Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Friday, 5 April 2013

To the Lighthouse!

This particular, and not very original, musing has nothing to do with Virginia Woolf, whose works, to my great shame (and please forgive such a shameful pun!) are still a closed book. The title however, is particularly apt.

A Spculative drawing of the Lighthouse at Pharos,
Alexandria Courtesy of Wikipedia 
What is the function of lighthouses? As we know the first one was at Pharos, Alexandria. Probably it is the origin of the name of the Portuguese coastal town of Faro and definitely of the Spanish (and I suppose Portuguese) word for lighthouse, faro. The function of the first, indeed all, lighthouses is twofold: to warn sailors of dangerous shores and to serve as an aid to navigation. Each lighthouse also has its own occlusion code so that experienced sailors can instantly recognise them.

Can we possibly imagine what it must have been like sailing close to the coast, but perhaps out of sight of land, our only guide the stars which would often be obscured by clouds and bad weather? As ships and navigation became more sophisticated and sailors ventured out onto the wide oceans, the welcoming wink of a lighthouse must have been a signal of hope and of home after months, perhaps years of sailing.

The first sign of land, of home, of family might have been the glimmer of a lighthouse. All of the
Lighthouse, Cádiz. Courtesy of Luis Domingo, as seen on
crew would have been straining their eyes, trying to see over the horizon as they felt the call of their home port pulling them homewards, sensing the lighthouse even while it was still over the horizon.  All would have dreamt of their own lighthouse and of their loved ones. In the days before GPS, lighthouses were one of the few solid, immoveable reference points - a point that
 even if it hadn't been seen for years, existed. That was known to exist, calling them home. The lighthouse was a point that the lost, the becalmed - and even the most assured navigators would instinctively aim for, even if it seemed so far away, so unattainable.

We all need lighthouses. We all need to know which is our lighthouse. But, for the lighthouse to call us we must also keep them in our own consciousness and call to them. Only then will we find them again through the fog and darkness of our own existential Odyssey.    

1 comment:

  1. There is something about lighthouses that invites speculation and the invention of myth. How many mystery stories have been set in lighthouses or have a lighthouse as their inspiration? I recall an episode of the TV series The Avengers in which someone (whether he fell or was pushed, I no longer remember) tumbles all the way down the spiral staircase of a lighthouse. Amusing but quite improbable.

    The idea of spending weeks alone with another human being in a sea-besieged tower, cut off from civilization but for the occasional arrival of supplies, strikes a chord, when not a shudder of apprehension, in all of us. Now that lighthouses are being automated and no longer need human guardians, will we lose our fascination with them? Time will tell.