Tag Archives: Fate

An Audience of None

book of the dead

Who will judge us, and by what measure?

We closed our eyes upon the living world and awoke to find ourselves standing in the presence of a powerful being, being both jackal and man.  We do not fear him, but rather the great set of scales besides which he stands.

In one hand he carries a single feather, plucked from the wings of the goddess of truth.

He places that feather upon the scales, and then reaches out toward us, into us, and though we are not harmed, we see that he carries our heart in his easy grip.

This two he places upon the scales.

A heart weighed down with a lifetime of regrets, and a feather infused with the weight of justice.

The scales tip, one way or the other, and we are judged.

 


 

The taste of the coin lingers as the small boat finally comes to ground.

We step eagerly over the shallow rail and onto solid earth, with only a brief glance backward to see that the cloaked ferrymen is rowing away again, into the gloom from whence we came.

There are three paths before us, and three kings, sons of the sky father, the keeper of oaths.

In life, their judgements were fair and true.

In death they will not fail us.

Our story is all told, we need only an ending befitting our tale.

Was our life one of goodness, or evil, or were our deeds unremarkable, our life wasted?

The story goes on, and we are judged.

 


 

Our ticket to eternal reward has been purchased in blood.

And now, after a long sleep, we shall rise and collect our due.

All around us they gather, the people we knew and loved and feared and hated.

But we have no eyes for them, nor they for us.

Our attention is arrested by the light which drew us from the grave, a light that touches every part of us, that burns away the shadows so that we are revealed completely to him.

Did we store our treasures in the old world, or in the new?

Eternity yawns before us, and we are judged.

 

Always we have been judged.

We crave it and we fear it like no other thing.

For as long as we have walked upon this earth, we have given ourselves to the gods for judgement.  The names change as we move from tribe to tribe, as do the specific details, but in the end we imagine ourselves laid bare in the eyes of those who will rule, finally, upon the content of our lives.

I have wondered, sometimes, if the gods and the ancestors volunteered for this duty, or if we somehow pressed them into service?

Just lately, I have wondered if their long obligation might be coming to an end.

We have found a new God of Judgement, it seems, better than those we have previously known, more responsive and immediate in both its praise and especially in its condemnation.  This new god does not wait until we are dead to pronounce judgement upon us.  It watches us with a billion eyes and when we are found wanting, the punishments of this new god are immediate and scathing.  No more waiting around for the privacy of the grave, no more scriptures or doctrines to follow and uphold.

Have you guessed it?

We did this.

We reached out and opened the eyes and ears of the world.  We gathered them all together in one place, where they could speak in one voice.  And before the echoes of our celebration had died away, this shambling titan began to reach out in complete and utter condemnation of everything within reach of its great and dissonant voice.

For once, we’ve given the atheists what they wanted.  We’ve swept aside the old gods and shown that we can do things far more efficiently by ourselves.  And what a job we’ve done!

But I think I was more comfortable when Anubis was weighing our hearts against the Feather of Ma’at, than I was a few weeks ago, watching a young woman torn apart on Twitter because she didn’t put her hand over her heart when the national anthem played.

I don’t care for this new god.  It is hungry and arbitrary in a way that makes the most capricious of the old gods seem tame by comparison.

It is not a god we can fight.  There are no temples to burn or idols to smash.

If we would not give ourselves fully to this new god, we must then seek to starve it, to deny it our attentions and concern.  We must live our lives freely, without casting arbitrary judgement on others and playing our brief parts for an audience of none.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods

It’ll have to go.

I took twenty days away from work.

It wasn’t enough.

Or it was too much…, I’m still not sure.

I’d an entire list of things I wanted to get done in that time.

Instead, I found myself working off of someone else’s list.

So the time is gone and I’m back on the job.

But everything there feels uncertain.

***

Spoke to my mother this evening.

Wanted to wish her a happy Mothers Day.

Also, there was rough weather where she lives.

She was irritable, after having driven through the deluge.

She got a speeding ticket and money is growing tight.

Oh, and her favorite show didn’t record.

The whole universe is out to get her.

***

Sometimes the universe throws things at us.

