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Thread: Daemons and Angels

  1. #1
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    Daemons and Angels

    I used to be just like you, just like everyone else, in fact. Blind—yeah, that’s it; I used to be blind. Not literally, of course, I mean my eyes have always worked, more or less, ok. Light hits things, bounces off, encounters my corneas, gets focused through my irises onto the rods and cones of my retinas, and there it’s converted into tiny electrical impulses, which pass along my optic nerves and into my brain—or at least into that crinkly grey spongy thing between my ears that passes for it. When they get there, these impulses become the images that I ‘see’. True, I don’t do so well ‘close-up’ anymore. The equipment I was issued with, some 53 years ago, has seen better days and doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it once did, especially when trying to look at things which are closer than about 3 feet away, but I’ve got glasses for that. For the most part, though, I see pretty well, in the conventional sense.

    No. When I say 'blind,' I mean blind to the things that millennia of rational thought, natural philosophy and enlightenment have educated us to believe, just can’t be. Of course, there are plenty of species on the planet that haven’t benefitted from such an education—creatures like dogs and cats. When a dog barks for no reason at something that just isn’t there, or a cat inexplicably arches its back with its fur bristling and hisses and spits at the corner of the room before bolting out through the cat-flap, we either swear at the dog and throw a slipper at it, or we laugh at the cat’s antics and smugly declare that it must have seen a ghost or something. Or something… Yeah. I used to do that, too.

    I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘he’s going to quote Hamlet at us; he’s going to say, “There are more things in heaven and earth…” isn’t he?’ Well, I guess you’re right then, after a fashion. I mean, the words are right there, aren’t they, even if I put them in your mouths or, at least, your thoughts. The thing is, though, words are really interesting. Words have power. They have the power to describe, to preserve… Words make up language. We think in words, don’t we? And when we think, you know, in those quiet moments when our brain is in neutral and something is revolving around and around in our minds, we think in patterns, old patterns that we scarcely realise are old, or even how old…

    We all know what clichés are, don’t we? They’re those stock phrases that we repeat without thinking; maybe when we get one of those funny pains that come out of nowhere when we’re walking through the woods. How do we describe it? We say it’s a shooting pain, or a stabbing pain. In our twenty-first century jargon we know what we mean, don’t we? We mean that it was a pain that shot right up our arm, or for a stabbing pain, it feels just like we’ve been jabbed in the side or the back with something sharp. “It’s just neuralgia,” we say. “It’s a trapped nerve,” says the doctor. Well, maybe.

    Of course, Englishmen have been describing these little ailments with colloquialisms since before we knew we had nerves. And that’s not so long ago really, only three or four hundred years. What we used to believe was that a shooting pain was the pain you got from being shot. Yup, that’s right, shot. With an arrow. By an Elf. Yes, you heard me properly, I did say, “an Elf.” Why did we think this? Because people were always finding little stone or flint arrowheads. They were called “Elf shot.” Of course, we’re much cleverer than that, aren’t we? We know that these are the artefacts of man from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. That’s what the archaeologists tell us, and these are learned men and women who have the knowing and the doing of many things. They are possessed of great wisdom in these matters. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that whenever they discover something that they just don’t understand, they tell us it’s, “ritual.” They tell us that our “primitive” ancestors believed in their own ancestors and worshipped them as a living presence. They tell us how they mapped their landscape with boundaries between the spiritual and natural worlds, just like those “undeveloped” peoples in far-flung corners of the globe, like Africa, were people still think this way. In fact, archaeologists all over the planet talk about “pre history” in the same way. That’s the benefit of a globalizing educational ideology emanating from the northern/western tradition of European enlightenment.

    But language is fickle. Some people say it controls how we think, and to a certain degree, I guess, they may be right. But at the same time it preserves far older, far less rational modes of perception. Though we, as rationalists, proudly proclaim that in this secular age, we no longer believe in our ancestors; that, as rootless migrants and slaves of neoliberal capitalist ideologies, we are free from any obligation to the past—still there are echoes of older, far less rational belief systems in our everyday speech.

    Yes, come on, you know what I mean. Maybe some of us, those with kids at that impressionable age, say, about thirty-five, who tell us of something they’ve done that is just, well, you know, dumb, or plain wicked: what is it we say? And when some smart-alec author decides to write a sequel to some literary classic and appropriates a much-loved set of characters and writes them into a contemporary scenario with contemporary attitudes, what is it we say? We say, your grandfather, or Jane Austin, or Dickens, “must be spinning in their grave.” See what I mean? The thought that our forbears might be aware of our present actions, and have an opinion, persists. We aren’t really as sophisticated and free of ancient “truths” as we’d like to think. So maybe this is why, when I was walking through the park the other morning looking for fallen conkers under the horse chestnuts, I was a little less surprised than I should have been by the extraordinary thing that I “saw”.

