Sunday, August 07, 2011


Weather is a boring subject. People talk about the weather when they want to avoid talking about other, less controversial things. Someone who only talks about the weather generally is not a social magnet; unless, I suppose, they were hanging out at a meteorologist's convention. The Weather Channel tries to make weather exciting, but there's really only so much of that you can stand (though I preferred my father's Weather Channel watching habit to his Fox News habit). It occurred to me that the only time people collectively give a toot about the weather is when it generates fear. Scorching heat waves, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms--if these things are predicted for your area, you're typically glued to some weather outlet, either online or on television.

I find myself checking the weather several times a day. Maybe this just says that I'm a boring person. Sometimes there's a practical reason--planning a trip to the Shore, or just planning to do yardwork. If I hear something about flooding, I have to prepare my root cellar, which always gets some water coming up through the ground if there's excessive rain. But most of the time, it's just a compulsion. I thought about why this might be the case, and upon reflection, I think weather phenomenon is connected to our sense of the numinous. That may sound odd, but I will explain.

First, when I say "numinous", I'm referring to that awe and terror of the unknown, of the mysteries of everything, things that science can only scratch the surface of in terms of knowledge. Seems pretty heavy, but weather is something largely out of our control. We have very sophisticated tools for predicting weather, but we can only warn, we can't stop. Meteorology is like a giant, scientific divination system. Like most divination systems, the data given isn't always interpreted correctly or definitive. But the fact that we have some tool for negotiating something we have no control over is comforting, even if that tool is imperfect.

If I may take a brief detour here--divination is one of those things that our "rational" culture scoffs at, or associates with hucksters or frauds. Certainly there have always been frauds, but divination systems like Tarot are based on universal symbol systems. Jung suggested that we draw certain cards via synchronicity, and just as hearing a certain word or phrase can have an impact on us, the unconsciously-chosen symbol may tell us a lot about ourselves. Since it draws on the collective, where concepts of time and space are distorted, it is often possible to "know the future" from reading them. If used honestly and correctly, they can offer a lot of information about circumstances.

Linking this back to its relationship to weather--it is amazing what the "rational" minded person does in a crisis. I have read Tarot and various other systems for the last 25 years (not professionally, just privately). Many members of my family and some friends make a joke of it. However--these same family and friends will suddenly call me when there's a crisis, and say, "can you do a reading for me?" Why would they suddenly take stock in something they think is foolish and irrational? Because they're confronted with the unknown. The unknown doesn't follow rational rules--there's only logic and probability for predicting the outcome, and often that is not sufficient--especially if the logical outcome appears bleak. We turn back to core symbol systems when confronted with things we don't understand and have no control over. We often have to decide on a course of action, and the more accurate advance information we have (or think we have), the more confident we are in our decision. Weather related to "whether".

Now, the weather is out of our control. We hear about things like "cloud seeding" for rain and such, but in general, it's agreed that it's not a great idea to tamper too much with weather systems. One big reason I think I obsess about weather is the need for control. Not of life in general, which is impossible, but of my own circumstances. It's a difficulty, really--I have to balance my own need for discipline and structure with the fact that the unexpected can drop in at any moment and change everything. Going with the flow is more important than having a rigid plan. But I find myself comforted by plans, even though my guru has said, "You want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans."

I am one of those people whose mood can be affected by the weather. This is not extreme--I don't go into clinical depression when it rains, for instance. But I find that I can do more on cool, autumn-like days with clear skies. I don't mind rainy or snowy weather, but if it goes on for a prolonged period of time, I get impatient and frustrated. It makes my friends wonder why the heck I'd want to move to England if I'm not crazy about rainy dreary weather. But English weather is not all about being rainy and dreary--often it will change many times in one day. So--it may start out rainy and dreary, but be sunny and breezy with blue sky by lunchtime. And raining again by nightfall. At least things are broken up.

Nonetheless, for me (and perhaps others) the weather is usually part of a pattern that makes me feel secure. Like my old house, old books, bread baking in the kitchen, and a glass of wine on the patio with a book--nice weather is a creature comfort, and at least gives the illusion of everything being stable. Facts sometimes are a lot more troubling, and we cling to familiar comforts as transitional objects. Humans are usually not adventurers at heart; we like to know where we are, where we stand, what is coming down the road. Fear is dispelled by information, and despite the amount of flack meteorologists get for being "wrong" at times, the forecast is still a daily symbol of our desire to predict and control our environments.

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