Four days before the Fire started, i wrote a blog and titled it “Our Burning Times”. I felt it coming, and though in comparison to the events that followed, it was a fairly light-hearted take on the “Heatwave Hell”, i still felt the apocalyptic nature of this intense summer. I ended by writing “Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, and the trees tell it first.” I had no idea exactly how close to home those words were. How literal they were to turn out to be. Kinglake kingdom.
The fires are still burning. It’s Thursday after what has been named “Black Saturday” – the day that felt like an apocalypse in Melbourne, and WAS an apocalypse in the bush surrounding us. It is a very weird feeling to be in the city here, knowing what is going on, and feeling the anguish and devastation, but still going through the same motions as ever. It’s all so close, and most people have some connection to those directly effected by the fires, but still, we are that one step away… we don’t see it with our own eyes, we watch it all on t.v. – so it could be anywhere in the world. But it’s not, it’s so close, and we’re breathing it in.
A funereal atmosphere pervades everything. It’s such an intangible thing, not having been in the midst of it, but feeling it’s impact emotionally. On the trams it is hard not to cry, seeing photos of all the dead and missing people. The little girl holding a basket of flowers just last week. She burned alive with her family on Saturday afternoon. The little boy found lying on his back with the bluest eyes, scorched next to his brother and mother as they tried to run from their car. The stories just keep coming, as more and more bodies are located in the ruins.
Everywhere you go there are makeshift stations for donations for the survivors. In the middle of Block Arcade, one of the most exclusive shopping and tourist precincts in Melbourne, the Salvation Army are set up. (It’s funny, this particular spot is one of high magickal vibration. It is circular with amazing aspects of the four directions. I often stop in the centre, the eye, on the way to work and spin around a few times). On the steps of my gym there are paper signs stuck up letting everyone know they can donate at the desk. Coles supermarket has announced that it will donate all its profits from tomorrow’s shoppers to the Bush Fire Appeal. Businesses large and small are donating to the cause. I read in today’s paper that the Australian cricket team have made a detour on their way to Brisbane, and there’s a picture of one of them playing with a little kid on the local oval, where the makeshift camps are. Even Kylie over in London is apparently getting plans underway for a benefit concert.
I guess, when trying to find the silver lining on this particularly black cloud, i would say that this kind of disaster does bring out something deep within (most of) us in terms of love and courage and compassion in a broader sense than just ourselves and our immediate family and friends. There is a sense of community that wasn’t here before. People talk to each other more easily, sharing with one another in all sorts of ways, whether it be of someone we know who was effected, or climate change or tank girl (that’d be me..).
There is nothing quite like death to make us appreciate life. In this culture, so many of us end up numb and wondering what the point of existence is (or is that just me?), that something like this gives us a sudden jolt to the core. What’s really important? Over and over again the people who survived tell of just how lucky they were to survive. They lost their homes, cars, possessions, but were just so grateful that their loved ones got through. The rest doesn’t matter. The deepest loss is the ones who didn’t get through. Everything else is replaceable, but not people. This realization is the Star, and the hope she brings at the bottom of Pandora’s box of evil.
On another level again, there is death as a reminder of our fragile existence on this planet. We tend to forget that we are susceptible to the ravages of nature until something like this happens. Especially in cities, we are so disconnected from nature, that we begin to believe we are somehow immune to the wild and unpredictable forces that are part of life. We have machines to keep us cool and warm us up and the less we have to deal with the elements, the better. Most of us have no real relationship to the land at all. We use it (and as a culture, abuse it) without caring enough to take care of it or really nourish it in return, and perhaps most obviously at the moment, we deny the reality of the nature of the land we live in. We are a desert country. And we’ve made a great whopping hole in the ozone layer that used to protect us, amongst a myriad of other things, and we are now experiencing the effects of our indulgences.
Mother Nature has taken, of all places, Marysville. When i heard this, i was so upset. I’d spent a weekend there a few years ago with my lover of the time, and like so many others, found it to be such an idyllic little hamlet of beautiful old oaks and antique homes, it just made my heart happy. There are those places which you hold sacred, places of spirit that you connect with in your own personal way, and cherish deeply. Marysville was one of those places for me. The name Mary, of course, has great significance on a spiritual level, being the manifestation of the goddess in many guises, most obviously as the one the Catholic church placated the pagans with when in the process of converting everyone to the patriarchal religion that denied the feminine deity. They got so far with their all-male trinity replacing the maiden, mother and crone, but the people demanded their Goddess, and so the church gave them Mary, mother of God.
One can read what one wants to into this particular little town being annihilated, but as a witch i feel it has a deeper significance. Interestingly, the other places most devastated, where the death toll has been highest, have been Kinglake and Flowerdale. The Mother, the King, and the flowers – sacrificed. Sounds like a legend to me, a story of our times. A great Rite of Death being played out.
Of course, our culture generally does not look at things from this perspective. I have found nothing in the papers so far that talk of the spirit of the land. I would have liked to have heard the perspective of a native Australian, someone who feels the land, knows the songlines, listens in silence and responds to the land itself. But us whiteys don’t do that. We respond with tough resilience (“We will rebuild, brick by brick”) and vows to beat nature next time (“Every home built will have to adhere to stringent fireproof measures”) and assurances to find the culprit who caused it all (“Police are closing in fast on the suspected arsonist who started the Gippsland fires). These responses are not wrong, indeed, they are on many levels praiseworthy, but i feel they are missing something really important.
It’s about respect for the land. It’s about caring what we put into the air and what we take from the earth. It’s about reaping what we sow in terms of climate change and holes in the ozone layer. It’s about understanding the nature of the land we live on. It’s a reminder that we are way out of balance here.
The elements are not our enemies. Earth, air, fire and water are necessary for our existence, and are not separate to us but part of us. We eat of the earth and shelter in her. We breathe the air. We die without the warmth of the sun and cook our food with fire. Water makes up a greater percentage of our bodies than anything else, and we die really, really quickly without it. Witches know the importance of giving respect to each element- we do it in our ritual work all the time, calling in the quarters and giving thanks. Most traditional ceremonies worldwide do the same.
I think, unfortunately, our present culture is suffering hubris. The pride that precedes the fall. We have forgotten to pay respects, think we are above it all or that it is an outmoded way of life only primitive peoples needed. We just don’t listen. We don’t feel the land we live on. We just keep taking and taking and taking. And when nature finally has enough and sends in her fiercest element of all, a veritable holocaust of great pain and price on so many levels, we STILL don’t get it. We still look for scapegoats and refuse to take responsibility on a spiritual level.
I’m not saying we are all like this. There was a girl in a green jumper sitting amongst the survivors who didn’t move for two days, just stared with vacant eyes and did not want to talk to anyone.
What will rise from the ashes for these people? Those who did survive these fires have been touched by death and passed over, left to live another day. Baptism of Fire. Rebirth. Life will never be the same for them. From such experience may come deep wisdom and pure gold. Truth.