Monday, April 2, 2007
The Blue Spruce and Attis
(The Blue Spruce)
In the neighbour's garden, a beautiful magestic Blue Spruce tree spread its branches. Through the years I watched it grow from a small sapling to an incredibly regal tree. It was perfect in shape, glorious in colour. I have to admit that I coveted the tree in the neighbour's garden a little but I was content because I was able to see it from my side of the fence.
Whenever I think of Attis, that glorious representative of the evergreen comes to mind. All evergreens are beautiful and the 'Christmas Tree' has been given a special place in Western society but the Blue Spruce is particularly magical. This Blue Spruce in fact originally was a small live Christmas tree that the elderly couple had purchased, then planted at the end of the Yule season.
The elderly couple sold their house and it changed hands a couple of times as the Blue Spruce continued to grow. For a year, it was abandoned, then tenanted by squatters. Last summer, a man bought the property and began to 'renovate' it.
Banging and the buzzing of machinery has been a common occurrence for months, but a few days ago, I was horrified to see that the latest cacaphony of noise accompanied an act of wanton destruction. The man had hired some one to cut down every tree in his garden.
One moment the Blue Spruce stood tall and proud at the far end of the garden next door. The next moment, it had been felled and cut into pieces.
There was no dedication of the tree to a god, and no mourning or lamentation next door for its death. It was nothing more than another obstacle to be removed.
How could the man not respond to its beauty? How could he fail to appreciate its majesty? What on earth could he put in its place that would justify its destruction?
In legal terms, it is none of my business what the man does with his own property. Even in moral terms, few would argue for the sanctity of a tree. Nonetheless, I feel a sense of great personal loss.
Although the tree was not mine, it long had been a source of inspiration and joy to me. The trees in this area that have survived its slow degredation have remained a haven to birds and squirrels.
The doves, cardinals, finches and even the hawks will miss the trees that have been felled as much as I. The squirrels no doubt will miss them as well.
It is ironic that the Blue Spruce was 'slain' in March, very near the time of the ancient festival of mourning for the death of Attis. To see it on the ground in pieces was very much like viewing the mutilation of a human being. Denuded of its gorgeous shimmering needles, reduced to firewood, it was very difficult for me to look at the remains of that glorious tree without weeping.
The ancients would have acknowledged the natural grief of those who must witness the death of a beautiful and regal living entity. They would have wrapped its limbs carefully and tenderly in white wool, and placed bouquets of violets upon its corpse as memorials. The image of the young god would have been bound to the centre of the trunk, thereby equating tree, god and man.
Afterwards, lamentations would be made, and men would offer their own blood and even their own manhood to the fallen tree. A state of ecstacy would be induced by whirling dance, tumultuous music and the use of sharp knives in lacerating the flesh.
Women would weep and beat their breasts. The god himself had died. What greater catastrophe and source of grief ever could be experienced by humanity than this?
Yet, in the midst of this terrible grief a hope of resurrection was harboured. The grief was unrestrained, and blood and tears flowed freely, but as much as one lamented the loss of the god, one still believed that he would be reborn. In fact, the greater the outpouring of grief, the more hope there would be in the ultimate resurrection.
Those who emulated the god by castrating themselves BECAME one with the god, thereby earning the right of ultimate rebirth.
'On the third day he rose from the dead', the Christian litany proclaims, but the resurrection of Christ is predated by the resurrection of Attis, son and beloved of the Great Mother.
One of the earliest mystery religions was that of the Magna Mater or Great Mother of all living creatures. An ancient centre of her cult was at Pessinus where it was believed that the stone who represented her had fallen from the heavens. The name Pessinus in fact may have been derived from 'pesein' which is the verb 'to fall'.
The stone in question evidently was a meteorite, described by Euripides later as 'a stone not large, which could be carried in a man's hand without pressure -- of a dusky and black colour -- not smooth, but having little corners standing out.' Later, this stone was carried to Rome, set in a silver statue in the place of the face and given a regal home on Palatine Hill. The cult of the Great Mother became extremely popular in Rome afterwards, as it was believed that she had brought victory with her.
Christians derided the worship of 'idols' and wrote polemics against those who revered the Great Mother, choosing to disregard the universal truth beneath the symbols. 'Idols' or symbols of gods do not restrict the power of those gods but simply act as a focus for that power or the devotion of their followers. The 'black stone' of the Great Mother was believed to have special powers, and in fact all meteorites possess special properties and power in metallurgy, but no one believed that the Great Mother existed solely in the form of a small, irregular stone.
Meteorites are alien bodies that arrive dramatically on earth, borne by flame and light and often causing great destruction when they land. In fact, there is a popular scientific theory that the end of the age of dinosaurs was caused by a huge meteorite or meteor.
The ancients understood metals and elemental powers. They found that meteorites could be used to create incredibly powerful and beautiful blades. Damascus steel often includes meteorites in its composition.
The Great Mother was the spirit of great mountains as well as forests. She was the Earth personified. She was Nature in its untamed and untameable aspects. When, in one myth, Zeus became infatuated with her and sought to rape her, he was unable to penetrate the stone of the mountain where she was hidden and his seed fell on unyielding rock. Nonetheless, she conceived and bore a child who combined the essence both of male and female.
The myth of Attis is a complicated generational tale, and involves a number of 'immaculate conceptions'. From the blood of the hermaphrodite child of the Great Goddess when castrated, a pomegranate tree sprang forth. A maiden who took a pomegranite to her breast thus was impregnated and bore the child Attis. In some versions of the myth, there is another generation of being before Attis, created when the spilt blood of the god became an almond tree.
Attis therefore did not issue directly from the womb of the Great Mother. He was a child who was created from tree and maiden, symbol of vegetation. In a hymn of Hippolytus, Attis is addressed as 'the harvested green ear of corn'.
His devotees were forbidden to eat seeds and roots of vegetables, as these held the essence of the god. They were allowed to consume only the stalks and upper parts of plants.
The pine cone is a symbol of Attis as are plants that flower prematurely in the Spring before the threat of winter altogether has been vanquished. It is for this reason that women grew plants in small dishes for Adonis and Attis and even now in modern Iran for Nawroz. These brave portents of life then would be thrown into running water, and the god would be mourned.
In the midst of death, life is born. I must remember this when I look at the barren square of ground where the Blue Spruce stood.
Loss is an intrinsic part of the human experience. There are those who embrace philosophies that warn against attachments to 'the things of this earth' but the philosophy of Attis did not subscribe to this attitude. Indeed, great attachment to the beloved and profound mourning were part of the magic that facilitated ultimate rebirth.
In similar fashion, that which is enshrined in our memories lives forever. If one is indifferent, memory becomes indifferent as well. It is only when we immortalise something in our memories that it continues to exist long after it has vanished from this sphere.
I believe this is one of the fundamental principles of 'ancestor worship' actually. It is a psychic scrapbook for those who have died. It is a means by which the past is remembered and even elevated to another level. The epic poems of the ancients were another means by which the transient achieved permanence.
By not allowing the felling of the Blue Spruce to pass unnoticed, I create a small memorial to its beauty. Even so, my heart will grieve a little for a long time and I will feel pain every time I look at the place where that beautiful tree stood.