We sense an almost mystical importance with events like the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral. The ancient kings employed teams of magicians and diviners for just such a moment. The fiery plunge of a much revered spire would have been seen as an omen. A warning. A message from the gods–who spoke as much via events on earth as they did via events in heaven.
On some level we remember such a time when the world was full of meaning. On some level we still yearn for that. We sense this ancient spire falling was a sign.
Yet we’re a materialist culture now. There are no state diviners to enfold us in a specifically meaningful story. Instead of wondering what the gods were trying to tell us, quickly the news runs to our go-to story, which is all about the indomitable human spirit. “Something was lost. But we won’t be defeated. We’re singing. We’re standing together. We’ll rebuild and rise again.”
Flowers, vigils, and resolve have their place. But we’re living through important times–so we should work a little harder. Even without state diviners, we can use our innate symbolic intelligence to unearth a deeper meaning. What is the warning here? What do you see?
Diviners work with logical grids. That the fire burned at the top, roof and spire, suggests a different meaning than had it burned through the altar and pews. That it ignited at the start of Holy Week and not on a Tuesday in June—this is another piece of the story. That the cathedral walls and interior, that its stained glass windows, organ, and priceless relics all survived—this too is a message. And what was lost besides the roof’s structure? It’s what was in the roof’s structure. Gone is the wood from the forest of 12th Century oaks that pointed roof and spire toward heaven. You could say that whether the fire was intentional or accidental also matters, but for a culture who believes gods are speaking, there are no accidents. It’s all intentional.
The ancient diviners would have looked at the significance of the hour when the fire began and the direction–north, south, west, or east–of the smoke. These details elude us now. We can start more simply. An important cathedral burned and its spire fell. What does the cathedral symbolize? What in our world is burning and in danger of destruction?
Here are a few suggestions from the morning news … an obvious symbol is Catholicism, which certainly has been consumed by the flames of its own controversies. “Notre Dame is one of the great symbols of Paris and all of Western Civilization,” said the morning news anchor. The burning of a great architectural masterpiece could symbolize the tenuous situation of other great works of humanity, like democracy and justice. President Macron said, “Notre Dame is our history. Our literature. Our imagination. … A part of us is burning.”
The ancient diviners disagreed with each other frequently. Divining is a subjective art. But that doesn’t mean anything goes. Getting the message right matters. Perhaps you already have your own interpretation.
As for me, over here near the Oregon coast, I lean toward the cathedral as a fitting emblem for all of us, for humanity, for civilization. And the warning? I keep thinking of the forest of 12th Century trees that were lost. These can’t be recreated. These precious gifts of nature are forever gone, like the flora and fauna disappearing, as the effects of climate change keep showing themselves. I hear echoes of the sobering message of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist, who keeps telling the adults in charge, the politicians and economists, “I want you to panic. Our house is on fire. I am here to say our house is on fire.”
That the fire burned high–destroying roof and spire–suggests it’s our relationship with the sacred world that needs mending. I’m heartened by how much of Notre Dame and its relics were saved. This too is part of the omen. It suggests that we can save ourselves if we unite and act quickly. At Notre Dame, within minutes, as firefighters fought, a human chain had gathered, passing the relics to safety in record time. Yes we can do amazing things and not just rebuild cathedrals. We can save our planet. We can save ourselves.
But the gods are warning, “Hurry up. You don’t have much time.”
Marvelous article….thank you! I saw a reference that said the
gargoyles had been removed (so construction work could be better
accomplished) and within moments the fire started. If true that is a
huge message too!
Carla Hartsfield says
This is one of my favourite articles I’ve read of yours. It is inspired, and indeed, captures the idea of divination beautifully. It has given me lots to ponder today.
John Sameluk says
Thank you once again for your “divination”.
I was fortunate to have lived for a few years within an Oregon forest of Douglas Fir and Bracken Fern. Duncan Taylor’s new book WILD FORESTING: Practicing Nature’s Wisdom, explores the importance of forests economically, socially and spiritually.
Hermès taught us the law of correspondence. The image of Notre Dame burning was witnessed by millions. The resonance of that image, within the consciousness of the human population of our world, will hopefully serve as a clarion call.
Pablo Sender’s new book, EVOLUTION of the HIGHER CONCIOUSNESS is highly recommended to those willing to participate in practicing Nature’s Wisdom and answering the call for a new bridge to divinity.
John Jefferson says
I appreciate the thoughts. A friend pointed me to the story. The spire as a spiritual symbol is becoming foggy to the public. I would like an exploration of the previous commentators of original “holy ground” – Temple of Isis or Temple of Paris. Intuitive nature is not sexist. Male bashing is a crutch. I’m a Yin – Yang kind of guy.
The zone of being intuitive implies being receptive without prejudice. The noise of contemporary culture is a smoke bomb for the intuitive mind..
“Our house is burning” indeed. Like the Tarot card “The Tower of Babel” says “fear of change” but also “moving too fast”. Maybe we all need to take a collective sigh and stop barreling into the future and spend some time contemplating where we are as a collective, and listen to the divine and her warnings. The witnessing of Notre Dame was a horrific shock to many of us and yet also a cry for the need to change the Patriarchal direction of things, which for the collective could be scary!. Maybe we need to give the Goddess her due. They claim it was an accident and if that is the case it does not mean there is no symbolic meaning in this Historic event.
I get what you are saying, but both the spire and the timbers were 19th century additions. Maybe your message should be more about preserving the ancient, rather than a need to change what something was intended to be? Just a thought.
The spire is a 19th century addition but the timbers in the attic were not. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/world/europe/why-notre-dame-fire-spread.html
Thank you Dana for this insightful interpretation, I couldn’t agree more, we humans can do amazing things and it is time to place ourselves within nature again and attune to its rhythm.
I would like to mention a great, big thunder that fell on Acropolis the very next day, injuring four people. The thunder was so great that was heard throughout Athens. On both occasions, I kept thinking that this may be a second omen,
As you say, time to read the signs.
Thoughtful post. Apparently the millions raised overnight to rebuild the cathedral have inspired (shamed?) some to donate to the 3 and counting recent burnings of African American churches in Louisiana. It’s been finally designated a hate crime.
Also, isn’t the cathedral built on top of a Temple of Isis? Temple of Parisi I believe. From which the city got its name. Maybe the Goddess is truly rising up and sending a message as you suggest.
Thank you so much for your wake up call! To help us to see through the events and go beyond and get the meaning/communication form the Gods. Deeply grateful*
Thank you for this. You read the signs of our collective, turning point events with such insight, acknowledging loss and danger but offering inspiration for moving forward. I still quote your reading of the 2017 Inauguration and Women’s March as the day we women elected ourselves. And the results of the mid-term elections support your divinatory insights.
Dana Gerhardt says
Thank you Carolyn, high praise! i am always reminded, however, of Cassandra, cursed to deliver true prophecies that no one would believe.