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June 11, 2000

White Out

Today is Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples of the Christ. This page is certainly not meant as a Christian exegeses, and you may note that I did not touch on last week’s Feast of the Ascension. My concern with the Holidays is not so much in following a prescribed path, as it is to find a path; learning why a day is marked, and determining which are fit for celebration. In practice, this means taking some note of all our “official” holidays, as sanctioned by the federal government. These are Holidays by law, affecting us whether we will or no. They generally provide a day off for much of the populace. How we use this compulsory free time can say a lot about us.

There are other, unofficial, Holidays which are widely honored, and these, too, tell us much about our needs and uses. Valentine’s Day and Halloween both have Traditional roots, but have retained their relevance by adjusting to changing times. Even the much maligned “commercial”, or “made-up” holidays cannot be ignored, if they fill a genuine need, Mother’s Day being the most successful example.

The most important Holidays reveal truths about our culture, as we struggle to find an appropriate stance to take in their regard. Christmas and Easter are nominally our “biggest” holidays, or, at least, Christmas is most vigorously celebrated (with money), and Easter is the highest holy day of our most prevalent religion. Because we separate church and state, Easter is not a federal holiday. Still, we manage to include it in Spring's school holidays, which means a whole week off; a period only matched at Christmas. Strangely, Christmas is a governmental holiday, but it is celebrated as the apotheosis of Capitalism, so apparently there’s no real conflict there.

Look closely enough at any Traditional system, such as Christianity, and you will find that every day has its special meanings, though some days mean more than others. Minding these meanings can keep one busy, and also, in line (Lectionary Resources is useful for keeping up). Our World has tended to cram more meaning into fewer Holidays, while treating the rest of time as all the same. This allows us to focus on other things, but we may find we have wondered far from the path, becoming lost without noticing.

For my part, I’d just as soon tell time by watching the grass grow, which also works. I didn’t really mean to treat Pentecost, considering it to have been implied in my Easter posts. Still, I am concerned with ways in which we may obtain the Holy Spirit, and I’m also reminded that the issue of Whitsun came up in relation to the Robin Hood and Maying material.

Whitsun, or White Sunday, is a British name for this day. Most references cite a tradition of holding christenings on Pentecost, just as the disciples were baptized on that day with holy spirit. The white garments worn for the ceremonies are said to have lent the name. Knight’s footnotes to “Robin Hood and the Monk” offer a deeper (and to me, preferable) reading, linking whiteness to the blossoms of Spring. He mentions this in the course of arguing for “Somer” as late May, but this year, Whitsun falls well into June. The date is figured from Easter, which is the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring after the Vernal Equinox. This year, the Equinox fell on the full moon, pushing Easter (and thus Whitsun) back, to the latest dates possible. That the most important date in Christianity is determined by a variable natural cycle illustrates something about the appropriate use of literalism in approaching the Spiritual.

As far as the Holy Spirit goes, It’s said to have come down that Sunday as tongues of flame, though it’s more often represented in the form of a dove. I think I’m on record as saying that everything in Creation is accomplished through the agency of this Spirit, if we can but see it. Therefore, I see Pentecost as an event not of acquisition, but of recognition. We may all learn to recognize the sanctity of existence, even if we do not note the dove descending, as in the paintings of old. Keen powers of perception will be needed, indeed, if we are to see how a thing well symbolized by burning tongue may just as soon be called a dove.
Still, a Dove's a bird; get out your binoculars!

Here are a few white flowers I saw through mine.

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June 07, 2000

Lost Cherries

I’m going through migration withdrawal. Where once a motion in the branches might have signaled a new discovery, now it reveals but another Starling, or Robin, or Blue Jay. Just the regulars, going about their business. Gone too are the hordes of birders. Only a few die-hards work the Park now, looking for nesting behavior, and the occasional oddity. I’m trying to remember how it was that I occupied myself before the passage of the passerines.

