Rambles from the Past
December, the last month, the last moon, the last measure (all sharing etymological roots). And the last in a big way, for a time in Roman antiquity, winter was simply monthless chaos, there was no January, no February, just a time without measure, until the earth (as far as us northern hemisphere types go) was released from winters grasp into March. While we jump ahead of ourselves, March is the month of Mars, of Aries, both the month of the farmers, and of warriors, difficult to till the land or fight your enemies when everything is frozen or at least barren. December was the states last chance to organize their forces and display their rulership, in grand displays of feasting and parades (displays of successful farmers and warriors).
December is the 10th and last month measured and kept in any structured way. I suppose after December the Roman state performed no further calendrical rituals, no organized celebrations, left their citizens to their own devices. All this to say, December holds a special place in the heart of the West, a resting place, an ending of a cycle. Thus, perhaps a star on an evergreen tree, or rather, the older pagan celebration of Sol Invictus, the birthday of the invincible sun, we have an irresistible urge to battle the deepest darkness of our earthly days by raising above ourselves the memory and certainty of the light that will come. Whether it be Christmas or Natalis Solis Invicti, we are driven to celebrate the oldest of motifs, that in the deepest darkness you will find light, and not only is that an enduring truth of reality, you are responsible for manifesting it. Though true, it depends on all of us to believe it and act it out. Which, afterall, belief and action are two sides of the same coin; belief, be-lief, ‘be’ the statement of existence, ‘lief’ meaning in a willing manner. What you believe is how you choose to live willingly. If you choose to believe that celebrating life in the darkest hours will bring forth light, it turns out its true.
November November, the 9th, sorry the 11th and penultimate month of the year, riding the center of autumn, transitioning our yearly journey from the pinnacle of life and fruition to the depths of cold retreat. A month for settling into the preparations for winter we began in September, adjusting to the dry and chill changes we find ourselves subject to.
Partly we do this by anticipating ritual celebrations of life and death spanning back into time immemorial. Thanksgiving, a time not only to feast and, of course, give thanks for natures bounty and the fruits of our labours, but also, if unconsciously, a time to psychologically adjust ourselves. We reconcile ourselves to the end of abundance we’ve enjoyed, and, depending on our temperaments, felt to have enjoyed for so long we can’t help but be reluctant to lose the privileges of natures warmth, comfort, and surplus. So we blow off a bunch of our reluctance’s steam on a giant feast, a sacrifice of our hard earned resources, a massive indulgence in goodies and delectables, and a party of our closest friends and family to observe the passing together, a pact made together to gracefully let go of natures ease and our own labour, enjoy ourselves, and maintain our sanity while nature demands we make do on our own accord.
Hence we have Halloween, The Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, Samhain, and so on. These act as the flip side to feasting on abundance, the flip side to a celebration of life, instead our celebration of death, of facing the end that comes to us all, and, for most of history, an end visited upon us most copiously and persistently in the days soon to come. Thus we do not avoid looking at what we know is coming, what comes every year, we dress up to ward of the spirits of the dead, whether malevolent or simply unwelcome, we sing, we party, we make loud noises and create big displays of our vitality even as we let go of our recent abundance. We instantiate our ability to persevere, even in the face of that inevitable closing curtain to our life and say “bring it on”. We must, again we are psychologically preparing ourselves, this is nothing more than a prudent and wise societal practice. We celebrate the inevitable, and we give ourselves the best medicine, tools, protection against death there is, an explicit celebration of it, forcing us to look it in the face, and thus reducing our fear of death, lessening its grips over our lives, and so by looking at it we overcome it, at least for a little while more, at least with a smile rather than cowering.
And so all of autumn is of this flavour, we spend a few months every year preparing for the change in natures rewards, we slowly, ritually inculcate ourselves with the best medicine against the hardships of winter. With celebration, community, with ritual narratives of dealing with our existential ends. Writing this, I remember a conversation with a communist, a communist who has successfully achieved his goal of removing from his life the irrational superstitious nonsense of our past, of the absurd religious stories we’ve been handed down by our ancestors. A man who does not celebrate anything with a history, rooted in our primeval past. “So what do you do? What do you look forward to?” “The ultimate realization of rationality and efficiency, the ultimate of humanity’s ability.” “Thats sound quite dreary. What about beauty? Or love?” “No longer needed, besides, its too messy.”
Not that this man would believe in his own soul, but it sounds like a dismal place to live. I’d rather come to terms with the crazy irrationality that is clearly inherent in our existence. We seem rather capable of making out of it something so profound it moves us to tears and can change our lives for the better.