All posts by Joanna

The Goddess on the Interstate

A few weeks ago, driving through the forested hills of northern Pennsylvania, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Not Mother Earth, It Was Father God.” I almost choked on my double latte.

The night before that drive, a man in Las Vegas had placed himself high in the sky with a cache of weapons and ammunition, looking down over a dancing mass of music fans through the mono-vision of a rifle scope. From that position as far as possible from Mother Earth, he rained down pain until raw red blood ran from hundreds of broken bodies. This was a country music festival. Not urban, not techno, but music of the country, music of the land. The shooter claimed dominion over the earth, as the Book of Genesis instructed him. He also lived out the western myth of male, militaristic monotheism: one and only one, high above the world, in charge of everyone, especially their deaths. A.k.a. Father God.

Queen of the Night, 2000-1900 BCE,
British Musuem

The bumper sticker explicitly tried to deny the sacred nature of Earth. Mother Earth, the sticker claimed, is not divine (and therefore neither are earthly mothers, nor women). Only the father is a god (and therefore normal fathers are divine and so, by extension, are men). The sticker sought to silence, erase, and diminish Mother Earth, the better to continue Father God’s agenda of exploitation, ownership, and coercion. This is what fake news actually looks like: monstrous lies on which monsters build hollow, violent power structures. The same hollowness yawns inside Harvey Weinstein and all his ilk and inside our sexual predator president. Surely it echoed inside the Las Vegas shooter.

I hope it goes without saying that no penis is any more or less sacred than any uterus. Both channel life forces. Both represent the powers of creation and creativity. Yet the Father God thunders that no one should have any other gods before him, that no one shall see beauty in any graven images, meaning sacred statues of other divinities. No one gets attention except himself. Everyone else, according to his twisted ego, is false, wrong, nasty, bad.

In reality, however, life balances perfectly between the intertwined magic of earth’s soil and water, and the sacred sky energies of sun and air. We are equally the children of Mother Earth Goddess and Father Sky God. Neither one alone could make the family of life. Neither one takes precedence.

Mistress of the Animals holding a lion in each hand, 700 BCE – 600 BCE,
British Museum

Mother Earth is true news, real news, solid news, up and down and all day long. She is an image of the fecundity and life-giving nature of Nature. She tempers the blind, racing madness of monotheism with her slow gestational transformations, her cyclical solutions, her abundance, her skill at weaving intricately complex and diverse ecosystems, and most of all her wisdom.

Gods and goddesses are not literal beings who patrol the clouds. They are citizens of the imaginal realm where they catalyze our mortal hearts and minds, helping us apprehend particular inflections of the divinity that streams into existence through all that is in every moment. The sacred cannot be reduced to any god or goddess, but all gods and goddesses show aspects of it. This can be extremely useful for living a more meaningful life, but it can be extremely dangerous when imbalances such as monotheism take over.

It wasn’t Mother Earth who gave us an obscene form of capitalism that despoils the planet and concentrates wealth in the bulging wallets of a tiny minority. That was Father God. It wasn’t Mother Earth who saddled us with technology addictions and the threat posed by artificial intelligence. That was Father God. It wasn’t Mother Earth who gave guns more rights to fire than people the right to stay alive, who grants far more money to the military than to education and healthcare combined. That, too, is Father God.

The bumper sticker had a pronounced defensive tone. Whoever attached it to their car must have felt that the old meme needed repeating, which suggests that its metaphor has weakened. That makes this a dangerous time, as the news makes plain every day, a time of spiritual crisis and transition. Unsavory characters exploit power vacuums such as this, including pussy-grabbing presidents who howl their lies on Twitter.

Cybele, mother of the gods, by Antonio Fantuzzi (1537–45), 1543,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

This is a time to imagine the Goddess, to call on her, to serve her. She will outlast the hollowness of monotheism. She came into being long before it did, and she’ll still be here long after we all fade from memory’s last memory. Even the longest human life lasts only a flicker for her. We rise from her soil and from her soul, we look around in astonishment and grandiosity, then we sink back into our source.

Unquestioned myths and scriptures work on us below the surface, without our conscious awareness. We act them out blindly. But when we engage with them, when we meet them fresh and see past their hypnotic familiarity, we can change them. We can re-create them.

Genesis opens with the conceit that a lone Father God created the world and humankind. It denies, devalues, and de-legitimatizes Mother Earth from page one. But the Father God doesn’t seem up to the task of single parenting. In his fury at Adam, he spits blunt words like bullets: “For dust thou art,” the bully god sneers, “and unto dust shalt thou return.” That venom would fit neatly into a presidential tweet, in its character count, its violence, its lie, and its strategy of shaming.

The Goddess, however, might address Adam differently. Sometime when you find yourself near trees or river or ocean or hills, listen close for her quiet voice: For living earth thou art, my child. To living earth shalt thou return.

“Whether or not our rigid mature minds reject play…”

“Whether or not our rigid mature minds reject play, everything is still the display of the natural secret essence of the elements. If we are serious and rigid, our subtle elements become congested and cannot reflect this wisdom display. If our mind is calm and vast and playful, we can always recognize this essence display.”

— Thinley Norbu, Magic Dance: The Display of the Self-Nature of the Five Wisdom Dakinis

True Myth and Fake News

When my mythologist tribe visits town, I like to pour Chardonnay from a vineyard called True Myth. The wine goes down like nectar, a goddess adorns the label, and the name always makes us laugh, because we share the conviction that no, myth is not literally true, but yes oh yes, myth is truly true, deeply true, soul-true. In other words, myth tells lies to tell the truth. Myth reveals its truth not in the literal facts of its images, but as their meaning cloaked in metaphor.

For example, who is the goddess on the wine label? The bottle makes no overt introductions, but the prominent word “true” reminds me of Aletheia, the ancient Greek goddess of truth. Aletheia doesn’t embody only the kind of truth regarding facts and data; she also personifies disclosure or revelations. Aletheia reveals what had been hidden.

The Greeks mythologized lies, on the other hand, as the Pseudologoi, or False Words — a nasty horde born of Eris, the goddess of strife. It’s easy to imagine the Pseudologoi as stinging winged beasties, especially these days when they swarm from the mouths of the president and his apologists. But there’s also a different tale that tells of a single goddess named Pseudologos. As the story goes, when Prometheus was making Aletheia in his workshop — the same divine studio in which he fashioned humankind — Zeus summoned Prometheus away from his work. Prometheus’s ambitious assistant Dolus, whose name means trickery or deception, set about making a copy of Aletheia. The copy’s features and radiance matched Aletheia’s exactly, except that Dolus ran out clay before he could make the copy’s feet. When Prometheus came bursting back in, he stopped in his tracks, breathless at the copy’s likeness to his own work and greedy to garner the glory for creating both goddesses. He hurried them into his magic kiln, and when they came out, glowing hot from the fire of the gods, Prometheus breathed the spark of immortality into both of them. They both exhaled, and then Aletheia walked with slow, steady, measured steps, but Pseudologos could only stand still, because her legs ended in stumps.

Prometheus Creating Humankind while Athena Looks On, Louvre Museum

Have we not all faced difficulty in distinguishing truth from lies, and plagiarism from originality? Even clever Prometheus fell for the trick, and we are but muddy mortals. And notice how the blurring goes both ways: lies can seem so much like truth, and truth can seem so much like lies. Both are sculpted from the same clay. Both are equally alluring. But Pseudologos has no feet. She has no firm foundation in reality, and she cannot move on her own. She needs the aid of accomplices. Isn’t it interesting that her existence springs from an excess of ambition, in both Dolus and Prometheus?

Aletheia, on the other hand, has an independent existence. She stands on strong, supple feet. The solid earth supports her. She doesn’t back down. Careful and conscious, she neither rushes to judgment nor jumps to conclusions.

See how mythic images raise the ante on everyday metaphor? Magical, fantastic, and full of wonder, myth bursts with gods, goddesses, and creation on cosmic scales. Mythic imagery doesn’t just tell lies to tell the truth; it tells fabulous lies, huge lies, amazing lies.

Fake news works on a similar principle. It, too, tells big lies, and its lies also have some deeper meaning. For example, consider the slander that circulated about Hillary Clinton and the pizzeria during last year’s election season. The facts of the story were patently ridiculous, but the deeper meaning that many of us ignored — myself included — was that Clinton had a real image problem, and that some voters loathed her with a malicious, toxic furor. Then there is the story about Donald Trump’s visit to Russia, and the prostitutes peeing in a Moscow hotel room. The meaning of the story is that many people believe the president to be a dirty conman who treats women like commodities and is in bed with the Russians, financially and politically. But we don’t have all the evidence yet. This story might turn out to contain literal truth as well, aka true news.

Fake news scratches the age-old itch of myth — a deep desire to believe the unbelievable, to participate in magic, to thrill along with a flight of imagination. But fake news is not true myth. The truths of fake news are passing, ephemeral things, as fleeting as the headlines, and their lies are designed to manipulate.