Actually, I had no trouble spending almost all of last Saturday’s sunlit hours in the Park. It was arguably one of the finest days of the year. Clear and bright, pleasantly warm, but not too hot. A perfect late Spring day. We haven’t had enough like that. This Spring has been on the cool and damp side, and the better weather has been sandwiched between some heavy storms. These have done a good deal of damage. One of the biggest English Elms on the top of the Great Hill lost a major limb. Nearby, close to the Blockhouse, a large Sweetgum tipped over at the roots. Almost any big storm will knock down a few trees, mostly Black Cherries. They seed naturally in the Park, or sprout from roots and stumps of fallen predecessors. Many of these second growth trees display what the lumber folks would call “bad form”. Others might call them picturesque, but they are prone to decay, and they often grow on eroding slopes, making them that much more likely to fall down.

At its best, the Black Cherry is a fine tree. It’s our largest native Cherry, known for its horizontally striated bark, which crackles with age. A medicinal syrup can be derived from the bark, but you’re more likely to run into an artificial flavoring in most of today’s products bearing the name Wild Cherry. The wood is said to be great for carpentry, but the only time you see it in the Park is when a tree is damaged.

The downed trees can be depressing, but only in a way which reflects the Park's un-naturalness. When a landmark of landscaping falls, it degrades the Park’s aesthetic for a generation. The Cherries, on the other hand, sprouting and falling, are behaving pretty much as they would in the wild, where they are mostly a short-lived successional species, quickly colonizing open spaces, before giving way to climax species.

So, if chronicling the Park makes one hypersensitive to its losses, it’s important to remember that the process of renewal is also at work here. One sees it in the flowers; those publicly displayed sex organs. Ironically, a freshly fallen tree provides the best look at details of crown and blossom, short of climbing (which is illegal in the Park). Storm-felled Cherries offered these views of the new blooms. Cherries have a deep horticultural heritage, but American Black Cherry less so than most. The ornamentals bloom early in the Spring, but the Black holds back, and when it blows, in late May, the flowers are tiny, though artfully clustered.

Every plant has it own flowering time, just as the birds arrive on schedule at their breeding grounds. Reproductive niches are concentrated in the Spring, though there’s always some life form that will make use of an alternative strategy. Competition is fierce: it’s a jungle out there. Or at least a meadow.

The value of attuning to Nature’s rhythms is not always realized by following them. In this case, the stricture of these sexual schedules serves to illuminate, by contrast, one of the greatest gifts we have received, and one which differentiates us from the other animals. Unlike most Mammals, Humans are not subject to estrus, but remain sexually available all year long, allowing courtship to operate on a whole different level, a level that may be called Cultural, but which leads inexorably to the Spiritual. Sex epitomizes ecstasy, but does not exhaust it. That we have been granted leeway in this matter opens our Life to possibilities which the birds and the trees do not dream of.

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May 31, 2000

Point of View...


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May 29, 2000

Memorial Day

The way we celebrate Memorial Day is more honest than what we say about it. Lip service is given to the dead, but the “unofficial beginning of Summer” is what’s enacted. I’m not sure whether it’s just incongruous, or dialectically appropriate, to memorialize our war dead at the season of rebirth. However that may be, we put more of ourselves, or at least more money, (by which it seems these things are measured,) into the barbecues, the sports, the sales, than we do into remembrance. It needn’t be so. A poignant possibility is being missed, unless you’re deeply moved by the playing of Taps, just before the Indy 500. Vroom.

This displacement is testament to the power of the Traditional Holidays. If a Holiday is really there, it will be celebrated, one way or another. This, then, is America’s Maying. A little on the late side, but still probing that margin we’ve discussed here, between Spring and Summer. Celebrated with typical populist exuberance, and not a little coarseness. As I said: honest.

No doubt the memorials are honest too. If they are subsumed, it’s only because, facing the Mystery of Life and Death, Life will choose Life. So we place flowers upon the graves of war, on this that once was Decoration Day. I have a few to strew, but they are for us all, for all of Life makes the same sacrifice. I would not belittle warriors, but do regret their necessity. Still, it’s an irony that their efforts have earned us the luxury of forgetfulness.

