Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Paintings from "Shamanic" Series


A long time ago I had a dream about a man who offered me fire.   In fact, I had the dream twice, and although I never fully understood it, I remember the dream still.   It is a beautiful metaphor for love, for courtship, for sacred sexuality, for a longing I must have felt then for being offered all of those things.

I rediscovered this painting in the process of looking through my files (I seem to be engaged very much in contemplation of my life these days).  I always loved it, never showed it, don't remember anyone ever saying anything about it to me, and finally it was destroyed, as so many of my paintings were.  It is hard to have opportunities to share paintings, and it is hard to store paintings, especially when they come off the canvases.  I am sad that it's lost, but glad that I have the image still.

I remember when I painted it, during a magnificent, magical residency at the (now defunct) Cummington Community, in Western Massachusetts, not far from where Emily Dickenson lived.  It was 1989, and I was reading Journey of the Wounded Healer by Joan Halifax, and was very much thinking about the way shamans and healers find their callings.  All of the paintings I did then were based on the concept of the Shamanic journey, and on my dreams.  The painting below was called "Fire Heart".  Now that I think about it, all of the paintings were also about Fire.  Which has always been my friend, and my Element.




Monday, December 27, 2021

Films for Hope

Toronto Tower, Canada  Studio Precht


I wanted to share, at the Eve of 2022, the link to this amazing resource of documentaries about people, and technologies, and "New Stories" that are all about hope, sustainability, evolution, and solutions to the crisis of our time.   As the creators of Films for Action say:

 "Stop imagining the apocalypse; start imagining the revolution."

https://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/cancel-the-apocalypse-documentaries-to-help-unlock-the-good-ending

Shilda winery in Kakheti, Georgia   -   Copyright  X-architecture

"Our present moment is saturated in dystopian, apocalyptic fantasies of the future.  As the late Mark Fisher said, "It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” We can envision a thousand ways that humanity might destroy itself and the rest of the world, but positive visions of the future remain severely lacking in comparison. Why is that?

The Dark Ages led to the Renaissance. Feudalism led to capitalism. No era remains stagnant forever. But there's an invisible meme in our culture today that says capitalism is the greatest economic idea humanity has ever invented and it will never be surpassed. That's why a thousand dystopian visions of the future all imagined that capitalism stayed the same, our economic paradigm never evolved... and then the world was eventually destroyed. Could the two be connected? Is our failure to imagine something better than capitalism going to be what actually leads to "the bad ending" for humanity? 

What this points to, in our view, is a crisis of imagination.  Humans at heart are storytellers, and we enact the stories we tell ourselves. As we've written before, our culture is enacting a story that's destroying the world. If humanity is going to unlock "the good ending," we've got to imagine it first. We've got to imagine ten thousand localized versions of it. That's how things change. 

Fortunately, visions of a more beautiful, compassionate, regenerative future already exist. But since they're not being broadcast daily on the evening news, we've got to dedicate a little more energy towards broadcasting them ourselves. This is what this list of films is for. These films decided that the apocalypse is canceled. Climate change is canceled. Biodiversity loss is canceled. A comeback of this scale has never been attempted before, but that's why it's going to work.  The people in these films aren't listening to the folks that say it's too late. They're imagining the future they want, not the future they're afraid of, and they're bringing that future into being.

Whether we're ultimately successful is not the point, and beyond anyone's ability to truly know. The point is that our true nature calls us to choose determination over defeat, and resilience over despair.   We hope these films inspire the former - that place in your heart that knows a better world *is* possible, and is ready to make it happen."

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Winter Solstice: Bridgit's Poem

 

BRIDGIT

 "God's abstention is only from human dialects;

 the holy voice utters its woe and glory in myriad musics,

 in signs and portents. 

 Our own words are for us to speak,

 a way to ask and to answer." 

.....Denise Levertov


There are some gifts that come to us

just once or twice in a lifetime,

gifts that cannot be named

beyond the simple act of gratitude.