Our slippery times speak in slippery terms: alternative facts, reality tv, infotainment, misinformation, post-truth. Each is a euphemism for the ugly fact that money-mongers lie to gain, preserve, and augment their power. Fake news is a powerful weapon in their arsenal. Fake news lies to drain us of our power. Myth lies to remind us of our power, here and now and always.

Truth, Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593)
Our power begins in recognizing and discerning between Aletheia and Pseudologos. Does a story arise from someone’s ambition? Who stands to to gain from it, and how? Does it stand on its own, or does it require co-conspirators? Is it a near copy of the truth but missing a crucial detail? Does the story rush itself? Does it lurch away from scrutiny and race ahead to tell more false words?

Myth tells lies to tell the truth. It can even tell lies to tell the truth about telling lies. Maybe Aletheia and Pseudologos aren’t so much two distinct beings, but two ends of a gradating spectrum. Maybe the more truth a story contains, the stronger its feet grow, the further it can stride. Maybe the more falsehood a story contains, the more its feet thin into mist and blow away.

On the True Myth wine bottle, we can’t see the goddess’s feet, but the label proclaims, Her Secret Is Patience. May Aletheia share more secrets with us. May her strength and beauty walk with us, along with her patience and wisdom.

“To change how we see things takes falling in love…”

“To change how we see things takes falling in love. Then the same becomes altogether different. Like love, a shift of sight can be redemptive–not in the religious sense of saving the soul for heaven, but in a more pragmatic sense. As at a redemption center, you get something back for what you had misperceived as merely worthless.”

– James Hillman, The Soul’s Code

It Matters More Now

Before the recent election, the Dalai Lama took to the pages of the New York Times to address America’s political tumult in an article called Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded. We need to feel needed, he says. We need not to feel superfluous.

In other words, we need to feel like we matter.

Couple Riding, by Wassily Kandinsky
Couple Riding, by Wassily Kandinsky

When the article came out, I still floated like a dumb puppy on a cloud of complacent, liberal optimism. I thought it would be easy to accomplish what His Holiness suggests: treat people like they matter. And when you treat someone like they matter, that matters! Yay. Then the election happened, and too many people learned that they don’t matter enough to too many other people.

Mattering implies great value. The word “matter” comes from the same root as “mother,” the Latin mater. Many traditions see the earth as Mother — the nourishing womb from which we emerge, the source which sustains us through our lives.

Here’s what I believe: everything that mattered before the election matters even more now.

#BlackLivesMatter has it right. If you are treated like your life doesn’t matter, claim the truth of your mattering. If someone else is treated like they don’t matter, help them claim that same truth.

Earth - Pacific Ocean, nasa.gov
Earth – Pacific Ocean, nasa.gov

You matter. You are matter. You’re matter and energy. Einstein broke the astounding news that matter and energy are different forms of each other. Energy is super-duper active matter, and it’s exactly what the world needs. In other words, the world needs you.

Hear that clarion call, like bugles and bells? It says live like it matters, especially now, because it does.

Here We Sing of Hera

A long, long time ago, a goddess-queen ruled a pantheon of gods and goddesses. This queen served as the divine sovereign over her land and her people. So when those people imagined rulership and divinity, they imagined a woman. Babies were born, crops grew, the moon waxed, waned, and waxed again for hundreds and then thousands of years. But one day a band of warlike invaders stormed the land, burning, killing, raping, taking, and bringing with them a stormy new king-god fond of throwing lightning around. Some say the invading king took the queen to wife by force. Others say she agreed to the marriage. No one claims the new god overthrew the goddess. She wielded too much power for that, and he knew he needed her to establish legitimacy. Maybe he found her fascinating, too. Challenging. But no one says they fell in love. King Zeus and Queen Hera simply assumed their thrones side by side, high in the thin, chilly air of Mount Olympus.

Agrigento - Temple of Hera 2 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Agrigento – Temple of Hera 2 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

For the ancient Greeks, gods and goddesses didn’t just represent the energies of the observable world; they were those energies. Earth, ocean, sun, moon, hearth, love, law, marriage–the stories of these forces clashing, contending, consorting, and creating became what we now call a mythology. Because these figures are personified beings, their stories also illustrate personality dynamics. To the extent that these powers remain active today, Greek myth continues to open windows, onto worlds within and worlds outside. Myth taps into timelessness.

