I watched a movie once where a book was used in the story as prop, a buried metaphor to help serve the plot. It’s not a real book, in that you cannot read it, buy it and sell it or anything else we conceive as a real. The book doesn’t exist outside the story in the film. I tried to look it up and it only exists as, a key, if you will to help support the theme of the film. I found this an interesting usage or analogy, as a constructor of stories, if nothing else.
It had a title of course, and it was good one, although it’s not important to what I’m writing about here. It may even be distracting from the point, which is metaphor. The metaphor’s important. Metaphors are always important. They show us truth and justice from a different angle, a kind of sideways view, and sometimes that’s really the only way to see these things clearly, the most interesting way of seeing things, creatively anyway, because if truth and justice, or anything else worth knowing is disguised as a secret or mystery then we are more inclined to seek it out. Inquiring minds want to know what is being kept from them and why, so we search for that.
This metaphor is described in the film by a child obsessively reading the book and trying to explain to everyone as a cultural vision quest, a dream that everybody’s having. The same dream at the same time, and billions of people are in fear of their sanity because they’ve never experienced this kind of… breakthrough, for lack of a better term, no one has. But they’re not crazy, they’re just seeing glance of something much bigger than themselves for the first time in human history, collectively speaking. And maybe they’re realizing that like voyagers of the past they’re possessions of value, their cargo, their baggage, and their passions, are all less important than their survival. In fact it is the very things they carry that keep them from moving ahead and they have found themselves in, Horse Latitudes, in a panic. So maybe they are crazy after all, but understandably so, crazy on a ship of fools, as they say.
Either way it got me thinking about Horse Latitudes.
So what does that mean, Horse Latitudes?
One theory goes that centuries ago, seamen, Spaniards, traveling the trade winds into the South Atlantic with hundreds of horses bound for the new world would find themselves near the Tropic of Cancer in a dead calm. As the days turned into weeks, maybe even months, and their sails remained limp and heavy as the curtains in an ancient funeral parlor, and their ship sat like a stone on a beach. The heat and silence and maddening lack of moving on began to have its effects while the food and water supply began to diminish. They would have no choice but to herd the horses off the side and stern of the ship into the sea, kicking and screaming as they drowned one by one.
And when the last horse gasped his last breath they would turn to weaponry and then personal belongings, and then, each other, anything to lighten the load, get the ship moving.
Horse Latitudes can also been seen in Greek Mythology as Scylla and Charybdis. It’s been referred to as, The Devil and Deep Blue Sea and Realm and Conquest. We westerners have adapted it as, between a rock and a hard place, and can, I think, even be tied into our own rural urban legends of a crossroads where grave decisions must be made. Call it whatever, real or fictionalized, they’re all a metaphor for human drama. The very core of what is the human experience, at least in this mind.
We as thinking animals can relate I think when we find our lives in Horse Latitudes, where truth, justice and integrity seem like disposable cargo, unnecessary for survival. The wind has left our sails and the weight of all we carry has anchored us seemingly in place. Try as we may to keep our precious treasures that we’ve worked so hard to acquire and keep and to label us one way or another, civilized. When all seems lost, over the rail it goes. It must be.
And as the water line on the hull rises into view and the furrows in the sails begin to move ever so slightly we begin to wonder if we would have just waited, could have just held on a little longer, would we have been able to keep those things we once valued so highly? We look back into our ever quickening wake and wonder if we could have been stronger. It’s the question of life. The Metaphor of what it means to travel, to voyage through this existence we call here and now. Looking back at our sacrifices and wondering if we could have kept them in some way and still sailed on eventually if we had only waited a little bit longer.
Or, did they ever have any value anyway? Should you have thrown yourself to the unknown depths along with them, and what difference would it have made, if any at all. What does it take to captain the ship?
The question is a valid one. It’ll take whatever it takes.