 

We are given a vision so bountiful

we can only gaze with eyes wide,

like a child in summer's first garden.

 

We reach our clumsy hands

toward that communion

that single perfection

and walk away speechless, blessed.

 

And breathe, in years to come

breathe, breathe our hearts open

aching to tell it well

to sing it into every other heart

to dance it down, into the hungry soil

to hold it before us

 

that light,

  that grace given

  voiceless light

 

Lauren Raine (1999)

The Winter Solstice: The Shortest Day

 

 "Only now can we see with clarity that we live not so much in a cosmos (a place) as in a cosmogenesis (a process) -- scientific in its data, mythic in its form."  

~ The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry  

The Winter Solstice was the first universal holy day, celebrated in different ways  throughout the world from the earliest days of human culture. When language was young, when even the gods and goddesses had not yet taken human forms in the human imagination, but ran instead with deer in the forest, flew with the wings of crows, or were glimpsed nameless from the awed depths of every numinous pool........ even then, this was a holy day, a day of celebration. 

Long ago ancestors lit fires to welcome the "shining god" who was the sun returning from mysterious underworld depths. They built stones or made circles or created doorways to be aligned with the sun's pathway. They lit fires as sympathetic magic, fires to light and imitate the Sun's passage as the Sun returned to the world  (which is why we still light candles, and Christmas lights, today). 

THE SHORTEST DAY

BY SUSAN COOPER 


So the shortest day came, and the year died,

And everywhere down the centuries

of the snow-white world


Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.


They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive


And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake

They shouted, reveling.


Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us—Listen!!

All the long echoes sing the same delight,

This shortest day,


As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.


And so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.

Welcome Yule!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Tis the Season for.............Wassailling!

 

Winter Solstice Blessings to All!

Instead of seeing "nature" as "other", or a "resource",  earlier times often had a mythic, even friendly and reciprocal, relationship with the extended community of life. When we talk to the trees, the  animals, even stones………..we might just might begin to notice that we get a response sometimes!  For example, the old English custom  of telling the bees when someone has died in a farm family - and there are actually documented cases of a swarm of bees turning up at the funeral!  How vain it is of us to think we are the only intelligences sharing this beautiful planet.  

“Wassailing” has thus also included a tradition of  singing to trees in celebration of Christmas, of the all important return of the Sun.  Who is  to say that the apple trees don’t enjoy being part of the festivities? How would our world be a different place if we saw apple trees as being our generous friends, or inviting bees to the funeral of those they have lived among for so long, as a regular bit of hospitality?  

Although Wassail is popularly a spiced cider drink, often with brandy added and served hot, originally it included the  Yuletide custom of  singing to the trees, in particular, the orchards  of apple trees from which the celebratory drink came.  The spiced cider was offered in honor to the trees,  and around the time of the Solstice,   traditional wassail would be prepared – soaking pieces of bread, cake or toast in it – and Wassailers would travel from apple orchard to apple orchard singing carols   to the trees, in order to demonstrate appreciation for the harvest being enjoyed.  Wassail-soaked pieces of bread or toast were then left at the trees’ roots or hung in the trees’ branches to appease the tree spirits and feed them well until the next harvest.

Like the Romans'  offerings on small farm shrines dedicated  to the "Numina", the spirits of place that assisted them with their crops and orchards (the indigenous Roman Goddess Pomona, whose name meant "apple",  originated as a Numen of the orchards), this custom, which is still practiced with a lot of good cheer  in some rural areas of  England, reflects that ancient pagan sense of "reciprocity" with an intelligent, spiritually  inhabited natural world.

