Saturnalian musings

In one sense, the Saturnalia were yesterday; in another, they are a five-day period that essentially corresponds to the epagomenae (Greek), nemotemi (Nahuatl) – those days that exceed a more ‘perfect’ year of 360 days. In this second sense, the Saturnalia are today as well. They are in fact those final five (occasionally six) days before the winter solstice and the birth of a new year. One further aspect I wish to make before I launch into my Saturnalian musings themselves is to point out the plural formation. The Romans designated their festivals as a plurality – with the implication that the festival is not only the day itself but also the previous annual celebrations and, presumably, the future ones as well. It is this inherent cyclical recurrence that is automatically expressed. If we were to designate in a similar fashion today, we might say instead of Christmas and Easter both Christmases and Easters. As far as I know, the eightfold festival calendar ‘inherited’ or ‘reconstructed’ by modern Wicca and Neo-paganism follows the more contemporary usage in reference to its holidays – though I am curious to know what the plural of Samhain and the like might be.

Somewhere I have a book on the Carnival that I have yet to finish reading that argues that the carnival was eventually supressed (in the middle ages?) because it too easily facilitated the possibility of revolution and the overthrow of the monarch or government. In the light of Sandy Hook, it is even more painfully clear that today the proverbial costuming associated with Mardi Gras and carnival would also additionally facilitate imbalanced intrusions into our schools and other sacred places.

The loss of carnivalesque celebration might also coincide with the eventual transition of the earlier and more ‘anarchic’ situation in which society is of the people rather than, what it has become, to manage the people. For all its cosmopolitan ramifications, paganism is and remains an intensely local spiritual practice. Like the forces of nature themselves (the sea, fire, electricity, the sun and so forth), paganism itself along with its emphasis on the immediate and the local, the community and the ethnos, has both benevolent and positive manifestations as well as chauvinistic and xenophobic ones. If guns may be useful tools, they can also be dangerous weapons. Like hammers, knives and ploughs, the social and pragmatic outcome depends on how they are used.

In recent days, I have heard two quasi-plausible arguments for the inviolate maintenance of the Second Amendment. One argues that if the principal of Sandy Hook could have had a safely concealed gun on hand, she might have been able to have stopped Lanza. As appalling as the idea of bringing protective weapons into our centres for learning might be, this argument remains as well to be considered. The other argument (and is this uniquely American?) is that the Second Amendment insures the ability of the people to overthrow the government when this last becomes abusive and intolerable. The practical implications aside as to when and how the people are to decide and act in such cases, this is another aspect to consider.

I have been reflecting on Emerson’s poem Brahma which begins “If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again.” As a Transcendentalist, Emerson is most likely endorsing the Eastern/gnostic concept that phenomenal existence is an illusion. However, the poem could also be read as a pagan understanding of the material unity of life, nature and material existence. From a pagan perspective, we do not turn our backs on heaven but instead affirm and work towards it. In this sense, heaven may be understood as the perpetual metamorphoses of matter.

As society and its government become no longer of and by the people but instead mechanisms to control the people, with the on-going population explosion that humanity has become perhaps this is inevitable and necessary. (I heard us recently described along the lines of being ‘mammalian viruses’ or, following Reg Morrison’s description of Homo sapiens, what Lynn Margulis terms ‘mammalian weeds’; I have often myself understood us to be cosmic cockroaches). But this ‘management’ of society is that which is exercised by the 1% capitalist elite, the .0006% Calvinist elect of 144,000, or at least the possibly more ‘democratic’ Mormon 53% á la Romney. But apart from this last which did not emerge, the underlying thrust of Max Weber’s contention that links the emergence of capitalism with the ‘worldly asceticism’ of Calvinism, that is, with the elite as the elect and the elect as the elite, is where the pagan possibility of a sustainable environment in which the words ‘human’, ‘natural’ and ‘pagan’ are essentially interchangeable synonyms slipped perhaps irretrievably away from us.

And in this development, are there people who have come to feel life so much as pain that they seek to free others from it as much as possible? For those who suffer from dyslexia, asperger’s syndrome and those kinds of impairments, things do not flow as smoothly as they might for other people. Some people triumph in spite of or even because of such impairment challenges, but might not others build up instead great resentment and anger – resentment and anger for being short-changed? As ‘evil’ as it was in Lanza’s case, must we not feel sorrow for him as well – for a human individual who has arrived at such extremes?

So much of life, as it has been for me, can be a product of good fortune – being dealt a lucky hand. But at the same time there are these strange synchronicities that suggest an additional force at work. I am thinking here of Hurricane Sandy which brought me a bruising on the Rhode Island coast let alone for those in New Jersey and Staten Island and now the horror of Sandy Hook that has bruised us all. If things happen in threes, I only can note the irony of the number of people I have met recently with the name of ‘Sandy’. Previously, I have not known any apart from a male version ( What is yet to come, I do not know – though I suspect there are many who would venture an educated guess of one sort or another. But in terms of the aesthetic that I most wish to champion, I can only despair over the ultimate violation of beauty that Sandy Hook has been.

There is of course the Orestes complex and the madness of the Furies that ensued the matricide. We know this last through the ancient Greeks who were so marvellously sensitive to the archetypal possibilities. The counterpart of Orestes is of course Oedipus. The act of the Theban king and hero in turn is the human counterpart of what belongs to the gods alone: Zeus as the first-born cosmogonic son/spouse of Gaia. In these sad times, there is much for us to contemplate. There may be a time for going widdershins, and the Saturnalia/carnival would be such a time.