I was pleased, earlier this week, to see a small but emphatic shout of joy ring out from certain portions of this, our internet. This, in response to a bit of unexpected good news, as word spread that the statue of Manannán Mac Lir, recently stolen from a mountain top in Northern Ireland, had been recovered.
The image of the Irish sea god, missing for some weeks, was found where the vandals had cast it down, at the base of a ravine only a few hundred yards from where it once stood.
Until now, I think most of us believed that the fiberglass statue had been torn apart and disposed of. Instead, it appears to have been carried a short distance and then rolled down a hill. So, I suppose we can ad laziness to the list of crimes for which these religiously motivated thugs are guilty, should we ever chance to discover them.
And, with the statue safely returned, I seriously doubt we’ll see any great effort put toward that investigation.
Did I say, “safely returned?” Well no, not really.
Even as the first stories of the statue’s recovery began to circulate, there was mention of some damage to the head. When the first photos were finally released it was clear that the entire back of Manannán’s head had been sheared away. Whether this was a consequence of the fall or an active attempt to further disfigure the sculpture is unclear, but the result is the same.
A community is left to pick up the pieces, both literally and figuratively. Will the local taxpayers have the means to both restore the statue, and secure it against further attacks? And even if Manannán is returned to that high lookout on Binn Fhoibhne, I have no doubt he will always bear the scars of defilement.
In that, at least, he is in good company.
Tour any of the great museums and you will see them. Cracked and broken, their once graceful arms missing, they are the gods and heroes of old, the glory of civilizations past, long ago cast down in a fit of religious fervor, and more recently resurrected as simple curiosities to entertain the masses.
There is a warning phrase which we hear, from time to time, among certain segments of the Christian faithful. “These are the End Times,” they shout for all to hear, usually in response to some aspect of our modern world which they find irksome to their sensibilities.
Be it secularism…,
…and let us not forget the rise of alternative religions,
…you can be sure that someone, somewhere is convinced that society is about to collapse in on itself and a new age is about to begin.
And therein lies the irony, because these really are the end times.
The biblical ‘tribulations’ began long before the first words of that book were set to paper, when the various tribes of mankind began to migrate across the face of the land and entire societies fell in their wake.
The end isn’t neigh.
The end was yesterday and the day before that, and the world of marvels we have built for ourselves rests upon the gutted remains of the ages that came before us. And while some are still trying to pick up the pieces, others are determined forget it all in favor of some approaching paradise.
But what so many of them fail to understand, is that the end is a process, not a stopping point.
The worlds we know is always in a state of death…,
The human response to this process appears to involve clinging to those portions of the past we hold dear while simultaneously trying to pull down that which we find hostile to our world view. In so doing we become as much the engine of the end times as we are its victims.
I don’t imagine that will ever change, but I’d like to think it possible.
In my moments of greatest optimism, I imagine the world we know in collapse, falling away to be replaced by one in which we are free to worship any god, or none, without feeling the need to pull down that which is sacred to our neighbor.
It wouldn’t be the Biblical Paradise, the Celtic Otherworld, the green fields of Iðavöllr, or the Age of freaking Aquarius, but I think it would be a nice start.