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The Wild Twin

By Dr Martin Shaw

Fairy tales tell us that we were born with a secret twin, a wild twin, and on the hour of its birth it was sent into exile, abandoned in the forest. That a good life is one that seeks them out.

Who is the wild twin?

I first caught the perfume of my wild twin by walking with muddy boots though wet grasses to my scrubby woodland den as a six year old. As the trees swirled I caught a scent and started to cry without understanding. I wove a pheasant feather in my hair. I hear it now in the owl court who hoot across the frost grass and moon touched lawns of my cottage. There’s more than book smarts in that chill delirium. These are not domestic tones, not corralled sounds, but loose as Dartmoor ponies on the hill. They give me ecstasy. Not safety, not contentment, certainly not ease, not peace, but ecstasy. It’s almost painful. Makes me restless.

I also felt the wild twin when I lost the girl I loved the most. I felt it when attending the sickness of another. I felt it when exhausted, heart sore, bewildered and despairing. I felt it when I attended to the sorrows of life in all their radical, unruly agency.

The wild twin is not unique to me, you have one, everyone has one. That’s the message from the old stories. That the day you were born a twin was thrown out the window, sent into exile. That it wanders the woods and the prairies and the cities, lonely in its whole body for you. It rooms in abandoned houses in south Chicago. Someone saw her once on a Dorset beach in winter. They are always asking after you.

It lives in the feeling when the ruddy mud of the Nile squeezes between your toes, when moonlight slips from the mouth of a Heron, when you play cards with a delightful villain. It’s going to push you towards ruin on occasion, and has a lot of generosity towards kids. It will hide your laptop and send a thousand wild geese processing over your cabin in an October dusk. The wild twin is the glorious vintner of the blood-wine of your many private battles, and sells it in highly prized bottles to remote Armenian queens. It is incorrigible, melodramatic, and has only your best interests at heart.

Know your twin and you will become distracted by fiery angels languishing round the water cooler, you will beat your palms to drums no one else can hear, and subtle ideas will fly from you. At least that’s what I hear. The wild twin doesn’t fetishise surety, embezzle guarantees or even really believes they exist. It hides chocolate in the pockets of your scruffy haired nephews and whispers forgiveness as it walks through the gardens we have neglected to tend. It hands us a spade.

I believe that in the labour of becoming a human we have to earnestly search this character out, as it has something crucial for you with it. It has your life’s purpose tucked up in its pocket. If there was something you were here to do in these few, brief years, you can be sure that the wild twin is holding the key.

Wildness attracts everybody, but appears to be in short supply. Not feral, not hooligan, not brawling, but the regal wild. The sophisticated wild. So you should be gathering by now that these words are about locating your long abandoned twin and courting it home. We’re going to use two old fairy tales to do it. And note the word court. This is a protracted affair this locating, with the possibility of many missteps, bruised shins and hissed exchanges. Though they long for you, the twin may not broker relationship easily if you’ve been separated for many years, she wants to know you’re serious. We’ll cover the complexity of such a reunion as we go. They want to give you a bang on the ear and a kiss on the lips all at the same time.

***
A book on this very thing, coming.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2019.

 

The Wild Twin2019-06-29T18:50:01+00:00

Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild

Martin is just finishing up a new book on wilderness rites of passage, due out in September 2019. This is not a book for everyone, he says, but he hopes it’s of use to one or two. Here are a few lines from the introduction:

***

Winter gods lope the forest
Strike you with their wolfskin glove
And the counterfeit life
Takes its carrion demands
Back to the blue deceits
Of the one who first folded you.

I trust words like that more than therapy talk, or becoming-your-best-self, or some strangulated idea about enlightenment. That there is an owl that lands on your face as you gather sticks by the river and you fall into a trance for three days. Such an image thrills and alarms as it can’t be franchised, or easily fetishised because the mandate of suffering is so clearly part of the mix. And that such an encounter could lead god knows where.

What follows is something of what I’ve experienced over almost twenty years as a wilderness rites of passage guide. Fragments of it have appeared in other places, but it’ll lope differently here, shake the snowflakes from its wet, black fur. I hope it provokes and excites and absolutely does not pretend the endeavour is anything less than highly mysterious.

Natural, yes. But mysterious. What follows is a glimpse through the three stages of the process: severance, threshold, return. It is this triad that constitutes the architecture of wilderness rites of passage. There may be ways to crowbar a more above-ground perception of the process, but I suggest that is grabbing hold of the wrong handrail. And I think that’s already been done. That’s village stuff, and you’ve just entered the forest. In fact, there is no handrail at all, save maybe poetics-in-extremis.

We’ll get to the return to the village later. When we get there I’m going to bang on about seemingly antiquated values: compassion, upstandingness, vocation, grace under pressure. That we actually raise our kids. That we live cleanly in our relationship to others. That our enchantments and befuddlements are limited in impact, that we don’t pass them on. The village is essential for the distillation of epiphany into wisdom. Human contact. But I’m not there yet.

Right now I’m defending the strange and usefully dangerous elements of the vigil. The moments that may never sift into daylight illumination but are like a rook pecking on your liver down in the pure animal of your body. Peck peck peck. It’s that pecking that keeps us restless. It’s a good thing to be restless. It’s that kind of thing that gets folks out on the hill in the first place.

Outside.

To be buffeted by weather, to have hands pink as the flesh of Galway salmon as you splash freezing water in your just-woken face. To be a million nerve endings reaching out to darkness, rain, and white-crack lightning storm. To sleep a-jumble in your clothes because of the freeze, spend weeks without seeing your reflection, with no devices that beep and glow anywhere near. To feel jubilant, grief-struck, maybe even wild.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2019
Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild2019-07-17T18:01:38+00:00