Thursday, November 02, 2006

Today is All Souls Day.


The image is William Blake's interpretation of Dante's Purgatory.

Yesterday I said that if we wish to, we may consider the triumverate of Hallowe'en, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, as devoted to hell, heaven, and purgatory, respectively. I'm sure that you've, in one way or another, have sensed this thing that I'm talking about. In the Northern Hemisphere, in Temperate regions, it corresponds with that final moment of suspension before the temperatures abruptly drop off into the chill of winter. The days have diminished to noticeable brevity and, in the U.S. where we've just come off Daylight Savings Time, suddenly abandon us by the time we've left work. The air pressure, believe it or not, is more often higher at this time of year, but the difference is insubstantial when we consider the cold wind from the north, the drop in humidity, and the resulting prevalence and closeness of outer space. The leaves have fallen, with the twofold effect that we can contemplate only a tree's structure, its black bark and skeleton, and the elimination of yet another obstruction to the night sky.

To get a little new-agey for a moment, it is tempting, and maybe even enticing and worthwhile, to think of the universe as divided into two worlds. According to the Judeo-Christian perspective, these worlds are almost irreparably sundered. By ancient Egyptian cosmology, they are in constant contact. In Shinto, as well as animist tribal sects, worlds are superimposed. Regardless, if we consider the concept of a spiritual world that is both caused by and correspondent to our own world, as curious human beings we will naturally look for points of connection. Whatever tissue, literal or metaphorical, comes between the two worlds, has to give a little at some point; it is the nature of tissues, of films, of dreams to be pliable and translucent. And here, in the very belly of autumn, the physical world itself seems to draw us into darkness and cloud, storm and cold, and above all, closer to the empty sky. Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradisio.

I don't particularly care to discuss the technical merit of superstition and metaphysical speculation... I'm frankly a little skeptical about the supernatural. Nevertheless, there is everything worthwhile in the hunger for a world beyond, and even more, our ability to feel it and clearly imagine it.

This is the time in the liturgical year when lectionary readings draw from the book of Revelations.

I say, give yourself over to this feeling as much as you can, as long as you don't sacrifice integrity.

I can look out my window right now, at not even half-past-three, and see the sun far in the west. It makes the remaining leaves on the maple tree into a flitting fire, like some creature struggling to escape. Behind that, bright black wood cornice and bright red bricks. And behind that, the Navy Yard, where we built ships for two hundred years and the British kept their prisoners of war in the 1780s. It's swarming with ghosts, I'm sure.



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