The most recent trip to Hamburg at the beginning of the month coincided with some serious gales across Europe.
I was flying Lufthansa which means they are very German about delays. Once we were all boarded, the very German pilot spoke over the loudspeaker, explaining in detail that the delay was due to the weather holding up getting the plane out of the hangar in Cologne.
Then he said, cheekily, “but don’t worry. I know a few shortcuts.”
The passengers chuckled.
I recall speaking to a low cost airline pilot a few years ago. Firstly, he confirmed that all those crazy things like engines falling off and wheels not retracting really do happen all the time. Those are the things he was concerned with. Weather wasn’t at all a problem... if anything it made it interesting. Commercial air travel is so automated now that it otherwise gets really boring for those in the cockpits.
Hopefully, this was the source of the German pilot’s cheekiness. Today he would actually get to fly a plane. Because it was going to be a very bouncy ride. (You can tell how bumpy by how much the pilot is willing to crack jokes.)
New Zealand is an absurd place for aircraft. It’s basically just a bunch of mountains that catch the weather on some narrow bits of land out in the middle of the ocean. The capital city apparently has the second-shortest international runway in the world. To land in Wellington to pretty much drop out of the sky and slam on the brakes.
Once, on a ski trip when I was a child, the turbulence was so bad that a hardcover, A4 book flung out of my hands and hit the ceiling. We had to land in a field (complete with sheep because this is New Zealand) mid-way down to Queenstown so that the pilot could get out and check the wings. Then we had to follow the river between the mountains to the airport because the fog was too thick to see anything.
So I knew the Hamburg flight was going to be rough. And it was.
The entire craft was tossed sideways multiple times as if batted by some giant, invisible cat. The wings were flapping away as if this was the only thing keeping us airborne.
In my mind’s eye, the pilot morphed into some kind of Red Baron stereotype. Each violent shake of the plane would cause him to cackle maniacally and grip the controls ever tighter. (This actually gave me some comfort.)
Anyway, somewhere over Holland, I recalled a conversation Jason and I had had in New Jersey last year.
Who do you call on when the plane shakes?
I don't mean Mild turbulence. That's actually rather fun. It affords me an opportunity to fantasise about being on Serenity or Galactica. No, I mean giant invisible cat turbulence.
When there’s no time for ritual, no time to select the right little spirit or being from your preferred pantheon, when it’s just the visceral terror and the extreme desire to be saved.
Because that tells you something profound about your actual cosmology, not just your working one.
From memory, Jason’s was Tara. (Actually, I don't think it was. It was some other Buddhist thing that I mentally replaced with Tara because I had no idea what he was talking about.)
Mine was less cool. Far, far, less cool.
Mine was just about the most white light, vanilla, paperback wiccanish, unnamed Divine Mother/Great Goddess you could think about. IF it formed into a personality it most closely resembled a beneficent aspect of Isis. (I can’t actually get shot of Isis for reasons I should probably look further into.)
This is probably quite telling on a number of levels.
- Firstly, there’s the obvious psychological one. I am literally saying “mommy, mommy, save me!” which shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve read almost any of my previous posts.
- Secondly, whilst I have never and would never impune wicca because I actually quite like it, my time identifying as wiccan as an adolescent clearly had a more transformative effect on me than would be immediately obvious.
- Thirdly, I have an instinctive class-based reaction to all forms of worship: I don’t see why ‘they’ need it and the whole thing makes me suspicious. An unnamed ‘Divine Mother’ is effectively just rolling up my quantum panpsychic universe into a play-doh ball and sticking two little goggle eyes on it. We might consider this quite a lazy attempt at deification but actually, that’s probably as far as I’m prepared to go before my mind says “oh fuck it. There's an afterlife, anyway. Besides, no one’s taking your calls after all these goddamn years. Just put your life jacket on and be ready to trip up some old people.”
Because that’s the thing about terror. However much there is a part of my mind that goes on pretending to read my kindle, unphased, while the aircraft suffers meteorological epilepsy, an older part is still extremely disturbed.
And actually, those so-called statistics about the safety of air travel are also an article of faith. Their math is... well, if it's not dubious it is at least selective. Air travel is far safer than road travel when measured in terms of miles travelled, sure. But measured in terms of time spent travelleing and the odds quickly readjust.
So even atheists call upon a manifestation of supreme illogic when the trolley dollies suspend the drink service and return to their seats.
It’s worth looking into this yourselves. What you find may surprise you.