. . . Part 4: New Destruction, same old Death.
So absolutes can define a sacred direction in symbolic narrative, and those absolutes will vary depending on what myth the author wishes to evoke.
To consider this quality of myth in terms of The Land, one clear path to an absolute, sacred and transcendent value is found in the Earth. As the source and container of our lives and our deaths, the cradle and grave of our evolution as a species, the Earth is perhaps an Absolute amongst human absolutes.
In a very physical sense, all that we are as a species is derived from our interaction with the planet’s diverse environments. Even our culture, our non-physical realm of meaning, evolved in response to the same drives that shaped our bodies. To this day, dance is a frequent medium for courtship, art a re-visualising of the sensual world, story a person’s journey through time.
The implication is that the Earth is not only a basis for biological life but is one of the main roots from which human meaning grows. Human culture derives some of its core meanings directly from the Earth. How could it not? The fact that we are soil-coloured to the core, even in how we create meaning, reveals us to truly be another apple on the Great Tree of Nature.
Of course, the metaphor breaks down when we consider our very modern ability as a species to either totally invigorate or annihilate all life on Earth. Apples tend not to wield such vast powers of life and death. There is absolutely no humanity without Earth, but likewise humanity now has power over the absolute destruction or survival of life as we know it. At least, that’s what the climate crisis suggests and all-out nuclear war promises.
And here the absolute value of the Earth is accompanied by two other dimond-hard absolutes, perhaps the most powerful concerns of the modern age, Survival and Destruction. Think of any of the doomsday movies that have been released in recent decades: they all play on the nature of this human power. This is the dark side of the myth of The Land, the essential fear of apocalypse, an old anxiety re-born in the Anthropocene.
But in the modern myth of The Land, Destruction takes on a whole new meaning. In older mythic contexts, Destruction was sometimes considered a transformer, a necessary part of the life-death cycle. But this new type of Destruction is not only the death of all life on Earth, but a total break in the cycle of transformation. Neither life, nor therefore Survival can be transformed out of such an event. Survival can be a reaction to this final Destruction as it looms on the horizon, but in every sense it will never be fed by it.
If ever a human condition needed sanctifying through myth and symbolic narrative, then it would be this one. It is a new Destruction that gives no quarter, that lets out no light. But even so, as a result Survival inherits the totality of meaning that is derived from the Earth. Where this new Destruction is entropic silence, Survival is filled with the essence of life and, yes, even death — an intrinsic part of the greater, transforming cycle of life on Earth. Once again, our old friend Death becomes a potential source of wisdom, as many have already concluded.
The myth of The Land requires us to invite this new Destruction in, to let it cause fault lines in the geography of the tale, to let it shape the narrative as the total antithesis of Survival. How can we hold this directionless direction, grown from a centre that cannot hold? The Earth can no longer contain this type of death as a part of its evolutionary cycles. And so it is a solely human problem, requiring humanity to take responsible for its greater body, for the Tree of all Life. If the myth of The Land is to express hope, then it must give birth to tales about that moment of human maturing.