The luxury of remembrance is earned by virtue of having already celebrated May, in its due course, leaving room for today's memories.

Let us remember, then, the Dead. That died in war, or otherwise. Many have died of war that were not soldiers; they deserve no less, if not the same, regard. Then there are those, not warriors, who nonetheless found life to be a battle that they could not win, while others lived and loved it well, but died the same.

The Spring is fading.
Continuity is guaranteed.
Achieved, the ecstasy
withdraws. We all know
how this cycle goes.
But who knows where?

We live our lives for the sake of the Dead, as much as for the unborn, that yet shall join them.
As will we.
To decorate this strait, only the finest flowers will do.

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May 24, 2000

The Robins of Spring

I've seen the Snipe, I've seen the Kestrel. I've seen hawks, and herons and swooping swallows. I'm up to twenty six warblers, as well as Orioles, Tanagers, Grosbeaks, Flycatchers, and, not least of all (well, actually it is the least, or at least the smallest), the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. For years I visited the Park, and never saw these birds. The variety is astounding, but most of the birds in the Park at any given time are members of a few common species. One cannot quite afford to ignore them. In order to see something unusual, one must be well versed in the usual. The better you know the locals, the more the migrants stand out. If you instantly recognize the silhouette of a White-throated Sparrow, you won't follow it, instead of the Cape May Warbler that's one branch over. This makes for a lot of learning. You need to know them in light or darkness, perched or flying, wet from bathing, or fluffed and drying. The same bird can look many different ways. So, for all that there are two hundred species out there, mostly you see the same ones over and over. And when you're sure you know them, you should probably check once more, just to be certain.

I've seen a lot of Pigeons, or Rock Doves, to be proper. I've seen a lot of Starlings, Grackles, Crows, and Sparrows. And Robins. Lots and lots of Robins. Now, the Robin has a reputation as a harbinger of Spring, and they do migrate, but many nest here, and some stay all Winter. You can see a Robin in the Park any day of the year. It is perhaps the best loved of the regulars. For one thing, it's more colorful than most of the birds living in association with humans, and they're not so dependent on our waste as are the Pigeons and the House Sparrows. (Actually, it seems to be a general rule that those birds which share our habitat are drabber than members of the same species living in natural environments, which may also say something about those of us who share their circumstances.) Anyway, people like Robins, and, in fact, the bird embodies a nostalgia for our European heritage. The name was bestowed by colonists who were reminded of the smaller European Robin. The two birds are only distantly related, but they share a color scheme, and their behavior is similar. Both are approachable, and do not shy from humans. They frequent parks and gardens, as well as forest floors. They forage on the ground, making them more visible than canopy oriented species. "Robin" was once as common a name as "Bob": both are informal types of "Robert", thus the name embodies a friendly familiarity.

There is another Robin associated with Spring, also a familiar of the Wood. Take a look at this bit of poetry, anthologized in the first edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse. The last two stanzas make it clear that the text is from a Robin Hood ballad. Editor Quiller-Couch makes no mention of the fact, instead appending his own title, "May in the Green-Wood". For him, this conventionalized introductory passage could stand on its own as representative of a whole genre of English poetry that celebrates the Spring. The cutting is a bit highhanded by today's editorial standards, but the point is well made. The so-called Greenwood Tradition provides the context not only for the Robin Hood material, but for a range of other ballads and legends as well. It has an identity of its own, beyond the specifics of any plot.

Robin Hood's origins are obscure. Scholars have sought to identify him with some historical figure, or have seen in him a reconfigured pagan spirit: Rob o' the Wood. Interest has tended to focus on the dramatic aspects of the legend, rather than on the sylvan dimension in which they occur, but it's exactly that zone which I'm concerned with. In the Greenwood, many paths meet beneath the Trysting Tree, and Robin Hood's identity results from this conjunction. The theme of social justice: robbing from the rich to give to the poor, is today thought of as the central motif of the legend, the stuff of action movies. It was certainly important in the Middle Ages, but Robin was also adapted to another, less proactive function, as a leading figure of the May Games.

