In the long ago, when the first humans emerged into this world through the opening at the top of the Mountain, they were seen to be unlike the other animals. They would need much help and guidance. The Mountain, in his deep wisdom, asked the Oak Trees to look after these funny little mammals and teach them how to be in this world. The Oaks took this task very seriously, graciously took the humans into their groves, and taught them all the things they would need to know to become fully human.
With the gift of acorns, they taught the humans how to feed themselves. With the gift of tannins in their leaves and bark, they taught the humans how to make clothing for themselves. With the plants growing at their feet, they gave the humans the gift of medicine. With their strong supple limbs, they gave the gift of building, architecture, and home. Thus, the Oaks showed them the Way of the World and the Way of being Human.
When the Humans had learned all they could from the Oaks, they had one more thing to learn before they could leave the Mountain and go out into the world. They had to learn their own stories, how to follow their own Way. As each Oak tree dutifully follows the Way of Oak and is also a unique expression of Oakness, so too the Humans must learn to follow their own unique expression of Humanness. But this they could not learn from the Oaks, this they must learn from their own kind, from their own souls, from the deep wisdom that lay dormant in their Bones.
So they went to the Mountain and the Water and asked for their own stories to be given to them. The Mountain and the Water showed them the secrets of soul-initiation: how to access the marrow of ancestral bone-memory, how to track and gather the scattered skeletons of themselves, and how to sing these skeletons back to life. With the wisdom of bone-initiation, they had learned how to follow the unique stories that they were born to carry into the world. They were ready to be sent out.
In all of this, the Humans were seen to be exceptionally clever, inventive, and capable little mammals, and so the Oaks decided to give them a final parting gift - a great and powerful magic - trusting that they would eventually learn how to use this magic in service to Life. The Oaks gathered the Humans together and gave them: the first word. It was not quite a word actually, nor even a letter, but something more primal, vulnerable, honest. It was the sound that Oak makes when he dreams of himself.
In the long ago, Oak gave Human the gift of his own name. The magic of words, sounds from the throat that have meaning, that evoke, that tell a story, that enchant, that cast a spell; humming, crackling, whistling, dusk-crying throat-sounds that have the power to create or destroy entire worlds.
At the moment when Human opened her throat and spoke that first word, that wild name, that ancient sound - the secret dreaming name of Oak - into the world, the entire mountain fell silent. The sound of that first word was carried on the wind across the forested slopes, down the canyons and rivers, and out into the world beyond, where it echo-travels even to this day. You can still hear it, actually, after spending…. maybe four days alone on the mountain, if you really listen for it.
In the long ago, Oak was given the gift of hearing his own name spoken back to him. What a gift. So, naturally, Pine wanted in on this, as well as Aspen, Fir, Spruce, Cottonwood, Juniper, Willow, Alder, Ash, Cedar, and Birch. They each gave their secret dreaming names to the Humans, who faithfully gave the gift back to them, to the great delight of all involved. The bushes, grasses, reeds, rushes, vines, and flowers got in line after that, followed by all manner of creatures great and small, furry and scaled, winged, finned, or hoofed. It was the latest craze on the mountain - everyone wanted to hear how their own particular Way of Being sounded in the world.
This is how Human learned the first sounds, the first letters, the first words. Every word was an invocation, a way of life speaking to itself, dreaming itself into being, as when one wakes themselves up from a dream from the sound of their own voice.
In the long ago, the first words were alive.
As bees are the reproductive organs of
flowering plants, might humans be the
song and story organs of the world,
carrying the pollen grains of story
around as we fall hopelessly in love
with the nectar of life, moving from
flower to flower?
The first schools were Oak Groves, and the first teachers of Humans were the Trees themselves. This is not merely a fantastical story, but is deeply rooted in the legacy of the Druidic colleges of Britannia, the Oak Grove of Dodona in Greece, the hedge-schools of Ireland, the Bardic initiation schools of Wales, and many more historical referents. In these groves, the first people gathered to receive the gifts of the trees, to listen to the story of the world, to learn what it means to be fully human, and what being fully human was for.
