Winter Solstice, unfolding

Whenever you celebrate Winter Solstice, ENJOY! This is a multi-day unfolding.

Rather than measuring minutes & seconds of daylight, our ancestors celebrated the return of the Sun as it began moving again, coming north as seen along the horizon at dawn or sunset. Their sacred sites were created to mark the solstice extreme points, from which you could then observe the return motion away from those points.

“Solstice” means the sun (Sol) standing still (stasis) – Thanks to Earth’s axis-tilt, the Sun reaches it southern-most point and then STAYS THERE for two-three days, before our tilt starts bringing it northward again. * 
Sun’s southern-most standstill dates, this year: December 21-22, 2015 at 23º S 26‘.

This year, the northern motion – the Sun’s return – can first be measured (though maybe not seen by the naked eye) on
* Wednesday, Dec. 23, as the Sun’s declination shifts to 23º S 25‘.

By Distaff Day, January 7, the Sun will have come a full 1º back northward – clearly noticeable if you’re using markers in the landscape (like Stonehenge), sunbeams within sites (like Newgrange or Fajada Butte) or shadow-casting markers (like a sundial). 
Marking the Solstice can be super-simple: Just mark where the rising or setting Sun’s light strikes a wall inside your home.

* Shortest days/longest nights:
December 18 thru 25, 2015 – 9 hours & 33 minutes
*Earliest Sunsets – the first week of December: 4:50pm
(before the Sun’s standstill)
*Latest Sunrises – the first week of January: 7:25am
(after the Sun’s standstill)
*Sun enters Capricorn, the so-called “first day of Winter”: Sorry, but thanks to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Sun doesn’t get out of Sagittarius and into Capricorn until about January 20.

We measure lots of minutia now – length of days down to the second – because we can, but that doesn’t mean it needs to rule us, or our ritual dates and choices. Since I’m most thrilled with the return of the Sun and its light, I personally want to see that motion back to the north, but I’m also thrilled to celebrate with friends throughout this season, whatever the theme, date, or rationale.

Bless the root-growth and hibernation of the long dark nights, and bless the returning light!

Image: The Sun card from the “Golden Tarot of the Renaissance”

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Mabon – biting the ripe apple


She is well-pleased with the sound of rattles and of timbrels,
with the voice of flutes and the outcry of wolves and bright-eyed lions.
—“Homeric Hymn to the Mother of the Gods,”  translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White

kore-milkySQIs there any aroma so evocative as that of a fall morning? As a child, I associated autumn with the scent of burning leaves. Now, as that practice is relegated to the past, I realize the season has a scent of its own, independent of smoking leaf-piles along the curbs. The first hints of chill & damp are in the air, the remnants of gardens are past their peak, some late blooming flowers persist as the weather changes — all lend poignant fragrance to the crisp air.

As the sun continues to journey southward, our days shift and shorten. And their style of beauty is transformed. Rich autumn colors — gilded with orange and red, often dramatically contrasted by grayer skies — rival the lush beauties of spring with a bittersweet twist:  we know these transitional hues will fade rather than spread. Our Mabon holiday marks the Autumnal Equinox, midpoint between Sol’s far north point at Litha and Her distant southerly position at Yule. Check your trusty Farmer’s Almanac. Generally the Equinox falls within a day either way of September 21, based on the Sun’s declination (crossing from north of the equator to south), though the actual days and nights of equal length come a few days later.1   

As the final harvest festival, Mabon is often called the Witches’ Thanksgiving. The association of the name “Mabon” with this holiday seems to be of recent and rather loose origin.2 Mabon (“Mab” = son; “on” = deity) was the son of Modron (“Modr” = Mother; “on” = deity). Stolen from His mother and long-imprisoned, finally set free through the help of the animal kingdom, Mabon’s tale makes up a portion of the great Welsh epic, the Mabinogion.3 None of this seems clearly connected with this equinox, until we note that some sources parallel Modron with Demeter, whose Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated in late September.4,5 Though the details of those rites remain tantalizingly elusive, we know they were closely connected with the Demeter-Kore myth. When Her maiden-daughter Kore is in the Lower World, grieving Mother Demeter withholds Earth’s fertility until Kore returns to visit the Earth’s surface for a portion of each year. The annual Eleusinian rites celebrated Demeter’s fruitful bounties, but their deeper impact concerned the Afterlife we would all eventually face. These ancient rites served to “make happier the hopes of those that participate therein concerning both the end of life and their whole existence.”6

