Mark the first page of the book with a red marker. For, in the beginning, the wound is invisible. -- Edmund Jabes
Nostos is a greek word for a return home.
Nostalgia returns us home via memory though we
may be far and parted by distance, by division, by diverse passages.
One who pervades and operates all.
The etymology of the word Rom (gypsy):
One who roams about.
Husband which is the same as in the Romani language
Pleasing, delighting, charming (in Sanskrit ramana is masculine and ramani feminine and in Romani language is also romni (meaning 'wife').
One who pleases or delights others. "Roma of Europe do please others and delight others by their excellent music and dances", notes WR Rishi in Roma. -- from romani.org
We are the poor ones, and only in poverty can we hear what the earth may speak. -- Tom Cheetham
Every revelation partook more of a significant darkness than of explanatory light. -- Herman Melville
We do not mourn because we see through a glass darkly, we now rejoice in the dark loveliness of the glass. -- John Dominc Crossan
And so it was I entered the broken world to trace the visionary company of love. -- Hart Crane
I have recently been reading of the gypsies, or Roma or Romani as they prefer to be called, which finds me reaffirming the earthy depth dimensions of incarnate life and honoring the dark light in this season of literal darkening moving toward the (see note below re: the Iranian sufi notion of "dark light" and an excerpt from Tom Cheetham's essay on Corbin*). My reading does not make me an expert on gypsies and gypsy culture but I do know that gypsies historically and presently the world over have been scapegoated and maligned by dominant "settled" cultures and values. Gypsies suffer the fate of scapegoats who are designated to be the carriers of disowned psychological content repressed into the nether regions of psyche and culture. "Well acquainted with the dark" (Robert Frost's phrase from a poem), and "well acquainted with grief" (from the Judaic Book of Isaiah), the gypsies have formed and consolidated a strong cultural identity which survives and thrives claiming themselves as other-than-outsiders yet knowing that it is from the outside that they have the vantage and advantage of observing those who consider themselves and their culture to be insiders, all the while the roma historically move through the inside as outsiders on their way "home".
A friend who travels often and hikes much due to a lifelong demandingly strong wanderlust has read much about gypsies told me while hiking a few months ago that it was his personal belief that a rom, meaning a gypsy man, slept out in the open under the night sky in order to travel the great road above curving from horizon to horizon, refering to the Milky Way. In Jan Yoors amazing account of his time with European gypsies as a young boy in the mid 1930's () he tells how on his first night with them he lay upon down blankets outside with his new friends. He saw a shooting star suddenly chase across the sky and excitedly pointed to it for others to see. One of the rom boys quickly hushed him and pulled his pointing hand down explaining that a shooting star is a gypsy being chased by the authorities. If one calls attention to him, the dashing star, he will be caught and jailed or exiled.
My hiking friend explained his belief that the stars furthest from the shining middle road above on the edges of the horizon all around are remotest ancestors wandering upon their own roads in the dark. The brightness of the Milky Way is always available to orient them no matter how far they may travel away for they may nightly return to the campfire and sing and dance remembering who they are and where they dwell in a present which impresses futurity.
The Value of Becoming Lost
A colleague and friend once worked with a young boy who had been physically abused by his addicted parents. Scarred from cuts, cigarette burns and missing an eye due to it being purposefully burned out with a cigarette, the court eventually sent him to live with his elderly grandparents who dearly loved and cared for him. The trauma of such abuse which began as an infant proved to be unyielding and the boy refused to go beyond the front porch of his grandparents' home though a part of him longed to do so. In the course of several years my friend worked with the boy at the grandparents' home arriving there weekly on his bicycle. The boy wanted very much to ride on the bike but was afraid to leave the safety of the front porch and was afraid as many children are of becoming lost. With patience and support he eventually could go into the fenced in yard and up to the roses whose petals would blow through the fence where they were then blown up and down the street. My friend used the example of these traveling rose petals who loved to move in the wind wherever the wind blew them to pace the boy's readiness to ride with him on the bike. The day came when they could ride together in front of the house then up and down the street until one day less afraid and emboldened with the call of other unknown streets the boy said, "Let's go!" Traveling far and long from his grandparents' home at some point the boy smilingly looked back from the handle bars into my friend's face and excitedly asked, "Are we lost yet?!!"