Here's what goes on in Whimple, England to this very day:  (http://www.whimple.org/wassail.htm)

 Our ritual follows the traditional well-tried and tested ceremony of our predecessors with the Mayor in his robes of office and the Princess carrying lightly toasted bread in her delicately trimmed flasket, whilst the Queen, wearing her crown of Ivy, Lichen and Mistletoe, recites the traditional verse. The original Whimple Incantation has been retained:
Here's to thee, old apple tree,That blooms well, bears well.Hats full,caps full,Three bushel bags full,An' all under one tree.Hurrah! Hurrah!
Her Majesty is then gently but manfully assisted up the treein order to place the cyder-soaked toast in the branches whilst the assembled throng, accompanied by a group of talented musicians, sing the Wassail Song and dance around the tree. The Mulled Cider or 'Wassail Cup' is produced and everyone takes a sample with their 'Clayen Cup'.





I read recently  that our habit of "toasting" may go back to Wassail revelries.  "Waes hael"  revelers would say,  from the Old English term  meaning "be well".  Eventually  "wassail" referred less to the greeting and more to the drink.  The contents of the Wassail bowl varied, but a popular one was known as 'lambs wool'. It consisted of hot ale, roasted crab apples, sugar, spices, eggs, and cream served with little pieces of toast. It was the toast floating on the top that made it look like lamb's wool.  The toast that was traditionally floated atop the wassail eventually became our "toast" -  when you hold up your glass and announce, “Let’s have a toast,”  or  ”I’ll toast to that,” you’re remembering this very old ritual of floating a bit of toast in spiced ale or mulled wine or wassail in celebration.

Wassailing – visiting neighbors (and much appreciated, friendly trees), singing carols  and sharing warmed drink – is a tradition related to the Winter Solstice with ancient roots indeed.  


I found a good Wassail recipe, which I've taken the liberty of sharing at the end of this post.  I don't know if I'll be going out to sing to the Saguaros  this Solstice myself...... but who knows what I might end up doing if I drink enough Wassail with brandy.  I'm sure the Saguaros wouldn't mind the attention.  Happy Wassailing!

Photo by Martin Beebee

 Apple Tree Wassailing Chants and Rhymes

Compiled in The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton

From the South Hams of Devon, recorded 1871: 

Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Bushel--bushel--sacks full,
And my pockets full too! Huzza!

From Cornworthy, Devon, recorded 1805:

Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white, and the liquor be brown
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the very health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such a stores
That the bags and chambers and house run o'er.

http://www.cctvcambridge.org/sites/default/files/imagefield/spirit_of_%20yule.jpg 

http://www.aspicyperspective.com/2013/09/wassail-recipe.html

Yield: 10-12 servings,  Prep Time: 5 minutes, Cook Time: 4 hours

Wassail Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 1 gallon Apple Cider
  • 4 cups orange juice
  • 4 hibiscus tea bags
  • 10 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp. whole cloves
  • 1 Tb. juniper berries
  • 1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into slices
  • 1 apple, sliced into rounds
  • 1 orange, sliced into rounds

Directions:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cover.
  2. Turn the slow cooker on high heat and cook for 3-4 hours, until the color has darkened and the fruit is soft. Remove the tea bags and serve hot.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Coyote Trots Thru All Our Certainties......

 

"Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans"   Allen Saunders

                                                                          🐺

“The truth is all of life is a grand, blooming ambiguity"

James Hollis: WHAT MATTERS MOST: Living a More Considered Life

                                                                         🐺

"Coyote is an anarchist. She can confuse all civilized ideas simply by trotting through. And she always fools the pompous. Just when your ideas begin to get all nicely arranged and squared off, she messes them up. Things are never going to be neat, that's one thing you can count on.   Coyote walks through all our minds. Obviously, we need a trickster, a creator who made the world all wrong. We need the idea of a God who makes mistakes, gets into trouble, and who is identified with a scruffy little animal."

Ursula Leguin, "Coming Back From the Silence"

                                                                       🐺

 I recently had a silent retreat at an (almost) deserted former Benedictine Monastery I go to.  Wonderful! Solitude, just me and the peacocks that live there, and Coyote.  In every sense of the word,  just when I was ready for a visitation from an Angel or a Goddess, guess who turned up? Sometimes that voice of chaos is exactly the voice you need to hear.

