Recorded Visions

Dreaming forward and back.

If memory is the first fiction, then so is the history of a group. As a group evolves, so will its collective chronicle of becoming, but the process is as fraught as any reconstruction. If history is a cathedral and facts are the stones, then it’s worth considering that all somebody can do before a complete building with a single stone is throw it or sit on it. If all that happens in any reframing effort is the collection of a pile of new stones, you may end up with a whole lot of broken glass and all of us outside. But if people are challenged to build with them, to create new architecture, new gathering places, new halls of worship and dreaming, transcendence and offering, then what? Unless someone is feeding the dreamers from the same table as the builders, planners, architects, masons, and those tasked with moving each stone, a cohesive vision won’t emerge. Imagination is no luxury, but a life skill, and as critical in times of flux as any other preparation: for famine, attack, natural disaster, invasion. No group who makes outcasts of its dreamers can endure.

***

I first explored Tamin Ansary’s insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral,” in an earlier post, “Cathedral.”

Cathedral

More than a collection of stones.

If history is a cathedral, and the accepted facts the stones, then no expansion of understanding can happen without art, without appreciation for those who been dreaming and revisioning all along as a survival strategy. No offering of new facts, however extensive, will ever be enough to alter old visions, except by nurturing new visionary architects. New material can raise new questions, as in, what can we make of this? –– and, by extension, of us?  To offer new stones and call it “history” is a lie of omission. The history is what is yet to be made.  

***

Inspiration: In a recent episode of NPR’s Throughline podcast (“Do We Need a Shared History?”), historian Tamin Ansary shared this insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral.”  This seems like a much-needed observation for our times. I am inspired by those who recognize (as Ben Okri put it) when we have arrived at “A Time for New Dreams.”

Reconsidering the Unconscious

On prospects for sense and sensibilities.

Many practitioners of questions find psychic activity important, as far as consciousness goes. When it comes to the unconscious, credibility varies. Maybe the prefix is to blame here, the “un” negating whatever follows. Maybe this comes from a bias toward consciousness as an individual experience. By this logic, anything not organized in some way by a self can’t be known. Better words might help to clarify. Extraconscious, perhaps: knowing from outside, or intraconscious, from deeply within. Or perhaps a permaconsciousness, parallel to permafrost, which has a way of thawing out in times of flux and rising heat, revealing long-buried bodies as well as toxins. The idea calls to mind a need for a refinement of the interconscious, that which can only be held in the fabric connecting us, in the interstitial ether between bodies.

Cold Crawling

Toasting the iceworm.

With snow falling

 too much 

in some regions 

and in others not enough, 

a question of what’s next 

to 

melt 

from permafrost 

hangs 

like a verdict 

not yet delivered,

also, certain doubts––related maybe, 

about what’s left 

to be exposed 

about the trajectory 

of history 

if that’s what 

we’re still calling it, 

so now seems like as good a time as any 

to pay 

homage 

to the iceworm

crawling through 

glacial snows 

and over ice, 

eating the red of

sun cups, and melting

when traces of winter

depart. These are not 

to be confused 

with the army project

of the Cold War, its launch 

sites under Greenland ice

not to be confused with the

great worms 

of legend heard 

playing 

beneath the northern

lights, near

the entry point 

to the land of the souls.

***

Inspired by news of the Cordova Iceworm Festival, which begins today.

The U.S. army project referenced above was nicknamed Project Iceworm.

Shelter

Refuge during wartime.

It was a time of trouble, and people went around armed: holsters, knives, photos, pepper spray.  What were the terms? We weren’t sure, but they were loaded. Whispering among us, we approached the temple.  A woman waited at the top of the steps, veiled in underground pomegranates. She stood sideways between the pillars, one half in the shadows behind her.  Look, she said, raising her veil, and with the other arm beckoned Come. A hush fell over us. We surrendered our arms and went in.

The New Science

On signs, symbols, and the origins of meaning.

Trace it with me: age of gods, age of heroes, age of men.

Our first language was born of knowing its poverty. 

We relied on signs and symbols. Then came metaphor, 

and then our measly letters, where we pretended 

to be saying precisely what we meant. 

Hieroglyphs suffice when observance 

is more important than discussion, 

as with religions and the like. 

Which came first, I wonder? Letters or language, 

chickens or their eggs? 

Attempting to separate one from the other is folly.

The first speakers, by necessity of nature, were poets. 

Here is the key to any meaningful science worth following: 

the source of all poetry is poverty of language, 

catalyzed by a need to express.

The point? To learn the language 

spoken by some eternal history, 

across time. Another: to name 

the beginnings of learning. 

To our unseen source, knowledge 

and creation are one 

and the same. We 

are mind and spirit; 

intellect and will, but 

it’s the function of wisdom 

to fulfill both.

Children of nascent mankind 

created things according to their ideas, 

which are not to be confused with God. 

But usually are. 

The role of fear 

should not be discounted here, 

in stoking robust ignorance, 

corporeal imagination. 

Frightened men, 

in their infinite vanity, 

no sooner imagine than they believe.