As in this story there is some vital thing in a gypsy's dialectic of diaspora-as-return via memory and nostalgia which deeply moves the human into the depths, in the waste, wild, lost and hurt places, a move toward and upon a more ancient and primal road contacted in darkness beneath the countless roaming rom and wheeling stars above. We are relocated, reoriented in the dark as wayfarering strangers passing through filled with not knowing, emptied of the familiar yet delivered apace into recognitions of our and the other's face and place, both friend and enemy, home and exile. The very word roam from romen, possibly from O.E. *ramian meaning the "act of wandering about," related to aræman "arise, lift up" is homophonic to rom, those visionary travelers who encamp on the outskirts far from but mindful of Main Streets, strangers who every few days or so must flee because the local populace and authorities run them away as suspects, thieves, child snatchers, chicken stealers, pick pockets and filchers of laundry drying on unguarded clotheslines. Viewing the ancestral rom in the night sky does indeed raise up, lift up the individual and the caravan gazing and dreaming from the dirt below remembering who they are relocating them in the universe which is what any good cosmology of romani song, whirling gypsy skirt, earnest romani boot and supple gesturing hand does even as one races in splintering saunters scattered about by the chasing collective cops and holy congregations eschewing those despised Others passing through.
Solstice and Christmas With A Gypsy Slant And A Song Of Passing Through
I'm minded of another wanderer who was executed between two thieves 2000 years ago (which associates him to thieves archetypally but that's another essay) whose birth many will soon be celebrating around the world near the Solstice. Associated to a bright star and others which indicated to ancient astrologers who and where he was to be born he wandered from a far off place to be born in a barn surrounded by animals (the instincts) where he was laid in a manger. A manger is literally a feeding trough for animals to eat from, this first bed of the Wanderer an early indication of a later rite where his body and blood would be ingested, digested and integrated into individuals hungering for that which he hinted of, demonstrated and proclaimed with spirit as available to all who could endure the depths, the dark, the not knowing. I now like to think of him and his traveling family from a "white trash" town called Nazereth as romani. The punishment tree, a cross, became and is an ongoing response to what this rom's indication of what utter humans might attempt to express to each other while sojourning here.
This Gypsy Christ associated to a stellar event discerned by astrologers valued the dirt and the dirty. A friend to the instincts and those who lived them, fishermen, hookers and others of suspect morals and character (no offense to fishermen who are "hookers" of a different sort altogether) , he spoke of the possibilities of a living, felt integration and synthesis derived of contrasts and opposites projected upon the Other. Becoming the Other-as-cultural darkness, his new vision and value as a response to the warring power-mad states of his time eventually grew bright and troubling enough to challenge the rightness of official dogmas of ancient church and state, those calcified "kingdoms of this world". He spoke of another kingdom which may incarnate via individuals where that which has been oppressed, repressed and cast out as of least value may be invited in and integrated toward a greater whole/holdness which does not "shut out any part of itself" (a phrase from poem by ).
Leonard Cohen's plaintive "hymn" called Passing Through sings of this Traveler's "Gypsy" message, or a common interpretation of it, and can remind us that being acquainted with the dark and even being identified as the dark projection of a person, group or culture alchemizes a new awareness, synthesizes (or can) a more conscious and welcoming embrace or, barring that, a mature tolerance of that which carries one's own darkness :
I saw Jesus on the cross on a hill called Calvary
"Do you hate mankind for what they done to you?"
He said, "Talk of love not hate, things to do - it's getting late.
I've so little time and I'm only passing through."
Passing through, passing through.
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
glad that I ran into you.
Tell the people that you saw me passing through.
Chakravartins and Caravan Wheels
From Hinduism comes the notion of the chakravartin which literally means "wheel (chakra) turner (vartin)". Any person who profoundly shifts consciousness is called a wheel turner having turned or begun a process which turns the wheel of human consciousness and culture. Buddha is called a chakravartin. One can borrow the term from the Hindus and Buddhists and apply it to Jesus the Christ, as well. Chakravartins archetypally have a reputation as trouble makers so that when a Buddha or a Jesus showed up in town one can imagine its citizens grumbling aloud, "Damned chakravartins!! Goddamned trouble makers!! There goes the neighborhood!! And look who they hang with and what they do!!"
With the image of the chakra wheel above associated to the large wagon wheels of the gypsy carriage one can imagine that romani caught the trouble maker part of the archetype as wheel turners disrupting established order, routine and authority bringing a new value, an as yet to be owned and integrated expression of human creativity, relatedness and consciousness. Scapegoated wheel turners wheel through the collective heart and in so doing reel the local calm into a froth of possible futurity frought with fear, fascination with a potential holdness, not holiness, which includes and values a darkness equal to light.
