The sceptre, learning, physic, must All follow this, and come to dust. Shakespeare, Fidele’s Dirge.
The Autumn horoscopes of Virgo personalities devoured by Southern Hemisphere commuters born in Spring are beyond rational understanding, but there is no stronger influence on human behaviour than confirmation bias, and I am not butting my head against it. So let it stand for the moment that this year the first Moon of Northern Hemisphere Spring, pivotal in the lives of Christian believers, is born in the Sign of Pisces and culminates immediately before Easter in the Sign of Libra. It has remained a convention among European invaders of the South for 500 years. The fact remains that the astrological romance of each Moon’s journey from inspiration to realization is complicated by the journey of the Sun: the first realization of the Full Moon as it dramatises its Opposition is that the Sun has moved on, and navigation is ambiguous in the shoals of memory, as any expatriate visiting ‘home’ will attest. Convention is not mere habit, but the fabrication of a new chapter in the same story, a contest of intuition and language, memory and awareness, success and defeat. One person’s affluence is another’s deprivation. One person’s ritual self-discovery is another’s defilement. Convention is a truce.
But can the truce hold? When the Moon elected to worship the Sun Goddess as a man, he neglected the resilience of convention, and must now admit some culpability for a worldwide resentment among women towards his mansplaining. He meant to portray himself as subordinate to the coordinating power of female creativity, but deep in the brainstem from whence he drew his interpretations of gender there did lurk an urge to power. The ambiguity of his reflected outshining was tainted by denial that he was underplaying a primeval contest, and that he might represent just another patriarch with 27 concubines. Was there not a caricature of triumph in the metaphor of dragging Goddesses by the hair out of their Underworld hill caves to worship his worship? Even if all experience is the crocodile speaking, relationship is a more serious issue than this.
One person’s instinct is another’s reason. As previously explored, the alignment of the ancestors in a straight line passing directly overhead has two configurations: one associated by indigenous custom with the mystery of male initiation, and the other labelled idiosyncratically as the Wanderer, a possible celebration of gender difference locked into the progressive possibilities of iconoclasm emerging from the Underworld River of Lethe. Perhaps this moment, visible in complete darkness in the first quarter of the year, might be the birth of a New Moon with a difference, deriving his trajectory not from Goddess worship, but from self-worship among the ambiguous roots of identity in the somatic soup of retrospection.
Thus might the Moon be relegated to the ranks of those who dangerously deal their own cards, resentment and victimization be revealed as premeditated, and interpretation of selfhood dare to contradict convention. Meanwhile, he seems in the South to have fallen right way up out of the frying-pan of Pisces into the fire of Virgo.
What it all boils down to is, in attempting to give personality to the Moon, I have landed him with the same problem we persons all have to deal with: how to get inside another’s mind, indeed how to get inside our own without an objective system of meanings such as astrology which infers that another can get in there.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan’s prescient lines, you were kidding me, you weren’t really from the farm, and I told you later as you tore out my eyes, that I never really meant to do you any harm. Perhaps we must leave it at that. Own your conventions and their ancestral languages, and let no Goddess need recourse to claims of being framed, or farmed. And yes, rejoice in any unconventional primal resurgence of the cardinal directions, especially their upsidedown-ness, and let us hope that our subscription to their metacortical experience does not inadvertently expire.
“The function of memory is not only to preserve, but also to throw away. If you remembered everything from your entire life, you would be sick.” Umberto Eco.
“The bull of the herd had stepped into the white foaming brook, and went forward slowly, now striving against, now giving way to his tempestuous course; thus, no doubt, he took his sort of fierce pleasure. Two dark brown beings, of Bergamasque origin, tended the herd, the girl dressed almost like a boy.” Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, Second Sequel, The Wanderer And His Shadow, Aphorism §295, ed. Darryl Marks, trans. H. Zimmern, P. Cohn, Everlasting Flames, 2010.
The naming of Moons of course connects them to what we’re doing down here. Inverting European and North American names or leaving names behind completely in the Northern Hemisphere might do for some, and continuing such traditions as Yule and Easter in their opposite seasons doesn’t seem to have disturbed capitalism or hurt anybody, but the entertaining possibility exists that seasons and customs merely refine what we’re doing and feeling, and we’re actually all doing more or less the same thing. It might at least be said that we are all subject to universal influences on our mental health, which fall into cyclical patterns we all engage with in similar ways, if at different times. Two distinctive things we all have in common with the Vagabond are the balancing of the desire to forget and the inability to remember, and the experience of being utterly alone.
