Took the Spotted Opossum to the Little Grill for blueberry pancakes. Ran into one of her friends, a wild-haired little imp, attended by a baby-sitter who was also a teacher at the grrrl’s old pre-school. We shared a table, the wee’uns had a good time kicking each other under the table and giggling about whatever inside jokes they were in on and I was able to treat everybody out of my employee food credit fund.
The girl and I got in the little red truck and rolled on out to the country. We bounced around a bit looking for the best possible spot and settled on Rawley Springs, one of our reoccurring playgrounds in the G. Washington Nat’l Park. The dam we worked on last summer was mostly knocked down – as I expected – so that gave us some work to do. We also had this little flower-pressing book from an arts’n’craftsy set she got for Xmas, so we looked around for flowers and leaves to press. And, of course, there were spiders and bugs to exclaim over, stare at and talk about. She wants me to pick up all the creepy-crawlies so she can see them, but she don’t wanna hold ‘em herself. No crawdads or tadpoles yet. They’ll come along.
We encountered a group of Indians – from India – who were out for out for a hike. They had some concerns about bears and snakes which I was able to address to their satisfaction. While I was talking to a couple of them, I noticed another one standing back and taking my picture. I had an image of how I might look to them – a bearded, tattooed American, wearing camo pants and a battered, brown leather hat, holding a little girl on his hip. I imagined them home, in Benares, showing their friends the picture of the rustic mountaineer they encountered, hanging out in the woods with his daughter – the same way American tourists talk about the exotic people they met when traveling. It was an amusing thought. I was glad to run into them, glad to be able to tell them they didn’t have to worry about bears – they all stay away from where people are – or snakes – we have some dangerous varieties, but they won’t be out and about for a few weeks.
There was one scary moment – I left the girl alone for a minute to take a picture of something. I explained to her where I was going and she said she wanted to stay where she was to do what she was doing, so I gave her the standard line about staying out of the water ‘til I got back and went. I was gone for a minute or so and when I got back she wasn’t where I left her.
Friends, I know a bit about myth and folklore. I know that there are many stories about magicians whose hearts are not in their bodies – they have removed their hearts and stored them in some protected place. This prevents them from aging and they cannot be killed by direct attack. Usually, these are dark magicians; the hero has to find the hidden heart and destroy it to stop the magician’s evil works. In faery tales, giants = parents/adults, so maybe these stories have to do with parents, I dunno, but I sure do know what it’s like to have one’s heart located outside of one’s own body. Any parent knows that.
In a trice, I was thigh-deep in the river, spinning around and hollering her name. My daughter is the only person I’ve ever met who is more important to me than me and she was not where I left her. That’s a form of terror that I can’t put into words. Parents understand; others can’t.
I saw a little blond head through the bushes up the trail. She had gone after me, heard me call and, running back to me, had tripped on a root and fallen down. We had missed each other in crossing because I didn’t come back along the trail – I took a shorter, more direct course. She was crying because she fell and I was kinda dazed by the wave of fear I’d felt, but we got through it. She does need to learn to be okay by herself for short periods and I need to learn that she can handle it. That’s part of facilitating her developing need for independence. I’ve left her alone for a minute or two before and she was fine… just one of those things, I guess.
After five hours, we’d eaten all our trail mix, pressed a bunch of foliage, rebuilt the dam and she was sprawled out on a rock with the towel pulled over her like a blanket so it was time for heading home. Back at the shack, dinner, activity books and puzzles, finally off to bed.
And why is this “Bridge Of Dread”? Well, it’s like this: Sub Rosa released a double-cd set of works by Angus MacLise, The Cloud Doctrine, back in ’04 or so. I was already a fan of the man’s musical explorations so I snapped it up. It’s all impressive, but “Universal Solar Calendar” really jumped out at me. The piece is MacLise reading a loooooong list of seemingly random phrases which I soon realized was his naming of the days of the year. I did some research and was eventually able to orient MacLise’s calendar to the Gregorian and ever since then I’ve christened my day-planners by going through and writing in the name of each day. Sometimes, I need a title for a piece and nothing is coming to mind, so I check the name of the day when I completed the piece.
