MAGHU FOR A QUEEN
I offer you something to think about, with the warning that, having thought, you may wish you had never given mind to the thoughts I'm going to offer. Yet, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or like Pandora with her Box, the urge is irresistible. Innocence is not in refraining from giving answer, but in not thinking of the question. Lest you don't think of the question, then, I'll put it to you. It concerns dying, disintegration, false hope, false belief, the giving up of everything to the Goddess and then, despite all that, despite utter disintegration, total surrender and annihilation, yet to remain, a wraith, a mockery of life. Let us go forward then on that path that, in the end, we must travel alone. I can only point the way - and tread it myself. If you tread it with me, I won't be there. At the end of it is the Shadow of shadows, the Wraith, the Empty One whose girdle is of the bones of the dead and whose sacrament is loss and despair. She holds the wisdom of the ages, it's said of her, but it's said only by those who look from afar, and out of their ignorance or their fear. She has nothing to give. She is a gaping hole, insatiable, bottomless. She is the pit out of which meaning itself was dredged away. Her name is Maghu, or some have called her Samhain, or more obliquely the Cailleach, or the Cyhiraeth. Yet there's more meaning in the least of her names than in her own empty self.
A Queen she is, but of wraiths. The Goddess she is. An aspect of the Goddess? Is the Goddess divisible? And who would divide her? No, the Goddess is one. I've already said she is the pit out of which meaning itself was dredged away. Are you trying to find meaning by playing with words like aspect'? Or is this all a word-game? After all, I haven't said anything yet, have I? And if I had, or when I do, you're free to disbelieve what I say. Or are you? You can take refuge in ignorance. You can stand back from the facts or the thoughts and say you don't understand them. Wouldn't that be like walking into a swamp and refusing to believe it wasn't solid ground, or claiming not to understand what a swamp was? Of course, you might say, you could walk round the swamp, or at least stop at the edge and go no further. You could, if you were alone. But you're not alone. I'm going to push you in. Maghu is hungry for a harvest of souls and all the souls in the world would not sate her aweful hunger.
Here it is then..... And I'll have to engage in a preamble. We all know what we mean by the word consciousness', don't we? Well, do we? Can you say what you mean? If you can, tell us! If you can't, stop using the word. I confess I don't know what the word means, so I always use the word I' instead, sometimes varied by such changes as I know' or I feel'. If you tread this path with me, do remember that your name is I' too. Imagine yourself writing what I'm writing and thinking what I'm thinking.
Now we tend to divide the world into things animate and things inanimate. In fact there's absolutely no basis for this division. I might be more animate than a dandelion, say, but it's a matter of degree. Evolution is an unbroken thread all the way from the hydrogen atom (to take an arbitrary starting point) to myself. Am I saying that atoms are conscious, then? No! I don't know what consciousness means. Am I saying that atoms are not conscious then? No! Of course not! The reason is the same! Well, does a hydrogen atom think or feel? Do you think or feel? I know that I do. I can't possibly know that you do because it doesn't mean anything (Wait! Don't rush ahead here. Remember what I said about your name being I'? You're writing this piece, aren't you? If you're not, you'll get lost). This is deep, I admit. Fortunately, it isn't crucial to what follows. What is crucial is that we reject utterly any concept of a soul' as a dweller within the body. At no time in evolution was a soul' suddenly inserted into the scheme. That would be arteficial.
Now let's think of someone we love (and what follows will become increasingly dangerous). We love them because we have lived with them and come to know them and we have shared our lives with them. We have mixed our thoughts and our feelings and in a very real sense we are part of them and they of us. We love them apart from from all other people and beings. Why? If we think about it, we will probably arrive at the conclusion that our love for them can be described as a feeling we have about them which is attached to their personality (or any similar word such as individuality; let's not get bogged down here in spurious precision of terms). When their name is mentioned, they spring into mind, and what springs into mind is what I'm calling their personality'. What, then, is personality? Why is someone we know different from someone else we know? I don't mean "How do they come to be different?" I mean "What is the actual difference?" It's at this point that you will take flight into ignorance.....
Everything we know is made of material atoms of which there are less than a hundred different kinds (and we need not probe any deeper for this argument). Variety is created by the kinds of atoms present and their arrangements together, and change is created by exchange of energy between one part and another.
Now let's suppose that two people fuck together and thereby conceive an embryo which grows in the mother's womb and eventually becomes, to a good approximation, a replica of the two people who are its parents. Now let's suppose that, instead of this natural process, we had used some very advanced technology and actually handled each atom one by one and put them together in such a way as to build a thing which in absolutely every respect was identical to the baby which came out of the womb. Would there be any difference? Obviously, there would not. And at this point, a further escape route is available, namely, prejudice or entrenched belief in the sacredness of life (which is a strange, unrealised putting down of all that we choose to regard as nonliving!) All that is, is sacred! Let's not lose out to prejudice. Let's accept that, if we produce by hand' or by sophisticated technology, an atomic or molecular organisation which is identical with such an organisation (usually called an organism') which is born of a womb, then the two organisations are identical in every respect. And in particular, the put-together job is alive!