Yellow Dog

 

Coyote howls a midnight serenade

to the desert tonight,

Her chorus answers, noisy as all hell. 

She brays down a tale about the frayed moon,

a prairie dog’s misfortune,

old dancing bones,

and all my carefully conceived plans.

 

Coyote is running tonight

between the splintered shutters

of my house of doors,

laughing through every tattered crevice

in all my certainties.

 

That yellow dog

Is a real pain

 

(1996)

 

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent,

intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

Ursula Leguin


Thursday, December 9, 2021

An Image for Grace - from my Divination Deck



I just felt like looking at this image again, one of my favorite paintings
 from my Rainbow Bridge Oracle The painting is only 8"x 4", a study I did in painting small.  Recently, despairing of ever doing much marketing for it, I gave the Oracle deck to a friend to market, just giving me a royalty.  I want to share this rather huge body of work, and the book I wrote to accompany it, with a larger audience but seem to lack the marketing skills;  so I am hopeful she will do something with it.  I worked hard on the inspiration to create this deck, as I used to be a professional Tarot reader.  She wants to create a boxed set with a small book enclosed, as a limited edition Tarot Deck.  Sounds good to me! 



Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Frau Holle's Time of Year!

 

I  pull this post out just about every winter,  along of course  with the one on Father Christmas and Odin.   I love Frau Holle, who emerges from the landscape of Northern myth at this time of year, and leads us back and back and back to ancient origins........if you've encountered this piece before, please indulge me..........

One of the  Goddesses that reflects the flux of seasonal cycles, and belongs truly to Winter,  is the Nordic  Frau Holle. Holle has very ancient origins indeed, and may have been a prehistoric, a pre-Christian  Weaver Goddess, a Spinner of fate. 

Mother  Holle is very much associated with Yule, and with the warmth of hearth and home, especially in the winter.   Also known as Holda or Hulda, she is a manifestation of the Pagan  triple goddess,  embodying the passages of life through birth to death, in both light and dark. In some early  myths, she is "the ash girl", her face half black with soot and half white.  

This remarkable metaphor  comes from a story of how,  in order to marry the God of Winter she had to come to him neither naked nor clothed, and neither in light or darkness (thus, both the "White Goddess"  and the "Dark Goddess").   Like the myth of  Persephone, who becomes the Queen of both death and spring,   Holle (perhaps, fittingly, related to words like  "Holy", "wholly",  and "whole"?)  in old age  is Winter's Queen, and encompasses the Circle of dualities

As old Mother Holle/Holda, it was believed that  she brought  soft snow to put the world to bed.     Mother Holda is the source of  the  "Mother Goose"  legends, because the snow flies when she shakes the feathers from her down feather bed.  In Holland, they still say that 'Dame Holle is shaking her bed'

 For anyone who may wonder where the "flying broomsticks" of witches (or Harry Potter) comes from, Dame Holda is probably  the original source.  Because of her association with the hearth and home, the Broom was both a symbol as well as a  magical tool.  Folk traditions of "sweeping away evil from the hearth" are found throughout Europe. As a symbol of the Hearth ("the Heart of the household") it is interesting to see this also transformed into the "vehicle of witches" as Pagan mythology, and folk rituals, became transformed and often diabolized in later Christian times.    In later folktales, Frau Holle becomes a fearsome hag, riding her broom and bringing the storms of winter.

 
"Frau Holle, as she is known in Germany, was called The Queen of the Witches. The brothers Grimm tell a story of step-sisters who both go to visit Frau Holle in the 'nether realms'. They begin their journey to her by falling in a well............Holle's name is linguistically related to the word Halja, which means "covering", and is the ancient Teutonic name for Hel, the Norse land of the dead. Holle is sometimes called the Queen of the Dead, and resides in the 'nether' regions. She possibly lent her name to the country Holland, 'the land of Holle', which is also called the Netherlands because many parts of the country are below sea-level." 
Sandra Kleinschmitt


Holda/Holle/Hel  is  both light and dark, young and old, illumination and shadow, living in the "nether world" and the material world. Holle demonstrates the non-duality of nature.  Spring becoming Summer becoming Winter becoming born again.   Whole.
  