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Part Two: A Coda To A Gypsy Cab Author Caught In A Texas Milky Way
* [See Henri Corbin's The Man of Light In Iranian Sufism for an excellent scholarly presentation of "the black light", a light which is no light and not associated to common reference to light used by many religions and spiritualities. To give you a flavor of the black light here is a quote from Tom Cheetham's online essay, "The Angel Of The Earth" (read the entire essay at this link, http://www.sophiajournal.org/archives2/cheetham.html :
This is a direct perception of what philosophers call the contingency of being. It is the experience that gives rise to the great question of metaphysics "Why is there something rather than nothing?" For the gnostic it takes the form of a shattering moment of annihilation and terror, undoing all the solid foundations upon which the ego and the literal world are built. In Corbin's words,
3 Henry Corbin (1994), 112.
The black light reveals the very secret of being, which can only be as made-to-be; all beings have a twofold face, a face of light and a black face. The luminous face, the face of day, is the only one that…the common run of men perceive… Their black face, the one the mystic perceives, is their poverty… The totality of their being is their daylight face and their night face…4
4 ibid., 112-113.
The wonder and terror in the face of the fact that there is, but only by the inexplicable grace of God, something rather than nothing, provide the opening to the Unknown that lies at the heart of all religion, and of all knowing. To cover over this terrible wonderment is to block access to an Absence that is not the empty Nothing of nihilism, but the unknown and unknowable source of everything: the necessarily Hidden God beyond all being.
We know from Corbin's work that there are two darknesses: the darkness of evil that refuses the Light of God, and the shattering Darkness of the Black Light at the approach to the Pole that annihilates all human knowledge and pretension and is the final dangerous trial of the mystical journey. Perhaps it is an intimation of this divine undoing of human arrogance that lies behind the post-modern desire to deconstruct the claims to positive knowledge that define our rationalist heritage. But this destructive frenzy too often remains trapped within the confines of human language and ends in nihilism, solipsism, apathy and resignation. This leaves the way open for the radical dogmatists, both technological and religious fundamentalists, who have no patience with abstract debates about democracy or relativism: they simply go about their business of changing the world.
We need to learn from Corbin that the antidote to both nihilism and the dogmatic fundamentalism that is always constellated with it must come from a kind of positive deconstruction of the self in the vision of the Deus absconditum, the divine Beyond Being which is the source, the Breath that grants being to all things. Corbin writes,
Any metaphysical doctrine which attempts a total explanation of the universe, finds it necessary to make something out about nothing, or rather, to make everything out about nothing, since the initial principle from which the world derived, and which must explain it, must never be something contained in this world, and simultaneously it is necessary for this initial principle to posses all that is necessary to explain at once the being and the essence of the world and that which it contains… It is necessary…that this initial principle be at once 'all' and 'nothing'… [This] is a…nothing from which all things are derived. This is the Nothing of the Absolute Divine, superior to being and thought. 5
5 Henry Corbin (1981). My translation..
This Black Face of the majesty of Divinity is the essential counterweight to the Face of Light, the Face of Beauty of the revealed cosmos. You cannot have the one without the other. Majesty without Beauty is annihilation pure and simple. Beauty without Majesty would be an unthinkable Absolute frozen in eternal, changeless immanence - a permanent, horrible, all-pervading Final Truth. All of Creation is balanced between these poles, constantly created, and constantly undone in the divine interplay between transcendence and immanence.
The Absolute beyond-being is also, in the Abrahamic tradition, the Absolute Subject. The Giver of being can never be an object, a thing. In its infinite fecundity and mystery, its forever-receding depth and absolute Unity, it is the unifier, the guarantor of the individuality of every being. As such, it is the archetype of the Person, and of the interiority that infuses all the beings of the Earth experienced as an Angel.
It is the inexpressible Mystery of this primordial Darkness that it simultaneously establishes and shatters the human person. And it lies very close at hand. It is the still, small voice of the Hebrew Bible; and in the Qur'an, God says "I am closer to you than your jugular vein." Were we to learn this, to know that the presence of this absence is immediate, just beyond the face of the beauty of the world, we would need far less than we think we do. Our mode of being would be far less needy. We would know that scarcity and plenitude are complementary, not contradictory. We would understand the necessity of poverty as the prerequisite to the experience of the fullness of the world. For the things of this world grow opaque when we try to control and possess them, and they hide their connections among themselves, with us, and to the darknesses of the divine. They withdraw into themselves, lose substance and block our access to the riches at the roots of things. So our desperate neediness and grasping at the world and our fear of poverty and of the Dark close us off from ourselves and the worlds that we can inhabit.
The above photo by Warren Falcon, "Oaxacan Magic Ten At Sunset With Contrail And Crescent Moon, January 2008". Click on the image to enlarge it.
Complete lyrics to Leonard Cohen's Passing Through: