"Seton Castle...on the last rampart of the Rockies where the Buffalo Wind is blowing."

Monday, October 22, 2012

St. Paul the Apostle

In her memoir, By a Thousand Fires, Nature Notes and Extracts from the Life and Unpublished Journals of Ernest Thompson Seton, Julia M. Seton writes of her husband that although he was “of a most genial disposition, with the utmost kindliness and tolerance toward life in general” he held two great antipathies – for his own father Joseph and for George Armstrong Custer. To this list Seton biographers H. Allen Anderson and Betty Keller added St. Paul the Apostle, although without attribution that I could find. Apparently, the supposed anti-feminist attitude of St. Paul cascaded down through the centuries to make life a misery for Joseph’s wife Alice within their marriage. Seton’s parents were religious fundamentalists, followers of Calvinism.

But – if Seton really had it out for St. Paul, it was a tragic misunderstanding – the two of them would have gotten along famously. Modern scholarship has distinguished between what Paul actually felt (an equality of men and women in Christ) and what was written by others but falsely attributed to him, the subjugation of women with which Seton took issue.

There is also this. Paul outlined one of the fundamental issues facing all civilized societies, the quest for peace (as in order within a society) through two opposing philosophies. One of these, modeled in Paul’s time by the Roman Empire, was the desire for peace through victory. The opposing Paulist position (based on ancient Jewish thought and the teachings of Jesus), was the desire for peace through justice. The latter approach was the ideal proposed by Seton’s Lifecraft philosophy.

One of the leading contemporary Christian scholars, John Dominic Crossan, discusses the role of women in the early Church and sets forth the important achieving peace through justice argument in his book, In Search of Paul, How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (HarperSanFrancisco 2004). I might have missed this book but for the kind guidance of Matthew Fox who is a prolific author, proponent of the philosophy of Creation Spirituality and visiting scholar at the Academy for the Love of Learning.

 Crossan writes, page 348:
…the only hierarchy Paul accepts is the primacy of those who best build up the community, and that can only be done by those who love, that is, those who share fully and completely what they have received as not their own to have, to use, or to boast about.

Compare this to Seton, page 1, Gospel of the Redman (Seton Village Press, 1937):
The culture and civilization of the Whiteman are essentially material; his measure of success is ‘How much property have I acquired for myself?’  The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, ‘How much service have I rendered to my people?’ 

In the Fourfold Path, Seton wrote about the service an individual owes the community (of humankind and wild-nature). One of these is the Service of Love where the heartfelt intention of kindness begins with those with whom we may be in closest contact and extends to all other persons and all other living things. Helpfulness grows from the work we do, from freely sharing what we have available for the benefit of others. Another way to put this is that in Seton’s understanding of traditional Native American society, an individual’s status was measured by how much he or she served the larger community. Seton’s error in this was attempting to suggest that such a system of ethics was particular to the indigenous peoples of North America. Buddhism as well as the Christianity of Jesus and Paul (to take but two obvious examples) show that the Service Way is of course a universal human trait, not one defined or limited by race. (The Fourfold Path is discussed further in the Seton pages at the Academy for the Love of Learning web site, due for publication late in 2012.)

Lifecraft then, is a manifestation of Paul’s peace through justice. Seton summarized his views in Gospel of the Redman. He listed as virtues: Religious tolerance. Wise and organized use of natural resources for the common good. Equalitarianism within society. Non-violent disciplining of children. Spiritual values favored over material values. Against abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and by implication, recreational drugs. Non-restrictive divorce laws. An attitude of anti-militarism.  

While this prescriptive path is not identical to that of St. Paul the Apostle, Lifecraft, with its emphasis on justice rather than victory, at least finds Seton and Paul in agreement on important deep fundamentals. Far from deserving listing on Seton’s enemies list, Paul and Seton could well have been on one another’s friends list.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Geography Lesson

Seton Institute and Grounds © 2012 Academy for the Love of Learning

October 8, 2012. Perfect autumn day, clear sky, light breeze out of the Southwest, temperature around 70°F (21°C) near summit of a hill Seton called Little Sister Mountain, a prominent point SE of the Castle and nearly 500 feet (152.5 meters) higher. The ruins of Seton Castle must be visible from here (since the peak is visible from the Castle), but I simply cannot make it out. I forgot to bring binoculars or compass. At least I remembered to show up for my appointment with two Seton Village neighbors, Marita Prandoni (who lives not far south of the Castle) and who works for the Academy, and Jerry Zollars who lives right by the Castle. Jerry has made extensive studies of Seton’s second New Mexico period (1920s-1946), reading all of Seton’s journals from that period.