The best moments of your life are the hardest to remember, because your language did not impose you on them, but rather from the bottom up, your spirit was dissolving into a belonging in something beyond, something almost magical, a connectedness which drew its miraculous energy from you, which could only last an instant and might never emerge again from the objective definition of your existence, but which in a flash of awareness revealed the reality of being alive instead of dead. Ceremony is of course your best method of putting your memory back in that transcendent self you own abstractly as yours. But what of the wooden hands of the cellist, the traffic vibrations and the halitosis of the singer behind you, and your own, for that matter? Is solitary meditation the only way to engage in a ceremony of connection? Must we wash our hands of others lest we forget who we are? Would such uncleanliness truly be the opposite of authenticity? Is there an important lesson in equanimity to be gained from the Vagabond’s stoical existence?
The danger we sense is real: the most vividly lived moments of our past are most challenging to relive, because they include the best, which we can seldom recall in all their complexity, and the worst, which can traumatically reconstruct themselves viscerally in the most unwelcome way. We even judge the good in the context of the meaning of the bad, and we think to free our good selves from shame by working on our shadow, but the judgment our insight passes on the self-as-other is so vivid in its remorseless negativity that compulsively as we might train ourselves to disbelieve, we are built to forget, and it is easier to disbelieve what is forgotten. The shadow of the Vagabond in sidereal Taurus falls across the June Solstice and the river of Hades he approaches in the Bardo, the River of Forgetting.
If you have the good fortune to withdraw from the everyday, just for one night at the right time of the year, and in your nearest dark sky, you can realize the connection of above and below, as it was known by the prehistoric people who lived under the Milky Way, as it was once known under rural skies by the swagman, and as it has now been forgotten in urban lanes by everyone: when the Milky Way arcs overhead from horizon to horizon in either of the two configurations which are so formed, its bearings link all Warriors or Wanderers camped on their river, Acheron or Lethe. My Acheron crosses Eastern Australia to Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, but my Lethe arcs over Central Australia to the Kimberley and beyond through Timor Leste and Western China to Siberian Omsk. I am proud when I am on the Lethe to project over the horizon the kin of my spiritual sisters of Wurdi Youang. Detroit’s Lethe arcs over the Caribbean to Brazil, and a shout-out wells up in my heart to all countrywomen, and tonight, fellow Vagabonds!
Not everyone is summoned by a divine voice to sacrifice his son, as was the Patriarch of all of the religions of The Book, and of socialism and humanism, in all their woeful, forgetting folly. If the nearest you can now approach to such grief, mysterious atavistic Vagabond of our cosmic loneliness, as you stare over the Atacama Desert, is not quite being able to erase the memory of rejection, the clinical name healers give the extinction of a divine voice and the reduction to dust of every monolithic monument to human immortality since the dawn of civilization, you are as blessed as you seem to believe yourself, blessed to have heard the voice, blessed to have been spared its demand. Charismatic though our inner voices may be, the gods are bent on the narcissistic autonomy they enjoy in our submission to their resentful, perfectionist control.
The Vagabond is the avatar of all who throughout history and before it have gratefully accepted country as more real than landscape and real estate: the ancestral, the migratory, the rejected, the enslaved, the dispossessed of everything but kinship and the meaning of ceremony and song. He and they enact the memory we share eternally of what remains of creation to be forgotten. What more could there ever possibly be, than broken, throbbing hearts crying, “Please don’t climb my rock,” and protected by them in a world of liars, charlatans, scammers, hostage-takers, people-smugglers, bullies, creeps and bogeymen, the laughter and tears of children?
“Chi K’ang asked Confucius about government, saying, ‘What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?’ Confucius replied, ‘Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors, is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it.’”Analects XII, 19, Kindle Edition, Open Road Integrated Media 2016.
Whether he stands or sits in the men’s toilet is immaterial if he calls himself a man. On the Dasein clock he might be rescuing animals from floods, putting out bushfires or carting hay, but his custom is an instinctively assertive response to community’s self-importance, whether he has time to listen or not. After all, you can’t set up a committee every time you must do something, can you? He can be impatient and harsh, but he has a lot of practical wisdom, perhaps because he has chewed so many grass stalks waiting for it to rain, or to stop raining. One year, it rained and rained, right through Christmas. You cut the hay, then you relax at Christmas, right? Wrong, hay ruined in the field! Talking to one bloke who was adamant that you wouldn’t cut it if it was still growing, you could tell he was in unfamiliar territory two months late in early January, and he had more than one manager sweating on his call. I told him the Moon was full, and he spent the next ten minutes on the phone, because as any peasant will tell you, it never rains at a Full Moon. Of course, in a rare gap in the weather his peasants got the harvest safely into the shed.