The weeks from this holiday through to the winter solstice tend to be an introspective time for many people, as we pull in our energies and pull out the afghans. Are we mirroring Kore’s sojourn into the Lower World?  This can be a time to meet and come to grips with one’s own inner darknesses. Isn’t this what Kore does in agreeing to spend time in the Lower World? The Maiden-daughter transforms: Through Her pilgrimage into the dark (which, in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, began when she coveted a “phallic” narcissus) Kore Herself becomes Mother.7 The seed of Kore’s mating with Hades gestates in this darkness.

In addition to fall-bright leaves and golden grasses as altar decorations, pomegranates and apples make symbolic and tasty appearances. An apple cut vertically through the center reveals a vaginal-looking view of the core; a horizontal cut through a second apple reveals a pentagram of seeds, an echo of the apple’s five-petalled blossom, flower turned to fruit, Maiden-Kore evolving into Mother-Demeter, holding the promise of new birth. Red apples hold the symbolic hues of the Triple Goddess: a sweet interior of white for the Maiden, a protective skin of red for the Mother, and those Crone-black seeds which will themselves transform to Maiden. From Scandinavia to Avalon, apples symbolized the Afterlife & rebirth.8

According to some versions of this story, it was Kore’s consumption of pomegranate seeds in the Lower World that obliged her to return to that realm annually. In the Bible’s Song of Songs, so rife with symbols, the Bride and Bridegroom come together in a garden of pomegranates. Rock lyrics of the 1950s and ‘60s notwithstanding, the point isn’t that a Maiden-girl-child is transformed into a Mother-woman through the magical wave of a male wand as his sexual love “makes a woman of her.” The point is that the union of female-male energies — physical, spiritual, psychological, emotional, the apparently contradictory elements within ourselves — is transformative. Pomegranate seeds eaten in circle make a wonderful symbolic step onto trance work: As we eat these seeds and accept our darknesses, what do we seek on our journey through the winter? What can our own dark currents teach us?  What seeds of change are we harboring within ourselves? 

Whether through husbandry or hunting, this is also the season when both domestic and wild animals were traditionally asked to give-away their lives for our larders. The farm animals that had consumed food since spring became food for the winter; wild animals that raised their young and grew plump through the summer were hunted most avidly in the autumn, before they migrated out of range or became scrawny from poor forage once the snows began.

Today we live in an age of year-round factory-farming and “manufactured” meat.9 Many people choose a vegetarian path for various reasons. However, this ancient animal theme is significant and well worth honoring, even if you prefer to carve a slab of tofu rather than turkey. Just as we’ve felt a heightened connection with Mother Earth while consuming the lush summer produce, Mabon can be a time to explore a stronger sense of our symbiotic connection with the animals of our planet. In many cultures, hunted creatures are thanked for giving themselves as food to the people; they’re honored with dances and prayers to help maintain good relationship so the animals will continue to make themselves available to the tribe in the future. Animals, in the flesh and in spirit, dance through so much of our mythology. Animal-helpers — ousel, stag, owl, eagle, salmon — are crucial in the tale of Mabon’s rescue.10 This is a fine time to acknowledge and honor our symbiotic connection with Earth’s other creatures.

RITUAL IDEAS & QUESTIONS

  • How are we connecting now with Earth’s animal inhabitants?
  • Are we in contact with our power animals?
  • How do we honor and respect the animal-based foods we consume?
  • As the nights lengthen, how do we perceive and use this darkness?
  • Do you have a “dark side”?  How do you view, work with and honor it?
  • What are we gathering now to carry with us into the winter months?

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“Homeric Hymn to the Mother of the Gods,”  translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, quoted in The Great Mother, Erich Neumann, (Princeton: Bollingen Series, 1974), p. 271.

1. All celestial data from The Old Farmer’s Almanac

2. I base this on a very brief conversation with Celtic scholar Michael Ranauro at Dragonfest 1996. The linguistic info that immediately follows on the names “Modron” and “Mabon” also came from him.

3. Caitlin and John Matthews, Encyclopædia of Celtic Wisdom, (Elements: Rockport, MA, 1994),  pp. 89-91.

4. Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches’ God, (Phoenix: Custer WA, 1989), pg. 199.

5. John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British & Irish Mythology, (Aquarian Press: Wellingborough, England, 1988), pp. 111, 112-3, 118-9. If we accept Modron/Demeter & Mabon/Kore parallels, have we uncovered evidence of a Celtic/Eleusinian Mystery Rite?  Not quite, I think – more like common and persistent themes.

6. The quote is from Isocrates, in Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, (Harper & Row: New York, 1983), pp. 218-220.

7. Neumann, ibid., pp. 305-325, on the Eleusinian mysteries.

8. Walker, ibid, pp. 48-50.

9. Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work (G. P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 1995), Chapter 8: “No More Farmers,” pp. 109-127, and John Robbins, Diet for a New America, (Stillpoint: Walpole NH, 1987).

10. Matthews, Encyclopædia of Celtic Wisdom, pp. 89-91.

Art: Kore figure, c. 530-520 BC, found on the Acropolis

Ostara: Red Eggs and Rabbits and Snakes, oh my!

“Spring is come home with her world-wandering feet,
And all things are made young with young desires.”

Image

Spring celebrates the Goddess as Maiden – Kore returns from the Underworld and brings the fructifying principle of nature back with Her.  Hibernating animals reawaken, migratory creatures return; plants, busy with root-growth all winter, begin pushing up and out.  The sunlight, growing since Yule morning, now graces and warms our days.  By Ostara – our Spring Equinox holiday takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring – we have nearly three more hours of sunlight each day than at the solstice.  Even if the weather’s still wintry, the earliest plants are struggling to rise and the nights are significantly shorter.

So are the shadows.  As the sun moves from a southern to a northern declination, we lose the low light angle and long daytime shadows of deep winter.  The light gains ascendancy and winter literally recedes.  The Vernal Equinox occurs on the first day on which the sun rises north of the equator, falling within a day either way of March 20.  This year it’s March 20, today.  The days and nights of equal length actually occur a few days earlier, this year on March 16 (sunrise to sunset, this day was still a few minutes less than twelve hours long) and March 17 (the daylight hours exceeded twelve hours by several minutes).

“Vernal” comes from the Latin verb vernare, meaning “To renew oneself in Spring, to be young.”  In a seasonal ordering of the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet, Robert Graves connects the Latin vernare to the letter Fearn, between letters Onn and Saille.  In his poetic hand, the letters Onn-Fearn-Saille evolve into Anna Fearina Salmaona, “Queen of the Spring, Mother of the Willow,” a lovely image now, when the small willow aptly called red-twig gradually begins budding.  If your concept of “willow” tends only toward tall and weeping, watch for this widespread wild version glowing red along Colorado creek beds.  A decorated willow-branch archway figures in an Argentinean springtime ritual for mothers and godmothers.

The color red rules in Ostara traditions.  Numerous sources speak of eggs being dyed red now to symbolize rebirth, and red is surely a more compelling hue than the tender pastels that dominate modern Easter decor.  Zsuzsanna Budapest connects red eggs to the Festival of Astarte (March 17), an ancient Near-Eastern rite joining female/male energies (a nice analogy for the night-day balance).  Pauline Campanelli associates scarlet eggs to the Druids, colored red with furze (Onn) blossoms to honor the Sun.  Red dye can also be obtained from bark of the alder, named as a tree of resurrection in The Odyssey.