Natural curiosity, the daughter

of ignorance and mother

of knowledge, gives birth:

to wonder.

By Jove, the thundering sky.

***

Adapted from The New Science of Giambattista Vico, translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch.

On Service: An Allegory

They did not turn their faces from the landscape in the dragon’s gaping maw.

When it came time to fight the dragon, one among them shouted, I will not serve.

He would not submit, but others would, to the lies he commissioned, always dressed in righteous robes.

The fighters went on, the one before them saying, I will.

Those moved by this example said nothing. They did not shout. No trumpets blared.

They did not turn their faces from the landscape in the dragon’s gaping maw. Announcing allegiance to another order, they moved with the quiet conviction of visitors to the dying and the sick. Each tended to another’s wounds and they left no one behind. They brought diapers to new mothers and to orphaned children; soap to the unwashed, clothing to those who had been sticking to their own stink. They shielded the unsheltered from the elements, including fire from the righteous. They brought water to those beginning to hallucinate with thirst. Not food, but meals. Not pretend answers, but real questions to real needs, and the mess of it never left them. They wept often under the strain, and knew joy, too. And in the land of fire with the dying in the dragon’s mouth, there was peace because they were there, offering it where they could. 

Monsters

Considering some mythical beasts over time.

In honor of the occasion, tonight’s post is inspired by, (and using phrases borrowed from) Charles Gould’s 1886 Text, Mythical Monsters, available on The Public Domain Review, which is a treasure trove of brilliant curation thatI have been visiting with interest in recent months. 

Consider the mythical animals, refracted through the mists of time. Follow for a certain distance, the homes and origins of their stories, the unwritten Natural History of terrible creatures once co-existing with humans. Let’s examine.

The dragon came from wonder at lightning, flashing through the caverns. It devastated, on occasion, herds and shepherds. Consider the unicorn, the sea serpent. Suppose the palsy of time warps the tales, now unrecognizable: the Nemean lion, Lernaean hydra, the minotaur.

The first reports of the bird-eating spider were maligned as heresy, only to be confirmed, centuries later. Consider Pliny’s messenger pigeon’s Swift’s Lilliputians, the paleontologist’s pterodactyl, archaeopteryx. Consider, of the beasts that seem fanciful, whether their traits are so different from known types. 

For the dragon, while sacred, has within himself something of the divine nature of which it is better to remain in ignorance. It would show itself sometime, only partially from the mouth of a cave, its gleaming eyes precisely the size of an enemy’s shield. 

First Lessons in Life Management

Wisdom from the old wives.

Never do your knitting outside. You’ll lengthen the cold months. Avoid sleeping with your head to the North. Or West. Shoes off the table; those mean death. Never, ever say happy birthday before it’s time. Think facing mirrors look good, with those infinite reflections? Think again: you’re inviting el diablo.

Speaking of which, you must avoid going directly home after a funeral or wake, else you may bring a spirit with you. That’s why you have to go to a restaurant or someplace with friends. Remember, never poke chopsticks straight down into your food, and protect your parents by tucking your thumbs near a cemetery. Think it’s fun to whistle inside? Okay, but have fun living with demons. Same goes for singing at the dinner table. And don’t even think of using water for a toast, unless the point you mean to make is a death wish for your companions.

Hands itchy? The right one means money is coming. The left means you’ll lose it. Avoid haircuts on Tuesdays, and yellow flowers. Never gift anything with a blade. If someone does this to you, give them a coin.

Never enter with your left foot, don’t trim your nails at night, and keep an acorn in your pocket.

And ––

Listen: that sudden pause when we’re here together and the conversation lulls? That means an angel passing over.

Unicorn Hunt

Tracing the narrative lines of a medieval tapestry.

What is the meaning of this creature, beyond beautiful? Some said wisdom, others marriage. Some said a Christ-figure, others immortality. Whatever the case, it fell like a stag in the allegorical hunt. Consider the spirit’s pining against the vulnerability of the flesh.

In concert now: eternal yearning and earthly forces. These men with dogs in the first panel, they don’t look much up to the chase, more like bored heirs hanging out in a forest. Only the page in the distance seems alert: Look, look! Over here!

Now here’s the unicorn at the fountain, dipping his narwhal horn, the bitter water sweetened by its touch. Other animals gather. Witness the detail: the pheasant’s reflection in the pool. None of the hunters are looking. They stand around, talking.

Next: the creature surrounded, pierced on all sides with their spears, wearing the martyr’s expression. Notice the waiting reverence of the dogs while the men attack; the bloodlust. One of the hounds is pierced in the next panel, when the bleeding unicorn rises, kicking back.

A maiden appears by the wounded creature’s side while a dog licks its back. It is placid now. Someone in the background sounds a horn. Here comes the death blow, the body paraded into town on the back of a horse. Townspeople look ambivalent; the dogs appear nervous, alert.

Finally, the unicorn appears loosely chained to a tree. A low fence encircles him, the surrounding garden abundant, and what once appears to be blood now appears to be the juice of a pomegranate dripping from his side.

***

Inspired by The Unicorn Tapestries