A large portion of my life has been focused on learning to identify polarized ways of thinking and perceiving the world. In therapy, I learned to identify this sort of thinking within myself; and I guess it was just a matter of time until I learned to start recognizing this sort of thinking in others and in society. It isn’t my mission to eliminate this kind of thinking – in my case, it’s how my mind is hardwired – but I do dedicate myself to being aware of this kind of thinking. Usually, from here, I can make the choice as to whether or not I wish to base my actions on a polarized perspective … it is the awareness that provides me with the choice. This whole process is not lost on me when I look at the world around me – from polarized politics down to us versus them mentalities found in all levels of society, right down to bitter arguments between people who prefer to eat one way, and others who do not. In contemplating the things I am learning and discovering about my impressions of the Cailleach, the polarization offered by a Winter (and thus also a Summer) goddess has not been lost on me, either.
But I suspect our forebears, at least the ones who were aware of and built relationships with the Cailleach, approached polarized perspectives differently. On the one hand, in Northern Europe, there is generally a marked difference between Winter and Summer, even in this age of chaotic climates. But when I look at the stories describing the Cailleach and Brigid, I see an acceptance for the gradual areas between the two times of year these two goddesses were once understood to embody. Like the waxing and waning of the Moon, the two seasonal poles grew and grow toward and apart from one another – and I think this promotes a very ingrained understanding and awareness for a Natural and organic middle ground, the proverbial ‘gray zone.’
When I look at this, and look at various religious expressions in modern (speaking broadly of post-Neolithic) times, I see a great deal of polarized thinking / believing going on … I also see where the middle ground is struggling to maintain itself. Some people of various religions think their beliefs should be backed up and enforced by the sword (or, nowadays, guns and other nasty weapons). Others simply resort to judging and shunning their way around diversities of perspectives. There is some interfaith dialogue going on in some places, to be sure; but these seem at times almost to be bubbles in a storm. During the Neolithic, people lived in much smaller communities and had to be able to rely on one another to survive. Some I’ve encountered over the years have suggested to me that city-living is a measure of, and requires a greater degree of social understanding. In my life, I have lived in villages, towns and cities. I have also spent a couple of different week-long periods putting to use survival skills in the wilderness with a small group of people. I have noticed, for example, in a city it is possible to walk around all day and not converse with a single person while out and about. In a village, and certainly in a smaller group, this is much less likely to be possible. Communication is a major component of cooperation – these are cornerstones of human social skills; and I have found that smaller groups tend to exhibit these cornerstones at least as much as, if not more than larger groups.
When the average person thinks about the Neolithic, notions of grunting savages come to mind (I say this because I have actually asked ‘average’ people about this when talking about Native American Indians, who were in their own Neolithic age before Europeans came along; and sadly, this is the typical response I have been given). The idea of a fully-functioning language, evolved senses of cooperation and organization usually makes sense to people only after explaining the circumstances of survival that would require this social level. Stonehenge, as an example, did not happen as a result of unsocial dim-wits: someone in an organized community had enough power and reach to make this happen, an understanding of architecture and physics was in place, and all of these things were communicated to the numbers of people who were involved in the securing, transporting and erecting of the massive materials involved in the various stages of this monument’s development. A shared belief would also seem to be indicated among all involved.
Perhaps this might be a beneficial undertaking for our modern, disparate religious groups and cultures: joint-effort monuments. Perhaps the monuments would not need to promote one religion over another – perhaps different groups could come together, using ancient technologies, to build monuments to symbols and events common to all people? Like cooperation; or communication? Might something like this help people to rediscover the common ground that all living on the Earth share, whether we are willing to admit it or not? Meetings and conferences are okay, online forums are sub-optimal from my experience … what I think would be best would be situations where communication must be employed to achieve something beyond poetic (or, as is often the case, heated) words, something that without cooperation would stand little chance of taking form.
In retrospect, I’m not so certain that someone coming out of the Neolithic would say that their own time and existence was so simple. They had a struggle with the elements that many modern Westerners have never really had to experience – and not just for short periods, as I’ve experienced, but as a lifelong reality – and in order to win that struggle, they had to talk with one another, hash out their differences, and see their lives as existing in a waxing and waning of powerful, often polarized forces … knowing that their ability to live within the gray zones between these forces and between each other is what their survival often depended on. They may not have had our level of sophistication; but perhaps their not having relied so much on sophisticated means of looking at one another and the world around them was their advantage. I am not seeking to romanticize the Stone Age – I simply look at our own age, at all of the us versus them arguments taking place, and wonder whether or not our sophistication is causing some of our problems.