00:00:00 Introduction

00:02:00 Deep forgetting

00:06:00 Moving at geologic speed and Men of Spirit project

00:12:38 Symptoms and the soul’s deepest desires

00:15:33 Elderhood through grief

00:21:24 Kalahari desert grief maintenance rituals

00:25:00 Belonging as the premise and remembering the medicine you carry

00:29:00 Fiction and emptiness of progress

00:32:00 Preparing a community for a grief ritual

00:37:00 Grief ritual training and therapeutic communities for Palestine

00:38:00 Grief and beauty

00:45:00 Cultivating village mind

00:54:00 Finding your masculine and feminine soul expression

00:59:00 Being spiritually employed

01:01:00 The long dark and facing the world with soul

01:02:00 A metaphor for our species: Qarrtsiluni

Francis Weller

Francis Weller is a psychologist, writer, teacher, and soul activist. He weaves together psychology, anthropology, mythology, alchemy, Indigenous cultures, and poetic traditions. He is the author of a few books, including The Wild Edge of Sorrow, In the Absence of the Ordinary and co author of The Threshold Between Loss and Revelation. amongst other activities that he is involved in, he founded and directs Wisdom Bridge, an organization that offers educational programs that seek to integrate the wisdom from indigenous cultures With the insights and knowledge gathered from Western poetic, psychological, and spiritual traditions. ~



Please excuse all errors

Olivia Clementine: I’m Olivia Clementine, and this is Love and Liberation. Today our guest is Francis Weller. Francis is a psychologist, writer, teacher, and soul activist. He weaves together psychology, anthropology, mythology, alchemy, Indigenous cultures, and poetic traditions. He is the author of a few books, including The Wild Edge of Sorrow, in the absence of the ordinary and co author of the threshold between loss and revelation amongst other activities that he is involved in, he founded and directs Wisdom Bridge, an organization that offers educational programs that seek to integrate the wisdom from indigenous cultures With the insights and knowledge gathered from Western poetic, psychological, and spiritual traditions.

I’ve heard you speak about the need to be humble and to listen and the arrogance of thinking we can figure out these times.

Why can we be so easily pulled into this sort of arrogance? And I mean, space is everywhere. Like it’s the most prevalent thing. And yet we rather get small and be often distracted, right, in all kinds of ways and say we know and what’s not enticing about the cosmic?

Francis Weller: Well, it’s a wonderful first question. We have to be careful about that word. We, you know, we have this, not everyone has trouble.

Olivia Clementine: true, true

Francis Weller: So it is, it is kind of an outgrowth of an ideology rooted in individualism and the fragmentation and the deep forgetting of our kindred ties to one another, to the land, to the seasons, to the elements, to the ancestors.

We’re living in a time of great amnesia where we have forgotten the primary ways that we evolved as a species. So, when you have amnesia, you begin to supplant that with other strategies, survival strategies, basically, because in a sense that forgetting is also a trauma to lose one’s ground and to feel groundless.

It’s kind of a traumatic thing. So in this deep forgetting that a lot of white western capitalistic individualistic cultures are seeped in, we get what we got or we got what we get, you know, it’s, it’s this consequence of losing relationality to that wider, embedded field of our lives, right? I mean how can we possibly imagine that we’re separate when every breath I take is the gift of these kindred trees out my window?

Every, the fact that I can see you is a consequent of the light emanating from the sun. You know, it’s this photonic experience that I’m sharing with you. Everything is a gift. And we have forgotten that. One of the things I remember writing was this idea of initiation leading us to be more aware of our entanglements than entitlements, more aware of our responsibilities than our rights.

And when you’re isolated and segregated out, you’re very concerned about your entitlements and your rights because there’s nothing nourishing you. There’s that vast sense of emptiness that you’re struggling with day by day. And we try to fill that With every manner of plastic, electronics you know, alcohol, everything is an attempt to somehow fill the vast void at the heart of our being, which is arising out of that forgetfulness.

So, you know, we’ll start off with that.

Olivia Clementine: As you’re kind of pointing to this interdependent nature, like without self, there’s no other without other, there’s no self. And as you’re also pointing to, there are cultures that still exist that think of generations so far from now, beyond what we can even fathom.

And, and I’m wondering for yourself, like, how you break through that limited timeline because , the catastrophes and wars and destruction globally is linked to this forgetting this, forgetting that we’re totally dependent on everything, all the elements. I mean, there’s nothing we’re not dependent on and not impacted by.

And we also know that the root cause of happiness is selflessness, like caring for others. I’m wondering how you break through this short timeline thinking to soften time in a sense, because obviously many people are really caught in the troubles of the time and the urgency as well as like the nervous system stresses.

So, it’s easy to get caught up in just like, I just got to. Quote unquote progress. I just have to maintain like my well being and self care. So yeah, just like wondering what, how do we start to soften or like, what are ideas that have you’ve explored it in yourself or seen to soften that understanding,

Francis Weller: well I often share a story of my youth when I was 27 and getting licensed to be a therapist. And you may have heard this story, but I mentored with a man named Clark Berry and Clark was marvelous, just a generous man. And the first time we sat down together, he reached over and he patted this big rock he had by his chair.

He said, this is my clock. I operate at geologic speed. And if you’re going to work with the soul, you need to learn this rhythm, because that’s the, that’s the way the soul moves. Then he pointed at his clock and goes, it hates this. So one of the core principles of my life is geologic speed. How do we slow down?