I asked the two of them to help me identify place names from Seton’s 1937 map of his 2500 acre property on the DeVargas Land Grant. A number of high spots near the Castle – such as Sunset Hill, Raven Rocks, and the Hill of Memories, now support houses.

One particularly mysterious place is the “Piasa” cliff with its strange painted creature, part insect part something else with antlers. First painted by Seton, it was later maintained by his family, holding up rather well. It is based on a (now lost) rock painting from a cliff along the Mississippi River in Illinois first described in the 17th century. Apparently Seton was aware of a replica of it that existed in his time. What meaning it held for him, if any, is unknown, although I suspect its appearance on a cliff along Seton Village Road was purely whimsical. Due to tree growth along the arroyo, it is not easily spotted. The history of Piasa was discovered by my longtime research associate, Bob Hare. For more on his other discoveries in nature, history, art, and philosophy, see Wilderness Adventures with Bob Hare.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Seton Stories

A relative of Krag, Bighorn Ram, Pecos Wilderness, 2010
Copyright David L. Witt

On three different occasions this year, Seton stories have once more been told at Seton Castle: “Krag, The Kootenay Ram” in April, “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw” in September, and a selection of several stories during the celebration of his 152nd birthday in August. As curator of the Seton Legacy Project at the Academy for the Love of Learning, I have presented some of these. Other readers have included famed New Mexico storyteller Joe Hayes, and Acushla Bastible, actress and co-founder of Lifesongs (an Intergenerational Community Celebration of the Human Journey Through Music, Dance, and Story).

Acushla Bastible reading Lobo, The King of Currumpaw
at Seton Castle beneath the rising full moon, September 30, 2012
Especially thrilling was hearing Seton’s voice from a digitized recording made over a hundred years ago explaining the meaning of howls in “The Hunting Wolves.” How to describe that voice? Recorded when Seton was at the height of his popularity as a star lecturer, it sounds to my ear, rather antique with clear influences of both clipped British and droll Canadian. Even allowing for whatever distortion may have been built in by recording techniques of that time, it is clear that people simply do not today talk in the same way as they did then.

I don’t know when a recording of Seton’s voice was last played at the Castle nor when he himself may have given his final presentation of the “Lobo” story, but hearing the passionate sound of it echoing off the masonry walls and through the rooms of Seton Castle, punctuated with his wolf calls, was an important milestone for the Seton Legacy Project.

Digitized versions of several Seton stories were made available to us by Ron Edmonds who has created a web presence for Seton at Blue Sky, The Ernest Thompson Seton Pages. Another Seton researcher, Mary Elizabeth Bradley (who met Seton at the Castle) has gifted to the Academy a copy of the original 1906 RCA recording.  This record, along with original artwork and artifacts, may be seen at the Academy’s Seton Gallery.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Academy for the Love of Learning and the Seton Legacy Project

In the winter of 1893, in the broken hill country of northeastern New Mexico, a drama played out between a pack of gray wolves and a Canadian wolf hunter named Ernest Thompson Seton. The wolves lost in the struggle, but in an unexpected way they prevailed by changing the spirit of the man. Seton experienced a personal transformation, putting the best of what he learned to work in the world.

Ernest Thompson Seton, 1890
Library and Archives Canada
Seton became one of the first great proponents of wildlife conservation. He invented the literary genre of the realistic animal story. He established important principles for the sciences of animal behavior and ecology. As a master illustrator and best-selling author he reached an international audience of millions. His passion for self-reliance ethics and outdoor youth education led him to co-found the worldwide Boy Scout movement.

 Seton’s insights sparked a revolution in our perceptions of animals and wild nature, provided a model for environmentalism, and inspired generations of youth and adults to take to the outdoors for recreation, adventure, and solace.

The Seton Legacy Project promotes and makes known the life work of conservationist and educator Ernest Thompson Seton through exhibitions, publications and public presentations. The Academy for the Love of Learning has established the Seton Gallery and Archives for the display and study of Seton’s art, writings and philosophy. 

You are cordially invited to explore the history and meaning of Seton’s work through this series of essays and through programs at Seton Castle and the Seton Gallery. My book, Ernest Thompson Seton, the Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist (Gibbs Smith, 2010) is available through online booksellers or your local book retailer.

Please visit the Academy for the Love of Learning to to find out more about our programs. Coming soon: Updated web pages with Seton biography, writings, and Lifecraft philosophy.