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The Past is Present

Moyra wrote this article a while ago…

We stand in a garden at dawn and are moved by a feeling we cannot put into words. If we cared to unravel the feeling we would find that we were being influenced by a great many things beside the actual physical nature of what we are experiencing. In the beginning… we hear somewhere deep inside us as we react to the beginning of a new day… and the story of the miracle of the Creation is ours to draw upon… the only true Miracle, the bringing out of Nothing of all that Is. We take a deep breath and we remember subliminally the breath of God giving Adam life. We are reborn… renewed. And then a tree rustles in the breeze and subconsciously we remember the Tree of Life… the Tree of Knowledge… and the freedom we have to obey or disobey. Some small creature rustles in the grass and we shiver, remembering the serpent in Eden… the suffering inseparable from the knowledge of good and evil. A bird wings past… it is black and we remember Noah’s raven; another… and we hear in the beating of its wings the messenger dove. Someone calls and we are expected to join other people, have breakfast, cope with rush-hour, work, city, life. Our name is “called” and we are expected. We will need the strength that we have unconsciously received from the myth.

In Vao, in the New Hebrides, even today, it is believed that the spirit of a dying man arrives before the entrance to a sea-cave where the fearful “Guardian Ghost” has traced an elaborate pattern in the sand, a path for him to follow. “At his approach she obliterates half the design, which the dead man must complete or be devoured.”[1] If he has danced with the tribe as an initiate of the higher mysteries and has now remembered the steps, he has no problem. If he has not, he is lost. We read in this many things relevant to ourselves… the spiral dance… the maze dance… the losing of self… the finding of self…. I am the way, the truth and the life, said Christ; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. The dance we dance during our life is the one that will make the difference to our future or death. Life is learning the steps of a dance whose pattern is half drawn on the sands of time, half in our eternal souls.

Shiva’s dance. From everywhere and everywhen we draw our inspiration. “The Eastern mystics see the universe as an inseparable web, whose interconnections are dynamic and not static,” writes Dr Fritjof Capra in his book The Tao of Physics:

“The cosmic web is alive; it moves, grows and changes continually. Modern physics, too, has come to conceive of the universe as such a web of relations and, like Eastern mysticism, has recognized that this web is intrinsically dynamic. The dynamic aspect of matter arises in quantum theory as a consequence of the wave-nature of subatomic particles, and is even more essential in relativity theory… where the unification of space and time implies that the being of matter cannot be separated from its activity. The properties of subatomic particles can therefore only be understood in a dynamic context; in terms of movement, interaction and transformation.” [2]

Because we have discovered that everything has vibrations and responds to vibration, the tale of Orpheus and his music charming the beasts, the plants and the rocks does not seem so strange any more. Does it point “backwards” to a time when man had this knowledge, as well as “forward” to our own time when we have rediscovered this knowledge? Is it trying to tell us something about the nature of the universe that we need to know in order to survive?

Because we live in an age when nuclear energy has become at once the servant of man and his master, the legend of Prometheus stealing fire from the sun takes on new meaning. Was the fire Prometheus stole not just fire in the ordinary sense, as we used to believe, but prophetic of the fire of nuclear holocaust, the violent energy of fission? Does the punishment Prometheus have to endure, being chained to a rock forever while vultures gnaw at his liver, not sound like man’s present condition, bound in agony to the terrible secret he has learned?

Is the young man with the green striped hair and painted face, who dances so frantically among the strobe lights in a modern disco, remembering subliminally the painted shaman dancing round the primeval fire? Is he seeking blindly through the same activity to leave his body, his mundane identity, and become one with the Unknown?

In the story of Chronos banished into sleep, but still commanding his assistants, a hint about the power of the subconscious – that even in sleep we are still alive, still remembering?

Is the handprint that works electronically to admit a privileged and elaborately screened individual to the inner rooms of a highly secret government or scientific establishment today not an echo of the handprint of an initiate carved above sacred caves in ancient times?[3]

And the mutilation of fingers which was customary in many primitive societies to indicate mourning, dedication and sacrifice,[4] has it not its macabre echo in the modern Japanese gangster who, when he has offended, cuts off his own finger to indicate the sincerity of his apology?

When we take a photograph or paint a representational picture are we not in fact, as “primitive” people believed, trying to capture, to hold, the spirit of that moment, that person, that place, against the dissolution of time?

When an Icon painter makes an image that is later associated with miracles, is he so very far from the Paleolithic artist who painted the figure of a gazelle on the wall of his cave for magical purposes?

The past is present, and is working on us every moment of the day. It is woven inextricably into our lives in a way that the Celtic artist, with his elaborate interlacing patterns, has reached nearer to depicting than anyone. It is present in Neolithic, Megalithic and Bronze Age tribes still living in the ancient way in isolated parts of the earth. It is present subliminally in us, working through symbol, myth and ritual. Like the light of the stars that we greet today though it started its journey millions of years ago, we discover with surprise “new” truths that are older than the oldest hills.

The spiral dance continues. Those who enter it now, those who have reached the centre, and those who pass us on the way back to the entrance are all part of the one dance, the Dance of Shiva, the dance of Delos, the dance before the cave in Vao.

[1] [3] [4] G.R. Levy, The Gate of Horn (Faber & Faber).
[2] Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (Wildwood House and Fontana)

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