June 21, 2015
LLyn De Danaan
About 6884 words
You must visit the beach at dawn, at the moment when the sun is rising over the horizon east of the city. First look beyond the sculpted lobes of land that dip into the sea like great dark toes. Let your eyes travel far past the giant kelp beds. There will be a glow, sometimes nearly red. In their own time, never in ahurry, a host of colors, like those that rise from sunset fields of wheat or a chiseled slice of purple porphyry, will slash through pigeon grey, seemingly impenetrable, slabs of distant fog. Above, the carulean sky will brighten to almost white asnight turns to day and the first curve of the sun’s sphere thrusts its way upward. Look back at your feet and along the beach. If you pick the rightmorning, the night time’s high tide will have receded a few feet, enough, and on the great flat plane of thick sandy expanse, amid mats of dark green seaweed scattered like witches’ hair, you will see bright sparkling places. These are the shells of what Artistotle has called mollusca. He called all those creatures devoid of blood molluscs and is quite specific as to the use they make of their feet and tubes and what they experience of sex. That does not concern us. What does concern us is the way in which they shimmer in the early morning sun. You have to look. You have to be in the right place.
When you are, you will see an otherwise dark place alive with pricks of light. You will see what was invisible made visible by its reflection.
Of course this is easy for me to observe being a life long inhabitant of Syracuse, descendent of the original colonists, and living near enough to the sea.
You can do it too. Look down at a streambed where it flows to the ocean. Observe the muddy tide flat carefully. On a sunny day it too will be alive with glittering, moving objects. Those are the backs of tiny crabs. We call this hard plate the crab’s shield and it is made of thin boney substance. While alive and wet, the shields twinkle like stars when rays of sun pullulate and refract as they hit the shields and thus betray the location of the scuttering creatures. This phenomenon is easily seen where the Ciane and the secretive Anapo meet the Ionian Sea.
To behold the glistening mollusc shells at daybreak and the wet crab shields in the early morning sunlight is to observe stars in the night sky. That is, it is much the same.
It is true of all things: the longer one looks, the longer one stands still and observes, the more of each one will see. Look across a meadow in the morning dew and there will be the reticulated strands of spider webs, catching the light and therefore visible if only for a little while.
All is revealed by reflection. “We reflect that which we perceive,” someone said. This isdifficult to accomplish even if true. We must have a shiny, prepared surface to properly reflect. It must be kept clean and scoured bright with study and by listening to thosewiser than we. It must be dipped and redipped in beneke, varnished with oil and copal, made bright. This is the work of the philosopher and poet and these ideas are much more than metaphor.
This phenomenon of being still and allowing nature to be revealed to you by reflected light is called enlightenment, which is, the state of receiving light shed by the natural world.
Though enlightenment as defined here refers to the natural world, some of us have come to understand it as true for what happens to the brain at rest. You see, sometimes, if one allows a quiet and contemplative hour or two in one’s day, it is possible to see little spots of light inside one’s thoughts.
It happened to me recently. I was sitting on my own, a half empty cup of ambrosial Malvasia wine imported from Crete in my hand. I was in a kind of reverie though perched uncomfortably on one of the higher rows, at least 60 steps from the stage of the theatre, its entrance easily reached by a short walk from my home. Though the acoustics were perfect and I had brought cushions and robes to pad my seat, my back ached and I had trouble concentrating on the performance. It was not as if I didn’t know the play. It was another of Aeschylus’, whom it is rumored is even now visiting Hieron’s court, and featured Xerxes and the defeat of the Persians I suppose I was discommoded in sufficient measure that my mind took in the pain of Xerxes defeat differently from other nights. As I thought about his hubris (and Aeschylus didn’t have to hit me on the head with his point) I began to think about the daemon.
It must have been Xerxes’ daemon who engineered his penchant for arrogance. No one would be born with such pomposity. The daemon must be inserted or injected or somehow manufactured during one’s early years. Or, alternatively, it is something that one grows into that has been there all along. Some say the daemon is a personal guardian a kind of conductor or spirit or familiar who dwells with one throughout one’s lifetime, rather like a companion animal. Some say it can be good or evil. As much as I’ve heard, I’ve not been told of anyone actually seeing a daemon. If such a thing exists, surely it must be able to manifest. And if it can manifest, why not able to converse with it? Why not able to negotiate or strike deals? Why allow such a thing to determine one’s fate without a debate?
It seemed to me the play would end differently if Xerxes could have paid heed to his weakness, summoned his daemon, and requested a change in his calamitous attraction for acting the superior man, an attraction that led certainly to his downfall. So much of history could be rewritten if there were no tragic heroes but only heroes who had recognized a daemon busy misdirecting him and determined to chide the daemon until, thoroughly embarrassed and defeated, the daemon became a force only for good in the hero’s life.
The lights in my mind were alive with the energy of a thousand oil lamps. I could hardly stay through the inevitable end of the play. Indeed, what intelligent adult could not have foreseen the denouement? Even if one had not seen it. Because Aeschylus was said to be preparing for the premiere of a new play next month. I would go and hope to present my theory of the daemon to him. I would have four weeks to try to speak with my own daemon in order to bolster my view with experience and observation and urge him to include this new view in his next production. It add to my reputation if he would do so.