My grandfather raised sheep in the West Australian wheatbelt. He used to tell a yarn of the time an itinerant labourer came looking for work. Papa had work for him, so he told him to come back in the morning. Next morning, Papa invited the labourer to have breakfast with him while he described the location of some fencing which needed repair. Papa was only too happy for the man to have a second helping, because the job was too far away to come back for lunch. “Tell you what,” the man said as he finished, “If I have a bit more I can work right through to dark,” “Fair enough,” agreed Papa, and when the labourer had stuffed himself full of food, the two men walked outside. The labourer marched off towards the front gate. “It’s back this way,” called Papa. “Scusa,” the labourer called back. “I never work after my evening meal.”
Even if there was nothing good on the telly, you wouldn’t sit out on the verandah in the twilight like we used to. Mosquitoes big as sheep. So I really couldn’t say what phase the Moon is, and if there might be a climate change. Some big storms, the river silts up at the mouth, and the farm goes underwater. Mosquitoes love it, but I reckon the greenies in the fastness across the creek don’t spend much time on the verandah either. They clamour for nature to be allowed to run its course, and the catchment can be inundated for years. Fortunately there is a popular surf break at the mouth, and when the access road gets too boggy and the Council closes it, a kilometre to carry the board gets too much, and somebody in the dead of night digs a channel. Like I said, peasants have a lot of practical wisdom.
Interesting that the astronomical year starts when it is so dry. Water-carriers and Fishes: something wrong there, you would think. I know Pisces. Uranus was camped there for years. Spoke to a drifter years ago, before the mosquitoes, and she showed me the dim lines of the fish as ridges where Moon and Uranus often sat around a fire and talked of thousands of years ago. All I could see was a jockey standing in the stirrups, but no colours or number to guide me in Cups betting. Pretty useless, I would say, and I told her so.
I ceased a long time ago to be amazed when things get turned upside down. Speaking of the resurgent popularity of socialism among millenials and the recent commemoration of the victory which set in train the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square, I am reminded of the time a steer had a horn growing into his eye, and a couple of friends and I minding the farm while Mum was off somewhere tried to hacksaw it off. We couldn’t bear the bellows of agony, so called a neighbour for advice. He ripped it off with six violent blows with the hacksaw. “Bloody city-slickers,’ he growled.
Come to think of it, in reference to something the Sun said last time we met, let me say that my business is not to unite. It may have a terrestrial function, my motion, and the relativity of perspective may promote inclusivity, but binary concepts are beyond me. I just keep going, whether I orbit the Earth or the Sun, and whether you measure my movement or not. Of course I will suffer and die one day, but the cow’s horn has to come off, and that’s that, whether it be Frisian, Hereford or Angus! Well I hope you have enjoyed this candid shot of the Peasant in Northern Hemisphere Tropical Taurus. I know I have, because you’ve been such respectful listeners, even after such a big breakfast! Scusa!
“Let any man lay the map of Australia before him, and regard the blank upon its surface, and then let me ask him if it would not be an honourable achievement to be the first to place foot at its centre. Men of undoubted perseverance and energy in vain had tried to work their way to that distant and shrouded spot.” Charles Sturt.
”Just before our love got lost you said I am as constant as a northern star and I said, Constantly in the darkness Where’s that at? If you want me I’ll be in the bar.” Joni Mitchell, “A Case Of You“, Blue.
“Understanding the past as a place crisscrossed by the tracks of numerous people and creatures is crucial if we are ever to glimpse futures beyond blank spaces.” Samia Khatun, Australianama (p. 105), OUP, Kindle Edition.
Sometimes it seems that life is expanding faster and faster into nothing, and sometimes simultaneously it seems like the view from the panorama lounge in the last carriage of the super-fast transcontinental. It is probably true to say that polarities unite rather than divide us, when we are aware of them. We can tolerate in one room the multiplicity of interpretations of time because each is experienced by us all at some hour. As we emerge from winter such thoughts arise because spring is activating the dormant, and complex stories are beginning to ensnare us in an understorey of bewildering urgencies. That’s Leo, and there will always be one in the bar. Just because the possum is invisible, don’t imagine that’s rain falling on your bicycle helmet.
