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Thought-provoking prose of the wild and human, seated in the sublime, seasoned with irreverence.

With inspiring and informative creative essays, Earth Muffin Memos motivates you to instigate positive environmental, social and cultural change on our planet. Articles offer an alternative perspective and commentary on both current and timeless topics involving our environment, connecting to nature, disconnecting from technology, mountain and outdoor culture, sustainability, stewardship, community, modern culture, equality, humanitarian endeavors, communication and beyond. 

The Delusion of Dualism

By Molly Murfee


Artwork by Marc Simont

The Rainbow Book of American Folk Tales & Legends (1958)


I think of Bear this time of year, when all is finally muffled by the thick down of snow. She has burrowed beneath the soil-making leaf litter and detritus of summer, under rotting logs and fallen limbs, inside caves and hollows where dark reigns, no larger than the space needed to turn around, like an egg.


The basis of alchemy is the transformation of something common, into something extraordinary. Medieval alchemists spoke of the nigredo, matter’s original primitive state. Dark matter. Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung saw the nigredo as that point of maximum despair in a person’s life, and therefore the absolute pre-requisite for personal development. It is our essential shadow side with a day and night so blurred and dark we cannot make out the winding path before us.


Bear is an alchemist. In many North American indigenous tales, Bear teaches humans about medicine.

She enters earth’s womb alone. In the utter depths of winter sleep she gives birth, emerging in the spring trailed by rolling bundles of new life. Something from the seemingly nothing.

The gestation, however, is now. Growing those tiny seeds.


In our culture we’re not so good at embracing the fecund dark along with the light, accepting the shaded shamanic side of the equation. Rather than seeing the two as intertwined halves of the whole, we have invented a world of dualities, dichotomous language setting us up for either-or, boxes of this religion – or not. This political party – or not. In our delusion we weave tales about how our side is right, and the other – is not. We are good, and those that are different – are not. The good book did us no favors establishing inside the garden – and out. Earth and spirit as separate. Something – out there – is sacred. But this beneath our feet, the sea then soil that birthed the evolutionary chain eventually giving way to human life – is not. Facts and knowledge have given us a definitive knife edge on which to teeter, but of the myth and mystery of the abyss and void on either side … it is not.

This either-or, us-them, above-below mentality leaves us half blind, unable to see the whole truth. Our black and white vision denies the diversity of color, justifies dominion over and manipulation of, both people and planet. Suppress anything that’s different. You are either in the tribe - or out. Competition is obliterated, be it woman or wolf. Man is separate. The power of the pedestal. Lord over all. Dualism is essential for maintaining this control. Evil is flung to cling on the hopeless not. The recycling scavenger circles above the crumbling edifices. But dreams, also, occur in the dark, the collective unconscious dancing through time and space. We are all reflective raindrops in this web.

Not us nor our ancestors were all good, were all bad. We defend out goodness, without accepting our fault. We are not this – or that. We are all. The dark and the light. The life and the decay. Destruction, transformation, regeneration. In rites of initiation it is the middle space of the liminal - a space of neither-nor where the initiate has left the familiar, but not yet rejoined society, a space containing the possibility of everything - where the true transformation stands ready. Formless dark matter. Alchemy. Both chaos, and opportunity. The moon waxes and wanes. The sun rises and sets. The tempest, and the calm.

Ancient cultures knew this. They watched what was once alive fold back into the earth in winter, only to give birth again in spring. Their deities reflected it. The Celts speak of the old woman Cailleach, who, after thrashing winter storms against the rock, goes still for a time. She emerges months later as Brigid of snowdrops and green grass. And just as there were goddesses that presided over life and abundance, there were others, like the Morrigan, who reigned over death. A grimaced Sheela-na-gig, gaunt with skeletal ribs, pulls open her genitalia. The death hag gives birth to the universe. Here the dark was not bad, only the necessary material out of which new life could grow. A point in the spiral through which we must pass, again, and again, and again.

All spiritual traditions around the globe maintain a belief in this cosmic void, the formless that forms everything, contains everything, the creative life force that pulses through this animate earth emanating from the utter blackness. We are just one briefly flashing heartbeat in the midst of it all. Both the mystery, and the matter. Each of us – Bear and Human – both the whole, and the holy.


Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee specializes in nature and environmental writing cut with cultural and societal critique. Her current course – Writing Through the Changes – celebrating the seasons through journaling, meditation, creative writing and nature immersion is open for registration. Molly is also a Nature Writing Concentration faculty with the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western Colorado University. Sign up for Molly’s Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her ongoing book project; field-based Writing & Connection Workshops; online advertising and syndicate column opportunities; and freelance writing services at www.mollymurfee.com.

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About Molly

Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee’s favorite muse is wilderness and its inherent metaphor, especially as it winds through the passion and tenacity of mountain people living in the rhythms of their untamed home. She believes writing is a powerful vehicle for change - educating and motivating towards the preservation of our wild places and the assurance of human rights. Molly is a devoted op-ed columnist in her home community in the Southern Rocky Mountains, freelance writer, field educator and wilderness guide. She holds Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in literature, specializing in creative, nature and environmental writing with over 400 published articles (and counting) and a book project in process. For more on Molly, her writing and her teachings visit www.mollymurfee.com

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