“The Supernatural Bride”, an acoustic guitar mediation that was the BDSR side of a split cassette with Matt Riley was recorded on the day Angus MacLise named “The Supernatural Bride”. “Days Of The Zenith”, a track on From Pussys To Death And Back Again/Eternal Freakout, was recorded during the series of days named “First Day Of The Zenith” through “Fifth Day Of The Zenith”. An early BDSR cd, The Transcendental Outhouse, which was a tribute to Angus MacLise and contained his reading of “Universal Solar Calendar” covered in sludge, was centered around a live show recorded on the day he named “The Transcendental Outpost”. I tweaked that one slightly.
An unintended, but welcome, consequence of using MacLise’s day names this way is that certain days are fixed in my memory. Whenever I look at my planner and see that the day is “The Transcendental Outpost”, I remember that show, in that damp basement, in that apartment where I painted a huge, day-glo Jolly Rodger on my wall with the slogan “Some Day, Some Happy Day”, where the Spotted Opossum was conceived, where her mom and I split up. “The Supernatural Bride” was a different apartment, the girl was a toddler. “Descent Of The Host”, which hasn’t been released, was this place right here, where I’m sitting right now and the name of the day I’m writing is “First Day Of The Zenith”, so we’ve come back around to that, and the memory I have is that creaky glider-chair where I sat in the middle of the night, recording Pussys To Death, exhausted from twelve-hour workdays, but determined to plow ahead.
I didn’t realize when I first wrote “Universal Solar Calendar” in a day-planner that I was setting myself up to experience the annual cycle in a new way – new to me, but not new. Holy days are supposed to function this way. Michaelmas, Candlemas, Good Friday, St. Stephen’s Day – the Church calendar is peppered with saints and special observances. All the religions have their ways of designating the passage of the year, ways of marking out specific days and linking them to memories. This teaches us to know the individual days of our lives as unique, while also illustrating the steady march of time, which leads inevitably to death and then on to whatever happens after that. It’s a good system.
I want to remember taking the Spotted Opossum out to Rawley Springs to press flowers and play by the creek. It was a good day, the first day warm enough to go out there and get in the cold, clean mountain water. It was a wonderful daughter/daddy day, boo-boo and all, in the midst of a season of troubles and strife. Things ain’t exactly as I would wish them to be, but I did have that day with the girl and that day will now be associated with “Bridge Of Dread”.
This is pretty much how I operate. I stumble into things. When I became a vegetarian, I was motivated by some sort of vague sense that maybe being a vegetarian would somehow be a desirable thing. Eventually, I began to associate my abstinence from meat, fish and fowl with the dietary restrictions imposed by various religions. I am morally opposed to factory farming and I believe that consuming massive amounts of animals is unhealthy, but I’m a vegetarian because being a vegetarian causes me to be aware of my relationship with Divinity. I stumbled into the “Universal Solar Calendar” as a way of designating the days of the year and marking them out in my memory. I follow the inspirations and see where they lead. And I heartily encourage other people to do the same.
When one is open to the influence of spirits and/or Spirit, that influence comes. Intuitions and weird ideas float in, wanting to be made manifest. It takes a little practice to figure out which ideas are ego bullshit and which ones are inspirations – I get tripped up occasionally. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Generally though, I find myself stumbling happily along, realizing after the fact that some random thing I did for no known reason has influenced me in ways I never coulda/woulda seen coming.
T’other day at the Unitarian-Universalist, the talk was about Cain and Abel. As you may recall, Abel was a herder; Cain was a tiller of the soil. Abel’s sacrifice – dead animal – was approved by God, but Cain’s sacrifice – vegetables, I guess – was rejected. Cain got pissed and killed Abel and then God got pissed and cursed Cain, but put a mark on him so he would not be killed. (I encourage you to get out your King James and read the first half of Genesis 4.) We know that the Old Testament was written for, by and about the Semites, a herding people who rode up from the Arabian Peninsula and slaughtered the peoples of the Fertile Crescent, who were tillers.
