Hiraeth

And That Meant Comfort

And That Meant Comfort


I spent the longest night of the year with G/Son and then we bundled up early this morning (it’s now Winter and it’s now cold! — as much as I don’t like snow or ice, as a gardener, I know how much we need cold weather this time of year to help the plants figure out what time it is, so I’m welcoming the cold) to go see The Hobbit. It’s been decades and decades since I read The Hobbit and I’ll confess that I was the least enthusiastic of my group of friends. Something about it bothered me that I didn’t have words for at the time, although feminist studies readily provided the words a few years later.

But, still, and, of course, what’s not to like about elves and those Moon-in-Taurus halflings, and Moon runes, and secret caves, and swords with names, and . . . .? But what I think really appealed to most of my friends about The Hobbit is the deep sense of hiraeth (a word that I recently discovered and that has become one of my favorites) that one gets from reading it. Indeed, whether or not J.R.R. Tolkien knew the word (I suspect, philologist that he was, that he knew it very well), The Hobbit is a paen to hiraeth: a novel devoted to the feeling of longing and homesickness for a world that we may never have experienced and that may never have, exactly, existed.

If only there were still a Middle Earth, a place where everyone calls you X, daughter of Y, or where you are called Thorin Oakenshield because of the time that you used an oak branch as a shield. (Although in that world, I’d be called: Hecate, 16 U.S.C. Catapult, but that’s another story, for another day, around another warm fire.) If only we all still remembered the names of the landbases and the peoples who had gone before. If only incursions of orcs or trolls still symbolized changes. If only there were still a Rivendell where change came so slowly as to be almost manageable. If only the brown wizard Radagast still guarded our own Mirkwoods. If only . . . . Well, that’s the essence of hiraeth, isn’t it? If only there were still . . . .

Not that Tolkien and Monique Wittig had too much in common, but Wittig was talking about the same thing, only with a bit more of a point than Tolkien, when she wrote:

There was a time
when you were not a slave,
remember that you walked alone,
full of laughter,
you bathed bare-bellied.
You may have lost all recollection of it,
remember…

You say there are not words to describe it,
you say it does not exist.
but remember,
make an effort to remember,
or, failing that,
invent.

I can’t imagine the world in which G/Son is going to live. It will likely be as different from my world as Hurricane Sandy was from the East Coast rainstorms of my youth. And I’m not sure what tools, other than grounding, breathing, centering, washing away from his eyes what Ivo Dominguez has called the “enchantment of forgetfullness” — the enchantment of the overculture that causes us to see the world as if it were not all numinous and not all connected — I can give him. But I think that one other accessory that will both help him and, sometimes, make him a bit sad is a touch of hiraeth. I imagine that his world will change so radically and so rapidly that he may often look back with hiraeth at his own childhood. And I want him to understand the simple pleasure that can be found in a home connected to Earth:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats–the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill–The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it–and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the lefthand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.

Being six, what G/Son liked best were, in order of importance: (1) the 3-D glasses; (2) the concession stand; (3) the swords with names and powers; and (4) the sword fights.

Being his Nonna’s grandson, what he liked best was the song about the misty mountains, which he wanted to stay and hear through the credits at the end and which he hummed all the way home.

That’s hiraeth.

Picture found here.

2 responses to “Hiraeth

  1. Me and m’Lady are gonna go see it Christmas Day – no Gkids though, the one that’s old enough lives 350 miles away and the local ones are too new.

  2. Hello Hecate. This is “off thread” , I hope you don’t mind. I’m a new Witch and I am trying very hard to practice my craft and learn as much as I can. I read Starhawk and Pagan Square but am now at a bit of a loss about how I can move forward and develop my skills and knowledge. Did you have a teacher? How did you find your coven? Did you have to try many times before you could find women who you could trust and felt a connection with so that you could do magic together? Your blog is a source of good sense and education for me, you are a wise woman and I trust your judgement, so I hope you don’t mind being bombarded with my questions. Many thanks.

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