ImageEggs and the color red were both common burial inclusions.  Eggs have been found in or on ancient graves in Hungary, Egypt, Russia, Greece and Britain; red ochre has been found in megalithic graves in Pembrokeshire’s Prescelly Mountains, at the Çatal Hüyük site in Turkey and on the Salisbury Plain, among many others locations.  In the funerary context, red is usually interpreted as a charm for either rebirth through reincarnation or new birth into a life-after-death.  At birth, we arrive slicked with our mothers’ blood; there is a pleasing symmetry in departing back into the Earth’s womb wearing the same color.  And of course Spring, symbolically associated with the East (and the dawn) is as logical a time for rebirth rites as the autumn (sunsets and the West) is for death-rites.

Why the big emphasis on eggs?  For our ancestors, eggs were scarce during the winter months.  Hens need sunlight (and the Vitamin D it provides) to produce eggshells, so back then, when the hens began laying plentifully again, Spring had really returned.  Foods imported from distant regions and factory farms with artificial light sources now put eggs in the grocery stores year around.  An egg is first “born” when its laid, and then again when it hatches.  And while we tend to associate eggs with birds, remember that eggs are also laid by snakes.  By shedding their old skins, snakes symbolize regeneration and transformation as well (and they present an alternative to all the seasonal cuteness, though, alas, I’ve yet to see a chocolate snake).  Barbara Walker mentions a 13th Century French custom in which a snake was carried up to the baptismal font during Easter week.  Hibernating creatures, snakes too begin reawakening in Spring.

The rabbit or hare, the other main symbol at this time, is cited for its fertility.  This is more than mythological: The gestation period for a doe rabbit is a mere thirty-one days.  By contrast, cats and dogs carry their young twice as long; even squirrels average forty-four days.  Rabbits can begin breeding at six months.  Mad as a March hare?  That “madness” is estrus, sexual frenzy.  Ostara Herself was believed able to take the form of a hare, and these animals, especially white ones, were sacred to Her.  In British myth, the hare also symbolizes transformation, another reason for the creature’s significance now.

Ostara’s resurrection theme can’t be over emphasized.  This is the time for renewal, rebirth, resurrection after winter’s dormancy.  In my group, raw, preferably fertile eggs are decorated in circle and taken home to our personal altars (after we all try to stand them on end, of course, a feat allegedly possible only at the equinoxes).  If you plan to garden, Ostara is a logical time to bless those seeds; if you do any pruning, save the wood for the Beltane fires.  In celebrations, consider meditations and journeys on such questions as “what is awakening now in my life?”

RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS

— Decorate and balance eggs

— Bless the seeds (or starter-plants) for your garden

— “What is (re)awakening now in my life?”

— “What is coming into balance?  What feels unbalanced?”

© 2014 Renna Shesso –
If you share this, please credit and link

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Resources:

Alternative spellings are Eostre, Ostre, Eostara, possibly related to Eos and Astarte, and definitely the source of the word “Easter.”  Derived from estrus, from the Latin oestrus, or frenzy.

The quote comes from “From the Night of Forebeing, An Ode After Easter” by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time

Pauline Campanelli, Ancient Ways – Campanelli has extensive information on coloring eggs with natural dyes.

Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Buffie Johnson, The Lady of the Beasts

John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology

Luisah Teish, Carnival of the Spirit

Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

 

Spinning the world into creation

French15c3
New Years 2014:
I stepped out at midnight to look south and up, to Orion and his belt, always prominently placed in the Solstice-New Years season’s midnight sky. Orion’s three-star belt is easy to find, and usually the “sword stars” below it are clear, too.