Mostly, though, we just do it to ourselves.

***

When times get tough…,

Some people turn to the Bible for reassurance.

When I’m feeling down, I turn instead, to the word of the late Douglas Adams.

His is a scripture filled with more joy and truth than any holy text I have thus far encountered.

In Chapter 10 of ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’, he describes the people of the planet Krikkit, a world surrounded by a cloud of dust so thick that not a single star has ever shone in their sky.  They have lived lives of quiet tranquility, never wondering about their place in the universe because they had no reason to think anything at all existed beyond their own small world.

Driven, nearly mad by an encounter with something that seems to have fallen inexplicably from beyond their featureless sky, they build a ship and rocket themselves into the heavens.

They flew out of the cloud.

They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.

For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe.  And then they turned round.

“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.

—Douglas Adams

***

The universe isn’t out to get us.

More often than not, we seem to be the ones trying to do away with it.

Small wonder we run into so much trouble along the way.

Rage Against The Sky

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Filed under Culture, Family, Literature, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion

Nest

I spent the early hours of the morning watching her, as she fluttered quickly between the closely packed branches of an overgrown bush in my backyard.  She would slip suddenly between the branches, seeming almost to tumble toward the ground, and then catch herself at the last moment with a skilled flip of her wings.  Each excursion lasted mere seconds, as she flicked aside leaves and debris, and then, finding exactly the twig she was looking for, she would launch herself like a tiny missile, straight back up into the thicket.

On a tree branch high above, her mate, resplendent in his red feathers, was chirping out his high pitched song, a challenge to any other male who should happen by.  This is his territory after all, and under his watchful eye, his rust colored companion was building their nest.

For nothing.  All for nothing.

I know this couple.  Cardinals mate for life and never migrate, and this pair have been living in the bushes at the back of my property for several years now.  I put out seed for them, but they remain quite people-shy.  The male is easy enough to spot of course, his bright red plumage makes him hard to miss.  The female is less visible, the ability to cloak herself in the underbrush, a gift of evolution.  Still, I spy her now and again throughout the year, flitting between low branches, keeping a careful eye out for the local felines, no doubt.

Lady Cardinal

I don’t spend as much time in the further reaches of my backyard as I’d like to.

Apparently, I spend far less time there than I should.

A recent letter from the city, demanding that I cut all my overgrown bushes down, or face stiff penalties, made that fact abundantly clear.

I’ve had so many other projects, and it has been so much easier to just put off the work back there.  And I like the green after all, and I like the wild.  So why not let it grow?

It was not until I ventured back there with clippers and saw in hand that I discovered the bushes and weeds along my back fence had grown into an impassible thicket, such as you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Maleficent lived here.

Maleficent Thorn Wall

Yeah, I guess I’m the bad neighbor.

I’m just riddled with shame.  Can’t you tell?

And so began a week of cutting and trimming, which quickly transformed into desperate sawing and hauling, as I made increasingly little headway, and the time allotted to me by the municipal oppressor, slipped steadily by.

Finally, having completed nearly two-thirds of the work myself, I was forced, bone-weary and out of time, to call in the professionals.

It was only then, in that moment of calm that washed over me after having made the arrangements, and as I stood in my backyard for the first time in days with no particular task grabbing for my attention, that I noticed lady cardinal working on her nest.

It lay in a fork between three branches, suspended nearly seven feet above barren ground, which had only the day before been the dense heart of the thicket.  From below, it could be easily mistaken for a clump of leaves, blown into the low branches during one of the many storms that have passed through so recently.  I only noticed it at all because my attention was drawn by the flash of dusky red feathers, glowing golden in the early evening sun.

I watched for a few moments, as she diligently went about her business, and then I made my approach.

She swept up into the high branches of a nearby tree as I inspected the nest for eggs.

None there.  The nest then, was still a work in progress.

And tomorrow it would be gone.

There was no way to save it, where it was.

I’d nearly cut it down myself, without knowing or noticing – just another windblown bundle of leaves and twigs, just more evidence of my shoddy groundskeeping.