See how that works? We are the Chosen Ones. We are herders. God likes herders and hates tillers. Therefore, we slaughter tillers and God likes us. A few thousand years later, white, European Christians figured out they could justify enslaving black, non-Christian Africans by declaring that their skin color was the “mark of Cain”. By then, the Christians were the tillers, while the heathen were largely hunter/gathers, but no matter. We have the Bible, so we make the rules.
Islam does the same thing. “There is no god but Allah” automatically means that anyone who does not worship Allah worships a devil and can be killed with impunity. Yes, “jihad” translates as “action” and can be taken to refer to the internal struggle between good and evil, but it can – and is, daily – be used to justify shootings, bombings and various other types of killing.
I’m wandering around to a point here, which is this: monotheism tends to exclusivity tends to violence. Or maybe violent people with exclusionary tendencies become monotheists. Whatever – they go together. The Semites didn’t invent any of it, by the by. I’m not blaming anything on the Jews. Significant portions of Genesis were taken from Zoroastrianism, which was possibly the original monotheism. And I have to say that exclusive monotheism has served the Jews very well. The reason that there are Jews today, despite the efforts of medieval Catholics, Hitler, Stalin and other assorted assholes, is the terrific strength of the Jewish community, held together by exclusive monotheism.
Hinduism, being neither monotheistic nor exclusive does not have the same history of violence that the big three monotheistic religions have. Certainly, many Hindus have gone to war. There was a warrior caste, for shit’s sake, but those were wars of conquest fought by Hindus, not Hindu wars. The battle in the Gita is one between two groups of Hindus, two branches of the same royal family, fighting over control of real estate. That’s a very different type of conflict.
Buddhism, as I said before, has no warrior tradition. Japan’s warrior caste, the Samurai, did embrace Zen, but they were motivated by Zen’s results: impersonal action, lack of fear, the ability to withstand hardship. Many Samurai, when they got too old to serve their overlords, put away their swords and withdrew from the world to practice Zen meditation. They knew the way of the sword was not the goal of Buddhism.
Hunter/gatherer societies tend to be more alike than different because they are hunter/gatherers. A society’s economy – how they get their food – determines how the society operates. Wherever in the world you look, hunter/gatherers have very similar social structures, divisions of labor according to gender and myth. A lot of that is simply practical. Women have to nurse the babies so it just makes sense for the women to do all the domestic stuff. Inbreeding causes birth defects so it’s a good idea to have a system that prevents people from marrying `close relatives. Other aspects of hunter/gathererism are not practical, but do tend to follow from the lifestyle.
I hike in the woods frequently. I try to explore new areas, but I do hike the same places again and again, in different seasons, different weather and different states of mind. I see the same rocks and streams and trees over and over and it is very easy for me to think of those natural features as individuals. There’s that strange tree. I remember that rock from the last time I was here. I’m sure other people have the same experience. Take that a step or so further and you arrive at animism. “Anima” means “spirit”. Animism is the belief that all things have their own spirit: every rock, stream, bug, buffalo. Everything is animated.
Hunter/gatherers tend to be animists. They also tend to be in a constant state of war. The Lakota were always at war with the Crow, unless I’m getting my tribes confused. The Sambia were always at war with anyone not Sambia. All hunter/gatherer males over the age of twelve or so must be warriors. In many societies, a man would not be recognized as fully a man unless he had been to war. The Zulus forbade marriage to any male who had not distinguished himself in battle and there was no sex outside marriage, which may be why the Zulu warriors were so eager to get some British blood on their spears. Poor bastards.
Still, constant war does not mean frequent bloodshed. Hunter/gatherers do enjoy their rituals and the longer, the better. The Indians would have done a lot better against the United States Army if they hadn’t been impeded by their ritualistic approach to war which meant a lot of purification and chanting and dancing and going off to cry to spirits and so on while all the soldiers had to do was reload. The ritualistic approach works better when both sides are playing by the same rules. Two groups of hunter/gatherers, each, with their own elaborate rituals to attend to, can be in a state of constant war and have one or two battles a year, each battle yielding one or two killed and a few more wounded.