In the time since, we left the groves and went out into the world to find our way. We eventually returned to them, but instead of offerings and gratitude we brought axes and wagons to cut them down and drag them to our villages where we built the foundations of Empire: Walls, Dams, Fences, Agriculture, and Great Ships. With the gifts from the trees we built Civilization. We used the gift of language to tell our own stories, stories which justified our actions and pointed the way forwards. With the bodies of the first words joined tightly together underneath us, we sailed across the Sea and found... more humans gathering together in ancient groves, listening to the story of the world and speaking the poetry of life back to itself.
What happened next is the stuff of history, but suffice to say it wasn't pretty. We sailed and cut and built and explored and cut and killed and burned and built for a long long time. With every forest cut down, with every grove burned or culture conquered, we wandered further from our own torn and scorched roots, from our own stories, from our home. At a certain point, it was unclear if our furious rate of conquest was more of a hurtling towards something or running away from the thing.
At some point it didn’t matter if we were moving to or from the thing, because the world, as it turns out, is round. As the great serpent must eventually consume his own tail, so the great beast of civilization eventually met itself at the place where it started. What does a culture that has been founded on a relentless drive forward do when it arrives at the place where it departed from and finds — nothing but itself? Where is the next frontier for a culture determined to find, destroy, swallow, and digest every limit or boundary in the universe? What does the beast do when it has conquered and consumed the entire world?
It does what our world is doing today. It would tell its people that they have no origins, nothing to return to, nowhere to go but forward. It would tell its people they do not really belong here, they are exiles, illegitimate heirs to their manner of arrival. It would tell you that your experience as a human, your suffering and questioning and deep suspicions about yourself and the world, are wrong. It would tell you that there is something wrong with you, that you do not make sense, that you need therapy, or a better job, or more shiny things, or more friends, or more drugs, to feel better about your existence. It would leave you with a profound sense of alienation and disconnection from the world, and would provide no meaningful stories or discourse or even language that could even begin to describe your fathomless sense that there is something deeply wrong with the way that humans are living in the world.
We have been on a long journey, and we have lost much along the way. We have left the groves, our first place of belonging, the ones who showed us the meaning of home and what it really means to be Human. We have forgotten why we were given the gifts of words and language and story. We have lost the Story of the World and our own Story's place within that.
Well, enough of all that. It is time to come home.
The Oaks are waiting, patiently, to show us -— again — what it means to be Human. How to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, heal ourselves, build homes for ourselves. The Oaks are singing of belonging, and we would do well to listen.
It is time to remember.
Our Bones are waiting, patiently, to show us — again — what it means to be an initiated human. How to feel deeply into the fabric of life and know what our thread was meant for. How to trust the wisdom in our bones and let ourselves be woven into a beautiful story so much bigger than our fragile egos could ever imagine. How to track and gather the scattered remains of our soul and re-member them into the wild animal we were meant to be. Our Bones are singing of remembrance, and we would do well to listen.
The Oak and Bone School is a place for coming home, for returning to the Mountain, the Rivers, the Oak-groves, and the stories that we left behind so long ago. This is a provocation into deep listening and feeling into the marrow of what it means to be Human. This is a place for learning how to trust the intelligence and benevolence that lies at the heart of the universe and the heart of your own story.
The Oak and Bone School is an orphanage for the dismembered exiles of modernity, the wandering children of the wind, the placeless and rootless ones. This is a place to get dreamt, to be found, to find yourself grafted back onto the world tree, to get claimed by the world and by the story you were born to carry. This is a place where you make sense - where your suffering and confusion and fear and all the scattered fragments of your human experience are brought together and woven into the fabric of life.
The Oak and Bone School is a calling song to an animate world, a world of deep magic, a world suffused with meaning and consequence and mystery at the bottom of every breath. Old Gods and Goddesses still wander amongst these trees.
The Oak and Bone School is a summons to take accountability for your existence, for the fact that you are the accumulated wisdom of your ancestry made manifest in the world during this time of great confusion and transition. They, for reasons you may never understand or approve of, have called you here, right now, and the story you were born to carry into the world is waiting for you on the other side of the threshold.
The Oak and Bone School is an overture to a wild swaying forest choir chanting a resounding “Yes” to Life, Death, Longing, Grief, Love, Mystery, and Beauty. The Oaks are singing of Belonging, our Bones are singing of Remembrance, and we would do well to listen.