Monday, January 12, 2009

W@H: Idlewild, Part 2

I entered the sanctuary I heard a voice of a girl Sending out a circle of light Clear across the world I shuddered in the power Like a ceiling in a storm I've been looking for this place Since the moment I was born I flew back to New York City Singin' the big city blues With the sand of Findhorn Bay Still clinigin' to my shoes I tried to restart my life But the life I knew was gone I had to let go everything But that's another song --The Waterboys, "Long Way to the Light" We enter, once again, the Garden, armed with nothing but our wits, The Waterboys, and milk and cookies. Well, I have milk and cookies. I don't know what anybody else is eating or drinking. Before I went off on several tangents last time, I briefly explained Eldredge's assertion that Adam didn't belong in the Garden. This requires an extremely skewed reading of mythological construct. It also, I've come to realize, requires an extremely skewed reading of the book of Genesis. I'll let Bly start out in the explanation of the first problem. What I want to look in to breaks in to two parts.
We could say that in the walled garden, as in the alchemical vessel, new materials get formed as the old ones melt. The lead of depression melts and becomes grief. The drive for success, an insistent tin, melts with Aphrodite's copper and makes bronze, which is good to make both shields and images of the gods. The enclosed garden then suggests cultivation instead of rawness, boundaries as opposed to unbounded sociability, soul concerns as opposed to outer obsessions, passion as opposed to raw sexuality, growth of soul desire as opposed to generalized greed for things. --Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men (130)
So in the first the Garden is the place we seek to seal ourselves off from sorrows. It is the place we go to find healing.
In the garden the soul and nature marry. When we love cultivation more than excitement, we are ready to start a garden. In the garden we cultivate yearning and longing--those strangely un-American feelings--and notice tiny desires. Paying attention to tiny, hardly noticeable feelings is the garden way. That's the way lovers behave. --Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men (132)
The Garden is a place of rest, but it's also the place we go when we're ready for the joys it offers. That is, in fact, what the Garden of Eden is supposed to be. In the book of Genesis's second creation account, Yahweh makes Adam. Yahweh then places Adam in the Garden and after that creates Eve. This, with slight modification, is simply a repeat of any number of mythological constructs that pop up all over the place. The hero finds the Garden. In the Garden the hero meets the Goddess, in this place played by Eve. The hero and the goddess recline for a time until it becomes necessary to make the return journey, carrying with him the knowledge he'd gained. So Adam left the Garden cultivated by Yahweh, carrying with him both the knowledge of Good and Evil, but the knowledge of how to cultivate and bring fruit from the Earth. In this Adam takes on the role of Prometheus. What Eldredge misses in his own version of the Eden myth is that Adam and his descendents have spent millennia trying to re-find or re-create the Garden. If Genesis is truly the "record of our beginnings" and if Adam truly does not belong or want to be in the Garden, why do Gardens pop up everywhere? Why is there such a longing for Paradise? I would posit that in his attempt to take Adam out of the Garden and leave him there, Eldredge is creating a terrible image of manhood. Outside the Garden is a solitary existence. It is, as Bly has pointed out, the place of sorrows and a place bereft of self-reflection. The work to cultivate the ground takes up all of the available time and there can be no time to focus on growth and precious little time to focus on another. It's probably why Eldredge's system requires the man to pull away from the woman. He sees the Garden as unnecessary, the help-mate created by Yahweh as an accessory that takes away from the real journey. The Japanese samurai culture fascinates me. Japan, in general, is (or at least was) enamored with the idea of the garden. The samurai were the knights of their world and the samurai code was equivalent, in its own way, to the medieval codes of chivalry. One of the aspects of the samurai code, however, was the idea that samurai engaged in the cultivation of gardens and the writing of poetry. The ones who did not were generally looked down upon. It's been a long time since I really looked in to it, but it would seem that the Japanese culture of the samurai had an