Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Bandon, Oregon, 2013

Bandon, Oregon, 2013

Elle est retrouvée.
Quoi? – L’Éternité.
C’est la mer allée
Avec le soleil.
– Arthur Rimbaud, 1872

Bandon, Oregon, 2011

Bandon, Oregon, 2011

It has been found again.
What? – Eternity.
It is the sea gone away
With the sun.
– Arthur Rimbaud, 1872

Bandon, Oregon, 2013

Bandon, Oregon, 2013

The Four functions of a living myth and the evening news

In The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, 1968, Joseph Campbell identified four major functions of a “living myth:”

1) ” To awaken and maintain in the individual an experience of awe, humility, and respect in recognition of that ultimate mystery, transcending names and forms.”

CC By-NC-ND-2.0

CC By-NC-ND-2.0

2) “To render a cosmology, an image of the universe.”  Today, Campbell notes, we turn to science for this.

Andromeda galaxy.  Nasa photo, public domain

Andromeda galaxy. Nasa photo, public domain

3) To shape “the individual to the requirements of his geographical and historically conditioned social group “

January from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, 15th c., public domain.

January from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, 15th c., public domain.

4)  “to foster the centering and unfolding of the individual…in accord with himself, his culture, the universe, and that awesome ultimate mystery.”

Leshan Giant Buddha, 2010, by Wilson Loo.  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Leshan Giant Buddha, 2010, by Wilson Loo. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Forty-five years ago, when conflict during the sixties was rending the social cohesion Americans had forged during WWII, Campbell wrote:  “The rise and fall of civilizations in the long, broad course of history can be seen to have been largely a function of the integrity and cogency of their supporting canons of myth.”

A mythological canon, said Campbell, is a group of symbols that “organize and focus the energies of aspiration.”  When the symbols no longer work for an individual, there is “dissociation from the local social nexus,” and, “if any considerable number of the members of a civilization are in this predicament, a point of no return will have been passed.”

In Creative Mythology, Campbell wrote at length of an earlier period of time when a different mythical canon broke down.  In 12th century Europe, Christianity ceased functioning as a socially cohesive world view.  Enough people stopped believing (even though belief was strictly enforced) that Europe went beyond the point of no return.

Many stories emerged during that era concerning the quest for the grail, which in the earliest written versions, had nothing to do with cup of the last supper, but everything to do with a quest to heal individuals and the land.  In Wolfram Von Eschenback’s Parzival, the grail was called lapis exiles, another name for the philosopher’s stone of alchemy.  The philosopher’s stone turns base metal into gold; the grail heals the wasteland, for that is what a country and culture become where there is a drought of aspiration and meaning.

Scenes from Perceval's quest of the grail, 1385-1390.  Public domain

Scenes from Perceval’s quest of the grail, 1385-1390. Public domain

That is where we are in America today.  In the absence of a shared core of attitudes and beliefs to unify us as a people, we are a nation of warring factions at all levels of culture and government.  For now, the party is over in the land of opportunity.  Even if our politicos won’t admit it, a “considerable number of members of our civilization” know this is true.

Campbell ended Creative Mythology by asking what might feature in a new and vital mythology.  In my opinion, he dithered with his answer, as he sometimes did in his writing.  Twenty years later, he answered the same question when it was posed by Bill Moyers at the end of the Power of Myth series.  This time Campbell suggested that any world view adequate to our times and our future would have, as a mandala, a view of the earth from space.

Earth from space

Neither Campbell nor one else back then knew the full extent of the danger climate change would pose.  Now we know it’s worse than anyone thought, (see the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released Sept. 27).  Our governments are as impotent as the wounded Fisher King of the grail legend when it comes to enacting meaningful change.

Yet as Campbell said, the quest for the grail of healing begins with individual searchers venturing into the forest alone, at the place that seems best to them.  Like Nelson Kanuk, a University of Alaska freshman, whose home in a remote Eskimo village was swallowed by the sea as a result of melting permafrost.  Kanuk sued the state of Alaska for not curbing carbon emissions and his case is now being heard by the Alaska Supreme Court.  Similar suits are pending in 12 other states.  Such headlines echo words I recently quoted by Wendell Berry, who puts his trust in “ordinary people” and said:

We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not.  The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”

We don’t even have to rush out and sue our state governments, for as Campbell suggested, stories and world views spark action and change when a critical mass is reached.  Hopefully, we are at or beyond that point. All we, as individuals, have to do is be still enough to hear what the world is asking of us, and then enter the forest at the place that seems best.

Wendell Berry on His Hopes for Humanity

“It’s mighty hard right now to think of anything that’s precious that isn’t endangered.” – Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry by Lou Gold, 2012.  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Wendell Berry by Lou Gold, 2012. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Wendell Berry, 79, is a poet, farmer, and author of 40 books.  He is also an outspoken advocate and activist for a radical change in our treatment of the earth.  “We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not,” he says.  “The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”

In a rare TV interview with Bill Moyers released on October 4, this gentle poet, who works a Kentucky farm that has been in his family for 200 years, reveals the fire of his determination.  Speaking of recent demonstrations against mountain top strip mining, which poisoned Kentucky rivers, Berry said,  “This is intolerable. There’s no excuse for it…there’s no justification for the permanent destruction of the world.”

I invite everyone to watch this brief trailer and if interested, tune into the full interview, or read the transcript here:  Wendell Berry on his hopes for humanity

Berry is eloquent in denouncing the “disaster of being governed by the corporations,” and he speaks of both the importance and the difficulty of holding onto hope.  He finds hope in the growing number of people who share his views and in his certainty that the present order of things cannot last because it runs counter to “creation itself.”  He also puts a lot of hope in “ordinary” people choosing to do the right thing.

There’s a eloquence in Wendell Berry’s interview, and there’s an equal eloquence in this poem, which fills me with hope and a sense of the love he feels for the forests and fields, the river and animals – the whole of creation – which he has spent a lifetime defending.

Manifesto:  The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

When governments work as they should

An inspirational article in Sunday’s Sacramento Bee reminds us of what can be done when governments are composed of adults who are willing to work together toward a common goal.

An agreement between the California State Parks Department and local Indian tribal governments allowed an important ceremonial structure, closed for five years because of fire damage, to be reopened for an annual all-tribes gathering for dance and ritual this past weekend.

In question was the roundhouse at Indian Grinding Rock State Park, or Chaw’se in the Miwok language.

Chaw'se Roundhouse, photo by Mary Mussell.  When this photo was taken, Jan. 2011, the structure was closed

Chaw’se Roundhouse, photo by Mary Mussell. When this photo was taken, Jan. 2011, the structure was closed

The state said the cedar roof on the roundhouse, which is 60′ wide, had to be replaced, but the tribes could not agree on how to approach the task without disturbing ancestral spirits. Finally, Adam Dalton, chairman of the Jackson Rancheria Miwoks, offered to bring in a native construction crew, to work in cooperation with a state appointed structural engineer, while dismantling the damaged parts of the roundhouse with proper ceremonies.

Local tribes gathered each fall for thousands of years in the Grinding Rocks area to harvest the abundant acorns.  The park takes its name from the 1185 mortar holes left in the soft limestone slabs, where native women ground the acorns.  Some of the petroglyphs, carved between the mortar holes, are 2,000-3,000 years old.

Grinding Rock Mortar Holes

Grinding Rock Mortar Holes

The park, some 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, near Jackson, is one of my favorite destinations in the foothills, especially at this time of year or in the spring.  If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.  Detailed information and history can be found on the park’s website.

Now, in addition to natural beauty and historical interest, the grounds at Chaw’se stand for the way governments are supposed to work.

The Rim Fire, day 22

rim fire

Smoke from the Rim Fire, photographed from the Glacier Point road some 30 miles south.  The photograph fails to convey the sense of scale of the smoke plume, even at this distance.

On day 22, the blaze is 80% contained.  It has burned 394 square miles of timber, watershed, and wildlife habitat.  More than 3,600 firefighters are on the lines, and efforts to contain this 3d largest fire in California history have cost $89 million to date.

A team of 50 scientists is moving into the burn area to assess erosion and mudslide dangers once the rainy season comes.  Of particular concern are the Tuolumne River and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir which provides drinking water to 2.8 million people in the greater San Francisco area.

The fire began when a hunter’s illegal campfire burned out of control.

Nights of shooting stars

I wasn’t even thinking of the Perseid meteor showers when I posted my review of Stardust, a movie in which a shooting star is central to the story.  Since then I’vs spotted news articles which reminded me that the annual peak time to see shooting stars is upon us!

Nasa photo: public domain

Every August for the last 2000 years, we have been treated to meteor showers as the earth passes by remnants of the Swift-Tuttle comet.  This year, because light from the waning crescent moon will be dim, the celestial light show should be especially dramatic.

The meteors will be visible from now through August 24, peaking this weekend, on the 11th and 12th.  NASA estimates we could see as many as 80-100 shooting stars per hour on those nights.  Best viewing will naturally be in places away from city lights, but in past years, I’ve seen the Perseids from the back yard, where there is plenty of ambient light.

This is really worth checking out if you get the chance.  No matter how many other distractions we face, celestial events like this can stop us in our tracks, open our eyes of wonder, and remind us again of the things that really matter.

