Who was Ophelia?

“We are often to blame in this,
“As evidence shows, that with a religious face
“And an assumed holiness,
“We make the face of evil acceptable”

I have always been intrigued by the names give to hurricanes by the meteorology folk. The hurricane now sweeping across Ireland from South to North has been labeled “Ophelia”. I presume that this name refers to Hamlet’s girl-friend in Shakespeare’s play. If this hurricane is seen as feminine then she certainly is a mad, crazy woman who has no respect for those around her. Is that fair to the fair Ophelia? And is it fair to the hurricane?

Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet”, was on the curriculum the year I did my Leaving Cert. back in the 1950s. Or was it for the Inter Cert? I can’t be sure but I really loved that play. I was also fortunate that my English teacher was a very good teacher. He challenged us to analyse the characters in the play and helped us to articulate our own understanding of the characters rather than learn off set answers by heart for the exams. I am grateful to him for that because it was a skill that has stood me in good stead during my working life, encouraging me to trust my own judgment of others while allowing room for ongoing re-assessment. Human beings, like characters in a Shakespeare play, do develop and change over their life-time.

Life for women in Shakespeare’s time would not be acceptable in today’s society. In the opening scenes of the play, Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, was, in effect, advising her to keep her knees together and told her Be wary then best safety lies in fearbecause he knew his pal Hamlet! Well, that is advice that we might well bear in mind today when Ophelia hits our town or parish! Her father, Polonius, got in on the act as well, cutting short her protestations that Hamlet had “importuned (her) with love in honourable fashion” by telling her she was speaking like a “green girl”! I thought she was a bit wimpish when she gave in to her father and said: “I shall obey my lord“. Later when Hamlet flips his lid and behaves mega-strangely, he appears to succeed in getting her to support him in his plan to “out” his uncle as the murderer of his father. But the audience has the advantage of knowing that Hamlet’s “madness” is an act wherein he planned “to catch the conscience of the King”. In a turning of the tables it is actually Ophelia who goes mad and kills herself by drowning in the river after Hamlet kills her father.

So in looking at this hurricane through the prism of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the tragic character of Ophelia, I am looking past the drama of the hurricane at the global stage of climate. This hurricane is making us in Ireland face a mere fraction of the horror of a planet in agony. My personal spiritual understanding of planet Earth is that it is a conscious entity, together with other “living” components such as rocks, plants, and animals, each with its own level of consciousness. We humans are a responsible part of that great unified Consciousness. The Qigong mantra, “I am in the Universe, the Universe is in me, the Universe and I are One” is particularly relevant. Hurricane “Ophelia” is a call from Mother Earth and if we have any sense we must listen. We do not own the planet. We cannot control Nature. We must learn to bend with the wind, otherwise we shall break like the reed in the wind. And we must also beware of those of our leaders who either are mad or who are pretending to be mad in order to manipulate us for their own advantage. In the words of Polonius, father of Ophelia:

“We are oft to blame in this, —
“Tis too much proved – that with devotion’s visage
“And pious action we do sugar o’er
“The devil himself.”

[In today’s language, that reads as follows:

“We are often to blame in this,
“As evidence shows, that with a religious face
“And an assumed holiness,
“We make the face of evil acceptable”]

A Fairy-tale for NOW

Long ago, and far away, in the time before Time began, there was a beautiful lush-green valley hidden in the folds of a range of lofty, snow-capped mountains under a deep, blue sky. Think of it as being There, and we are Here. That was Then, and this is Now.

In that valley, resting below the mountain tops, is a peaceful Village. It isn’t sleepy though. In fact, it is far from sleepy, it is very active. The grown-ups in that village remember all they have been taught by their Teachers in the local school, at the centre of the village, near the Temple and make sure that their children learn what they have learned. The men and women of that village work hard, each according to their abilities, and their special individual gifts and skills are respected by their neighbours. In return for that respect, services are given and exchanged. The interlocking web of their lives moves smoothly in a cycle of birth, growing, harvesting and saving. Sometimes that wheel of life trundles peacefully along. Other times, the road of life is rough and the turning of the wheel is difficult. The villagers celebrate their joys and mourn their sorrows together, as One.

As we visit the Village today, the Sun is shining and the gentle breeze has a cold edge to it, carried down from the mountain snows. A little Girl, with a basket swinging on her arm, makes her way out to the fields to collect herbs and wild fruit for the family meal. As she works her way along the hedgerow surrounding the big field she is aware of the Spirit of Nature around her. She smiles at the little Robin who dropped down to check who is on his patch. Rustles in the undergrowth tell her that the other living creatures around her are busily going about their daily chores also.