But in other lore, the sword stars and the belt above them represent Freyja‘s distaff, the spinning tool that holds the not-yet-spun flax: Here the sword-stars are the shaft and the belt-stars are the fiber-holding prongs. The distaff was the feminine version of a staff of office, especially in the hands of a völva, the shaman-seeress. For her, it was a seidhstafr and represented her spiritual office, and her ability to access the realm of spirit. Rather than fibers, for the seeress the seidhstafr-distaff held potential. As the spinning can direct concentration, the distaff directed the will.

The goddess Frigg was a domestic spinner. Frejya is a the spinner of magic.

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The image – a woman spinning off a distaff – is French, 15th century.

Milky Way at 4:30 AM

scorp-milky-way

Mountain hot springs.  Soaked.  Ate a late dinner and went to bed, sleeping erratically.  Some hours later, a voice:

“Hey, it’s 4:30.”

“Great.  Let’s do this.”

We bundle into robes and step outside and…

There it is: The Milky Way, arching out low over the eastern horizon from Scorpio in the south to Cassiopeia in the north.  A dense river of stars.  And all around it, in every direction, all the other kajillion stars in the whole galaxy (well, that’s how it felt) plus a pale yellowish Saturn.

Scorpio rears up tall, HUGE, its nasty stinging tail dangling low to the horizon, its  Antares-heart glowing red.  Just to the scorpion’s left is the Sagittarius “teapot” asterism, also huge.

Back in my art history classes, we saw every artwork the size of a slide screen – and then later got of the shock of realizing how petite most Paul Klee paintings really are, and how massive and over-powering the Sistine Chapel ceiling really is.

We see constellations in books and in software programs, constrained in size.  In reality, they’re vast.

The sheer size of this mountain night sky is overwhelming, breath-taking, awe-filled, exciting.  How can I go back to sleep after this?

But I do, seeing something like an after-image of this Milky Way arch across the room’s pitch-black ceiling before I drop of to sleep.

This is my church.

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Image of Scorpio, the Milky Way and the Teapot from the Starry Night astronomy program.

 

Mars and Venus on a hot Solar date

venus-mars-sun-conjCAP

Venus and the Sun conjuncted a few days ago.  Now, as Venus edges out a bit to the east of Sol, she meets Mars, who’s moving into one of his rare-ish solar conjunctions.

For now – April 6 and 7, 2013 – Venus and Mars are conjunct just east of the Sun, as loosely depicted above by Titian, c. 1530*.  The amorously conjoined planets are too close to the Sun to be visible to the naked (and unprotected eye): less than 1 degree from each other, and less than 3 degrees from the Sun.

Sun-Mars conjunctions are kind of a big deal, since the Sun gets together with Mars less often than any of the other planets, even big slow-moving Saturn or Jupiter.  Mars only conjuncts the Sun every 25-to-26 months.

Even Johannes Kepler, modern master of comprehending planetary motion, struggled to formulate a theory to express the movement of Mars… Like a wayward friend on the day you need help moving, Mars shows up when he feels like it.

Mars-Diego Velazquez    A

Especially in contrast to the elegantly predictable eight-year cycle of Venus, Mars is more like the guy your parents don’t trust to bring you home on time.  This is part of what fuels Mars’ reputation as  war-like and rebellious.  And his depictions in art?  Think Renaissance-era Sexy Fireman calendars.  That Bad-Boy mystique has some serious mileage on it.

Mars and Venus don’t meet often either.  After this encounter, they go their separate ways until late February 2015, but then separate again.  They have a near-miss in early February 2017, but Venus retrogrades away at 5 degrees.  They finally reunite in early October 2017, this times in the predawn sky and far enough ahead of the Sun (23 degrees) for splendid viewing.

But right now, Sun, Venus and Mars are clustered together.  The grouping will separate over the coming week, but for now I’ll be opening my awareness to how this might feel – my desire for harmony and beauty and love (Venus) mingling with my various passions and life-force exuberance (Mars), and my ability to conjoin and embody these qualities, and then step it all forth as my presence in the world (Sun).

