Reading over my wrap of 2012 I realise how far down the rabbit hole I’ve vanished in 2013 – or, how deeply into my adventures with accountants and accounting I’ve plunged.
In December 2012 I was anticipating a summer of reading for pleasure, starting with Michel Houellebecq’s brilliant Atomised. My bookish 2013 began with ‘On being devastated‘, a blog about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s heart and The Great Gatsby, among other things. But it draws to a close in a very different register, with Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (1999) by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism is absolutely fascinating and filled with gobsmacking stats about the waste of industrial life – like the ’embarrassingly inefficient’ American car, which expends only 1 percent of its energy to move the driver, the rest either moves the car or is lost (80%) – and inspiring stories about green moves already afoot, but it’s no romp in Houellebecq’s fertile imagination or in Gatsby’s ‘promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing’.
And my summer reading? Karl Marx’s hefty Capital Volume 1, possibly interrupted by stolen moments with Maria Tumarkin’s Traumascapes: The power and fate of places transformed by tragedy, which I’ve been longing to read since it was published in 2005. It was love at first paragraph (and a bit):
‘This book exists because of one story. It began in the 1930s in the former Soviet Union – the country where I was born and which, in the briefest of life histories, I have managed both to leave and to outlive. I will scratch only the surface of this story, which spans centuries and can call forth (to those who are interested) thick, layered histories of spirituality, grief and empire building as well as Russia’s new and old money.
‘On the morning of 5 December 1931, on the direct orders of Stalin’s Government, and as thousands of Muscovites watched, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was destroyed by a series of bomb explosions, the planned demolition taking close to an hour because the structure stubbornly refused to collapse. The explosions, so the persistent rumours tell us, were accompanied by one of the top officials exclaiming “Let’s lift up the skirt of old Mother-Russia!”‘
From Mother-Russia to Mother Mary and Christmas, which tears me in two every year: I love celebrations, the spirit of giving, festive gatherings – and I abhor the grotesque overproduction of junk, the frenzied shopping verging on mania as Christmas approaches, the appalling waste of everything, from food to unwanted presents to the numberless pine trees cut down and trashed each new year. And the terrible loneliness the season can bring.
So, here are some older Christmas stories as told by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford in The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.
Of virgin births and luminous children:
‘All over the world, for countless millennia, people have participated in a religious ritual at the winter solstice, when the sun’s downward course is arrested and it turns back, as it seems, to earth. This change of state in the bleak mid-winter of the year was experienced as the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birth day of the sun god, the luminous divine child. Like the heavenly sun arising from the depths of darkness, these divine sons were born at midnight, hidden in the depths of the earth, in a cow-byre, in the reeds, in a cave, out of a rock, in a manger. The cry “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!” would have echoed in various tongues across the centuries. In Mesopotamia he was called Tammuz and Demuzi; in Egypt he was called Osiris and Horus, and, later, Aion; in Greece, Dionysos, Helios and Orpheus; in Persia and Rome, Mithras.
‘Such parallels were not lost on the early founders of the Christian Church. St Jerome related the tears of the baby Jesus to those of the women bewailing the death of Adonis, all echoing in the same groves of Bethlehem. Originally the birth of Christ was celebrated 12 days after the solstice on 6 January, the day of Epiphany (Manifestation) in the Christian calendar, when Jesus was manifested to the wise men from the East. In those days this was also the date of the festival in Egyptian Alexandria of the birth of Aion (a later version of Osiris) from the Greek Kore, “the Maiden”, identified with the Egyptian Isis, whose particular star was Sirius. Every year for hundreds of years Egyptians had watched for Sirius to rise on the horizon, for this announced the rebirth of Osiris as Horus and the rising of the flood waters of the Nile, bringing to the people life and eternal life together.
‘This ritual was described by an early Christian writer, Ephiphanius, who, although writing about heresy in the 4th century AD, saw the relevance of the older ritual to the birth of Jesus:
“After they have kept all-night vigil with songs and music, chanting to their idol, when the vigil is over, at cockcrow, they descend with lights into an underground crypt, and carry up a wooden image lying naked on a litter, with the seal of a cross made in gold on its forehead, and on either hand two similar seals, and on either knee two others, all five seals being similarly made in gold. And they carry round the image itself, circumambulating seven times the innermost temple, to the accompaniment of pipes, tabors and hymns, and with merry-making they carry it down again underground. And if they are asked the meaning of this mystery, they answer: ‘Today at this hour the Maiden (Kore) that is, the Virgin gave birth to the Aeon.'”
‘This is a description not of a 4th century Midnight Mass and Christmas Day, but of the Festival of Kore in her temple at Alexandria.’
And of Christmas trees:
‘The evergreen tree we call the Christmas tree, with candles flickering on its branches and gifts strewn around its roots, was once honoured as the Tree of Life, or the World Tree. Uniting the dimensions of heaven, earth and the underworld, it was the cosmic axis at the centre of the world, the Axis Mundi, through which the eternal energies of creation poured continuously into time. The greenness of the Tree of Life at this darkest moment was then, and is still under a different name, the sign and the promise of life eternally renewed.’
All best wishes for the festive season. May all your trees be green.