The first recorded reference to Robin is from the 1370's, when "rhymes of Robin Hood" are mentioned in passing, in Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman. The legends may date from as early as the 12th century, but characters and plot lines continued to be added, in accordance with contemporary mores, for several hundred years. The poetic fragment cited above is, in fact, the beginning of "Robin Hood and the Monk", which may be the oldest written work about Robin to be preserved, dated to around 1450. Looking at the full text (from Rochester University's excellent site) we can see that the Greenwood introduction is but a small part of this lengthy ballad. For purposes of narrative, there is only so much to say of the Greenwood, but for purposes of ecstatic orientation, there is everything to experience, if not to speak.

What we cannot speak of, we must approach in other ways. A large body of ritual accrued around the season of rebirth. The Maypole we remember, along with Morris dancing, but the season was honored throughout the month, with a variety of activities, some rising to the level of ceremony, others more along the lines of what we would call a party. The first footnote to the ballad reiterates my point about the timing of the festivities. The aptly named Professor Knight is perhaps a bit pedantic, going so far as to suggest that Chaucer is confused, but I think that we agree on the main premise. April or May, Spring or Somer, however phrased, what is being celebrated is Rebirth, in all its flowering lushness. The fullness of Spring, not its incipient signals, nor the darkening greens of lazy Summer. As a custodian of the woodlands, Robin was incorporated into these celebrations: the Games of May. He guides us on the uncertain journey between the order of the town and the pathless chaos that obscures the heart of the forest. As a friendly guide, he inhabits the sun-dappled margins of the woods, much like his avian namesake. Those not well adjusted to the landscape may be led deeper, into darkness, there to be despoiled. Robin's method of robbery is more in the nature of a test, and not unrelated to procedures of Shamanic initiation. The traveler is invited to a hearty feast, and afterwards is asked to pay. An honest soul who offers what he has, though it be but a penny, is sent safely on his way. Those that would hide their riches are summarily relieved of them, and sent back from whence they came, unable to make progress.

The Greenwood domain embodies the feminine presence of the Goddess. Robin's role as Her minion is displaced onto his conventionalized devotion to the Virgin Mary, which is expressed throughout the various texts. The earliest Robin Hood tales are otherwise remarkable for their lack of significant female characters. His consort, Marian, arrived later, from across the channel. What links them is ostensibly a chance of naming, though I suspect the connection runs deeper. Robin and Marian are the title characters of a popular French pastourelle, which is assumed to have been confounded with the May Games on the one hand, and the Robin Hood stories on the other. The pastourelle, or pastoral, is a romance form, unlike the outlaw ballads, but it is similar in that the characters gain identity from their surrounding landscape. As the name implies, this pastoral zone is not so wild as the Greenwood, rather the protagonists are shepherd and shepherdess, but they are removed from the town, and their country context serves to legitimize a level of sexuality not properly embodied by the more "civilized" townspeople.

However it may have been, the pastoral Marian seems to have made her way into the Springtime rituals as Queen of the May, and in England her paramour Robin became coincident with Robin Hood. Their pairing would lend his legend the romantic dimension it was lacking. Without that quality, I doubt the tale could have lived on in popular consciousness, as it has to this day. But here I want to return to Robin the bird.

I suspect that the old-world Robin, being a smaller bird, flits more than its American counterpart. Not that our Robins can't flit a bit, if need be. Flitting is emblematic songbird behavior. Maddening and mesmerizing for the bird watcher. They take wing faster than one can see, alighting at a distance for another moment, only. They are like quantum particles, inexplicably appearing out of nowhere, then gone without a trace. They flit along the forest eaves, intersecting broken sun, filtered beams of golden-green. Eyes that once could follow these saw more than we today can see. And saw it all with naked eye, unaided by binocular. As the bird moves in mystery, so too the sunlight moves. Or rather, doesn't. But guided by our eye's mind, we see the light play over leaf and trunk, and spill upon the ground like fluid. The Light is steady; a trembling world but intervenes.

