Thursday, 3 March 2016

tick-tock .. tick-tock ..

Time, of course, is a human invention. We forget that. Nature is cyclical - the seasons, the tides, the phases of the moon - not linear.

It is only recently in the history of time-keeping that villages had to co-ordinate their versions of  'the time'. It was the railway, that most linear of inventions, that required that we all synchronize our watches and town clocks.

As we think about time as a human invention and take that thinking a little deeper, what about the pendulum that marks the seconds off so neatly? Or what about the accepted version of reality, that our societies, our ideas of who we are and what is right, must swing "like a pendulum" from one extreme to the other? I speak, specifically, of the ideas of feminism VS the patriarchy. Hard science VS woo. Right wing VS left in politics (the latter being the most ridiculous of metaphors, as though the American Eagle flaps one wing and then the other, essentially, then, limping along on one wing at a time .. although, come to think of it ..)

Even our saying "like a pendulum" is mistaken. The pendulum, a tool of divination and scrying that goes so far back into the mists of human history as to be "timeless" (sorry, I couldn't resist), does more than swing back and forth. Free the pendulum from the confines of the clock and it, too, will trace in circles, or spirals, or ellipticals as does everything in Nature.

Even our blood flows in spirals, you know.

Linearity does not come naturally to us at all; we are taught to think this way lest we keep missing our trains. Thought itself is not even linear - although we speak of a train of thought, that is indicative of how mechanistic our thinking about thinking has become. Natural thought is associative. It can go in circles, it can even be fractal. But one cannot think oneself to somewhere one has never been before by going in a straight line. If we are doing so we are following a track already laid down; not so much thought as it is connecting the dots of known facts. We call it thought but in a sense it is rearranging memory to suit a purpose, to get us to a predetermined destination. Figuring 'things' out, perhaps, but not in any sense original, creative thought. Because we live in a mechanistic world, we tend to think in things rather than concepts.

We speak of our selves a collection of "its". "My" body (it). "My" psyche. "My" soul. "My" subconscious. Who is behind all these "my's"? Who is "I" if "I" is a collection of things that are not "I"? Am I the force that animates these things? Or ..?

The discussion of such ideas as the exploration of self-hood breaks down into the almost farcical because our language lacks the words we need. Words, in a sense, are the containers we use to carry meaning. But if we lack the right shape and size of containers we need to hold our meanings, carry our thoughts, tell our stories, share our experiences - what then? If we have no way to express our experience does that render our experience meaningless?

In our mechanistic world, we lack a sense of the mythic. We've changed the meaning of that word; myth and mythology have come to mean untruths, or exaggerations, or primitive beliefs about reality that we now 'know better' than to hold. But there was a time - well, most of the time we have been human - that myths were the containers that held other truths about our selves, about our places in the world. Myth, metaphor, and parable allowed us to speak of our experiences of the world under or behind the world of form. We don't even have the words in our language to describe those other truths any more, although each of us senses something there.

For women this is especially problematic. Women's flows - and ebbs, for we have those too - used to be yoked to the moon. Conceive at the full, bleed at the dark of the moon. Electric light, the indoor life and schedules bound to the clock block out the moon. They disrupt the dance of woman and moon that is as natural and necessary to us as the dance of tide and moon is to the planet.

Imagine what would happen to the seasons, to the weather, to every system on the planet if the tides were disrupted - this is what is happening to women. Infertility, un-necessary pain, cancer. Our flows are dammed and it affects every system in our bodies.

As the moon has disappeared from our field of vision, so too have the myths that allowed us to speak of our inner lives, women's lives, so different from men's. So too, the goddesses and heroines of women's sacred stories; our other truths, the language of our inner experience has vanished. Where the old goddesses do appear, we see them flattened out into two dimensions, now merely feminist figures, one more representation of the pendulum that swings back and forth, back and forth, us or them, us or them.

I mourn this loss. I see it in childlessness, I see it in the medicalisation of menstruation, in breasts that won't give milk, I see it in cancer. I see it too in atheism and dry scientific descriptions of reality as one of surfaces and form rather than the meaning that underpins it.

So complete is this loss that we don't know these other truths ever existed, or we dismiss them as no longer necessary. We dismiss the idea that they ever could have been sacred to us, as though we just thought they were but now we know better. We dismiss what was once sacred because we no longer understand what sacred is.

For a very long time, in spite of threat of sanction by the Church, in spite of threat of burning at the stake, in spite of risks modern Western women simply cannot fathom, our ancestresses kept these sacred stories alive. Hidden, but alive, and whispered from grandmother to mother to maiden. The stories took on the form of charms for fertility, wise women's herbal remedies were always woven into the cycles of the moon. Prayers to the saints or the Virgin carried on ancient traditions of ancient goddesses. Then in the blink of an eye it was gone. We cast off the shackles of superstition, leaving the churches, the sacred groves, the wise women's charms and herbs, and our whole inner lives behind us.

To the modern, atheist, linear-thinking woman, these things seem like superstition. To the Christian woman, idolatry. But they are neither. They are the link between ourselves and the natural cycles and common experiences of womankind which we ignore at our peril. The goddesses and heroines were us, they are still us. Their stories are our stories.

There are so many lost, but even the high school text books teach "the classics" to yawning students. But if we reread them, we find depth there, and meaning. Persephone dragged into the Underworld by a dark and powerful force, her grieving and frantic mother Demeter's struggle to free her - these goddesses' stories reflect our experiences even in modern life. Isis .. ah, Isis, who had to put her man back together after he was torn apart by his own brother, and she didn't shirk the task as 'too much trouble'. We could learn a thing or two from that lady. The phases of the moon - Diana the maiden, Selena the mother, Hecate the wise crone - we still go through these stages in our lives. We don't like to admit it, especially the crone, but we do.

They are us, we are them. As above, so below.

Unless we understand our own meanings, unless we find our way back to the mythic to express our experiences, we risk becoming two dimensional ourselves. In a sense, as we allow all of this to slip away from us, we will be correct when think of ourselves of a collection of "its". The pendulum will have swung all the way to life as pure form, away from meaning .. but of course, it will swing back again, right?


One last note - in case you are not convinced of the importance of the phases of the moon to women's menstrual cycles, here's a piece of "old wives' wisdom" I've seen work over and over. Women who have irregular or painful cycles are taught to sleep in complete darkness every night - except for the three nights when the moon is full, when they open their curtains and let the moon shine on them as they sleep. If that's not possible, even leaving a nightlite on to simulate moonlight works. Three months of this, cycles normalize (interestingly, it always takes 3 moons). Every damn time. Handy to know if you're trying to conceive - and when you're trying not to as well.


  1. Interesting post. Thanks.

  2. I like the metaphor of the American Eagle!

    1. I had to laugh when it came to me :-)