In ancient Mesopotamia, the new year was celebrated in style. It took a few days to complete the rites and a main feature was the Sacred Marriage, wherein the gods and goddesses were joined together in a way that ensured the ongoing fertility of the earth. Naturally, the earth meant the land most important to the people, who lived in city-states with now-exotic and evocative names such as Ur. Now while the tutelary deity (or city god) of Ur was Nanna, the moon-god, bull of the sky, provider of plenty, guard against perfidy, naturally the local king would stand in his place and be married to the goddess, most likely Innana. Typical men, huh? Never losing an opportunity to aggrandize the self. Anyway, the point was that the party was taken seriously, there was something sacred occurring, and even if it was used as a way to cement patriarchal and military authority, it was also a way of ensuring that people’s lives stayed linked to the stories that explained to them the deepest meanings of life, the human place in the universe, and our ties to the mysteries out of which we arise and to which we return upon death.
Navajo ritual often ends with the phrase “Beauty is returned.” This is a lovely comment upon the successful ritual, which should leave us feeling refreshed in vision, mind and body. It’s the same result we want out of the telling of myth, which can re-place us in the heart of the world, a unique and lucky incarnation as a conscious, self-aware being in an incredible cosmos, capable of learning and teaching our fellow creatures, finding solace in our souls so that we can be at one, or at least comfortable in our skins, enough to be spiritually generous, or at least emotionally stable enough to not be a drain on others. This is what successful myth and ritual offers us, every day, but especially at signal moments in the annual calendar.
Having recently passed the solstice/Christmas season, we now stand at the horizon of another opportunity for a new start. Once we have settled in to sense the promise of the return of the light, through the dark night of the soul, which we pass through collectively each year and which we experience individually every now and then as passing phases of melancholy, or in catastrophic bursts of mental unease or collapse, or in evenings of emotional turmoil followed by sleepless nights, or in horror at the callous turn of events that sees innocent children suffering horribly or men dying pointlessly, or women harrowed by another gut wrenching chain of events over which they have no influence … the dark soul of the night, whatever version we know, that ends finally, either in a fresh dawning of hope in our hearts or in the birth of a new generation, has been and gone and now we can reset the clock. This chronological metaphor is not unwitting – we set the year by some kind of calculation, even if we don’t see the universe as a clockwork mechanism anymore – and this avails us of the opportunity to consider the end of one cycle and beginning of a new one.
This isn’t always a very comfortable reflection. I’ve been revisiting my hyper-sensitive early teenage years of late, as I recognize a new era in my personal standing ticking over through another cycle of social anxiety and emerging self-assuredness. But we have to just sit with this kind of material and keep on working on ourselves, day-by-day, allowing ourselves into the pit to the extent that we need to be dipped in it if we are to emerge truly refreshed, yet not letting ourselves be fully lost to the night, which will swallow us up and leave us crushed if we are not careful to maintain our sense of self as we go. It’s a matter of balance. Being real to the transformative potential of evernew, reliable myth and ritual, while maintaining a stable sense of self without which we cannot function helpfully on behalf of ourselves of others. I’m going to stay true to my life metaphor, my totemic animal power, my symbolic analogy from within, the Butterfly, this new year, and make sure I am true enough to my time in the cocoon of darkness to emerge completely refreshed, with new and colourful wings, on the other side. Happy New Year from White Fella Dreaming.
Image: 1. By アリオト (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 2. By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Opal_Art_Seekers_4” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. American painter Joseph Henry Sharp documented Indian tribal life and ritual. This is an idealized portrait of a seventeen-year-old Indian boy who later became Chief of the Taos Pueblo. The boy is shown drying a bird’s brain to create a talisman that will guarantee his future success. 3. Image title: Dark nightImage from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/dusk-dawn-public-domain-images-pictures/dark-night.jpg.html 4. “Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Milkweed Cropped 2800px” by Derek Ramsey – Derek Ramsey. Via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg