The crossing of the Acheron is arduous. To be judged, rejected or outcast seems like the hardest thing in the world, but one way or another, by dogged determination, blind faith, or the glimmer of respect, we make it across. And then, nightmarishly, we come to it again and again. It is only natural to seek an easier way, by boat, or by inebriating yourself so that you don’t care if you drown. ‘Drown your sorrows’ is right. Taunted, negated and misunderstood, the imagination can come up with lots of ways to withdraw and hide the suspicion that it got us into this. If we cannot belong to this group, we can belong to that; if people judge us, we can judge them. What a grim prank it is to hole the boat of someone who has made our own crossing difficult, to stone them in turn, and then frivolously to march on through enemy territory.
Thus is it possible to misconstrue the Acheron. Indeed, in infancy it almost, but not quite, seems normal to see it as a River of Hate, and the defences some build against slight and injury, and the awareness of them, are never demolished in a lifetime. However, and it almost seems perverse to assert it, the Acheron reveals its most terrible power when life erodes those defences with the combined forces of transcendence, love and shame, and in a flash, we can see ourselves from the outside, as others accuse us, and the inside, theirs and ours, becomes our responsibility. The Acheron offers us a life in death, an opportunity to relish our burden in the friendly universality of shame. We continually meet people who cannot face us, who secrete themselves in imaginary worlds and abuse anyone with the temerity to look in, as though a face were in itself an attack, but exclusion can actually feel like inclusion, the irresistible humour of a cosmic joke, when you pass a shop window and see in your reflection what the suffering of a fool looks like.
So now we are across, except for the muddy bit, which is why we lift our pinky when we pour the tea. This is the Moon which begins them all. Like the meditation on death which brings to mind the awesome beauty of our absence in the pulsating emptiness of country, the first Moon is born in the ever-present possibility of transcendence. Perhaps the year is a cyclical exploration of what not to do in our situation, and we start, as in infancy, by pointing the finger at a tendency to take it all seriously, mistaking the laughter which imprisons us in the gangs of absurdity for the courage to be, and making it a habit to rehearse a standup routine in every shop window. You’ve heard the old expression, “A day without a good belly laugh is a day wasted”? Escape to frivolity though we do, nothing is more painful than being marginalised by people we would like to love were it not for things they know we have done.
Capricorn may puff itself up like the peacock behind it—look!—but the way across the transparency through Aquarius, Pisces and Aries, until you come to Orion and Taurus, is dark and empty. No joke. Woe betide anyone who embarks in High Summer: it’s hard to make small talk around the evening campfire when the ancestors are sliding over the edge of the world. Where do they go, and most disconcerting even if we know they’ll be back, why do they go? Why do they leave us here in the dark? It seems like a cruel lesson, that moments of awe, in contemplation of immensities of distance and time, have a dark side of insignificance, and the sacred connection with the presence of the ancestors, the miraculous need of Being, must be earned. Existential thirst: you can get it smiling at the Wailing Wall; you can get it climbing Uluru; you can get it just tearing up a roughy ticket in your finery at the races. Matter of fact, I’ve got it now.
To pursue the metaphor of the Underworld as unconscious to its logical conclusion, towards the elimination of duality and inequality, you must imagine lying under the night sky with your feet to the Zodiac, so that your familiar firmament is visible with a slight lift of your head. If the Earth were not between you, your heads would be back to back facing opposite directions, you and your Other at the antipodes, and the cardinal directions would carry opposite meanings. Below is the sky above the local swimming pool.
The stars revolve around the Celestial South Pole clockwise, and anti-clockwise around the Celestial North Pole.
Do you imagine I am not perfectly aware of the conjectural status of everything I say, and of your repudiation of your ancestors at the ripe old age of 15? We 70-year-olds were once where you are, and truly, life began when we heard our ancestors calling, when we discovered shame. It may be that the intersection of the Ecliptic and the plane of the Milky Way is a mathematical irrelevancy, as 3 o’clock in the morning is, or as a 300mm rise in sea level is if you swim 190m above it, or as the tension in Southern Victoria is between solitary Alphard at the centre of the Eastern Wall, the arc of the ancestors on the personal side, and the Vertex in the house of maniacal self-development on the social side, but you may also not have noticed that daylight saving breakfast is an hour too early if you leave for work at the same time year-round. The fact is, there’s a lot more going on in the body of the universe than we are cognizant of. The question is, and only you can answer it, did the Sun just cross the River of Woe?
When the Milky Way rises vertically from the southeast, above or below the horizon, it connects me with secret women’s business: a spiritual antidote perhaps, and at the very least a psychological one, to patriarchy; mine, on my country, take it or leave it. Will your treachery ever be forgiven? Perhaps only a warrior, in his underworld, will ever know. Gone are the days when you could lump everyone into the same spiritual reality. I did not climb Uluru.