Sunday, October 30, 2011

Heathens Unbound

Phil Burpee, Columnist, Pincher Creek Voice

Ah, it’s Halloween time again  -  ghouls, goblins, ghosts and gummy-bears. It’s that time of the year when the great rhythms of Nature, and of the human condition within it, are best commemorated by the big sugar manufacturers, who plunder the vast cane-fields of South America in order to bring our sprats and toddlers their groaning pillow-cases full of enamel-scouring booty. It is All Hallow’s Eve  -  the feast of the  evening leading up to the celebration of the saints on All Saints Day  -  St. Cadbury, St. Hershey, St. Mars, St. Lowney and St. Nestle  -  and, of course, St. Hyperactive, St. Spunout, St. Cranky and St. Pancreatic-hangover. This is a solemn time indeed.

Of course, we would do well to remember the true meaning of this feast. As with all such great observances, it has deep and pagan roots. For this is the time of celebrating the securing and safe placement of our harvests, so recently displayed around us at Thanksgiving time, now tucked into cellars and bins and hung from rafters and hooks. Outside, the Hunter's Moon is yet just a sliver against the gathering clouds of Autumn, and we can understand, viscerally and without doubt, that the sear winds of Winter are not far away. Our roots and our tubers and our grains and our meats are all dried, waxed, winnowed and seasoned. Firewood is stacked against the back wall, and a comforting list of Netflix favourites is taped onto the wall beside the HD plasma wide-screen. Let the howling winds blow. We care not as we huddle, comfy and secure, before our electronic hearths. We have paid off the creatures of the night with sweets, and old Jack o' Lantern keeps his vigil in the window, scaring off all but the most benign of demons.

But there was a time not so long ago when we had reason to celebrate such things in earnest. Our ears still perk up to the tootle of Pan's flute, as he calls the Mother's children out to play in the Wildwood. At Halloween we masquerade as his sometimes priapic minions, implicitly affirming that the elemental creatures that have assailed us in our tents and huts and hogans and frail palaces these many thousands of years still run riot around our cozy lives. We imagine, or rather, like to hope, that our technology and our religiosity and our general anthropocentric delirium have removed us from Nature, and that we somehow waft serenely above it. Such is hubris. And such is the pride that, we are so grimly told, goeth before a fall. For there is no such thing as above, beyond, beside or in any way apart from Nature. There is only immersion in it. Indeed, the essential molecular elements of our very being have been long ago spewed out from exploding stars in distant galaxies, and our very thoughts, ideas, impulses and instinctual imperatives are themselves electro-chemical and electro-magnetic swirlings carried out in infinitesimally tiny nano-dances. Each breath we take is a fantastically unlikely compendium of ageless pre-arrangements, culminating in a twenty-first century Wal-mart shopper thoughtlessly wheezing an O2/CO2 exchange as she idly contemplates Snickers or M&Ms. Yes, there is cause to celebrate the season. We are alive!

But many of the ancient feasts have some or other overlay of corporate religious symbolism, typically expedient. The Sons of Abraham have been particularly diligent in this regard. They eagerly picked up on the work begun by Zeus and his Olympians when they stormed Heaven and displaced the old Mother Goddess, scattering her Titans, and banishing Time itself, old Chronos, to his perpetual sleep on that distant western isle. Bearded priests, imams and rabbis have now determined that the generative force of the universe is male, contrary to all underlying biological precepts. This is an odd notion, especially considering that the male is a relatively late invention amongst living things, and requires mutation with a toxic steroid (testosterone) to develop. We see that Eve did not spring from Adam's rib at all  -  quite the opposite. And hence, perhaps, the problem. Men have found it necessary to usurp the very idea of generation and creation exactly because it is so deeply denied them in Nature. And because of the ongoing risk of having a woman snigger at the potential inadequacy of a gentleman's jewels, it has been necessary to dominate the planet with war and mayhem, and create nuclear weapons, in order for everybody to get hip to the fact that menfolk are not to be taken lightly. And that goes for Nature too  -  "Oh yeah?  -  well, take that! POW! (the cod fishery) And this! WHACK! (old growth forests) And that! BOOM! (tar sands)  Now who's Daddy?! Now who's the boss?!"

And so the profound holiness that enlivens our very blood, and ties us through hundreds of thousands of years to the inextricable bond we share with all that lives and splashes and rolls and blows around us, is compartmentalized in dogma and scripture. We are bred to believe that we are either above Nature, or that its intrusions in our lives are of piffling consequence. This would seem to be the rationale we use for despoiling our world. It is perhaps exactly because  we choose to systematically avoid devotional ceremony within the enfolding bosom of the Earth in and on which we live our lives, that we continue to grow apart from it, and consequently suffer the increasing pains of that estrangement. But there is hope. And that brings us back to goblins and ghosts.

At Thanksgiving (Equinox) we, rejoicing, bring in the sheaves. At Halloween we bring in the pumpkin and have truck with night spirits. At Christmas (Solstice) we bring in the Tree of Life and offer gifts. At Valentine's Day we bring in the hearts of those we love. At Easter (Equinox) we bring in the eggs (born of the female) hidden in the greenery, and enjoin the Bunny (aka fecundity) to fetch us more Hershey bars. At Mid-Summer (Solstice), we bring out the cooler and hobnob with John Barleycorn, quaffing a few beers and sitting out under the life-giving Sun. All of these things reinforce our state as children of Nature. All of these things bring us to celebrate the vast, roiling, Fellowship of Life that is our common heritage. Christmas, Ramadan, Passover  -  mere folk tales - overlays. What we celebrate is our awareness of our being borne along the crest of the Great River, through the Milky Way, and beyond to a thousand tomorrows.

So, somebody’s put the Volkswagen on the roof of the barn. The cat's got firecrackers tied to his tail. There's a howling to be heard out under the frosty Moon. Rob Ford has run away from Marg Delahunty, panic-stricken and squealing. And somewhere out in space, a lovely, blue sphere is heard to be singing its own eternal hymn, rejoicing in the upturned faces of it heathens unbound. Trick or treat, indeed.

Phil Burpee
October 31, 2011


  1. Bruthah Phil! Finally... in print for the World to see! As always entertaining, educational and bang on the money. Yer in your element -- *one* of them anyway -- I hope you are enjoying a stipend from the Sun chain for brandishing your sword/pen. Yer worth at least what Baxter Black's getting!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Dear Trent,

    First, thanks for commenting, it is appreciated.

    I feel obligated to correct your mistaken assumption. The Pincher Creek Voice is NOT a Sun Media publication. Sir, you wound us.

    This is a completely independent endeavour.

    Your other mistake is in calculating Phil's worth. He's far too unique a voice to be compared with another, and his worth to this publication is immeasurable to me, the head bottle washer.

    On top of the joy I get from reading his columns, as a lover of words well-spun, Phil's stats are consistently high, he's quite popular with the readership of the Voice, even though many of them have told me they don't share his worldview. People around here appreciate a good read.

    Phil, you're worth double any amount I'm ever going to be able to pay you.

    - Chris Davis, Publisher, Pincher Creek Voice
    Independent, and likely to remain so.


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