Think of that. Two tribes go to war. Representatives meet and agree to have a battle at a certain place, a few months later. Both groups begin the process of purification and getting ready, fasting, arming, painting shields, calling on spirit helpers, publicly boasting about how much better their group is &c. Finally, the day arrives. Everybody packs a lunch and heads to the battlefield. It’s almost like a carnival. All the young bucks swagger around in their most impressive regalia while the old vets look stern and hard. Formal insults are shouted between the two sides for a while and then a lot of clattering swords against shields before the warriors engage. The goal is to get some blood on your blade so you can show everybody and if you can pick up a minor would that will leave a scar, that’s good too. When it gets dark, everybody goes home to drink beer and talk about how much better their side was.
That isn’t a complete picture of hunter/gatherer warfare by any means. Certainly, tribes engage in some unseemly practices: night raids, child stealing, ambush, rape. But the scene I just painted has happened – I’ve seen footage. I would say that is how wars should be fought. That is the highest, most spiritual way to engage in war, the only way to engage in warfare honorably and with respect for the humanity of the other side.
Backing up a little, two warrior bands meet, fight and the victors scalp and hack up the enemy dead. I’m okay with that too. Native Americans scalped the enemy dead to prevent them from returning to get revenge – and for trophies. Makes sense.
Flying halfway around the world to kill total strangers who never did anything to me so that big oil companies can give even bigger bonuses to their CEO’s and gouge me at the gas pump? That don’t make a lick of sense.
War in myth. I’m all for it. In the context of monotheism, I find it somewhat troubling because it tends toward large-scale slaughter. In the context of polytheism or animism, I think it serves very good purposes. In any case, I support the metaphoric interpretation: the battle that must be fought is the internal one. What is my cause? How do I define my right? To what lengths am I willing to go? Will I fight to the end or give up when the battle seems lost?
I know how I want to answer those questions. I also know how hard it is to live up to the standards I set for myself.
“Kill the wounded; mutilate the dead.” – BDSR battle cry.
Life is war. That is a fact, muthafucka. Every moment of everyday, we are assailed on all sides by forces trying to lead us astray and even when we retreat from the world, we are attacked by inner daemons with names like Doubt, Envy and The Way Things Ought To Be. In the end, we will all be KIA, but only some of us will fight the Good Fight to the end. Many now living are as if dead.
War has always been part of myth, from the Australian outback to the Great Plains of North America. The imagery of war has given shape to the ideologies of countless peoples, many of whom – most of whom – knew war first hand. Another fact for ya, muthafucka: war is the norm, not the exception. I’m not personally armed at this moment, unless you count one little knife, but only because I live in a specific time/place where I’m insulated from the front line. For the vast majority of human history, some contact with intertribal warfare was a given. If I had been born at any other point in history, I would be a battle-scarred veteran, an old campaigner, at the age of forty-five, if I lived that long. I have fought battles, of course, and I have the scars and tattoos to prove it. Those were not battles with swords or guns, but they were – and some still are – just as serious, just as deadly.
Judaism is a religion of war. Sure, all of us are familiar with the nebbish, neurotic stereotype Jew popularized by Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman, and with the even more annoying, whiny JAP, hardly hardy warrior people, but those are the weak and watered-down descendants of fierce and terrible bands of Semites who came up out of the Arabian Peninsula, riding horses and swinging sabers and generally slaughtering the shit out of the peoples of the Fertile Crescent. Read Deuteronomy. Read the Books of Kings. The Semites were some seriously killin’ people. The only real question was whether they would keep the women and animals when they took a city or kill every living thing. Even after they fell from their place at the top, the Jews had a mean streak. Check out Psalm 137, KJV:
1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song: and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
Now, all that sounds just fine and good and I’m sure I’d feel the same way, though I wouldn’t use italics quite so haphazardly, if I was driven out of Virginia, until line 9. Somehow I can’t quite get behind dashing little ones against stones no matter how much I might dislike their parents. But those old Jews were hard people in hard times.
