Vivant linguae mortuae.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1.
Dreams, like music, have a way of seeming personal.
It was late and time to turn the music off … turn, turn, turn … blowing through the jasmine in my mind … are you old enough? … handle me with care … I’ll clean it up myself I guess … and it ain’t me who’s gonna leave … there’s one way of gettin’ there, I’ve been usin’ the method for twenty-five years or more … so open up your beach umbrella while you’re watchin’ TV … desultorily clinging to words which had made the world around him, but merely punctuated the arpeggios of his soul … skipped the light and bangles … hey little sister who’s the only one … tastes just like cherry cola … how to open doors with just a smile … don’t want your kisses that’s for sure … and you wish the world was as tired as you … never lost a minute of sleepin’ worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been … I guess hell has finally frozen over … didn’t recognize the boy in the mirror … now he wants the music to stop, but when he takes the needle off the dream groove the music keeps going. He tries the volume and the off switch to no avail. The music cannot be stopped. He is aware that music has defined every step of his life’s journey, learned and made his own, but ever with a life of its own, a cosmos of his entrails.
The dream is still there when the astrologer awakes slumped in his wheelchair. The garden outside his window is in twilight. Any moment now the nurse will come to wheel him into the dining-room. He will eat, and then be hoisted into bed, sleep, and be hoisted out again and onto the toilet, then back into his wheelchair. His bodily processes, like the music, cannot be stopped. A lifetime of change seems petrified by the bodily processes which have governed it, and by the wheeling heavens which they have written in their dance book.
This Moon aligns with one of the vertical configurations of the Milky Way, or near enough, not the transcendent associated with the initiation of Indigenous men, but the other one.
Is anyone dreaming of music in the Rohingya camps tonight? Are Southern Hemisphere Signs protruding into anyone’s northern sky? Are the Rivers of Hades no more than a poetic device, and the Milky Way no more transcendent than a campfire?
Essential to this astrologer’s country is the awareness of cyclical change. Sometimes she is a man, and sometimes he is a woman. One of the more interesting implications of the meaning he has given to the intersections of the Zodiac with the Milky Way, in no small part inspired by the imputed association of one region of the Milky Way with ‘secret men’s business’, is that at the Southern Summer Solstice the female Sun is in masculine territory, and on this rare occasion the male Moon realizes itself in what the astrologer regards as feminine territory, ‘secret women’s business’. It must be conceded that the heroic male constantly facing the insurmountable obstacles to his immortality presented by the world, and the repression of female individuation which wipes her from history, are archaic cultural constructs nowhere near obliteration.
You should be familiar with the Emu, but you may not know how its appearance has moved throughout the millennia. It has been remarked that evidence of the orientation of Bora grounds to the position of the Emu is largely to be found in Northern N.S.W. and Queensland, a phenomenon which one day might enter the debate about continental vs. regional Indigenous culture. In the meantime, there seems to me a cogent explanation for the scarcity of such evidence south of the Murray, which has nothing to do with genocide or expropriation, and everything to do with locality.
About 12,000 years ago, around the time of final separation of Tasmanian inhabitants from the mainland resulting from rising sea levels, something just as weird began in the sky: creeping northward from Southern Tasmania, the orientations of the two vertical configurations of the Milky Way when the Galactic Poles cross the horizon converged due East and West. The Poles intersected with the horizon at the Meridian (addition of the absolute values of the declination of either Pole and local latitude equalled 90°, the angle between zenith and horizon). This weirdness got as high as Tallangatta around 4500 BCE then doubled back before it quite reached Echuca, passing south of Southern Tasmania again around 1800 BCE.
Down my way, at the Wurdi Youang stone circle, this occurred in approximately 5815 and 3190 BCE (as contemporaneously it did upside down in Copper Age Anatolia and Peloponnese Greece), according to Stellarium‘s algorithms, and during the intervening millennia the Emu was never precisely vertical. The NGP crossed the Meridian below the horizon and the SGP was circumpolar. It is possible that ‘near enough is good enough’ originated in Southern Australia (or Turkey, or Greece), but it is also just possible the Kulin nation occupied the locus for a sanctification of the Prime Vertical, the invention of the plumb bob or the transmogrification of masculinity.