This confluence of man and bird, sunbeam and eyesight, does indeed, in my estimation, hearken back to a Tradition deeper than the Christian Middle Ages. Traces of Shamanism are evident, Celtic and older. Spirit-identification with a bird is a common Shamanic phenomenon, and continues to be documented by anthropologists today. I want to speculate about something less demonstrable, other than through a dappled argument that works from the inside out.

Thus we come to the quintessential attribute of Robin Hood: his bow and arrow. The Paleolithic origins of this device predate Robin by millennia, but his deployment may help us to understand its genesis. What I want to argue is that the bow and arrow does not represent weaponry, as such. Its utility is of another order, though marred by that which mars all of Creation. In the Robin Hood tales, the bow is rarely used as a weapon. The real fighting is done with swords, while archery seems a higher, almost spiritual, calling. The bow is used for idealized contests of skill, which epitomize the natural virtue of the forest-dwellers, who always outshoot their cultured rivals. Its other main usage is in poaching the king's deer. Obtaining illicit venison is not depicted as a violent crime, but rather represents a just use of resources, in harmonious accord with the natural economy of the Greenwood.

The magic of archery lies in its literalization of the act of seeing. The technology is just a means to that end. It was not devised under the impetus of some mechanistic vector, but through the inspiration granted to those students of vision, the Shamans of the foretime. What we call inventions, they understood as gifts of the gods, or teachings of the native spirits. They projected their own vision into the birds, and learned of them the art of flight, by way of a device that mimics the swift path of an eye that finds with certainty its intended target. They borrowed a few feathers, lashing them to the tail of their fledgling. This "bird"; the arrow, became a vehicle of ownership, pointedly imparting the lesson that what is seen is thus possessed.

An artificial bird teaches the mystery of vision, and lays claim to what it "sees". The archer and the bird watcher differ by degree, but not in essence. Today, we can be initiated through binoculars, looking without killing. The messy business is handed off, unseen, to others. But every Robin serves reminder that our gaze is a responsibility. Nothing we see is thereby unaffected. All that we see deserves our best regard.

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May 14, 2000

Mother's Day


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May 13, 2000

Blowing, and Blown Away


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May 9, 2000

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

The birds are here!
After a damp and chilly April, migratory songbirds have arrived in force, along with warmer weather from the south. The weekend bathed in an almost tropical ambiance. The humidity was high, the temperature over ninety, but rather than the torpor of Summer, the very air seemed alive, animated by bioprocesses. Consumed and then expelled by animals and plants alike. Heated by the sun from above, and from below by last year's leaf litter, finally making way; decaying in the face of the new season's hunger for organic sustenance. You could all but see growth and dispersion occurring before your eyes.

Through this density of Spring flew countless birds, while near as many bird watchers followed them on foot. Actually, the term "bird watcher" has fallen into disrepute; another example of the Name problem that I've mentioned here, previously. We tend to chafe at any name imposed upon us, finding there a focus for the worst of our identity. "Bird watcher" seems to conjure up the image of a socially inept nerd, bereft of masculine values. The new word is "birder". Vigor has been added through concision. We eliminate the modifier, and simply turn the word bird into a verb: I bird the Park, and so I am a birder. Such changes seem to help at first, but soon they wane, for the identity itself has not altered. Perhaps we will be "birdists" next, but when people ask if I'm a bird watcher, I say "no, I'm just looking".