One of the books that has served me well in hard times is The Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of the Lord”. Though technically only part of the Mahabharata, the longest epic poem in the known universe, the Gita can stand on its own and is the most popular Hindu text. It takes the form of a dialogue between the warrior prince Arjuna and his charioteer, the god Krishna. The two are on a battlefield; the battle not yet begun. In the two armies which are about to fight, Arjuna sees many friends, relatives, teachers and old buddies and, realizing that he is about to initiate the slaughter of many loved ones, loses his nerve. Krishna stops time and the two have a conversation about the proper way to live. They talk about many things, but it all comes down to this: do the thing that must be done and don’t worry about the outcome.
Arjuna is a warrior. War is his dharma, his duty. For a warrior to suddenly turn into a pacifist at the moment he is about to engage in the greatest battle of his life is simply wrong. Krishna informs Arjuna in no uncertain terms that all creatures die, that all the men in both armies are already dead, that all living things are simply food for His Infinite, Eternal Being. A great and terrible image is presented: the Author of the universe as an infinite number of hands creating all that is created, which is then thrown into an infinite mouth.
Friends, that’s how it is. All of us and all we’ve ever known are just food. Yes, you absolutely must follow your bliss. Yes, you absolutely must do the work that has been put before you to do, even if it means killing all those around you. Yes, in the end you will be thrown into the gaping maw of Divinity. Whenever I feel discouraged, like I can’t go on, I think of the Gita and I know that going on is all I can do and all I am asked to do.
The difference between the Old Testament and the Gita is that the Old Testament is for, by and about a specific group of people, the Jews, and the Gita is for everybody. “Hindu” is actually a catch-all term invented by the colonial British to refer to “the religion of the Hindis”, which is like saying “the Native American religion”. That is, it’s wrong because it’s incorrect and because it’s kinda racist. But “Hindu” has entered our lexicon and there it is. Still, one does not have to be born of a Hindi mother to worship any of the Hindu gods. Go to your local Hare Krishna temple. Chances are the Indians will be outnumbered by the whites by a wide margin. Hinduism is not exclusive.
Judaism is. The only way one can become a Jew is to born of a Jewish mother. The Ten Commandments were given to the Jews and apply only to the Jews. “Thou shalt not kill” means “Thou, a Jew, shalt not kill another Jew”. Killing Gentiles was fine. Judaism is an us/them religion. Actually, it’s an Us/them religion since the “Us” is the only group of people that matters to God. Christianity and Islam, the children of Judaism, inherited the Us/them concept, as well as the imagery of Holy War, which is why both groups employ the language and – too often – the weapons of war.
The Old Testament war stories can be interpreted metaphorically, but they’re about actual wars and real massacres. The Gita pretends to be about historical events, but has always been known to be about the inner conflicts of individuals. Arjuna stands for anyone who is struggling to make a decision about how they should proceed in life.
Say, a young man goes to college to become a lawyer like his father. While at college, he has to take some electives, so he takes an art class. Suddenly, he discovers that he loves art and that he has some little natural artistic ability. Should he pursue art, even though it means upsetting Dad and possibly not making any money? Or should he stick with law, go to work for Dad’s firm and forget about art? This is the kind of situation the Gita is about and the Gita is very clear: do the thing that is put before you, even if it means killing your family. Study art. Or ballet or poetry or whatever it is that calls to you and makes you feel most alive.
Christianity does carry the same message. Christ knew His purpose on Earth and He went willingly to the Cross. So should we be willing to suffer and even die to fulfill our own purposes. Unfortunately, Christians have been doing all they can to expunge Christ from Christianity ever since Constantine. Islam probably has some of the same – I confess I am pretty ignorant when it comes to Islam. I was raised Christian so I know the Old and New Testaments well enough, but I quit monotheism a few decades ago and I’m not that interested in learning more about it. I have a copy of The Koran on the floor by the bed, but I haven’t cracked it.
Certainly, anybody can become a Christian or Muslim. Those two don’t have the rigorous exclusivity of Judaism, but they do have the Us/them attitude.
- Full stop. When the word count gets over 1,500, I start looking for the end and when the end is still pretty far off, to be continued.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.