Two revolutions are being marked this weekend. One of them is natural, cyclical, the revolution of the earth around the sun with the sun reaching its most northerly point (in closeness to the surface of the tilted planet we live on), standing still for a brief moment, and turning back to the south. The second is political: a periodic, and perhaps naturally recurring (since humans are natural), swelling of collective energy that’s gotten particularly concentrated this week at the nodal point of the “city of 72 nations,” Tehran (35 N latitude, 51 E longitude).
Phenomenologically speaking (in terms of how earth-bound humans experience it), it’s not the earth that goes around the sun; it’s the sun that comes closer and then recedes. The solstices mark the two end points, and northerly peoples traditionally — and as universally as anything religio-cultural — have found this to be the high point of the living year, the height of life’s potency in the dynamic interplay of birthing and deathing, Yanging (in the Chinese system) and Yining, expansion and contraction. (For southerly peoples it’s the opposite, a time of withdrawal, inwardness, contemplation, a time for telling stories about how to get through the winter, carrying the flame through the darkest nights. But winters aren’t as severe in the habitable south, on average, since there’s so much less of it than there is habitable north, and the southern tip of South America is only as far from the equator as the “Athens of the north,” Edinburgh.)
That height of expansion is something one can feel in a fairly obvious way in the wet and dark green hills of Vermont where I’ve spent the weekend. But with many people’s lives no longer dependent on a natural calendar these days — and with generations of separation, in many cases, from a time when that dependence was clearly marked in collective rituals — celebrating the solstice becomes an artificial activity, a personal option that realigns one’s identity with a turn ‘back’ (back in time, back to ‘nature’, back to reason, in a sense) but also marks one as part of a distinct minority, encompassable under the umbrella term ‘pagan.’
Social-constructionist cultural theory would have it that there is no ‘natural’ except what we deem to be such, but anyone paying attention to the interesting developments in cultural theory knows that such strict constructionism has waned, as any intellectual trend wanes, and that we have entered post-constructionist times. This doesn’t mean that anti-constructivisms (sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, etc.) have triumphed; far from it. Rather, the social and the natural are intimately entangled: ‘nature’ (or what we make of it) is as socially constructed as society is naturally constructed, shaped, embedded, grounded. The eco-cultural mergings and networkings that make up human history are rich, dense, thick collective concatenations that are unknowable without reference to both their eco- and their cultural co-determinants.
That being so, is there an argument to be made for paganism, or ‘nature’-centered religion, to infuse and revivify our cultural models and collective rituals from within — for a civic or ‘terrapolitan’ earth religion, as Daniel Deudney and Bron Taylor have called it, that would be based in our geobiological commonalities rather than in our (ethnic, national, political, religious, civilizational) differences? I have argued that and believe it strongly, but it would take some redefining of ‘religion,’ for starters, and some blurring of the sacred-secular divide. And a healthy infusion of pluralism, to which a process-relational understanding of things (nature, culture, religion, identity) would be an essential contributor.
The pagan blogosphere is alive with well-wishes and messages celebrating the summer solstice. Jason at The Wild Hunt shares some quotes from the world’s press, including this piece from London’s Independent in which the author calls for a multi-faith celebration of “our commonality”: “We all exist in the warmth of the sun, the light of the moon; we live by the tree and drink of the river. [...] We should, for one long day only, forget our differences and unify under the canopy of a shared sky.” Pagan political scientist Gus diZerega is blogging about midsummer and about Iran. Dancer and anthropologist Natasha Myers is asking friends to “observe a gesture or movement or dance in the world, or create one”, then “document that dance with a simple line drawing and some text” and send it to her at A Dance a Day, where she also acknowledges that “The people in Iran are at the cusp of revolution as the earth revolves halfway towards the summer solstice.”
So the revolution, or perturbation, or swelling (which makes me think of Spinoza and Deleuze/Guattari), or whatever it is that has been occurring in Iran and in the networked solidarities connected to it around the world, are as much a part of the solsticial cycles this year as anything — if not causally connected, at least circumstantially — and an ethic of marking those back and forth ebbs and flows of energy, I believe, calls for us to also pay attention to those human cycles as well. The mass media haven’t always been a great place to find out about where those swellings are emerging; if anything, the opposite often seems the case. It’s been entertaining to watch CNN following the wilder and more unruly, undomesticated, unterritorialized frontiers of social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et al) while agonizing to preserve their own journalistic reputations (‘we’re watching it — see, this was just tweeted 20 seconds ago — but we’re sifting through it, making sense of it, collating and organizing it for you, background-checking what we can,’ etc.). Social media will be domesticated, but new networkings will be poked open for as long as human collectivity follows its own energetic promptings.
Where am I going with this? I’ve been blogging too much recently and will have to take something of a holiday from it. So instead of editing and making this post more coherent, I’ll end it here. But not without saying something about revolution (since the two ‘revolutions’ I’ve described here aren’t exactly the same sort of thing). Revolution, as I would define it, is not about sudden lurchings to and fro; it’s about process, which takes time. When it manifests, when the undercurrents have built up and are ready to express themselves outwardly (the actual to Deleuze’s virtual), they can be huge, and messy. But it’s all about process.
Happy solstice to everyone.