Okay, I need some catharsis. Warning: do not read this if you want to sleep well tonight. I just happened to click on a link to a story yesterday about a woman who heard her daughter’s death over the phone. I don’t know what made me click on the link, since I usually ignore that kind of news report. I know horrible things happen; I don’t need to know the details.
Well anyway, I couldn’t stop reading this story. It was like watching a car wreck. It told how a Russian girl and her father recently went into the woods to camp and the mother got a call from the daughter on her cell phone. A bear had attacked the father and killed him and had chased the daughter, who had been hiding in the tall grass, about 70 yards before catching her. The mother tried to get help for her daughter, but a short time later the daughter called again to say that the bear had returned with its cubs and they were eating her. She called a third time to tell her mother it didn’t hurt any more and she was sorry for everything, just before dying. Of course, the story had a picture of the daughter, a pretty teenage girl. The story went on to say that the bear was being hunted down and told how bears in Russia were being driven to attack people due to the dwindling of their natural food supply.
This story is, I think, challenge to Pagans who associate nature only with peace and harmony. Nature is, as Annie Dillard reminds us, truly horrible sometimes. Usually we are the one’s doing the eating, but sometimes we are the eaten. I had a similar feeling of horror watching the movie Jaws, specifically to the story the shark hunter Quint tells about the tiger shark attack in the Pacific following the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II. (As it turns out, Quint’s story was a true story — the survivors were attacked by tiger sharks.)I think it is good to remember periodically that the Goddess that I pray to is not just the earth from which my garden grows, or the tree I planted last year, but also the bear mother that ate that Russian teenage girl and the tiger sharks that attacked those sailors.
Herman Melville, after describing how shark attack the lifeless body of a harpooned whale all night long in Moby Dick, writes: “If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.” The Goddess is the Holy Mother, but she is also the Devil Herself. It is no euphemism when we call her the Devourer.
I appreciate a little more Walter Otto’s definition of the holy as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. I may seek the wonder of the fascinans, but I tremble before the tremendum of Her holiness. Ahab knew this Goddess too:
“Oh, thou dark Hindoo half of nature,” he declares, “who of drowned bones hast builded thy separate throne somewhere in the heart of these unverdured seas; thou art an infidel, thou queen, and too truly speakest to me in the wide-slaughtering Typhoon, and the hushed burial of its after calm.”