It has been awhile since I have posted. The past year has been spent doing important but time-and-mind consuming day-to-day tasks. I wanted the first post in a few months to be humorous and uplifting. What came out of my fingers isn’t really – it has been snowing in New England. A lot. These are the snowshoes I have needed to get to work for the first time ever. After about the fifty millionth person said to me “Hey! Where’s that global warming when you need it???” not realizing that climate change is what we are shoveling, I ended up writing about apocalypse. Not so uplifting, but maybe thought-provoking. And I promise to post more often and with a lighter touch soon. But, for now, here‘s what I’ve been thinking about …
I have spent the past six weeks shoveling snow. Here in New England we have had snowstorm after snowstorm and, for the first time since I moved here 20 years ago, the snow is now piled over my head almost everywhere I walk. As my son was helping to shovel, he said “These giant piles of snow no longer have wintry charm but are instead just apocalyptic.” Later, our neighbor pointed to an icicle about six feet long hanging from his house and called it “The Icicle of Doom.” We went inside and watched his favorite tv show, Torchwood, a BBC series in which an alien species demands that humans give up ten percent of our children or face species-wide death. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Independence Day, about another alien attack that threatens to decimate the planet. Clearly, we live in a culture that views just about everything through the prism of apocalypse, from very bad weather that truly is likely caused by catastrophic climate change to the best way to boost tv and movie ratings.
The fact that we are the first generation of all humanity to live under the threat of actual apocalypse of our own doing – from first the atomic bomb and then global climate change — is one of those astounding facts that are so much a part of our daily lives that we do not realize its profundity. We are the first generation of humanity in which each of us does not know if our children will be the last generation of humanity. We are the only generation that can truly save or destroy the world. Perhaps figuring out how to respond effectively to this new truth is the underlying mission of our times.
While apocalypse has not always been in our hands, concern about it has certainly been in our consciousness since the earliest times. In fact, ancient goddesses from around the world seem almost to be the anti-apocalypse, focusing on preserving or renewing the world when its end is threatened. When the demon Hindu Mahisa battled the gods for control of the world, Durga appeared and she alone was able to rescue all we know for mortals and immortals alike. Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction, dances the end of creation, but then all comes to life again under her feet. Chalchiuhtlicue, an Aztec goddess, destroyed the world by a flood for humanity’s wicked behavior, but then built a bridge to a Fifth World, a renewed universe, for the deserving to cross over. Even the more humble Russian goddess Koliada creates embroiders a new world as the old one disappears each winter solstice.
In fact, the worldview that the time and existence will continue eternally, though transformed, in a constant round of being seems to be an intrinsic part of goddess divinity. Life-Death-Rebirth, these we see over again, whether in the triple goddesses of maiden-mother-crone, or Changing Woman’s endless circumambulations around the earth as she goes from young to older and back again or any of other goddesses who are vehicles transporting all creation from one era or state of being to another. Of course, women’s life-giving ability is the greatest anti-apocalyspe of all because what could be a greater statement of faith in the continued existence of creation than giving birth?
I have found over the years that sometimes the most significant changes happen by simply consciously altering how we think. What if we had not grown up in a apocalypse-obsessed society in which the end of time was virtually assumed? What if we truly believed that solutions to environmental disaster and non-violent answers to conflict would be found because they must be found in order for life to continue, as it inevitably must? What if apocalypse was not an option? What would that world look like?
The springtime brings us a story that holds, for me, an answer. Perhaps you know the story of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter, the Greek goddess of earth’s life-giving fertility, had a daughter, Persephone, who was kidnapped and taken to Hades, the underworld. Did Demeter, in apocalyptical fashion, strap on a world-destroying death ray gun and storm Hades to seek revenge even if all the universe was destroyed in the process as might happen if her story were made into a feature film of today? No she did not. She wandered the earth in mourning until the Olympian gods demanded Persephone’s return, though only for nine months of the year because Persephone had eaten of the pomegranate. During the time of her sojourn underground, the world would become the winter wonderland with which this blog post began. And, as a result, we now have four seasons. This compassionate and creative solution resulted in even greater abundance since so many of the earth’s plants, beasts, and birds depend on the cold season for survival, germination, and reproduction. In fact, as we know now that the earth is warming, our world’s survival as we know it depends on Demeter’s cold winters.
Demeter’s response went beyond simply retrieving her daughter and then continuing with life as it had been before, with the continual separation of the upper and lower realms and the potential for conflict between them. Demeter’s vision created an entirely new world, one with seasons and winter, one in which Persephone was the bridge between Earth and Hades.
If we are to avoid our own self-destruction, assuming we are not too late, we must create an equally powerful and compelling vision of a world, one that does not simply lack annihilation, but one that is as transcendently beautiful and powerful and life-giving as Demeter and Persephone’s creation of winter. Even if we are able to solve this environmental problem and find a way to control nuclear arms, if we continue to think in terms of an apocalyptic future, how long will it be before the next catastrophe? Just as Demeter created the seasons by redeeming Persephone in a creative and compassionate, way, so must we work diligently on the issues before us, but also with a view to a future that does not include an end to all we know from our own hands.
The next time an apocalyptic worldview creeps into my consciousness, I think I will say “not on my watch.” Let our generation’s solutions to climate change and violent conflict become models for future generations faced with global challenges. Let us turn our realization of our unique place in history into commitment to the art of vision-making, working collectively to create a response to our problems that are, in their own way, as spectacular as Demeter’s winter.