Stopping Time

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  Anaïs Nin

I have often thought of this quote by Anaïs Nin – not in the context of a writer, but in the framework of a photo. Ever since Joseph Nicephore Niepce clicked the first photo in 1814, humanity has been beguiled by the ability to capture something important.  It is our only way to stop time, to remember our journeys, and proclaim that we have lived, felt love, endured challenges and sustained losses.

I confess that I am a “photo hoarder.”  Yes, even the photos that I consider “second best” remain safely stored on external drives in hopes that some day there may be an editing program that will be invented that will enhance and bring out their beauty. By beauty, I mean the emotional impression of that event.

Just last week, I went back to “taste life twice.”  The year was 2004.  I had purchased my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot A70, for a long-awaited trip to Italy to enroll in a 3-week Italian language course.  The reviews were as generous as I was enthusiastic: “The PowerShot A70 is much more than just a 3.2-megapixel version of its predecessor, the A40.”   I was convinced that this was an excellent purchase.

With a camera in hand, there is added emotional drama at play, more clarity, more interest in the “now.”  This awareness was most keenly felt when I walked the lush paths of Frederick Stibbert’s Garden.  It was a late October afternoon. A gentle light settled on the trees and aging walls, a faint wind tossed the leaves.  A quiet solitude lifted my spirits.  I had recently finished an arduous academic journey and was at a crossroads.

Looking back on these photos, I remember a pivotal decision, made with a recognition that we move in tune with the music of time, surrounded by those who came before and those who will come after. Our myths, our struggles, our joys are intermingled.  Perhaps it is in the retrospective, in knowing what happened afterwards, that reveals a greater understanding.  And with that knowledge, we move forward with profound resolve to embrace the next moment.

 

 

Beira

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Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

Seasons have unpredictable natures, and struggle to retain influence over earth days.  Winter has lost most of its control over Vancouver, but has sent a covering of snow in parts of Eastern Canada. Transitions are never smooth, and seasonal weather patterns, which can take on a tug-of-war appearance, seem to adopt human characteristics.  Is it any wonder that mythologies build upon this idea?

In my farewell to winter, I came to know the one-eyed giantess Beira, Queen of Winter, the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scottish mythology.   Wielding a magic hammer, her brilliant white hair set against dark cobalt skin and rust-coloured teeth, she formed mountains to serve as her stepping stones and set up Ben Nevis to be her mountain throne. Loch Ness came into being when she transformed her inattentive maid, Nessa into a river that gave us the spectacular Loch that draws thousands of visitors to Scotland every year. In her more reflective moments, Beira herds sheep, but she is ever vigilant against “spring,” using her staff to freeze the ground upon which she walks.   The Winter Solstice defines the end of her reign as Queen of Winter, and ushers in Brighde, the goddess who rules the summer months.

Scottish Highlands - Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

The Queen of Winter will return, for on the longest night of the year, she drinks from the enchanted Well of Youth and grows younger day by day.

There is a wistfulness when we let go of what is, to accept what comes next; even a goddess feels a sense of loss.  Yet, the possibility of renewal is always present.

“Folk tales and myths, they’ve lasted for a reason. We tell them over and over because we keep finding truths in them, and we keep finding life in them.” Patrick Ness

Scottish Highlands - Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

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.”

The Rooster Crows – Awake

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The Rooster

Sigmund Freud once wrote, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.”  The other day, a close friend confided that she had the most wonderful dream about a brilliantly plumed rooster. This was an extraordinary event considering that my friend’s last contact with chickens was as a child many years ago.   From what I understand, the rooster decided to live in her yard, which was problematic given strict city ordinances.  The main focus of her dream was problem-solving on how to keep the rooster.

I was curious.  What was the significance of a rooster?  Compared with other mythological birds such as the Gryphon, the Thunderbird and Phoenix, the rooster seems rather commonplace.  Quite the contrary. Over the centuries, the rooster has garnered a prodigious status in the magical lore arena.   A powerful masculine symbol, he embodies the brilliance of the sun, and exudes the excellent qualities of bravery, strength, prudence and honesty.  Of course, there may be a tendency to exhibit some arrogance and excessive flamboyance.  But with the frilled comb on his head, and vibrant plumage, it would be difficult not to “strut his stuff.”

