So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

13 June, 2009

Ear to the Ground

Okay, some serious theological musings now, without pop culture at all. Next in the Pagan Values Month blogging.

Value systems evolve in environments.

This is both more and less complicated than modern ecopaganism (the ancients, as I have noted many times, really stank at environmentalism); rather than a straightforward concern about preserving the health of systems with a modern understanding of how they work, those values are derived from those systems, grow up as a part of them.

I am going to paint a landscape for you now.

Start with the river, a pulsing, throbbing artery that cuts through the land. Everything here focuses around the river, not just in the way that its banks are bathed in seasonally refreshed fertile land, but the way it divides the world into halves: east and west, upstream and downstream. Imagine it clogged with boats, little reed things most of them, with the occasional hefty barge made mostly from imported wood. The current flows north; the wind blows south; the great highway of the river is made to connect the place its feet are sunk in cataracts with its mouth. It is full of fish and fowl, yes, and also dangerous animals, whether predator or simply huge by human scale. The banks are covered with flowers and useful plants. The river is a living, essential entity; its god is painted in blues and greens, with pendulous fertile breasts and a great well-fed belly, and His crown is made of reeds like those that the people pluck from His banks.

Expand out, now, from this view of the river, and look at the land, its stark divisions. The fertile strip runs along the fat blue god's sides, covered in fields, fruit trees, gardens, sliced through with canals, all feeding grain and flax and vegetables. The range of floral scents is amazing; travellers from foreign lands come here in search of perfumes. And beyond that rich wealth of fertility, there is the stark desert, punctuated with monuments and tombs and graves, reaching to the horizon under the cloudless sky. Out here there is wealth, for those who brave the starkness, of a different kind: wealth of metal and gemstone and quarried rock. The two lands, it is called, the red land of the hostile and protective desert; the black land of rich life.

Sky and earth are similarly starkly divided, for the horizon is painfully sharp in the desert, and for all the rich wet central heart around the river, this is a desert land. Day and night are sharp and clear.

Let time pass. Watch the red land swell and grow and swallow up the fields in its time, the river dwindle. Watch the river swell again, in a great surge that devours the encroaching desert, bringing with it not just the new year's rich earth but malaria and other plague, a dual-edged sword of life and death. Watch the river secede, now, and the people clear their fields and once again plant flax, wheat, barley, cabbages, onions.

This is the land of the Nile, in ancient days.

What are the values of this land?

Look at it, see how it is divided into pairs: east and west, north and south, riverland and desert, earth and sky, fertility and starkness, life and death, all in the same packages. See how these pairs dance with each other, sometimes one ascendant, sometimes the other, all in intense, dynamic balance. This is not a land that lends itself to easy absolutes, not in a place where the river's rising brings disease that may kill your children or might swallow the foundation of your house and wash it away, nor a place where the terrifying and dangerous desert both holds wealth and forms a barrier that foreign raiders so rarely dare to cross. It is a place where twinned forces, equal and opposite, dance with each other in perfect balance, and the greatest value is that balance. All cosmic energies have ambivalent natures, even the ones that seem most friendly, and are dangerous out of their proper place.

It is a precarious land, balanced entirely on the grace of that androgynous reed-crowned god, and yet its wealth is amazing. In a good year, and most years are good, it can produce more food than it needs to feed itself, even while supporting the presence of many craftsmen, priests, scholars, artisans. That precariousness is aligned so perfectly, though, that it reveals an obvious divine order; why else would the wind blow so consistently southward, letting travellers reach the inner cities of Egypt by raising sails, and return to the Great Green simply by letting the current carry them? And thus it is apparent that so long as that divine order is preserved, maintained, encouraged, there will be wealth almost beyond imagining, and people will lead happy lives. The price for falling out of balance is harsh and generally immediate; the bounty of right action is equally dramatic.

And so this is what their land taught that set of ancients: that the world was made of synergistically opposing forces, in the center of which is the perfect balance of utter abundance. That even the most benevolent power might have a bitter edge, and even the most dangerous have worthy and valuable secrets. That preserving the order laid forth in these monumental terms was a delicate line to walk, and that falling from order was ruinous. That all these powers were necessary, a part of the intricate design that made for the land of Egypt, Gift of the Nile.

And thus we find, when we dig further, that the concept of order, also of justice, rightness, right action, truth, is represented as a feather: a delicate thing, light and balanced. And we find that in the end, people's hearts are laid in the scales to see if they have lived in the center of balance, held all the interconnected forces with appropriate love and appropriate fear, and thus was abundant rather than scarce.

This is what that land taught.

I do not live in that land. I live in the land where the Three Sisters teach the lesson of balance and synergy, not where those lessons are writ to the scale of giants. My bones are New England granite, and my land teaches me endurance, stability, order, ritual, and pattern in its own language. My bones are New England granite, and my heart is full of the dance of loving brothers in constant opposition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like this. I should have a think about the values of the places that are dear to me.