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The coming of the Light of the World

The last Ice Age, around 110,000 to 11,700 years ago, part of a larger pattern of glacial and interglacial periods known as the Quaternary Glaciation (c. 2,588,000 years to the present), was a time of desperate hardship interspersed with occasional short-term warming periods. During the longer periods of darkness and bone-chilling cold, humans and other creatures in the Northern Hemisphere were hard-put to make a living, thanks to the short growing seasons, dependence of herbivores on plants whose availability fluctuated wildly, and desperate predators which often had to give up their preferred prey for more available prey.

During that time, humans living in the Northern Hemisphere huddled together in smallish groups, perhaps in caves, since the interiors of caves have a constant temperature that never falls much below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and could be warmed with fires placed in the areas of cave systems where there were vents to let smoke out and oxygen in. Large caves could accommodate a number of families, and if the water that ran through them -- the water that formed the caves -- was home to fish and other riparian creatures, those families wouldn't starve. But finding tubers, fruit, and other non-animal foodstuffs could be difficult, especially when the storms closed in and howling winds made walking virtually impossible and plants had no light to enable them to grow, was a dicey business then at best, and the fungi that grew in caves was often inedible or even poisonous, not the good mushrooms that lived in symbiosis with trees and other plants outside the caves.

Hunting was dicey, too. Locating the beasts that humans preferred for prey, e.g., mammoths, lions, and other mammalian megafauna, was not always possible even during the day, thanks to the darkness enwrapping the world, and following, trapping, and killing them might be impossible in the face of storm winds. But when they could take such prey, it was a time for rejoicing, for those animals provided huge amounts of fat needed by humans to keep their metabolisms and body-temperatures up to healthy levels; hides to make warm coats, leggings, and other clothing out of; and internal organs such as kidneys, livers, and sweetbreads, with their high nutritional content, to give optimal health. Whenever they took such prey, often the humans would sacrifice the valuable fat, hide, and internal organs to their G-d, which had a male and female aspect but was still One, to thank their G-d who, watching out for and protecting them and chasing game toward them, had kept them alive and well. The steaks, far less nutritious than the internal organs, they kept for themselves, but let their G-d have the best out of love of the G-d. (Thousands or tens of thousands of years later, the ancient and classic Greeks would perform that exact same sacrifice, but, forgetting its origins, believed they were getting the best of the deal, as Prometheus had taught them, burning the "offal" wrapped in hide for the G-ds and keeping the juicy steaks for themselves. By then, they preferred linens to hides for clothing, and their culinary tastes had changed enormously, since the Ice no longer dominated the world.)

There were times, however, especially for small human groups, that the Ice won, squeezing and squeezing the world in its grip of iron until there was no more food, no more animal hides, no more warmth in the world, and the humans in such groups became extinct. One by one, their lives would flash and burn out, the survivors weeping over their dead, knowing they would be next, and fearing their good G-d and all the life of their world was dying along with them. Their only defense against despair was the hope that they and their G-d and their world would be reincarnated elsewhere, along with the rest of the life dying in the grip of the Ice.

Yet one morning, some of these groups awoke to strange sounds: the dripping of water, not from inside the caves or other shelters, but at the entrance. Simultaneously hoping and fearing, they approached the openings of their shelters to find the icicles there were starting to melt! And bright light to the south showed the reason why: the Sun, the great manifestation of their G-d, had returned to the world, and with it, warmth and light! And their hearts leaped up, and they rejoiced, for G-d had returned from the dead and with G-d, their group also was reviving.

Such periods of warmth and light did not last all that long. But while they did, northern humans survived and multiplied, and somehow held on until the beginning of the Interglacial, 11,700 years ago, when their survival finally became assured and humans began to fill the Earth. And every year, in memory of the Return of the Light, they celebrated a few days after every Solstice, when, as it always did, the Sun began its northern journey again after six months of trending south. They knew, thanks to glimpses of the sky in summer and winter, that this northward trending after a half-year journey to the south began every year, and were not celebrating it as such. Rather, they celebrated it because it represented, on a short-time scale, the Return of the Light that had so rarely happened during the Ice Age, the brief but blessed breakout of the Sun in any season from the iron grip of the Ice.

We have forgotten the dying and the rescue from extinction our European ancestors went through during those ancient times -- consciously. But the memory of it has been passed down through morphic resonance from them, echoing in our genes and our bodies, and once a year, almost all of us celebrate the Solstice in one form another, the Return of the Light of the World.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 26th, 2017 10:27 am (UTC)
Considering such extreme hardship, it makes me wonder why it apparently never occurred to Ice Age humans to migrate out of the cold North back to warm Africa from whence they originally came. A hundred thousand freezing years passed, and no one thought it might be a good idea to move somewhere else where it's warmer?
Jan. 13th, 2018 05:02 am (UTC)
Some may have done so, but trying to do so entailed so many deadly hardships that many had to sty put until a temporary warming phase set in. And adapting to a very different environment might have been too much for many people.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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