I walked away from the nest, and I could hear her wings beat past me, overhead.  I heard her push herself into the thicket, and then turned to see her drop to the ground like so much dead weight, only to burst up again with a small twig in her beak.  No doubt, upset with the repeated delays in her progress caused by my intrusion.

And now…, the nest, and all of her hard work, has been swept away.

As I write this, the men with the saws are doing their work outside my window.  The thicket is gone, the chainlink fence which lay beyond it, is exposed once again to the light of day.

And what then, is the moral of this sad story?

I don’t know.

Maybe, I was thinking of the earthquake in Nepal.

When disasters strike, when bad things happen to good people, we like to say that “there is a reason for everything.”  And strictly speaking, that is true.  But it is also a pretty big stretch to assume that the reason, whatever it is, has anything whatsoever to do with those suffering loss.  Maybe it’s simply a release of pressure between opposing tectonic plates.  Or maybe there are giants in the earth who cause it to groan and shake with their restless movements.  For that matter, both things could be true (and I rather suspect they are) but none of that means the gods are testing us for any “higher” purpose.

We shout desperately that there must be a reason, when these things happen, and we pray silently, but with equal fervor, that we never learn what those reasons are.

Or…,

This could just be a simple lesson on the unintended consequences of putting off for tomorrow, what needs to be done today.

Either way, it’s a lot to think about.

And outside, the chainsaws are still raising their racket.

But there is another noise, louder still, filtering through my window, above the noise of the saws.  It is the familiar high pitched call of a male cardinal, announcing that this is still his territory.

However much we shape this world to fit our arbitrary expectations, it will never be ours while the song of a single bird can rise so clearly over the wretched noise we make.

And I am honored to live within his domain.

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Filed under Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

Small Problems

They bring me their problems.

There is a glitch in this program.  My screen looks funny.  Why is it so slow?  I can’t find the essay I was working on.  It’s never made that sound before.  Where are all of my pictures?

They bring me their problems and it’s my job to help them.

Often they are frantic, or disgusted.  They might be angry on occasion, even belligerent.

And when we are done, if I have solved their problem, some of them are genuinely thankful.  More often, however, they seem somewhat detached from the experience, almost dismissive.

I think it has to do with the fact that they believe this thing that happened to them, shouldn’t have happened.  They should not have had to come to me at all, and I am, whatever my efforts on their behalf, tainted as a result.

It’s not a big deal, people don’t like going to the doctor either.  I understand, and for the most part, I don’t even notice.  Because I’m already moving on to the next customer, and the one after that.

And then you meet someone different, like the little old lady who came to me last week.

She was smiling and pleasant, and far more patient than she had any right to be.

“Hello,” she said, with a warm light in her eyes, “My name is —–, I have a terminal brain tumor and only a few weeks left to live.  This is my computer and I’d like you to erase all of my information from it, so that my husband can use it after I’m gone.”

I spent about forty minutes with her, trying to squeeze a little more life into a computer that was, itself, not in the best of health.  As I worked, she spoke in snippets about her own life, things she thought I might be interested in, like her adventures as a young woman in the workplace, using the sort of computers which most of us have only seen in old movies, the kind that would fill an entire room.

Here I was, fighting to take up as little of her precious time as I was able, and she, in turn, was doing what she could to make those moments count, by sharing her own experiences, by forging a connection with a complete stranger.

I did what I could for her, which, I am afraid, wasn’t much, and then she was gone.

And with the passage of a few more weeks, I suppose she really will be.

Gone and gone, except for the memories she left behind, of which I am now privileged to carry a few — her knowing smile, her laugh, and a handful of nostalgic remembrances of a technology which was as remarkable in those days as moon landings and the polio vaccine.

In the days that have passed, it has been difficult to care as much about all the little technical issues which people bring me.  Their all too frequent indignation seems misplaced and misspent.  And I wonder, if they knew how much time they really had, if they would still choose to squander it the way they do, with so much energy focused on such small problems.

I mean, it’s not as if every one of them isn’t dying as well.

****

We live in a society which, for the most part, sees life, the actual business of living, as a means to an end.  For several hundred years now, the dominant belief has been that we are born, live and die as prelude to an eternal afterlife.  The shape in which we find that ever-after, is determined, or so we are taught, by our actions in this life.