Whatever you want to call it, looking at birds is good clean fun. It seems to fall somewhere between sport, hobby, and vocation. Certainly there is score keeping, for those so inclined. I'm up to twenty-four Warblers for this Spring, seventeen in one day. No great feat, compared to the experts, who will see closer to forty by the end of the month. To me, it's more about actually getting to know the bird, rather than checking it off on a list. There is a genuinely ecstatic thrill to a good sighting. Encompassed in the circle of the binocular field, the bird is yours; a transitory possession (birders don't say "I saw a Prothonotary Warbler", but rather, "I had one"). Having located a bird of interest, one tries to keep it in view. In and out of the foliage, following obscure suggestions of movement, (not the wind, no, not that sparrow,) as long as this bird is before my eyes, just so long am I truly alive. One's own existence is verified by another's. There is a certain reassurance in that the birds are known quantities, cataloged and named, with names they never do complain of. Not that we haven't changed their names from time to time, to fit the currencies of Science.

The birds are more reliable, if less exact, than Science. Weather influences their progress, but each year they follow much the same sequence of arrival. The Park lies at the confluence of two major migration routes. A green landmark in an urbanized area, it is an attractive resting point on a journey that may span two continents. Upwards of two hundred species are seen in the Park over the course of a year, mostly during the Spring and Fall migration periods. A few will nest here, but most are just in transit, without consideration for the pleasure they afford their observers. Most highly prized are the Warblers: small, colorful birds, with over fifty different species, and a wide variety of plumages. Some are plentiful, others not so. With a little effort, one may be assured of seeing many beauties, but also there are rarities to keep your interest, and drive the future. Birding maintains a fine balance between reward and effort; the hope of the unusual fuels a deepening familiarity with what is common.

So I've seen a lot of birds. I've seen Wilson's Warbler, commemorating Alexander Wilson, the famed naturalist and artist, who named many birds, and whose name is the same as mine, though I was not named after him. Two names the same, or one we share? I've gotten a bit confused trying to put names on blurs, or separate those Thrushes that "cannot be distinguished in the field". And I have hardly even begun to address the issue of song. Bird song is a delight, and there is no music more Traditional. As far as I know, the birds have been singing the same songs as long as they have sung. Except, of course, for those finches on the other islands...

Anyway, among the birds I saw last Saturday was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which brings me to the point I meant to get at to begin with. The Cuckoo, and its song, are central to the oldest secular song preserved in the English language, which, fittingly, is an ode to Spring. The song is Sumer is Icumen in, and the bird is actually a European Cuckoo, but it's Traditional to identify traces of one's home in far off places, and the family is the same, so I'll take a cue from our colonial Cuckoo any day, even if its vocalization does differ from its clock-inhabiting counterpart. At least ours is not a parasite.

The song, (the human song), is an early artifact of Middle English, the language that resulted from the imposition of Norman French onto Anglo Saxon, after the conquest of 1066. It's a language at once familiar and obscure. We seem to get the general sense of it, but keep running into indecipherable passages that collapse the whole edifice. One naturally assumes that sumer corresponds to summer, but the sense has changed. I prefer the translation that renders the line as "Spring has come in" , which agrees better with the imagery of the lyric.

I won't get into the controversy over "verteth", which some have been reluctant to translate as "fart". Apparently the old manuscript did not have a lyric advisory label. Let me note instead that "bloweth med" does not refer to wind, or honey wine (or vomiting the same), but means "the meadow blooms". To blow is an old term for blossoming, which we don't hear much any more, but we often refer to things blowing up, with reference to explosions. We would do well to meditate on how the descriptive aptness of the term issues not from windy force, but from the slower power of a flower, and how that may be stronger, in the end.
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May 1, 2000

A May Day Carol

Now the Springtide is at the full. Time for flowers and for courting. The whole world seems to turn to sex. Bees spreading pollen. Birds in breeding plumage. Blossoms loud as signals, sounding "Love me, love me, love me only. Me alone, for this moment, and forever."

The Carol has it clearly; the conventionalized pieties are but frames for mysteries more fleshly. The budding branch inserted like a key into the languor of the dream, summoning the eternal She into the Underworld (or dairy) deep, there to tap the Source of Cream.
Or, failing that, let's have a drink.
Such is Spring's philosophy.

