"Questers venture into the unknown, confront difficulties and dangers, and return home with new understandings of themselves and of the world. A pilgrimage, part trip and part ritual, is prescribed in all the religious traditions for those seeking healing and renewal. The impetus for the journey could be an urge to explore one's spiritual roots, a desire for absolution, a wish to pay homage, or a question that needs answering."
- Spirituality and Practice
The Magic of New Meanings
Mythical Images are Lures for Feeling, Catalysts for Adventure, Springboards for the Unexpected, Beckonings into the Unknown
Whitehead is interested in "the activation of an adventure into the unknown, the unexperienced, the unprecedented" (MT, 62), as Roland Faber writes in The Mind of Whitehead: Adventure in Ideas. Indeed, for Whitehead, adventure is among the five qualities of civilization, along with truth, beauty, art, and peace. Whitehead sees the universe itself as an adventure in the making, never fully contained in the past. There is always the next moment, itself unforeseen. Whitehead invites us to be adventurers too.
For most adventurers who risk the encounter with Whitehead's text, its treasures feel like the advent of a new paradigm or a new lens through which we become enabled to understand our existence on Earth and in this universe with fresh eyes and minds. It all begins to make sense. Meaning appears like magic. It is like a baptism of fire, of spirit, of the flame of thought, enkindling not only our mind but something closer to the visceral knowledge of hope, rekindling the remembrance of desires we might have felt but seem to have lost: suppressed motivations not to succumb to apocalyptic helplessness in view of the current impasses of life on this planet.
Filtering Whitehead through our layers of bad habits and disoriented learning, we may unlearn, untie caricatures of reality, and we may even feel compelled to do something about that: to bring change to the exhausted planet and our cultural divides. Whitehead feels like balm in the overheated, burning sensation of wounds of misunderstanding and division. A way out. A new way. A revolution—not of violent overturning but of gentle, profound reorientation of our deepest modes of thinking and moods of living.
How might we adventure into this new way?
One way is to allow our imaginations to be nourished by (to use Faber's phrase) the magic of new meanings. These new meanings can be evoked by Whitehead's texts, of course, and they can also be evoked by allowing our imaginations to be nourished by mythic images, by fantasies, by stories. Take the mythic Firebird of Slavic traditions.
The Firebird is a large bird with majestic plumage that glows brightly, emitting red, orange, and yellow light, like a bonfire that has just passed its turbulent flame. The feathers do not cease glowing if removed, and one feather can light a large room if not concealed. A typical role of the Firebird in fairy tales is as an object of a difficult quest into the unknown, whether comforting or dangerous.
The quest is usually initiated by finding a lost tail feather, at which point the hero sets out to find and capture the live bird, sometimes of his own accord but usually at the bidding of a father or king. Or perhaps, we might add, at the bidding of the Adventure of the universe itself.
Where to find the Firebird? One place is in music and art. Stravinsky has put part of the Firebird's lure into music and ballet. Walt Disney did something of the same in Fantasia, using Stravinsky. Who knows? We might also find the Firebird in Torah, or the New Testament, or the Qur'an, or the Tao De Ching. One of the deepest needs in our time is to relinquish hardened understandings of ourselves and the world and let new ideas speak to us. Whitehead's philosophy can help. Stravinsky can help.
The Firebird can help. The firebird represents the concept of transformation and renewal. Its magical presence symbolizes the potential for change and rebirth. The story explores the idea that through the destruction of the old (Kashchei's tyranny), new possibilities and a brighter future can emerge. There is no need to know in advance where they might lead. Follow the feathers.
Faber, Roland. The Mind of Whitehead: Adventure in Ideas (p. 16). Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Firebird Suite
"The Firebird Suite is a musical composition by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was originally written as the score for the ballet "The Firebird" (French: "L'Oiseau de feu"), which premiered in 1910. The ballet was a collaboration between Stravinsky and the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned the work for his Ballets Russes company.
The Firebird Suite is a selection of movements from the full ballet score that Stravinsky arranged into a standalone orchestral suite. The suite consists of several sections, each representing a different scene or episode from the ballet. The movements included in the suite are:
Introduction - This section sets the atmosphere and introduces the main musical themes.