If you are a bad person, you will spend eternity suffering for your misdeeds.

If you are a good person, you may look forward to a euphoric hereafter.

And we can set aside here, the question of what happens to good people who don’t believe the right way.  Because, it is the basic premise that is important here: life as proving ground for afterlife.  That idea which has come to shape the very structure of our lives.

We work throughout the day with the expectation that once the clock hits that magical hour, we head home, or out on the town, or wherever it is we think of as our due reward for the last few hours of toil.

The days run together and everybody’s working for the weekend.

Or that next spot of vacation.

Or retirement.

Work now and play later.

Suffering = Reward.

All based on a promise that no one has ever been able to actually verify.

There are, of course, competing philosophies.

Atheism, for example, does not believe in any ultimate reward, but neither does it aspire to truly reshape society in any particular way.  The atheistic world view is pretty much just the monotheistic one, subtracting the God and all of its trappings.

You’re still working for the weekend, only, without church.  So, you’ll have a little more time to relax.  The world is still the world and you’d better be willing to work and conform to everyone else’s expectations of what that looks like, if you want to get along.

I suppose, without the dogma attached, the average Atheist might be a little less tolerant toward actual suffering.  There is no greater purpose to be found in the bad things that happen.  No deity tossing Jobian hardships your way as a test of your faith.

In the other extreme, there are those Eastern philosophies which have gained a certain momentum in the West over the last century or so.  Almost the exact opposite of the Atheistic world view, the Eastern thinker, sees the material world as an illusion, cluttering our minds and blocking our way to spiritual Nirvana.

All the day to day bullshit we go through, is exactly that, bullshit.  And meaningless.

Just close your eyes and let it all go.

Which is all very cool, but I don’t really see a philosophy based on ignoring the material world, making any huge impact upon it.  Even if we were counting the nationwide rise in the volume of yoga classes, we’re still talking less about a path to enlightenment, than we are, mom’s little reward to herself that she can fit in during the afternoon, while the kids are at soccer practice.

Atheism and Eastern Philosophy are just tiny eddies in the torrent which has formed at the conflux of the rivers Monotheism and Capitalism, and most who try to swim against that current are doomed to drown.

****

So here’s another philosophy for you to consider, another way of looking at the world, just a single drop of water in the deluge.

What if there is no everlasting reward or punishment, and no good and evil vying for our souls?  What if this life is neither a proving ground nor a distraction?

Imagine for a moment, that there is no distinction between the wholly physical world of the Atheist and the wholly spiritual world of the Buddhist, because those worlds are one and the same.  No closing our eyes and ears against the mathematical without blocking out the mystical, and vice versa.

What if we were beings of flesh and spirit in equal measure, and our actions, how we treat ourselves and each other, have the power to shape our experience of this world and all those worlds which exist just beyond the borders of our sight?

In such a world, there would be no distinction between those actions which are holy, and those which are, in our culture, seen as mundane.

Once, there were many who understood the world in this way.  For a time, they ruled the world from the British Isles, through what was once Gaul, and a patchwork of shifting boundaries that stretched eastward across Europe as far as Asia Minor.

That way of thinking, for the most part, died out long ago.  Put to the sword, first by the Legions of Rome, and later, by a new hybrid religion which took root in the death throes of the old empire, and then spread far beyond its borders.

Some would say that if the Celtic way of seeing the world had been correct, it wouldn’t have been so easily forgotten.

That may be so.  But I’ve never been one to equate popularity with truth.

Life is not a test.  Life is a quest.  Everything we do, every kindness and misdeed is but a step upon a path that we can never see, except when we occasionally turn and look behind us.  There is no heaven or hell, no final reward or judgement, and no true finality, as death is simply a passage over the horizon to a realm which is just beyond our sight.  And if our ancestors spoke true, there may be more worlds beyond that.  Or perhaps the path doubles back from time to time, and we find ourselves here again.

But whatever lies beyond those horizons, we are hear now, and the time we have is precious.