I have said Spring has three faces:

Saint Patrick's for the Past Time;
Easter for the Future;
May Day for the Moment
.

The first two faces wear human features: our concern with Time that's absent. But this year's round of birth and death knows no other moment. Busy forgetting Winter, Spring cannot foresee the Future. Now is the time for Games of May, for dancing in a dizzy circle, 'round the May Pole, holding tight to a ribbon fastened somehow to some center which propels us through the circuit.

All this runs on Ecstasy.
A little ecstasy of dizziness,
a larger ecstasy of Love.
Life is the Ecstasy of Matter,
Spring is the Climax of the Year.

Ecstasy is a spark of the divine, that prompts us to do what we must. The ecstasy of taste drives us to eat; the ecstasy of love, to procreate. Time is obliterated in its face. For a moment we are bound in an embrace of satisfaction without surcease. Yet cease it does, it always does, here amid the Fallen World. The memory will not suffice; having done, we must do it once again.

To do again is to form a Tradition.
That is the pattern Ecstasy teaches.
Tradition sends us into the woods this day.
Our task is to return with a fragment of the Ecstasy that is Spring.
A Branch of May betokens Love. Here is mine to you.
Forget the Past, forget the Future.
Spend a Moment in the way you would wish to spend Forever.
For this Moment, we have May Day.



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April 28, 2000

Arbor Day

Today is Arbor Day, another worthy holiday, but not a Traditional one. The idea is to plant trees. That such a day is necessary is indicative of our alienation from the landscape, as well as our desire to control it. Today the Parks Department is planting new American Chestnut trees in Central Park. The strain is said to be blight resistant; the result of decades of horticultural effort. If they do indeed survive to reach maturity, they will be simultaneously nostalgic and exotic. Few of us have encountered a full grown Chestnut, though they were a familiar presence at the beginning of the last century. Their reintroduction bespeaks a desire to return the land to its "natural" state, but it will create an unknown grove, strange to those who have grown up absent the species.

There is a magic to the trees, that they are such a nexus; looking both forward and behind. Always they remind us of a past we cannot revisit. But to plant a tree is a gesture towards the future, and one meant to outlive us. They put us in perspective.

Here are a few of mine.

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April 23, 2000

Three Faces of Spring:
Saint Patrick's for the Past Time;
Easter for the Future;
Mayday for the Moment

Easter looks forward.
Whatever really happened, the Resurrection remains a promise, and promises imply a future in which to be kept.
Its association with Spring is pure poetry; rebirth a winning metaphor. But when the promise of Easter is fulfilled, Time is superseded, the seasons rendered irrelevant. That's something to look forward to.

How will we get there?
Yesterday I wrote of the Christian reconfiguration of the Mysteries. Where once people imitated the gods, now deity affects humanity.
We need another such reversal.
Time now for us to take responsibility, initiate anew the cycle, and move to model God again within ourselves. And this time, not in ceremony, but actuality.

No small task, but we have a new millennium to fill up with our efforts. Who knows how much Future it will take to reach the end of Time?
We can't afford to be embarrassed by this ambition, for it's incumbent upon us to make of the Future something more than the name of the place where we shall die.

When we reach whatever end we reach, Time must give way, and something like a moment (but less confined) obtains, never to pass away.

In hope of this, we keep the Future open, or seek to open ourselves to it, even as we cannot staunch the flow of Time. The seasons still must change, though in familiar ways. We must change, into something we cannot yet imagine.

Easter's promise of rebirth opens up our Future; the rebirth of Spring fills our Present. Embrace what is, but don't disdain a promise.

This day dawns dim and damp, not good for bonnets or for bunnies, but good for hope, and holding promise of improvement. I will seek for trees and birds, and try a little harder. And though it rain for forty days and forty nights, I trust the Future holds a sunbeam yet.

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April 22, 2000

Is Today a Holiday?

Today is Earth Day, and also Holy Saturday.

