For the longest time I’ve been meaning to read D.H.Lawrence’s 1923 novel Kangaroo which is set in Sydney, NSW. I finally got around to starting. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Lawrence’s poetry and I’m enjoying this.
I don’t post now to critique or review it (especially since I’ve not yet finished), but rather because at the core of so much of Lawrence’s work, particularly his writings based on his travels, is a consideration of the landscape and environment as character. What he called so perfectly “spirit of place”; as Christopher Pollnitz summarised in his article ‘Writing the Australian bush: DH Lawrence’s wildflowers‘ for The Conversation:
Lawrence tried defining the “spirit of place” in his Studies in Classic American Literature. It was, he contended, a “great reality,” albeit one that operated via emanations or effluences. It produced a race or a nation as much as it was produced by a people seeking to establish themselves in terms of their homeland. Tied up with Lawrence’s thinking about spirit of the place was a melange of ideas about indigenousness, race theory, and occult universal wisdom. Such ideas all speak at once, and are questioned, discarded, and reformulated, in Lawrence’s Kangaroo, a novel he wrote in ten weeks – all but the last chapter – while living under the Illawarra Escarpment in Thirroul.
In that, is the reason Kangaroo was on the top of my list of Lawrence’s novels to read.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the process by which an individual comes to a place of deep knowing of Land. For Lawrence, it began with honey, as Pollnitz points out in his article. Australia has some very unique honey, from Tasmania’s Leatherwood to Yellow Box on the Mainland. It makes perfect sense to me that Lawrence should have begun with his sense of taste, after all, eating is fundamentally our first best connection to Land. With our contemporary understanding of ecosystems and the increasing need to protect our threatened bees worldwide, it seems that Lawrence had a particular insight.
Our experiences, and no less our spiritual and emotional experiences are all encompassing ones. They exist in a sort of synergy of sensations, taste, sound, sight, touch and smell. I have always thought that our spiritual experiences, particularly for those who strive for altered states of consciousness or trances experiences, exist in the place in which those five senses are more than their sum. Individually, serving as doorways and signposts (a term I often use here on the blog) into that place of spiritual communion. It makes sense to me that individuals I have talked to seem to have a prominent sense, the sense most tuned, that serves most often as that doorway, most keenly recalls sense memory.
Once through the doorway however, the five senses sometimes seem to fall short of explaining and encompassing that experience. It’s that sixth thing that feels somehow sold short when described using the five senses.
More than that, and probably this blog is a testament to this as well, no sensory experience exists in a vacuum. I myself am not particularly interested in a spiritual experience void of a cultural, human one. We are part of the land, aware of it or not, and the land changes us and informs culture, whether we are aware of it or not. History, language, culture, these are important to our understanding of our environments.
In the opening pages of Kangaroo Lawrence describes the impact and impression of Sydney on his protagonist Richard Lovatt Somers:
It wasn’t like a town, it was like a whole country, with towns and bays and darknesses. And all lying mysteriously within the Australian underdark, that peculiar lost, weary aloofness of Australia. There was the vast town of Sydney. And it didn’t seem to be real, it seemed to be sprinkled on the surface of a darkness into which it never penetrated.
Looking out, south eastward from my window here in the north of Hobart, I find it much the same, dark bush surrounds and enters into, separating the suburbs still, as if civilisation is “sprinkled on the surface”. But from the right angles, Sydney can still be seen the same, especially Northward towards Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The Sydney foreshore is still national park in many parts and the bush comes down to the water.
There are other things, other darknesses that have little to do with electrical lights. They are not inaccessible but require that synergy of sensory experience that seems to be of particular interest to the spirit worker. In some respects, they are darknesses best illuminated without electrical lights, and often no less evident in the scorching Aussie sun. These “dark things” do not always indicate a negative, but they are hidden, still, so much, most especially from white and immigrant Australia. At other times these dark things belong almost explicitly to white Australia and belong to the haunted places, culture and history that we’ve still not come completely to terms with as a nation. When Lawrence wrote his Australian novel, those things were still raw wounds, and in many places still being actively inflicted on our national body & spirit. Despite that Australia was something new in 1923 and had everything laid before it.
We no longer have the luxury of newness. And in terms of our national spirit, its health depends now on our illumination, acceptance and understanding of our dark history. Else we will never harness our true power. Indeed we continue to make similar mistakes over and over, adding to our collective unwellness. Recent events and the sad and unnecessary death of 23 year old Reza Berati on Manus Island speaks to our collective and continued revisiting of past mistakes and cultural unwellness.
In light of these things I began to think about land, and the hidden things it has to teach us, that perhaps we can see that there is something wonderful in the lessons of the past, that our land has already made space for people. Even where those people are at odds with it, it stretches and bends, survives past that “invasion”.
What strikes me here, is that, for Lawrence, that darkness existed when wild Australia still dominated the physical landscape. For those of us, like myself, who enter into that Wild now, there are other darknesses that we confront, and even take with us, or must. Yet they need not be a hindrance to us. Lawrence wrote:
And the vast, uninhabited land frightened him. It seemed so hoary and lost, so unapproachable. The sky was pure, crystal pure and blue, of a lovely pale blue colour: the air was wonderful, new and unbreathed: and there were great distances. But the bush, the grey, charred bush. It scared him.
We may not have that same fear of the unknown continent now, we’ve lived here 200 years, and we are familiar in a physical sense with the land. Much of it is inhabited. Now, within that land, if we look to it for its true lessons in the very darkest places, are the ghosts of those 200 years, and to enter into it, is to allow it to change us, with the same dignity with which it changed and yet continues to support us, and life.
“Perhaps if St. Paul and Hildebrand and Darwin had lived south of the equator, we might have known the world all different, quite different.” Lawrence muses in the opening parts of Kangaroo. Maybe it is “useless iffing”. But I like that Lawrence thinks it. Because within this thought is something the animist, working from within an overarching European culture and mythology, is confronted with. No less the cultural baggage intimately linked to the same scars physical and cultural that appear in the landscape and lurk in its dark places. It is the same useless iffing to consider what it would have been like had many things been approached very differently, least of which Indigenous culture and Lore, from before Lawrence’s sojourn in NSW.
These may seem like disconnected thoughts, but I find they are linked, in precisely the same place my feet meet the land. As spirit workers, what must or even can be laid aside when we endeavour to enter into the Australian Darkness? Our history? Or culture and language? Our preconceived and innately European systems of describing the nature of spirit? What counts as significant, and what should be disregarded as not so? It seems to me the answer is none. Nothing can be laid aside if we have a true interest in an experience of wholeness with the land since the land encompasses all those things already. Certainly, here on Australis Incognita I am working towards a classification of flora and fauna in terms of Classical Planetary Correspondences. And I hope to discuss that and my reasons for doing so in a future post.
There are difficulties in doing so. My own trepidation and the difficulties I face at times leads me to consider the reasons so few people seem to have endeavoured to do so at all, or at least share them openly, have to do with some of the things we find in the Dark that we take with us. We may have moved on from a fear of the uninhabited, at least (in part) for those of us who endeavour to engage animistically and spiritually, but from the sense we are in fact still sprinkling ourselves and culture onto the surface? Perhaps not. In the darkness that harbours many cultural ghosts there is still a palpable fear. Perhaps there needs to be more consideration of what the darkness of land is capable of holding and reconciling in order to feel more a sense of being in it, and belong it to it, and allow it to enter into our collective European-Australian mythos. Allowing it to change, and to change us.
P.S. ‘D’ is for D.H.Lawrance and Australian Darkness. This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project!