I’ll be honest, I’ve been spending too much time in front of this computer screen. I’m becoming a bit of a hermit with a twinge of misanthrope. I feel stuck outside-of-time, occasionally not knowing what day of the week it is, certainly not what the future holds. While I wasn’t a total control freak, for much of my life, I generally had a plan, a to-do list, aspirations, a sense of where I was headed – now, not so much. Even in the resistance movement I’m firmly in the Jeremiah groove. You won’t find me throwing in with people who are not aligned with my views or values simply to be part of some perceived “bigger tent.” I’m the outlier shouting “the Babylonians are coming.” That’s not the right choice for everyone, but for me, for now at least, it is.
Where does that leave me as the curtain draws up on a new year? What does a planner do without a plan? Along with so many others, I am trying to figure that out. So today with dusk rolling over Fairmount I headed into the drizzle and down the hill to pay a visit to our local sacred mound upon which the Philadelphia Museum of Art sits. I had in mind two tasks – start a bit of an exercise routine on the steps – more meditative than Rocky – but with a structure that I could embrace in the new year to get me out of the house and jump start my metabolism. Plus, people-watching on the plaza is entertaining. There’s good energy, happy people. It was nice to hear many different languages and see big families with kids running around like the old days. I’d planned to pay a visit to Philadelphia’s Washington Monument and Queen Winona, consort of Tamanend, Lenape chief, too. I brought yarrow sticks and offerings – snail shell, dried sprig of juniper, quartz stone, feather, and a knot of wood shaped like an eye.
I made seven trips up and down. It’s 72 steps from street level to the plaza (5 flights of 13 steps and one flight of 7 steps) and another 37 to the door of the museum (28+8+1). Flanking the steps are two massive equestrian statues. The originals stand outside the National Museum of Berlin – Albert Wolff’s “The Lion Fighter” and August Kiss’s “Mounted Amazon Attacked By A Panther.” On the final flight you encounter Jacques Lipchitz’s bronze Prometheus Strangling the Vulture. I learned today the design was first developed in 1943 for an ill-fated installation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The original maquette was not cast in bronze until 1953 after the artist’s New York studio had, ironically, gone up in flames. The original plaster was on display in Philadelphia at the time and was thus saved.
In this version, a scene invented in Lipchitz’s imagination, Prometheus has broken free of his chains and is strangling the bird that’s been devouring his liver daily in punishment for bringing fire down from Olympus to share with humans. It was meant to convey the eternal struggle between good and evil – the fight for humanity. Terracotta statues of thirteen gods look down on him from the pediment, symbolizing the creative force of the will of man and contrast of sacred and profane love with Zeus at the center.
Each time I came down the steps I held up my offerings to Prometheus asserting the primacy of nature, of the real. On the final pass, I dipped the items in puddled water, as it had been raining, and lay the items at the base of the statue – plant, stone, creatures of land and the sky.
Ras Ben, a Philadelphia geomancy expert, hypothesized in his book “Great Mystery Philadelphia” that based on the composition and layout of the public art installations along the Ben Franklin Parkway this freemason founding father opened the gates of Hell in the city of brotherly love with the help of Prometheus. As I’ve noted before, the University of Pennsylvania is part of Ben Franklin’s legacy. The dabbling this institution has done creating the first computer, gene editing, predatory finance, and nano-technology – who’s to say his assessment isn’t correct? His interpretation of the Washington Monument centers around the assassination of Queen Winona and theft of Lenape lands. The female figure seated below Washington looks east towards City Hall. Tonight the clock tower glowed yellow through the mist.
I plucked three sprigs of cedar with blue berries from beneath the Amazon statue – the sacred feminine under attack – and took it across to the Oval and laid it at Queen Winona’s feet. I pulled out the yarrow sticks and proceeded to count by fours – contemplating the question of what I should be doing in the coming year in this crazy city with regards to my work. Should I be trying to engage with local networks, even though my frame is so very different from almost everyone else’s – terrain leaning, anti-imperialist, anarcha-feminist, Indigenous-sovereignty centered?
The counting was tricky. I had a hard time concentrating, and the sticks are all different sizes and thicknesses. It was dark. Sometimes I wouldn’t notice one of the twigs had rolled off the stone step where I was sitting, only realizing it when I got the wrong number and had to start all over again. The rain was getting harder. Even in the dark, people were still wandering around the statuary awestruck. It was nice to remember what was like to see it for the first time. Not many people have this kind of artwork in their neighborhood; we’re spoiled in that regard. One family, based on conversation overheard, I thought might be responsive. I asked if they knew about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The husband said yes – a Californian visiting with his wife who was originally from the Philippines and knew about crypto adoption there. He was an industrial engineer. I gave him the quick overview and he agreed with me, accepted my offer of a Nephele brochure and then said to email him. He told me his email started with “God Protects Me.” I kid you not. I emailed him as soon as I got home.
The rain got harder. The notebook I’d brought to record the numbers got wetter, but I hung in there. It was getting late for dinner – curry squash and shrimp soup on tap – so I texted my husband that I was heading back and decided to wait look up the hexagram until I got home where it was warm and dry. As I gathered up the stalks, which were soaked by that point, I looked up at Winona and tears were running down her cheeks.
Once I tabulated everything I saw the I Ching hexagram was 23 – Stripping Away, Disintegration. If you look it up, the prognosis is not great. A time of order falling into chaos, of total transformation. On the positive side is the idea of losing the flesh, so the seeds of new growth can be exposed. We are in a time of things falling apart, but that is the cycle of life. It is important to do the internal work and not take risks. Endings also mean beginnings.
New Year Resolution – walk the steps, contemplate, practice letting go, pay attention, wait for what comes next, trust the process.