Sunday, July 22, 2007

Believe In Things You Don't Understand, And You Suffer

The last few days have involved lots of indulgence for me -- a movie with the kids, two of my favorite people performing at the local Irish fest, and a truly marvelous performance of Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" symphony by the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom, conducted by the composer. In around the corners of all this activity I've been practicing myself and also trying to finish a few books. So I've been taking in a lot of music and a lot of imaginative stuff over the last several days which has me thinking, naturally.

So much of the root of music and story is essentially superstition. If we didn't leave some things to the imagination it would be hard to get involved with a story or its plot line or the direction a song is headed. And much of the stuff of these stories is resonant because it leads us back to consider something about ourselves, whether we like it or not. It's a theme of ages.

I realized last night that two of the heftiest box office hits of the last few years, LOTR and the Harry Potter series, are lacking something many people take for granted: a supreme deity. There are supremely "good" and supremely "evil" presences or forces present in the mythologies in each story, but not any kind of omniscient being directing everything. Most of the action of the characters is driven from within and we are led through the story by the choices these characters make.

Just as we are led through our lives by the choices we make.

The Ring story is pretty plain. Young Frodo confronts in the powerful ring the power of shadow, and learns how completely one can succumb to it. It is always within him, but the ring brings forward those shadow feelings and actions. The late Jungian analyst and author Robert Johnson relayed, in his book "Owning Your Own Shadow," a dream in which he chased down a golden ring, which he realized had to be destroyed or it would destroy him. Once his shadow is acknowledged, Frodo has to leave Middle Earth; is self knowledge is too powerful to dwell in the less-aware land that has been restored to its variety of balance.

The story of the longsuffering orphan wizard Harry Potter, is similar. The series about this young boy who is on a journey to discover who he is and what his special gift means is long but worth reading. In Book V, the latest to be released on film, the strong connection between Harry and the main antagonist, Voldemort, portrayed as the dark side of Wizardry and enemy to all, is finally acknowledged. To put a shadow spin on it, one might also consider that maybe Harry and You Know Who are really different parts of a single person, the good and the bad.

In none of these powerful stories about the struggle to reconcile good with evil is there any hint that any of these characters are the way they are because of something else. Not because of the day they were born or the year, not because of something that happened to them in a past life (Harry's scar and Frodo's involvement with Bilbo's journey were in their present), not because of the color of their hair (so far I haven't seen much of a temper from any one of my beloved red-haired Weasleys), not because of the way the runes were cast or because of something their mothers ate when they were pregnant. The characters on the page and on the screen present themselves to us and we watch as they evolve through every encounter with their circumstances. They must own their actions and the consequences of the choices they make.

And so it is, I'm afraid, with all of us.

Now, that's not to say that our star charts or objects of divination like Tarot cards or runes aren't fun; they can be much fun and even a little uncanny. Sometimes they offer up little meditations or affirmations that are worth thinking about. But they do not run our lives. We do.

My last He Who Shall Not Be Named said to me once that he felt sure we might be reconnecting from a past life. It was the first time I'd been confronted with this notion as a reason or hallmark of a relationship since I had disavowed myself of the possibility, which was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I said to him, "However it is we got here, the rest is up to us." Based on the fact that I've not heard from him in many months, I gather he was ultimately not too keen on my reluctance to join him in rationalizing our near-instant human connection -- nor, evidently, too keen for taking any responsibility for this mystical connection to help it to grow.

The point is, it is always up to us. My sister and I spent the better part of last week wondering how it is that The Big Finger often points at the wrong people when doling out things like unemployment or cancer or a mine collapse. Or, you know, Katrina, or the Holocaust. Many millions of people throughout history have been confronted with unimaginable circumstances like these. How these individuals coped with their lot probably had more to do with what resources they had, what kind of support was available, how facile they were intellectually, whether they had leadership skills, and whether they were healthy emotionally and physically, and not so much with whether they were a possum in a past life.

I temper all this with the full disclosure that for all of my life, until recently, I ate all this stuff up. In particular I drew much strength from Celtic lore and mythology mixed with the early legend of the Grail, which enabled me to connect to my ancestral past and also find a nice balance among nature, humanity, and the mysteries of life. Oddly enough, like seekers of the Grail, I was never satisfied, until I realized what I was looking for was always within.

So. I am not a walnut tree. I am a woman. I make no excuses for my behavior, whether it's been negative or positive. While I think it's perfectly fine and even healthy to develop a connection to a personal mythology if it helps you to be a better person, it only counts if you are the same better person through and through to all the people in your life, whether you care for them or not. It certainly is not easy; I know I am still finding my way. It is there that so much of religion or other spiritual questing falls apart. So few people remember to carry through what they profess when someone cuts them off from getting their way.

So as you wander through this week, take with you this fun acoustic treatment of that old Stevie Wonder beauty, Superstition, by the not-to-be-missed Old School Freight Train. And try to find your inner Harry or Frodo, or Elf Queen, or Buddha, or Christ -- whatever figure it is who gives you a sense of personal power and longing to be the best person you can be.

And use it wisely.


At July 23, 2007 8:08 AM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...

great post, mando. lots of food for thought.


At July 23, 2007 9:02 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Thanks, Shameless -- hope your world is looking better today.


At July 23, 2007 2:40 PM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...

Not really...


At July 23, 2007 7:50 PM, Blogger DrDon said...

Hey Mando - Welcome to the dark side! Actually, I think you put all of this very eloquently and, if I can add one thing, I think that it's a remarkable revelation when you finally give up superstition and realize that it is all up to you.

When I talk with people about atheism, they seem to think that atheists are missing out on something, on this connection with a higher power. I feel just the opposite. I feel like I know myself and my capabilites better than many people because I don't rely on any magic or faith to guide my life.

As you said, there's great fun in mythology but that's what it is, fun. To your point, I think Harry and Voldermort are definitely shadows of one another. Remember, even their wands are identical.

At July 23, 2007 8:43 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

GASP! DON! You are right....I forgot about the wand thing.

Don, I must tell you, had it not been for the gentle persistence of you and Jim in getting behind my rusty intellect and asking the right questions at the right time, I daresay I might not ever have entertained the ideas in this post. I'm grateful for that connection and glad for that positive influence.

At July 25, 2007 3:03 PM, Blogger Blueberry said...

Great post! Lot going on in there. First, I envy you getting to go to the LOTR symphony concert. (I have been to Blossom back in my Moody Blues phase days!)

I dearly love Tolkien and the mythology that he created. It says so much about human nature and culture. Just brilliant!

And the Potter series too... good point made that both series' have characters who have to do it on their own using their inner strength, building on caring what happens to others as a result of their actions -- or inactions.

Nice use of the Stevie Wonder lyric!

At July 25, 2007 9:59 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Hi Blueberry,
Thanks much for the compliments. I do love to get all tangled up in these kinds of musings.

You were a Blossom fan once upon? How cool. I'm spoiled as with the back roads it takes a little over 20 minutes -- I mean, when it's not Bruce Springsteen. It was a fun concert, and being there made me realized what an idiot I am for not making The Cleveland Orchestra a regular part of my diet year-round. Gonna change that.

At July 26, 2007 8:40 AM, Blogger Blueberry said...

I got lost after the show there at Blossom. And I was not inebriated in any way!! It's got a very interesting tangle of parking lots and woods. Luckily I found some familiar faces and eventually, my rental car. Whew! I tend to get lost easily though. It's just me. (At least I think it was Blossom where I got lost)


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