It is snowing today. Literally. I mean if you go outside, you can feel it, touch it, taste it, see it. You can also see it if you stay inside which is nice, but you can’t taste it. This snow is real, whether you are inside or out in it. Literally real. You know what I’m talking about when I say “literally real” because our culture is extremely literal-minded. All this makes sense to you. In fact, literalness is our dominant worldview. It’s a worldview that says that something is real only if it’s literally real which can mean that it is physical, material, objective, scientific, measurable. At some point we’ll measure how many inches of snow we are getting. That’s how real it is.
The problem with our literal worldview is that it is just that: a view of the world. It is not the only way to view the world. Unfortunately, a major component of this worldview, and an insidious component, is that it claims to be the only way to determine if something is real. I mean really real.
Now there are other worldviews that allow for realities that are not literal, objective, measurable, and physical. These worldviews tend not to try to monopolize reality by saying that they are the only way to figure out what is real. Some of these worldviews could be described as mythic, intuitive, imaginative, dreaming, and shamanic. They allow for other “things” to be really real even if they are not literally real. Not only do they perceive other kinds of reality, but they acknowledge that there is no one way to determine what is real.
I am trying hard these days to temper our dominant, literal worldview with others. I mean I am trying to appreciate the different realities that make up my life, and not view everything through literalness. Part of this challenge is to ask myself what things mean. There are a couple kinds of meaning.
First, there is symbolic or linguistic meaning which appeals to my reason and sense of literalness. This kind of meaning can be explained rather easily with words, since words are symbols that refer to something else because they have specific meanings. The white stuff falling from the sky is “snow.” I can say that rather easily and mean it, and you know what I mean. We are either lucky or unlucky that we are not Inuit. They have oodles of words that mean snow and each has its own meaning. Each points to something about snow that is real. But I don’t have to worry about this because I am not Inuit.
What does snow mean from a literal point of view? It means that the weather is cold and windy, it will need to be shoveled, driving will be difficult, it is something like water and will turn to slush or ice, schools will be closed, I should wear Wellingtons if I go out, and so on. The fact that it is snowing has physical ramifications, causes and effects, implications, and these all play into my understanding of what snow means literally. This meaning of snow will impact my life objectively and measurably.
But is that all that snow means? Here is another meaning.
Snow means that there is a Queen of Winter, her name is Beira and her name is not Beira, she is ugly and beautiful, we love her and hate her, sometimes we fear her, sometimes we don’t, she is here and not here, she is everywhere and nowhere, she couldn’t care less about me and she couldn’t care more about me, she is visible and invisible, she is young and she is old. She is stealing cold wintry days from December to fight her son Angus who is stealing warm summery days from August. They are fighting over whether Brigid will become the May Queen, they are playing tug-of-war over how long winter will last. I hate this and I am enthralled by it. Beira has sisters who are Wind Hags and sons who are Storm Ogres and they disrupt the balance of things yet they create the balance of things, we want to shun them yet know we must invite them into our lives, they can destroy us and they can grant us sovereignty, we know they are responsible for what happens and we know that we are responsible for what happens, they are part of us and they are not part of us. I hate this and I am enthralled by it.
So there. This is also what it means to say that it is snowing today.
But this is not a symbolic or linguistic meaning because it cannot be described well with words. All that I wrote above does not make sense . . . literally. But there is a second kind of meaning that we could call imaginative, mythic, dreamy, intuitive, metaphorical, or to put it another way, it is a meaning that lives in me as part of my interior experience. This meaning is a soul rather than mind experience, a meaning that can best be understood with imagery because images are the language of the soul. In fact, it’s been said that the soul is imagery, that’s what the soul consists of, and that’s what the soul does: create imagery. Sure we can talk about images, but words don’t work very well. Words want to be symbolic with certain established meanings, and yet the mythic and metaphorical meaning of this snow lies deeper in my soul than words. It is not something I need to talk about. It is something I just feel, know, and experience interiorly, and so I cannot tell you literally who or what Beira is.
In this second type of meaning, snow is inside me. It is real snow but it cannot be measured or proven scientifically or established to exist objectively. And yet it is the same snow that is snowing outside which is now about four inches deep and which the town snow plough has just piled up in front of my mail box. Similarly, Beira and her cohorts are not just inside me. They are outside also. Did you not see them in that furious waving of the branches? Did you think that howling across the roof was only wind? These are not figments of my imagination. It is not easy to grok this (and I think that is the right term) because it is part of our literal-mindedness to want something to be either this or that. Not both.
But I am trying to be conscious these days of what has been called the “imaginal realm” which is neither totally inside me nor totally outside of me, and that cannot be either only one or the other. It must be both. It is a reality whose images bridge the physical and the spiritual. Our literal worldview does not understand this kind of reality. It is hard for our rational mind to find meaning here. To the rational mind Beira and Angus and their stolen days are irrational and meaningless except perhaps as an interior fantasy about the changeableness of March weather. The rational mind claims that these figures have reality only in the realm of the imaginary, and the imaginary is not real because it is not literally real.
But the soul is imagery. Soul is both my interior consciousness and the outer realm of consciousness that I am part of. Soul is both inside and outside of us and that is why Beira and her Wind Hags, Angus fighting the Storm Ogres, and beautiful Brigid are both inside and outside of me. And so the reality that can give meaning to our lives—beyond the solely literal meanings—must be both interior and outer, both physical and spiritual for this reality lies in the imaginal realm that is ambiguously and really real.
I mean really.