“The problem of relating to a place’s spirit or alternatively bringing a spiritual reality to a particular place is yet to be understood in the sphere of religious thought. That a fundamental element of religion is an intimate relationship with the land on which the religion is practiced should be a major premise of future theological concern.”
-Vine Deloria Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion
We call it the block, the turf, the neighborhood, but I’m going to take the veil off and show you what it is behind the smoke and mirrors. This god has manufactured skin–nowadays it’s made out of concrete.
The concept that spirit is inherent in all aspects of creation is basic to the indigenous human understanding of the universe. There isn’t any idea of something called “nature” that is somehow apart or aside from us. But today, most of us don’t live with the birds and mud and trees and wild fruit; we live with concrete sidewalks, blacktop roads, industrially manufactured houses, roving metal carriages, fences, and armed guardians. This is our environment. This is our nature, therefore, this is us.
Gone for most of us are the voices spoken by the wind in high grass, the trickle or crash of water over stones polished smooth by centuries of flow–they told us those voices don’t exist, and now we can’t hear them anymore.
The voices we hear are roaring engines and high frequency machine whines. Sirens and crackling electrical towers. Lightening is everywhere, passed from wire to wire and silicon chip to chip. Our ground is hard, dense, and unyielding, our trees are dead and decorated with metal, or else imported, planted, dependent, and decorative. We don’t hear them when they whisper, only when they scream; when they’re uprooted, sawed down, tossed in the trash to make room for… whatever. Once I got chills upon seeing a pile of 15-20 palm trees that had been murdered to facilitate the expansion of a hotel parking lot. Confronted with such casual destruction of life, some of us can hear, faintly in some long forgotten corner of our spirits, the trees speaking. They say: what they do to us, they do to you.
The old tribes are still here, of course, maintaining and surviving and holding court in the cracks. My cousin the hummingbird is still around, playing in our fountain. My grandparent the spider is still making they home in the corners, still showing up from time to time in colorful and terrifying armor, laying fright to the Babylonian in us. Microscopical tribes take up residence on the shower curtain, marking their territory with dark splotches that my bleached and deodorized mind regards with terror and sickness.
There are forces at work in our world, integrated into our lives, invisible and unnamed, but nevertheless consistent in their disregard for life and all its inherent meaning. I have called them by many names–the matrix, Babylon, machine gods–social entities, mechanical spirits show themselves in grids, hierarchies, factories. Our sacred objects are made out of plastic and metal, and we use them to pray to these foreign gods, in ceremonies known by names like shopping, recreation, consumerism, and employment.
Us and the trees and the bumblebees, but also the i-pods and televisions and automobiles and pocket phones. They’ve shouted down the old voices, barged into our homes and hearts, whereupon they eat away at us like a parasite, draining our vitality, feeding on our imaginations, converting us from cohesive communities and autonomous individuals into fuel. What is an economy? Can you see it? Can you touch it? It has real effects, but it’s invisible. You call it economy, I call it spirit. Machine spirit, cold to the needs and desires of the human and the great spirit.
Where do these things we call “cities” come from? The cultural narrative would have us believe that it’s a natural evolution, a mark of progress, from a debased state into a “higher, better” state. But in the countless millennia of human residency on this planet, there was never such a thing as a “city.” It was certainly nothing we would have volunteered for. Nevertheless, it showed up, maybe 10,000 year ago, pretty much out of nowhere, and has been spreading like a virus ever since. The paleskin tribes seem to be particularly vulnerable to this infection, as they have taken a lead role in spreading and perpetuating “civilization” (as they call it) for the last 500 years. These tribes have been single-minded, militant, and ruthless in their campaign to spread this virus, and have been richly rewarded in power and resources for their troubles.
The older human tribes, whose skin still receives the full spectrum of communication from the sun, have not taken well to this infection, despite having been the first to host it on earth. Where this alien mind virus succeeded in taking root amongst us, it did not spread far beyond its continental borders. Its human hosts did not seek to subjugate the rest of the earth. We developed a functional immunity to it; we had cities, but not many of them, and most of us had no interest in them. We knew they did something to people, and we didn’t want any part of it; bad enough that so many of us were taking it for the team, being hosts for the citygod. We kept dancing, the rain kept coming, the sun kept shining.
Now a lot of us are in cities, whether we want to be or not, and we are trapped there. Sometimes in the gutter, sometimes with nothing but hope and a check between us and an alleyway. Most of us feed on each other to survive, mutated into human parasites. We are occupied, colonized, under ongoing conquest. War is upon us, and thus we are all warriors, and all casualties. Our songs are war songs, our weapons are microphones and pistols and books. They made us into savages. They made us into “men” and “women,” “gay” and “straight.” They made us forget.
We are related to the space we inhabit. My brother the rooftop, my cousins barbwire and linoleum. My grandparent the hypodermic needle. My aunt factory.
In Los Angeles I learned to hear the voice of the city, and we began communicating. It told me that I don’t have to like the city, anymore than I like mosquitos. Everybody’s got cousins they avoid at the gathering, but we’re still family. We still got love for each other. I remembered who I was, and I learned to love the citygod. It sends me messages in newspaper scraps and reflected neon lights. I offer it tobacco, coins, dancing, songs. It looks out for me, keeps me in a warm embrace, warns me of danger. I respect the ceremonies, and it keeps me out of the line of fire. I tell it stories, and it gives me more.
So don’t insult me as a vandal when I kiss this empty wall with poison painted sacred symbols. This is god talk. I tell you who the turf belongs to and who to respect. I tell you magic tales, remind you that the real hip hop is over here, in the free mind of the human. I tell you what you what we need to tell each other: we are still here.
We walk legendary.
Liz Cloudwalker, Wilma Mankiller, Sage Axe Wielder, Wolf Crusher Craig, Jesse Grizzly, Larry Dream Seer, Ice Heart Frank, Victor Vortex, Shadowpaint Lisa, Method Man, Malik the Concrete Shinobi.
In the city we’re separated, scattered tribes. We meet in dream moments and communicate the secret wisdom that maintains our power. We’re on every channel, but we are invisible.
The citygod birthed us.