Mankind: The Modern Mystery and Myth

This piece is featured in this month’s issue of the BeZine. For a link to the complete issue, click here.

The hero’s journey is a deeply challenging topic for an amateur writer and philosopher. What a great invitation to read and research, to tie strands together and squint to see a pattern! Typically, I submit essays to this forum, as I am much more comfortable in prose. This time, however, I decided that an essay on this topic would be way too ambitious. What I have is Swiss cheese and spiderwebs, full of holes and only loosely connected, so I thought a poem would be more appropriate.  However, I will preface this one with a bibliography.  I began with the final chapter of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, where I read this:

“Today all of these mysteries [“the great pantomime of the sacred moon-king, the sacred sun-king, the hieratic, planetary state, and the symbolic festivals of the world-regulating spheres”] have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche. The notion of a cosmic law, which all existence serves and to which man himself must bend, has long since passed through the preliminary mystical stages represented in the old astrology, and is now simply accepted in mechanical terms as a matter of course. The descent of the Occidental science from the the heavens to the earth (from 17th century astronomy to 19th century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in 20th century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the force of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.” (emphasis mine)

That reading led me to recall lectures I heard from Dave Foreman at the Wilderness 50 conference. His essay on “The Anthropocene and Ozymandius” can be found in several online posts. From there, I considered Nietzsche’s Übermensch from Also Sprach Zarathustra. And always underlying my thoughts is my admiration for Buddhist practice and The Middle Way. So, with all that as the primordial soup, this emerged:

Homo sapiens sapiens
Oh most separate, separating
Anthropocene anthropocentric
The Egoid egotist
Ozymandius, great Wizard of Man
Eyes on screen
Fingertips fiddling

Journey who will
That
Über undertaking
Condescend to transcend
Dare to die in darkness,
Awake in wilderness
At one, atoned
In mystic Middle

Cosmic consumption
Preposterous presumption
Unsustainable usurpation
Deplorable devastation

Parading Nero
Begs a humbler hero

hero

© 2015 – poem, essay and photograph, copyright Priscilla Galasso.  All rights reserved.

 

Historic Before Pre-historic…Trip Phase 4

Leaving the National Forest and re-entering the 21st century was a bit of an adjustment.  How ironic that we fled from a generator only to find ourselves in a modern hotel room with no less than 14 electrical appliances to its 60 square feet of space!  I immediately turned off the heater and fan and also a separate air purifier.  I unplugged the refrigerator.  Still, every 15 minutes, something made a punctuated whooshing sound.  Eventually, I figured out it was an air freshener mechanism above the door releasing a neutralizing odor into our “smoking Queen” like clockwork.  I learned how to sleep through it for a few hours. 

Since we had traveled so far north in search of room in the inn, we decided to keep going on into Ohio.  We crossed the Ohio River at Portsmouth and found our way toward Wayne National Forest.  We stopped in at the public library in a light rain to do a bit of research, and there, Steve made a discovery that changed our course.  We had promised ourselves a “splurge” portion on this trip.  Paying more than $100 for a room at a franchised motel off the Interstate did not count.  But now, we were within 2 hours of a bonafide historic hotel in a state that Steve had never visited.   We decided to go east to Parkersburg, West Virginia, to spend the night at the Blennerhassett Hotel and then return to Ohio the next day to visit the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park.  From there, we decided we’d head back home directly.  There comes a time when you know that your adventure has taught you something important and you need to pull back to your interior to focus on that.  It’s like a mythical journey: leaving home, learning, and returning changed.  But every hero needs some time and a place to figure out what he’s learned.  We figured we were close enough to use home base as that place.

Nestled deep in our gear, we found dress shoes, a long skirt for me and a tie for Steve.  We were off to enjoy a dash of historic elegance and some truly fine food, not cooked over  a campfire.  We were not disappointed.

Final phase: the Pre-historic.  That’ll be my next post.  Thanks for following so far!

Space in 3D

I went back to school today at the Wehr Nature Center for volunteer teacher training, and I finally figured out how the moon’s phases and eclipses are produced.  It took a hands-on experiment with a classroom of adults to finally get the concept across.  There was a bare light-bulb illuminated on a stand.  We all stood around in a circle, facing it.  Then we were each handed a four-inch Styrofoam ball on a stick.  This represented the moon.  We were the earth.  Placing the ball in front of us at arm’s length to block out the light from the bulb, we got the concept of a solar eclipse.  Moving the ball slightly so that the shadow no longer fell on our faces symbolizes the new moon.  Taking the “mooncicle” in an orbit to our left, we watched the crescent of light appear and grow larger until it reached the quarter moon position at a 90 degree angle.  Then, we circled it around until we were between the “moon” and the “sun”.  Our shadow cast on the moon is a lunar eclipse.  Eclipses don’t happen every month, because the moon’s orbit isn’t in synch like that.  Crescent on the left is waxing, crescent on the right is waning .  Got it.  Then our naturalist asked us, “Does the moon rotate?”  Um.  Well, there’s a dark side of the moon that we never see, so….no?  Wrong.  If the moon didn’t rotate, we’d see the dark side eventually.  Because the moon rotates just once every month, we always see its face.  Huh?  It wasn’t until two volunteers did a “do-Si-doe” maneuver and then an earth-facing cycle that I realized that the moon rotates in order to always face the earth.  Ah, the light dawns!!

