The Beginning of Always

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Ancient Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”

Dante Alighieri

I love beginnings, a fresh start, a new adventure with promises of open roads and opportunities.   Energy, anticipation and hope are all wrapped up in “firsts.”  As a whole, we understand what is required in the early stages:  set up a plan, identity a goal, make a list, share the list.  Oh, the rush of adrenaline as we race into the future.  There will be an end, of course.  And what a glorious feeling it will be when we come to the end of our journey, knowing that we have given our best.

Beginnings and endings are the bookends of our existence.  Two points of time that frame the experiences, both good and the not so good, that nuance our lives.

And then there is always…forever.

Ancient Eqypt

The Great Sphinx

Forever is a very long time.  We may say that we will love forever and remember forever, even though we are not here forever.   Since the beginning of time, however, we have been pursuing the concept of “always” with a boundless passion.  Ancient Egyptians believed that death was only a temporary interlude before rebirth and a new journey.  The ancient Etruscans envisioned sea horses and dolphins transporting souls to Elysium, the Islands of the Blessed.  Ancient Greeks crossed the river Styx on a boat, steered by Charon.

Are we so different from the ancients? William Shakespeare, in his play Hamlet, called death: “The undiscovered country from whose bourn, No traveler returns.”   This thought is echoed by Chancellor Gorkon, in Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country. (You may recall that Chancellor Gorkon stated that Shakespeare could only be perfectly experienced in the “the original Klingon.”)

Ancient Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza

We recognize and embrace forever for it seems to be in our DNA to press forward, to take “a next step.”  Here’s a thought:  what if “forever” was in the moment?  That every breath we take (the average person takes between 17,280 – 23,040 per day) the possibility of always is before us.  As Emily Dickinson once wrote:

 “Forever is composed of nows.”

Axis Mundi: The World Centre

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Sacred Spaces

I wear a Druids Cross made of fine pewter these days, a remnant from my summer travels in the Scottish Highlands.  It is said that in the times of the Druids, those who wore this symbol had been given the duty of protecting the sacred sites across the land. Rather than wear a pendant, the emblem was tattooed on their bodies so that all that came in their presence would recognize their sacred task.

Mythology speaks to humanity’s search for an axis mundi, which is defined as the world centre, the link that joins Heaven and Earth. This is the point where communication, and perhaps some form of travel, can occur between higher and lower realms.   Many of these places are found in mountains or high places where the earth and sky seem to reach out to each other.  They are usually marked with a mythical object to signify sacredness. Yggdrasil, an immense ash tree whose branches extend far into the heavens and supported by three roots burrowed into three levels of the universe, is fundamental within Norse mythology.  Ancient Greeks, believing that omphalos stones granted the power of direct communication with the gods, were erected throughout the Mediterranean world, the most notable being at Delphi.

The remarkable ability of the axis mundi is that there can be numerous spaces that serve as the centre of the world simultaneously.  They can be found in a natural setting or in a human construction such as a temple or palace.  Every generation has been engaged in creating or acknowledging a place that transcends the ordinary.  From the ziggurats of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians to the totem poles of indigenous peoples of the Americas, to the modern day skyscraper such as the Eiffel Tower, we continue to look for ways to reach beyond our finite existence.

There are some who believe that the most important axis mundi is found within ourselves.  Thomas Merton once wrote, “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.”

Perhaps our centre of the world is closer than we think.

A Toast to “The Professor”

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“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” 
J.R.R. Tolkien

To The Professor

Tonight, I joined other J.R.R. Tolkien fans from around the world in raising a glass to toast the birthday of this much loved author at precisely 21:00 (9:00pm) local time. The toast was simply “The Professor.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, created a collection of legends set in a fictional universe.  He once said that “War deepened and sobered my imagination and stimulated my love of fantasy.”  The months in the trenches of WWI made a lasting impression, which is reflected within his writings.  Even so, J.R.R. Tolkien did not yield to despondency.  His response was to embrace life as a grand adventure to be experienced abundantly and completely.

Over the past few months, I have considered the role of mythology in our world. We have an insatiable desire to give meaning to our existence and purpose for our involvement within family structures and within the wider community. What better time to start a series of posts on mythology than on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday.

Roads Go Ever On

By J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon. Continue reading

Victor & Juliette

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“To love another person is to see the face of God.” 
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Paris

Victor Hugo is considered one of the greatest and most beloved of French writers.  Les Misérables, and Notre-Dame de Paris, (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) set forth universal themes that continue to stimulate and challenge.

Victor Hugo had a great love – Juliette Drouet, a French actress who left her theatrical career to devote her life entirely to him.   She was his secretary and travelling companion.  Some would even say that she lived a secluded existence; she would only go into public in his company.  Their letters spanned decades and demonstrated a profound and enduring love.  Following are excerpts from their correspondence.