We're not asking where it got its soul' from, because there's no such thing. We're not asking how life came into it, because life is not someting that comes in'; life is something which evolves and becomes more obviously like ourselves the more closely it approaches ourselves in form. (Do you see that we have to avoid taking an extreme anthropocentric view of life?) Notionally, then, a human being or any other animal is creatable by the simple (if inordinately tedious) process of fitting atom to atom. Again, we're not saying that this robs life of its grandeur, its mystery, its divinity; rather it restores all those qualities to the very fabric of the world from which we took our being. We're all one in the Mother. But..... but..... What if we're all one, but the Hag is nothing at all? Worse... the Hag is the hole that is left when we take being. She is unbeing. But that's meaningless. Meaning itself dissolves in her grasping claws.
But I haven't said what I set out to say yet. We were thinking about personality and about someone we love, and about their personality in particular. Why are they who they are, just like that, and not like such-and-such? At bottom it's the way the atoms are arranged. If they were arranged in a different way, they'd be somebody else. When we think or feel or experience, we register our impressions as electrical signals in the brain, which in turn lead to chemical changes which modify the brain structure and thus become laid down as memory and, more subtly, as personality. Just suppose we could, by some inconceivably sophisticated technology, change the structure of a brain. The consequence would be the creation of a new personality (We're supposing for the sake of the argument that the changes can be made with fine precision). We arrive, then, at the conclusion that, given sufficient technological expertise, we could fashion a person out of the basic building blocks of the atoms themselves, and by suitable arrangement, we could endow our creation with whatever personality we chose. Let's not get sidetracked by the fact that it isn't even remotely possible yet; for the sake of the argument, it's sufficient to accept that the process is notionally possible, though the tools and techniques are not up to the job.
We said we could fashion a person with whatever personality we chose. Eerie.....? We could do more than that. We could fashion a person with whatever memory we cared to give them. They, when they had been built, would regard the contents of their memory as a true record of their past life. The fact they they didn't even have a past life wouldn't make the slightest difference.
Now suppose that someone whom we know and love has died. Possibly they had a fatal accident or they died of a disease. The accident, or the disease, was only a small part of them, we'll say, but it got them in a vital spot. Now they lie dead, a cold corpse, their personality now no more substantial than the flame of a candle when the candle is blown out. They're gone. Utterly gone. All the good times we had are in the past; their laughter is but a memory; if we still love them, they have no use for our love. There's no difference between a dead person and a dead greenfly or a dead bacterium, except in size or in sentiment or in dogma. It's all so utterly and completely over. It's the end.
Now suppose, by our notional highly sophisticated technology, we could fashion a replica of our dead loved-one, exact in every detail except for the one thing which was the cause of their death. We build a body which looks identical to the body they were. We build in a personality indistinguishable from the personality that was them. We build in an artificial memory whose content is exactly the same as the memory of our departed loved-one. So we can relate to our creation in exactly the same way we related to our dead companion. Indeed, they have all the memories of our times together, all the same plans and ambitions, likes and habits. They remember all the little things we did together and talk about them as we have always talked. And it's all because of the way we put the atoms together. We have in fact re-created our dead companion. If you don't agree, check your reasoning. This is crucial. Don't just think of our creation as a replica'. It isn't just a replica; it's a real person with all a person's prerogatives and powers to go ahead and do what it likes. The relationship we have with them is in every sense a continuation of the relationship we had with them before they died.
But..... Who are they? We do something for them because we know they always liked us to do this; it was part of our togetherness. And of course, they appreciate it, just as they always have. But what of the one who is dead? They most certainly are not appreciating it. They don't even exist anymore. Yet all our senses tell us that they're alive and enjoying it as they always have. Which of them is the actual, true, real, companion we have always known? The one who is alive or the one who is dead? Assuredly, it's the one who is alive. But isn't this a fraud, a cheating, of the one who is dead? Isn't it all make-believe? Aren't we just pretending that our loved-one is alive because the replica has the body, the personality, the habits, the memory and everything else of our lost companion? There is no difference, so there can't be a fraud. The replica is not merely a very good copy; everything is identical; they're one and the same person. So who died?
Let's put it another way. If I died and my mates made a replica of me so that they could enjoy the same companionship they had always had, would I be the replica?
And if I were the replica, what if they made it before I died, or what if they made several? What do we mean by I' and You' and They'?
Waves on a restless sea..... Dunes on the windswept beach..... Flames dancing in a fire..... wisps of smoke..... shapes in a cloudy sky..... bubbles in a peat bog…..
A snow flake is a beautiful thing, but hold on to it, and it dies. The sacred is not for constraining. If by sacred we mean inviolable, nothing is sacred. But if by sacred we mean that no one may lay claim to it, then all is sacred: you, me, and everyone else. Me..... ? Yes, even me. When the Queen of shadows demands that I give her all, I know I'll not be the giver, but the given.
For Maghu the Terrible is Queen of all. And it would more terrible by far if she were not.