Personal Experience: The Numinous Moth

THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE by the Louise Erdrich is, in my opinion, a book worth reading.  I had a unique experience with the book (6/12/11).

To try and put the experience in context, I need to explain a bit of the plot. (A spoiler alert may be unnecessary, as this is a rich book with branching story-lines.)  The protagonist is a woman, Agnes, whose life is miraculously saved so that she can become a priest (pretending to be a man) at a remote Indian reservation.

Now, Agnes is a passionate woman, but the circumstances that push at her life are strong.  She has visions.  She follows her visions.  At one point in the narrative she has an affair with a young male priest that lasts for several months.  There is no guilt.  Rather, the experience is glorious.  But she knows it can’t last – that the responsibility to her visions, and to the miracle of her survival, means that she cannot run off to live a normal married life.  It tears her up to break it off, this choice that is no choice, and she resumes her calling as a priest – alone.

Soon thereafter, an elder named Nanapush, tells her that he knows she is a woman.  He speaks, “You’ve tricked everybody.  Still, your spirits instructed you to do so, so you must do it.  Your spirits must be strong to demand such a sacrifice.”

Agnes replies: “Yes, my spirits are very strong, very demanding, very annoying.”

I have a deep connection and understanding at that point in the narrative and feel I need to close the book and let the feeling settle into my body.  The house, despite its sense of openness, feels too small.  A mood has settled over me that I can’t quite identify.  I open the patio door to go outside into the night.  There, just outside the door, is a Polyphemus Moth (related to the Cecropia Moth, except the Polyphemus Moth has owl’s eyes on its wings).  I’ve never seen this species before (alive or otherwise), and I want to take a photograph.  When I go back inside the house to get my camera, the moth follows close behind, right over my shoulder.  I have no chance to keep it out.  The large moth (five-inch wingspan) flies about the room.  I worry it might injure itself – either in flight in the closed space, or in my capture.  But I am gentle, cupping my hands around the moth and bringing it back outside.  The moth poses for me while I take pictures, including a picture of the moth on the finger of my left hand.

The event felt numinous.  The moth felt like a spirit – waiting for me outdoors, following me indoors, then hanging around like a cooperative fairy while I took its picture. It felt like the conversation that had begun in my mind, as I closed the book, was taken up by the spirit of night: maybe demanding, but also wondrous, don’t you agree?

I had never seen a moth of this type before.  That makes its appearance unique. The timing of the event was clear – a direct response to my experience with the book.  I felt transformed (again).

So why my identification and response?  I don’t plan to go into the world pretending to be a nun.  And I am in no way claiming that my spirits are strong and also demanding, as Agnes states in the book.  Nor am I claiming that strong spirits require personal sacrifice (sometimes it’s just the opposite – strong spirits provide cushion).  I will say this: Carl Jung once stated that he felt his daimon (read spirits – it’s close enough) was highly informative and vital, as well as demanding.  At one point in his life, his spirits were so demanding that he risked losing his sanity if he chose to ignore them.  Even after the crisis had passed (and maybe because it passed), he continued to feel a responsibility.  The more knowledge he gained, the greater the responsibility that he felt toward the archetypes that fed his knowledge.  He even went so far as to say that he was strongly urged by the archetypes (again, read spirits – it’s close enough) to complete his work.

There obviously was a reason for my visceral response to Erdrich’s story.  Mostly, I have to say that I’ve been cushioned and blessed by the spirits.  But there’s also been sacrifice.  Perhaps sacrifice is built into the human condition.  Perhaps the difference between a spiritual traveler and more average folk is that the spiritual traveler is striving to be mindful – mindful of the spirits that bless as well as mindful of sacrifices that are made at the expense of the ego.

I have resonated with both Beauty and the binds that Life has given.  I feel them both. Perhaps it’s because I, too, am passionate, that I allowed myself the suspended moment – staring at the words: my spirits are strong, demanding. Then I closed the book and went outside.

And Spirit was listening.

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