Hera’s name most likely comes from the same root as the word “hero.” She illustrates the aspect of experience whose inherent nature is rulership–a natural leader with ambition and intelligence who happens to be a woman. But soon after her marriage, Hera’s husband began chasing and raping other women all over the land. He arrogated to himself a despotic, entitled, physical dominion over her and all his subjects. In his view, a woman’s most private physical places–metaphorically her inner self, her soul–exist only to be seized by men. Naturally Hera became guarded, defensive. Not long after all this, patriarchal monotheism rose in the Hebrew and then Christian traditions and tried to depose and kill her outright. Christianity’s attacks grew particularly violent, with witch hunts, torture chambers, and burnings at stakes.

hera_di_efeso-vienna_copia_romana_del_100-150_ca-_da_orig-_greco_del_400-380_ac_ca-_6027Hera embodies the aspect of experience that is a strong female subjugated, betrayed, and terrorized. She’s the aspect of experience with awareness of its own displacement and mistreatment. The aspect that has no choice but to go into hiding. The aspect that remembers her throne. The aspect that bides her time.

Hillary Rodham started out as an independent young woman–sharp, successful and full of zest, a leader at her women’s college. After law school, she married and accepted a role as a political wife, first to a governor, then to a president. But when she tried to take her place as a partner to her powerful husband, other politicians lost all composure, especially the conservative Christians. They fumed and foamed about a woman’s place and the inherent evil of healthcare for all. They whipped up their age-old witch hunt, this time using lies and conspiracy theories as pitchforks and torches. Meanwhile, Hillary’s husband proved powerless to resist his urge for nymphs and interns. Hera must have felt similar with Zeus as a husband: the public shame, the helpless rage, the isolation and loneliness, the societal judgment that she was somehow to blame for failing to make her man behave himself.

Hillary stayed married, but she distanced herself from her husband and started her own political career, as senator, as secretary of state. Now she finds herself facing off against another powerful man, this one even more like Zeus than her husband was: a thunderer who blusters about law and order, an assaulter of women, a self-promoter inordinately fond of marble palaces. Hillary’s opponent epitomizes the forces that have arrayed themselves against Hera through the ages.

pufferfish-wallpaper

It’s tempting to dismiss Donald Trump as the archetype of the pufferfish–inflated, cold-blooded, highly toxic even in small doses–but actually he draws his power from the darkest depths of the Zeus archetype. Listen to these lines from the “Homeric Hymn to Zeus,” written sometime around 600 BCE:

         Zeus
         who is the best
         god
         and the greatest
         is who
         I will sing…
         son of
         Cronus
         who sees far
         you’re the most
         famous
         of all
         you’re the greatest

The best, the greatest, the most famous… It sounds exactly like recent political rallies. But the best, greatest, most famous what? Nothing. There is no substance there, not in the poem and not on reality tv. Donald and other Zeuses bring no skills to the table, only their hunger for glory, lust to dominate, bottomless greed for power and wealth. They have no access to wisdom or restraint. They rage. They hurl thunderbolts, verbal or otherwise. They serve themselves. This is why democracy rose, because everyone recognized the perils of kingship. And where did democracy first show up? Ancient Greece, in the time of Zeus.

It’s as though Hera stands behind Hillary and Zeus stands behind Donald. These two forces face off yet again. Hera is grim, determined, knowing what she’s up against. She knows the hatred of her opponents. She knows the bizarrely higher standard she’s held to than are the bozos around her. But she has prepared. She studied the law. She practiced the crafts of planning, organizing, governing. Her feet are planted for battle, but she also glows, newly beautiful in her maturity.

Myth changed with the arrival of Zeus. It changed with the rise of Christianity, the Enlightenment, the Internet. Myth taps into timelessness, but it also rides the currents of change. It shifts and shimmies to reflect what endures and what evolves.

When a goddess is wounded and closes her heart, that’s when blight happens. But when a goddess is glad and opens her heart, well, prepare for flourishing, blooming, blossoming. The psychological sequence goes: see her, love her, be loved in return.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Not that Hillary Clinton is a goddess. She is a mortal person with flaws, wounds, and complexities. But the image of a Hillary Clinton presidency is an archetypal upset, a tectonic shift in what American democracy believes to be possible. It means that thinking of leadership can mean thinking of a woman. Try saying it: Madam President. Now open up to the smallest bit of affection for her, the tiniest dram of liking, the same way you can like a man who has flaws, wounds, and complexities. Feel that ripple in the air at your back? That’s Hera standing straighter, stronger, more sure of herself, with a glint in her eye from the light held aloft by her young friend in the New York harbor.

