Mesopotamia, Babylon, Greece, Rome…all of these civilizations had their time of glory and all of them fell inexorably into decay. But following each of them, arguably, was a civilization which outshone each of her predecessors.
I wonder sometimes if it is necessary for the past to be destroyed before the future can be born. Usually I come to the conclusion that it is. My ancestors thought so, as well.
According to tradition, the Oak King would take His throne on Midsummer, the solar equinox, when the sun was at its full height and glory. He would gather the sun’s energy through the summer and throughout the gathering of harvests’ bounty. He would preside over the burning of the last sheaves of wheat or corn or barley at Mabon, a precursor for his act at Yule. At Yule, when the sun was at its weakest, the Holly King would return to claim the throne and the Oak King would return to the Earth. His stored energy would pour out into the Earth, sustaining Her until the sun returned in the Spring.
This restorative act is repeated in the mythology of almost all cultures in all of recorded history. I think it is because even the most primitive of our ancestors knew implicitly what so many of us have forgotten today: that one cannot take without giving back. Nature demands this, and if it is not given back willingly, it will be taken by force.
I was walking through the woods in Germany one summer and I came across the most beautiful sight. It was just a rotting deadfall, but it had the prettiest blue flowers growing on it, surrounded by some of the lushest green foliage and lichen I have ever seen. As I stayed still and looked closer, I saw that the little microcosm was teeming with life; spiders and ants and butterflies; I knew that if I dug into and under the rotting wood I would discover grubs and worms and maybe termites, all feasting on the bounty of Energy that the tree had stored up while living. I heard the song of the birds in the forest who assuredly dined either at the place I sat or at other establishments like it.
There was so much life in that one spot directly resulting from the death of that single tree. It would be many years yet before I read Speaker for the Dead, but I think understood that day.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust is a phrase I have heard too often lately, and I think it is misleading. Ashes and dust are lifeless and I know that the meaning is that we come from nothing and we go into nothing, but I don’t buy it.
I came from an act of passion and even if I die peacefully my body will be the source of life for many civilizations as it decomposes; not one bit of my existence, before birth or after death, is lifeless or without spirit. Ashes and dust? I think not.