Because slowing down is actually an act of humility. We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s happening. Everything’s kind of falling apart around us, and more speed is not going to aid the circumstance. So I think one of the primary things we need to do is be able to slow down to the speed of life, to the speed of soul.

And in that rhythm, we begin to syncopate back to larger rhythms. Night and day, seasons, epics, you know, generations, ancestral. So we begin to, I think, feel our relatedness more possible when we slow down. The other part of that question that comes to mind is that in the late 90s we began a project called Men of Spirit.

It was a men’s initiation project that would I led for 17 years, and one of the core values that we were holding on there was that a 200 year project, that this was a 200 year project, that maybe, just maybe, if we’re faithful to this, that maybe in 200 years, the young men standing here on this flat, or in different places I’ve done this, they will know from birth that they’re part of an intact village.

That the salmon will be running strong, that the earth will still be green and singing its song to us, that we’ll be part of something large, something nourishing and invoking our own gifts to be generated and given back to the community. We’re not there now, but maybe in 200 years, if our faith is good.

You know, so we began that in 1997, and what is that 20 some odd years into the project here. I’m not going to see the end of that. None of us will. Our names will be completely forgotten by the time that 200 years cycles around. But knowing that, I shared a story in my book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, when I, I did a A three year training for a man to lead initiation.

And for the final weekend together, I said, We’re going to do an ancestor ritual. And there was some groans, and I was like, I don’t like my ancestors. And he said, Well, I don’t care. They gave you this body. Can you at least say thank you for this body? So I said, we’re going to drum for a while, and at some point the drums are going to stop.

And when that happens, you lay down on the ground and wait for me to tell you what’s next. And I said to them, let’s imagine that we’re 200 years into the future. That we’ve done, we’ve done it. But we are the ones now below the ground. We are the ones under the ground. And so we began the drumming, and they started to dance.

And the dancing became more and more beautiful and animated. Then the drums stopped, they laid down on the ground, and I reminded them that we are the ones now.

We are the ones that have to feed them and send them arrows of love and arrows of commitment that we are here, that they are not standing there alone, that they are with us and we are with them. And the men began to pray and dance and We stopped, but they kept going. The prayers kept going. There was something so absolutely real about this transitional time that we were in.

We were the ancestors. We were 200 years in the future, and we were giving these young men a chance to feel fed by something old, you know? So, Didn’t know we were going to go there, but I’m glad

Olivia Clementine: we did. Yeah, as you’re sharing that, it’s like, again, the humility of thinking beyond oneself, but also the faith that if one were to do something for the goodness of people 200 years from now, how worthy that is, even if you’re completely forgotten. Right.

Francis Weller: That’s a good purpose, isn’t it?

To know that you’ve seeded something that might germinate at some point. If, if, again, if we can continue to tend these things that go from generation to generation, as we enter what I’m calling the long dark, which will be probably two generations long at least, if we make it through this time that we’re in right now, that’s no guarantee any longer.

If we make it through. Those would be the values that are going to be so essential, you know, humility interdependence reciprocity, mutuality, restraint is one of the core values I preach about, preach, I talk about and it’s such a strange one because we’re a culture of abundance and have it all and the world doesn’t work that way.

There’s enough for everyone’s need, you know, but this ideology of, of, of surplus, Comes out of that emptiness again. I always need more. I always want more. And we’re devouring the earth so fast, and she cannot replenish herself at the pace that we are extracting from her. So these values of restraint and reciprocity, mutuality, gratitude, they teach us to be more attentive to what the right relationship would look like between us and the world.

Olivia Clementine: I remember you speaking about one of your teachers, James Hillman, when you talked about the link between emptiness and one’s greatest desire.

Francis Weller: Hellman said in your symptoms are your soul’s deepest desires. So our depressions, our addictions, our anxiety, our loneliness, our shame, if we go deep enough into them, we can hear what the soul truly longs for. Abundance is not, I don’t think, I might be terribly judgmental here, but I don’t think that’s part of what soul is after.

The soul is looking for a rich entanglement with life, you know, that. There’s enough friendship, enough warmth, enough ritual life, enough sharing of dreams, enough grieving together, enough giving thanks together, sharing meals. It’s what I call the primary satisfactions. That’s what the soul wants. Hillman once said that Depression is the soul’s refusal to participate in a manic culture.

So what does the soul desire? It wants contact, it wants slowness, it wants to be able to sing together and to hold one another. And it’s hard to do that at, you know, 80 miles an hour. How many gigahertz that, you know, our cell phones and computer speeds and all that. So slowing it down desire then becomes something more soul based than self based.

Our entire psychological system right now is self based. Self improvement, self growth, you know, there’s no soul in psychology, even though the word psyche is soul, right? It’s in there. The study of soul. But we don’t study soul, we study self. And that’s why Hillman has been so critical to me, because he keeps re returning us, as Jung did, back to soul.

That’s really the ground of our being. That’s when we feel less compelled to participate in consumption culture, or grind culture as they call it, you know, just We know what matters to the soul, and we return to it again and again. If we followed primary satisfaction, the economy would collapse in a day, because 99 percent of what we purchase every day, we don’t need.

It’s an attempt to fill the hole, an attempt to fill the void, the emptiness. Yes, we need food, we need clothing, we need a place to live, you know. Do we need 99 percent of what’s in the mall? No. We don’t. It’s there because of the symptom of emptiness. Yeah.

Olivia Clementine: So I guess maybe we could talk about grief

Francis Weller: for a moment in this place to go after that little segue.