I began the next day with a trip to the hot-air bath. I asked for my body to rubbed with olive oil. After, I draped my most delicate woolen chiton around me, fastened with a simple corded gurdle, slung my cloak over one shoulder, and set out, following the river Ciane, and traveled through the walls of the city toward a straggling olive grove nearly. The grove was unattended and dry weeds and their seedheads reigned supreme and play host to wary hares and many colored lizards and spiral horned goats whose widely purported relationship to what I call the many chambered nautilus shell is being studied by my friend Ammonius of Syracuse. He has found many shapes encased in stone and very like the goat horn in the rocky cliffs along the shore. He purports in recent papers that they these ancient beings gave rise to goats. Upon closer examination, they resemble more the shells we find along the beach than horns I think. They are most like those serving as homes to living things. Still, I think this resemblance between two things does not mean without doubt the two are related or spring from the same parents. It would be like saying the serpent lying on the path with tail in mouth is cousin to the circle of the sun. Or the wooden wheel on a donkey cart is nephew of the moon. It clearly isn’t so.
I found a fully leafed olive tree, abundant shade beneath its laden limbs, and settled under it to fast from daily chores and eat simply and live in thought and hope until I met my daemon. A legion of ducks flew over my head as I watched the morning sun rise high above me. I removed my gilet and pulled all the fabric of my cloak above my knees and rested my head against the pack of food and drink I had with me.
My eyes were closed and nothing there was to trouble or nag at me. I wondered should I call out to it? Or beg? Should I chant or sing? Recite poetry? What might bring my hidden companion forth? Were there magic words? Or spells to cast? Will I know it when I see it? Or will it appear in disguise? Is it here now laughing at me? If it can enter a tree or a turtle, as some say it can, it surely can enter me. But the question is this: is it willing to reveal itself to me?
My eyelids snapped open again as four astonishing birds flew overhead. They were shaped like small coracles and held their wings tight against their broad breasts as they glided in a tight formation as in a dance or military maneuver. They began to flap vigourously as I watched and headed out to sea…to fish I thought.
Or could they have been the one I seek? No one said the daemon was a solitary thing but only that it is a singularity, sui generis to each person. Perhaps it is a group of inseverable minigods, each unique and each reporting to a demiurge. I closed my eyes again and tried to contemplate my daemon by listing in my mind my most salient gifts and proclivities. It would be these the daemon would foster. Curiosity, persistence, fastidious as to appearance, moderate in all things of the flesh, and affable. These are all present and characteristic of my self. But what of my dreams, my goals, the things I avoid or will not face?
During most of the next day I looked everywhere around me for signs. The dark green limbs of my olive tree, like fingers of a stiff hand, pointed at varying angles to clouds or passing birds. One limb sported half a dozen directive tips and I followed each one to a point above. Another led the eye straight to the earth below. I searched about that mark and traced my finger all around it for signs of cracks or fissures. Nothing definitive. I read my bowel movements carefully for some say naturally eliminated substances can tell us much. Mine were of a good color, smooth, and firm. I plucked at my head and tugged at my beard to read the roots of hairs. All good. Nails on my hands and feet were smooth and unbroken. I scratched my arms and watched the blood rise.
I learned nothing except that I am healthy and unexceptional. No daemon came rushing from any orifice as I had almost half expected and surely wished.
The victuals I had brought with me were gone now so I made wide circuits around and out from my tree to gather wild plums or herbs and fill my flask with water from the middle of the flowing river.
After five days without wine I realized that I had been too enamoured of my goal, too set upon a result. I had been filled with so much expectation that my heart did not allow the room a daemon might require. I felt a frisson of fear. I remembered the poet, “If you continue trying to attain what cannot be attained, you will be destroyed.” Still, I carried on.
I began to breathe differently and to strive to abandon wanting and the hope of result and to instead think of other things. I imagined that not thinking of my daemon would fool it into materializing. I sat silently marveling at the loveliness of the world. This was not easy. My mind frequently returned to wondering if I could fool the daemon thusly.
But even one thought such as this returned me to the longing. I tried to shut out such thoughts. Eyes could not resist a peek now and again. I thought perhaps the daemon was standing right before me and I would miss it. Eventually, I overcame all and simply satbreathing, sometimes sleeping, and occasionally reaching for a sip of water orgoing off to forage. I had overcome most desire, but not my body’s needs. Thus I carried on for another three or four days. By now I wasn’t sure how long I’d been under my olive tree.
Another day was gone. Now mornings slipped into afternoons without fanfare. I slept and dreamed and ate less than ever. Bees were fleeting summons to look up or out. Light breezes reminded me of the not too distant sea.
Then one morning, from out the languid river edge just where waters stood nearly immobile except for eddies that moved about the deep and encouraged jade green bile and sinewy plants to rise up to the surface came a portentous stirring; out of this place of bulging frog eyes and snarly weeds and waving flags of papira, there was a longing. The drier stems of the papira sounded crisp as they were broken and parted as an invisible force forged through them. The green stuff, still wet and oozing, seemed to make an unsteady journey toward me, sliming the dry grass on the bank and on. I watchedwith amazement but not a little fear.
There was no form to this green breath that caused the grass to shudder…and none above it. But there was absence of form, a void that had no shape except that inscribed by the almost indiscernible difference in my perception of the sharpness of the horizon just above the green and all the plants and trees encompassed by it.
I tried to look away for there was no content there to see. Could it be illusion? a dream?–the product of my weakening state?
But still something came.
And now I could smell the brine of salt soaked plants and sullen fresh and almost sweet waters of the river.
“This cannot be,” my mind nearly screamed.
“I invite you to put all questions aside,” a voice answered. Was it mine? It was a rasping sound, deep and detached from the cavity in which my tongue rolled between my jaw bones.
“This cannot be it,” I said aloud, and forced my lips and teeth to make the words. The colors of my known world smeared and scraped across my inner eye and a curtain seemed to drop. All the blood drained from my body. But not before I saw the sun glance off its still wet and shiny shield, the segmented arms, the boney outer skeleton and the capacious claws.