Monday, December 19, 2011

The Web of Life 12

The Power of Images

Roscrea Graveyard, September'07.  Spider's web on cross

Every writer, indeed every human being one could say, is well aware of the potency of images.  Images speak louder than a thousand words.  Indeed, our memories are crammed packed with myriads of them and, in a sense, we are our memories.  No wonder we are suckers for good images.  Likewise, when Dr Fritjof Capra was choosing a title for his wonderful book a central image shot to his mind, viz., that of the web.  The idea of "The Web of Life" is a very ancient one indeed.  It has been used by mystics, sages, poets and philosophers throughout the ages to convey their sense of the unity - nay, interwovenness and interlinked nature of all phenomena.  Indeed, Capra informs us that he chose his image from the marvellous speech attributed to Chief Seattle.  Hence, it may not be too inappropriate to place a copy of the full text of that speech hereunder.  Even though the provenance of the speech has been disputed, this point need not delay us here as we are merely (or, more properly, wholly) concerned with the spirit and power of the words and images that with the true identity of its author. It is likely that the following words are not those of Chief Seattle.

"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.
One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."  (See here for text: Inauthentic Version )
There does exist a truer version of the original speech by Chief Seattle and it can be found here: Authentic Version

Sammis' portrait of Chief Seattle.
It is the first version or the inauthentic one that contains the image of the "web of life."  It is a far more poetic version than the original authentic speech.  However, one can see how the former is based on the latter as foundational text.  There is much we moderns can learn from the simplicity of ancient religions, or more specifically from ancient spiritualities which certainly had a high respect for nature and for the life of planet Earth, for the sacredness of her soil, and indeed for humans whom they saw as just another part of nature.  It was Christianity, following on the Jewish preoccupation with being the "chosen" or favoured "people of God," that placed humankind (or mankind as Judaism/Christianity puts it) at the topmost point of that creation.  That such beliefs led, not alone to hubris and pride, but also to the torture, enslavement and murder of what they would have seen, and possibly still do see still, as "less important" races.

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