Olivia Clementine: Like what do we do with this voidness and what do we need to be doing? And like in many traditions Traditional cultures, grief is so honored. It’s like the person going through grief is seen as a sacred being,

, they have access to places we can’t touch when we’re not in that state. And I know. Even on the mundane, once you’ve had a good cry, like when I see someone who’s had a good cry, just like want to be close to them, they, they’re so porous and alive and fresh, and there’s no holding back of self.

And you’ve talked about, that you’ve noticed over the years that people feel afraid even to reach out to their friends. You commonly see this to be held and to be in their grief and I’m wondering how one could become more inviting to another to be held in their grief. Like what are some ways we can show up better, you know, if somebody’s curious about this, like we could show it better for each other in those really tender, potent times.

Francis Weller: It feels really important to even just break the taboo and to begin to talk about loss, you know, in our friendships, in our families, in our neighborhoods, just begin to talk about how every single pair of eyes you look at knows loss. No one’s been spared this visitation, right? I mean, it’s, it’s everywhere.

And right now, as I wrote about in The Wild Edge of Sorrow, there are many gates of grief impinging on us. And the third gate, which is the sorrows of the world, are just becoming more and more ever present in our awareness. And the problem with this grief is it’s unresolvable. This is a grief that will not end.

So, your question, what do we do? Well, I think one of the things we have to do is take up an apprenticeship with sorrow. We have to become familiar with its terrain, its ground. what it asks of us, you know, where it takes us. It’s like we’re complete strangers to grief, except when it smashes through the door through the death of a child or a suicide of a brother or a divorce, then we’re forced to deal with it.

But most of the time, because of that, amnesia, and also anesthesia, we find ways to somehow insulate ourselves from grief. But it’s around us every day, constantly, constantly. Emptiness we were just talking about, if you really sat with that symptom for a minute, the grief that’s, you know, woven deep into that material, it’s generations old.

It is so old, this feeling of emptiness and the grief of what we’ve lost and abandoned. The fact that we don’t have village life, the fact that we don’t know where our ancestors are buried. I mean, all these things that are there, the grief about that is enormous. But we’re terrified. We don’t see grief in the streets.

We don’t see it displayed. We have tepid funerals. Everything’s about staying in control. Everything’s always about rising above it. But soul and grief take us down. The word grief comes from gravis, which means heavy. It’s like where we get the word grave, and gravity, and gravid, when a woman is pregnant, you know.

There’s a heaviness that pulls us downward, and we’re not comfortable with that. So in our friendships we can begin to talk about loss and grief without any agendas of fixing it, making it better. All it wants is witness. It just wants to be witnessed and treated as if it’s a, you know, a sacred guest in the house, not some violation that’s doesn’t belong there.

Everyone must know grief. That’s how we get elders, right? And that apprenticeship idea? When you took up an apprenticeship in traditional culture you would apprentice with a master craftsperson for years. Sometimes, a decade or two, you become a master painter or a weaver or a potter. So the goal of that apprenticeship is mastery.

The goal of soul apprenticeship with grief is not mastery, but elderhood. You know, that you’ve learned to be cooked by grief and ripened by grief to such an extent that when you see it in the streets, you don’t turn away from it. You become a home for that grief. You make a space. You say to that young person, I see the pain you’re in.

I see what grief is in your eyes. And I’ll stay here with you. That’s what this long apprenticeship leads to, is some sense of a greater capacity in our depths to hold the sorrows of the world, because if we don’t, who will? If we don’t hold those sorrows, they go unintended, and unintended grief turns to hardness, turns to bitterness, ultimately turns to violence.

So this is deep soul work for our culture, right, and for the world right now. We have to become proficient in these core capacities. I often say that grief is not just an emotion, it’s a core human faculty. And without that faculty, without that skill set, we won’t know how to show up and stay present to our lives or to those that we care about.

So it’s, it’s so important. Did we answer the question? I don’t

Olivia Clementine: know. I like what you said, though. It doesn’t really matter.

I so appreciate it. I feel so touched by that. The possibility of being there with each other without needing to fix and not needing to get somewhere in that grief. Yeah. And I remember in your, your book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, you share this maintenance grief ritual that was done in the Kalahari Desert.

And it’s so beautiful to consider having a place like this. I mean, more than, it’s like true beauty, this experience, and would you share either about this kind of maintenance ritual, this particular one, or in general what you find what that even can translate to, how it’s translated for you?

Francis Weller: Oh, yeah, I mean, we have a cycle of rituals that we try to follow through the year, kind of marking beginnings and endings, but they kind of become interposed that maybe that’s the beginning and that’s the ending, I don’t know, but grief ritual renewing the world, reclaiming ritual, renewing the world ritual, and the gratitude ritual.

So they kind of comprise these rhythmic, seasonal reminders of the larger relationships to which we’re part of. Now that’s just, you know, four or five times a year we gather, but in the Kalahari, like I was sharing, they gather every week, you know, and then again the purpose isn’t self focused, it’s on community.

How is the community faring? If someone’s ill, they have a phrase there, when one of us is ill, all of us are ill. God, how freeing that is! We feel ashamed when we’re weakened and sickened, you know, like, well, I have to hold up by myself, but what if that illness belonged to the community? And the community’s job was to respond and to do this dancing that they do in a way to attract the as a way, they say it’s kind of like drinking lightning.