intrinsic understanding that the Garden was a place to be desired. The warrior leaves the Garden to fight, but then returns to cultivate beauty and write poetry. The warrior, in short, belongs in the Garden just as much as he belongs on the field of blood. But what of the Goddess, or her reflection, the Golden-Haired Woman? Why is she so often in the Garden? I find Bly's introduction to the Garden and the Goddess fascinating. He tells a story from John Cheever's "The Chaste Clarissa." I'll be paraphrasing. It tells of a boy who works in a castle's garden. One day while he's working, the boy takes his hat off. The sun falls on his golden hair, which reflects against the wall in the king's daughter's room. She calls to him and asks him to bring her flowers. He takes her wild flowers, over the protestations of the gardener. When he arrives the king's daughter gives him gold coins for the flowers and yanks his hat off to see his hair. He turns and runs away, then gives the coins to the gardener's children. The next day he is again called to the king's daughter's chamber with flowers and this time holds on to his hat. The coins again go to the gardener's children. This happens, as is customary in myth and fairy tale, a third time. I get ever-so-slightly ahead of Bly here, though. I'm also quite far behind. He offers the origins of the golden hair a long way before he gets to the Garden. The boy in Cheever's story has touched the deepest parts of the soul. The king's daughter, in wanting to see and touch the boy's golden hair, wants to touch the deepest parts of the soul. So what of the Golden-Haired Woman? She, too, is a reflection of something greater. Bly tells of an old story passed down to us through the Celtic myth The Mabinogoin. It tells of Culhwch, a hero whose mother birthed him in the pen of a swineherd, and his quest to marry Olwen, who's name means "Path the Moon Takes on Water" (erm, according to Bly. I did a little research and got that it means "white footprint," but that was that particular author's own combination of the roots "white" and "track." I am, therefore, willing to take Bly's interpretation). Beyond the archetypes, Bly says very little, so I will take over the telling. Culhwch's mother is the earthly feminism of the birth mother. She is Demeter, the corn goddess who is responsible for the crops and the livestock. Olwen is the Golden-Haired Woman, the moon reflecting the sun and tracking its way across the water. The hero can stand at the shore and watch the moon make its way across the water. He can even jump in and attempt to grasp it, but he never will. Eventually the track of the moon either disappears off in the distance or makes its way to the shore and disappears. If it is the latter, it becomes the earth mother. One is the infinite longing, the other is the capture of the Golden-Haired Woman only to discover that she is not the moon, but the earth. They say that men have a tendency to marry women who remind them of their mothers. Perhaps it's the other way around and men marry women, then they become mothers. What, then, does Cheever's story tell us of the Golden-Haired Beloved? What does the story of Culhwch and Olwen tell us? There is something in the golden, the numinous, that we always chase after, bid come near, but can never make in to our own. It has nothing to do with hair color, but everything to do with the ethereal reflecting off of a person. We cannot look directly in to the sun, but we can look to the moon -- or to the head of the boy in the Garden -- and see the glow of the sun reflected in that. It's almost what Eldredge says, but not quite. Eldredge would have men abandon all and, like Icarus, seek the sun. We're better off seeking to understand that what we seek is a reflection of something we can't quite see, can't quite understand. And, for the men who have been taught that the adventure and the battle is the only goal, we're better off learning of the value of the Garden It's not to be abhorred. It's to be sought. And we don't have to wait for the next life to find it.

1 comment:

PersonalFailure said...

The Samurai understood that being a warrior is nothing if you are not also a man. Not a man in the Western sense of the word as it is currently used, but a man who thinks and appreciates beauty and seeks to create it.

Mr. W@H Misogynist subscribes to the theory that anything soft, anything that loves beauty and seeks to create it, is feminine, and hence undesirable in "men".

The Samurai were thinkers and poets with swords, today's manly soldier is a boy with an M-16 who has no words to describe the beauty of a sunset, because he feels he isn't allowed to really see it.