THE RING OF LIGHT

The hockey player, Brad Richards, brought Murray Harbour more than its fifteen minutes of fame when he won the best player of the year award in 2000 and then went on to further glories.

Murray Harbour is the little fishing village where I had my dream vision of a circle of light. When I recounted it at a Jungian seminar in the sixties, the facilitator waxed enthusiastic, saying it presaged a life of spiritual searching—not a great leap of the imagination since that was why it was there, of course.

But he was right. Throughout my life I have been aware of this call, although it has been fraught with struggle. I have often felt swamped by the scientific-materialist outlook of my time on earth (despite its fallacies) yet we can know very little about absolute reality with our limited brain and senses. Gravity, for instance, is pretty mystical—or funny: all those solar systems keeping to their courses because they are rolling around that inverted bowl we call the space-time continuum (apologies to Omar Khayyam).

I’m quite skeptical of space being bent; it raises new questions. Just what is bent? “Space”, after all, is a mental construct, as is time. Time does not exist: it is the word for our “yardstick” by which we measure processes: one year = the earth going round the sun once, for instance. Long ago I had figured out that clocks slowing down on satellites doesn't mean that time slows; it means that atomic processes slow down as moving objects speed up. Time cannot slow down because it does not exist—except in the human mind. Since then I found that others have figured it too. (Time, Clocks and Causality, by Michael Miller.)

If Einstein couldn't distinguish between concept and reality, why was scientific materialism such a millstone about my neck? We know that our perceptions trick us—I'm mostly empty space; it's those billions of subatomic particles whirling around in a dizzying dance that makes me seem solid. Long ago, Shiva knew that; he taught that everything was illusion, beating the insights of modern physics by millennia. And how Shiva could dance! In fact he danced the cosmos into being, dancing in a ring of fire that evokes my own.

A serpent coils about Shiva’s waist and his dreadlocks are serpents as well. Considering my dream, the idea of a universe born in a ring of fire with serpents whirling about is an attractive story—a poetic version of the myth of the big bang.

Thus the ring of fire associated with serpents is an ancient idea. It is also widespread. Two Xiucoatl‚ (Shyoo-KOH-ahtl), or Fire Serpents, encircle the famous Aztec Calendar in a Ring of Fire. At the bottom, their heads confront each other—day and night battling each other in another eternal dance. Both have eleven-sectioned bodies, their tails at the top. Since they are fire serpents, each segment bears a flame; intense flames emanate from their backs.

Although I omitted great masses of details, I did include Tonatiuh, the sun, in the center, partly because I had the overwhelming impression during my vision that the circle of light illuminated the whole room.

My dream echoes other symbolism. There's the ring of fire that Sigurd leapt over to reach Brynhild as well as the one Johnny Cash fell into. Passion and danger! There's also the ouroborus, the serpent that eats its own tail thus forming an eternal circle. And we mustn't forget the "evil" tempter in Genesis who catches God out in his little white lie: although Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they do not die. This story recalls the time when the serpent was a spiritual creature who understood mysteries—as it does elsewhere in the Bible. In Isaiah's vision, for instance, God is attended by Seraphim (fiery serpents). One flies to the prophet and touches his tongue with a burning coal.

There is also a widespread tradition of the serpent as healer. When the Israelites keep nattering about how great things were back in Egypt and how miserable they are in the desert, God sends seraphim, poisonous (fiery) serpents, to shut them up. Making a fiery serpent of bronze, Moses mounts it on the pole; those who look on it are healed. Numbers 21:8. That reminds us of the serpent-entwined staff of Asclepius, the god of medicine. The snake as a healing symbol is important for me. I have spent a lifetime healing my wounds.

In the process, my tongue has been touched with burning coals too. I wonder if my vision is like the ouroborus: its beginning embraces its end. I don't expect to fully understand that until I get there.