I have never felt well in Paris; when I used to visit for short periods as part of my work, there was no point in stealing time off to look at the magnificent buildings, the wonderful museums, art galleries, the shops and all the rest because I wanted nothing so much as to get out of the place, and what for me, was its sick odour of death. Indeed the only time when I felt uplifted and truly in the mood of Paris was when I stood in the fitting and dignified memorial to the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
So, for me, the dark tunnel in Paris where Diana was killed re-invoked some ancient and little understood shadows that had been furling their wings in the background. The pack of hunters and stalkers, the hounds of death, who at least in part brought her to her death, were part of the mystery. Her brother caught sight of the tips of the myth's wings when he spoke of the paradox that she who had been named after the ancient goddess of hunting should be so hunted down.
I thought I would try and find out something about the early history of Paris: what spirits, what ghosts, might be there, perhaps trapped, unable to free themselves, re-enacting some rituals. I found in a short moments' reading some pointers.
Paris was an ancient Gallic settlement on an island in the Seine river. Originally called Lutecia or Lutetia (modern Lutece) the name is said to be connected with that of the sun god Lug. The river Seine derives its name from the Goddess Sequana, but I found no mention of her at Lutetia, rather her wellknown healing shrine was at the river's source near Dijon, some hundreds of miles south. But Lutetia's association with Lug was for me strengthened by some archaeological finds, described by Miranda Green. She tells us of Celtic iconography found in Paris that show a god - Eses - felling a tree containing birds, and she suggests two concepts to be understood from this. The first is that it is the Tree of Life being felled; the second that the birds may symbolise a life-death-rebirth image. I must say that first when I thought of the Tree of Life being cut down in Paris I experienced a tremendous shock; but going on to consider Miranda Green 's suggestion brought me to a different place. Life-death-rebirth? In Paris? Were there any other signals in this direction? There were.
A section of Green's book The Gods of the Celts describes "Pits - entrances to the Underworld"; she believes that their primary function was religious rather than utilitarian. It is possible the fallen tree of life was to be cast into the pit, into the underworld and to emerge again. I thought about this in relation to the journey of the sungod after whom the place was named. We know the sun journeys from dark to light and then to dark, both daily and seasonally. The clues seem to tell me a story: that the island in the river, on which the city of Paris was later built, could originally have been a sacred shrine to the Underworld, place of death and of rebirth, where celebrations of both may have physically taken place. There is a huge mystery here. I do not think it as an accident that if Diana was to be hunted to her death it would be in a dark tunnel in Paris; the spirits, it seems to me have been entrapped; t he emphasis is on death; do we not need to resacralise the places of the entrance to the Underworld and to re-affirm its connection with re-creation and rebirth, in whatever form it may take place.
I am writing as Autumn Equinox approaches and cannot help thinking of another myth, of a woman at the mercy of a hunter, thrown into a pit, and being sucked down into the Underworld. Her Goddess mother's efforts brought her back for part of each year at least, mirroring the seasons. In pre-Christian Greece, Persephone's journeys were celebrated at this time of year by the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, the most sacred women's festival of the ancient world, centring on the secrets of death and rebirth.
Am I saying that Diana is the new Persephone? I am not. Or that she is being deified into a goddess? No way. But she takes part in the stuff of myths, and in talks with many about the significance of her life and death, and in particular what has been called the phenomenon of mass grief, I go along with the person who said so perceptively, if this is a myth taking place then we are the chorus.
For we are not outside, looking in, as we all have been in the past: gazing at the photos, the dresses, the glamour occasions; marvelling at the so-called photo-opportunities that showed a lovely young woman walking a live minefield and previously at a time when no-one in public had dared, shaking hands with an AIDS patient and cuddling children suffering from leprosy. We have been this time, not looking, but feeling, being part of, being struck down by grief at her death and the manner of it. And more than that, we have found that she has spoken for and been an advocate not for those over there who were not us (but might be some of our friends). The comments of thousands - hundreds of thousands of people- have repeated over and over again, she was ours, she dealt with my grief she understood my suffering.
Why and how could this happen? It is my perception that the paradox is all-important: Diana, rich, young, beautiful, glamorous, white, aristocratic, mother of two lovely children, the world opening all its riches to her, was in fact rejected in her personal life, deceived, cheated, excluded, and dishonoured. Her cries for help - attempted suicide, eating disorders, pleas for understanding were disregarded. Friends and eventually lovers betrayed her for publicity and for cash. In the end, she found that even such a star as she, was as defeated by the patriarchal establishment and by the market economy as the least regarded among us. So a dignified middle aged Afro-Caribbean woman could say "She was Black at heart"; and young Black men as well as white could cry publicly for her. Her brother found the right words to describe this. "She was a standard bearer for the truly downtrodden" and hers was "the constituency of the rejected".
For me, I was utterly moved by the Panorama programme in which she spoke of the low self esteem that many women experience that leads to eating disorders, and also by her promise that despite all that could be thrown at her, " She wont go away".
Well, Diana, you have not gone away. Yes, you are not here: but what have you left us; what will arise - as if from the Underworld - as a result of your life and your work. I pray and hope that no woman in this country will ever again have to go through the sickening process of being married off as an object only of production of heirs to a hereditary position of privilege. I pray and hope that the masculine "stiff upper lip" method of dealing with emotion has gone forever and that men as well as women can tune into and honour their feelings. I pray and hope that more compassion between each and each will be your abiding legacy to us.
(Wood and Water 60, Autumn 1997)