Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Corners of the Earth

This short meditation draws upon Eleanor Farjeon's "People of the East" for inspiration, but develops it for all the compass points.

The third section (the South) is inspired by J.V. Taylor's "The Primal Vision". Regarding Hypatia's age ( the Eastern segment of the narrative), I'm drawing on the fairly recent (and probably best work) - Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska, who put her age at around 60, rather than the rather glamorised earlier accounts (e.g Charles Kinglsey!) - some of the sources do suggest an older account, and Dzielska also argues that it would have been unlikely that she would have been at the same age as Synesius of Cyrene, whom she taught. Dzielska also deals with the Neoplatonism that she taught (e.g the Chaldean Oracles), and I've also been reading the fascinating study by A.J. Bregman -  "Synesius of Cyrene, Philosopher-Bishop" and how Synesius reconciled Christianity with Neoplatonism to his own satisfaction.

The different coloured robes of the four men are taken from Celtic traditions, the woman in blue is, of course, borrowed from George MacDonald's At The Back of the North Wind, while the hill fort is based on Weathertop.
The Corners of the Earth
(A Meditation for the Solstice)
I am asleep, and in my dream, I see a mist. It clears, and I see the stone and earth banks; I know that I am standing in an ancient hill fort, lit with four flaming torches, and there are four entrances to the fort, and in its midst, a woman in a blue robe, with long dark hair flowing down her back, and intense green eyes. I sit upon the ground, cross-legged, and look up at her. She is looking beyond me towards the North.
A figure appears in the North, an old man in a black robe, with grey hair and a white beard. He walks in and stands in front of the lady.
"What have you to tell of the North, brother?" she asks. And he begins.
I was born in a land of fire and ice, and I left and traversed the sea until I came into harbour within the sweeping fiords of Norway. I crossed the snowy mountains of Sweden, and came to the land of the Danes.
I saw a fierce race, heading forth in long ships, ready to take what rich pickings they could from weaker lands to the south. They prized honour above all else, and feasted in great halls, singing the praises of Odin the Mighty, of Thor the God of Thunder, and the other mighty denizens of Asgard.
But came a time when they were swept away like the tide by time. On that day, the time of the gods will come to an end, and the banquet hall will lie in ruins. There will be a final battle, and Ragnarok will come, and this will be the twilight of the gods.
Then there will be silence, and the silence will be over the land from the fiords to the frozen ice sheets of the North. This is our time, a still point in the year, the darkest night, the time of silence brooding over the tundra. Fire will be lit in homes at night, to keep out the cold, and keep at bay the darkness that settles within the soul, the sadness felt at the waning of the light.
But alas for those who live alone, and have no neighbours to bring cheer in the chill days and nights.
But above the silent lands will come light, a shimmering curtain of green and blue, as the Northern lights shine forth in all their glory, blazing and incandescent, a tumult of sheer light. And the wind will sing to the people of the land:
People, look North. The time is near
Time to cast off your doubt and fear
Look out for those that cannot cope
Reach out a hand, and bring them hope
People, look North and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
Now lady turns to face the west. A figure appears, a middle aged man, in a grey robe, with a tonsure, and a short neatly trimmed beard. He walks in and stands in front of the lady.
"What have you to tell of the West, brother?", she asks. And he begins.
I was born in the land covered with ice, and it thawed and became thick with a green forest, a wild wood that covered the land. And a people came to me from across the sea, and settled on the shores of my land.
I watched over the land, and they grew into a wise people, who settled and farmed the land, and in time there came to be the Five Kingdoms of the land, of Leinster, Ulster, Munster, Connacht and Meath. They worked metals, making fine tools and ornaments of bronze and iron and gold. And the druids arose amongst them, wise men, dispensers of wisdom and justice, keepers of sacred laws, and seekers of signs in the stars.
I saw the tribes and they came together at the shortest day, for a time of fire and feasting, and merry meet on the Hill of Tara, beside the stone of destiny, to sing songs and dance to the pipes. And when the fire had burned down, and smouldered red ashes, they circled, and leapt over the last of the flame.
I saw the Grey King reach out from under the Mountain, and a chill mist descended on the land; I saw wars, and invading peoples, and a land under an alien yoke. And who would now sing of Tara, and walk swiftly along Ossian's way?
And I saw the chains of the Grey King broken, and the people set free, the bonfires blazing, beacons across the hills of the land, and sweet the sound of the harp, as the peoples gathered to rejoice and feel the warmth of the flames. And the wind will sing to the people of the land:
People, look West. The time is near
Time to cast off your doubt and fear
Look out for strength in soil and earth
Plant now the seed that gives rebirth
