On Separation and Going Into the Woods

In Theodish Belief, there is the concept of going Into the Woods. Described in Garman Lord's Way of the Heathen, it is the natural reaction to something deeply unsettling. One seeks to separate from their environment, to retreat away from relationships, ties, and obligations. Being in the woods is a time for centering on the self, for sorting through the often conflicting impulses that defines communal life.

Properly understood, I don't think the phenomenon is limited strictly to Theodish Belief, or strictly applicable to Heathen praxis. Rather, a time of going Into the Woods is universal across all cultures and all peoples. Heathen Worldview isn't strictly applicable to one corner of your life. Worldview is a deep, rich set of semiotic symbols that frame the way we live our lives and gives us a set of tools for understanding not only our personal, inner lives, but also the way we understand and provide meaning to the world around us.

Heathenry is not a universal religion -- it is not a good fit for everyone and everything, and shouldn't try to be. This does not mean, however, that there aren't universal truths expressed in a fundamentally unique way. Things like Wyrd and Orlæg don't apply to just Heathens. One does not escape their nature simply by changing religions, no matter what the recruiters and evangelists may have intimated. Wyrd is. Going into the woods happens to everyone. Our culture, however, is advantageous in that we have a system of symbols that help us understand these phenomena, and one that I personally feel explains it better than any of the alternatives.

With that said, I think it is important that we attempt to understand that going into the woods is a Mystery Rite. I believe that going into the woods, truly going there, is in most cases not a deliberate act. Rather, going Into the Woods is instinctive, and because it is instinctive, happens below rationality. On some level, most people who claim that they are going into the woods are not, in fact heading there. To retreat into the woods is to become on some level lost in there, and coming out of the woods involves coming to grips with the idea that one may remain lost forever. Because of this, I believe those who remain should probably avoid telling the person leaving that they are going into the woods. It is not, I think, wise. Rather, those remaining within the innangearde should just accept the person's desire to separate, and remind them, perhaps not so much explicitly but rather through deeds, that the porch light will always be on for them to find their way home.

It is also important to note that the concepts here are in some way separated from the ritualized imposition of this phenomenon in the form of rites of passage. All rites of passage invoke this state of being through the existence In-between time, when one leaves behind a state of what they once were, and exists, for a time, not quite yet, the state or status that they will become at the end of the rite. Eliade and Girard are wise to point out the fundamental danger of this in-between state, but I think they fail to recognize the truth that one's time in the woods is fundamentally an individualistic state. Yes, the woods are dangerous. But they are also where we find ourselves, where we strip away all that would keep us from surviving, and adapt to the necessities of that survival. No one can really understand what it means to another person, in detail, to have gone into the woods. Yet all those who have gone there, are united in the shared experience of leaving, and coming home again.

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