The Firebird and its Dance - It portrays the appearance and dance of the Firebird, a magical creature.
Variation of the Firebird - A variation on the Firebird's theme, showcasing its beauty and grace.
Round Dance of the Princesses - A lively and spirited dance performed by a group of princesses.
Infernal Dance of King Kashchei - A powerful and intense dance representing the evil King Kashchei and his minions.
Berceuse (Lullaby) - A gentle and soothing melody, symbolizing the Firebird's calming powers.
Finale - A triumphant and energetic conclusion, representing the defeat of King Kashchei and the restoration of peace and happiness.
The Firebird Suite is known for its rich orchestration, vibrant melodies, and rhythmic vitality. It exemplifies Stravinsky's distinctive style, combining elements of Russian folk music with modernist compositional techniques. The suite's dramatic and evocative music captures the mythical and magical elements of the ballet's narrative. Over time, the Firebird Suite has become one of Stravinsky's most popular and frequently performed compositions, both as part of the full ballet and in its standalone orchestral form. It remains a significant work in the repertoire of classical music and is admired for its expressive power and innovative musical language."
Walt Disney's Fantasia
A Process Interpretation
Walt Disney described animation as a voyage of discovery into the realms of color, sound, and motion. The music from Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird inspires such a voyage. And so, we conclude this version of Fantasia with a mythical story of life, death, and renewal. (Angela Lansbury)
Voyages: There are many kinds of voyages: artistic, emotional, scientific, familial, nationalistic, religious. As we undertake these voyages, they become part of who we are. At least, this is how process philosophers and Buddhists understand things. They say that our very lives are voyages. Imagine a girl growing up. The growing up is part of who she is. Imagine her father aging. The aging is part of who he is. We cannot separate who we are from how we are becoming. We are people, to be sure, but we are also voyages. We are voyagers voyaging, and we change ever so slightly with every voyage.
The Universe: We are not alone in our voyaging. Atoms and molecules, stars and planets, hills and rivers, plants, and animals -- all these beings are acts of becoming. All are voyages. Indeed, says Whitehead, the universe itself is a vast and fathomless network of intersecting voyages: some atomic, some molecular, some stellar, some cellular, some biological, some spiritual. Together, they form a vast and infinitely complex network of inter-voyaging. The deepest voyage is God. God is the voyaging Voyager in whom the voyages unfold.
Lures: Animators and other artists are in the business of providing lures for voyaging. Animation takes us on an artistic voyage which, in some circumstances, can also be a religious voyage. The voyage is a religious voyage if it brings us closer to the deep Voyage whose essence is love and who seeks the well-being of all life.
Creativity: In creating their voyages, animators are collaborating with a deeper creativity which is everywhere at once. Whitehead calls it Creativity. Creativity is the production of novelty out of preceding events. Considered creativity is neither "good" nor "evil." The explosion of an atomic bomb is the production of novelty, and so is a simple act of kindness in human life. Nevertheless, in these and other activities, moment by moment, something new is coming into existence which, in its particularity, never existed before. There is novelty.
God: God is the ultimate expression of creativity but not the only expression. An act of cruelty is an instance of creativity, but it is not God. God is like a mother in whose womb the universe unfolds. The living cells in the universe have creativity, and so does the mother. She seeks the well-being of the cells inside her womb, but she is not all-powerful. Things can happen inside her womb that even she cannot control.
Callings: They feel her desire for their well-being as an inwardly felt calling, moment by moment, to survive with satisfaction relative to the situation at hand. They are called by the Mother to live and to live well and to live better. And the mother feels what is happening in them, too. After all, they are part of her very body. The cells have creativity of their own which transcends the mother, and the mother has creativity that transcends the cells. They are mutually immanent and mutually transcendent.
Art: The outcomes of the creativity of the universe are manifold: atoms and molecules, stars and planets, and, on our small planet, plants and animals. If art is a name for outcomes of creativity, then the whole universe is an evolving collage of different forms of art. The living beings on our planet are themselves forms of art. But they are a special form of art, and perhaps more specifically, of dance. Always we are dancing inside our minds and hearts, always there is movement.
