The Owl And The Serpent

OWL

Our modern western culture has lost its connection to the past, the rapid development of technology, and the global conflict during the world wars has drawn a bright line between ‘before’ and ‘now’. Since time immemorial, individuals and cultures felt a direct connection -or a line of succession, to history and historical personalities.

The extremely rapid acceleration of knowledge during the 100 years between 1880 and 1980 caused this break. Humanity went from the infancy of technology, that was Steam and the Telegraph, to an insanity that was global computer communication, Television, Space Travel, and Nuclear War. Punctuating that century like great drum beats were the intensely destructive World Wars, which ripped apart the societies of Europe and shook the foundations of western culture to its core. While Europe was reeling from those double shocks, a country that was barely into its adolescence was pushing forward with youthful strength and vigor.

Our culture changed while no one was looking, events were too large to be understood at the time, and even now: some 30 years from the close of that century the dust is still settling, and it isn’t yet apparent just how much has really changed. Like a rubber-band that has been stretched too fast and too far, western culture has broken and the link between the ancient world and current has irrevocably snapped.

We lose more than we realize by divorcing our current ideals and motives from the words of the past. Instead of maintaining the anchor to those writers of wisdom that stretch back into dim mists of time, we choose to throw off that link as if it were a chain to useless ideas. Far from useless those ideas and ideals have been a stabilizing connection to a store of built-up concepts and philosophy that shaped the world, built up brick by brick by mortals into a foundation of wisdom and reserve.

Before the century of destruction and change, it was not uncommon for any reasonably educated person to have read Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Solomon, Plato, Socrates and have an understanding that history was a continuum. That civilization was a line that stretched back into time, and that they were still walking on that same road of thought as had their philosophical ancestors stretching back to the beginnings of what would eventually become western culture.

This isn’t unique to western culture, other societies and cultures get their identities from their own founders and traditions, these links have also suffered from the rapid advances and the pressure to be more ‘American’ or just modern ‘Consumer’. I think of a song called ‘Amerika’ by the German band Rammstein. It depicts people from all over the world and from every culture eating pizza from a delivery box and watching the moon landings on a TV, all while wearing american t-shirts and sneakers. Are we destined to all become mindless consumers and destroyers?

We have lost our connection to a common past and have jumped the divide and abandoned historical ideas as dusty, old, and not relevant to the modern world, while we are driven to distraction by small screens and short text messages. We have forgotten who we are, and why we are here.

It’s time to realize that we are just little pups who have run away from mother into the wild woods and are unprepared and so very young.

Minerva or Athena (Depictions of Wisdom) were said to have a small pet Owl, also symbolizing wisdom. Owls can see in the night, they have large unblinking eyes and seem to stare into your soul. They are also quiet and grave looking, which makes them a perfect symbol for wisdom. I propose that we desire to be small owls, not yet ready to fly from the nest, but eager to be wise. Wisdom is its own reward, and can be equally bestowed on kings and servants alike. Be an owl and not a serpent, for both are intelligent, but the owl is wise, yet the serpent is cunning. The aged owl devours the cunning snake.

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” -Hegel

-Ezra

Moments To Reflect

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Life is always full of things to do, places to go, and people to avoid. I never seem to have a moment to stop and to think, to pause and to reflect on the passage of time. I am constantly finding myself transported forward in time, as the days and weeks slip from my fingers while I am not looking. Someone wise once said: “Life is yours to waste”.

How much more time will go by before I next realize how much I have missed? When my life is over, and my breath is nearly gone; will I then understand the whole story? Will I look back upon my past -my life that I chose to live one small insignificant decision at a time, and understand that I did something meaningful? Did I raise good kids who became wise adults? Help my fellow man? Live my life well? Did I have a goal and a purpose? As the small grains of sand that are moments slip through my fingers; I wonder if they will add up to anything of value, or merely fall onto the dust pile of the ages?

A year ago, I lost my brother in a car crash, he was younger than I, and I have had the thought many times since: as my memories of him fade, and time crawls by that life and memory and time are temporary; that the powerful play goes on, and that I may contribute a verse.

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, 

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) 

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

 

― Walt Whitman – Leaves Of Grass

I know that no matter what happens, I too will one day die as well…

I don’t fear death, I am indifferent to life and death, I was not consulted at the beginning of life, and I won’t be at the end, so I don’t feel particularly attached to either state, but I do not want to live so that I have regrets when it comes time to die. In all estimations of average lifespan, I have about half of my life left, so I wish to life like Marcus Aurelius.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” 

― Marcus Aurelius

-EJH