Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ubi Caritas?

There is a lovely Roman Catholic hymn that includes the old Latin phrase of 'Ubi Caritas'? 'Where is Love/Compassion?'

As I write strategy guides for games, I spend many hours in alternate universes, befriending a wide variety of characters, both young and old, and often courting an array of Eligible Girls or Bachelors in order to marry and have a child. Harvest Moon and Rune Factory are based on fundamental 'family values', where the ultimate success in life is being a valued and loved member of a social community and creating a thriving environment where your own child can flourish. Lest any one cry 'foul' on this, suspecting that these games are propaganda discouraging individuals from embracing a different lifestyle, such is not the case. Courtship and marriage almost ALWAYS are optional activities both in Harvest Moon and in Rune Factory. The fact of the matter is, though, that they are among the most popular optional goals among players of every age and both genders.

This brings me to the title of this post: Ubi Caritas? A gaming friend of mine noted my current obsession with an Eligible Bachelor named 'the Wizard' in the new Wii title, Animal Parade and sent me an email declaring: 'Now, little red flags should go up in your head when the Wizard talks about being lonely, misundertood, and having no friends. If Hannah were to date a guy like that, I'd try very hard to shoo her away from him, although I admit to liking his braid too.'

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Some of the worst mistakes in my life occurred because of my tendency to feel compassion for the 'lame ducks' in this world, believing that they somehow could be saved by love or at least made happy. As every one knows, happiness is found within oneself and cannot be offered as a gift by any one else.

Anyway, after being amused by my friend's email, I began to think about my 'first loves' and I realised that they were very much like the Wizard in their natures. Intensely brilliant, but without the ability to socialise successfully...' And yet, what the Wizard possesses, and indeed, ALL the Harvest Moon/Rune Factory Characters is an essential core of love and compassion. It may be hidden when you do not know them well. They may indeed attempt to reject your early attempts to bring them out of their solitary loneliness, but ultimately, they ALL prove to care about others.

Unfortunately, real life is not so balanced in its Characters. Yes, all human beings may possess an essential core of compassion and love somewhere, but it can be blighted easily by life or by the choices they make for whatever reason, usually as a defence against pain.

One of my 'first loves' was a very literal-minded individual. He knew that I had a profound interest in spirituality and embraced what he believed to be my 'religion'. By that time, I was somewhere else and had my own life. I never really thought too much about his new religious 'faith'. In fact, he ultimately became an atheist who subscribed to the philosophy of 'the selfish gene'.

What I see now is that he missed the point as so many do where religion is concerned. In fact, organised religions are so horribly weighed down with rules and regulations that the essential point often is lost in the wealth of triviality created by HUMAN BEINGS, not any Divine Being. So-called 'religious wars' as well never are fought on the principle of the essential CORE of any religion but on the basis of all the manmade rules and regulations.

So where is Truth in Religion? I believe that the truth is that simple maxim, described in a number of different ways and different languages that declares that 'God is Love.'

Love in this sense is Caritas. Caritas is a combination of Love and Compassion and Empathy. It is THAT essential core of the Divine that placed Christ on the Cross and Attis on the Tree. All the great myths in religions are based on Caritas, whether it is a journey to learn how to Love as in the case of the Descent of Inanna and the Sacrifice of Dumuzi or an exaample of Love as in the Passion of Christ and the Eternal Sacrifice of Dionysus. Caritas is the thread that connects us with the Universe, with its creatures and beings, whether Animal, Plant or Mineral. To that extent, I fully subscribe with the philosophy of Animism and the modern Pagans. Human Beings are NOT the only important element of the equation. We are part and parcel of the grand tapestry of Nature and if we lack Caritas, we lack that essential understanding of our Universe and damn our Souls to perdition. Hell, in my view, is being cut off from the rest of the Universe. It is a state of being wherein that thread has become so frayed as to no longer pass any sustenance to the starving soul.

The premise of the 'selfish gene' theory, I believe, is that our fundamental nature pushes us towards that which is best for us. 'Best' is defined here in Darwinian terms rather than according to the ancient philosophy of the soul striving for 'that which is best' ins spiritual terms.

Perhaps there is an element of truth in this, but with an enormous caveat. What intervenes, whether one defines it as 'grace' or 'caritas' is a Divine impulse that fills us with empathy and compassion for others. 'The Grace of God' to me represents this Divine impulse. It is not a matter of 'original sin' but of a need to balance the selfishness that is at the heart of the very natural instinct for self-preservation.