Dancing: Our dancing may or may not involve motion. We can sit in one place -- like a cat crouched on a boulder -- and still be moving in our minds. Awareness itself is a form of dancing without movement. One value of modern dance is that it presents subjective states that may dwell within people and other living beings even when they are not moving. If music is what feelings sound like, and colors are what feelings look like, then dancing is how feelings move.
Wildness: Some forms of dancing are delightfully wild. Without a sense of wildness, we cannot play. And without protecting what we call "wild" forms of life, our imaginations sink into oblivion, and we diminish a great deal of value on Earth. In The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry reminds us that it is important to preserve wild places for three reasons. Wild places are invitations to remember our roots in the natural world; wild places provide us with the invaluable experience of leaving something alone; and wild places provide a standard by which we can measure the results, positive and negative, of our use of land.
Kindly Use: Berry is no romantic. He does not think that we can live by wildness alone. He knows that we will inevitably use the natural world around us for human and, hopefully, humane ends, and his life's work is to show how, with help from agriculture and culture, our use can be, in his words, kindly use. Thus, we need to have an appreciation for the living and organic quality of all life, including the life of soil. Whitehead would add that we need to have a sense that everything is alive one way or another. Even mountains are alive in their way.
Mechanistic Thinking: Why don't we do this? The problem of modern times is that we have forgotten or lost our capacities to see and feel the natural world as an expression of this vitality. We see living realities as reducible to dead realities: to small bits of inert matter whose behavior is entirely determined by pre-existing conditions and whose actions are products of collisions. These bits of inert matter lack any agency of their own. We forget Whitehead's lesson: that reality is composed of events, not lifeless particles, and that all events are happenings with a certain creativity of their own. Every event in the microscopic world is an activity by which many influences are gathered into the unity of a single moment, which adds something new to the universe. There is a perpetual production of novelty even at the submicroscopic realm. There is no dead matter. If creativity is the production of novelty, then there is creativity within the depths of matter.
Atomized Thinking: Another problem is that we so often think in atomistic terms rather than relational terms. Atomistic thinking lies in imagining the universe as composed of self-contained substances that exist all by themselves and then, only as an afterthought, enter into relations with other substances. Sometimes people imagine God this way. They think of God alone in heaven and then entering into a relationship with other things. Sometimes people think of themselves this way. They think of human beings as individuals who have identities and existence apart from their felt relations with other people, the natural world, and God. And sometimes people imagine submicroscopic particles this way. They think of these particles as self-contained atoms -- like the monads described by Leibniz -- which exist apart from being related to other atoms.
Relational Thinking: Whitehead encourages us to think of all realities as relational rather than atomistic. The things of our world emerge out of their relations with other things. As a Buddhist might put it, there are no beings floating in isolation existing all by themselves without any relation to other entities. There are only inter-beings. Descartes should not have said "I think, therefore I am." He should have said "We inter-are, therefore I am." And he should have added that any given I who emerges out of the fullness of inter-being is influenced not only by other human beings but by the body and its movements, by plants and animals, by soil and sun, by dreams and visions from the past, by hopes and dreams for the future. All of these realities are present in each moment of experience, forming the objective constitution of the experience itself.
Event Thinking: Never in our lives are we merely one. We are always many, too. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin; we are the many realities, some of which we perceive through our senses, which are being gathered into the unity of our experience in the present moment. In Whitehead's words, we are always the activity of many becoming one. This activity -- the activity of the many becoming one -- is the essence of each and every event. It is what is happening in us all the time, and other animals all the time, in living cells all the time, and in atoms and molecules all the time. Beings are becomings.