 As the mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out in many ways throughout his writings, to understand the evolution of myth is to understand many interconnected things, including the evolution of language and religion.  One of my personal images that I often find myself making are  "dual" masks, masks that are half black and half white, or half "underground" and half "above ground vegetation".  "Helkappes".........


"Our Lady of Chaos and Order" (2013)

 I think this reflects my sense of how very important holistic consciousness is, personally and collectively, whether we speak of "shadow work", the coming to terms with the ebbs and flows of self, or the cycles of our Mother Earth, the ebbs and flows of the seasons and the creation/death/rebirth cycle.  Whether microcosm or macrocosm, to try to live within the perspective of  the Whole. 

So who is  Hel, the ashy side of Holle's face, from whose name we get "Hell"?  

Besides being the origin of the word people use daily as a swear word, and millions of Christians have a mighty fear of going to if they don't get baptized or redeemed (and blissfully ignorant of where the  concept originated from).  

Hell  has been used, very effectively,  by the early  church  as a scare tactic to frighten the masses into “righteous” acts. People no longer remember that once "go to Hell" meant, simply,  to die and go to the underground realm of the Dark Goddess.  To get the real story, we have to go back to the early Nordic peoples with their Triple Mother,  and look this death Goddess in the face.  

"Hel" by Susan Seddon Boulet

Hel has a realm in the netherworld or the underworld (and the idea of underworld, or womb/tomb Goddesses is very ancient indeed, going back to the Paleolithic, and may be part of the apparent sanctity of caves and their amazing cave paintings.).  She is the ruler of that underworld country  to which souls who have not died in battle will depart. As thanks for making Her ruler of the netherworld, Hel makes a gift to Odin. She gives him two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory).  In Nordic mythology Ravens are messengers between this realm and the next, psychopomps that can open pathways.  

 Johannes Gehrts

The name of Her realm is Helheim, and perhaps like Maat of Egypt, Hel is the judge of each soul that enters her realm.   Those who were cruel and evil in life must endure a place of icy cold for a while as punishment (a fate that the  people of ancient Scandinavia and Germany apparently  found much worse than a nice warm lake of fire). Unlike the Christian concept of Hell as a place of eternal damnation and punishment, however, Helheim also served as the shelter (womb of regeneration) for  souls waiting to be reincarnated. 

"Hel watches over those who died peacefully of old age or illness. She cares for children and women who die in childbirth.  She guides those souls who do not choose the path of war through the circle of death to rebirth."

 Rowen Saille of the Order of the White Moon

Like Persephone, who is both the Spring Maiden and the Queen of  Hades, Hel as the dark side of Holle governs  the underworld or invisible realm. In magic, like Hecate, she is a pathfinder  where the  veil between worlds is thin.

"Magic is the art of changing consciousness  at will."   ............ Starhawk
 Seidhr [SAY-theer] or Nordic shamans called upon Hel's protection, and in doing so they  wore  "the helkappe", a magic mask, to render them invisible and enable them to pass through the gateway into the realm of death and spirit.  The Helkappe was a mask,  thus understood as a transformative, liminal tool that enabled one to  transit between the seeming dualities of life..........and like masks and sacred drums  throughout the world's traditions, it was infused with shamanic power.  


To take the wisdom of this  metaphor further, to thus wear a mask  as a psychic  tool was to  engage consciously with the continual flux of personae - young/old, dark/light, good/bad, male/female.   This is the realm of the soul, beyond duality, beyond time.  Wearing the "Helkappe", in whatever way one may imagine such a mask........enables one to enter both realms.


