The Holy Power of Spring

<strong>Goddess Ishtar of Gilgamesh</strong>
Goddess Ishtar of Gilgamesh

We are motivated by surges of energies, intensities of desire, and great unexplainable joys that flow through our bodies at unpredictable times.  Spring marks such surges of the creative powers, a power to create, creation itself.  And yet, although the spring season is predictable, like a repeating pattern, it contains in itself a power of surprise.  Often the creative process takes on a life of its own as if you are the one entering a holy space.  It is like writing a story in which you have a vague idea of where the plot is heading, but as it unfolds the end-point shifts on you, and you are forced to follow it wherever it leads.  The master is turned into its opposite: a slave to the story.

One of my favorite ballets is Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps translated in English as The Rite of Spring, but a better translation might be The Sacrifice of Spring in which Russia was united by a mystery and great surge of creative powers embodied in the season of Spring.  And here you can start to see the logic:  Spring (that great season that gives forth life) is the very thing that is sacrificed.  To give birth is death, in death there is life (Easter).

The entire Island of Corfu, Greece is nothing but a 3 day music celebration during Easter weekend. It’s an experience I’ll ne
The entire Island of Corfu, Greece is nothing but a 3 day music celebration during Easter weekend. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Easter is celebrated in Spring, the precise date of which was decided on in the year 325 at the famous council of Nicaea.  There they decided that Easter would fall on the 1st Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (March 21).  The central symbolization of Easter in Christian terms is significant:  Jesus alights from the tome of death (i.e., Winter season) and is born anew (Spring season).  The tome here is representative of a woman’s womb.  And the pagan roots of Easter too are significant –arriving from the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex, Ishtar.

Stravinsky’s The Sacrifice of Spring enacts a contradiction because, after the first part, The Adoration of the Earth, comes the second, The Sacrifice. Here a young woman is chosen and she proceeds to dance herself to death.  To spell this out bluntly: The surge of the creative power of spring in the ballet that gives life can also take life.  This is the power of being overjoyed, where something is so pleasurable that this very pleasure can kill you.  This paradox unfolds in the act of sex, which as the French call it, Le petite mort “the little death” –you know that feeling of transcendence that arrives after a “life-force” surges forth.  Roland Barthes described Le petite mort as the feeling one should get after reading great literature.  In any case, you can see that in moments of ecstasy there is, at the same time, terminal moments of death.  This is embodied in Ishtar who is at once the goddess of love and of war (the two are often indistinguishable); or, to but it differently: In the very moment of birth–where new life happens it is often times the most fragile time of life.

The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring

But too notice, and this is where Stravinsky’s revolutionary musical style is important to identity, that the surge of a paganism (a celebration of the power of life) can quickly go too far.  The early 20th century certainly was a time in which the celebration of being liberated from a certain “God” gives birth to new creative formations that invent new and never before known possibilities.  Think of Nietzsche’s powerful insights.  I admire Stravinsky for this, and even Freud for discovering the “unconscious” and even Vaslav Nijinsky’s dances (which Stravinsky hated).  For me these dances in the ballet are so full of possibilities–they led themselves to going beyond the limits into death itself.  Stravinsky, “The Rite of Spring” part 2

Enjoy your Spring (but not too much!)

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