There is no sin in this world, unless it is the sin of missed opportunities.  I look around and see a world of people who are just milling about, waiting for the curtain to rise on some final act that is never going to come.  The inertia is tangible, I can feel it holding me in place like some ancient insect caught in amber, and by all the gods I am terrified that I will never escape.

****

I’ve never really spoken about my job in these pages because I don’t see it as part of my spiritual life.  Maybe that is my fault.  Maybe I’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else, and I’ve come to understand the world as a polarity that does not actually exist.  I’ve got the mortgage and the car payment, I’ve got all the little creature comforts and tribulations that are supposed to distract me from the fact that I’m being pushed downstream along with everyone else.

And it’s so hard to swim against that current, when the small problems weigh me down.

But I want more for myself, than life on a river to nowhere.

I’m that guy who makes your technology work again, who pays his bills, and votes in the elections, and donates to charities, and comes over to help you build some shelves, and writes a blog, and who can never find the time to complete his remodeling projects, and wonders what it would have been like to have had children, and wishes that he’d sacrificed more for his art, and, and, and…,

Life is a quest, and I’ve come late to that knowledge.

But how late is too late?

And how will I find my path?

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Death, Interfaith, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

And with the rain…,

Lughnasadh dawned cool and cloudy here in north Texas.  I didn’t feel any raindrops fall, but the leaves on the trees were wet and it smelled like rain nonetheless.

If you read my post from last week, then you know that it was exactly the sort of morning I had wished for.  And Lughnasadh, one of the four great festivals in the Celtic calendar, is a day for wishing.

We look forward to these days and we hope for good fortune.

We step out into the morning, look up at the glowering clouds, and sniff the air.

All the signs are there; the rain is coming.

And with the rain, as always, comes change.

Because that’s what these days are about, yes?

Holidays, Holy Days and Festivals of all description, we tell ourselves that we hold to them because they are things of tradition.  The regularity with which they come is a comfort to us.  We carry these rituals forward from those who came before us.  We pass them along to our children and grandchildren, hoping to preserve something of ourselves in the face of a world that changes around us every second.

And we get it wrong.

Because the purpose of these days is not to forestall change, but to highlight it, to mark its passing and celebrate each new beginning.  Our ancestors knew this, but we are sometimes very poor students.  So many of us become depressed as the holidays approach, and often these feelings are a reaction to change.  We want everything to be just as it was in years past, but that sameness was never the intent of these celebrations.

Change is the constant.

The world moves beneath us, rotating, revolving, cooling and warming.

Life evolves over millions of years and culture in the blink of an eye.

We change and grow as individuals, our needs and hopes shifting day by day.

And our relationships with each other are transformed along the way.

The sun rises and sets for all things.

Raindrops

We are not the same people we were yesterday.

And a year ago, or ten, who were we then?

They are ghosts now, those earlier versions of ourselves.

And although we still feel them out there, living their own lives in a time we can no longer touch, we do ourselves no favors by trying to live through them still.  We must focus instead on the hear and the now.

We have been living in the past, she and I, holding on to our particular traditions and routines in the hope that we could preserve something precious against a world of change.

But life doesn’t work that way.

Change must come and we must choose to either celebrate it, or fight against it and ultimately lose all that which we worked so hard to protect.

And so we will embrace the changes that have wrought us, changes which bring us to this time and and this place in our lives.  We will walk forward as friends, once lovers, always family, and we will never fear what comes with the rain.

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Filed under Culture, Family, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Let me try again:

We all have rituals.  They are the actions, the words and the thoughts that, through repetition, become the markers against which we judge our progress through life.

Most of these rituals are just the little day to day things that we never even really stop to consider.  We might call them habits, if we bothered to notice them at all.

Some few rituals come more rarely, monthly perhaps, or even yearly.  Not all of them are pleasant, (who likes doctors visits or doing their taxes?), but if we are lucky, there may be more of these occasions that we look forward to with longing, than those which we dread.

As I write this we are just about a week away from Lá Fhéile Bríde, which is the modern Irish name for ‘The Day of Brighid’.  It is the Celtic celebration, more commonly known in Pagan circles as Imbolc, which falls on or about February 1st.

