Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
Jungian seminar all day today. AM we discussed the nature of mystery cults in the religious context of the early Greco-Roman world, especially Serapis. Then we switched gears and looked even more closely at Isis and Osiris. PM we did faux dream analysis: faux in two regards—1. We picked the dreams off the Association for Dream Studies Website and so do not know anything about the dreamer; and, 2. We are unable to query the dreamer as we move through the analysis. Both of these inhibit an accurate analysis, but do not deter learning from attempting such analysis.
Oddly, the most significant moment of the day came over lunch when Lorna, a first-year seminar member like myself, told me, “I trust you; I feel safe with you.” Of course, I always hope people feel that way with me, but to hear it out loud was an unexpected and warm feeling.
I feel very lucky in having expanded my circle of acquaintances through the collection in focus program at the Minneapolis Art Institute, the Jungian seminar, and the drawing class with Sheila Asato. As most of you who read this know, I’m no extrovert, but I have found, especially in the Jungian seminar and the drawing class, folks on journeys surprisingly similar to my own, yet far off enough point to have valuable perspective.
Pilgrimages do seem to collect fellow travelers. If we seek an authentic path, we have a better chance of journeying with persons resonant for us.
Feeling dry, no juice. When I feel this way, sometimes a way in is to just begin to write, as somebody I read said, “We don’t write what we understand so much as we write in order to understand.” A ring of truth here for me.
As I write, some gate opens, a gate unknown to me, a gate open to a secret garden. Through the gate come fantastic creatures, beautiful plants, sad and joyful humans, ideas of various kinds, notions not accessible by ordinary consciousness.
I’m fond of neurobiology, brain and mind science, psychology, and the philosophy of mind/consciousness because they engage this curious phenomenon: the thinker investigating thinking, conscious minds probing consciousness, the brain itself (if that is, in fact, where mind resides) wondering about itself...this sort of Escher illustration in abstract thought captures me. It is a Mobius strip, looping back on itself, seamless, no true beginning, no true end.
None of the work I’ve read (and I’m very, very far from comprehensive knowledge) locates this path into the secret garden.
Talk about a pilgrimage. Find the path; the one winding toward the gate, the entrance to the secret garden of your creativity, go through it. Find the holy well and its chapel located somewhere within. Sit awhile. Stare down at the bubbling waters.
The word paradise has an interesting life: ["park, paradise, Garden of Eden," from an Iranian source, cf. Avestan pairidaeza. The Gk. word, originally used for an orchard or hunting park in Persia, was used in Septuagint to mean "Garden of Eden," and in New Testament translations of Luke xxiii.43 to mean "heaven" (a sense attested in Eng. from c.1205)].
Wait. Who walks in the cool of this garden? There. Off toward the ivy-covered corner.
Someone you’ve known all your life, you’re sure of it. In fact, someone you love, trust. Yet. Who? How can you not know who they are?
A familiar shape. A walk you know as if it were your own. And a whiff of roses. Sweet roses open with the morning light, filled with dew. A perfume like no other. The world’s scent.
Corny phrases come, clutter the moment. “He walks with me, and he talks with me. In the garden I am alone and he walks with me...” This is no he. You can tell.
No gender comes across, or, is it both? An androgyny perhaps?
A small shiver of fear courses down your spine. It passes.
The light in the garden dims, twilight falls, then darkness.
A hand grips you; you counter, push back. Another hand. Both strong. The smell of roses.
A struggle. You feel the other press you, test your strength, but you find a solid stance, feet wide apart, back straight. Fear has passed into determination.
The match goes back and forth. First you have the advantage, then the other.
As the other gains a leg position and moves you back, the fear returns, a surge of power comes with it, and you rock the other back.
Back. Your advantage. Then the other. The one, then the other. Neither gaining, neither losing.
“Let me go. The light returns.”
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The other moves fast, the sudden move ends with a strong hand on your hip, a twist, and your hip joint groans, damaged now, for good.
