I’m in Bourgogne for Remembrance Day this year. Everyone here has been touched by the wars, although few will talk about it. Perhaps this is why the French have erected the ubiquitous monuments and plaques commemorating the violence of the wars – so tourists won’t ask, and the locals won’t have to avoid answering.
This is Remembrance Day, however, and even the irrepressibly effervescent 93-year-old Marie-Louise, who swears to me that she is not a child of the wars, confides to me some of the horrors that she and her family lived through. ‘C’est comme ça, la vie’, she shrugs. You still have to continue with your life. Today, a 6-piece brass band gathers with a crowd of maybe forty of us in front of the war memorial that shares the village centre with the church and the municipal offices. Wreaths are laid, then we walk in procession to the cemetery. The same speech is read here as in every such gathering in cemeteries throughout France, from the Union Française des Associations de Combattants et de Victimes de Guerre, who, ‘loyal to the memory of all victims of all wars’, invited ‘youth to work for a more just, more unified and more brotherly world.’
‘Remembering the wars’ has a whole other feeling here than in Canada. There is a distinction made between November 11, marking the signing of the Armistice ending World War I, and the May 8th celebration of victory in World War II – for the French, a celebration of La Résistance. And there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Remembering is done so such things will never happen again.
Before leaving on this journey, I found myself horrified yet fascinated at an exchange of comments on the Ceasefire website following their November 4th post entitled ‘Do you remember for peace?’ (http://www.ceasefire.ca/?p=17119). The question that seemed to be debated was “Does a movement that seeks to remove the glorification of war from Remembrance Day disrespect the veterans who served and suffered in these wars?”
I usually try not to read Comments sections, but was touched at the first thoughtful messages from veterans and their family members who underlined the most important reasons for the original marking of a Day of Remembrance: “Never again” and “Lest we forget”. Scarred forever by the experience of war, servicemen and women returning from “The War to End All Wars” asked future generations to remember their sacrifice – so it would never be repeated.
As I scrolled down the page, however, a whole other genre of comment appeared: words deployed like fists breaking windows – black and white tabloid headlines regurgitated as Truth – an awareness that seemed as if it had been strategically assembled by the propaganda machines that churn out fear and hatred the way Central Banks print out shiny, worthless money. These other comments disturbed me deeply. They sounded like The Voice of the Masses – not “We, The People”, but rather the Great Unwashed Hordes that have inspired fear and disdain in the world’s ruling classes, and the establishment of protocols for the decimation of the world’s population. Bill Gates and Prince Charles are only some of the latest names in a multitude through time who have advocated the destruction of most of the world’s human population in order to preserve the planet.
And yet, the brute energy that unconsciously marauds its way through all that is fine and delicate – the raw energy of survival – aggression and sexuality – has always been a tool, often very skillfully wielded by those in power. As in the waging of wars….
Arriving here in Bourgogne from a magical week in Aude and Arièges, the Pays des Cathares (far too high of a ‘woo-woo’ quotient to put into words just yet….), the similarities between these areas of France was a surprise. Natural springs were historic gathering places in almost every hamlet. The site of a salt-water spring, the Fontaine Salée, has been a source of “white gold” in this part of Bourgogne for millennia, echoing the Fontaine des Amours fed by the River Saltz in Aude. There are both white and red earth deposits here as well. And then, of course, there is the veneration of the Magdalene.
One of the four pilgrimage paths to Santiago de Compostella begins just under the hill upon which sits the magnificent, red-and-white-stone Abbey Church of Vézelay – the Basilique Ste-Marie-Madeleine. From here, the 2nd and 3rd Crusades were launched, and Henry VIII was excommunicated. At the end of the 2nd World War, in a symbolic, ritual reversal of intent, people from all across Europe gathered and marched to Vézelay carrying wooden crosses in a March of Peace. Fourteen crosses now line the walls of the basilica; a fifteenth, carried by German prisoners of war who asked to be included in the March, is given pride of place. (photo) Extensive damage was done to the elaborate bas-relièfs and the original (purported) relics of the Magdalene that were the source of the basilica’s former wealth and reknown were burned by zealous Huguenots in the late sixteenth century.
The Goths, Visigoths, Huns and Vikings that swept Europe, pillaging, burning, raping their way into the Dark Ages, were supplanted by the armies of Empire, behaving in exactly the same way in the name of God, King and Country. The Protestant and Sans-coulottes ravages of the great works of art throughout Great Britain and Europe were no different from the modern Taliban destruction of ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. This lineage has persisted through to present-day multinational corporations, committing their own acts of savagery in the name of “economic development”, i.e. power and money.
So much of the world’s population is trapped in various ways by pornography and prostitution; drug, arms and human trafficking – can this really be the natural unfolding of human nature? Violence, addiction and the distortion of sexuality keep us locked into our lower energy centres, limiting access to the transcendence and transmutation of which we are capable. It feels to me that there has been a very conscious effort to keep humanity imprisoned in the lowest possible vibrations of the survival instinct – keeping us afraid and insecure and in the basest frequencies of dominance and sexuality.
Descending into the crypt of the Vézelay Basilica, one is confronted with many rows of chairs facing a wooden crucifix on the far wall. Most of the worshippers who came through while I was there kneeled and genuflected to the cross, then continued through and up the exit stairs to the basilica proper, completely ignoring the alcove in the wall opposite the crucifix that they nonetheless passed directly in front of.
Within that alcove rests a golden reliquary apparently containing a relic of Mary Magdalene that was brought here in the 1870s to replace the destroyed original. (photo) In her Catholic incarnation as St. Mary Magdalene, she is considered the protector of the penitent – the iron bars that shield the relic were melted down from the chains of freed prisoners. On the vaulted ceiling of the altar, a faded design of repeated fleurs-de-lys is just barely discernable.
I couldn’t resist the image of the Church as somebody’s uncle, doing sleight of hand – card tricks for the kids. Despite the votive candles and glow from the Magdalene altar, one’s attention is first pulled to the opposite wall, to the dark and martyred Jesus on the cross. Even if you do notice the alcove, you are asked to choose between the two – in order to venerate the crucifix (and the Church’s official, fabricated version of the story of Yeshua), you have to turn your back on the Magdalene (and other versions of the same story, held in millions of minds and hearts and even in the landscape of France). As a species, we are not kids any more. And I, for one, have had enough of the parlour tricks of religious, financial, educational, corporate and government institutions.
We have complied with manipulation long enough.
We have taken a Bodhisattva vow on this beautiful Earth of ours. Through lifetimes and bloodlines from time before time, we have laid our bodies down and returned them to the planet. With each step that we have taken into a higher frequency of existence, we have transformed the ambulatory gardens of our bodies and participated in the ascension of Gaia.
To those of us who still turn to violence and the duality of Them and Us, To those of us who still bow to authority because the illusion of our impotence lingers, thick and sticky around us, To those of us who need to either dominate or suffer because it’s all we know to do and we feel we must choose one or the other:
Now is the time for ‘the longest stride of soul men ever took.’ *
It’s time to form a Circle, to hold hands, and to sing and dance and pray a new reality into existence.
* Christopher Fry: A Sleep of Prisoners