Myth of the Year ~ the Abyss

Rewiring your brain between the week and the month.

Tomorrow is the first day of a 13-day fortnight on theAbysmal Calendar. As mentioned in a previous post, the 13 days can be used to reflect any other pattern of 13 in the calendar: 13 months of the year or 13 weeks of the quarter for example. In that spirit, I’m going to put assemble some ideas to put towards the month names and the story of the year that goes along with them (or at least will go along with them. The writing is a ways off, but I’m hoping it will be done by the Summer Solstice – midpoint of the year).

As today isn’t part of the 13 days, I thought I would use it to explore the Abyss in terms of its symbolism, association and meaning. Or at least find links to others who have explored it. Maybe both. The idea is to create a scaffold with which to construct a narrative for the archetypal months.

the Calendar Gap

I’m referring to the Intercalary or Embolismic Day i.e. the day inserted outside the regular cycle of weeks/months. In the Ethiopean & Haab’ there are 5 such days, in the Baha’i Calendar, there are 4. This was the feature that got me thinking about the abyss in the first place (and I named this blog theabysmal before I settled on that name). Initially, it was called the synaptic calendar, because I had envisioned the 1-day gap as a neural synapse. Oh, the nostalgia.

I’ve also opined recently that the nervous system is akin to the mycorrhizal network of fungi and plants. The mycorrhiza occur under the ground, out of sight, yet they interconnect vast ecosystems. At any rate, here are some ideas of what this 1-day Abyss could symbolize.

the Abyssal Abyss

Hexagram 29 – K’an 坎 the Abysmal

It’s where I got the name from in the first place. In the case of the hexagram, it is comprised of two identical trigrams, which represent the element water.

The Receptive has obtained the middle line of the Creative, and thus K’an develops. As an image it represents water, the water that comes from above and is in motion on earth in streams and rivers, giving rise to all life on earth.In man’s world K’an represents the heart, the soul locked up within the body, the principle of light inclosed in the dark that is, reason. The name of the hexagram, because the trigram is doubled, has the additional meaning, “repetition of danger.” Thus the hexagram is intended to designate an objective situation to which one must become accustomed, not a subjective attitude. For danger due to a subjective attitude means either foolhardiness or guile. Hence too a ravine is used to symbolise danger; it is a situation in which a man is in the same pass as the water in a ravine, and, like the water, he can escape if he behaves correctly.

The translation sometimes refers to this as “gorge.” The idea that I take away from this is the abyssal depths, and the dangerous aspect of water, which can be escaped, but takes careful action in order to do so.

It also represents the span of the ocean as we have seen it up until fairly recently – an expanse that stretches beyond the horizon to the ends of the earth. This has been replaced by outer space in our imagination, which will be addressed below. Despite its dangerous aspect, water is necessary for life (as we know it). Without life, there is no death, after all.

In many Native Canadian creation myths, the story starts with water. Here’s Thomas King giving us a taste in the Truth About Stories:

Back at the beginning of imagination, the world we know as earth was nothing but water, while above the earth, somewhere in space, was a larger, more ancient world. And on that world was a woman.

A crazy woman.

Here are a couple of references from Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurt’s story collection the Raven Steals the Light

Before there was anything, before the great flood had covered the earth and receded, before the animals walked the earth or the trees covered the land or birds flew between the trees, even before the fish and the whales and seals swam in the sea, an old man lived in a house on the bank of a river with his only child, a daughter.

the Raven and the First Men

The great flood which had covered the earth for so long had at last receded, and even the thin strip of sand called Rose Spit, stretching north from Naikun village, lay dry.

Seems an appropriate place to start.

Darkness

Hexagram 2 Kun 坤 the Receptive

This hexagram is made up of broken lines only [theAbysmal uses dark lines instead of the traditional broken lines]. The broken line represents the dark, yielding, receptive primal power of yin. The attribute of the hexagram is devotion; its image is the earth. It is the perfect complement of THE CREATIVE – the complement, not the opposite, for the Receptive does not combat the Creative but completes it. It represents nature in contrast to spirit, earth in contrast to heaven, space as against time, the female-maternal as against the male-paternal.

But strictly speaking there is no real dualism here, because there is a clearly defined hierarchic relationship between the two principles. In itself of course the Receptive is just as important as the Creative, but the attribute of devotion defines the place occupied by this primal power in relation to the Creative. For the Receptive must be activated and led by the Creative; then it is productive of good. Only when it abandons this position and tries to stand as an equal side by side with the Creative, does it become evil. The result then is opposition to and struggle against the Creative, which is productive of evil to both.

In this reading, we see the darkness of yin as the compliment of the light of Yang (the Creative). When the Receptive rises up in opposition to struggle against the Creative, as if they were equivalent instead of complimentary, there is the evil resulting from struggle. [Please note that this does not refer to submissive women and dominant men – these elements are present in all of us]. This parallels the rising up of Lucifer against God, the war in heaven, and the fall to hell (and we’ll get to hell and the underworld, keep you tail on).

In any case, the darkness as a medium for light is the key here. It envelops light, it defines light. Similar to the watery abyss above, it obscures, it envelops, it is the matrix our our beginning. As water is to life, so darkness is to light (at least in this instance).