In my short life I have been mad with lust, mad with doubt and anxiety, mad with grief, and at its end I may well be mad with death. Madness is an experiment with being, a quest of subjectivity, like Chinese nationalism, the survival of indigenous cultures and the entire history of Western Civilization, and I hear its voices loud and clear, as the universe saying, in any language available, “I am.” Say it yourself and it rings hollow. Finitude laps around it like a rising tide, and the whole of philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology cannot convincingly clothe the emperor. However, if you venture into solitude, extending your awareness to the vast panorama of the property which has disclosed itself to you, and you imagine it in your absence, say it then and those two words will be thunderously true, as true as the call Abraham heard to sacrifice his son, as true as the sacredness of a birth-tree.
Is it too mystical to suggest that each of us is not only the universe but everyone in it saying, “I am”? It was not disclosed to the early explorers that the heart of the land downunder had been pierced countless times in the 60,000 years of human habitation—call it property—prior to European arrival, but Sturt was nevertheless giving voice to the universe in the quote above. You can leave “I am” to the experts, and most of us do, and how democracy works is through the regular information of our experts by our voices, but we should recognize that most of the time voices are just noise: talking shit, putting a not-too-fine point on it. Chinese nationalists or no, we seem in equal numbers to be loud exploiters or exploited. However, in the category of legatee we must never fall silent, sharing with dead people, animals and plants, social and other institutions, even the weather and the universe itself, a primal voice: we are the Subjective.
Is it ironic that the voice makes noise? “Make them both confess,” as Joni said. (“The Priest”, Ladies Of TheCanyon, 1970.) Subjectivity was everywhere in 1970, in case you were not present. One man’s memory just got a prelate objectified and destroyed by popular consent to the voice of outrage. I have always wondered about the permanent injury caused by, and the apparently universal horror of questioning the damage of, the loving touch of someone of the same gender. Perhaps “I am” might be less noisy, or nosy (no ‘I’), if we weren’t commuting for hours a day, blinded by speed to the country beyond road or rail, digging our gardens in subdivision fill and submitting to evening barbecues bathed in artificial light, never venturing from the raft we have earned on the ocean of other voices.
Reality is emergent; disclosure is its enjoyment in time, gossip its narrative; the world is a subject. Whether you can identify with the tree as a physical shape, a system of responses or a set of materials, whether you regard your Self as a work in triumphant or shameful progress, a victim of circumstances or an impediment to enlightenment, the world enjoys you, because you confirm it. You may be an accident, though a probable one, but you will never happen again! Once upon a time, there was no accidence, coincidence, synchronicity or probability: there is now because the world which enjoys you invented them and you confirmed them by giving them back as passion, spontaneity, free will and unpredictability. Are you present, in this auditorium screening your History?
Oops, oh dear, you seem to be absent in me: I am your Thou; I and Thou are the subject of creation, the disclosure of the I of the universe. Whether I was a wave, a fish or a seawall, my time is near, but it will remain absent in yours, and absence in the universe has lasted forever, as disclosure will always have it. Disclosure is a two-way street connecting presence and absence, but across town with all those traffic lights it can seem interminable. If you have not already done so, you must imagine in the charts above the absence of the Earth you are standing on and looking through. In such exercise I sprout wings to join voice with the glorious equanimity of the grey butcherbird apparently confronting its finitude with its vigorous resistance to objectivity punctuated by the mournful refrain, “I am”, outside my window where our tracks intersect.
Planets vanish in the gaps between constellations; stars drift screaming into the void; the Milky Way runs in glittering rivulets down across the sky’s glassy dome, coming to rest, defeated, against the hard bed of the horizon. There’s no mistaking it. You are going to die. Sam Kriss.
What could be more antithetical to Buddhist emptiness than the infantile notion that spirit or consciousness survives death? I have no idea where the idea came from that dead loved ones become stars in the sky. Perhaps it’s an anthropological fiction which confirms the a priori cultural delusion of permanence. Yes, we are constructs of energy forms forged in the stars, but so what? Mind is an emergent reality of carbon, but so what? We could argue until the cows come home about mind’s purpose, the fulcrum of its personal meaning or the laws of its libraries of evolutionary independence. But imagine the moment of death without any mumbo-jumbo: awesome, yes, but the nothingness you’re sliding into is neither eternal nor permanent. You’re becoming nothing.
