V is for… Volcanoes

The landscape of Mount St Helen’s transformed my thinking about Chaos and Creation.

Mount St Helen's, with the results of its explosion - the side of the mountain gone, the valley full of mud and ash, the river almost entirely swallowed.

Mount St Helens, with the results of its explosion – the side of the mountain gone, the valley full of mud and ash, the river almost entirely swallowed.

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Coldwater Lake – a new lake near Mt St Helens, created by the 1980 eruption

In 1980, a volcano destroyed a landscape and created a new one. After the fire died down and the earth was still again, the water rushed in, and entirely new lakes, valleys and vistas were formed. In the vast span of geological time, it was a tiny blip, a brief rumbling of the chaotic earth. Nothing is eternal – certainly not the ground on which we stand. For the people living there, of course, it was a terrible disaster. But earth doesn’t work on our timescale, nor does it see things from our short-lived perspective.

But we do… The landscape that’s there now has only existed within the time that I’ve been alive. When I looked at it, and knew that, it felt bonkers – like something that shouldn’t be true. The earth shouldn’t be able to change in an instant. But it does.

We exist in an illusory moment: a calm between storms, a warm period between ice ages, a blip on the geological timescale. One glimpse of the rage of the fires at the heart of the earth, and there is no trace that we ever existed.

The Christian story of creation is extremely orderly. God speaks, and creation is formed. Nice and simple. All loose ends tied up. But the land we live on is not orderly. It is deeply chaotic, just under the surface, beneath our feet.

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Samhain is supposed to be a quiet, turning inward time – but for me, this year, it’s felt like a time of utter chaos.

I’ve had a taste of what many disabled people in this country go through, day in day out – but which, because I’m articulate and can fight, I don’t usually have to deal with.

Imagine that your most basic practice is making daily offerings to your gods. Now imagine you want to do that, but you’re waiting in bed for someone to come and get you up, who is two hours late. And who, when they arrive, will be rude, not give you the time you need, and do (unintentional but avoidable) things that cause you injury. Now forget about your spiritual practice, and realise that you can’t even have a cup of tea, breakfast or get dressed. And this just because you’ve been denied the kind of simple, independence-creating support that you’ve relied on (successfully) for a long time – and all because your local council wants to save money.

And when you try and fight for your human rights, the brick walls that you meet are designed for you to slam into them so hard that you can’t get up again.

And that’s just the beginning – one of many chaotic things I’ve been dealing with this month. (Which isn’t to say that I’m not grateful. I have food, shelter, a loving partner, and at least some help with my needs. But that doesn’t change the way it feels – like utter chaos.) On some level, it all feels a bit like an initiation. Or maybe it’s completely random, and I see patterns where there are none, like every human being has done since the dawn of evolutionary time. Don’t know. Don’t know if it matters.

I’ve talked about Bheara quite a lot here. Officially, she’s related to the Cailleach archetype, the goddess of winter who is known in Ireland and Scotland. Unofficially, my experience of her is that she’s a very specific, and sometimes quite different goddess, but also still not entirely separate – perhaps a primal force who later became the Cailleach, once we humans shaped her with our expectations. In the Beara Peninsula of Ireland, where my family comes from, she’s known as a creator goddess. But this is no orderly creation, no planned, single Word that turns on the light. This is Creation through the fires of Chaos. This giantess pounds her feet across the hills of Cork, and unbelievably enormous rocks fall out of her apron pockets, creating mountains across the landscape. Like the volcanoes, she explodes, destroys – and transforms and creates anew. In local lore, she’s married to Manannan mac Lir, god of the sea – and now, in the temporary quiet, she watches and waits on the cliffs for his return to her – when the sea will rush in after the fire shapes the land. Three elements: earth, fire and water; chaotic churning from the heart of the burning earth…

She’s not just a winter goddess, in Ireland – but, still, this is her time. Some Samhains feel dark, quiet and mysterious. And some feel like this, when winter blasts in with dark storms, cold winds, torrential rain. Chaos.

Samhain can be a time of chaos – it’s not just the time of the thinning veil, and all that other romantic stuff. The trooping Fair Folk are abroad – dancing with the spirits in the wind, leading travellers off the path…

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I’m looking for ways to solve the problems I’ve been lumbered with, even if that means withdrawing from the ‘system’. I hope that’s not giving up, but rather attempting to restore balance. But in these days of encroaching winter, I mustn’t forget that balance is temporary, illusory. The calm between the storms. The warm between the ice ages. The still, silent earth, before it rises up again, and transforms itself.

Crater Lake in Oregon. Millions of years ago, a mountain stood here. Then it exploded.

Crater Lake in Oregon. Thousands of years ago, a mountain stood here. Then it exploded.

2 thoughts on “V is for… Volcanoes

  1. I’ve enjoyed watching St. Helens and its environs change since the eruption, it is beautiful to see the life seeping back into a blasted landscape, and as you say, it is a fine example for perspective.

    My last two years have been chaotic, this year’s sinking into the “fallow” between Samhain and Yule feels like a long deserved rest. I don’t mind messy chaos now and then, because I do know it presages peace and creation….but I sure enjoy getting TO the creative peace.

  2. This is such a strong post, I love it – I have to say, my October has been more chaotic than it has been calm, too. But I’m lucky that I haven’t had horrible circumstances to struggle through like you have. I hope you get that sorted out soon!

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