“But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.”
– W.B. Yeats
Apparently, someone thinks I need to learn about creation and destruction–especially destruction. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is the general context of my questions regarding how to overcome the limited vision inherent in the human condition in order to distinguish between true evil or wrongness, and larger cycles of destruction. (By the way, if you have come back for more, you are a discerning person of sophisticated tastes and I love you.)
So, about two weeks ago my attention started being called to the destructive side of balance, specifically in the form of Shiva. I am not quite sure what got me thinking about it; it just happened in the way it does when you are being directed to look into something. I started googling around and looking at images–my first stage of research–and the sense of direction and the push-pull to look deeper into the theology of Shiva got stronger and stronger. After some hours of this, I went to bed with not much more than an intuition that destruction, as embodied by Shiva, is inextricably bound with creation, and that the apparent duality obscures a deeper unity, although I don’t and probably will never fully understand how that works. Although I would certainly have said it was an interesting topic, it’s not something I ever felt called to delve into before, nor is it something that I would have said resonated really well with my personality. And yet, here I am and it seems here I am meant to be.
The day after beginning this research I woke bolt upright at 5:55 a.m. knowing with unshakable certainty that the Shiva linga is an axis mundi. I realized that there were even deeper cosmic dimensions to Shiva than I had read about. Content in this sudden understanding, I fell back asleep. As I later found out, that is not a novel assertion, but is well-known within Shiva theology/cosmology. But it was all new to me and the information hit me like a download from the Great Beyond. Incidentally, my research says five is a sacred number associated with Shiva, e.g., in some representations he wears five serpents, has five heads representing five elements, etc., so the timing seems synchronicitous.
Two days later, I was woken up by an earthquake–at 5:55 a.m. I’ve lived in earthquake country most of my life but this is the first time I can remember being woken by one. It wasn’t a huge one (4.2 on the Richter scale) but the epicenter was close by. If you’ve never experienced one, I only say that earthquakes are a very unsettling mix of fun and scary. I mean, on the one hand you’re being jiggled around like on a ride at the amusement park, and on the other you are wondering if this will be the Big One and should you be heading for the door? I cannot think of a better embodiment of the destructive power of nature than an earthquake, especially in this part of the world. (Is that a Ring of Fire surrounding Shiva in the picture? I’m pretty sure it is. I could be biased.)
Five days later I stumbled upon this fantastic post about W.B. Yeats. Yeats has been one of my favorite poets since I was a teenager, and so many of the lines quoted resonate with the themes of creation, destruction, inspiration, and the union of opposites which have been uppermost in my mind these days–clearly of a piece with the rest of the curriculum. So much so that one of these bits of mystic wisdom appears at the beginning of this post.
But I feel a little weird about it because Shiva is very much a part of a living religious tradition (Hinduism), of which I am mostly ignorant and not interested in joining, yet do not wish to appropriate. No disrespect intended–it’s just not my path. In fact, I am not quite sure how to articulate this, but at the moment, the Shiva current that I am tapped into feels…I guess I would say not exclusively Hindu. With any deity of course, the religion is a human-made interface for communicating with the deity. I have to assume that, through millennia of practice and dedication, members of that religion are the most familiar with the deity in question; but I am not the least bit impressed by religious leaders who claim the exclusive right to access or interpret for a deity. I guess to put it in Christian terms, I wouldn’t take communion because I’m not a baptized Catholic; but I wouldn’t see that as an impediment to getting to know Jesus or the Virgin Mary. It may be a moot point because I am not talking about entering into a devotional relationship with Shiva. If that looks like it’s going to happen at some point, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I think I’m just being called to shut up, listen, and learn.
And boy is there a lot to learn! I often lament that there is so little extant information about the Celtic deities of my ancestors (in fact, if genealogy can be believed, some of them are my ancestors) and their cosmology. But the downside with a deity that has a several-millennia-long relationship with a literate culture that has many esoteric religious and philosophical schools is that there is too much information. Personal gnosis is always the most direct route, but I do try to keep some intellectual rigor and do my research. I feel a little overwhelmed by this enormous body of knowledge and belief.
I’m also, I admit, a little scared of the lessons that may come with this particular course of learning. Destruction is not a concept humans are that comfortable with, even though we are so good at causing it–we don’t like when it comes calling at our own door. I see it every day around here at every scale, from caring for my dying mother at home to the climate of the entire planet rapidly changing. This year I got a plot in a community garden and have been diligently trying to grow some food and medicinal herbs. Partly I view this as a survival skill; partly as a way to connect with my forebears; partly it’s a way to save money; partly it’s a chance to get out of the house and get some sun and fresh air and exercise. I love gardening and it is located in a beautiful spot. The river is nearby, and in the evenings the snowy egrets come to feed. The bushes are full of little tittering birds, and the sunsets are amazing. Wild medicinal plants grow all around, the soil is fertile and drains well, and I swear the spot has its own microclimate that is several degrees cooler than the furnace where I live a couple miles away.
Unfortunately, almost everything gets eaten before I get to it. Because of the drought, the critters–in our case, grasshoppers, rabbits, tree and ground squirrels–are going way outside their usual haunts to find food. The garden is their supermarket and it has been a banner year for them, reproductively speaking. I’d be willing to share with them, but they like to eat half of every vegetable and leave the rest to rot. To make matters worse, in 2008 a container ship came into LA bearing an African insect called the bagrada bug. They prefer wild mustard and members of the Brassica family, but when those are gone they will happily eat everything else. And I do mean everything. There are so many of these bugs in the garden that you can hear a constant rustling as they climb over one another and drop to the ground. They reproduce at a rapid rate, and there are no organic methods for killing them.
When I went to the garden a couple days ago, I was heartbroken to find that half my plants had been ripped out. Although no one told me why, I’m pretty sure it is because they were infested with bagrada bugs. (It obviously wasn’t random vandalism.) Mine was one of the first plots to be attacked this year. I was particularly saddened to lose two of my favorite native perennial medicinal plants, which happen to also be beautiful flowers. In time, the plethora of small mammals will attract more coyotes, snakes, feral cats, and maybe birds of prey, and the system will balance itself out; but in the meantime, no one is going to get much of a crop. If we were dependent on these gardens for subsistence, this would be a famine year.
Meanwhile, forests are being destroyed by bark beetles. With the warmer winters, the beetles (actually a variety of beetle species) are able to reproduce twice a year instead of once, and they are not going dormant for the winter. Also, drought-stressed trees are particularly vulnerable. The beetles introduce a fungus which they basically farm to feed their larvae (which admittedly is super cool), and the fungus kills the trees. In some areas, as many as 100,000 trees per day. And it’s not just forests, it also oaks and sycamores, even avocados (though honestly I wouldn’t mind fewer avocados, yuck). In turn, grizzly bears are threatened because they don’t have enough pinecones to eat. Eventually, natural selection will create more fungus-resistant varieties of trees, even entirely new species.
The bark beetles are just one example from a long list, the trees just one casualty from my little corner of the world; at this point I think we all know the stakes involved with climate change so I needn’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say, this area is becoming desert, and as such, it will not be habitable for human purposes for much longer. If there were unlimited sources of energy and water, it wouldn’t be an issue, but energy and water are limited and we are already running out of them. Many of us humans put our faith in future technology, even colonization of other planets, to save us. Well, there will soon be lots more sand for us to bury our heads in, because that isn’t going to happen (and if it did, it would only be for a wealthy few). I have no doubt our species will survive, but our numbers will decrease, and probably in the not too distant future. Loved ones will be lost, and if I sound blase it’s only because no one yet knows exactly how it will play out. It seems typical for us humans to be inordinately optimistic about our futures.
But even while civilizations meet their inevitable fall, life goes on, and so do we. We just don’t know what we may become. I read an article recently that was bemoaning the hybridization of coyotes and wolves. (It wasn’t this article, but it was the same argument.) Coywolves are so well adapted to their environment that they are “fitter” than wolves. The worry is that wolves could be out-competed by coywolves and go extinct. But it only looks that way if you look at a snapshot in time. At some point, long ago, wolves didn’t yet exist, and something else did. That something else adapted, and became the wolf (and other species too like the coyote and the jackal). Things change, in other words. We want to keep them just the way they are, just the way we like them, but is that ever if life’s best interest? So grieve the wolf, but welcome her beautiful child.
I see creation and destruction woven all through all these stories. In the long term, I see creation, but in the short term, only destruction. We trashed the garden of Eden and its renewal is not going to be quick or pleasant. Evolution has its tragic face. And yet this planet is still so achingly beautiful, I really can’t imagine any heavenly reward that could be better than Earth’s biosphere restored to harmonious functioning and Homo sapiens restored to sanity. Now is the time when we choose whether that happens in spite of us, or with our willing cooperation. Maybe that is why I hear Shiva calling. Maybe, if they had ears to hear, everyone on earth would be hearing that call.