Then we did an experiment that proved to me that learning about astronomy from a 2-dimensional textbook was not helpful!  We partnered up.  One person got a 4-inch ball for the earth.  One got a pom-pom sized ball for the moon.  We were asked to hold those objects at the distance we figured would represent a scale model of the actual distance the moon is away from the earth.  I eye-balled it at about 12 inches.  That’s what I remember from illustrations and posters.  We were then handed a piece of string that had been measure to the real scale.  I took my end and began walking.  I ended up 10 feet away.  In order to put that scale into a textbook, the dot for the moon would be too small for most kids to see.

Waxing Crescent

Here’s another little blip of information that I discovered.  During the month of August, my birth month, the predominant constellation visible in the southern sky is called Aquila.  Aquila means “eagle” and according to mythology, he was a pet of Jupiter and did many tasks for him (like continually attacking Prometheus while he was bound to a mountain side).  There is also a character in the Bible named Aquila.  He was the husband of Priscilla.  I wonder if my parents were aware of this ancient coincidence when they named their August girl Priscilla?

I could barely wait to get home and tell Steve what I learned.  I love school!

 

Have Some Divinity

The premise is this: for each day in December, instead of counting down on an Advent calendar, I’m counting the free gifts we all get every day.  Today’s gift is divinity, but I don’t mean the candy.  I mean The Divine, The Sacred, The Holy and experiences of them.  Don’t we all have the opportunity to receive that every day?  If you look for it, will you find it?  I think so.

So, what is sacred?  How do you recognize the divine and holy?  In art, there’s always a halo or a sunbeam to give you a clue.  What about here on earth?

‘Namaste’ is the Sanskrit greeting recognizing the existence of another person and the divine spark in that person, with the hands pressed together in front of the heart chakra.  I think the divine spark exists in every living thing as the breath of life.  Every encounter with a living thing is an experience of the divine.  We hardly ever act like that is true, however.  But we could.  Native Americans and many African tribes have hunting rituals that celebrate the sacred exchange of life.  The hunted animal is divine, sacrificing itself for the life of the hunter, and the hunter shows a holy appreciation.  Often, when I look at macro photography of living things, flower stamens, insects, mosses, I am compelled to worship the divine in the detail.  Life is sacred and beautiful.  Looking closely and deeply is a way to practice recognizing that.

Seeing macro, but lacking the lens

In a dualistic world view, the mundane and the divine are polar opposites.  One is worldly, one is sacred.  If this world were imbued with holiness, if God became incarnate and entered flesh in this world, those opposites would run together like watercolors.  Many cultures believe this is the truth about life.  The waters under the firmament and the waters above the firmament are separated in one telling of the creation story, but the Spirit of God was moving over all of the waters from the very beginning, even in that story.  The understanding that divinity is everywhere has inspired people all over the globe for centuries.  This place we inhabit is special; it’s valuable.  It’s all holy.  This is the beginning of respect for the Universe and everything in it.  Somewhere in Western history, that idea lost its power.  Earth and everything in it became base and fallen.  Good turned to bad and life turned to death.  I’m not sure if that new idea has been very helpful.  I rather think it hasn’t.  And I don’t think it has to be that way.  It’s an idea, after all.  So if it’s not a helpful idea, why support it?  How would you rather live?  In a fallen world or in a world where the sacred and divine can be found everywhere?  Just wondering out loud.  I’m not saying that one idea is right and the other wrong.  The glass is neither half full nor half empty.  It’s a glass, and there’s water in it.  The rest is conceptual.  Why argue?  Choose how to live with the glass and the water.   As for me and my house, “I choose happy.”  (One of Jim’s conclusive statements.)

I hope this gives you something to ponder for today.  If you like, you can add a scene of Edmund Pevensie in Narnia being asked by the White Witch what he craves.  “It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating.  What would you like best to eat?”  “Turkish Delight, please your Majesty!” he responds.  What if he had said, “Divinity”?  Same story, nuanced.  I would like to taste the sacred in this world, and I believe it’s here.