Atargatis is believed to be the first mermaid tale of Assyria. She fell in love with a mere mortal, a shepherd. She killed him accidentally, not recognising the strength of her powers. In grief and mourning, she jumped into a river to turn into a fish. But she remained half fish, half goddess because her beauty could not be diminished.
‘I surrender my tears, my body to the sea. The rise and collapse of the moon, the drag and twist of the waves. My heart is rent. The spumes rush to claim me, silver white and unstoppable. My grief is perpetual emerald blue. Streaming and swirling. Releasing me, scaled in remorse and sorrow, silver and green. And the sands beneath me are changed and he is lost forever’.
Atargatis, great goddess of northern Syria. Great Mother of the Water. Goddess of the seas. With long, flowing hair like the waves. First of the mermaids.
Today, I took my first trip out in a car for three months. Three long months. Or 88 days to be precise. Not really that long in an average adult’s lifetime. I was pregnant for three times this period! Twice! The days now seem to blur seamlessly one into another. There’s nothing in the diary to count down to and no timetable, other than on work days.
The countryside verges looked overgrown to me and a little neglected. Maybe it’s always looked like that in the Summer months? For weeks, I’ve pounded the pavement or the cycle paths for my daily exercise. These routes are now well trodden and I couldn’t wait to look at a wider, more open space.
We parked up at a quiet spot with a lovely view. There was a long bench nearby to sit on, with room enough for the three of us. I turned to my son and said,
“It’s okay. We’re one household, so we can sit there”.
He corrected me.
“We’re not allowed to sit on benches yet. Only for a short rest”.
I agreed, then I thought to myself how our discussion, those words didn’t even seem strange anymore.
But, if I went back in time, about a year, I would find myself in roughly the same place. How weird it would seem then!
I miss dipping my toes into the lapping tide, a sunny breeze lifting my hair. For some reason, I find the sea calming and inspiring. When I was a little girl, I used to submerge myself at the swimming pool. I enjoyed the mute world under the water. I would plug my ears and listen to the loud boom of another person’s voice . Waves of sound moved through the water like a siren’s song.
It felt like a sanctuary then and it still does. I’m not alone. So many of us are drawn to the sea. But why? It’s a place of contradictions. Calm and wild, devastating and restorative. Fearful and soothing.
We spend the first nine months of our lives in a watery womb. At birth, our bodies are about 78% water. We need water to survive. Populations across the world have gravitated towards it for thousands of years. It’s universal and boundless, covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface. Sustaining us, giving us life. Inspiring us to holiday close to it, to connect to it through art, sport and food.
However, 95% of earths’ waters are yet to be explored. They’re still a mystery. Many of our favourite legends are borne from the sea. Thieves, mermaids and krakens. Maybe it’s the unfathomable depths of the sea that draw us.
Or maybe it is the calm, endless waves reconnecting us to our life support. Helping us to feel recharged and revived.
The Spring or Vernal equinox marks the first day of Spring in the astronomical calendar. It’s a time when there are equal periods of light and darkness. This year, it fell on Thursday March 19th, earlier than it has done in over a century. Just four days before the official lockdown started in the UK.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought many days of darkness.
And yet, the sun rises earlier and Nature is in a state of renewal. Cherry petals have blossomed, like powder pink confetti. Birds and butterflies are winging back to the Northern hemisphere. Trees are bursting to life, plants are budding. Daffodils proudly herald in a new period of growth.
In Ancient Italy, traditionally women would plant seeds in the garden of Adonis on the Spring Equinox. Today, the bright yellow Spring Adonis herb flowers in March.
Despite Covid-19, the world is rebuilding as the Earth continues its constant and unending orbit of the sun.
Despite lockdown and social distancing, the world will find new ways to come together to mark Easter.
We can celebrate light today. We can hope for a period of recovery and maybe change for the better after we come through the peak of the crisis. And we can salute all the good in the world and every act of courage, compassion and kindness that we have all seen, given or received.
Kindness is everlasting and healing and will endure long after lockdown.
When I was little, I used to play Mahjong with my family. It was a Christmas tradition, as familar as Brussell sprouts, the recycled tree from Woolworths, paper bunting and My Fair Lady on the TV.
Now in Lockdown, many of us are turning to the humble board game for entertainment.
Our Mahjong set came from China. It’s a small treasure chest. Each oblong tile is hand carved from bone and bamboo. This would rightly be forbidden today, but, as a child, I didnt think about that. I held each light piece in my hand and turned them over, in wonder. They felt strangely cool to touch. Polished and smooth with mysterious images carved on the top of each piece. Colourful flowers, winds and circles.
For me at the time, the pleasure came more from imagining the journey that this set been on. I was never competitive and winning the game had less interest for me than collecting my favourite tiles. The game is played with four players and there were five of us in my family. I would share a seat with my Dad and hope that he collected the dragons. He let me place each tile on the rack. My imagination would take flight again, staring at the winged creatures. The dragon is revered in China, a symbol of wisdom and power. A kind creature, rather than the fiery, village scorching Western type. They’re also a Chinese symbol of luck, but I don’t remember how many times Dad won. He was probably slowed down by my incessant questions and by the port and mince pies.
The set was brought back to the UK by my paternal Grandfather who was in the Merchant Navy. I had never met him. He died when I was very young. To me, he was an enigmatic, intrepid explorer. A faceless, fearless man who had carried home a small mahogany box now sitting on our orange, swirly carpet at home. A puzzle shrouded in a secret history. A land of curious, exotic characters.
The box itself is embossed with a large , emerald green Chinese character. The opening panel is tricky. There’s a knack to it. As it falls open, it reveals neat trays of tiles. I used to always be in a rush to choose my favourite tray, jostling with my older, lanky brother and sister.
I didn’t notice then that each tile was also carved with Western numbers. Maybe this little work of art, this prize had been mass produced before it was shipped across the world.
But I didn’t know that then and it doesn’t matter now.