It’s so intense when that energy comes in, but it’s not again for the dancer, it’s for the transmission. They take that energy and they put it into the one who’s ill. So this begins at dusk and doesn’t stop until dawn. Imagine what that would do to you psychically if you knew every week. There would be a repair and maintenance practice to renew the village, to renew and heal and tend and hold one another.

No matter what was happening, you would be held. What would that do to us psychically, right? We would become so much more settled in our bones. That, oh, I’m not, I don’t have to carry this in isolation, I don’t have to carry it alone, I don’t have to bear the unbearable by myself. Yeah, those rituals are worldwide, and they are, that’s one of their primary purposes is to, is to keep suturing the inevitable tears that happen.

And the code of our belonging. It happens all the time. We get hurt, we get insulted, or we cause harm. But in traditional ways, they have means of repair and restoration. We don’t have that, you know. We just don’t have that. And that’s great, great grief in our collective body. Yeah. We’re

Olivia Clementine: expecting that things will always be held together if we just try harder.

Do this. Right? Right.

Francis Weller: Right. Yeah. So many people have come into my practice with that expressed agenda, I have to fix myself in order to be tolerated in the circle of welcome. You know, whereas, like in my friend Maladoma’s village from West Africa, he said it was the purpose of the village to impress into every infant that they were a remarkable and welcomed presence in the village, that they carried medicine, and that their name was given to them to remind them of the medicine that they carried.

And I said to him, yeah, we’ve, we’ve reversed that 180 degrees where it’s up to me to convince the community that I’m someone worthy of toleration, that they should let me in provisionally. As long as I behave well and perform, you know, perfectly, then I’ll be let in. But we know in the back of our mind that that belonging is very tenuous, very tenuous.

But that’s not the premise of a traditional culture. Belonging is the premise.

Another part of our grief, When we do grief rituals, you were asking me before, I know that people who’ve come to many, you know, they attend and they attend, they just keep participating.

You can feel over time something really just kind of lining up inside them, the jagged edges of dissociation and trauma and, and feeling outside the welcome that all begins to settle down. And you begin to feel like there’s, knowing that there’s a place I can consistently bring this to. And the other part of that is that knowing consistently that there’s a place where I can bring medicine, that I will also be a gift to the community.

They need me there. I’m not just going so I can get my grief, you know, set down. I’m there also to be a member of the village, to support others doing this work. Because there’s many times at a grief ritual someone doesn’t grieve. You can’t grieve on demand, you know, it’s kind of hard. But what they can do is be there for those who do grieve.

And I’ll often say at the end of the weekend that because we’ve created village mind, not all of us cried at the shrine, but we wept. The village wept. And everyone leaves feeling different, even if they didn’t cry, because they felt both the possibility of what’s there when we gather in that framework, but also know that the next time I might be the one on my knees, and someone will be there holding me.

With enough repetition, which again is the wisdom of traditional culture, they don’t do that ritual once and then say, well, we’ve done that, you know, it’s, it’s the repetition of ritual, knowing that at any given ritual time, I mean, it was my third grief ritual before I shed my first tear. I could not let go.

I was too well packed, you know, good white man, very tight. But that third time, man, someone put their hand on my shoulder and that was it. I was down for hours, you know, and

Olivia Clementine: so powerful. It’s really helpful to hear the, the need for repetitiveness over time, because once again, just reiterating often the Western culture we’re in or industrial culture. It was very much like, okay, I did it now. What’s next? And let’s move on.

And this is what progress is. And we can be so like, I know many people that feel a lot of self blame. Like something is fundamentally wrong with me that I can’t move forward and feel fine. And I just love what you’re speaking to because it’s a balm for that particular. Belief, right?

That particular understanding of,

Francis Weller: of souls. 40 years in my practice, that, that friction of progress is so heavy to carry, as if there’s only one direction to move in. Always improving, always getting stronger, always getting better. I’ve never seen that happen. Sitting with thousands of people, I’ve never seen that happen.

Soul is soul. You know, it’s like, it’s like following an ant. You don’t, it’s like, well, that’s one of the names of, of soul, was it Mercurius? Mercury. It’s like Quicksilver. You can’t corral it, you can’t direct it. It flows wherever it wants to. So sometimes people say, I feel so stuck, I say, wonderful, this must be the spot that soul wants us to stop and just really sit here.

Or I regressed this week, I say, oh, that’s great news, you know. I wonder what soul wants back there. What did we forget? What did we not touch deeply enough? Oh, man, I feel so down today. Oh, God, you’re in the deep places of soul. Let’s see what’s down there. But they apologize for not progressing, you know, for, for progressing.

And I, let’s disavow that as a goal. Soul doesn’t give a shit about progress. It wants to feel fully entertained, that all of what’s possible in the terrain of soul will be welcomed. Grief, tenderness, sadness, loneliness, longing, beauty, imagination, creativity, you know, friendship, all of the things that matter to soul.

If we just notice that, our lives begin to get much fuller, much richer. And then the idea of progress becomes less and less fascinating. You know, again, I think progress arises out of that feeling of emptiness. We’re always trying to get to someplace better, as if where we are or what was is no good, you know, not enough.

Olivia Clementine: You’ve mentioned it many times, which I so appreciate, that betterness involves going upwards at all times, as if we can just keep going upwards, as if that’s even a possibility. Nothing just goes up in reality.

Francis Weller: No, I mean, including economies.

We’re failing if we’re not, if our GDP isn’t going up, up, up, but that means more consumption. So it’s this death spiral, constant growth, that’s cancer. , right? Unlimited unrestrained growth is cancer. That’s what happens in our bodies if, if that disease happens for us. So no, we have to let go of that fact that fiction.

