By Brian George
“The heavenly motions are nothing but a continuous song for several voices (perceived by the intellect, not by the ear); a music which, through discordant tensions, through syncopes and cadenzas, as it were (as men employ them in imitation of those natural discords) progresses towards certain pre-designed quasi six-voiced clausuras, and thereby sets landmarks in the immeasurable flow of time.”—Johannes Kepler, The Harmony of the World (Harmonice mundi)
In an email about her relocation to Wyoming, Amely Greeven wrote: “I committed to staying through the winter, in a cabin owned by a wildlife photographer. When I went to visit it, deliberating about whether to take the leap, a female moose ambled out of the trees, dipped her sable muzzle into the creek, and then wandered up the jewel-green field next to me—yards from where I was standing. I took that to mean, ‘Yes, come here, and live next to us....’ I felt like Snow White. Will bluebirds come and braid my hair?”
I responded: Whether animals can become the vehicles for higher powers, or whether, by some quirk of a-causal clockwork, they can appear at just the right time and in just the right place in order to make some larger purpose understood, you can certainly feel when something out of the ordinary is going on.
When I was 16, and at the beginning of phase of almost psychotic creative transformation, I experienced, late one night, at 2:00 AM or so, an enormously loud ringing and droning sound. At first, I took this to be some type of bizarre emergency warning system, designed to get each person in the city out of bed, although it seemed like overkill for anything short of an imminent nuclear war. The sound could also be compared to Tibetan chanting: Enormously low, bone-shaking bass notes supported a middle ground of somewhat complex musical geometries, repetitive but chameleonic, and difficult to hear all at once, which then rose into almost inaudible overtones.
When, in the morning, I discovered that no one else had heard the sound, I was, to a certain extent shocked. I was shocked in the way that you are when you find out that your parents have had sex, and that your birth may in some way be connected to this act. On a different level, I had begun, even as it was happening, to suspect that this sound was actually the “Music of the Spheres.” For many thousands of years, perhaps, the volume had been turned down way too low, or else our ears had been plugged with wax. Then suddenly—and no doubt for reasons that were long ago explained, but by temperamental teachers, and in a language we don’t speak—the music became audible.
Quite wonderfully, and strangely, it seemed that the crickets in my neighborhood had known that this would happen, and had done their best to invite us to the event. All through the week, and especially on that afternoon, the whole of my neighborhood had begun to resonate, louder and louder, with their chirping. My fellow citizens would somehow sleep through the late-night nuclear alert drill—as ear-splitting and as context-shattering as it was. This, however, almost everyone did notice: wave upon wave, the sound made by the family “Gryllidae,” with its stridulatory organs; the sound of a sea of crickets rising and subsiding. Perhaps all of this had some natural explanation—a variation in the sun-spot cycle, for example, to which the insects and I were responding, each in our appropriate ways. Or perhaps the natural and supernatural worlds are always interpenetrating, but in ways that we are determined to discount.
Years later, in 1992, I had just finished the first—of a great many—versions of “To Akasha; An Incantation for the End of History.” It was 11:00 PM. I was still at work, and had just found out that my relief would be an hour to 90 minutes late. Restless, and very eager to get home, I went out for a walk around the building. A few squeaks and some static trickled from the exosphere. With a twinge of concern, I noticed that my shadow, bit by bit, had begun to disregard the law that it should imitate my movements. It measured between four and thirty feet, sometimes simultaneously. It seemed possible that my height was actually changing. I did not dare to look at my reflection in the window, for fear that it would not be there. Then suddenly, at my feet, I heard a loud clicking and banging and clattering sound, like a bunch of scissors snipping, along with pots and pans being knocked together. Looking down, I saw a luminous red-gold scarab, about two and one half inches long. It was flapping its wings, and doing a kind of geometrical dance, and going out of its way to make sure that I would stop to pay attention.
Are there scarabs in the Boston/ Cambridge area? There were certainly none of this size or color or beauty, and it seemed unlikely that a dung beetle was supposed to be emitting light. All of this was strange, but stranger still was that I had just Xeroxed the inner cover for the book, upon which was a picture from an Egyptian manuscript of a scarab riding in the Barge of the Enead—the nine Egyptian gods—and with his forelegs holding up the Sun.