In ancient times, the rooster, with his solar power and masculine energy, was the sacred sign to the gods, Apollo, Persephone and Zeus.  Later, people believed they could harness this same energy by eating the bird, a foreshadowing of one of our most popular soups –  chicken broth, which is thought to have an invigorating effect. In the Chinese Zodiac, those who are born under the sign of the rooster are enthusiastic and have a marvelous sense of humour.  Many Christian churches have chosen to include the rooster on their weather-vanes,  which can be seen as  a sign of spiritual enlightenment.

Roosters that appear in dreams are said to be reminding us to the passing of time.  With their spirited cock-a-doodle-doo, they prompt us to live boldly, to use our talents, to look within, to awake.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

Carl Jung

Homecoming

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Posing

“On a bare branch a crow is perched – autumn evening”
Matsuo Bashō

The time has come.  It is the dusk of autumn and winter months.  I watch them from my window, flying towards the east.  At first there are only a few; then they come in random patterns that grow in strength.  It is always the same.  There is a symmetry and dignified elegance to their flight, which is rooted in the inevitability of a long-standing tradition.  Crows are returning to their roost.   Since the 1970’s, an estimated 3,000 – 6,000 crows share a dusk-to-dawn abode that covers the area of about two city blocks in Burnaby, British Columbia.  Forty years ago, trees were more plentiful, but the crows pay no mind to the urban sprawl that has reduced the foliage. This is their place and their numbers do not diminish.  Scientists and bird-watchers are fascinated by the daily migration.

 

Our generation is not the first to recognize the unusual characteristics of the crows, now believed to be among the world’s most intelligent animals. Over the centuries, crows, with their black plumage and startling caw, have garnered prominence in many myths and legends. In Irish mythology, the war-goddess Badb, takes on the form of a crow and joins her two sisters, Macha and the Morrigan to form the trio of war goddesses known as the Morrígna. The indigenous peoples of the Russian Far East revere Kutkh the raven spirit, appearing in their legends as a mighty shaman and trickster, similar to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  Three-legged crows appear in the mythologies of East Asia where they are thought to inhabit and represent the sun.  In Chinese mythology, the sun crow is called Yangwu.  Japanese mythology considers Yatagarasu, an eight-span crow, as a sign of divine intervention in human activities. In Korean mythology, the three-legged crow is named Samjok-o, a symbol of the sun and great power.

 

 

I walk with crows that share the pathway along the Vancouver Seawall.   While they guard their territory with a proprietary determination, they have come to recognize my presence and agree to pose for my camera.  I look forward to our conversations, and suspect that I am at the greater disadvantage.  They seem to understand my language more than I do theirs. There is a bond between us, however. That is, the need for community and belonging.   We seek the company of those we love and feel a kindred bond.    Just as the crows gather in the fading light of a November evening, we look forward to the shelter and safety of homecoming.

The Eloquence of Silence

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The Eloquence of Silence

I have been away from blogging for a few months but my research into mythology continued over the summer.  I have been listening to Professor Grant L Voth’s lectures on Myth in Human History, obtained through that marvelous institution, the Vancouver Public Library.   It is wonderful to be back connecting with fellow bloggers.

Christ Church

A few months ago, I stopped by Christ Church Cathedral, in downtown Vancouver.   It was an impulse visit, prompted by curiosity and the need to leave a busy street behind.  An open door welcomed me to the quiet solitude inside.  There are moments when you stop, breathe and listen to the eloquence of silence.

We live in a finite existence that limits us to time and location.  Perhaps that is how we come to understand the nature of sacred spaces, whether they are found in natural surroundings, or by way of human creativity and ingenuity.

Sacred spaces are those places that give meaning to a profound longing, a shared understanding.  It is recognizing the story of humanity, of embracing all of creation.  For if you look closely, you will see in the corner of the Tree of Life Windows, the image of the parishioner’s beloved pet.

Tree of Life Windows

Gift to the Cathedral by long-time parishioner Jean MacMillan Southam. The window was designed by Susan A. Point, CM a Coast Salish artist born in Alert Bay who lives on the Musqueam First Nation Reservation in Vancouver, B.C.

“No idea of any single culture will ever capture the entire human sense of god, or creation, or the hero; and to get a more complete human picture, we have to look at the myths of many cultures.”  Professor Grant L. Voth