“Still, I will not let you go.”
“Very well.” You feel the other’s breath, moist on your ear, “I will give you a new name. From this day forth you will be known as .....”
The light returns and the other is gone. A whole night has passed; you have wrestled with the Other and gained a new name.
You are new. In paradise.
Yet. As always, you must leave the garden, for none can remain here anymore. You leave through the East Gate...but you know something, something critical. You know the way back.
Sheila, director of MIA education programs, gave a travelogue cum art history lecture this morning on her trip to Japan about this time a year ago. She’s smart, deep, and broad in her art historical knowledge.
The lecture as a whole was an overview of Japan through the centuries via an itinerary organized by Matthew Welch, curator for the Japanese/Korean collection.
The Shinto faith, a knowing about nature similar to indigenous religions in North America and Europe, finds kami, or spirits, in sacred places throughout Japan. When a kami sacred site revealed itself, a thick rope marked the spot, along with a Tori, or gate.
The subtle and pervasive integration of Japanese culture with the changing seasons grows out of a Shinto nourished connection to the natural world. It is possible, and often the case, in Japan, for a person to follow Shinto practices and Buddhist, or Shinto and Catholic. This squares with my instincts about the Great Wheel here.
These nature focused religions help us become citizens of a particular place, at home in the world immediately around us. The more I know about Shinto and other, earth-centered religions, I find them most profound when they help us become local, at most regional. The whole earth, I think, is too much for this type of faith; and, I find that a good thing. The local, the here and now, are what we too often miss, ignore. A cliché, yes, “Bloom where you are planted.”, but an affirmation of the local none the less.
The Great Mammoth’s Ancient Road
If anthropological hunches are correct, paleolithic hunting parties were male. Those small predators who harried the Woolly Mammoth, armed with flecked-stone spears and axes, may well have seen themselves as joined in a special way to the great animals.
They could have had the Woolly Mammoth as a totem animal, a beast whose size and majesty, ferocity in battle and gentleness in the herd were virtues they emulated in the clan and tribe.
It is, in other words, quite conceivable that the Minnesota Woolly Mammoths of the 21st century are but a contemporary expression of a millenia old form of male friendship.
Tonight, at Frank Broderick’s, this group of Mammoths gathered around an Irish table for a feast reminiscent, I’m pretty sure, of the great holiday meal of poor Irish peasants. Potatoes, a bit of cabbage, and the last of the beef saved by pickling over the long winter.
After the meal and the limericks and the toasts, “To the enemy of your enemies,” we adjourned to sit in the round, as our ancient brothers might well have done around a campfire, under clear bright skies. And, like them, we talked of our time together over the years—the hunting sorties, the times we’ve come home empty handed, the times we’ve celebrated great success in the hunt, and, always, a tinge of sadness at the death of the Great Animal, whose death, we know, as they did, will be followed by our own.
Tonight we spoke of faith and friendship, men in conversation with each other, able to talk of love and life and fear and fathers; we shed a tear, and acknowledged the blessings and depth and ideas and resources we gain from each other. We passed around the 7th vertebral process from an immature mammoth, one of those ancient mammoths, and used it to focus our conversation in the spirit of Native American council fires.
Charlie Haislet read poems of pain and the past, of sisters and fathers; Mark spoke of Hawai’i and living among the clouds on Mauna Loa and of new things and special moments; Paul reminded us of a critical early meeting to decide the Woolly’s future; Stefan talked of the juice he gets from the fellowship, the faith he finds in our relationships; Tom talked of blessing and gratitude.
Then we gathered our long winged feathers as we flew, we circled around, then dispersed, flying in circles until finally, we each were home.
Rip Van Winkle and the Catskills. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The painters of the American Sublime. Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Emerson’s wrestling with the nature of an American Scholar. Appalachian folk songs.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Even the early reports of geographers and geologists like Douglas Owens, and the work of explorers less prominent than Lewis and Clark, like Henry Schoolcraft.
