Words by Leonard Cohen. Music and sung by Buffy Ste Marie
I first heard this song sometime in the late 60s and have never forgotten it. Nowadays, I would, of course, change the gender of the deity but that is somehow irrelevant to what the song is saying. Cohen is talking about a force which is intrinsic to nature and to human beings and cannot be ordered or contained within a structure. It defies classification and definition. It simply is and always has been. We know it and we feel it. It moves within and without us. It is what makes us alive and alert to all that is and all that could be.
We call it, among other things, imagination. In Exodus, Yahweh declared war on it when he decreed "Thou shalt not create graven images" . You must not allow your imagination to take form - to emerge into the world. The word is written and cannot ever be changed. Imagination must be subservient to the predetermined order of things.
Imagination, however, does not work like that. It is far bigger and more powerful than any structured system of thought. It emerges in dreams and in nightmares. It knows no morality and is both destructive and constructive. It is the dance of Shiva and of Kali. The destroyer and creator of worlds. It is Chartres Cathedral and it is Auschwitz. It is the Big Bang and the nuclear bomb. The Universe and the quantum field. It is paradox and illusion; life and death. All these exist in imagination. In imagination we conceive the inconceivable. With it we balance the tension between all contraries.
We pin butterflies to a board and categorise them. We describe the mechanics of their metamorphoses but cannot describe their experience of life. Only in imagination can we approach the meaning of all things for things themselves have no meaning beyond what we ascribe to them. I tap a sequence of keys and electrical impulse translates them into shapes on a screen. To me these shapes have meaning but such meaning only exists in my imagination. I try to be precise and lucid but have no control over any meaning that you might perceive therein. I trust that your imagination approximates enough to mine that some communication is possible. But there is, and can be, no guarantee of that. My imagination is shaped and moulded by heredity and experience. So is yours.
It is within imagination that we try to see what is invisible - bring it into the light of our meaning. This is the magic of which Leonard wrote and Buffy sings.I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. (R D Laing. Politics of Experience)
It is within imagination, as Blake said, that all deities exist. And those deities we imagine are those that shape our lives and give them meaning. I imagine Goddess where once I imagined Yahweh. I imagine Inanna where once I imagined Jesus.
Now imagination is no longer constrained by thoughts of straying into error or sin. Gone are the binaries to be replaced by a cycle of becoming. Growth and decay, life and death, are no longer irreconcilable but are simply parts of the same process. All is change; one becomes the other. With Goddess all things that can be imagined are possible for there is no already-written book in which possibility is limited by divine decree.
Of more immediate concern is the fact that, having rejected the dictates of the Fathers, it becomes possible to look more clearly at the world around us. It is not Fallen and neither are we. The old script is so powerful that even those who claim no adherence to any god accept the assumptions inherent within it. We are told of a nature red in tooth and claw and that we are a violent and mistrustful species. There is certainly ample evidence for this belief, as a brief glance at history will reveal. But there is other evidence, largely overlooked, which points another way. It points to us a species which evolved to be co-operative, not competitive. We were not always as we are now, but organised ourselves differently. Poets and visionaries have always known this. A Golden Age may never have existed but it is imagined and has been since the beginning of written history.
Louis MacNeice wrote, in the last month of 1938 as war became clearly inevitable:
...pray for a possible land
Not of sleep-walkers, not of angry puppets
But where both heart and brain can understand
The movements of our fellows;
Where life is a choice of instruments and none
Is debarred his natural music,
Where the waters of life are free of the ice-blockade of hunger
And thought is as free as the sun,
Where the altars of sheer power and mere profit
Have fallen to disuse,
Where nobody sees the use
Of buying money and blood at the cost of blood and money,
Where the individual, no longer squandered
In self-assertion, works with the rest, endowed
With the split vision of juggler and quick lock of a taxi,
Where the people are more than a crowd.
(From Autumn Journal, xxiv)
It is to the poets and not the theologians that we must look for the work of the Goddess. It was not without reason that Plato desired a Republic with no room for poets. Poetry goes beyond the chains of Reason, always founded as it is on a pre-existing assumption, and points towards Truth whilst never presuming to limit it in words. For words cannot encompass Truth, at best they are the finger which points towards. The soaring in the heart that comes when listening to music or looking at a sunset is the butterfly that has not been pinned down in our desperation to explain and categorise.
In the beginning was not the word but a single soaring note of jubilation. From this we were born and to this we will return, whether we be conscious or no. Good, bad and indifferent we may be but our end is the same.
In the time between our beginning and our end, we can imagine many things. I imagine MacNeice's possible land. To me, it is the land where Goddess is honoured fully and completely and the spark of imagination within each person is free to develop. It is a land without the latent consciousness of Original Sin which still haunts even the most secular. Magic has always been afoot. Imagination can seize power. Just Imagine...