Light and Shadow

Light and Shadow 6 blog

These photographs were taken in Wawona, just inside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Light and Shadow 4 blog

Light and Shadow 5 blog

April is warm this year.  Mornings in the 30’s, daytime temperatures sometimes reaching the 70’s.  A few days ago it snowed, though all traces are gone.

Light and Shadow 8 blog

Light and shadow 1 blog

I think of the Summer King and the Winter King in Celtic folklore.  Their battle for ascendency never ends.  The King of Summer is winning now, but they’ll meet again in autumn.

Light and Shadow 2 blog

Light and shadow 3 blog

The sun is so bright and the shadows so deep they stop you.  Their interweaving patterns, stirring in the breeze, shift from moment to moment.

Light and Shadows 7 blog

The world changes before our eyes. Always the same and never the same.

Change is the only constant

That’s what they say in the tech industry.  That’s what Buddha said 2600 years ago.  And that’s what the National Intelligence Council says in a 140 page report, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.”

Click for the text of the whole report

Since 1997, the NIC, formed of all 16 US intelligence agencies, has issued five Global Trends reports, one after each presidential election.  For this one they engaged think tanks, government, and business leaders in 14 nations and concluded that the world will be radically different in 18 years.  The pace of change will be faster than at any period in modern history.

NIC Chairman, Christopher Kojm, says:
“We are at a critical juncture in human history, which could lead to widely contrasting futures. It is our contention that the future is not set in stone, but is malleable, the result of an interplay among megatrends, game-changers and, above all, human agency. Our effort is to encourage decision makers—whether in government or outside—to think and plan for the long term so that negative futures do not occur and positive ones have a better chance of unfolding.”

Here is a link to a summary of the report. ww.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-10/u-s-intelligence-agencies-see-a-different-world-in-2030.html

The NIC defines “megatrends” as scenarios likely to happen under all circumstances.  “Game-changers” are “critical variables whose trajectories are far less certain.”  Additional possibilities are listed as “black swans,” discrete events that would cause large scale changes, either for good (a democratized China or a reformed Iran) or ill (global pandemic, WMD attack).

The report identifies four megatrends, changes regarded as inevitable over the next two decades:

  • Diffusion of power:  The US will lose it’s international dominance, but no other nation will take its place.  “Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multi-polar world.”  Though the report didn’t say it, as a student of World War I history, I have to observe that the last time the world was structured this way, things did not turn out very well.  The report identifies one best case scenario as a new era of US/Chinese cooperation.
  • Individual Empowerment: A rising middle class in emerging nations, increased access to education, widespread use of technology, and health care advances can improve the lot of large numbers of people. The report notes that technology is two edged sword: it can benefit and disrupt.  Advances sometimes create and at other times eliminate jobs.  Technology fosters communication but also  leaves infrastructure vulnerable to cyber-attack.
  • Demographic Change: World population will grow from 7.1 to 8.3 billion, and 60% world will live in cities (it’s 50% now).  This will strain resources and increase pollution. Aging populations may slow economic growth in developed nations. Immigration will increase.
  • Food, Water, and Energy Shortages: In 18 years, the world will need 35% more food and 40% more water.  Our intelligence agencies don’t waste time pretending climate change isn’t real.  They note that conditions like widespread drought have grown more severe in just the 18 months they’ve been working on the report.

National Geographic issue on extreme weather, published one month before Superstorm Sandy

Rather than summarize more of the report, I invite readers to check it out for themselves.  Let’s step back and reflect on what this means.

My dogs do not like change.  They find comfort in their routines, and if I am honest, so do I.  This month a 72 year old hardware store, where you could find anything, closed it’s doors.  So did a 76 year old nursery, where master gardeners could always diagnose the ugly brown spots on your roses.  That’s enough to put me in a funk, imagining our big box future, and yet this is nothing compared to what Global Trends 2030 suggests is coming – change at a faster rate than anyone living has seen.

Change that rapid generates fear.  Looking at the last decade, we see resistance to change spawning violence.  Religious fundamentalists are more vocal in nearly all denominations.  Reactionary politicians grasps at some idealized past that is gone if it ever existed.  The urge to get what is mine at all costs further disrupt economic life and generates even more fear.  People bemoan the loss of civility.

Do we have any guides for living through times like these?

As I asked myself the question, I remembered Joseph Campbell’s assertion that world mythology holds wisdom for all the turns that life can take.  And Marie Louise Von Franz, Jung’s closest colleague, said that fairy tales offer the “purest and simplest” expression of “the basic patterns of the human psyche.”  Do stories created by people who traveled by foot and ox cart really have something to teach us in the 21st century?

I believe they do.  Next time we will consider what the old stories may say about living through difficult times.