“We keep hearing about the revolution…”

“We keep hearing about the revolution around us all the time: the revolution, the revolution, the revolution. Revolution doesn’t have to do with smashing something; it has to do with bringing something forth…. You have to find the zeal in yourself and bring that out.”

— Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

The Organized Disorder of the Great Zingy-Zangy

A bunch of years ago, when I was twenty, I left the church I’d grown up in, where I’d been trained to think of God as God-the-Father: a literal, corporeal, male parent. I couldn’t reconcile that mythic system with the complexity of the rest of the world. So I bowed out, and I started rebuilding my thoughts about religion from scratch. Two ideas had strength for me. The first was, Follow your bliss because no one’s going to do it for you (thank you, Joe Campbell). The second was, You’re always allowed to change your mind.

quantum

But what was that supposed to mean — follow your bliss? I wasn’t sure what my bliss was, much less how to follow it. I decided to substitute a different word: fascination. I knew what it meant to feel the fizz of interest, and to attend closely to the people-places-parties that elicited that electricity, so I went with that.

Then I encountered complexity theory, a branch of science that studies how complicated, increasingly ordered systems emerge in the universe. These phenomena seem to thumb their collective nose at the second law of thermodynamics, which states that disorder, or entropy, always increases. Complexity theory describes the magic that happens at the edges of order and disorder, when organization gets a little chaotic, and chaos gets a little organized, and all of a sudden newness bursts forth: new planets, species, organisms, art. In his book Reinventing the Sacred, the complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman writes that “a wondrous radical creativity without a supernatural Creator” is an attribute of the universe. “God,” he says, “is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere, and human cultures.”

When I read that, my whole body seemed to ring. I rose up off the sofa, book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. The tea began flying out of the mug, but time slowed down so much that I was able to circle the cup around the moving liquid and gather it back, still thrilling to this idea: creativity inheres in the universe. Not just in Mozart, not just in Shakespeare. In the universe, meaning everything, meaning all of us. God is that which creates, whenever creation occurs.

Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom, inspiration, and office supplies
Saraswati, Hindu goddess of wisdom, inspiration, and office supplies
But God isn’t just a name for creativity. God is an image of it, too. Gods and goddesses give metaphorical form to particular inflections of the universe’s creativity. Mythic narratives illustrate these great powers at play — how they collide, contend, collaborate, commingle. For instance, the edges of order and disorder sounds like an encounter of, say, Apollo’s logic and the wildness of Dionysus, a union which Nietzsche says gave rise to Greek tragedy. Or, order could be the controlled, virginal wisdom of Athena; disorder the passion and sensuality of Aphrodite. That word, passion, sounds a lot like bliss, like fascination. When forces like those meet, newness happens, on the scale of galaxies, cells, and the individual psyche.

I was thinking about all this, and I asked my bbf (beloved boyfriend) what he thought God was. Without missing a beat, Michael said, “The zingy-zangy around everything.” See why I love him so much? He gets it.

And doesn’t “zingy-zangy” sound like bliss, like the sizzle and spark of fascination, like the fire and fuel of passion? Following bliss is the same as following the zingy-zangy, which is God, which means your bliss is God is fascination is passion is the creativity which gives rise to the emergence of new complexity.

The times I’ve experienced the zingy-zangy most profoundly have had a bodily sensation of vastness and openness, with feelings of awe, wonder, and love that extend past all horizons in all directions. These moments happen at the edges of order and disorder, in psychological places outside judgments of good and bad, right and wrong — places I experience as amazing. Or heartbreaking. Or beautiful. Places defined by intensity.

artificial-neuronA felt sense of vast possibility pulses in the infinite space at the invisible edge, outside and all around the ordered systems of our lives. Our complex material bodies and complex, seemingly immaterial consciousness cooperate in even more complex ways that still elude understanding. Who knows what could happen when our ordered selves encounter the disorder of death? Complexity theory suggests that it could be something new, meaning we can’t predict it and it could be different for everyone. It could feel like what religions sometimes refer to as heaven.

Last month my graduate coursework ended, a three-year marathon with no breaks between quarters. The day after my last class, I woke up late and lay in bed for an hour, feeling leaden and empty, drained of emotion and motivation. I hovered at the edge of the ordered system of the previous three years, and the disorder of the unstructured future. Then ideas about this blog post started rolling around in my mind like billiard balls. Two of them connected with a satisfying thwack, and I felt the first stirrings of vitality return, a small spring of interest, energy, enthusiasm — a word whose root means “God within,” which therefore also means bliss – fascination – creativity – passion. The great zingy-zangy.