I have a number of rituals which are associated with this particular celebration that I could share with you.  I could write about the symbolic relighting of the hearth fire, my offerings to the goddess of free verse and raw milk, or the reading of the omens in land and sky.

These are all important rituals to me, although I am better about keeping some than others.  There is one very personal ritual which I associate with Imbolc that I look forward to more than any other.

Ever year, as the calendar turns to February, I watch a movie.

I watch my favorite movie.

Because, I can think of no better way to celebrate Lá Fhéile Bríde, which the ancients called Imbolc and the Christians renamed Candlemas, than with a repeat viewing of ‘Groundhog Day’.

Goundhog01

Now, I could say, at this point, that the American celebration of Groundhog Day is, in itself, a faint memory of the ancient Imbolc traditions that were carried into the new world by Irish and Scottish immigrants.  The links between the ancient holiday, the secular holiday and the odd-ball comedy of the same name are there, if you want to find them.  But there is seriously no need.

The movie is deeply spiritual in its own right.

I may be getting ahead of myself.

If, somehow, you are unaware of the plot, it goes like this:

Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray) is a self-centered weatherman assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Trapped there overnight by a blizzard, he awakens to find that the previous day, February 2nd, is repeating, over and over and over again.  Nothing, not even death itself, can release him from this seeming eternal hell.

Groundhog02

The film’s director, Harold Ramis, has said that while he did not intend the movie to present any particular spiritual viewpoint, he was surprised by the variety of groups, from Buddhists to Evangelical Christians, who felt the movie spoke to them.

“So instantly people were identifying the film as ‘teaching’, and in such a parochial way, each seeing it as an expression of their own particular point of view, without recognizing that it was, in fact, a universal point of view.”

—Harold Ramis – Director

So, what do I see there that compels me to slip the disc into the DVD player year after year?

Maybe the thing that draws me back is the sly way in which an alternative understanding of deity is presented to us.  In one of my favorite scenes, Bill Murray’s character Phil is explaining to Rita, his television producer and love-interest (played by Andie MacDowell), that he is repeating the same day, again and again…,

Phil:  I’m a god.
Rita:  You’re God?
Phil:  I’m a god. I’m not “the” God… I don’t think.

To prove his point he then moves about the busy cafe in which the scene takes place, telling her things about the other diners which he should not possibly know.  When she asks him if what he is doing is “some kind of trick”, this is his response…,

“Well maybe the “real” God uses tricks, you know?  Maybe he’s not omnipotent.  He’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

Most people probably just see this as an irreverent joke, another throw-away line in a stream of one-liners, but to me it hits very close to home.

I’ve never believed in that one, omnipotent, omniscient being that so many people center their faith around.  For me, the gods are very much like us, except that they are not bound as firmly by the same physical laws which restrict our movements.  For example, I have never believed that the gods experience time in the same linear fashion as we do.  Perhaps, I have often thought, the gods exist eternally within the moment, and so are able to be, where they need to be, when they need to be there, if not everywhere at once.

Indeed, as the movie progresses through repetition after repetition, and Phil becomes more altruistic in his intentions, we witness the creation of a being, both more and less than human, effectively immortal, who through movements mostly invisible to the those around him, is able to shape the world, even as he is shaped by it.  He is the master of every skill, the knower of every secret, and yet powerless against a finality which, in this state, he himself cannot experience.

Groundhog03

So yes, there’s a glimpse of the gods, hiding there in plain sight, but I’m drawn to this movie for other reasons as well.

Maybe it’s because it’s not just another movie about redemption.

Phil Conners is not redeemed.  He has nothing to be redeemed for.

Phil is a cynical, sarcastic, jerk.

So am I, a lot of the time.

These are not sins for which we must seek redemption.  These are character traits all too commonly found in those who are prone to self-reliance and disinclined toward being “team-players”.  We call ‘em like we see ‘em, we don’t go in for the ‘touchy-feely’, and if that makes us unpopular, well, that’s okay, because if you want something done right, you had better be glad there is someone willing to do it themselves.

Phil is not redeemed at the end of the movie.  He is renewed.

After repeating the same day over and over again for years (centuries? millennia?), he has found a way to renew himself, to turn his great strengths away from self defense and out toward his community.  He is given the chance open himself, to try again to find his proper place in the world.