Mars also has a less martial, more verdant, identity.  One astrologer friend views Mars as the Green Man.  Another astrologer friend quotes Dylan Thomas

…the force that through the green fuse drives the flower…

May Mars in his ancient aspect of wildwood Mars Silvanus carry His instigating spark into this arriving Spring.

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*Titian’s “Mars, Venus und Amor,” plus a sky-shot via Starry Night astronomical software, and a vintage Sun.  PS: Mars and Venus were conjunct the Sun in 1530, too.  Did Titian know?  Or care?

“Descanso de Marte,” Diego Velázquez, 1640.

Some phrases lifted directly from the Night Sky book, © 2011.

Sun Conjunct Venus, Now!

sun-conjunct-venusRS

March 29, 2013 – Venus is conjunct the Sun!  Whee!  Gorgeous Evening-Star action will be coming soon!

Last year, on June 6, 2012, Venus quit her Evening Star status, passed across the face of the Sun (RARE!) and moved into her Morning Star position, rising ahead of the Sun each day.  Now – after 9.5 months as a Morning Star – Venus’ orbit has taken her around behind the Sun (as shown above, in a view not visible to the naked eye).  Now, from our Earthly perspective, the two are in line.  Conjunct.

Over the coming weeks, Venus continues in her orbit, moving onward, right-to-left, counterclockwise behind the Sun, getting further to the left/east of the Sun, as seen by us Earthlings.  That means Venus comes back into view as an Evening Star.  She’ll be visible again in mid-May.  Here’s some up-coming 2013 Venus-coolness:

  • Mid-May: Evening Star Venus becomes visible.  Not a specific date, so just watch… this will be Venus’ heliacal setting* reappearance.
  • May 26: Venus, Mercury and Jupiter form a tight triangle of mutual conjunctions, (hopefully) visible in the western sky just after sunset.
  • June 10: Mercury, Venus and a very slim New Crescent Moon, low in the WNW at sunset.
  • June 20: Summer Solstice, AND Sun conjunct Jupiter, AND Venus and Mercury conjunct near Gemini’s Castor and Pollux.

– from Renna Shesso

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* The heliacal setting is when a celestial object first becomes visible just after sunset in the western sky.

North Star, spinning, “baa-ram-ewe…”

frigg-and-fulla

I read a post recently from someone looking for “cruelty-free” wool, coming (I guess) from an assumption that all human dealings with domesticated animals are certain to be cruel and exploitive.

Wool isn’t like that. Sheep-shearing doesn’t hurt the sheep any more than a haircut hurts us. It’s done in the spring as the weather warms and the lambs will be arriving. The shearing creates better sanitary conditions for the lambing. And that thick wool “coat” is hot, so the sheep don’t mind having it removed. Another plus: wool is a renewable resource.

Once we just wore animal hides (and perhaps a fig leaf or two). Gradually we clever humanoids figured out how to twist plant fibers together – linen, nettle, the fibrous long-stalked stuff.  Eventually a shift from plant fibers to wool changed what we wear.  Wool takes dye much better than linen, so our clothing became more colorful, and color-based weaving patterns evolved.

Nowadays, many women are spinning from their own sheep – it’s like the organic gardening of fiber production – and their sheep are treasured and well-treated as the precious resources they are. Wool-production can be a happy symbiotic human-and-critter relationship.

The sheep-raising, shearing, cleaning, combing, spinning are like the farming side of food production (laborious, messy and seasonal/slow), while knitting (and weaving, crochet) are like the delicious and tactile cooking/dining side of it.

Check out Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. It’s a real eye-opener about the role of sheep and wool in human creativity, and about human history in general.