Another phenomenon that emerges in this zingy-zangy universe is agency. In other words, you get to choose how to engage with the world, with bliss, with creativity, with the same zingy-zangy that gave rise to agency in the first place. And you’re always allowed to change your mind.

As expressions of the zingy-zangy — children of it, so to speak — we are invited to play with it. All it takes is the merest time-out, a tiny break in the hypnosis of thought, a sliver of silence to listen for tingle, to feel for the fizz, to savor the sparkle that infuses your being.

Shh… there it is. Do you feel it? Open to it. Sink into it. Let it have you. Now smile. Feel the shimmer strengthen? Feel it twinkle? That’s your bliss. That’s creativity. It’s the great zingy-zangy smiling back.

hubble_friday_06172016

Old Stories, News Stories

Once upon a time, King Pentheus of the Greek city of Thebes worked himself into a froth, because a new god named Dionysus had called the city’s women into the hills for drinking, dancing, and love-making. Pentheus could not abide this, especially the female revelers.

Dionysos © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
Dionysos © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

“When women get to celebrate with gleaming wine,” he fumed, “there’s a ritual that’s gone rotten.” He jailed all the truant wives he could find, swore to hunt down the others, to “capture them in iron traps,” then to sell them or enslave them himself. But first he felt oddly compelled to find a stranger who had arrived in town, a man with flowing, perfumed, golden curls and “rosy, wine-flushed cheeks.”

The thought of this effeminate stranger filled Pentheus with rage. He had to find him, would find him, did find him. He handcuffed and interrogated the stranger, then, shaken by the stranger’s uncanny replies and otherworldly gaze, threw him in the palace jail. But the stranger was Dionysus in disguise. And Dionysus is the life force personified, along with all his women — his maenad companions. Pentheus, in his fury, forcibly suppressed the life force. He tried to contain, control, and silence that elemental power.

This story is 2400 years old, written by Euripides in a play called The Bacchae, but Pentheus still stalks among us. He goes by different names these days, but lately his face has been all over the news:

  • On June 2, Judge Aaron Persky and a rapist named Brock Turner colluded in a Penthean attempt to silence a woman known as Emily Doe who had indulged in Dionysian drink and dancing. A jury convicted Turner on three felony accounts for assaulting Emily while she was unconscious — he seized control over her helpless body — but the judge sentenced Turner to only six months in jail.
  • On June 10, Kevin James Loibl equipped himself with two handguns, a hunting knife, and two extra magazines of ammunition to kill the unarmed, twenty-two year-old singer Christina Grimmie. Grimmie’s voice sounded like Burgundy wine before Loibl silenced her.
  • On June 12, Omar Mateen, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, slaughtered 49 people at the LGBTQ nightclub Pulse, which is basically a temple to Dionysus. Mateen stilled those dancing bodies.
  • On June 16, Thomas Mair shot and stabbed to death Jo Cox, a 41-year-old, unarmed British MP who had stepped out into the world, into the halls of Parliament, where she wore a bright red maenad dress and raised her voice in support of refugees and of Britain remaining in the EU.

Pentheus Being Torn by Maenads, By WolfgangRieger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Pentheus Being Torn by Maenads, By WolfgangRieger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
See how easy it is to put these events into a nice, neat list? As though each crime were just-the-facts-ma’am, and not a nexus of collective heartbreak radiating out from the scenes of violence. After the news about Jo Cox, I reached a point of numbness, right in the center of my chest. I couldn’t process more pain, I couldn’t feel, not so soon on the heels of Pulse. So much brutality, targeted at so many beautiful, defenseless people. These victims defied repressive rules that dictate proper behavior, so Pentheus attacked them. He controlled their aliveness by ending it.

The life force will not stand for this. The life force demands to live. It demands connection, expression, release. Back in Thebes, Dionysus wasn’t in prison for five minutes before an earthquake shook the palace down and lightning struck, burning all the timbers. Dionysus strode out untouched, stepping easily over the rubble and through the smoke, summoning the women back to his side.

The spirit of Dionysus also broke out of jail when Emily Doe released her victim statement from the trial. Her life force burst free in her evocative words, and America roared in outrage. Dionysus escaped when tributes to Christina Grimmie flooded the internet, and her voice reached millions who might not otherwise have heard her. Dionysus roared after the tragedy at Pulse, when Democrats in the Senate lifted their voices in a 14-hour filibuster and then those in House staged an overnight sit-in, demanding sanity in gun regulations.

Dionysus shook the UK after Jo Cox’s murder, too. But Pentheus marched back, goose-stepping across Britain and bellowing lies about independence and refugees. Really he wanted independence from refugees, freedom from having to help people in need. Pentheus scorns interdependence. He got his way, for now. Britain voted for rigid borders, for going it alone, for severing a life-giving connection.

In the story, Pentheus thinks that the life force he wants to kill is outside himself, outside his whole city. In reality, Dionysus is within the city walls, within the palace, within Pentheus himself, even though Pentheus savagely represses his own capacity for connection and expression. He is terrified of and disconnected from his own life force. His aggression is his self-hatred. And sure enough, his violence boomerangs right back home.

Bacchus, by Hendrick Goltzius, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bacchus, by Hendrick Goltzius, Metropolitan Museum of Art

After Dionysus left the jail, he lured the king to the forest to spy on the women’s revels. The women ripped Pentheus limb from limb, then they tore his limbs to shreds. He got his wish for disconnection. The maenads disconnected him, part by part by part.

It’s a chilling end to a chilling tale, like the headline news this month. Pentheus is what happens when anyone acts out their fear, fury, frustration. Dionysus, on the other hand, stands ready to assist with the creative expression of those big feelings, or to help come up with innovative ideas for changing the situation. Emily, Christina, everyone at Pulse, and Jo all demonstrate how to express and address feelings, rather than act them out.

Dionysus is the life force personified. The life force creates. Pentheus is fear. Fear blocks, stops, controls, contains. As surely as Dionysus lives within us all, so does the tyrant king. May the maenads do their grisly work every time he rises.

 

“But there are neither maps nor exercises…”

“But there are neither maps nor exercises to help us find the duende. We only know that he burns the blood like a poultice of broken glass, that he exhausts, that he rejects all the sweet geometry we have learned, that he smashes styles….
The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.”

— Federico Garcia Lorca, “Play and Theory of the Duende”

48 Days Without Facebook

February 11: Day 0

Tonight Stephanie and I were moaning about how busy the next month and a half will be, and as we talked, we asked the tarot cards what they thought of the busy schedules. I was particularly keen to get their opinion on a new writing project I wanted to start even though I had no idea where to find the time. The cards cleared their collective throat, then said:

From the Awakening Aeon Tarot Deck, by Marcia O'Hara, AwakeningAeonTarot.com
From the Awakening Aeon Tarot Deck, by Marcia O'Hara, AwakeningAeon.com
Talk about loud and clear! Fortune muses, “Yeah, this could be cool.” Death chimes in, “But something’s got to give, you have to let something go if you’re going to make room for a new project. You’ve got to shed the outworn skin in order to grow.” The Oracle Within: “Fill pages, fill pages, fill pages. See how I’m a full page? Do like that.” Ok. Right. Yes. I get it. Thank you, cards!

So something had to give. I immediately thought of Facebook, and the time I spend every day scrolling through that endless distraction. I thought of the new journal I bought for the project. A scheme formed all at once: I’ll give up Facebook for 40 days, and in the first hour of each of those days, I’ll freewrite for the project in the new journal. After 40 days of writing, or a full journal, whichever comes first, I’ll go back to Facebook. Lent started this week anyway, right? The project begins sort of around Lent, and ends sort of around Easter.

February 12: Day 1

This morning, chatting with Adrianna, I mentioned that today is my first day of a Facebook fast. She said, “Mm-hmm… wait, what?? Did you say Facebook fast? Oh my God, you just blew my mind!” I told her I’d woken up in the middle of the night and reached for my phone before remembering. She gasped and said, “What did you do??”

“I put the phone back down.”

“And then what??”

“I just lay there.”

She gave another gasp, shuddery and shivery, like at the end of a spooky story.

February 13: Day 2

Impulse: Reach for the phone.
Response: Pull your hand back.

February 14: Day 3

Wahh! I feel lost, lonely, cut off — but cut off from what? From voyeuristic eavesdropping, from the desperate hope for a puppy video.

It’s like I hauled myself up out of a river — maybe the River of Time — exhausted, soaking wet, panting in a heap on the bank. And isn’t time one of Facebook’s main metaphors? Facebook generates a time-line for each “user”– meaning each addict, each of us junkies. A Facebook addiction feeds a larger addiction to the conceit of time. And I do mean “feeds.” Facebook provides everyone their very own feed — but what’s the food? Distraction, diversion, outrage. Am I not calling this a Facebook fast?

But still, wah!

February 15: Day 4

Facebook who? It’s fading. Feels less like a fast and more like waking up.