Sigurd Olson. John Muir. Aldo Leopold. The Outer Banks. Giants in the Earth. Wendell Berry. William Cullen Bryant. The Song of Hiawatha. The novels of Willa Cather. John McPhee. Annie Dillard.
You can add more, I’m sure.
These artists teach us, as do our native brothers and sisters, where the kami live in this land we have the privilege to call home. No one who has sat on the shore of Lake Superior can deny its sacred power, “...the shining big sea waters” The numinous quality of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the mystery of the Boreal Woods, the god-like powers of the grizzly, the wolf, the moose, and the raven all give us texts from which to read a true revelation, “a revelation,” as Emerson would have it, “for our time and place.”
If I were to mount a lofty pulpit, one high up on the wall of a great cathedral, a pulpit with a ladder and a rope to close the access door behind me, I would preach the sound of a tornado, illustrate with the Milky Way and Orion and the Drinking Gourd, offer the waters of the Mississippi and the Ohio and the Colorado and the Snake in place of wine. I would tear up loaves of bread made from the wheat fields of Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and say here is the miracle of the loaves—renewed each spring, offered up for our sustenance. Say Amen and Thank You, Lord!
The Great Wheel, Shintoism, the Medewin religion of the Annishinabe, the Sun Dance, all teach us to read the book of nature’s Great Kami. What it means is, Pay Attention.
The oak tree in my woods, the snakeroot and iris in your garden, the water in the great river which flows between Minneapolis and St. Paul, these are angels in our midst. Angel means messenger, and each of these declare a gospel, the good news of mother earth’s bounty, spread out and sacrificed for you. For you.
Listen to the angels in our midst. Pay attention to their kami and to the kami they reveal. Our prayerful, faithful attention can revive even the most degraded, polluted place.
Thomas Cole. "A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch)", 60x108",1839, oil, Andrew W. Mellon Fund 1967.8.1. From: The National Gallery of Art http://www.northnet.org/hildreth/colewm.htm
I remember the sentiment of a painter, I think, one of the American Sublime (Hudson River School) guys. He equated the natural beauty of 19C America with the ruins in the Old Country, that is, our wilderness gives us a direct, physical connection to the past, a link we can see with ancient times, and at which visitors can marvel.
On Weeks of Dryness (Acedia)
The words did not flow this week.
I have often wondered about the classical spiritual disciplines, the elaborate and quite specific vocabularies developed to describe states like spiritual dryness.
This site, 7 Deadly Sins, http://deadlysins.com/sins/index.htm, contains the following from Thomas Aquinas: “Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said Sloth is "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good... [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds." (2,35, ad 1)”
Sluggishness of mind precedes and accompanies creative dryness. Sludge, gunk, mirk and mire, boggy, swampy, murky, shadow, shade, hardening of the mental arteries, dust in the tubes, bugs, buggy. A light pale settles over my inner world, not the dark, dark shadows of depression, but the early days of melancholy, or, perhaps, a short visit of the acedia demon.
A certain slowness creeps in to my responses, things that felt manageable begin to loom larger, harder, become exhausting. Kate and I talked about this over breakfast Thursday, a sort of mutual blah, perhaps cabin fever, perhaps too much, even of the good stuff.
Joseph’s most recent girlfriend dumped him. Again. He’s down, lips twitching with the tug of inner pain, wanting to be strong, unaffected while vulnerable and wounded. This makes the body pull itself in unusual ways.
It fits in with this week, a week that doesn’t fit with the season, or, maybe it does. Maybe this time of transition is the very definition of acedia, the world has become muddy, sludge and grime coat cars, snow, houses, boots. Perhaps it is the season reinforcing, shaping us, reminding us of the cthonic so the sudden appearance of Persephone will have more drama. Seasonal theurgy. A dark magical flourish before the rising notes of Spring.
Still, this week’s diary entry is done. Sluggish or not, here it is. Have a good Vernal Equinox and remember balance happens only for a brief moment, even in the celestial sphere.