At about 10.25 a.m. on December 12th 1989, I was reading from Sir Laurens van der Post’s book A Walk With A White Bushman.
On the TV was a discussion programme called The Time, The Place, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time,_The_Place and the topic was love triangles.
I was reading:
of Ariadne abandoned on a rock in a sea of her own tears; an image of the feminine so imperative in the imagination of one of the greatest of Renaissance men, Leonardo da Vinci, that he was inspired by it to paint one of the most moving portraits of the mother of Christ as a virgin on the rocks.
The host, Mike Scott, said that today’s topic, with Christmas near, was not so pleasant as some women would spend it alone because their man had left them for another woman.
The love triangles were all of the one man, two women type. Scott questioned a woman about her involvement with a man, which had led to him leaving his wife, and subsequently marrying her.
He asked her something like -
"Did his wife think that you brought their marriage on the rocks when in fact it was already on the rocks?" and received the instant reply,
"Yes. It was already on the rocks."
Within the space of a few seconds the phrase "on the rocks" was thrice repeated.
Initially it was merely the usage of that phrase as my eyes were running across it that hooked my attention.
But then I saw that the contexts of each half of the coincidence match perfectly.
Van der Post is discussing his concern for the "loss of soul" in our Zeitgeist and how all evidence points to the soul being feminine, and that all that the feminine represents and symbolises has been undervalued.
And it all contains a quite unsuspected dimension, which was to hatch from it seven years later (see Entry 129).
He relates a story of the first people of Africa to illustrate how, for them, a loss of soul was the greatest of all calamities.
A herdsman kept roan cattle on the edge of a forest.
Their being both black and white had a profound, wholistic, symbolic meaning, for each is necessary to constitute both life and a means of living.
One morning he found they gave no milk; in other words his way of life had no more sustenance for him. He was puzzled because he had tended them conscientiously.
So he kept watch and in the night he saw a cord coming down from the stars and down it came a number of very beautiful young women, of the people of the stars. They ran with containers to his cattle and started milking them.
In other words the nourishment was already being withdrawn from him, in the context in which he lived, towards the stars from where the light of the future comes.
He ran out, and the star people scattered immediately and ran up the cord as fast as they could. But he managed to catch hold of one girl.
He succeeded, in other words, in catching a portion of the future to live with him and become his wife.
She still had her container, and she said to him "I am happy to live with you but only on one condition: that you will never look in this container without my permission."
And he promised her that.
This went on happily for some months, and he was quite content with that portion of meaning that had come down from the stars.
Then one day he thought, "This is ridiculous. Why should I not look in it?"
He took the lid off, looked inside, put it back and laughed.
That evening when they met again the woman gave him one look and exclaimed, "You have looked in my container!" "Yes I have. You silly creature! Why did you make such a fuss about it when all the time it was empty?" "Empty?" she uttered, distressed. "Yes, empty!" And at once she became very sad, turned, walked into the sunset and disappeared.
It did not matter him breaking his word so much. What really mattered was that he could not see in the container the other things which she had brought from the stars for both of them.
And we too, he suggested, have arrived at a moment when we can no longer see what we have naturally in the container, which is soul.
It is not that we have not got a container full of starlight, as it were, but that we have lost the capacity to look into it and see what nature has put there of new meaning when that which has fed us before will no longer suffice.
It was then put to van der Post that for all the tremendous sense of loss that it invokes, the story could not be a complete image of a modern loss of soul because it was essentially a feminine loss. Was it not therefore only a partial representation of it?
He replied that throughout it the masculine and feminine were interwoven, even totally complementary to each other.
Also, in Western civilisation, our great ‘compass’ stories have come from men.
All of the evidence from those tended to show that the soul is feminine. He could therefore have drawn on myths and legends from our own Western past which portray this loss also through the loss and abandonment of the woman in man.
Following the given extract with the coincidence of Leonardo’s virgin ‘on the rocks’, he cites the legend of Orpheus and the shattering loss of his Eurydice; the image of his own feminine soul.
And also Dante who greeted the mother of Christ, the manifestation of the feminine element in Christ, with that unforgettable salutation, "Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son."…
There are countless other examples to the same effect.
The loss of woman in this story deals with something true for man not only in the beginning, but also in today’s world where the gods have vanished into the heavens and the whole meaning conveyed by a total acceptance of the reality of God is increasingly denied.
Ever since the Renaissance, he felt, all the caring values which the feminine promotes in life have diminished until only a rational, masculine intellectualism and an obsession with power have taken over.
The moment in the story, when the container’s lid is lifted and man declares it to be empty, is upon us.
The cow is an image of the primal feminine. The man lives by the milk of a herd of black and white cattle, a uniform to represent a living partnership of masculine and feminine.
His care of them is an act of universal and not merely human significance.
That is established by the fact that: what feeds him also is needed as nourishment for the stars, hence the raid on his herd by the women of the people of the stars.
There comes a moment, however, when this primal nourishment is not enough and it needs transformation into a less collective and more individual evolution of the feminine in man.
This, I think, is the meaning of his capture of the most beautiful of the women who have come down from the stars to draw on his own primal feminine element.
He sees here a proof of the reciprocity between man and the forces of creation, as in the Biblical account of Jacob’s ladder.
And the story also sprang to his mind when he came to read Dante and Wordsworth.
Dante’s Divine Comedy begins with the descent into Hell, which has to precede the ascent to Paradise, with the lines:
"Midway through my life I found myself on a path through a dark wood."
Dante also had his forest.
And the opening lines of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality throw light upon why a special role in the story was allotted to a woman from the stars:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
"You can see also the profound logic of the true symbolism of meaning which makes it inevitable that it was a star in Heaven that led the shepherds to Bethlehem."