“Baby I was afraid before
But I’m not afraid Anymore!”
-Belinda Carlisle (1)
We are haunted by the Past; by nexus points of the choices we have made; by their crucial, far-reaching, often unforeseen consequences upon our lives. Until we absolve ourselves of our histories, the outcomes we perceive as our failures and successes chain us to our memories and keep us from fully engaging with this moment in a conscious and fruitful way. Likewise, the Future can loom as a dark iceberg waiting in the waters ahead- foreshadowed as it may be by worries, duties, test results, collections notices, by premonitions that something’s not right at our job or in a relationship, or just by a vague anxiety that we feel in our shoulders and temples. A dread rises tingling up our arms; a heat and an impatience.
Some of us seem able to find refuge in the elusive NOW, that fairy-circle into which we sometimes stumble, or which we sometimes summon with a momentary grasp of meditative presence.
“All occurrences in life are essentially crossroads…. Every scenario in which we are given a choice to make is also a coming together of roads.” – BJ Swain (2)
Directionality has been on my mind lately. Life is motion, after all. The On and Off, the flickering flame; the rhythm of breath, all Ups and Downs.
My city is divided by law and custom into lopsided quadrants:
NE + SE + NW + SW +
Long before that, stress and gravity thrust this land into hills and valleys; slow waves that continue their tumultuous Rise and Fall in the boiling cauldron of long-count cosmic time. We welcome the Sun by facing East and bid it good night as it seems to sink westward into the sea or the treeline. Humans notice, observe, record and extrapolate meaning from these phenomena. Religion, government, labor, love: all are bound by distances and borders both physical and imaginal. Lines are contested; walls are erected. Much of western esotericism is predicated on the drawing of circles to delineate within and without- consecrated vs profane.
THE WHOLE WORLD IS HAUNTED
So it goes with Time as well. There is a density and an elasticity. To the adage, “the map is not the territory”(3), we can add, the clock is not the duration.
To live a year on a Midwest farm is quite different than a year pounding the asphalt of Los Angeles or New York; not to mention twelve months, half a Millenium from now, tending the floating star-orchards of 25th Century Peru, or seven sacred seasons on horseback as an 8th Century BCE Scythian nomad in the steppes of present day Kazakhstan.
A friend tells me in recent correspondence that all days are the same- the calendar is a construct and holidays are just a story that people tell each other.
Absolutely. And not at all.
Is your son’s birthday the same as the anniversary of your mother’s death? The day of the first snowfall the same as that Spring thunderstorm when lightning struck the big oak out back? These are stories.
The world was once ordered by such things- our victories and defeats were transcribed into the story of our bodies, of our departed loved ones, of our communities and peoples. Past and future could be integrated into a continuous oscillating action, swelling and contracting again and again. Coming and going in seasons and long cycles, from plantings and harvests, famine and abundance, we followed the herds that followed the four winds: over rivers, up and down mountains and coastlines. Going forth by the signs in the sky that told us by their shape and light, by glow and by crow, that this day was safe for sailing, and that day was not.
Successive iterations of christiality have pulled flesh from bone until Spirit is nothing but a dried stain on bare floorboards. The ghost at the well, the wraith at the edge of the wood are rebranded, then banished, then willfully forgotten. Devils who once tore at us and tempted us, danced with us in the flickering of firelight, become nothing more than personal maladies, neuroses, flights of fancy. The angels we wrestled and followed up mountains have lost their names; we call them luck and circumstance, probability and equation. No pillars of flame, no golden tablets. The toil remains, the passion is lost. Bells are silenced. Feasts are dispersed. The vivifying essence of our interface with the living cosmos is drained and bottled, corked and stowed. Wine turns to sand. Our dead, we are told, have departed.
This nullification is made complete by a fully scientific-materialist view which is in its own way a religion of sorts: the sterile illumination of telescope, microscope, chart and graph. I am not denying the importance of such inquiry and discovery- just the insistence that this learning format provides the only kind of knowledge useful to humans; and if taken further, that we are no more or less than disconnected flotsam in a bleak, unseeing Universe.