What else could I do? I followed where the scarab led. I followed him for about 80 feet, around the front and then around the side of the building, at which point he flew up and positioned himself about three inches down from and directly under the center of a lamp—as though, once again, he was holding up the Sun. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I repeated in my mind, which I was convinced that he could read. My mind was almost altogether blank, like a sky with a few clouds, through which bolts of compacted information, like lightning, would flash and then dissolve. I did not dare to move, and stared, transfixed, until my relief arrived an hour and a half later. The scarab was still there when I left. The next day, when I arrived for work at 3:00 PM, I found that, beneath the lamp, a faint triangle had been inscribed on the cement.
More recently still, in June of 2010, at midnight, as I walked by a field and clouds billowed, like the spirits of dead architects, across the moon, I became convinced that a scarab would be waiting for me on the sidewalk. And there he was!—A slightly smaller red-gold scarab, not quite as luminous. But, then again, I had learned to pay attention. The fragrance of the night washed over me—cut grass, car exhaust, cedar chips mixed with dung, sumac in heat, salt air from the ocean, rosemary. The scarab, after doing a little geometric dance, then crawled toward my right foot in a perfectly straight line; he touched the center of the shoe with his head, looped sideways, walked straight between my feet, keeping to a path that was equidistant between the shoes, and then looped back to touch the center of my left heel, before veering off at a 45 degree angle into the field. As if to say, “Hello. Keep up the good work. Try each day to be more attuned to the geometric pattern that you trace, and the means by which North Egypt must plant its seed in the South.” There was no grand drama, only a silent exchange of gestures, unnoticed by the world.
Who knew that scarabs were such organized creatures? Truly, they have rolled the cities of Prehistory into a ball, which they then proceed to exhibit to the blind. They are OCD metaphysicians!
I have come to think: that there are signs everywhere, and that strange occurrences are the rule, not the exception, but, being the do-it-yourself creators of reality that we are, that we tend to walk past more totemic messengers than we notice. If, blundering along, I had managed to step on one of the scarabs, he would no doubt have been too polite to complain about his death.
My lack of wealth, fame, and power has nothing at all to do with my tendency to misinterpret his instructions, which should, in any case, have been spelled out in plain English! Since I have now been big enough to acknowledge my mistakes, the Powers-That-Be will, if they know what’s good for them, be returning my Pharaonic hat.
This much I can say: that in October of 1970, at 2:00 AM, I rushed from one window to the next in my family’s three-decker, from which I could see in a five mile arc to the horizon. The whole of space reverberated, as if the visible world were about to shake itself apart, and yet nowhere could I detect the nature of the emergency, or the source of the alarm. A soft wind lifted the curtains, bringing with it the aroma of burnt ozone. As I looked out over the factories and freight-yards, I could imagine the night watchmen leaning back in their chairs, or taking sips of Jim Beam before getting up for their tours. A few lights floated in the indeterminate distance. In the field across the street, it seemed that I could hear the milkweed pods pop open, as, one by one, they released their filaments, which then swam towards the moon. The night was quiet, and the city slept. There was no way to distinguish that one moment from another. It is certainly odd then that Music of the Spheres—which for the past two thousand years, at least, had been regarded as a metaphor—became, at that one moment, audible. Some sea-change had occurred.
Unseen by the living, a revolution had dismantled the great sonic-shields that protected us. First broadcast to the world by crickets, as men pruned hedges and women hung out clothes on lines, the Music of the Spheres had simply made its presence felt. It presented us with a kind of time-lapse ultimatum. To some, this sounded like crickets, to others like the wind through branches, to others like the hum of the Van Allen Radiation Belts, and to others like a nuclear alert, as it did to me. At 2:00 AM, the solar system had jumped closer to the Earth, and with it the harmonic theories of the Ancients. The next day, and since then, this music has been present as an echo—quite variable in volume, but to some degree always present at the edges of my hearing.
The only catch was: that insects were the only witnesses to my breakthrough into Hyperspace. And, so far as I could tell, they were not at all impressed. Among other things, it would seem that I had gotten way too big. What had happened to me? Had I had some sort of an accident, some helium-propelled expansion of the head? Clearly, I had gotten stuck in my space suit, and was now too clumsy to follow them through the cracks in the lunar mirror.
One makes do.
(Illustration: Brian George, Scarab-star, 1990)
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