Poet, author, mystic

5: Law of Guidance – Shackleton

Theolyn

Tuesday 6 February, 2018

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Despite the limitations, and the adversities we may have to contend with (what Shakespeare calls ‘the slings and arrows’ of life) we can always rely of the Law of Guidance.

In the 2002 movie, Shackleton, Kenneth Branagh plays the wilful and persistent explorer. We see him canvassing for finance from visible supporters in the scientific and business communities.

I believe it is in our nature to explore. The longest exploration of the Arctic or Antarctic ever attempted will reach out into the unknown. — Ernest Shackleton

Against the odds, he gets the money and is able to take his project forward. He is a driven man. Perhaps he is driven by personal ambition and hubris, perhaps by something essential in his Divine Contract. In the course of the film we see him embark on more than one very dangerous expedition.

Even when money is no longer an issue, because he and his comrades are in desperate circumstances, beyond the kind of help money can buy, Shackleton seems to have invisible support:

When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts. — Chapter 10, South, by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The poet T.S. Eliot says he had read Shackleton’s report, which influenced his poem The Wasteland, published in 1922, which, as you may guess from the title, deals with themes of despair, alienation and disillusionment. However, Eliot reassures us that all is not wasted. The following lines tell us that Eliot was aware of spiritual threads. In 1927 he converted to Anglicanism, having been brought up in the Unitarian Church.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
— But who is that on the other side of you? T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, lines 360–66

Eliot’s stranger in the brown mantle reminds us of The Hermit in the Tarot pack, often depicted carrying a lantern, which represents a light to guide our way forward. The Hermit is a reliable guide and companion, even if we can’t see them, or consciously speak with them. We can describe this invisible supporter as our Guardian Angel and the Daily Law of Guidance assures us that we can ask for assistance, whether our circumstances are extreme, as they were for Shackleton, or during the more regular trials we lesser mortals have to deal with in everyday life.

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