There is Really No 2020: The Myth of Eternal Return
Every year the world ends but we are not told about it. What we are assured is that it is born again.
Each year on the day that we consider the last in our calendar or our own sense of time and date, we run around trying to do things that are not allowed before we all perish. We buy food; we cook them in the kitchen. We stock up on bread and the other essentials because the next day, the day that is said to be the first day of our rebirth, we cannot move, we should not move.
And so we imagine a year getting old and a new year coming alive.
The old illustrations would paint the year that is about to go as an Old Man, his back bent from age, and the New Year an infant in swaddling clothes, tottering but with his small hands holding a stick with the banner of the year that is about to begin.
Our ancestors were cool guys. They were able to invent this narrative of an eternal return. A mythologist, Mircea Eliade, talks about “myths that serve as models for ceremonies that periodically reactualize the tremendous events that occurred at the beginning of time.” In this manner, the “Cosmos and society,” according to Eliade, are “periodically regenerated.”
The calendars therefore are important. Any calendar, any reckoning of time and space holds sway over human affairs.
In our case, the 31st of December, the last day of our recognized year, becomes troubling. It is not merely a number; it is a number that can induce anxiety and sadness. The last day is a judgment on any thing that moves or breathes. It is a verdict on human societies. Today is the last day. There is no option available here. This is not a “take-it-or-leave-it” condition. This is no condition. This is a sentence: take it!
As we grapple with the end of a day, and then, the end of the year, we consider only the days and the years. We do not grapple with the universe or, in this case, with an entity that has, in our own limited way of thinking, to do with the vast space there. That vastness is not the universe but it is our entry point to understanding again a being that, if we can only accept it, eludes our understanding – the universe. In the mystery of that space that is beyond measure we have the conquered moon.
The moon is the only reason why we have days. If you insist, we can add to the equation the “Sun” that lights up the days.
The duration with which our Moon makes its orbit around our Earth makes our days. It is said that older civilizations – the Mesopotamians are identified – are the ones responsible for this understanding.
In our own older societies, the Moon also played a keen part. The synodic month, which refers to the phases of the moon, dominated the commission and omission of acts of our great-great-great grandparents. In some villages, the waning and waxing of the moon are magical and real.
The moon loomed over fishing and planting. It shone over harvest feasts and love. The moon, when it was covered by other elements in the universe, became the origin of taboos.
When the new religion of the conqueror came to this land, space and time were made more calendrical. Days were counted. The introduced numeracy – our new skills with numbers – ushered in days with saints and martyrs on them. There was a Saint or two for each day. The dutiful converts saw this as a sign to secure the labels for their children from those whose names herald the day of that human birth.
The biggest shift though was in the eternity of days.
The new religion, ironically, with its much vaunted promise of eternal life for those who were good in this lifetime, also killed the eternity of time.
Our forefathers and foremothers lived with time that was always coming back, of a life that went on and on, and merely altered in terms of space. In those days, no one died: the kin would cross the river or its spirit would climb the tallest mountain, or enter the biggest dao tree.
For this new religion to sustain the interest of the newly conquered, the authorities had to introduce rituals that marked endings but assured quick beginnings. This thinking worked.
In the Christian Mass, the death of the Savior enables us to see Him again come alive as his Body and Blood are raised. We partake the ceremonials and relive the gruesome death the Man encountered on a small mountain.
There is Christmas. Where else can we effect the Savior being born again unless we put up the story in miniature on our tables, the figures of the old plot in plastic or resin. It does not matter. Then the gift of Salvation is transfigured into boxed items of toys, make-up kits, new clothes, even food.
Finally, there is the New Year. The “Happy and Prosperous New Year.” We make noise to bring in the good luck and drive away the bad energies. Look again: we are using noise and aberrant beats and rhythms to scare the Bakunawa, so that S/he would spit out the new days that would turn as the Moon turns again and birth for us the 365 days or so.
There is forever after all. Not in love but in life.