In this sense the coldness of Luther, which stripped away much of the ceremonial lushness and mystical immanence of place that the Catholicism of Roman expansionism had retained in its provinces, is the same as that of Columbus or in a sense even Oppenheimer – that we are outsiders, distinct enough from our environments and lineages that the World is a foreign medium to be navigated, moving as best as one can from point A to point B, claiming dominion over that through which we pass and prying open every oyster we find on the way. Not to taste them but to sell them.
“As nature came to be modeled as machine during the period of the Scientific Revolution, a new spirit began to arise in which nature was not seen as having intrinsic value, but only value as an object of human use — and as an object of technological control.” – David Fideler (4)
But is there another way of being? Not merely in the world but of the world? A different form of movement? Not to go back necessarily (5), but to circumvent the linear momentum of our lives through a balance of memory, anticipation, and presence.
“Using calendar as a path into traditional ways of knowing is actually a strategy that’s applied by different indigenous groups; so this technique ought to work also for majority populations. And as such, the wheel of seasons can be seen as almost like a single image that condenses basically a path into or towards recovering of traditional knowledge.” -Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen (6)
How do we go into the calendar? If, like a map, a calendar is a virtual space – an agreed-upon simulacrum – then we might be permitted entry through interfacing with the abstracted language of the tool. With its symbology.
Without knowing precisely the specifics of Norse indigeneity that influence Rasmussen’s thinking, I can extrapolate a general meaning via comparison: one model of time employed by Aboriginal peoples in Australia is The Dreaming, a simultaneity of Past, Present, Future stacked in layers that can and do interpenetrate one another, linking them to both their deep ancestry (Aboriginal Deep Time stretches back roughly 65,000 years compared with Western Modernity’s shallow heritage of a mere 6,000 or so) and to the shining potential for countless generations to come.(7)
Meanwhile, people such as the Huni Kuĩ (Pano, North-West Amazonia), Awetý and Kamaiurá (Tupi Guaraní; Xingu National Park) live in Event- Based Time rather than time that is measured in regular numerical blocks:
“Event-based time interval terms can be used to refer to the interval either as a reference point or landmark in time, as for example ‘harvest’ or ‘lunch time’; or to the duration of the interval, as for example ‘a day,’ or the Chinese expression 茶歇 ‘chá xiē,’ which means ‘the time it takes to drink a cup of tea.’” (8)
That last phrase, “the time it takes to drink a cup of tea,” gifts us a gloriously visceral sensory coordinate to inhabit, and makes each of us imaginative co-creators in our own temporal territories.
And returning to those ancient Scythians: they lived within a combination of numerical and event- based time. There were seven seasons in their year, corresponding to the True Seven Deities. Although many specifics about the Scythian calendar are lost to us, it is likely they, like other nomadic Eurasian people of the time period, also observed a longer zodiacal precession of 12 year periods, each corresponding to a sacred animal. (9)
In contrast to fixed and settled cultures, people constantly on the move have by necessity a more Mercurial relationship with “place”. Moreover, these nomadic groups were adept at bringing the map into the territory- at manifesting a clock of sorts upon the physical materials of Time and Space. The Eurasian steppes are peppered with hundreds of stone monuments: mounds and barrows dedicated (contends modern scholarship) to astronomical events, funerary rites and sacrificial observances. For instance, “Tsagan sar – the New Year, new moon in the first month of the spring. Satiated with the number of deeply symbolic ritual actions, their consequential and timely execution according to traditional beliefs meant a promise of the well-being of the man, his family and the whole community. Performing of preventive magic rites like the ‘turnover of years’, abundant meal, cleaning of the clothes and yurt. New garments, the lighting of icon lamps, sprinkling of milk, the feeding of the fire spirit from a ritual spoon. Ritual meals, fortunetelling and forecasts, magic games, going on visits from one yurt to another, exchange of presents. Sacrifice to the host-spirit of the locality and to tribal ancestors.” (10)
Calendars and holidays, suspense and remembrance. I have no answers beyond my own lived experience. I can definitely and most certainly empathize with those who, for the sake of self- preservation and self-determination, must make a hard break with the traditions of your family or community. You are inciting a heroic renewal within your lineages. You are saying, “This poisoned flow will stop here and now. It will not weaken nor distort those who come after me.”