Love Letter to Victor Hugo, dated 1831

“I love you, I love you, my Victor; I cannot reiterate it too often; I can never express it as much as I feel it. I recognize you in all the beauty that surrounds me – in form, in colour, in perfume, in harmonious sound: all of these mean you to me.  You are superior to all.  I see and admire – you are all!  You are not only the solar spectrum with the seven luminous colours, but the sun himself, that illumines, warms, and revivifies!  This is what you are, and I am the lowly woman that adores you.”

Juliette

Love Letter to Juliette Drouet, dated 1851

(Recall that in 1851, Victor Hugo was sentenced to a fine of 500 francs and six months imprisonment for his article condemning capital punishment.  That same year, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte become Napoleon III of France, ending the Second Republic)

“You have been wonderful, my Juliette, all through these dark and violent days. If I needed love, you brought it to me, bless you!   When, in my hiding places, always dangerous, after a night of waiting, I heard the key of my door trembling in your fingers, peril and darkness were no longer round me – what entered then was light!  We must never forget those terrible, but so sweet, hours when you were close to me in the intervals of fighting. Let us remember all our lives that dark little room, the ancient hangings, the two armchairs, side by side, the meal we ate off the corner of the table….”

Victor

 

For A Woman Knows

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“A letter is a soul, so faithful an echo of the speaking voice that to the sensitive it is among the richest treasures of love.” 
Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot

Love

Honoré de Balzac was born May 20, 1799, just six years after the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  He was only in his 16th year when Napoléon Bonaparte fell from power.   He is known for his magnum opus La Comédie humaine, which was a sequence of nearly 100 novels and plays that reflected life in France after 1815, sans Napoléon.

Honoré de Balzac was a headstrong child, who rejected the stringent teaching methodology of his grammar school.  Even as an adult, his intractable temperament was incompatible with his aspiration to succeed in business.  He studied, but disliked law.  He tried a variety of careers including politics, printing, and publishing, all of which, fortunately, ended in abject failure.  Instead, he became a novelist and playwright, who would inspire other writers, the likes of Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and many others. Even philosophers Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx felt his influence.

Honoré de Balzac once wrote, “for a woman knows the face of the man she loves like a sailor knows the open sea.”   Who loved him with such depth? Eveline Hańska, a Polish noblewoman, began reading his novels in the late 1820’s.   One day in 1832, she sent him a letter anonymously, which was the genesis of a correspondence that spanned decades. Their mutual admiration led to their eventual marriage, six months before he passed away on August 18, 1850.  This is an excerpt from Honoré de Balzac’s love letter to Eveline Hańska dated October 6, 1833.

“Our love will bloom always fairer, fresher, more gracious, because it is a true love, and because genuine love is ever increasing.  It is a beautiful plant growing from year to year in the heart, ever extending its palms and branches, doubling every season its glorious cluster and perfumes; and my dear life, tell me, repeat to me always, that nothing will bruise its bark or its delicate leaves, that it will grow larger in both our hearts, loved free, watched over, like a life within our life…”

 

A Woman’s Voice

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Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives; – that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.”

Mary Wollstonecraft

 Pink July 2013

Today, I ordered Mary Wollstonecraft’s most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women via Amazon at no cost.  Published over 200 years ago in 1792, her ideas were radical and controversial; today, the discussions over gender equality continue unabated.   In her opening pages, she clearly defines her position, without fear or regret, attributing much of women’s angst to “a false system of education, gathered from books written on this subject by men, who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than rational wives.”

What is less known is Mary Wollstonecraft’s treatise on republicanism, individual merit, and the inherent human worth entitled, “A Vindication of the Rights of Men,” which was in response to Edmund Burke’s “Reflection on the Revolution in France.”  It was published in 1790 in pamphlet form, anonymously.  Highly entertaining, it was a sought-after best seller, until it was revealed it was written by a woman.   It was then dismissed as irrational and emotional.

Mary Wollstonecraft, born in London, England on April 27, 1759, was raised in a household headed by an abusive husband/father.    An inept business manager, her father depleted his sizable fortune on a number of disastrous ventures in farming.   Mary’s strong sense of worth sustained her through those dark days.   When her mother died in 1780, Mary set out on her own determined to make her own way.  She lived life in accordance with her values and forged her mark using the written word.  Unconventional, brilliant, and resourceful, Mary overcame the loss of her best friend, and the infidelity of a common-law partner, Gilbert Imlay, to find true love with the philosopher William Godwin.   Even though both believed that marriage was unnecessary, William and Mary were married in March 1797 when Mary became pregnant.   She gave birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who would become known as the creator of Frankenstein.  Alas, just 11 days after the birth, Mary died of “childbed fever”, at the age of thirty-eight.

Mary set the standard. Her writings are now considered the foundational work of feminist theory.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman