May, 2008

 

Mythic Prelude:

 

Asking the Water

 

Hail and welcome, and make ready for the great Mid-Spring Festival that Gaels and Celts call Beltaine. It comes each year right now, at May Day and May Night, at the height of the season when, at least in the northern hemisphere, the trees leaf out, the ewes drop their new lambs, flowers reinvent color and all of life resurges amid the heady, sexy power of Venus to attract and manifest whatever she wants. So May celebrates nature's abundance in joyous festivals, when all of the senses are to be generously served, so one of the food team's main technical issues is to make sure that the feast tables are strong enough to hold the teeming plenty of food, glorious food that we'll share as the revels begin. At least this is the way it's been done for thousands of years now.
Until 2008, which has suddenly become, months earlier than most of us expected, a food-obsessed Year of the Earth Rat. Reports about all of this proliferate daily now. About food riots in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Yemen and other places. About a ban on salmon fishing in California's coastal waters, as reported in Dan Bacher's "Watered Down: The Collapse in Pacific Salmon." Even about how in the United States, where food supermarkets as big as whole city blocks have aisles so wide that heftybag-shaped buyers and their Volkswagen-sized shopping carts can maneuver around each other easily, Sam's Club and other major retailers have begun to ration the Earth Rat's eternal main target -- rice -- in response to panic buying by shoppers rushing to grab staple foods while they still can.
As of this writing on April 29, every day brings new opinions about why all this is happening. Higher oil prices, of course. Population growth by 70 million new mouths a year. China's irresistible new hunger for beef, for which more and more of their grain-growing land must be allocated to producing livestock, even as the Chinese become less able to export food, even to feed their own people. There is a "potentially insatiable" demand, according to Kelpie Wilson, for grain needed to manufacture biofuels. "The grain used to fill an SUV tank with ethanol," she writes, "could feed one person for a year." Just Where Does That One Person Live? In more places than we expected. How violent is the fight for food going to get? We can't say, though six people died in clashes over food a week ago in Haiti, eleven in Egypt.
Hosni Mubarak and others like him are taking notice. They recall, from the parts of History 101 that interested them as future dictators who'd best know how to spot signs of unrest, that in the weeks before the French revolution, the pot began to boil when the price of candles went up, and the poor now had two choices at night: sit at home in the dark from sunset until dawn, or go out under the street lamps and hear the passionate talkers. By July 1789, when the price of bread went up and tripped the intolerable trigger of not being able to feed our children, it was only a matter of time before the pot would boil over. Now, in the spring of the Earth Rat Year, it's obvious to bankers, brokers and jailers everywhere what turbulent scenes and whole explosive scenarios may soon unfold over the hot months of 2008 in cities where crowds are getting ominously loud, numerous and mobile.
People who think the answer to all of this is in new "programs" and "policies" are busy proposing their solutions. Emergency food shipments. Financial aid and debt relief for poor countries. More food production. And every other solution that people will dream up when their vision extends no further than physical substances and numbers. The real problem, as anyone interested in energy medicine and universal mythology knows, is that our political, corporate and technical sectors have not yet begun to conceive that the living whole of our planet, like your being and mine, is a holistic system. If the mental, emotional and spiritual bodies of a single human being are holed, torn and infected with toxic thought habits and impacted fear and pain, then dis-ease must manifest sooner or later in the physical body. It is the same with humanity's collective heart and soul. The more malnourished the soul of humanity is, then the more certain it is that physical starvation will come, the faster the health crisis will develop and the more calamitous its consequences must be.
So. Are we predicting here that the profound structural changes that should be manifesting in our governments and societies by 2010 are beginning now? And where the specific issues of food and water are concerned, does it now appear likely that the years ahead will sweep away the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other predatory lenders, and bring an end to the crop subsidies by which wealthy countries destroy the agricultural bases of poor countries, as "Miami rice" from the USA has devastated the rice economy of Haiti? Other examples abound. The essential short text, for those who want to understand what has happened and how it must change, is Anuradha Mittal's "Food Riots Erupt Worldwide." The essential long text, so dangerously accurate that for years no American publisher would touch it -- so it can be easier to find at a bookstore in Cairo than in the United States -- is John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
We do not dilate on these things here, and not just because accusations and numbers have all the sex appeal of the hamasin dust storms that come to Egypt now, and turn the air a beige gray color that you really don't want to walk around in and breathe. The utter collapse of corporatist control centers and other Piscean hierarchies would be too felicitous, miraculous and easy to be appropriate now, when the whole point and impetus of our Aquarian moment is that we take the communal responsibility to care for one another and Mother Earth. We will not need to smash or dismantle anything. We will be too busy building the sustainable new -- in fact very old -- economies that once kept us well, and will again.
Besides, the linear and material rhythm of construction and collapse is not what applies now. Those who perceive the world only in terms of physical mass and weight can only imagine that the daring delicate feat of piling matter upward must be followed by ruin and fall. What Goes Up Must Come Down. But those who see the cosmos as circular and spiritual envision the laws of change as a cyclical dance in which What Goes Around Must Come Around. It may take the shape of a circle, like the disc of the Full Moon. Or the ellipse of a planet's path. Or, as is most fitting in relation to our food and water now, it may resemble the oscillating path of a pendulum, which only looks like a straight line when observed for a short time. If a pendulum is free to swing where it will, it may trace in time a whole cycle of narrow, pointed ellipses that look like the petals of a chrysanthemum.
The very long -- to us -- back-and-forth swing of history's pendulum that we imagine here begins some 8,600 years ago as the Great Year moves from the Age of Cancer to the Age of Gemini. The lunar, matriarchal "old cultures" who live in an intimate interdependency with the Earth -- for more on them see Thom Hartmann's The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight -- have pulled off an Agricultural Revolution that has enabled them to irrigate more land, grow more food and nurture more people and animals. Human beings are starting to understand the life cycle of the Earth, but they haven't figured out the Sun's time yet. Nor do they know how to smelt metals, much less coin, count and covet them. The community's wealth and well being is in its soil and water, and in the sacred mystery of the womb.
By 4,300 years ago, the pendulum reaches the bottom of its arc as the Age of Taurus swings into the Age of Aries. The world's first age of wealth is about to be followed by its first real age of war as aggressive "young cultures" fight for control of land, minerals, livestock -- and women, some of whom no longer birth new babies for the tribe, but produce future slaves for a new archetype, the "Lord." The desecration of the field, the river and the womb is well underway, but has not yet brought the catastrophic results that will come much later. We all still have enough to eat and drink, at least until armies start burning crops some centuries from now. The Lord really does want to keep as many of us alive as he can, if only so we can build him a higher, prouder monument than has yet been seen.
Now we are somewhere near the cusp between the Age of Pisces and the Age of Aquarius, and the pendulum has swung to its excruciating extreme. The sacred feminine is disrespected everywhere, subjected to misogynistic religious persecution, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation and other outrages that ancient wise women would never have imagined. Stalin has shown us only a lifetime ago how to design an artificial famine that wiped out 20 million contumacious Kulaks, and people of power have methodically used food and water as weapons ever since, as they do today in Tibet, Gaza and Darfur. The young cultures have reached their point of implosion, as the most grievous maldistribution of wealth in our planet's history is mirrored, not surprisingly, in a maldistribution of food that is triply hideous and strange because we have more than enough food to nourish everyone. Or we would, if the life and health of our people and other species were as important to us as the profits of shareholders and the power of corporations like Monsanto, who dare attempt to control the process of life itself by compelling farmers to buy genetically-modified seeds.
We are in the agony of the hiatus now, as the pendulum comes to stasis, and begins its next downward swing. What to do at this precarious moment? We can come as best we can to serenity and acceptance. We can distract and amuse ourselves, and hope that "God" or ETs will save us. Or join the thousands of respected officials, academics and journalists who are trying to solve the problem with the same level of consciousness that created it. Or we can look again at long-forgotten ways of food and water management, and the mythic field of consciousness that underlay them, and enabled them to work as well as they did for so long. This takes us, naturally, to the most famous ancient sacred site in Jordan.
Petra looks like this from the top. The huge stone shapes that dominate the landscape are not "mountains" as we usually understand them, great piles of rock thrust upward from within the earth. Rather, like the sculptural shapes that Michelangelo saw waiting within the stone, these majestic forms are what remains when water trickles for eons through wadis, exposing as it goes the amazing striations of color -- red, pink, purple, cream, black, blue --that have long made Petra one of the world's most photogenic places.
It attracts more and more visitors each year now, not all of them tourists drawn by fantastic and weird rock formations, or elegant facades cut from the living rock, or the extra cachet of Petra's having been recently named one of the seven surviving wonders of the ancient world -- or even by Steven Spielberg, who used Petra as the setting of an Indiana Jones sequel. Now there's an increasing flow of archaeologists and other scholars as well as tourists, many of them here to learn from the world's first great masters of water collection, purification and distribution.
The key to Petra's success, even before the Nabataeans came here from Arabia in the 8th century BC and made a notable paradigm shift -- from finding water to helping the water find them -- was a mastery of cisterns. The Nabataeans didn't create the idea. When King Mesha of Moab conquered lands east of the Jordan in about 850 BC, he decreed that every rock-hewn home like the ones shown here should have its own cistern and collect its own water supply. The result of this astonishing concept -- that people should help secure pure water for themselves, instead of expecting the city to deliver it -- was that in thousands of cisterns, from small domestic ones to giant public ones that hold millions of gallons, Petra stored and sweetened every drop of water it could get. They sluiced it to terraced farms that made the desert glisten with green. They exported food, got rich and attracted Trajan, who came in 106 with other heavily-armed tourists from Rome.
The Nabataean genius for moving water from place to place inspired refinements in Roman aqueduct design. Their techniques for purifying water can make one gasp in the moment of recognizing that that seam that runs across the rock wall some 60 meters above the ground is not a natural crack or gully, but a man-made surface channel for directing rainwater. Many water storage and purification techniques that have been used for millennia now -- conduits between cisterns to prevent loss of water from overflow, sedimentation basins to filter out mud and sand before water enters the main cistern, even hourglass-shaped ceramic pipes with tapered ends, of a kind that were not reinvented until the early 19th century -- were perfected first at Petra. If there's a place on our planet that can teach us how to handle water, and how to revere it as a sacred energy principle, it is here.
Petra's brilliance in balancing the physics and the spirituality of water shows in the location and layout of its ritual buildings. Nabataean architects didn't just include cisterns in their temples, as they did in everything else they built. Rather, they built the temples around the great natural cisterns that were already there, apparently on the common-sense premise that where the water is, the Lady of the Water dwells, and we can best honor her by building around the home site she has already chosen.
The most spectacular example may be the "Great Temple" that a Brown University team has been excavating since 1993. For a picture of the entire temple, click here. The central arch leads back to a circular cistern shaft at the rear of the temple, just in front of the the topmost room, where food offerings were placed on broad stone surfaces. The offering rite is easy to guess from the two circular stairways flanking the cistern, and the straight stairways descending from either side of the altar room.
The celebrants must have walked around the cistern as they carried the food offerings up to the altars, singing their prayers of thanksgiving and petition to the Water Goddess whose blessings brought such abundance to her people. What name did the priests and citizens of Petra give her? She was called Al-Uzza, clearly one of the countless versions of Isis who grace the holy places and stories of the entire Mediterranean region. Her consort, the Green God Dushara or Dusheres, has often been identified with Dionysos, but tweak his name a little, and Osiris soon appears. The Nabataeans, like the Egyptians and other peoples of east Africa and west Asia, clearly saw the dance of life in the annual turning of the masculine earth and feminine water. And if they had to decide which divine principle was supreme, the Water was the inevitable choice. Crops come and go, as do gold and every other solid thing. But the river, the rain, the water stored and revered in the cisterns of Petra, are eternal.
That's why all three front images on the upper facade of Petra's famous "Treasury" are feminine. Look closely at Al-Uzza in the center, and you see that unlike the rest of the exquisite details that have been so beautifully preserved, her image has been marred with dozens of scars that look like bullet holes because that, legend has it, is what they are. Somehow, it seems, a story got started that "pharaoh's treasure" was hidden inside the drum-shaped chamber behind the Goddess.
So naturally, over the years a number of people, all of whom were very likely men, tried to expose the gold by blasting holes in Al-Uzza's urn, and cared little if their shots actually hit her. Firing on the Goddess to get to the gold: what better metaphor can there be of the ways in which disrespect of the sacred feminine has grown over these many centuries to the point where it now threatens our food, our water, our lives and the very survival of Mother Earth? The ancient Nabataeans would have been appalled. For them, any container big and sacred enough to be a niche for Al-Uzza herself would have been wasted on mere gold and gems. It was, if only symbolically, like everything else in Petra, an urn for holding water, which was the true treasure all along, and still is.
So deep was Petra's reverence for the feminine principle in nature that we can see it even in yet another of the startling discoveries that are now being excavated: the 6th-century Greek Christian church that once stood on a hill on the other side of the processional way than runs in front of the Great Temple. Nothing remains of the walls. But the floor is filled with dozens of superb mosaics of animals and birds, and of holy personages. St. Irene is there, as she is in every Greek church. So, rather jarringly, is the "pagan" sea deity Okeanos, with his scallop shells, ship and dolphin. His presence here is perhaps easier to understand if we suppose that he represents the primordial sea from which God separated the land at the beginning of Genesis.
Nothing, however, no matter what modified images of ancient gods and goddesses we've seen in very old churches, prepares us for this astonishing figure. No one, not even Robert Graves, knows who "Therini" was. The best guess about her, thanks to a reader who calls herself only Katerina, is that since theros means "summer" in Greek, the adjective therini may identify the goddess as the spirit of summer rather than an actual "pagan" deity. With her sickle and sheaf of wheat, Therini is certainly a grain goddess whose linkage with Okeanos is a reversal of the water and earth pairing of Isis/Al-Uzza and Osiris/Dusheres.
But . . . who's looking at the wheat? Even if our eyes were not normally drawn to the center of almost every picture we see -- have you ever seen any work of art in any Christian church display the breast like this, in all its beauty and bounty? Much less show it with a strategic devotion that makes it central in every way? Neither had I, until I was in Petra, where reverence for the nurturing power of the feminine has pride of place over absolutely everything.
Am I suggesting that the return of the Goddess and a renewed respect for the feminine will solve our food and water crisis? Not yet. That would be rather too optimistic and easy at a time when so many who are looking for answers in the usual places have not yet begun to connect the dots by noticing that a shortage of water and a problem with the liquidity of money may have something to do with each other. And that finding the right solution literally means that one may treat the trouble by dissolving it in water. And that it may be time not only to listen more closely to what Dr. Masaru Emoto calls Messages from Water, but to imagine that the Water is no mere substance or commodity, but a sacred, conscious being. It may be time now to ask her for guidance.
Even to sing to her. All life comes from the sea. The ocean refuses no river.
Keep Holding That Frequency.

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The Chiron - Neptune Conjunction of 2009 - 2012:
Prelude: The American Election of November 4, 2008
Prelude Supplement: And the Winner Is . . .
Act 1: Conflicts: The Neptune Return of April 11, 2009
Act 2: Complications: The Triple Chiron-Neptune-Jupiter Conjunction of May-August, 2009
Act 3: Turning Point: The Exact Chiron-Neptune Conjunction of Feb. 16 - 17, 2010
Act 4: Crisis and Climax: The Crosses of Summer, 2010
Act 5: Denouement: The Near Chiron-Neptune Conjunction of Nov. 2 - 3, 2010
Copyright 2008 Dan Furst. All Rights Reserved.