Sometimes a break is necessary, but sometimes those currents of history, trauma, nostalgia and merriment just need to be redirected a bit in order for them to provide irrigation instead of destructive flooding. I have been blessed in friendship and love – I haven’t skipped many holidays, birthdays, summer feasts, fall festivals et al, because whenever I didn’t want to spend one with family I’ve usually had a few tender mutants with whom to gather and conspire toward joy. I am happy to revel in observance of Winter’s long darkness and in anticipation of dawning light, and happy to call this observance by whatever name my hosts are using. But even when I am alone in the dark, at my little table with only a bottle and a cup to keep me company, the observance is there. The moment is marked, whether in contentment or agitation. Existentialist despair is a modern conceit; a spiritual paralysis. I am happy for what I learned from Camus but happier still for the lessons I taught myself by disagreeing with him. The atomized human being, aloof and logical, is dead. All else is life. Which is to say, the world knows, through us, through our grief and our celebration, through our remembering, our hoping, and our returning to ourselves, our functional en–world-ing, that it is Alive. Pop all the corks and get to work.
And by that, may I turn away from what could have been, and face always toward what may be.
-Jason Triefenbach, HFHR. January 2023
Jason is an artist, writer, and non-denominational minister with a garden and a lifelong interest in lurking around the Occult/ Paranormal shelves in bookstores worldwide. As Sun Duel they record and sometimes perform music with a variety of friends and loved ones. www.linktr.ee/JWT9000
(1) “Heaven Is a Place On Earth” Belinda Carlisle. 1987 MCA Records.
(2) BJ Swain, Living Spirits: A Guide To Magic In a World of Spirits. Self Published 2018
(3) “The map is not the territory.” A commonly- quoted fragment of 20th C semanticist Alfred Korzybski’s statement, “The map is not the territory, the word is not the thing it describes. Whenever the map is confused with the territory, a ‘semantic disturbance’ is set up in the organism. The disturbance continues until the limitation of the map is recognized.“
(4) David Fideler, “The New Experiment: Putting Nature on the Rack”. 2013 https://www.thesouloftheworld.com/the-new-experiment-putting-nature-on-the-rack/
(5) Although some may fantasize about a global return to pre- agrarian lifestyles brought on by mega- catastrophe, this is a highly unlikely scenario. Ecological collapse is not the great Equalizer some believe it to be. Many are already living this reality, while those of us cushioned by the buffers of western empire are just beginning to feel the effects. Likewise, technological comforts like electric lights, modern medicine, and gas heating will not be swept off the Earth in one grand BACKHAND from God; these privileges will continue in our lifetime to be concentrated into a smaller and smaller segment of the populace. In the end, a so- called breakaway civilization is much more likely than a sudden and total return to the paleolithic age. – Jason
(6) Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen @nordic.animism on instagram. See also https://nordicanimism.com/
(7) “…Australian colonial history is marked by the modernist progress myth—that the future must by definition be brighter, and that it is only in leaving the past behind that we can get to that brighter future. It fails to take into account the Aboriginal vertical stacked view of time, where the past, present and future are all bound up into the eternal now of the Dreaming. It fails to take into account the interconnectedness of people through their ancestors and descendants; it fails to see that from an Aboriginal perspective we are as bound to our ancestors as they are to theirs. What our ancestors did to their ancestors is played out today. What our generation does will be played out in the lives of our descendants. Everything that happens ‘in time’ has eternal implications and is elaborately interconnected.” – Rebecca Walker, “Eternity Now: Aboriginal concepts of time” 2016. https://others.org.au/features/eternity-and-aboriginal-concepts-of-time/
(8) Vera da Silva Sinha, Event-Based Time in Three Indigenous Amazonian and Xinguan Cultures and Languages. Frontiers In Psychology, 2019. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00454/full
(9) Mundus Scythicus Feb.13 2012 http://shakadvipa.blogspot.com/2012/02/scythian-calendar.html
(10) Nyssanbay M. Bekbassar, ASTRONOMICAL PRACTICES AND
RITUAL CALENDAR OF EURO-ASIAN
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