We’re beyond history here: our personality and its ramifications are no more significant than a hole in the ground. Our body can no longer answer the question, who am I? Of course we will be remembered, but the minds which will do so are as dust. Galaxies, gods and goddesses, lovers, friends, enemies, children and grandchildren, all dust, as though they never were. The living will do with this as they must: always, they seek. Indeed, in Hell, here on Earth, there are many grey areas: embers of a material world in conflagration, country, the imagination, the unconscious. Perhaps a good death might be no more than the evaporation of the mirage which, shimmering on someone else’s country, we named our pain.
Who are we, the never-were, the forgotten? We are all immigrants into country our ancestors never knew. We live in an alien age, not of sticking it out, making do, with a promise of nirvana or heaven in an afterlife, but of hopelessness, betrayal and envy. Only the mentally ill have faith in an afterlife, or the truth of their ancestors. The rest of us are queuing to get what more fortunate people already have. We are doomed where we are, and life is too short for struggle against the odds. Equanimity is not something you can bequeath your kids. Our ancestors forgot the past, but the future is where we live, and it is a paltry thing to forget in death.
They came to the old man and harangued him to find the spirit of the boy’s sickness and make peace. The old man knew how to dream bad spirits back to the Underworld. He dreamed his Wife, long passed, as the Morning Star, and steered Her to join the Guardian and draw Him back under the canopy [Ophiuchus] to which He was appearing to desert the boy, the strongest hope for their prosperity. On the day he brought Her to join forces with Him, he was reassured that the boy would be saved, even though he was deeply unsettled by the omen of the canoe from the Underworld which his dreams told him was the vehicle of invasion.
Shortly before noon, the boy died, and while the women shrieked and screamed, the old man went back into his dream, and sent his Wife into the Underworld for vengeance.
She is well aware that She is from somewhere else and has a Mission, but She finds Herself overwhelmed by a feeling of being at home with the fishermen who have pulled Her from the sea and clothed Her, mumbling incomprehensible words to each other and to the darkened Moon.
There is so much kindness in this superstitious and pessimistic world, beneath the butchery and inside the walls. Her feelings seem almost alien, like the disappointment which haunts tourism. That’s the thing about dreams, certainly the lingering aura of this waking one we try to share, that their reality eludes words. She is remembering.
Remembering a caravan of migrants escaping poverty, discrimination and violence which includes her without question, though she says not a word; remembering an eclipse of the Moon which is everywhen; remembering an awareness of being a man in a woman’s body, issuing deep laughter in response to the antics of strange people in the colours of the rainbow at the back of a bus. Given a knife by a lovely woman in a man’s body, she remembers how to kill, though the man in uniform is strangely unable to provoke a memory of anger or hostility.
Kumar (not his real name) finishes the last take, and director Lenny (not his real name) says he is in love with it. Kumar “has mastered the physical and mental techniques for a convincing portrayal of death”. For the thirty seconds the camera was exploring his primeval face, time after time until after 9pm, he was banishing nagging thoughts, that the remembered had forgotten him, that he might only exist in unremembered form, and that warriors are doomed to love being forgotten.
Nonetheless, all went well, and it is time to go home and be remembered. Tomorrow is the day of the preliminary hearing of the charge against him of sexual assault of a minor on the set of his first movie fifteen years ago, one year to the day after his arrival. His devout Hinduism and the presumption of innocence notwithstanding, he would be the first to admit there are many things he would like to forget, when his time comes.
The Shadow is most often projected into delusion: such is migration. “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” (Sartre, Huis Clos.) The movie in production has the working title, Death of a Border Guard, and the production house, wreathandstyle.org, in anticipation of no being universally construed as yes, has opened a Facebook page for us to post suggestions of what the old woman might be saying. It remains blank. It might not be the first time a Hollywood movie has starred an extra who walked in off the street, but the bloody #MeToo t-shirt was a first, and when did you ever hear of an extra melting back into obscurity without collecting her pay? #WhoIsShe is trending.
And me, I’m just a simple guy out of the audience listening to the voice of an hypnotist who has me staring at the sky. What will I forget? More than I’ve remembered, that’s for sure. Just like you, I have migrated into a village unable to raise a child. I’m sorry, did I remember you properly?
