December 22, 2015

[Fractal Interpolation] Episode 22: Bleak Midwinter

Episode 22

In the Bleak Midwinter




Ammer / Einheit / Gry: Iceland : A musical rendition of the doomed Scott Antarctic Expedition. Cold and lonesome. “I’m going outside, I may be some time.”


Welcome, especially to all the new subscribers. Thanks and a shout out to Damien who sent a few of you here. Welcome to the darkest night of the year, if you’re in my hemisphere.

A Disclaimer: I talk about Faeries herein. Since my first draft of this newsletter I have learned that some of the aforementioned new subscribers are Actual British People and also Actual Wizards and are most likely on a first name basis with some of the Fae. Please forgive my syncretic Americanization of your world, I work with what I got.

In The Shadow of the Sun

I got a first-gen Pebble recently. This is not going to be a product review, except to say that I’m kind of surprised how helpful for my focus it’s been to keep my phone in my pocket. Rather I mention it to say that, of course, it being a smartish watch, there are a plethora of custom watch faces that you can use to insert whatever data into the carrier wave of you glancing at your watch. The one I keep it on most often is this:

That is not just an awkward photo of my wrist that includes the date for future forensic embarrassment. That is the view from STEREO-A, one of a pair of satellites that do nothing but stare at the sun all the time, from two constantly changing angles[1]. That is the current (+/- 8 hours) electromagnetic field around the sun, as it impacts the electromagnetic field on earth, rendered in low resolution black and white on my watch. I’ve been paying attention to the solar weather of late, and I can now pretty instinctively tell you whether or not you’re going to see auroras at your latitude, as well as what time it is.

There’s a couple of things, here, I could talk about weak signals and backchannels, or about ambient information, and those are pretty interesting. But what I’m thinking about right now, as I look at that, is that void in the center, defined by the pixellated ultraviolet light that limns it, and how cold it is outside right now. The Shadow of the Sun.

It is midwinter, and, if I time this right, it’s the Solstice.

I went looking through my old notes to see if I’ve talked about how the Supply Chain (All Praise To The Supply Chain) separates us from the traditional seasonal cycle, and, of course, I did last year at exactly this time. This is the time of the year I think about these things, I guess. I’m much more a winter person than summer. Winter is when we instinctively think of need.

Let’s talk about Faeries.

There’s this modern notion of Faeries as being light and fluffy things, all Tinkerbell and Godmothers and all the other things that happens when Disney gets ahold of your mythos. But faeries, in the old stories, are deeper, more dangerous things. They are like people, only moreso, so the ones who are nice are very nice, and the ones who aren’t…

(I was looking for an image of Gaiman’s dialogue where Peasblossom says “‘I am that merry wanderer of the night’? I am that giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic-menace-to-life-and-limb, more like it.”)

Just like humans, any individual is capable of being either, of course, but broadly, there are two camps. The nice side of the family are known as the Seelie Court, and the cousins who cause trouble are known as the Unseelie. This isn’t a moral Good/Evil Dichotomy, though. This is the difference between light and dark, creation and destruction, or, in the language of western magick, Right hand and Left hand paths.

Winter, as is likely apparent, is the domain of the Unseelie Court. And the Winter Solstice is one of their high holy nights, the longest night of the year, on which they party like the sun will never rise again.

This is all metaphor, of course. My current working definition of “magic” is those things that are simultaneously metaphor and reality, so I’m not going to make much of that distinction. Metaphors, stories, are what let us make sense of the world (as I spoke about at great length and annoyance last time). They’re models, like quanta or light waves or ultraviolet or the data on a watch face. They are the tools we use to move the world. So, winter as the domain of the Unseelie is, to me, completely compatible with this view from a satellite hurtling around the sun.

Winter is the darkness that allows the light to be important. It’s the hunger that sweetens the meal. It’s the shrinking of the light until that moment the day has just a little more time for the sun to warm the earth, and the prayer that eventually the light might be enough to reawaken the seeds so the crops will grow again. It’s the knife edge of fear before the hope that we can all be sure of having something to eat. It’s the shadow that we peer out from, instinctively, even when we live in places where there are still, miraculously, strawberries to eat. Because the hindbrain knows that that miracle is built on some pretty fragile structures, and we remember the cold in our genes.

We’re in a very long winter now. Maybe the longest one, the Fimbulwinter of the Norse gods, the winter that lasts forever. Here at the leading edge of capitalism, San Francisco, it’s been late autumn for the last several years, and I am, as I said, a winter person. So I love the longest night of the year, because I love the darkness and the womb it provides. But I know that the seed must grow.

Soon, perhaps by the time you read this, the angles of the STEREO satellites will bring them round the other side of Sol, and we will loose contact with them until they emerge from the shadow of the sun. So, take a moment, tonight, to contemplate the darkness, and to let it be a space within which you can more clearly see whatever light you have.

See you on the upswing.

  1. (“On February 6, 2011, the two spacecraft were exactly 180 degrees apart from each other, allowing the entire Sun to be seen at once for the first time” – wikipedia)  ↩