It’s not really a new concept.

Some ancient cultures have been known to celebrate yearly rites of renewal as the Winter gives way, at last, to Spring.  These celebrations are seen as an opportunity to take what we have learned from the last turning of the great wheel and apply that knowledge and experience to the coming year.

Hmmmmm…,

I feel like I could have explained all of that more succinctly.

Let me try again:

We all have rituals…,

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Movies, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Traditions

Ghost Stories

We are haunted, all of us.

In a few weeks time, we who honor the old ways will celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  As the sun sets on October 31st, the dead will walk among us.  We will light fires and make sacrifice in their honor.  We will ask for their protection, their guidance, and the benefit of their wisdom.  We will invite them into our homes, set a place for them at dinner, and share with them the tales of years gone by as well as our hopes for the future.

Our myths and memories and ambitions, they are ghost stories, every one.

The ancient traditions tell us that the way is opened on November 1st, for the ancestors to enter into the land of the living.  The celebration of the final harvest marked the beginning of the darkest season of the year.  The air was cold, the trees barren, and the fields empty.  The world of the living and that of the dead overlapped and intermingled, not for a single night, but until the warmth of Spring returned.

In our modern culture we have whittled these powerful old beliefs down into a single night of costumed ghouls and gremlins.  For one night a year we pass out candy, bob for apples, and decorate our yards with carved pumpkins and fake tombstones.  And then all the orange and black gets shoved into boxes hidden somewhere in the garage or attic.  We stash it all away for another year.  We forget.

We forget the dead.

We forget them, though they walk among us, sharing our world, our lives, our memories.

The stories that we tell are ghost stories.

How could they be otherwise, when we are the ghosts?

Childhood, Halloween, Nostalgia, Tiger Costume

We are haunted, all of us.

I was the boy in the tiger-striped pajamas.

He is gone now, of course, but he lives on as a ghost inside of me.  I hear stories of him at family gatherings but he no longer exists in any tangible form.  You can’t really see him, or touch him, and he will not hear your voice, but still, he is there nonetheless.

He is a collection of stories.  He is the ghost of a boy, faded and fleeting, who haunts the body and mind a man who is now more than twice the age his father was, when this photo was taken.

And speaking of my father…, how strange to see him so young.

And my mother…, what WAS she wearing?!

Looking at this photo I see a young family in the early chapters of their own story.

Those people are long gone.  Mother, father, son, they have been replaced by other people living very different lives from those three in the holiday photo.

They are ghosts now, knocking around in the bodies of their older selves.  Look close enough and you may catch a glimpse of them.  Perhaps you’ll hear them rattling their chains, or moaning warnings into the wind.

And what else are ghosts good for?

Now here’s the sudden twist that every well told ghost story requires.

If we are haunted by the spirits of our younger selves, are they not haunted by us?

The little boy in the tiger stripes, his father and mother, facing both the camera and a future which they cannot know, but which is etched already upon their youthful faces.  I look at these phantoms and I can already see so much there, written in their eyes.  I cry out to them.  I want to warn them, but they just sit there, staring at me, haunted.

So, maybe it’s useless.

It may be that the chains that link us to our destines run both ways, and just as we are bound, we bind others to our fate.  The dead walk among us.  We light fires and make sacrifice in their honor.  We ask for their protection, their guidance, and the benefit of their wisdom.  We invite them into our homes, set a place for them at dinner, and share with them the tales of years gone by as well as our hopes for the future.

And perhaps, they do the same for us in turn, neither hearing the other.  Each haunted, us by the past and them, by the future, and the wheel just grinding on forever.

Or…,

Maybe the people in the picture have some small wisdom for us still.  Maybe we can learn from them, from their victories and heartaches, and change our own fates for the better.  If we could just take the time to listen for the voices in the wind.  If we could still ourselves enough to feel the tugging of the chains.  We must learn from the past, we must listen to the future.

We must remember that all the stories we tell, our myths and memories and ambitions…,

…they are ghost stories, every one.

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Filed under Death, Family, Holidays, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions