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The Rattling at the Gate

Trillium is blooming.

Flowering when the days feel like May and the nights feel like February, Trillium occupies a liminal space.   A medicine of childbirth and tuberculosis.  A flower that comes before winter has given up its ghost.

In another spring in another forest on another coast,  I wrote:

Blooming
in the moments
before spring
has decided
whether
to remain,

Our Lady of the Forest
draws no distinction
between birth
and death.

Whichever passage
you choose
she will hold you
through the night

then deliver you
to the April morning,

stillborn
or drawing
your first breath.

____________________________

Here on the southern tip of the place colonial cartography calls Vancouver Island,  I found the first Trilliums of the season blooming in the place the WSNANEC call SNIDCEL, “The Place of the Blue Grouse,” named for a bird whose presence or absence marks the health of the land.

The bird was driven from this place when settlers came and cleared the forest to build a cement factory where Chinese and Sikh laborers lived, worked, and died.    The factory is gone now — only the foundations of the buildings remain.   The forest is growing back — Cedar, Trillium, Fawn Lily, Ghost Pipe, Coral Root, Skunk Cabbage, Otter, Raven, and Eagle have all returned.   But the Grouse is present only in the artwork adorning the sign that calls this place by its true name, a reminder off once and future worlds.

It is in places like this, at this time of year, when I hear them the loudest — the dead rattling at the gate.   The human ones and the wild ones whose presence was essential to the wholeness and integrity of the living world, who were driven into the realm of the dead before their time, and who are clamoring to return.

____________________________

When I think of those deaths, I am reminded of the meditations of the Jewish Marxist mystic, Walter Benjamin, written in the final days of his life as he watched war and genocide spread across Europe.   Benjamin wrote:

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [. . . ], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.

Benjamin and his angel find themselves trapped with in an eschatological framework within which the storm unleashed, created by an omnipotent, tyrannical god, and set loose as a result of human disobedience to divine dictates, cannot be turned back.

____________________________

But, as a Feri priest, I work with gods and magic that are older than this world and are not bound by linear time.   I refuse to accept that “progress” is irreversible or that what is dead is gone from the world.

And, so, I stand at the gates of death beside one of my gods, who comes to me in the form of a bear, though many others associate him more with the stag.  (His name suggests the Old Welsh word for bear which is also contained in the name of a sacred king.)

Bears are beings that inhabit two worlds.   They spend most of the year walking among the living.  But they spend the dark months in the underworld, where they can hear the songs of the sleeping, the gestating, and the dead.

The god I am standing with is known by most as a death god, but he tells me that he is more than that, he is the one who stands between worlds.  He is the opener and closer of gates.  And, while we are used to thinking of the dead moving through those gates in only one direction, that is not the only possibility.

He reminds me that two thousand years ago, a Jewish Palestinian magician brought a man named Lazarus back from the dead — bringing down the wrath of an empire, because, in the words of the radical theologian, William Stringfellow, death is  “the only moral and political sanction of the State.”

But he tells me that is not the only way the dead return.   Plants return when the concrete begins to crack.  Forests return when human hands stop tending land.   Visions return when we reach deep into history to summon the memory of once and future worlds.

The dead who are rattling the gate aren’t insisting on their physical return in the bodies they inhabited before.  They are insisting on a world in which their lives become possible again.   They are insisting on the shattering of pavement and the breaking of foundations.    They are insisting that we will not earn the pardon of the bleeding earth so long as we are meek and gentle with such butchers as those who cut short their lives.    They demand the return of wildness and enchantment.

Among the living, there are many who warn me against opening the gate.  They say that worlds could be torn assunder.   They say this could be the undoing of systems on which peoples’ lives depend.  They say I risk chaos and destruction.

The dead reply by pointing to the wreckage left by the storm called progress.   Clearcuts and mass graves.  Prisons and shantytowns.  Strip mines and cancer wards.  Sweatshops and toxic waste dumps.   They say that the persistence of the systems of control now in place around the world is a greater cataclysm than their collapse could ever be.

Beside me stands a bear-like god who tells me the choice is mine.

And the rattling at the gate grows louder and louder . . .

 

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14 Comments »

  1. When I studied philosophy I was very much inspired by Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ – particularly his idea of the ‘Jetztzeit’ ‘now-time’ that blasted the present free from the historical continuum. Although admittedly I struggled to understand the Judaic aspects.