I sympathize with the idea of Earth Day, but my practice has led me towards what I see as more Traditional modes of planetary appreciation. On Saint Patrick's Day, I outlined my notion of the Spring Holidays, and I intend to continue working through that system (actually, it's a poem, not a system; so much the better.) Earth Day seems to contain a political motivation, and seeks to update the Tradition with respect to contemporary concerns. I would like to think that I am participating in that effort, but I have no wish to descend into the sort of squabbling found here.

Tradition provides linkage; a timeless thread that guides us through Time's labyrinth. It's about continuity and connection; not putting new names on what we already have. Everything required to honor this occasion is close at hand. In fact, the tools are so familiar as to be easily overlooked. If adopting novel ways helps to convince some people that they are actually doing something, then they have my blessing. For my part, the established Holidays are the tools. Celebration and observance amount to the same thing: looking deeply into the meaning of the occasion, its original impulse, and all that has accrued to it through time. Meditation as celebration. When the Holiday disarms the ego, then you are in the Tradition.

To this end, I think that Holy Saturday is of the greatest interest here. It's often the forgotten day between Good Friday and Easter, but it's most relevant to contemporary consciousness. Agnosticism (a word coined by T. H. Huxley, "Darwin's Bulldog", and grandfather of Aldous) defines the modern relationship to God: we just don't know. Atheism demands more certainty than is available to most of us, even as doctrinal religions do. Belief of any kind is suspect. Our lives are spent much as the followers of Jesus spent that Saturday; we wonder, and we wait. They knew only that the object of their cause was dead, and they had not the means to believe that he could live again. In such a pass are we. A certain kind of reason mitigates against belief, and even faith must at some point be fulfilled, as on that Easter Sunday. Those who have not glimpsed the Resurrection are waiting still. And we can ill afford to wait.

This is where Tradition can assist us. Tradition encodes knowledge, not scientific knowledge, but true Gnosis; the opposite of our uncertainty. Tradition tells us what even the gospels do not; the tale of Jesus' doings on this day: the Harrowing of Hell.

Jesus' descent to the Underworld is not described in the biblical narrative, but it is found in early apocrypha, and was embraced by the Church. Some will say that this was just a way of reconciling the new faith with its Jewish origins. Jesus redeems the worthy denizens of the Underworld, (which up until then was not a true Hell,) and allows them into Heaven, thus appropriating, without fully accepting, the history of the Hebrews. Henceforward, all access must be through Him.

There is something to this view, but the accommodation goes much deeper. In fact, the Underworld journey is a widespread type of the initiatory experience common to virtually all Traditional cultures. It is the very soul of Shamanism, that practical spirituality upon which all others have been built (even if the edifice obscures the foundation). The pagan converts who displaced Jews as the main constituency of Christianity certainly recognized the pattern. They probably demanded it. Their heritage was in the cosmopolitan mystery cults of the Mediterranean world, which were essentially a sophisticated elaboration of time-honored Shamanic practice. The mysteries typically put the initiate through a ritual reenactment of the patron deity's mythos. The most famous were the Eleusinian Mysteries, devoted to the Underworld sojourn and return of Persephone, the daughter of the Earth. These rites are now thought to have employed a psychoactive brew, a fact which emphasizes their connection to "primitive" ceremonies, which routinely employ hallucinogenic plants in this context. Jesus might be accepted as the new god, but he had to fulfill the old expectations. Christianity could not survive, except by engaging the deeper Tradition.

Rebirth remains the best metaphor we have for spiritual awakening. It is not won without a price. Death must separate the old life from the new, suspended in between, as is this Saturday. That the deity should suffer the same death marks a watershed in our spiritual evolution; a closer identification between the human and the divine. If God is more like us, then our own divinity becomes the more apparent. Jesus does not suffer for us, but as us. When we know this, we will know Him. And knowing Him will separate us from our Selves. The perspective thereby afforded will not diffuse the Mystery, but does teach us the proper stance to take in Mystery's presence. That stance will be required of us on the morrow.

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