“As for the primitive, I hark back to it because we are still very primitive. How many thousands of years of culture, think you, have rubbed and polished at our raw edges? One probably; at the best, no more than two. And that takes us back to screaming savagery, when, gross of body and deed, we drank blood from the skulls of our enemies, and hailed as highest paradise the orgies and carnage of Valhalla.”
– Jack London
Now, as it happens, London is in several ways in error with the imputation of this quote .It’s a lovely-sounding maxim, but as I have argued in a number of my pieces in the last few weeks, the reality is that the past really *is* something of a foreign, even *undiscovered* country – with the distance between us an our ancestors, one that is made exponentially more the greater with the passage [often unidirectional] through the fourth dimension of time.
Our forebears may *look* at least somewhat like us … and, indeed, they shall often speak languages and even tell stories that are *somewhat* intelligible, somewhat familiar.
But just as many of us have found ourselves, in dialogue with a grandparent, or perhaps even a parent, and coming to realize that even over the scant span of perhaps twenty five, perhaps fifty, perhaps seventy five years … just how much the world and how one is to view it has inexorably, unutterably changed …
it does not take much imagination to see, to realize, to start to feel out and perceive just how much perhaps a thousand years’ worth of history [to say nothing of all the hugely significant shifts in language, in religion, in geography, in knowledge, in *faith* – what we put it in, in so many different ways, especially when not ourselves or our heritage, however broadly or narrowly construed] can shift things.
To the point that to look upon one’s own Ancestors and Their Ways from such a time … is at once to feel the … I suppose we might even say it “Weird”, due to the multi-layered meanings of term in both the archaic and contemporary senses in various languages of the term. The weirdness, the strangeness, yet the *contiguity*, the *continularity* , of one who both is and is not so very much like us.
“Human-looking aliens”, and yet “alien-sounding customs” that are actually, very … human upon closer examination and once we’ve got our tongue around the linguistics and the concept-work required.
It is not an entirely “unreachable” past … but it is one wherein one will almost inevitably spend one’s entire life as at least *somewhat* of a foreigner, a visitor, a “Guest” . And that term, *itself* is an intriguing one – as the PIE root it derives from, well, it goes off in another path – to mean “Ghost”, as well, down another derivation. Specters, phantoms, phantasms. Such is both our place and relationship *within* the realms of the past, as well as *their* saliency within the modern lokas [the realms of *sight*, of *seeing*, of *luminescence*] of the allegedly-living Present.
I am still not sure just which one of these is the more actually, the more really *alive*.
The Past really is a foreign country – they do things differently there. And the Arrow of Time , the time-flow, the currents upon the ocean of causality, take us inexorably, inevitably, ever further from that point of our departure therefrom. With great effort, however, it is *occasionally* possible to swim our way, or more especially *sail* our way, *row* our way [and this term, itself, has some rather considerable significance for Germanic linguistics and ethnonyms elsewhere upon the Continent, potentially] back for a “visit”.
A process made generally significantly easier if the *living* elements – be they persons, myths, or mythemes and analyses – are kept alive, honoured, and consulted with, to act as *guides*, as *maps*, as beacon-fires guiding us thence, back home.
And if we look with appropriate scrutiny and suspicion at those who would otherwise seek to lead us along “convenient” pathways that seem ..*too* easy, *too* familiar, *too* accessible.
For often, that simply indicates that we are , semi-deliberately, being lead astray.