    Well, at first, I just saw what everyone else could see, I guess. There was the guy slumped on a bench with his breakfast beer-can, mumbling incoherently at the world as it passed him by, and there was the dappled shade on the sparse grass beneath the trees, whose leaves are just starting to look a little the worse for wear at this time of year. And there were the fat pigeons who eyed me with resentment as I wandered past them while they pecked at fallen nuts and little bits of discarded pizza from the night before. And of course, there were the dogs scampering about off their leads, as their owners half-heartedly tried to chat each other up.

    One dog in particular caught my attention. It was standing beneath a tree, glaring up into the canopy and barking like it was fit to burst. Still, a dog barking up a tree is no big deal really. ‘Probably a squirrel up there,’ I thought. I looked up but couldn’t see anything. However, the dog was going berserk, so I wandered over for a better look. I scanned the canopy, but didn’t see a squirrel. I saw lots of leaves lit by the bright morning sun and how they were glowing translucently in an infinite variety of greens against the cold blue sky. But I didn’t see one magpie, not one blackbird, let alone a squirrel. And then I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.

    About twenty feet up, I saw a flash of red and heard the tinkle of a little bell. It sounded like a hawk bell, to be honest. This would not have been impossible; people have been known to lose hawks in the town parks before, but it wasn’t a hawk. As I continued to look, I was able to make out a tiny conical cap, trimmed with fur, perched on the head of a little gnome with a disagreeable countenance. The bell dangled from the end of his hat and tinkled feebly. He was gripping tightly to a twig as he swung himself across to his right, reaching out towards a brace of dangling conker husks with a tiny brown spanner in his hand.

    Somehow, this didn’t really strike me as odd. There was a kind of weird logic to it. A conker is a nut after all, and if you want to separate it from the branch I guess undoing it with a spanner is a reasonable option. The little guy managed to get his tool hooked on, and then he gave it a vicious little twist. The conkers dropped, hitting the dog smack between the eyes, which annoyed it. He saw me looking at him (the gnome, not the dog) and gave me the finger, then spat, and swinging like a professional gymnast on a high bar, he launched himself upwards and disappeared among the leaves. A moment later, I too, received a direct hit from a horse chestnut on the top of my head. I took a step back and rubbed my scalp. This was not the first time I’d been struck on the head by a falling nut, but before I’d always attributed it to the clumsiness of butter-fingered squirrels. Now, I suspected, there was another explanation.

    I can’t look at trees now. If I do, I just see them swarming with gnomes. Maybe there’s a good reason we’ve trained our minds to ignore what’s really there. When you see what’s really there, you just feel powerless. I suppose you could go out with an air rifle and take pot shots at the little buggers, but that isn’t really a nice thing to do. Probably best to just let them get on with their jobs. They are, after all, just part of the natural order of things, like the daemons who perch on the shoulders of politicians, whispering iniquities into their ears, shaping our destinies, blighting our lives. Can’t do much about them. It’s a bit difficult getting anywhere near a politician whether you’re carrying a weapon or not. Heavily armed, bad tempered security types tend to take a dim view of it. You probably can’t kill their daemons anyway. Not without silver bullets made from crucifixes and blessed by the Pope, and for all I know he’s got his own ‘spiritual advisor’. Who knows how efficacious a blessing from him would be… You could try to take out the politician, but you've still got the problem of the security people to contend with. Anyway, kill one politician and another just takes his place. They’ve all got them, you know. They’ve all got daemons. You never see one with an angel.
    Last edited by Hawkman; 09-12-2014 at 06:27 PM.

  2. #2
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Love the conversational style of this piece, and the subject matter too. Just wonderful.

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    Hi Steven, thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Live and be well - H

  4. #4
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    I like the humor this little piece as well.

    I agree with the point about clichés. These time-worn expressions are like shortcuts to be used in everyday conversaitions, in order to get the point quickly or to offer cordial greetings or condolences and then go on one's way.

    About language in general: I believe I align myself with those who maintain that there can be no real "thought" without language, that you can't really express an idea without words to describe it. But some folks scream their heads off (another cliché) whenever I voice that opinion.

    About the elf sighting: as you know by our many communiques, your old auntie has seen many creatures (mainly from the natural world) in places where they aren't supposed to be. A mountain lion, for instance, and a badger hundreds of miles away from their respective known habitats. Rabbits engaging in some kind of mystical activity in the moonlight--that was the weirdest thing I ever saw. That's the reason I try to be open-minded toward a person's claim that he has spotted something unusual.

    On the other hand, as you showed with your portraits of (generic) politicians, not all of the nuts are in the trees.

    Your pal (and maybe kindred spirit)
    Auntie

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    It's elemental, my Dear Auntie

    Yes, extraordinary, isn't it :- in order to achieve true communication it is necessary for two people to share a common level of ignorance. Should one have a better understanding of language than the other, then what the other thinks he's conveying means something completely different to the one! With dictionaries, they should follow the highlander's example. "There can be only one!"

    Live and be well - H
    Last edited by Hawkman; 09-14-2014 at 09:15 AM.

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    I agree with steven's comment. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece.

  7. #7
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    Cheers! Glad you enjoyed it

    Live and be well - H

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