February 16: Day 5

When I pick up my phone to call or text someone, my thumb still feels the muscle-impulse to press the Facebook icon. I only feel cut off anymore when other people in the room pore over their phones and I sit there, twiddling my idle thumbs and watching everyone else having their out-of-body experiences.

Narcissus by @dancretu
Narcissus by @dancretu
Because that’s what it does: it pulls your life energy out of your body through your eyeballs and holds it hostage in the 2-D world of The Screen. There’s a shrinking of awareness, a confining, a narrowing of the horizon down to the size of the responses made possible by whatever the interface allows — Like, Share, Type Something Here.

Facebook is a modern-day deity, a member of the tyrannical pantheon of social media gods and goddesses. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, all the billions of dating sites, they all feed (that word again) off the attention of their acolytes. They reward that attention by bestowing attention — the more active you are, the more people see your activity. The currency of the exchange is attention. If that’s what we value, ok, that’s what we value. Is that what we value?

Like all gods and tyrants, the media deities are best approached with alert awareness. They misbehave when their privileges go unchecked.

Like all gods and tyrants, they can be deposed.

March 5: Day 23

There’s more space. The horizon extends further, in every one of those three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. Is Facebook a horizon blocker? It’s certainly a drain. It siphons energy I could use for other purposes.

Instead of looking at Facebook in the middle of the night when I wake up, I’ve started texting myself thoughts, notes, ideas. In the morning I read them and think, “Where on earth did that come from?”

March 29: Day 47

One more day to go. Three empty pages left in the journal. They will fill tomorrow morning. I didn’t write every day, but as of tomorrow, I’ll have written for 40 of the last 48 days. Not that the project is done. It’s a journal full of raw material. Soon it will be time to find out what it would like to become next.

March 30: Day 48

I broke the fast today. Facebook Breakfast, I guess. I knew I had to do it, in order to post an announcement for the Luna Review, but I kept putting it off. In the morning, I thought, “I’ll wait until the afternoon.” After lunch, I thought, “Just a few more minutes.” Finally, in mid-afternoon, I opened a tab on my browser. I typed an f. Autofill took care of the rest of the URL. I posted the announcement I needed to, looked around for maybe five minutes, and closed the tab. It felt oddly boring after all this time. Anticlimactic.

March 31

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, too sleepy to get up but too awake to sleep. I picked up my phone. 3:17 AM. I glanced at email then thought, “Hey, I’m allowed to look at Facebook again.” My thumb was already moving toward the icon as the idea rolled around, but then I stopped. All at once, all in a rush, I realized what had really changed in the last month and a half.

In the past, unwelcome visitors like anxiety and hypochondria had often haunted my middle-of-the-night wake-ups. But since the Facebook fast, my nights had become quieter, more spacious, more peaceful. They had become the place where I text myself ideas whispered by the sparkling dark, the stillness where I can watch Michael, my bbf (beloved boyfriend), sleeping in the dim light like an archangel at rest. With my thumb hovering over the Facebook icon, I knew I was about to give up that magic. I was about to give my nights back to the low-level madness of the feed. I set the phone down.

The dark blue body of the Egyptian goddess Nut (pronounced noot) arches over the world, feet on one side of the horizon and hands on the other. Her skin is covered with stars. Then there are the Norse goddess Nott and the Greek goddess Nyx, both of whose names mean “night.” Both dress in black, both ride across the starry night sky, drawn in a black chariot or on the back of a magnificent black horse. To imagine any of them is to imagine night as Night, a being whose quiet, dark company can refresh and restore. They dilate the pupils, widening the eyes the better to admit wonder, starlight, and shadows.

Picture-11Night goddesses don’t ask for much, but they do insist on visiting. Actually, we visit them, every evening when our zip code rolls away from the sun and out to face the reaches of space. Night holds the dark half of the planet in the palms of Her cupped hands, at all times. She’s always there as we move into, through, and out of Her domain. When in Night, we’re in all the way, and Night is all the way in us. It’s Night outside, Night in the kitchen, Night in the bedroom. Night within blood vessels, in the synapses between neurons, inside every cell membrane in all of our bodies.

Impulse: Reach for the phone.
Response: Pull your hand back.
Then What: Bask. Relax.

“Mammy had told me…”

“And anyway, I thought, sipping my home-made wine and squinting up at the night sky for sputniks, Mammy had told me there were as many different beliefs as there were scattered stars. And I knew the stars were without number.”

— Graham Joyce, The Limits of Enchantment