A wonderful commentary on Holle/Hel come from the   Goddess Inspired  Blog  by Silvestra, who has helped me to understand the  non-duality of this myth, and it's unfathomably ancient origins.  Rather than me try to paraphrase her, I take the liberty of copying the article here, and provide the link to her Blog below.

"Mother Holle  started off Her existence as the Goddess of Death and Regeneration. During the Neolithic in what Marija Gimbutas termed Old Europe people believed in the cyclical nature of all existence. Every ending was understood to be the beginning of a new chapter. Death, rather than being the final end, was seen as a resting stage prior to new life. Just as seeds rest deep undergound during the cold winter months waiting to sprit up as a seedling in spring, so were the dead seen as having returned to the Goddess’ dark womb to await renewal and rebirth.

The Goddess of Death and Regeneration was associated with winter and the colour white. Small stiff white Goddess figurines with small breasts and exaggerated pubic triangles were placed alongside the dead in order for Her to accompany the person on her or his journey of renewal. The Goddess of Death and Regeneration was not feared or seen as being evil, but instead was considered to be benevolent and generous.

                       Mandorla of the Spinning Goddess (1982)  by Judith Anderson
“She holds dominion over death, the cold darkness of winter, caves, graves and tombs in the earth….but also receives the fertile seed, the light of midwinter, the fertilized egg, which transforms the tomb into a womb for the gestation of new life.”..... Marija Gimbutas 

Old white-haired Mother Holle and Her underground realm are one interpretation of this aspect of the Goddess. In the fairy tale Mother Holle is described as being kind and generous and very just. She lives at the bottom of a well. The well itself can be interpreted as being the birth canal leading to Her dark underground womb...........Mother Holle is described as having ugly big teeth, a big nose and a flat foot. The latter shows her love for weaving or spinning, another sacred act associated with the Goddess: She is the Life Weaver, the Spinner of Destiny and Fate.

Mother Holle was known all across the Germanic world. She was called Holle in Germany, Hel or Hella in Scandinavia and Holde on the British Isles. She is the origin for the word hell and its German variant Hölle, as well as words such as holy and holding in English and Höhle (= cave) in German.

The Scandinavian Goddess Hel is probably the most widely known version of Mother Holle as Goddess, although by the time the Indo-European Norse wrote down their religious beliefs, Hel was no longer the benevolent Regeneratrix of the Neolithic. She had become the dreaded Queen of the Dead.

As was the case during the Neolithic, Hel’s realm Nifhelheim also lies below the earth at the root of the World Tree. Incidentally the bottom of the World Tree is also home to the three Norns, Weavers of Destiny. While, as said above, originally the Goddess of Death and Regeneration was also the Weaver of Fate and Fortune, later beliefs separate Her more and more into Her various aspects. 

"Hermod before Hela" John Dollman.


Despite being feared by the Norse as the dreaded Hag of Death, Hel has Her benevolent roots hidden in plane sight. Being linked to the earth, She is one of the old Vanir Earth Goddesses, Vanir meaning “the Giving One”.

In Central Europe Mother Holle also evolved over time. Instead of becoming the Goddess of the Underworld, though, She became the Queen of Elves and the Mistress of Witches. Her character was actually very similar to that of Greek Hekate, the old Crone who roams the world with Her fearsome dogs.   Around 900CE Frau Holle had become an old weather hag who was said to ride in on Her broom stick bringing with Her whirlwinds and snowfall. Her life-giving generous nature was retained more in Germany than in Scandinavia, as even during Christian times She was seen as bringing life to the land causing growth, abundance and good fortune."

 http://goddessinspired.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/mother-holle-the-germanic-goddess-of-death-and-renewal-weaver-of-fate-and-fortune

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Why We Need the Dark

 

"We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us."