So absorbed is she in her work, she does not notice the big, black Cloud gathering overhead until the Sun disappears and she feels the splashes of the first big drops of rain. Looking about her she recognises the old Oak tree in the middle of the field and runs to it. She is just in time. She stands panting next to the tree, with her basket on the ground next to her, and looking up sees the branches of the tree swaying hither and thither as the rain begins to pour down steadily. She settles down to wait for it to pass. She tastes some of her harvest. A few berries go nicely with the hazelnuts, she thinks. She waits for the rain to clear away. She waits. And waits.

Then she notices a Man plodding steadily along the road that lies beside the field. He is bent under the weight of the load of heavy boughs he is carrying and doesn’t see her until she calls out.

“Father, Father”.

The man stops and looks around. “Daughter, what are you doing there, out in the rain, you’ll get wet and we will worry about you”.

Looking thoughtfully at her Father the little Girl says: “But I’m not getting wet. I am quite dry.”

And then adds: “Why am I not getting wet, Father?”

Her Father, with a slight smile on his weathered face, says: “Oh, Daughter, you are always asking questions when the answers should be clear to you. Haven’t I already told you about your Grandfather’s grandfather. He and others from this village planted trees in this field so that they and their children and their children’s children to the ninth generation would reap the benefits in the times that were to come. He tended his tree carefully, watering it when it was dry and protecting it from the snows and ice of winter with the straw he had gathered. That is why that Tree stands proudly now in this field and protects you from the rain. You should be thankful to your grandfather and his children,” adding, with a chuckle, “including me, your Father. Now don’t delay, run home as soon as the shower goes.”

He picks up his load and he continues his journey. The little Girl looks thoughtfully about her, feeling the care and love of her Ancestors about her.

The rain lightens and the Sun struggles occasionally to peer through gaps in the Cloud. As the little Girl checks again so see if she might leave her shelter, she notices an Old Man coming down the road towards the field. He picks his way carefully between the puddles of water, using his long staff to balance himself. The little Girl recognises him as a Teacher.

She calls out: “Please, Sir, why am I not getting wet even though it’s raining?”

The Teacher stops, looks around and sees the little Girl under the tree. He think for a while, and then, in a gentle voice, says: “Why do you ask me, little Girl? Surely you can see that you are standing under a big tree and the wind and rain are coming from the other side of the tree. That means, the tree and its beautiful foliage, are blocking the rain from reaching you. Isn’t that simple, now?”

To which the little Girl replies, “Thank you, Teacher”. The Teacher carries on his way, carrying his learning lightly, and picking his way carefully.

The little Girl checks her basket and sees that she has collected enough to add to the dinner. Just as she was about to go to the road and run home, she thinks out loud: “Why, that’s strange, Father and the Teacher gave me different answers! How can there be two different answers to the same question?”

A puzzled frown comes over her face as she ponders.

“That’s easy, they forgot the third answer”.

She turns quickly but sees no one there. The wind blows, the branches above her sprinkle more rain. She looks around the back of the tree but sees nothing.

“You won’t find the third answer there, little Girl”.

Then she laughs out loud. “Oh, it’s you, great Oak. I thought you were sleeping”.

“I was”, replies a deep, resonous voice, and again raindrops fall as the Oak tosses its head with impatience. “I was, until you woke me up asking your questions.”

“Well, what is this third answer you mentioned, great Oak?”

The Tree lets out a deep sigh, and seems to relax a little as the Sun comes out again. The Robin hops by, twittering “just checking, just checking, don’t mind me” as it peeks worriedly under every leaf and twig.

“Little Girl, just think now. One answer you got depended upon Cuimhne, or Memory, upon things that happened in the Past. The second answer depended upon Léargas, or Analysis, of the things that are happening Now. Each of those answers gives a satisfactory answer to the same question and together they both help you understand what is happening. But the third answer is based upon Fís, or Vision, and completes the picture. Cuimhne, Léargas, agus Fís. Memory, Analysis, and Vision are required when you want to solve a problem. Never forget that. Now, away home with you. The rain has cleared and I wish to resume my thinking”. The little Girl, who is polite and never rude to grown-ups, at least not out loud, mutters to herself – “Resume your sleep, Old Friend”- and laughs!

She doesn’t need to wait for a reply for there is none, just a gently soughing of wind through the branches, or perhaps it is a gentle sigh. The Robin, hops past again, tut-tutting busily. She runs home to share the delicacies she has collected and to share her story with her family. The valley rests. The great mountains stand guard. The Wheel turns. Now.