It is also worthy of note, especially by those anthropologists and archaeologists who have not imagined the cultural impact of an evolving sky one lives under by night, that the vertical Emu has not always appeared as it does today head down in the southwest. Between 13000 and 3000 BCE it was entirely framed head up in the northeastern sky at Wurdi Youang, similarly moving down and back up between 12800 and 3200 BCE in Northern Victoria, and in Northern N.S.W. between 10800 and 5000 BCE.
That was the time to fetishize the dust lanes recognized as the Emu, and adapt geodesy and ceremony to the subsequent millennia, and so antiquity combined with latitude explains the orientation of countrywide Bora grounds all over the compass.
The fundamental revelation which underlies compassionate humanity is not woundedness but harmfulness. Yes, we suffer, and that means we sometimes cannot help the harm we do, but never have we alleviated suffering by being blameless. And have we alleviated suffering by institutionalising goodness? We like to think so, and weep in gratitude for the separation of conjoined twins, but we are also outraged by the sexual misdemeanours of priests.
The terrible truth is that we choose to harm, and because our freedom and responsibility are the conjoined twins of our selfhood, it eventually falls to us all to confront and own our harmfulness, and if we are not to lose our selfhood to self-hatred, see ourselves finally as victims of our own evil, we must find forgiveness. Loving myself and others as wounded victims is so, how can I put it, de-meaning? Woman, you chose to be this way. The only transformation of patriarchy that works comes from the forgiveness of the guilty, women who have taken a man, from his children, his mother, himself, to give their existence meaning, women who have accepted the inherited status of domesticated animals, and men who have conflagrated their heroism in love.
“Nobody owns my country but me,” our struggle seems to entitle us to say, and yet the past I and the ancestors have vacated stretches fence by fence across the horizon. The past of my neighbours is my country. Is it a paradox that we cannot forgive our enemies, when we are identical to them in our manias of self-justification? Have we lost with the Us and Them moieties of trade-unionism a mechanism for bringing the best out of each other? Pleistocene Australians invented the fire-stick, Holocene Europeans the fence. Is it a paradox that setting fire to the bush protects the fences, originally invented to minimize conflict over game? Do traditional owners really want the onerous task of collecting the rent to fund the administration of Blue Mud Bay fishing? Midnight permits? Boarding and sinking dinghies? Headlines? Civil war?
The human bones revealed by the shifting sand of deep time belong to a nonentity who was a hero or heroine like us, and so they are sacred, like every somebody who tries not to be nobody. The guilt-ridden invaders have been willing for ages to play a fugue with the Indigenous people their ancestral nonentities wronged, but the Indigenous prelude, from the time before European settlement, has not been scored for Western instruments. How far away are the stars now? Is it different for a man or a woman to stare into the abyss? Is the Wanderer more than a dead white man’s Fantasy in C Major? Is there now a Cassiopeia in Wurundjeri country? Yes, my anxiety is salved when the Moon crosses the Lethe, why would it not be? Am I not my Mother’s son? Was it not a Song of the Rainbow Serpent she sang which opened my heart to my welcome as an interloper at the campfire of strangers? Yes, “everybody owns my country” is what I’m trying to say.
“I’m a time traveller.” “You’re a clock watcher.” “All my life I’ve been travelling at 7.9 km/sec.” “You’re hooked on melancholy” “Doubt everything, especially yourself.” “How could you believe being a failure was paying your dues?” “How could you think therapy could pay yours?” “Your anality is dying in its arse.” “Your top-down thinking is arse-up.” “I can’t keep a straight face listening to a dead man’s vain attempt to sacralize death.” “One more km/sec and I never had to hear you.” “Why did you need to tell me that? Stop attacking me.”
This all too human propensity for discrimination and judgment, unalloyed with a good dose of skepticism, consolidates normal black and white mental illness. Applied to the skin, it establishes the difference manifested by foreignness. Binary gender is a classic example: humans have confronted and adapted to devastating climate change countless times throughout the millennia, but when they were forced to leave, it was always into someone else’s country; the right to somebody else’s country doesn’t exist, but could that be rouge on the cheeks of Chopin’s corpse when Khatia Buniatishvili plays ‘his’ Piano Concerto No. 2?
The veteran in his wheelchair will not see the like of this again, and nobody younger will experience quite the awe of the Pleistocene, because dark skies are gone from Sunbury, where once the soul could study the lines of its eternal palm under the stars. Hoisted into bed, the astrologer lays his grateful head on plumped pillows, dissolves the fences of mind, floats down and beyond the fulcrum of duality, and sleeps.