    ‘Visions return when we reach deep into history to summon the memory of once and future worlds.’

    Yes, this is very much what my deity (another ‘Welsh death god’) teaches me too. Gwyn ap Nudd holds the role of containing the spirits of Annwn… wild spirits (gwyllon)… and the furious dead… there’s alot I can relate to here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting! Gwyn ap Nudd keeps coming up for me — time for me to pay him a visit I think!

      I have worked a lot with my Irish ancestors but less so with my Welsh ones, and my sense is that they are among those rattling at the gate.

      (Its also interesting to me that I chose to reference the Welsh word for bear king , when the Irish word is almost the same)

      Like

      • The Welsh word for bear is ‘arth’ which suggests this may be part of his name?… (though I hold off guessing Arthur!)

        I must admit I don’t know much about the Feri tradition but it is something I’d like to hear more about.

        In relation to voices of the land and ancestors, Gwyn ap Nudd and the imperative of re-enchantment this may be of interest: https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/enchanting-the-shadowlands-2/

        Liked by 1 person

      • Working on that same question, Lorna–the Feri God Arddu (dark bear) seems to have some relationship to Bran, and if Arthurian myths represent an encoded mysticism, not just a figure, than the ‘third unfortunate disclosure’ (Arthur unburying Bran’s head and taking it to Bretagne, as some suggest), may represent a movement of Bran’s cult from Wales/Cornwall to Armorica, which explains why I’d had visions of Bran in Bretagne before going there.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, that is his name — though the lore and the images on that page are particular to those downline from Gabriel/Carradoc and his Blood Rose tradition. In my training, I was introduced to each of the gods through direct gnosis without a physical description, and my sense of his presence and nature is quite different from that depicted. I sense is true of some other non-Blood Rose descended lines.

        Interestingly, this god as I know him, in his more ursine form, is revealing himself to a number of people outside Feri tradition lately.

        I personally experience Baphomet and Baron Samedi and Shiva and the Grim Reaper as very distinct from each other and from the one of whom I speak.

        The question of the identification with Merlin is an interesting one — I suspect there are some deep mysteries at play regarding the identities of Merlin and Arthur and their relationship with each other, and that this god has something to do with those mysteries. (At times I have suspected that Arthur and Merlin may be positions held by the same figure.)

        Clearly I have some Arthurian questing of my own to do . . and, yes, becoming clearer and clearer that my Welsh ancestors want me to pay attention . .

        Liked by 1 person

      • So many confluences at the moment; I am hammering my way through ‘The one Eyed god; Odin and the Indo-European mannerbunde’ which is effectively clarifying and putting some meat in the bones of my suspicions about Gwyn ap Nudd.

        It is reconstructing from the various Indo-European sources that the ‘Wild Hunt’ of tradition originally was a ritualised way of literally bringing the ancestors back from the land of the dead to the places of the living, of bringing blessings, fertility and general good stuff. The duty of carrying these ancestors back falling upon the youth contingents – outsiders, living on the edge of society and helping to hold it together.

        Liked by 1 person

    • As for the association with this god and Wales, the spelling clearly is Welsh. Victor’s first initiate, Gwyddion spent considerable time in Wales. Whether Gwyddion brought back that name, or whether it was known to Victor and Cora before he went to Wales is something not passed on to me, if indeed anyone living knows. The Feri gods are interesting. Some of the names and images associated with them overlap with those used by other people at other times — for example, our Peacock Lord has the same name as the Peacock Angel of the Yezidi — but our sense of and relationship with them, even then, tends to be quite different from that of other traditions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ~The human ones and the wild ones whose presence was essential to the wholeness and integrity of the living world, who were driven into the realm of the dead before their time, and who are clamoring to return. ~
    I feel and love this Sean Thankin You yes I am ~

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not sure why I couldn’t reply at this comment, but … Sean, you wrote:
    “At times I have suspected that Arthur and Merlin may be positions held by the same figure.”

    This rung a bell with me. I wish I could remember which other figures seem to have held a Position/Title called X, where the title was conferred on any number of successors, but I need to check with my doctors, as this memory issue is getting out of hand, as it were. Not worried about Alzheimers, merely wanting better connectivity with my wetware database.

    Liked by 1 person

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