Archive for the ‘animism’ Category
[Ed. Note: This post is a short story I wrote a few months ago. Combines my passion for the Pacific Northwest with my interest in the mythic and Lovecraftian. Submitted it a couple of places without luck, and decided it would appropriately find a home here. Hope you enjoy. If you do, re-posts, Facebook shares and re-Tweets are quite welcome.]
The Maddening Mountains
There is a way it rains in the Pacific Northwest reminding you life has always been here. It was here – skyscraper trees standing with grace against the everlasting tide – before you were ever born. It will be here when you’re gone. That rain is also a quiet voice. It is the voice of the mountains.
I once heard that voice.
Those mountains. It never made sense. How could they just “be”? And yet they clearly were. I watched them before I heard them. They sat majestic and proud evening after evening, the setting sun highlighting every intricate valley and showy snow-capped peak, only to become sullen and for days, sometimes weeks, be obscured in dense cloud. Even in these times there would be glimmers – a lone peak briefly revealing itself, reminder of ageless Olympian presence.
Like old women all huddled together, they started with idle chatter, and appeared as hunched over crones in certain lights. Then came the secrets, the vast knowing. I could never dream such vaulted comprehension was possible, before. The mountains told their stories. And they were long, for mountains are ancients. They told tales in the life-giving rain that dripped off their backs, bubbling and winding wildly down to the sea.
The mountains continued their soft sounds, words indistinguishable from a wind blowing across the strait. They told of the shore, a place where they spoke to the sea. And what conversations they had! In its solemn, sullen and soul-destroying ire, the sea thought I was descended of maritime folk and wouldn’t even whisper in my ear. But the mountains had hinted.
There were times, when water was low and waves few, where mountain and sea merely murmured, barely audible, their quiet exchange the sound of a few raindrops. At other times, sea roared and raged, crashing and splashing into the side of mountain. I wanted to know what the sea was trying to say in these times, yet the mountains would not tell me.
Those maddening mountains, how little they cared. They’d revealed a few things in passing, when wind, water and waves were just right. I wondered; what ageless secrets of the earth did they still contain? What unfettered reserves of life did they harbor?
Though their voice could sometimes so deeply soothe, it also reminded of difference. How young, silly and innocent I felt. The mountains once said that to them I sounded and acted as a hummingbird, or even a mayfly, would to me. They would be gregarious and do their best to make me feel an equal. Still I was often deeply humbled.
The mountains once talked to me a lot. They spoke the words of the Salish, the Bella Coola, the Comox, the Nootka and the Tlingit. And, for a time, I understood them all. I felt their strength and eternal presence. They were always fickle, however, coquettish in spite of imposing vastness. Such is the odd, playful way of mountains.
And then the mountains grew quieter. They almost stopped their cautious dialogue with me altogether and wouldn’t tell me why. I asked, and they hinted it was something they’d been told.
I asked and asked (a lifetime passed) – who was it that caused them to fall silent? Who told them to stop speaking?
In the end, only one name was uttered. He was the walker upon the winds, they said.
Who was this wind-walker, I asked and asked (and another lifetime passed).
“Ithaqua,” the mountains said.
In this utterance I became a babbling and to all appearances incoherent fool in the company of fellow men. I was trapped, and inside such a feeble husk as the mind. The mountains couldn’t know the last word they spoke would bring me irreversible madness.
I knew thereafter of others, though their names were never spoken. Some dwelled there with the mountains across the strait. But the mountains wouldn’t speak of them, for the others were older and greater still.
Nonetheless, I know they are there. I know to whom the mountains, deaf even to the ferocious and fearsome voice of the sea, listen. The one whose name was uttered speaks in whispers. But, I suspect, the others do more than whisper. Their words break the world. It is from them, I believe, that the mountains came.
The mountains say no more. And I’ve heard enough. I know of Borea, and the moons whose names are said (nay, whispered) in hushed hatred.
Those maddening mountains are now silent. And so am I. But it is good to remember how they spoke.
Late light, crows speaking
Half-moon bright above the trees
Black winged brothers
Life doesn’t make any sense. There is no rhyme or reason. No greater understanding to be had, no deeper meaning to be made. But life has purpose. More than this, life is purpose. That’s all it is – a blind, instinctual drive to be; to exist. It’s a constantly renewed desire; a wanting and needing without end. It’s no wonder that some long for the peace of death, as life is the ultimate state of disharmony – a constant irritation. An itch that can never be satisfyingly scratched.
This is the purity of telos – of the end of life. Life pushes, life swells, life consumes and is consumed. This is the primal function of Aristotle – the anima nurtritiva – the nutritive soul. It exists, it generates, it grows, it seeks out nutrition and sustenance, without sense or reason. The philosopher Spinoza saw this as the essential, inevitable fact of the living; that it strives to survive. He called this principle of animation in living things “conatus” (striving).
This is also the essential madness of life. It’s an impulse akin to the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god” Azathoth: “Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity – the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond space and time…” Indeed, it is we, as human beings trapped in a consciousness whose purpose and origin will forever escape us, who “gnaw hungrily” in our own minds – which in a manner of speaking are “inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond space and time.”
Life is the eternal cusp of becoming. It is what Heidegger described as “being” (Dasein). It is the point toward which we constantly strive but never arrive. Life, the essential fact of our very existence – our life force – is desire. Desire and pleasure are connected but not synonymous. Desire is that force which compels us to the point of satisfaction – to the point of reaching our goal (whatever it may be). It is the neurological system that behaviorists argue impels us towards certain behaviors.
The problem, of course, is that this system is at its most engaged – the neurons fire most intensely and the release of dopamine is most pronounced – at a point before we reach our objective. And so, in the end, we as living things are wired to seek and compelled to desire regardless of the outcome.
One can derive all sorts of pseudo-profound axioms about life and its meaning from this fact (i.e. “it’s about the journey, not the destination”). But these are just echoes of mind, of our desire to create patterns, to believe there is true purpose and meaning behind our actions.
There isn’t, of course. Our purposes and actions are no more significant than those of a flea biting a dog, or of that dog’s preoccupation with a ball or a bone that it cannot reach.
In the end, that is our end. We live and breathe and grow and think in spite of ourselves. We are built to strive. Towards what it usually isn’t clear. But always there is the impulse, the compulsion. Always we are propelled forward, oozing out into the world like a cup full of liquid spilling out onto a clean table.
And so, this is why the pursuit of desirelessness – of the contemplation of desirelessness – is the ultimate purpose. And yet, it is not a pursuit – or at least cannot be understood as a pursuit. In fact it cannot be understood at all. It’s a pursuit beyond all pursuits. This is the vipassana – insight into the true nature of reality. This insight is at root insight-less. It is being one with Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god.” It is, in a sense, a being beyond being.