Nor is this 'Grace of God' or 'Caritas' limited to human beings. Every one has seen evidence of the ability of animals of all species to sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of love whether for a beloved owner, a mate, a child or the community. To argue that this is somehow related to 'self-interest' is spurious logic. It is the Divine spark that causes us to engage our emotions in this fashion, that inspires us to make sacrifices whether of emotion, material goods or life itself for the sake of another.

The Sacrifice of the King or Eternal Sacrifice of the God provides us with the prototype of the ultimate gift. This Sacrifice is NOT for humanity alone, but for the sake of Nature and fertility as well. It is motivated by all-embracing Love for Life itself.

The Great Sacrifice actually is not limited to human sacrifice either. The Tree of Life is sacrificed each Yuletide for the sake of the World and the future. Even the Ash Yggdrasil made constant sacrifices and experienced constant pain to sustain all of life in the Nine Worlds.

Odhinn himself speaks of Yggdrasil as the Tree of Life that sustains all nine worlds as suffering more pain than any one can imagine. As each new shoot appears, the four Harts that nibble on its highest boughs gnaw them. As each new root appears, the dragon Nithhogg tears them off. The trunk decays eternally. Yggdrasil, the World Tree is much like the Goddess of the Dead in this respect. Hel is a creature both of Life and Death, with one side vibrant and beautiful and the other maggot-ridden and rotting.

The Norse myths are extremely complex and have their foundation in many of the ancient world myths from Sumer and India. The Northern people were great warriors and were exposed to world cultures long before the birth of Christ. It therefore is not surprising to find that depictions of the World-Tree from ancient Sumer and Egypt are incorporated into the Edda.

Whether it is a human being who becomes the Tree, is nailed to the Tree or simply the Tree itself who represents the ultimate Sacrifice, the Cross and World-Tree are the symbol of Caritas in action. The sacrifice is made, from life to death and from death to rebirth 'for the sake of All'. Our lives are the compost into which the seeds of the future are planted and nourished and we were born from all who lived in the past.

The point of all this, I suppose is that it is necessary for the soul to be able to connect to others. In love is suffering and if we do not have the courage to take upon ourselves the pain and agony of others, then our souls wither and die. We must maintain that connection, which is why so many mystery religions reenact the Great Sacrifice ritually, and why women beat their breasts for Attis, Adonis and even now for Husayn. The ritual of matam in the Shi'a tradition is the re-affirmation of that connection with Life and with the World. If one cannot weep for Husayn, one is cut off from the Divine. It is not when we weep selfishly for our own pain and loss that our tears have any merit. It is the tears we shed for others that contribute to the great river filled with the Water of Life that nourishes the Universe. In like fashion, the enactments of the Passion of the Christ, whether in the ritual known as the Stations of the Cross or during Passion Week, allows the individual to connect with the rest of humanity and indeed Nature.

The 'selfish Gene' therefore is only one half of the equation. Yes, we were created with the instinct for self-preservation but we were created with the ability to reach out and connect with the rest of life as well. To divorce ourselves from Caritas is to damn ourselves to the real Hell of being alone. The soul that is not nourished by Love dies. It is as simple as that.

I have copied the actual text of the description of Yggadrasil in the Grimnismal poem of the Edda below.

Three roots in three ways run
Beneath the ash Yggdrasil;
Beneath the first lives Hel,
Beneath the second the Hrimthursar (Giants of Frost),
and beneath the last the lands of men.

Ratatosk (the 'Swift-Tusked') is the squirrel who fares
on the roads of Yggdrasil
Bearing the words of the Eagle from the top
To tell to (the dragon) Nithhogg at the root.
Four harts there are
That the highest shoots
Nibble each day with necks arched back:
Dain (the Dead One) and Dvalin (The Unconscious One), Duneyr and Dyrathror.
More serpents there are beneath the Ash
Than an unwise creature would think,
Goin and Moin, Grafvitnir's sons, (Grafvitnir: the gnawing wolf)
Grabak (Greyback) and Grafvolluth ('the one who rules in the ditch' or 'gnawer in the field', the old God Mot), Ofnir (the twisting one or 'one who confuses') and Svafnir (the one who puts to sleep or 'Death-bringer') shall ever, methinks gnaw at the small roots of the tree from below.
Yggdrasil's Ash great agony suffers
Far more than men do know.
The hart bites its top, its trunk forever decaying,
And Nithhogg tears at it beneath.'

Snorri in his Prose Edda, adds a variation to the effect that: 'An eagle sits in the branches of the Ash, very wise; between his eyes sits the hawk who is called Vethrfolnir.'

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