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.
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.
The Milky Way has been given precious little attention by astrology, no doubt because the riches of the Galactic Centre are invisible to most of the Northern Hemisphere, and planets rarely approach either of the great rivers of the Milky Way at night. Perhaps it has occurred to someone up there to consider the symbolism of Cassiopeia, which appears as the letter ‘m’ or ‘w’ due north according to which galactic pole is at transit, Southern or Northern, with the obvious gender connotations in the English language, but I doubt it.
Here in the South, we are indebted to various universities, and the researches of Ray Norris, Robert Fuller and Duane Hamacher in particular, for their disclosure of the significance of the Milky Way in Australian Indigenous cultures, but I suspect that most people are not aware of where it is in their light-polluted night sky, let alone how its configuration changes by hour, day and month.
Briefly, the Milky Way observed from the Southern Hemisphere moves continuously around the sky with the following six punctuating configurations:
At Galactic South Pole (GSP) transit it rings the horizon; [I am not aware of any ethnographic support for my speculation that the ‘Near Eastern’ underworld may have been inspired by the Egyptian and Babylonian view of the horizontal Milky Way at Galactic North Pole (GNP) transit, illustrated above];
GSP due west, GNP due east (below the horizon); the Milky Way stretches from due north to due south, arcing across the eastern sky;
GNP rise, GSP set; the Milky Way rises vertically (to the observer’s zenith) from the northwest and southeast;
GNP transit; the Milky Way stretches across the southern sky from due east to due west;
GNP set, GSP rise; the Milky Way rises vertically in the northeast and southwest;
GSP due east, GNP due west (below the horizon); the Milky Way stretches from due north to due south, arcing across the western sky.
In a suburban or rural-transition sky in Wurundjeri country, when the Sun is more than 18° below the horizon, visibility of these six configurations is afforded as follows, remembering that everything in the night sky except the Moon and planets appears in the same place roughly four minutes earlier each day.
Miserere (Pisces transit): first morning visibility (FMV), in the pre-dawn sky, second week of July; last evening visibility (LEV), when the setting Sun is encroaching from the west, last week of November.
Intuition (Taurus transit): FMV third week of September; LEV first week of January.
Wanderer (Cancer transit): FMV mid-December; LEV mid-April.
Kyrie (Virgo transit): FMV second week of February; LEV end of June.
Warrior (Scorpio transit): FMV beginning of April; LEV last week in August.
Inference (Capricorn transit): FMV last week of May; LEV mid-October.
Please do not assume that I wish to attribute some causal mechanism to the Galactic Plane. On the contrary, my motivation is simply to create more interest in looking at the sky and finding in it signs of meaning. The synchronicity of freeze-frame configurations of the Milky Way and Dr Beth Gott’s Wurundjeri seasons may be delightful to one uncomfortable with inverted Northern Hemisphere seasons, but the cycle presented is continuous, by night and day, and I shrink from adding another invisible influence on personality. On the other hand, the bisection of the Zodiac is too tasty to resist. I hope my arbitrary labels of conventional astrology married to pop psychology, Christian liturgy and Greek mythology will provoke intuitive reaction, at the very least, if not whole-hearted disbelief in rationalism.
A narrative or to describe the journey through Hades of the meridian and any body moving through the Zodiac and crossing its rivers could be confabulated in such a sequence as this. Nearly drowning in the swirling torrents of the Acheron the emotions desperately try to save themselves at each other’s expense. Humiliated, they ruefully recoil into the psyche as the ‘wound’. There follows an experiment by a self which admits no feelings other than empathy, but the perfectibility of this self is so battered by compromise that its structure collapses, and after succumbing briefly to the image others applaud of its aggressive survival, it then mortifies itself in the Lethe, in abnegation of itself as sufficient reason. Lo and behold, the emptiness of thought is the raw material of love. Community beckons, but resentment grows as the emptiness of love too is revealed, culminating in the turmoil of full-blown rejection, and retreat into the pages of self-help and astrology.
It is a mental illness to be habitually confined to a prison you are aware you have made for yourself, but be actually unwilling to escape. Welcoming, you impose too many rules; being welcomed, you refuse. You are always both oppressed and oppressor. You shouldn’t take things so personally. It’s only a temporary orientation of the Milky Way. Be grateful you can’t see things as they were seen here (and in Thebes) five thousand years ago. The Underworld can be so disturbing, it must be invented.