The Winter Solstice approaches again,  and I find myself longing each day for rest, solitude, reflection, the incubatory quietude of this time.  I need so much more of that in my life, and the cycle of the season calls for it. I pay attention to my own fear of "stopping", my own preoccupation with busy-ness as the Night approaches and wishes to be heard. I have decided to forgo Christmas this year, in heeding that call.

Here is a post from last year I that I feel like revisiting and sharing again,  I love this article by Clark Strand

_____________________________________________________________________________

I remember a winter night many years ago, when I lived in the country in upstate N.Y..   I shared a house with a second story living room that had a big picture window,  A  mid-winter snowstorm had left us stranded in a shimmering blanket of snow.  One could look out on that field of white, illuminated by the dark sky, the moon, and an occasional star,  into a vast,  dark silence.   For a while the lights went out, but we had no shortage of candles, and somehow that makes the memory even sweeter for me.  The intensity of the dark and the silence  of the snow that long ago December was not frightening, but intimate,  a landscape for sleep, for the incubation of dreams, a place to heal from the frenzy of achievement and obligation, a darkness ripe with dormant life.  A place where we could lie together in the warmth of our bed, becoming aware of  the occasional sound of snowfall, or an animal moving outside.  

I remember recently seeing a time lapse film of cities - vast networks of light, sky scrapers and traffic rushing along freeways like blood coursing along arteries, and I was struck by how much it looked like some kind of organism frenetically pulsing and extruding itself and consuming everything around it.  The truth is, it had a terrible beauty - the shimmering, glittering urban  triumph of humanity over nature, over the darkness.  Or is it truly "triumph"?  How is it possible we have so forgotten that we are not the conquerors of nature, but part of nature?  Have we failed to see, in our blinding pursuit of speed and of "illumination" that we are also animals, participating in the cycles and seasons of the life of Gaia, needing rest, incubation, renewal, and the sweet silence of the dark.

Newgrange at the Winter Solstice

In the years since, I have so often thought of those winter nights. 

I  take the liberty of reprinting here a wonderful article by Clark Strand, whose book is well worth reading.  He has had such nights too, of that I'm sure. 




9780812997729


By CLARK STRAND
December 19, 2014

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — WHEN the people of this small mountain town got their first dose of electrical lighting in late 1924, they were appalled. “Old people swore that reading or living by so fierce a light was impossible,” wrote the local historian Alf Evers. That much light invited comparisons. It was an advertisement for the new, the rich and the beautiful — a verdict against the old, the ordinary and the poor. As Christmas approached, a protest was staged on the village green to decry the evils of modern light.

Woodstock has always been a small place with a big mouth where cultural issues are concerned. But in this case the protest didn’t amount to much. Here as elsewhere in early 20th-century America, the reluctance to embrace brighter nights was a brief and halfhearted affair.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. But few of us will turn off the lights long enough to notice. There’s no getting away from the light. There are fluorescent lights and halogen lights, stadium lights, streetlights, stoplights, headlights and billboard lights. There are night lights to stand sentinel in hallways, and the lit screens of cellphones to feed our addiction to information, even in the middle of the night. No wonder we have trouble sleeping. The lights are always on.

In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.

In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.

Advances in science, industry, medicine and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of light. The only casualty was darkness, a thing of seemingly little value. But that was only because we had forgotten what darkness was for. In times past people took to their beds at nightfall, but not merely to sleep. They touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life. Now that deeper darkness has turned against us. The hour of the wolf we call it — that predatory insomnia that makes billions for big pharma. It was once the hour of God.

There is, of course, no need to fear the dark, much less prevail over it. Not that we could. Look up in the sky on a starry night, if you can still find one, and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe. There is so much of it, in fact, that it simply has to be the foundation of all that is. The stars are an anomaly in the face of it, the planets an accident. Is it evil or indifferent? I don’t think so. Our lives begin in the womb and end in the tomb. It’s dark on either side.

We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us. And the earth, too, needs that rest. The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the darkness will come looking for us.