild genius” is one reason why there is a current proliferation of “healing” modalities and explains the exhaustive scope of indigenous mythologies.
The deep need is to integrate all the healing and spiritual work into a unified awakening which is the name of the particular “job” that our own wild genius is here on Earth for. This “job” is the part of the troubled world that we specifically are meant to work on. At the same time, the old indigenous knowledge says that the whole village must be involved in truly awakening the full powers of the wild genius. But we have become uprooted in so many ways from the guidance of a peer group that knows us, Elders that are watching us, and a village that needs us. Helping recreate these supports are part of the healing work that needs to be done today.
Awakening the wild genius begins what Joseph Campbell famously called “following your bliss.” What hasn’t been popularized yet is the second part of Campbell’s statement—“and then you will be getting into the right kind of trouble!” A person who accurately goes into the territory of the wild genius becomes one who takes on ever-increasing responsibility regarding challenges which require leadership and healing under the less-than-perfect circumstances of the real world. The initiated person will be indeed willing to speak out on behalf of the less privileged, who can not speak directly themselves. Trouble gets activated by “following your bliss.” And in turn, this “trouble” requires that we are connected to each other and nature.
The “catalytic release” of the wild genius is understood indigenously as an ongoing evolution. It is a journey graduating into deeper and deeper bliss and trouble. It has always been understood as a human challenge that takes profound courage, effort, and risk. It is a trial that takes the support and guidance of ritual Elders and the whole village for an individual to undertake, survive, and thrive through. Indigenous wisdom holds a treasure trove of profound knowledge of these issues. This wisdom suggests that we may need to revive the rituals of community, healing, and initiation through embodied movement, music and mythology if we are truly to create the needed reconnection with nature in a sacred way and have the real spiritual and psychological wherewithal to adapt creatively to the many challenges around us.