What We Mean by the Word "Wild"

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

by Brian Stafford.

The current state of the world evokes great despair and anguish for anyone paying attention. Our political and cultural institutions are wobbling. Rates of suicide, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety are escalating. The Christian church is becoming even more irrelevant in this century than it was in the last century. Rising Carbon Dioxide and the degradation of most ecosystems is leading to global warming, rampant species extinction, catastrophic fires from Siberia to Australia. The oceans are filled with plastic and rapidly warming and acidifying. And the world appears to be led by patho-adolescent petty tyrants who are only out for their own self, family, party, or religion. The Earth is crying out for elders, true leaders who can discern and guide us to survive and to return to a life-enhancing culture.

The writer of Genesis wrote that "God saw everything that was created, and, behold, it was very good." The Hebrew word "tov" used here for "very good" actually means "in harmony." Another word that could be used is the word "wild."

God saw everything that was created, and, behold, it was "wild."

Now when we use the word "wild," we don't mean "crazy, or angry or out of control" (in a negative sense). The word "wild" as we use it has some relationship to the term "free." The world "wild" comes from Germanic and Norwegian roots and is a cognate with the German word "wald" which is used for "woods," like "Wald" en Pond. The connotations of the word "wald" are not socially negative. "Wild" also means orderly, stable, organized, and calm.

For example, take a wild animal. It does not need help or food from humans to survive. Wild animals are not manipulated by humans and can live on in this vast wild universe. WIld is a term for a "process" to live in the organic and natural world. The word "nature" has a relationship with the word wild. Nature is related to the words native and natal, and has a fundamental meaning of "that which is born."

So, how did we get from a creation that was "in harmony" with the mysterious force that created it to this place? How did we come to a time where one species of that same creation is wreaking havoc on all of the other species as well as the Earth herself.

We humbly suggest that it is because we, as human nature have lost our wildness or our inner nature. And by losing our wildness, we cannot experience the "wildness" or the "naturalness" or "live in harmony" with all that is "very good." Humans were created wild, but over millennia have lost their wildness and have become both domesticated and indoctrinated. These processes have made it difficult - nay, impossible - to experience the Earth, our Selves, and the Christ in their own wildness, harmony, or nature.

There are still some wild humans, but there are many domesticated humans. For many of us, the domestication began early. In some churches, you learned that you were primarily there to learn how to obey so that you could get to heaven, and not that other place. In our games, for example, the Game of Life, we learned that it was best to go to college and hope to become a doctor, get married, buy insurance, have several children, take Revenge on others in the game, and play the Stock Market. And if you're lucky, you might win the game by ending up in Millionaire Acres while everyone else ends up in the Poor Farm.

Again, what do we mean when we say "wild." In a culture that primarily encourages conformity, the word "wild" usually ends up with some strange connotations, mostly negative ones. Here's another take on wild. Suppose a naturalist or an ecologist was to come to earth and evaluate the human species. They would find variations of four types of humanity based on their naturalness or their wildness. These four categories are also possible answers to the question "How we shall live?"

Option #1.

Domesticated species are bred or raised under cultural control for many generations and are substantially altered as a group in appearance and behavior. Examples include canaries, pigeons, peach-faced love-bird, cats, dogs, laboratory mice and most humans raised in Western culture. The domesticated humans are conformist, gray, fully indoctrinated, follow the leader or the herd, and have entirely forgotten what it means to be wild.

Option #2

Partially Domesticated species are commercially raised. These species are ranched or farmed in large numbers for food, commodities, the pet trade, or to consume products that are advertised to them. But, as a group, they are not substantially altered in appearance or behavior, but they are not wild nor have they ever known the wild. Examples include elephants, ostriches, deer, alligator or a human raised on the edge of Western culture.

Option #3

Captive species are raised in zoos, botanical gardens, or cities, suburbs or even rurally. These species are nurtured and sometimes bred under human or cultural control but have broken free of the domesticating bonds of culture and remain as a group essentially indistinguishable in appearance and behavior indistinguishable from their wild counterpart. They might be called, "rebels" because they do not conform. They might be called, "too much." They might be called, "too wild."

Option #4

Wild: These species or individuals experience their full life cycles without deliberate human or unhealthy cultural intervention. Wild humans participate fully in all aspects of their own nature and wild nature. They are self-organizing, self-determining, erotic, emotive, sensate, animated, mysterious, enchanted, embodied, attuned, nurturing and generative. Individuals who are wild know who they are, know who they are connected to - which is all things- know whom they serve, and know that is all part of the Great Mystery.

So, we can do choose to live as culture has wanted us to live, as domesticated or captive humans as described by the poet Wendell Berry in his poem Mad Farmer Liberation Front:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

Or you can live as the Wild Self does, also described by Wendell Berry in the second half of his poem:

So, friends, every day do something

that won't compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace

the flag. Hope to live in that free

republic for which it stands.

Give your approval to all you cannot

understand. Praise ignorance, for what man

has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers?

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Say that your main crop is the forest

that you did not plant,

that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees

every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear

close, and hear the faint chattering

of the songs that are to come.

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

though you have considered all the facts.

So long as women do not go cheap

for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

a woman satisfied to bear a child?

Will this disturb the sleep

of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.

Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head

in her lap. Swear allegiance

to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind,

lose it. Leave it as a sign

to mark the false trail, the way

you didn't go. Be like the fox

who makes more tracks than necessary,

some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

At the Seminary of the Wild, we invite you to choose how you shall live.

By dying to our own conformity, indoctrination, and domestication, we might be gifted the chance to "practice resurrection," and become truly wild.

We offer an invitation to your innate naturalness, your own born wildness.

Your "wildness" is "very good."

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