Feral is a big word. It means the long-term guest-cat living in our household, who has slowly learned what it means to not hiss and flee from any still object that’s even remotely animal- or person-shaped. It means all the cats and dogs living in urban and suburban areas without human caretakers. It means all the human-brought domesticized animals that got out into the countryside and went native– often ousting truly native species and wrecking ecosystem balance in the process.
Feral means non-human sometimes, or maybe just non-thinking. Instinctive, perhaps even intuitive. Feral is a word that evokes a sense of dangerousness, of unpredictability, of wildness. Feral can bite the hand that feeds and lick it tenderly not a minute later. Feral evades capture. Feral cannot be reached with logic, and only sometimes can it be tempered with the reliable structure that logic can build. One rehabilitates a feral animal in part by providing a secure, unchanging rhythm and structure until it learns it does not need to fear or aggress. Our half-feral girl has come from living on a closet shelf to sleeping on my stomach at night because she learned I don’t react when she hisses; I do not take advantage of her fear or vulnerability, and so I am not a threat. A non-threat may be lived with peaceably; a non-threat may even be trusted.
For me, the word feral overlaps with the word pagan. Both of them speak to less civilization and more nature, more blood and marrow and greenery and sickness and danger and risk. I do not romanticize old days with nonexistant roads, poor or no education, more primitive medicine and surgery, and frequently terrible human rights. But I do see the disconnect from wildness that exists in my urban, civilized, well-educated, sanitized world now. It can be very hard to be feral in healthy ways when everything around you is automated machinery and political maneuvering. It can be very hard to be nature-based pagan when everything around you is plastic and steel and pavement and glass.
I am in some ways feral, a human animal who has not lost its ties to instinct and flesh. I am sometimes-tame, domesticated enough to live in the world we have constructed, civil enough to wish for joy and abundance and love for all people, intelligent enough to understand compassion and justice and social contracts. But beneath this veneer of well-cultured humanity is still an animal seeking to survive the chaos of life in whatever way it can, and I react to trauma like my half-feral cat has reacted to her own, despite all my efforts at cultivating zen within myself.
I seek feralness in others. Most of the heart-deep friends I have understand the nature of the human animal and share it with me, bound to visceral experience and strong instinct and the sense of striving to live, even within our blessedly privileged and safe lives. Most of the gods I follow have feral natures– the keening kite, the roiling black sea, the sunning lion, the hunting lioness, the stinging scorpion, the roaming stallion. The poetry I write drips with imagery for all the senses, and the novels and short stories I craft feature creatures or monsters or shapeshifters of some sort far more often than humans. The media I consume – music, movies, books – revolve around the highlights of feral entities, the struggle to resolve feral nature with compassionate morals, glimpses of things that are not purely human. The martial art I study seeks to train the instinct to react appropriately, knowing the body can move so much more quickly than the mind in a hot situation, knowing the body is its own kind of animal.
I have said before that I love Celtic paganism and my Kemetic path in very different ways. Kemeticism is the sun upon my skin, the wind and light through clean branches, the warmth of the working day when words are said clearly and things are built strongly. But in Celticism are my roots, deep within the loamy soil, untouched by sight and light, coiling and winding, drinking deep of the world and its marrow, full of blood and spit and sweat and hairs. When I engage with Celtic gods and Celtic paganism, I do so as a feral human animal; when I act as a Kemetic, I do so from the higher faculties that I possess, logic and structure and order and reason. This does present unique challenges, such as finding it difficult to intellectually study Celtic history and mythos as I have Kemeticism, such as finding it difficult to interact with my human ancestors within a non-feral Kemetic framework. The dynamic between feral and not-feral feels like the twisting spiral of my very DNA, the centerpoint around which all of my work – physical, spiritual, and creative – revolves.
Much like I need both animal nature and human intelligence to call myself a human animal, I need both Celtic and Kemetic nourishment for my spirit to truly thrive.
This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.