I was pretty sad on Friday, and then I wasn’t sad.
It’s a long story on the reasons for that sadness. My life here is amazing, relentlessly gorgeous, and really engaging. But it is very far away from everything and most everyone I knew most of my life, and sometimes things seem so strange, so foreign, so different from everything I know that I get overwhelmed.
Several months ago, there was a “call out” about me by a self-styled social justice activist on social media that I saved and would often look at until I finally deleted it.
It was from someone who’s never met me, who’d become quite angry about something I had written which had become very popular. The “call out” said something about how I was a “working class version of a trust-fund baby” who was living in Europe as a “leftist version of a sovereign citizen” and thus I should never be read by anyone.
I saved it because it was so extreme, and so dazzlingly contradictory (what’s a working class version of a trust fund baby? I still don’t know.) And from what I’ve learned of this person’s life, they’ve made much more money than I ever have, yet still wallow in frustration and despair, spending hours on social media preaching an empty dogma which only makes sense on Facebook. They’re one of those sorts who are fully defined by their wokeness, for whom nothing which ever happens can ever be seen besides through the lens of oppression.
I saved it also because it gave me a sense of what people who didn’t like me thought my life was like, and though completely different from the actual reality, it’s good to have that reflection. I mean, actually, “leftist version of a sovereign citizen” sounds pretty cool, like I was a hacker evading border controls and police raids, or an old-school Catalonian anarchist guiding people over the Pyrenees.
If anything, it was actually a beautiful fantasy. Similar to many other such fantasies, like those that accused me of secretly being best friends with and maybe a fuck buddy of Jack Donovan, or a communist infiltrator into pagan spaces, or a mastermind manipulator who has minions and thralls willing to do my bidding. There’s even someone who believes I and another friend hexed them and that’s why their life has gone to shit.
We give other people so much power, huh? They’re all living in greener pastures than we ever will.
Those are friends of mine. Neighbors I hadn’t visited this year until Friday.
Last year I spent hours with them, because they pasture near my ‘grove,’ which is just a fallen tree next to a circle of alders through which a stream runs through. I go there to think, to talk, to cry, to laugh, sometimes to lay unclothed in the sun, sometimes to do what people might call magic (but I really just call talking), and mostly just to be.
There are seven of them this year. Last year there were only three. They come running when they see me, stand in a circle around me, or sometimes in a line. They eat grass from my hands, and sometimes apples, and mostly just tell me things.
They’re massive “work” horses, all muscle. I went there with my family and my partner today, and they came running at me so hard I can see why my youngest nephew got quite scared. We had apples, and one stole an ear of corn from the pocket of my other nephew, who had himself “stolen” it from a field so it was all fair play.
On the way to them, we ate blackberries and plums and wood sorrel, trudged through mud and nettle, talked to cows, waved hello to deer, and then finally came to the horses, who came running.
One of the most widely venerated goddesses in pre-Christian Europe wasn’t a Roman deity at all, but rather a Gallic one: Epona. A goddess of horses, later adopted into imperial religion as a goddess of cavalry, but really she only cares about horses. Be good to horses and she may have something to say, be unkind to them and she will have something louder to say.
Such brilliant beasts, really, and so fucking kind. When I saw them on Friday I had no apples for them, but I had hands that could pull out better grass from beyond a barbed wire fence which their muzzles could not reach. Greener on the other side, really.
The way Epona was adopted into imperial Roman religion is the same way faith, folk belief, and human life itself got assimilated first into Christianity and then into Capitalism. She is not a goddess of horsemen but of horses. A goddess of a thing of nature, turned into a goddess of people who use and control that nature, become a political tool rather than something that exists for itself.
There are fortunately still horses, and there is fortunately still Epona, though few speak to either of them these days.
My life is mostly about speaking to them, and to other thems to which no one speaks much anymore. The trees around here get an earful, I assure you, but the streams only get an occasional “hello” whenever I cross them. The ravens get an answer to their calls, but I kind of make an effort to ignore the magpies because honestly they talk too much.
Being far away from everything I knew doesn’t really mean everything. I knew crows, and trees, and streams. Different ones, yes, but you can talk to them the same way everywhere. I knew people there, and though I know many fewer here they still speak with the same human voices that the humans back there spoke with.
There are fewer people here, but more horses. And the gods are a little more talkative here, too, though I don’t know if that’s because there are fewer humans to drown out their voices or if I’ve just learned to listen better. Perhaps both.
Either way, what I always wanted to say to that person was that you can just let yourself be instead. Social media makes everyone’s life look more fantastic than your own, but the problem isn’t with them, or even your perception of them: it’s with your perception of yourself.
You can go talk to horses, you know, and maybe even Epona if she’ll listen. Or to ravens and trees and streams, and you don’t need to do what I did. You don’t actually have to give up everything you know, all the security and safety of your life and travel practically moneyless in a foreign land until you find a place that feels like home.
Instead, you can just turn off your phone, stop staring at a screen, and look at your own life and the lives of others with wonder again, rather than fear and resentment.
It’s not all some epic political struggle into which you must constantly throw all your diminishing effort. You can just go feed apples to some horses, or throw some unsalted peanuts to some crows, go sit down near a stream, and just be.
And yeah, sometimes the grass is greener on the other side. But you have hands: you can pull it up and pass it through the barbed wire fence so that the horses on the other side can reach it.