It’s a disastrous fiction and there’s never enough sense of contentment with what is always more psychologically, economically. Spiritually. Everything’s always about the increase, and soul is all about the descent.

Olivia Clementine: When you talk about your grief rituals, you’ve talked about preparing the community, and I was curious just what, what that involves, because it feels so important. You’ve talked about how when you see a longing in your community and someone’s suffering, there’s been a recent death or something has happened you prepare the community first to then bring the ritual and offering to this person or a group or situation, environment.

What does that involve? Like, what are some examples of what it involves to prepare a community to partake in something like this?

Francis Weller: One of them is if there’s been an incident in the community. I did share that story with the, the mother and daughter in that car accident and, and we had to, in a sense, go into an emergency triage situation.

So I, I talked to the mother and daughter and said, well, luckily we’re planning on meeting tomorrow for this village training that we were doing. I said, but come a half hour later. I need to talk to the people, the other participants in the training, and prepare them for your arrival. So we set up multiple stations for them.

Because when you’re in trauma, everything kind of crashes in and becomes survival focused. Bodies get cold, appetite disappears, humor is gone. You’re in a kind of a dissociated state. So our goal, our work that day, was to warm them up, quite literally, and also emotionally. So we had holding stations for them to lay down and into someone’s arms and just be held.

And people would massage hands and feet, and we did some of the old traditional things of smudging with sage or sweetgrass or rosemary branches, and we did all different kinds of things, but it almost didn’t matter what we were doing. It was the attention we were giving. And by the end of the day, you could see that they were behind their eyes again.

They were hungry. Their hands were warm. Now, what they were left with is tolerable grief. Traumas, you can’t get to your grief if you’re in trauma. Because that’s a whole different psychic state. It’s like I’m working with the groups from Israel and some from Palestine right now, and they wanted to do grief work right away.

I said, we’re not ready for that. We have to titrate some of this. Trauma energy first so that there’s an adult presence there. capable of digesting and metabolizing the grief, but you’re not ready for that. So finding ways to slow down, bring warmth, and restore the communal context. Those three things are crucial.

To helping someone move through grief. So that’s more the crisis mode in our, in our community rituals that are scheduled and planned and people sign up and attend. There the idea is that over three days we will be composting grief, turning over the hard pan, turning over the You know, the frozen ground, because again, in our culture, in the absence of any ongoing encounters with grief, when it shows up in our bodies, it tends to harden and congeal.

And so we have to warm it up. So we do writing practice. We do a lot of singing, a lot of dancing and movement, get the body going, you know. And then we do small group work and then we, we build towards getting to the actual ritual process. And then it would take two days to do that, to warm up the room, to build that feeling of cohesion.

They arrive as strangers on Friday afternoon, and they feel like a village on Sunday afternoon. You know, that radically feels different. Not so much because they now know each other’s histories, but they know each other’s transparent expression of grief. I can know you. By the way you express yourself in ritual space, you know what I mean?

It’s a very different kind of familiarity. How you are in the presence of the sacred, how you are with others in the presence of deep, vulnerable material. That’s, that’s a different kind of knowing.

Olivia Clementine: , so you’re saying that right now you’re working with groups that are in Palestine or is this on zoom or

Francis Weller: zoom,

Olivia Clementine: zoom and, and so how, how does that work in terms of getting that village experience in that kind of not being in person in that way?

How has that been?

Francis Weller: I’m working with the therapeutic communities and then they take it out. So I’m working with healers, therapists social workers, all different kinds of people who want are showing up. So we had over a hundred people participating in this and so they’re working. We just did a five month grief ritual training with 700 people from 30 countries.

So you know, that’s really encouraging to me that that many people want to know how to hold space for others. So they were part of that training and so they’re learning ways to take what is already part of their culture, both cultures, and And apply that to the work that’s on the ground right now.


Olivia Clementine: thank you so much for doing that. I actually one thing I wanted to ask you was, you know, we’re in this technological time where we’ve never been exposed to so much terror in a day, right? And I’m wondering, because you’re someone that’s ~ both active in the world.

Like you’re not disregarding the terrors and at the same time, you’re also in life, like you’re in geologic time in your everyday experience. And what do you find are ways to be in this in this technological time engaged as you are, what’s like a proper balance? I mean, I know so many of us have the question of.

Wanting to be involved, but also like, not, not living in the news too, right?

Francis Weller: Oh, I think that’s very important what you’re bringing up, Olivia, because psychically we’re not designed. for 24 7 trauma feeds, and that’s not our, we’re not capable of that. So if we stay too open to that, the psyche or the heart naturally, wisely shuts down.

It’s, it’s too saturating to the psyche to witness that much suffering. So your question is how do we not just shut down and how do we stay open? to the world, but not be overwhelmed by the world. That’s part of the apprenticeship. How do you stay in right relationship to grief? Not too far away that we are detached from it, and not too close in that we’re overwhelmed by it, but how do you walk with it as a companion?

How do you come into an ongoing conversation with sorrow? Because it’s never far. It’s always very near, but we don’t want to drown in it. And we don’t want to become so detached that we don’t, well, I don’t feel it, you know. So that’s practice. That takes effort and a conscious awareness of the relational feel between you and sorrow.

