The Ancient Custom

By Brendan Heard.


A manner is a custom and a custom is a tradition. Traditions are inexplicable things, and a custom follows an order possibly beyond our comprehension, as so many things are. That doesn’t mean customs don’t obey their own natural laws, in a pattern we can at least appreciate, if never grasp. You can cast aside traditions, as we have chosen to, but this is a false and animal misunderstanding, akin to the damming and ruination of a priceless river for abstract paper money. Traditions do change, and evolve, but if we try to guide their direction ourselves, they become empty and ghoulish, and we see that by trying to commandeer such an untameable, invisible beast, how little we truly control or understand our role in the great drama.

Everything begins and ends when it should. If you suddenly stop in the middle of an irrational tradition, to shout out loud that there is no conceivable or rational reason for performing this custom, upon which other layers of custom may rest, you are not so much pronouncing something unknown but showing yourself as angrily disconnected from an organic pattern. That is not to say that customs should not be questioned, or allowed to alter naturally, but to attack them for being a custom, shows indignant human divorce from the hidden current of nature, which is inexorable and absolute.

Most custom, and all true tradition, might be thought of as the ghost of a very ancient ancestor, brought back to us from a sepulchre deep in the earth’s rock, beneath the heavy thousands of years of life-decomposition, upon which the new green of our world grows as a superficial top-layer. This ancient phantom appears to us in the following of an inexplicable custom, and if questioned as to its source, he merely waves his ghostly hands and says ‘I don’t know why, only that it works.’

The tradition was different when it was handed to him, and different again when he handed it on, and the same for you. But it protects and improves itself in its following, and even its changing. Again, the crime – the sin – occurs in trying to attack, remove, dispel tradition utterly. As though we can understand it, or what it dictates, and deem ourselves fit to rewrite its recent history and what it means to say. It means to say nothing, we are it, and it is us.

The arrogant and the ungrateful try (and fail) to commandeer its very inexplicable message. A message which is the paternal guidance of thousands of years of dead kings, some of whom knew they’d be sacrificed at the end of every year. A deathbed recommendation, from an aged student of life and patterns, and then another, and then another, for many accumulated centuries of loving suggestions to their offspring. The wisdom of centuries of experience in every imaginable war, natural disaster, and triumph, condensed to a cultural habit of innocent forms. A certain tune, a certain saying, a promise, a rite. Suggestions that transcend trend or immediate thinking or powerless individualism.

That is the larger current of hundreds and thousands of years of human learned and repeated behaviour, which can’t be looked at head-on, or explained, as it follows its own laws, and there is no way for us to step outside it to look in. The custom is an order of power above us.

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