Hippie Squared: Sitting in Fire and the Bombadil Way

Summer Solstice StonhengeMidsummer’s Eve, as I recall it, was a major holiday in the Shire — where the Hobbits lived in The Lord of the Rings, the closest thing to a bible in my family.

That celebration of the summer solstice by another name, I realize now, is a tie-in to the Celtic and British pagan mythologies that Tolkein drew on to build that world that was so alive to me then and is still, truth be told. There’s no Stonehenge in Middle Earth, but it’s easy to picture the hobbits, dwarves, wizards (druids, after all) and elves of that world dancing around it in celebration of Midsummer’s Eve.

This year Midsummer’s Eve is also Father’s Day. My dad and mom both revered The Lord of the Rings when I was a kid, and in fact Middle Earth was a sort of bridge world for me between them after they divorced when I was around eight— about the same time that my mom began reading The Hobbit to me for the first time.

June 21st, as I write this, Midusmmer’s Eve, the summer solstice, is also and always has been my mom’s birthday–this year, the fourth of her ageless birthdays since she died in April 2006 from pancreatic cancer.

Both of my parents were pretty thoroughly English in lineage, so somehow Middle Earth as an updating of British Isles and European mythologies probably appealed to all of us in a primal, almost cellular way.

But because it falls on Father’s Day this year I find myself thinking specifically of my dad’s thesis on Tom Bombadil—how his power was greater than that of the wizards, the elves, the Dark Lord. Bombadil was a silly old hermit who lived in the woods with his fair lady. He sang and danced and communed with the trees—ageless, and completely removed from the rising and falling of empires, the clash of races, the power politics of all other beings in Middle Earth.

But my dad held that he was more powerful than anyone else in the Middle Earth pantheon for that reason: no one had power over him. He did not seek to wield power over others. And no one could wield power over him. He lived in a kind of divine stasis.

I’ve been pondering that partly because I find myself in some difficult circumstances at work where it appears I’m working with a couple of key people who don’t seem content to contend with me rather than against me, but seem to want to hold sway over me in ways gratuitous and counter-productive. I’m struggling now to shake loose of those petty power maneuverings and move on. It’s not easy, but I’m keeping at it and I believe I’m making progress.

The Bombadil way strikes me now as a very American idea of power: freedom, really. “Don’t Tread on Me.” It’s easy to make the case that where American power has gone awry it’s because we’ve tried to exercise power over others, whereas our original notion of freedom was simply to throw off the yolk of arbitrary power over us. And Bombadil certainly wouldn’t waste his time trying to restrict who somebody else can marry. That’s not the Bombadil way at all.

Something to chew on this day when the sun holds more of our attention than on any other day of the year, the sun that is father, that is on high, that comes and sits in fire on the horizon and spreads its warm arms all across the sky before it dips below and leaves us to the fertile dark of mother night, the furtive kiss of mother moon, where we incubate the seeds of the dreams that blossom again in the morning under father sun.