You’re walking with this on a day by day basis. So there’s elemental things like beauty. Beauty is so vital to the health of the soul. I remember telling the story in the book about this woman I was sitting with in my practice and she was literally on the floor sobbing about the Gulf War, just sobbing about the depleted uranium, the destruction of all these monuments and archaeological places and the children that are dying and So I just sat with her for like 20 minutes, just letting her sob.

And then I said, Did you happen to notice plum blossoms were out? And she said, No. I said, Did you happen to notice that the mustard was in bloom? She said, No. I said, We can’t possibly tolerate the horrors of war without plum blossoms and mustard blooms. The soul needs rejuvenation, regeneration, beauty.

James Hillman said that beauty is the means by which the gods touch the senses, reach the heart, and attract us into life. So without beauty, what is it that attracts us into life? And a lot of what we’re seeing is ugly as hell. From clear cuts to, you know, massacres, the ugliness of it is so offensive to the soul.

So we need something that keeps attracting us back into life, right? Beauty is a medicine. I’m not talking about being beautiful, you know, the whole image and glamour industry. I’m talking about our capacity to register beauty. To have it pierce us, to stop us. I mentioned before the idea of anesthesia.

Well, the old language was that beauty was expressed by a word that’s called esthesis. That’s where we get the word aesthetic. And esthesis was those moments, and I know you’ve had them, when you’re walking along a trail or something, and you come upon something so beautiful, so exquisite, it takes your breath away.

That’s called an aesthetic arrest. So, to be open to an aesthetic response to the world, we have an aesthetic without beauty. A numbness that is, becomes immune to the grandeur of place. And then we’re without that medicine. So all we’re left with is the inundation of trauma, you know, violence, loss, grief.

So between beauty friendship, ongoing ritual practices. To keep the, the idea that I like to talk about is that we have to keep grief moving, and the only way we can keep grief moving is an old alchemical idea of you have to keep the material warm. So you have to pay attention to it, you have to notice it, you have to talk to it, you have to write it, draw it, dance it, you know, make clay offerings, take it into ritual, talk to your friends about it.

You have to keep it warm, otherwise it hardens and congeals and becomes sediment. You know, people, I often see people come into my practice complaining of depression. And after sitting with them, even for a short while, it’s not depression, it’s oppression. It’s the weight of undigested grief, typically generations old.

That is just suffocating the vitality of the individual. And I know that very personally, what that was like, just to have this heaviness crushing me day by day. So again, here we go. Yeah.

Olivia Clementine: You’ve spoken about the village that many traditional cultures still have that comes with.

Your family or your smaller unit, this larger unit, and oftentimes interwoven into that your spiritual traditions are also a part of that. And now many people are creating communities that don’t have that trying to have a sense of belonging and have a sense of this greater web.

And I’m wondering, because you are somebody that has been holding spaces like this for decades, is it even possible to recreate this? And secondly, what are some qualities that seem essential? And, and it feels like you have touched on some ways of being together and bringing people together that that really has evoked that sense of village. And so I’m wondering if you would share some of what’s worked.

Francis Weller: That’s true. Perfectly legitimate question. What does work? Particularly, again, localizing these questions to this culture one of the hardest things we come up against is the conditioning that almost every single one of us received around individualism. So the greatest challenge when a group comes together is to change that into not, not so much a collective of singularities.

How do we begin to cultivate village mind? How do you begin to think like a village? So there’s a lovely idea from Jeanette Armstrong, who’s from the Okanagan Nation in British Columbia. She said in our village, in our community, it’s community first, family second, and individual last. She said you have inverted that completely in white culture, where it’s the individual first, family second, and you talk about community all the time, but it’s empty rhetoric.

It has no blood in it. And she said their, their word for belonging translates into our one skin. Again, same like with the, with the, with the K’un in South Africa our one skin. We share everything. This is, whatever happens to one of us happens to all of us. And again, what would do, what would that do to you to know that the community is above you, family’s there, that whatever happens to you.

You are covered. You are covered by the mantle of community. It’s there to catch you. So is it possible? Absolutely. But it’s going to take a lot of work. The reason most village or community attempts fail is because they, and I, I know I’ve struggled with this myself, I’ve done three grief rituals, on three, Ritual village trainings.

One ended in complete disaster, one modestly, and one’s still thriving. So how do you begin to cultivate village mind? And it’s a, at first it takes becoming aware of how much the conditioning affects. The way you interact, the way you talk, the way you respond. You carry with you a certain sense of insecurity anxiety there’s not enough.

But when you begin to feed the village body, you begin to see that there’s a feedback loop that includes you. You are nurtured too. That old South African phrase, I am because we are. My deeper identity is actually entangled with all of you, and I become more me. The more I relinquish my sense of separateness and come into a corresponding sense of relationship, I talk about original identity.

That we emerge out of mystery. I don’t know where we come from, but we come, and we don’t come empty handed. We come with something, you know, precious. And we arrive in this body. That body, hopefully, again, this isn’t within a fully functioning community, that body arrives within a family unit. That family unit, in turn, is set within the context of community.

The community, because it’s aware of what requires it for it to be healthy, maintains proper initiation practices, which generates a sense of clan life. What am I responsible for? Like Jeanette would say, I don’t know, she’s part of the salmon clan or the river clan, and so she’s responsible for maintaining the waterways and keeping the salmon healthy.

And out of that, Emerges the final wing of that identity, which is cosmological. When all those things are in place, body, family, community, clan, I naturally fall into a cosmological sense of identity. I am part of this. Well, think of what’s happening in white culture. We’ve lost cosmology. We have no clan life.