From the Three Pillars of Zen:

There are those who do zazen for years, with strong joriki, yet never awaken. Why not? Because in their deepest unconscious they can’t disabuse themselves of the idea that the world is external to them, that they are a sovereign individuality independent of and opposed by other individualities. To renounce such conceptions is to stand in “darkness.” Now, satori comes out of this “darkness,” not out of the “light” of reason and worldly knowledge.

Most importantly, it is primordial, as the bottom of the ocean, the depths of outer space, or the watery womb.

Birth & Creation

Everything is gestation and bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living in the artist’s life. –Rainer Maria Rilke

We make a big deal about pregnancy and birth, but not nearly so much about gestation. The Maya tzolkin calendar is 260 days long, and approximates the length of human gestation, the time we are in the watery darkness of the womb, becoming. The moment of birth is the moment of emergence into the world, when we take our first breath.

The process of gestation, for the majority of human history, has been a mysterious process, out of sight and ultrasound. In terms of the calendar, this is the time the new year has ripened, and is ready to emerge and develop as it will. It is the period of development, before something is completed (let’s just put childhood and adolescence aside for the sake of this analogy). It is the time before completion.

Mu

Although I’ve taken a first step on the journey to Zen, I can’t say that I have any real understanding of it. These are just impressions that I’ve gleaned from other sources and various conversations with people over the years. I may be completely off-base with my grasp of certain concepts (Mu in particular), however, take it for what it is.

from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

People who know the state of emptiness will always be able to dissolve their problems by constancy.

Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life.

Moment after moment, everyone comes out from nothingness. This is the true joy of life.

Emptiness, dissolution, death, nothingness. These are all of life. Despite the bad reputation the word abysmal has, with respect to the calendar, it has more to do with the above sentiment than of something of wretched outcome. It is also cheeky.

Mu (無) is used as a prefix to denote absence (such as the English suffix less). It is used in Zen to contemplate the inexpressible nothingness, to which one can’t even refer, as it has nothing to which to point. It is ultimately ineffable and no matter what words we use to try to grasp this idea, we will always fail.

From the Three Pillars of Zen:

We die because we are alive. Living means birth and death. Creation and destruction signify life.

Student: I feel Mu is everything and nothing. I feel it is like a reflection of the moon on a lake, with no moon and no lake, only reflection

It is simply a matter of engrossing yourself in Mu so totally that there is no room for thoughts of any kind, including Mu itself.

Da’ath

Da’ath is the name of the Sephiroth on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life that is not a Sephiroth. In some cases it is shown as a dotted circle, and in the case below, it isn’t shown at all. It normally appears on the central pillar, just below Kether and above Tiphereth. This illustration does show the Veil of the Abyss, with whichDa’ath is associated.

It is chiefly associated with knowledge – both higher knowledge and hidden knowledge, which is appropriate enough for our Abysmal purposes. That which we cannot know and that which we do not know are both abysmal attributes with one distinct difference. We can always learn what we don’t know, but we can never learn what we can’t know.

Nordic Winter

The Abyss of theAbysmal Calendar coincides with the Winter Solstice (Southern Hemisphereans, you’re on your own), the longest night. This is the brink from which we return to begin the new year. It is also linked with the North, which is the cardinal direction associated with Winter as well as the land of the dead.

The long dark nights of winter, and the cold are the seasonal abyss (as much as night and the new moon are). At least for those of us at high enough latitudes that we see snow and noticeable changes in the length of the day. The winter is a time of withdrawal to the indoors, hibernation, austerity as the plants become dormant and animals less active. It is as if much of the world is dormant, asleep and dreaming. It is a time of the unseen spirits.

Yet, unseen under the layers of ice over water, and snow over the ground, life is still very active. This includes the subnivean space beneath the snow above the ground, where animals remain active throughout the year, unseen to most of us.

Death

A return to the same place we were before we were born, to the great mystery beyond. It is often depicted with grim imagery, and not with the same sentimentality as gestation. Nevertheless, both are unknown states to us (don’t believe those who claim to know. They don’t).

This may be considered a transformative stage, such as being swallowed by a beast, such as Cetus. The constellation for this sea-monster lurks just shy of the sun’s path through the skies, as if lying in wait. The watery abyss is familiar enough to us, however, across the waters exists the land of the dead (as with Pluto beyond Neptune, or Hades beyond the river Styx).

The images of an underworld below us (or across an expanse of water), sometimes referred to as “the pit” is an appropriately abysmal image – particularly as the place is devoid of hope or salvation. This is the most haunting idea of suffering in the afterlife – never ending torment. Even the travails of living, no matter how horrific, will end with death. We are freed from suffering. This is not necessarily so in some cosmologies.

theAbysmal version sees this more as an underworld than a hell, and although it is not a holiday destination, it is by no means eternal suffering. If anything, it is a moment between death and rebirth. However, hell is more fun to work into an archetypal narrative.

And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. —Friedrich Nietzsche

Storytelling and Myth

Source material for the development of the Myth of the Year

248 Days to Dec 21st 2012

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