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The Lost Story About What The Old Man and the New Baby Used to Mean for Human Action at New Year’s

We’re led to believe that New Year’s images are about the Old Year going out as a bent over old man…

and the New Year toddling in as a grinning infant.

That’s what the buycandy buywine buybeer folks would have us believe.

But those are degraded images.

Long ago, there were far brighter symbols for this ending of one revolution and beginning a new revolution of earth around sun…

Long ago, the child of ‘the new year,’ was named Dionysus; and as an infant he was carried about by the old men Silenus and Hermes.

Back in that day, the child Dionysus, was born at this time of year …when the dark is lifting and the light of day is growing longer…

and that child represented bright new life, fresh imagination, sunny impetuosity, joyous spirit without end.

Though in late forms, Dionysus was degraded into the ‘God of drunkenness,’ but in earliest understanding he stood for the kind of psychic intoxication that comes from knowing what could be called the et Deus, the God in all things.

And the old man who carried the child in his arms, represented the senex, the old wise man; the one who had lived long, who knew the preciousness of new life, the locations of the ‘trip and fall-down’ places, the detours and long-cuts, the underground pathways through… and the old man was the child’s protector.

New Year is a Time of Melding: The Elders Need the Young, and The Young Need Their Elders
Long ago, the child and the old man were not separate ideas, but one. The older one did not die in order to be replaced by the younger. Instead, they represented a hieros gamos of sorts, a sacred union… two critical aspects of inner nature, that when melded together, created a third: a conscious and awakened psyche.

And, only if one were severed from the other, wisdom from joyous potential… than disorder would follow. Each would falter, eventually go awry, then sicken and die… for lack of their life’s work in balance with one another.

In our time, in reality, many older persons remain in high spirit by creating deep friendships with the very young, and/or with ideas and attitudes that carry fresh vitality.

In our time too, many of the young feel they are living in the shelter of a mountain, because they are near the heart of an elder who is reasonably aged and wise in love, loyalty, praise and prescience.

It’s not just a nice story. Both wiser consciousness and the energy of youth are strong in each indidual’s psyche…if both are allowed room and nourished… As a pair, they are the essence of creative power that can make ideas manifest… much needed in our world, so that decent wishes become matter… are made manifest.
In each person’s psyche, regardless of spare number of years lived, there is a senex function too. Even in the very young, there is a source of wisdom, uncanny and reliable, if it is sought out.

In the psyche too, despite a person’s slim number of years lived, or many gathering decades, there is also an eternally young spirit, one that never, ever, grows old. Thus, even in those older, even in those frail old, there is a source of leaping in spirit, of laughing, of creating anew daily.

New Year’s was once that time when people turned to consciously ‘remember,’ reclaim these aspects of themselves once again; The wiser patient self, and the ever-leaping inventive one.

They strove to rejoin this duality of the senex and the puer (the eternal boy) (puella, the eternal girl) in themselves… after a long year of being worn down and away from center… having been in some ways ‘parted out’ from true self… But now, they seek to join one valuable aspect of the core self, to another venerable aspect of human dignity…

rejoining the steady to the spontaneous;
the arid to the empathic;
the thoughtful to the impetuous;
the longing for life, to the life spark itself…

The home which in some part, we have all come from… that we are in some part striving to return to now at the turn of the year…
In the tiny semi-rural village I grew up in, population 600, just a very few weeks from now, you’d tramp way out into the fields with us in preparation for disking new ground. You’d clean and then open the sluice gates on the creek, letting the new water join the old water

…and you’d see how the metal spades of the diskers opened the dry gray earth down to the moist black earth that has always lain underneath
… and you’d see how cleaning the weeds out of the sluice gates made the old water leap
… and you’d see how this let the new water join the old water, and create currents never realized before …

So may it be for you.
So may it be for me.
So may it be for all of us.

____________
CODA
the symbols of scythe and hourglass (a later addition) and baby sometimes carrying ‘first flower’ of the fields, and other objects including ‘new light’ surrounding the turn of the year… carry also many roots in ancient religions and mythos, Greek, Scandinavian, Roman, Slavic, and many more. The breaking apart of the wiser psyche from the energetic psyche, and repair, remelding of same, appears to be a deep archetypal pattern that appears to surface in many diverse persons across the ancient world without disparate groups ever having had contact with one another.

DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist
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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • river

    Happy New Year Dr. E. and all. . .This is interesting read. . . thank you. . .it seems the challenge of our age is to bring the dualities and tension of opposites together in all their combination and configurations. . .I was reading a while back the strands of our DNA include 3 billions base pairs in different combination and pairs. . . surely the psyche has about that many also?. . .i think the energetic you wrote of here is the riddle that brings all of those base pairs into compatibility. . .the “and both”. . .”and this too”. . complementarity. . .with it’s gift of inspiration, challenge, and stimulation. . . That place where we slowly come to know all the programming of opposites are but two sides of the same essential unit. . . .

    I have been blessed to read your columns the past few months Dr. E.. . . time and time again you have show how to parse the divisions and splits with political and social content and contexts. . . So often they can leave one feeling . . . like the little Levi Strauss icon and the 24 mule team. . .

    Also this really fits the National psyche this coming inauguration. . .will be interesting to see how the new and old come together. . .

    I was thinking yesterday about how to place the year of 2008 in a few words. . .Thought of a line from a 1400’s Sikh poem, this is the paraphrase: ‘The Earth spins like a potter’s wheel, and out from it flies both demons and saints. . .and the one that is wise keeps the focus on that which is true. . .that being love and goodness. . .

    May all be blessed this coming year. . .

  • archangel

    “I was thinking yesterday about how to place the year of 2008 in a few words. . .Thought of a line from a 1400’s Sikh poem, this is the paraphrase: ‘The Earth spins like a potter’s wheel, and out from it flies both demons and saints. . .and the one that is wise keeps the focus on that which is true. . .that being love and goodness. . .”

    Couldnt be a more perfect glyph River. Thank you so much for this word-image of potter’s wheel with saints and demons flying from it. I know for those who dont read depth psychology or analytical psychology–or sufi/ sikh/et al … the jargon around the concepts of splitting and one-sidedness can seem a bit like legal lexicons, a tangle… but this says it well and simply without having to read any precis or treatise. The grandmothers of story definitely approve.

    dr.e