Divine Relativity: Whitehead agrees with the Buddhists and sees God as an expression of inter-being, too. He believes that love is one of the defining features of God and that what makes God "God" is not that God exists alone but rather that God is the most relational reality there is. The philosopher Charles Hartshorne speaks of this as the divine relativity. God is relative in many ways. God is perpetually adapting to each new circumstance in the universe, providing possibilities for creativity -- for the production of novelty -- relative to the circumstances at hand. God is perpetually affected by each new circumstance, "feeling the feelings" or "prehending the prehensions" of all living beings. Life, Death, and Renewal: Even the themes are collaborative. Life and death and renewal are not original to human life. They are part of the natural world itself. Some deaths are happy, and some are sad. The animation from Fantasia presents a story of life, death, and renewal that can be interpreted in many ways. Is the fire natural or unnatural? Is it tragic or hopeful? The story is subject to various interpretations, but the intent of the artists is clear. We must live within, not apart from, the creative rhythms of life and death; respectful of the larger web of life; and trustful -- so process thinkers will add -- of the divine relativity.
- Jay McDaniel
The Firebird Ballet: The Story
The story of the mythical firebird is famously associated with Igor Stravinsky's ballet composition titled "The Firebird" (French: "L'Oiseau de feu"). Stravinsky composed this ballet in 1910 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company. The ballet tells a captivating tale of an enchanted bird and a heroic prince.
The story takes place in a kingdom ruled by an evil sorcerer named Kashchei. Kashchei has a magical firebird in his garden that possesses the power to bring good fortune and prosperity. The firebird's feathers glow and shimmer with brilliant colors, symbolizing its magical nature.
One day, Prince Ivan Tsarevich wanders into Kashchei's garden while hunting and catches sight of the firebird. Enchanted by its beauty, Ivan attempts to capture the bird. However, the firebird manages to escape by offering Ivan one of its feathers as a token of peace.
Later in the story, Ivan encounters a group of maidens held captive by Kashchei. These maidens are bewitched and forced to dance ceaselessly, unable to escape. Guided by the firebird's feather, Ivan learns about a magic egg that holds Kashchei's power. He successfully finds and smashes the egg, which weakens Kashchei and breaks the spell over the maidens.
Kashchei, enraged by these events, summons his demonic minions to confront Ivan. But with the firebird's assistance, Ivan gains the upper hand and ultimately destroys Kashchei, freeing the kingdom from his tyranny.
The ballet concludes with a joyous celebration as the firebird leads Ivan and the people in triumphant dances, symbolizing the restoration of peace and happiness to the kingdom. Stravinsky's music for "The Firebird" is highly regarded for its innovative and vibrant orchestration, incorporating Russian folk melodies and powerful rhythms. The ballet's success launched Stravinsky's career and established him as a prominent composer of the 20th century.
A Few Stories of the Firebird
"Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf": This popular Russian fairy tale tells the story of a young prince named Ivan Tsarevich who embarks on a quest to capture the Firebird. With the help of a wise Grey Wolf, Ivan traverses through challenging obstacles, including a kingdom guarded by a fearsome serpent and a city of beautiful maidens. Eventually, Ivan captures the Firebird but later finds himself on a new quest to rescue a princess from the clutches of the villainous Kashchei the Deathless.
"The Feather of Finist the Falcon": This tale originates from Russian folklore and revolves around a beautiful maiden named Marya Morevna who marries a prince named Ivan. However, Ivan discovers that Marya possesses a secret—a magic cloak that allows her to transform into a falcon. Curiosity gets the better of Ivan, and he spies on her while she is in her falcon form. Marya catches him, and in anger, she flies away, leaving behind a single Firebird feather. Ivan sets out on a journey to find Marya, using the Firebird feather as a clue.
"The Golden Cockerel": This story is a well-known fairy tale by Alexander Pushkin, inspired by Slavic folklore. It follows the adventures of Tsar Dadon, who receives a magnificent Golden Cockerel as a gift from a wizard. The Cockerel possesses the ability to sense danger and warns the Tsar whenever enemies approach. However, when the Tsar wages war against a neighboring kingdom, the Golden Cockerel warns him of the consequences. Despite this, the Tsar persists, and when he tries to strike down the enemy king, the Golden Cockerel pecks him, causing his death. The story reflects themes of greed, arrogance, and the consequences of ignoring warnings