Community is empty. Predominantly. I know there are places that it’s working. Family life then is unsupported by community. So most families, they say 90 some odd percent are dysfunctional, well, yeah, and when that falls apart, what you’re left with is, so out of that original matrix of lushness and robust sense of participation, I’m left with the singularity, and I’m supposed to now have the skills to create village?

So, patience is so important here that we begin to stumble into one another and begin to, like in that year long training, the first half of the year was deconstructing individualism. We don’t even begin talking about village mind until the second half of the year, you know, just noticing all the ways that we carry projections and judgments and strategies of protection.

In a sense, what we’re doing fairly consistently is falling into an adolescent state. And The Adolescent is all about just trying not to get killed, trying to survive. The Adult! shows up when there’s a sense of context and containment and shared purpose and we’re doing this together and the adult can help participate in creating village mind.

So it’s not impossible but it’s going to take a lot of work to, to slowly dismantle the armaments that come with feeling that we don’t belong, that I have to keep defending myself, I have to keep perfecting myself. Again, as long as that self improvement project is underfoot. I’m not going to be paying too much attention to the village.

I’m always obsessed with the next best me. So in the successful village that you created, that third one, that’s still happening. Where is it at now? Like, so you spent that first half of the first year just dissecting individualism and then how many years has it been since? With that particular community,

this, this one, 26 years, we’ve been, we meet twice a month, one Friday night to, to meet and to check in and to share what’s going on in our lives.

A lot of laughter and tears and just hear what’s going on and out of that we, we understand what ritual work we need to do. So one Friday night and then one all day Saturday and the all day Saturday is designed to do our ritual work together. And so, yeah, we’ve been together since 1998, that’s, yeah, 26 years, we’ll celebrate that in March.

Yeah, 26 years together. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Olivia Clementine: And. And like when you look at traditional villages, right, where you didn’t have to kind of create this, what kind of differences do you see, minus the obvious, and what kind of similarities based on what you, you and your village have put together?

Francis Weller: Well, I would say the primary thing, the practices will vary from culture to culture, right? The rituals in South Africa will look very different than the rituals on the plains with the native cultures here. But the values are what I’m most interested in. And these values are completely transferable. And I mentioned them before, restraint, reciprocity, mutuality, gratitude, you know, respect.

These core values, I think, are what allow village life to sustain itself. If one of your primary values is humility you’re not going to do a lot of damage. Based on narcissism, you learn that the village, if I take care of the village, I will be taken care of, you know? But if that’s not there, then it’s always this anxiousness about who’s going to take care of me.

I remember talking to Maladoma once about that. He said it took him years to understand insurance policies, but he finally got it. You have insurance policies because you don’t have a village. If you get sick, who’s going to take care of you? There’s no village. So you have to have this insurance policy that’s in a sense tries to guarantee that you’re going to get the health care you need or if you’re, if you, you know, need money or you get in a car accident, whatever it is, they’re all there because of what we’ve forgotten.

So when the village begins to re coalesce a little bit, I think we are less anxious about all those factors. One of our members was in the hospital this week with you know, appendicitis. And so we’re all there. And my wife right now is visiting her, and I’m just going to see Diana, Diane, and just, you know, see what she needs, and bring food, and go shopping for her, and it does something so profound to our psychic structure when we feel we’re inside something that’s holding us.

Olivia Clementine: Because you, you’ve worked with men solely I I’ve heard you say that the language of masculine and feminine can be really limiting and that we really have to find those for ourselves the masculine and feminine and certainly, I hear it all the time, what it is to be more feminine, what it is to be more, you know, non toxic and masculine.

And I’m curious , why it’s even important to talk about masculine and feminine, and of course, traditionally, there’s many ideas around this, but from your perspective, what’s so important about these terms to begin with? And then what does it mean to find these for oneself?

Francis Weller: I, I take my cue from witnessing and researching many, many cultures. I think we’re one of the only ones that gives us a single image of the masculine, and that’s Jesus, you know. Beautiful image. Gentle, loving, sweet, you know. But what I like about traditional cultures is usually, you know, a range of 10, 12 different images of the gods.

As, as well as the, the goddesses. It’s like, I was working with a, one of my mentor, mentees, a while back, and he just wanted to do something about the new masculinity. I said, no. The new masculinities don’t offer a single image to anybody. Because that will always create its opposite, you know so we’ve had this warrior image.

Well, well, that’s one image only, but there’s also many other images of the masculine. So the idea here is to allow the imagination to return. , I’m working with a man right now who just doubts his masculinity so much. I said, well, you’re not trying to fit into the norm. If you do that, you’ll betray your soul.

Your job is to articulate the masculinity that’s indigenous to your soul. What does that look like? You know, I said, but I’m not rough and dicey. No, neither am I. I remember when I first started doing the men’s initiation work, I was working with two men, and they were men. Rob was a Harley Davidson, you know, big beard, long hair, bandana, did time in prison, working with prisoners now and teaching them writing.

And David was this Montana boot, you know, every other word was, you know you know, and I go, those are men. I don’t belong here. And so we were, you know, talking and I just, they were telling their, their stories and the stories are so pathetic. I said, what are you guys talking about? You’re, you’re mountains of courage, you’re lions of fierceness, you’re, and then I tell my pathetic story.

I think, what are you talking about? You’re an ocean of compassion and you carry of deep wisdom. Then you begin to understand, well, we need all these articulations. If we’re only one kind, we’re back into a monoculture. So we need this multiplicity of imagination. What does it look like to be a masculine, or feminine, or other, or a combination, or some strange, you know, amalgam of everything?

