Dancing with the Morrigan: Disease, desire and death

This is an extremely primitive and paranoid culture. — Captain Kirk in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Wind and rain, a roar and a pattering on the fallen leaves. The beeches have shed in a shower of gold, but the oaks still hold their regal crowns, browning at the edges but still green.

It’s interesting, when you’re doing ancestor work, to look at current events with old eyes. Take ebola, for instance. Our ancestors were no strangers to plagues, whether the Black Death, smallpox or the Spanish Flu. These were mysterious events, in the age before microscopes and germ theory: Death sweeps humans with her blade as we do wheat, leaving a broken and barren field behind.

And the struggle to understand is the same. If you’re feeling brave, gird up your loins and read the Internet comments: Ban the afflicted from our shores, and anyone related to them! Shut the city gates! Keep them all out, now and forever!

Overseas, survivors — many of whom lost their entire families — are being shunned. Healthcare workers are being attacked and killed as bearers of disease, in a mindset reminiscent of those conspiracy theorists obsessed with psychiatric medications: “You know what all those crazy mass-killers had in common? Psychiatric meds! See, they cause them to be killers!” (By the same token, I suppose insulin causes diabetes or spectacles cause myopia. Insert Picard-worthy face-palm here.)

According to the Buddhists, all people react to phenomena in essentially the same ways — out of fear, yes, but ultimately desire. We associate desire with positive stimuli: a moving-toward, even if the object one is moving toward isn’t in itself positive, such as heroin. But desire is ultimately movement impelled by the deepest impulse, and includes moving-away: you  desire to avoid disease, pain and death.

Interestingly, according to Dictionary.com, desire stems from the Latin desidare, which in turn stems from de sidere, a phrase meaning “from the stars.” Desire is what the stars will bring: fate, something beyond our small lives and out of our primate paws. But we’ve lost this sense, and instead believe that desire is something we achieve by stamping our will on the world.

We cannot keep death from us, even if we bar the city gates and shoot all the doctors. The Red Woman — the Morrigan, the Phantom Queen — resides in our very blood, in –yes — our origin from the stars. For that is the rule of this place, this manifestation of the multiverse: you are born, you live, you die. In some philosophies (such as my own), you are reborn and repeat the cycle ad infinitum, one of the leaves on the deciduous tree of life that is, at this very moment, browning and losing its grip.

The nature of our death, our individual death, is de sidere. We cannot choose our parents and our genes, although we have a considerable say as to personal habits. If we are to truly live, we must take risks; we can avoid being hit by a bus if we never leave the house, but what kind of life is that? What do we learn? And even if we hole ourselves up in the basement with our canned food, shotgun in hand, the Red Woman will come for us — in the form of a heart attack, dementia, cancer, starvation, a tornado crushing us under the beams of the house.

You will die. Your particular, individual life will come to the end — whether ripped from the beech tree in a sudden wind, or slowly browning like the oak leaf. How better, then, to greet the Red Woman as a friend, to dance with her, to celebrate the ferocious tenacity of life and its end.


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