Into every life a little tempest must whirl.
It is how you face the Tempest which signifies.
Shakespeare’s Tempest feature’s the word Brave almost 20 times. Each of the strange characters who live on the island, which the playwright fashions in our imagination, braces themselves for a storm.
Yet to be brave on the magic island is not really to stand implacable in the face of fear.
Even if you have never read a word of the play, Miranda will be a familiar character to you: a naive teen who suddenly glimpses the world beyond the tightly controlled existence her father has set for her. She sees shipwrecked men and exclaims: Brave new world, that hath such people in it!
Brave, to her, means dashing. It has a Sinbad-the Sailor swashbuckling wonder about it. And look again: a ship is described as “tight and and yare and bravely rigged” and Ariel the spirit who does the bidding of the wizard of the island “a brave spirit”. Again and again in the Tempest, the word brave is not about facing fear at all: but about embracing the new and admirable.
The Celt gave me a typically fabulous Valentine’s Day present: a visit to Britain’s Ministry of Curiosities, The British Museum.
We went last Saturday, walking from Waterloo to Holburn and then wandering the corridors of the Ministry in wonder. What a top cabinet it is, filled with ooohs and aaaahs. The Celt likes cultures, I like history. We headed for the Asian galleries in joyful anticipation.
And here it is, Reader, that Shiva the Destroyer of Things waits for you.
Just like the word Brave, with its overtones and undertows, Shiva as a Destroyer has a far greater story to tell. For this is not just the Destroyer, but he who clears ready for the creation of the new.
The Shiva I love sits in the centre of the gallery where everyone must walk past, and he is Shiva Lord Of The Dance. A dancing deity in a circle of fire, this code for change takes my breath away. I first saw him sitting on the shelf at a Wizard’s Cottage in Wales .
He holds oceans of symbolism which make Shakespeare’s ‘Brave’ sound positively conservative. The circle represents the universe, in which our physical laws – mass, energy, space and time – have dominion.
He stands on a squalling dwarf, Mujalaka – which represents ignorance and the ego, whose back we must break to win our very selves. His foot is raised against gravity, a symbol of contemplation. His hair streams to the limits of the Universe. He dances in fire, bringing destruction, and yet his hand is raised in a clear gesture from Indian dance: it means: Be Not Afraid. All Is Well.
Change is at our core. It happens on every level – Stafford Beer called them ‘recursions’ – of our existence, from the destruction of a bacterial colony or the flooding of an anthill, to the impact of a meteor, to the end of the universe. Yet this destruction, often painful, and subsequent recreation, is a core purpose of ours, here in this existence.
I came upon the author of Brave New World, talking about this statue. Let him have the last word on what is Brave, and on Shiva the Destroyer, and Shiva, the Creator.