I don’t know. But we need all of them to give the village enough texture. And not for complexity. So we’re not caught in kind of a reductionistic experience where we create this homogenized system of, well, we all look like this, we all talk like this, and we all act like this. And that leads to a deadening of culture, not an enlivening of it.

Like when you go into a plantation of, of single crop things, you know, it’s fine. But when you go into a dense climax forest where it’s Everything. Which one feels more alive to you, right? Which one evokes more imagination in you, you know? The old myths and stories are often taking place in the dense forest, in the mysterious wild of the forest, and that’s, that seems why we need to talk about this, is just to stir the imagination and not get caught in singularities or reductionistic images.

Of what it’s supposed to look like that just kills the soul of any human being.

Olivia Clementine: It ties back to what you were sharing earlier about. Coming in to the world with your medicine and, and nobody else has that particular medicine, that flavor of masculinity or femininity or other.

Francis Weller: Yeah. When we’re doing the men’s initiation work one of the core elements of that program was to, to, to watch each individual going through that process to see how do they carry medicine.

So we watched, we watched, we watched and it’s always connected to the wound. There’s an old Greek phrase, in your wound is your genius. So we watched them, you know, over a course of a year to articulate, and then we gave them a name at the end of the year as we presented them back to the community.

This man carries this kind of medicine. If you need help with tears, if you need help with belonging, if you need help with, you know, whatever it is, fear these, they carry this medicine. Make use of them, you know, make them spiritually employed, you know, keep them working. That’s their gift, they came here to give this away, and that’s the worst part about not having a village, is we feel spiritually unemployed.

We don’t feel called upon to share our gifts we don’t even know we have them until they’re called upon, you know.

Olivia Clementine: I know you’re in the midst of many things and is there anything these days that’s pulling your attention the most? Well,

Francis Weller: Yeah, the long dark is very much calling my attention, and I’m doing a series, I’m writing my next book, I’m actually taking sabbatical from doing workshops right now this year, because I have to get these things written, and it takes time for me, but I’m really curious about how do we face the world with soul?

The idea there is, I did a series of talks, I think it was last year, or the year before, called Facing the World with Soul, and I opened by saying, first of all, this is the most important series I’ve ever done, and the second one is, this has nothing to do with you. This is, because all the other series I did, you know, Living a Soulful Life, Why It Matters Alchemy of Initiation, Apprenticeship with Sorrow, they all had to do with our own internal life.

Facing the world with soul has to do with the world, and not me. So how do I become someone capable of responding soulfully to the world, and why does that matter? You know, how does that play out in the long dark, in terms of helping us deal with uncertainty, grief? I mean, the keynote for the coming decades is going to be loss.

That’s undeniable. At scales we probably can’t even imagine yet. So again, that proficiency in grieving is going to be so important. Also just dealing with fear, you know, how do we stay present in the, in the fact in the face of all of this uncertainty and not knowing. There’s a wonderful idea from the Inuit people called qarrtsiluni.

Qarrtsiluni translates, sitting quietly together in the dark. Waiting expectantly for something creative to occur. I just love that as a metaphor of where we are right now as a species. We don’t know what’s coming and it isn’t about achievement and compensation and doing more right now.

It’s really about sitting quietly together in the dark

and hoping and praying that something creative will come to us about how to respond. You know, this was associated with the whaling they couldn’t go out for a whale hunt until one of the whales gave them a song, so they had to sit in the dark. Waiting, waiting, waiting, until that song came. And when one of the hunters caught the song, they were given permission to take one of the whale people.

I think that’s just gorgeous. So I think part of our practice right now is learning how to sit quietly together in the dark. That’s what’s fascinating me right now. What does that look like? How do we become skillful in facing the world with soul, slowing down, staying in community, learning the rituals of the land that you’re on?

Because the rituals will be different wherever you live. The earth keeps dreaming itself into being through the rituals that the people do. Ritual is an act of remembrance, of return. I just want to keep listening to hear what’s arising as we head further into the long dark. I’m also not afraid of the long dark.

I use that language not in a negative sense, because the word darkness in our culture has been so badly maligned. What I mean by darkness is a place of silence, a place of gestation, incubation, dreaming, imagination, all that happens in the dark, you know. What’s going on right now in our conversations happening because of what’s going on in the dark of my chest.

This heart is still beating. My lungs are still oxygenating my body, you know, and what I can see out the green world outside my My windows here of Doug Fir and Redwoods and Madrone and Bay, that’s because of what’s happening below ground. And the root systems and the microbes and the mycelia and the minerals.

There’s a whole conversation going on down there. So when I use the word the Long Dark, I’m speaking of it as a time of necessity. This is not a time of rising, this is clearly a time of descent. So we’re entering into soul’s territory. So what happens in the darkness is very different than what happens in the light, and that’s the kind of language we need to develop, is a language of dark, you know, that kind of stillness and capacity to perceive what is trying to emerge out of the darkness, what they call the soul niger, the black sun in alchemy.

to gain a second sight. So, in this darkness, which is also a time of of composting and distillation and dissolving and endings, Because certain things need to end right now. Patriarchy needs to end. Systemic racism needs to end. Unbridled capitalism needs to end.

You know, gender, domination needs to end. So all of these things need to find their, their ending in this time of the long dark. That’s my prayer for this time. It is a time of dissolution, but also of dreaming and imagination.