People, look West and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.
Now lady turns to face the south. A figure appears, a dark skinned man in a white robe, with a turban on his head; he is clean-shaven. He walks in and stands in front of the lady.
"What have you to tell of the South, brother?", she asks. And he begins.
I was born in a land of desert plains, and great rivers, in the dawning of mankind, tribes came hunting and gathering from the far south and they settled in my land, and tilled the soil, watered their crops, and herded their sheep and cattle.
They lived in small villages, in simple huts, and they came together to eat simple fare, meat and vegetables stewed in large pots over the charcoal fire, and break the freshly baked bread and share it among themselves, and eat the broiled fish.
And the women sang songs and danced, and the drums began, and they wakened the spirit of the earth with the beating of the drum, the songs of the soil, the rhythms of the seasons.
But this is an ancient land, and kings arose, and priests, and the peoples were enslaved, and mighty empires rose and fell. And the sun god looked down with displeasure, and the land became a desert, a place of heat and dust; it became a dry land with no water, and the crops grew sickly though lack of water, and famine came to the south. This is a dark age, a time of dying light.
Yet I saw the people take hope, and come across the dry land, to the ancient ruins of their ancestors, and may their drums beat, and awaken once more the primal vision, and heal the land.
But alas, for those who flee the times of war, and whose bellies are swollen with hunger, and who suck greedily at every small drop of the brackish water that is all there is to assuage their thirst.
Here is the riddle of the sphinx, for our age, how can this land be born again when it is old? How can the dry places run once more with flowing water. Let the south be so born again in hope from the ashes, that the spirit of compassion can reach out from lands far distant, to touch a starving child. Like an eagle, the spirit of compassion will rise again, with wings of hope, a sign for the world to see as it unfolds its wings and soars into the sky. A new day will dawn. And the wind will sing to the people of the land:
People, look South. The time is near
Time to cast off your doubt and fear
Look out for those with hunger pain
And do not let them die in vain
People, look South and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.
Now the lady turns to face the east. A figure appears, a man in a red robe, with an ancient wrinkled face, and a sharp nose. He walks in and stands in front of the lady.
"What have you to tell of the East, brother?", she asks. And he begins.
I was born in the East, not the distant east, but on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A great port was built, and a lighthouse shone, a blazing beacon in the night, a wonder of the world. Mine was a land of the scholar, of the greatest of libraries, and the wisdom of the philosophers who studied and mapped the heavens; here also, they meditated upon the paths of wisdom in the Chaldean oracles, on the source of being, of that which is one and infinite.
But darkness came upon our land, the flame of knowledge was extinguished, and the oracle was silenced. I saw the last of the keepers of wisdom, Hypatia, the daughter of Theon, meet her doom. She who had mapped the heavens with her astrolabe, and imparted wisdom to Christian and Pagan alike, was taken by the darkness in her sixtieth year.
I saw her speaking in the square to many people, speaking about the one source of being, of that which is infinite, and they were listening to her in silence  But a fanatic horde came upon her, their minds clouded with jealousy and hate, and they tore her clothes, and dragged her to the Church of Christ, and there they cut her down, and she died on the floor of the temple, and I wept bitterly.
And I too fled the land, under the shadow of a darkening cloud. I went further east, to the lands where lived the Magi; here we studied the signs and portents in the sky, and pondered the music of the spheres, the dance of the planets.
There we kept the watch, and looked deep into the reflected waters for conjunctions in the night sky, that a meeting of three signs in one may come. For we know that the dawn will come, and the longest night will end. And the wind will sing to the people of the land:
People, look East. The time is near
Time to cast off your doubt and fear
Wars will end, and fights will cease
The coming sign, the star of peace
People, look East and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
Then the lady in the blue robe turned clockwise to each of the four corners of the earth, to north, to west, to south, to east. And she bowed to each of the four men, and they bowed to her. And she said:
Go now, to watch the lands you know
Plant seeds of hope that they may grow
And keep the faith, then meet once more
When shortest day, come each his door
And light will lengthen now each day
And love, the lord, is on the way.
Stand at the crossroads and look.
Ask for the ancient paths, seek the merry way.
Walk in it and you will find rest for your soul.
Now as the Lady spoke, her voice became fainter and fainter, and a mist came over my eyes so that I could not see, and the dream faded into grey. And I awoke in a cold room, seated in my armchair beside a black and empty grate, the clock striking three, and the wind howling outside.

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