You take off your armor, you run in the forest, or drop naked into the sea, letting go of your rational self, even if for minutes only. You had discoveries while out there, senses you didn’t know you had, or impossible communications. Or maybe it’s journeywork, you are still on the couch, bodywise, but you traveled far….how do you hold onto it, for you must return at some point to the world of email, receipts, paying bills, getting to work on time, however your mundane rises around you, a mixture of sludge and comfort like french fries or even ice cream. Pretty soon it’s hard to grasp those messages, those reveals, those communications with the bark of a tree, or an ancient sea god. We might do things like write in a journal as soon as we can but aggressively the matrix almost all of us have been raised in, the world of media, consumerism, work, tech, cynical entertainment rises around us, invading every pore again—or using another metaphor we’re back in our armor. What this armor does is put down, or at least minimizes the otherworld(s) we have experienced, the other relationships; they are shelved back as fantasy, or ‘spiritual messages’ but discreetly wrapped up, de-spined, weakened. Back into what Max Weber in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism called the steel shell of western rationality that westerners had been locked into in the disenchanted modern capitalist world.
Another way of thinking of this is your back in the world of instrumentality. Let’s say you slipped away from it in a swim in the ocean, you weren’t sure you even wanted to do this but you went in. At first contact the water seemed cold but it wasn’t, and you slipped further out in the shallow water, aware of small silver fish darting all around you. You don’t need to be out here, it really isn’t for the exercise or to spearfish to catch your supper. To prove anything. Finally, you’re out over your head, you no longer can wade. The currents seem relaxed, but you are aware of them now pulling outwards, and see a line of darkwater nearing; you feel that you’re not ready to encounter the rocks of the reef. You don’t have a mask to see well, and so you turn back toward the shore, but you are certainly aware of that power of the sea to tug, pull, and more. The mountain rises inland, you’re reminded beauty is all around. It was the smallest excursion, short lasting but it pulled you out of your mundane.
This is a simple encounter, but yes an encounter. With something much greater than myself. I could try to hide it in data, I could talk about volumes and depths, and velocity of currents, all the metrics. The power of the sea is what it is, a power always mythic. We can bring in reams of information about the sea’s composition, history, depths, ebbs and withdrawals, but the language will revert to the mythic, even though the ocean is also riddled and laced with vast amounts of our human garbage, its denizens savagely depleted by human insatiable appetite, and rising from human obliviousness.
But that rising is of its own too, and here on the island are memories and geographies shaped by its tsunamis, its nearly unimaginable rushing onto land, and sweeping away villages and whole sections of cities into the deep. The encounter with the mythic can be epic or it can be small, like fascination by an object in a temple.
Something that can overcome us, that can transcend our daily identities, this is the core of the sacred. Something denied by the strict materialists. In the mythic, the old gods rise out of the depths, summoning us.
The Deep, the abyss, that from which everything arises—in Sumerian it was abzu: “deep abyss, ocean, outermost limit”. The sea is generative, was there before the creation in the bible and in many other myths, it is waiting, and still lapping away at our certainties. Again it is ready to take us back, to cast new things up on the shore. Only the language of myth, the language of poetry can really do justice here. From the start of civilization the Deep was assaulted—we can find this tale in the Babylonian story of Marduk and Tiamat. Marduk was an early heavily armored one, the master builder of the Babylonian gods, the conqueror of the old ones. In the early Bronze Age creation epic of the Babylonians*, the Enuma Elish, there is Tiamat, the Deep, the primal waters, an endless genetrix. She is unfathomable, immeasurable, and this is intolerable to Marduk’s ordering principle; he assaults her, shooting “the arrow that split the belly, that pierced the gut, and cut the womb”.* After her death, Marduk rests, “gazing at the huge body, pondering what to create from the dead carcass”. He sets a watch on the waters so that they may never escape, as of course, the Primeval Waters were never truly dead and could never be really killed by this ‘Master Civilizer’.
The tides are rising, and the water laps the shore, bearing myths, new and old.
*Among other things, the Enuma Elish is a theology of the supremacy of Marduk over other Mesopotamian deities.
**Enuma Elish quotes are from The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, Edward Casey, (27).