Wild Soul (an excerpt)
I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear the call of the wild. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun, the calling, the vehement, irresistible demand of the feral angel – take flight.
The human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we are domesticated but we are not. Feral in pheromone and intuition, feral in our sweat and fear, feral in tongue and language, feral in cunt and cock. This is the first command: to obey that feral angel.
I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t heard the call, in some form or another. The need to leave and to find the only wildness worthy of one’s vivacity. Where the ebullient punk plays with lightning and the unimprisonable puck and the shaman of the ecstatic mind casually shower the vivid world with diamond words; artists of vodka, teeth and tempest, self-willed, wild-minded, willingly lonely.
Walk. The drum begins. Follow it. Follow the drums of thunder. Follow the sun. Follow the stars at night, follow the lightning and the open road. Follow your compulsion. Follow your calling. Follow anything except orders and habit. Follow the fire-fare-forwards of life itself. Go where you will, burn your bridges if you must, leave the paving stones smouldering and singe the gate as you leave, drop an incendiary device by The Wall, and scorch your way across the land. I dare you.
At the beginning, my quest was as sad as it was urgent. I’d been suffering from months of depression which I had been unable to shed. My soul was lost, in shamanic terms. I went to the Amazon to visit shamans there. Before I went to the Amazon, I wouldn’t have used the term “soul-loss” because I’d never heard of the concept. Nor did I know anything about the “soul-retrieval” practised by shamans, who understand that if a person’s soul is lost, it takes a surefooted and skilful traveller in the landscape of the mind to find it. I had, though, of ayahuasca (pronounced “eye-oh-wass-ka”) a strong halluncinogenic drug used by Amazonian shamans to treat a wide variety of ills. (“Divorce, diarrhoea and depression,” said one shaman to me. “We use ayahuasca to treat them all.”)
It was extraordinarily effective, and the effects were lasting, not just in terms of ridding me of the depression but also because of the powerful insight I was given into the essential wildness of the human soul. Drinking ayahuasca one night I saw visions of a jaguar walking down the high street of an English town. Everyone else was scared of it and ran away, but I was not frightened. Quite the opposite: I was drawn to it, feeling a kinship with it. I recognized it as if we were from the same tribe. The jaguar-light was shining in its eyes, and I stared, mesmerized. I was drawn to it as if it was my teacher and I urgently wanted to learn from it. “I am the jaguar’s apprentice.” That thought came to me clearly, in Spanish and English. I was drawn to what it would teach me, so compelled that I felt myself dissolving, melting into it. The boundaries of person and jaguar are permeable, I found, and I wasn’t surprised. I was still “me” but now in a different form or shape.
This was shape-shifting. I was aware, dimly, that it was a hallucination, but underneath I felt it was true, a slanted, metaphoric truth. I was the jaguar, I had whiskers, twitching, tense and alert. I smelt everything, and I was stalking something by scent: not the scent of a creature, rather it was the scent of anger, the trail of an injustice and I was prowling with a fury far older than me, far larger than my individual concerns. An anger that, for commercial profit, the Amazon burns. A fury that the profound medicinal knowledge of shamans is belittled and demeaned by western academics. A livid shame at the way my culture treats the artists and philosophers and musicians of Amazonian cultures.
This jaguar vision also represented to me an essential truth of the wild human soul. The wildness. I have drunk it, deep and raw, and heard its primal, unforgettable roar. We are wild to the core. We are animal in our blood and skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body, but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know how the tug of wildness must be followed though your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. (“You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,” wrote Nietzsche.)
What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakable, unforgettable, unshameable, elemental as earth and water and fire. Don’t waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary. In wildness, truth. In wildness, life. And, for the human spirit as for any other wild creature, wildness smoulders in the groin, thighs slippery with juice. Proud, anarchic, the raw core of our human spirit is still untamed, eloquent, complex, kinetic and fleetly wild.
Jay Griffiths is the author of “WILD: An Elemental Journey” (Tarcher/Penguin and Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2007) and “PIP PIP: A Sideways Look at Time” (Flamingo, 1999)