Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam

And so it begins. On the woodland floor. The first paired leaves of the wild-lily-of-the-valley. The nodding blossom of the bellwort. The five-petaled gift of the wood anemone.

The planet leans into the Sun. That old random tilt. Twenty-three-and-a-half degrees. It could have been more, or less. It could have been zero. If it had been zero, our lives would have been different in a myriad of ways. Not just the transformation of our physical circumstances in a world without seasons. Our psychic lives, too.

The annual cycle of the seasons -- the departure and return of the Sun -- is the progenitor of our most primitive conceptual categories. "The chief difference between the man of the archaic and traditional societies and the man of the modern societies with their strong imprint of Judeo-Christianity lies in the fact that the former feels himself indissolubly connected with the Cosmos and the cosmic rhythms, whereas the latter insists that he is connected only with History," writes Mircea Eliade at the beginning of his classic work, The Myth of the Eternal Return.

Even the Christian story, for all of its historicity, participates in the archetype. Jesus is another of Joseph Campbell's "heroes with a thousand faces," who retreats into the darkness of Calvary to return in glory at the equinox. The cycle of the solar season -- as Eliade, Campbell, Frazer, and many others have documented -- is impressed upon our subconscious as firmly as flesh itself.

Of course, these days we can insulate ourselves from the diurnal and annual cosmic rhythms. Heat and light can come and go at the flick of a switch, and with every flick we become more psychically removed from connection with the cosmos. But wait! There, just there, pushing aside last summer's decaying leaf litter, those two green hands, folded as if in prayer, Introibo ad altare Dei, the wild-lily-of-the-valley, the tip, the tilt, the eternal return.