MythBlast | Searching For The Pimander In The Midst Of Coronavirus: Redefining Relationships in This Dark Night
The myths of the Sámi people speak of Beaivi, a sun goddess that brings healing to those whose mental and psychological health has been damaged by the long winter season of darkness. She brings light not only to the physical world, but also to the minds and hearts of the Sámi people with her arrival.
Many of us have spent more time in our homes over the past months than we ever thought imaginable. Understandably, for many, a darkness has set in. This darkness has brought depression to some, and feelings of hopelessness to others. In this dark, dark night, we wait for our own Beaivi. We long for an end to the darkness both outside our homes and within our innermost selves.
Many of us may also be looking for a pimander. Joseph Campbell mentions the term in Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, his collected thoughts on the art of James Joyce (152-153). While examining the appearance of Mananaun MacLir, an Irish sea god, in Ulysses, Campbell unpacks MacLir’s mention of the word “pimander.” The term is often translated as a title one achieves—Shepherd of Men—and comes from one of the most influential texts of the Corpus Hermeticum, known as The Pymander of Hermes Trismegistus. Of course, shepherds not only care for their flock, they also guide with force when one under their care has gone astray. Campbell goes on to explain that “The Pimander, translated for Cosimo de’ Medici in 1463 by Marsilio Ficino, became a veritable Bible for the poets and painters of the Renaissance.” (153) The artists of that time found a figurative “bringer of the light,” a shepherd, in the pimander. Though the text attributed to Trismegistus only briefly describes this figure, it is clear that the shepherd is a guide through dark times.
Death and darkness have become part of our own story. However, we have also always been, and continue to be, part of a much grander story. Storytellers have known for millennia that a key element of every great narrative is a moment where it seems all hope is lost. The individuals facing the impending darkness experience a moment that St. John of the Cross described as the dark night of the soul. It is a moment where our pimanders seem all but lost. It is in this moment those individuals in such circumstances remember who they are. They remember why they are here. The absence of the pimander becomes the ultimate lesson the shepherd has to offer.
Amidst the darkness and absence of pimanders, I’ve been thinking about time. Some days, there seems an overabundance of hours. Other days, it feels as though the moments get lost and days begin to mesh together into new, long, messy units of demarcation. Many of us have become deeply acquainted with the dark and mysterious relationship between time and loneliness in the age of social distancing. In a video clip called Life in the Field of Time (which can be found on JCF’s Instagram account), Campbell offers some perspective about time. He says “Where there is time, there is inevitably birth and death. Where there is time, there is inevitably sorrow. The loss of what was valued. And it’s always in terms of pairs of opposites. In the field of time, everything is experienced in terms of opposites. Good and evil, male and female, man and God. That’s a mode of experience.”
As we experience time, disrupted by Covid-19, that inevitable sorrow that Campbell mentions has been amplified. The loss of graduation ceremonies, anticipated gatherings, and even an afternoon drink at one’s favorite watering hole has been felt. What we value has become central to our discussions and actions, our thoughts and our plans.
Perhaps the darkness we are surrounded by is the pimander we seek. This pimander of this moment has been shepherding me, causing me to redefine key relationships in my life. It has caused me to redefine my relationship with comfort. From toilet paper to my favorite local coffee shop, our creature comforts are not a given. Everything is a privilege. It has caused me to redefine my relationship with control and the present. Our lives, this year, were completely disrupted at a moment’s notice. Our best efforts could not prevent the destruction the virus has inflicted. It has caused me to redefine my relationship with creativity. I was finally granted the time to work on projects I wanted to get to for years – and found I was unable to approach many of them in this moment. Perhaps creativity has less relationship to the time we have to act on it than we had assumed. Finally, it has caused me to redefine gratitude. So many things I previously took for granted, I never will again. For these lessons, and those I am unaware of, I am grateful.
To read more about the myths of the Sámi people, see Neil Kent’s The Sámi Peoples of the North.
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