It’s hot out. Egg frying hot. Flambé, brulé, French-speaking hot.
It’s just really frickin’ hot.
So hows about we contemplate the Arctic? Not the actual, mappable, iced-terror Arctic, but the Arctic of the ancient Greeks. You know what I’m driving at, don’t you?
It was totally our homies, the Greeks, who assigned that name. Arktikos means “country of the great bear,” in reference to the far northern constellation of Ursa Major. This was no land of hoary cold and gloom. No, Hyperborea lay there, a paradisial realm of abundant fruits, chain lakes, perpetual sunlight, and sweet, flower-ruffling breezes. (Boreas being a place slightly further south from whence came the north wind.) Its inhabitants were philosophical, ancient, mystical…contented as clams.
Sounds like a swell place to live. Except–listen up–do not attempt to get there. Like any other paradise, physical or existential, the borderlands are a bitch to traverse.
Conversely, 7th century religious writers suspected the Arctic to be the epicenter of evil, chaos, and the hidey-hole of the Anti-Christ. And no wonder since the Barbarian hordes had descended from the north, like so many hockey goons: Goths and Vandals and Vikings. Ice hellions from ice Hell. Christian civilization agrees that it was very naughty and pagan the way they sacked Rome.
Even now we must wonder if there isn’t some whiff of black magic in Swedish furniture and bowhead whales the size of six street cars.
All of this and more I have learned from Barry Lopez’s National-Book-Award winning tome Arctic Dreams. Turns out Arctic lore extends far beyond the dopey bounds of Santa Claus and his elven workshop.
As dualistic thinkers, I don’t think humans can really speak of the polar ends of the earth without speaking of good and evil. If there is an Arctic, there must be an Anti-arctic.
How do you, dear reader, feel about the Arctic? Is it a spinning sea of sin? A happy, elusive land of delectable fruits? The seventh circle of hell? The seventh circle of heaven? What do you make of boreal winds and 7th century theologians? How do we work Eskimoes into theology?
I am opening a forum…the first in a series of Arctic Circle pieces. This is just the tip of the you-know-what. Discuss below.