Like many crafts, the fiber arts could also have magical connotations:

“Spinning was associated with woman’s concentration and craft, and with meditation and magic.  To spin with intention was a way to magically direct one’s energies… The word seidhr refers to early Norse and Germanic shamanic trance and prophesying, but the word also connotes “string,” “cord,” “snare” and “halter.”  In some seidhr-work, the intentions of the völva, the female shaman, are sent forth to seidha til sin, to “attract by seidhr,” as if snaring something and pulling it to you, manipulating from afar.  The völva’s staff of office – her seidhstaf – looked like an ornamented distaff…

“The North Star was considered the point of Frigg’s spindle, as if all creation is spinning forth from Her…”      – from A Magical Tour of the Night Sky *

This is some of what I think about when I gaze at the North Star.  And when I knit.

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* Spinning text © Renna Shesso 2011

Spirals, and Spring fever

sun-dagger

Almost Spring!  This Wednesday is the Spring Equinox, the halfway point in the Sun’s journey between Winter’s southern-most extreme (short days, long nights) and Summer’s northern-most point (long days, short nights).  Equinoxes, this one in March and its opposite in September, mark the midpoints, when day and night are equal.

Those spirals above? That’s the “Sun Dagger,” a petroglyph on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, a remote site in New Mexico.  Angled noon light marks the sun’s seasonal passage: at Summer Solstice slicing the large spiral’s center (top), at each Equinox bisecting the smaller spiral (center), and at Winter Solstice bracketing the large spiral (bottom).

The Solstices are times of contrasting extremes: heat or cold, light or dark, sun far north or sun far south.  The Equinoxes are – in sun-terms – times of balance.  Days and nights are of equal length, and the Sun is “balanced” along the horizon: It rises due East and sets due West.

Chaco Canyon and its extensive ruins are something of a monument to Equinoxes, with alignments to that twice-annual sun-balance embedded throughout the vast site.  Chaco was also the “only culture known in the world to align their buildings to the Moon’s cycle.”*

Spring Equinox is a spring-feverish time as we break out of Winter.  Here in the Rocky Mountain West, Ostara can bring new buds or blizzards, or both.  Mama Earth kicks off Her blanket of snow, and starts to stretch and wake up… and then maybe curls back under Her snow-covers again for a few days.  But from Wednesday onward, the days will be longer than the nights… She’ll be wide awake and leaping up soon enough.

On Wednesday, I’ll watch sunrise and sunset, and note my shadow’s shape at noon.  Balance.  But meanwhile, the weather can’t make up its mind.  The winds are wild and the clouds are crazy… well, me, too.  Spring fever sets in, an undercurrent of anti-hibernation sensory awareness.  So I’ll explore my imbalances and move gently to adjust them, but I might enjoy them, too.  “Dance like no-one’s watching…”  The world is new again.

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* Anna Sofaer, quoted in the video “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.”  More on Chaco, and understanding and working with Moon and Sun cycles in A Magical Tour of the Night Sky.  Chaco Canyon is an Ancient Puebloan site, c. 850-1140 BCE, and is designated a National Historic Park, covering nearly 34,000 acres.

Saturn – Casting Circles, Setting Boundaries

320px-John_William_Waterhouse_-_Magic_Circle

I saw Saturn this morning, a bright jab of light in the pre-dawn, south-western sky, and a nice bonus while rolling the recycle bin out to the curb.  For eons, this slow-moving planet marked the edge of the universe, and only the steady backdrop of the stars was farther away.  Until 1781, when Herschel discovered Uranus, Saturn symbolized the boundary, the end, finality, limits.

My inner hippy rankles at “limits.”  It took years to wrap my head around the idea that boundaries can be good.  Saturn’s broader themes?  Shape, edges, form, definition, limits (established, challenged, questioned, exceeded, discarded).  Limits as “good boundaries” and personal identity in general.  These aren’t bad things.

When I cast a circle, I’m defining space. The line is drawn.  The magical circle is a vessel, a container formed to hold energy for a particular use.  We’re embraced here, outside of time, for the duration of a ritual, shamanic journey group, or healing ceremony.  Without the will and the ability to create sacred space as a purposeful energetic container, this work couldn’t take place.

In spiritual workings, we know with certainty that our well-defined circle, as a magical boundary, is not only acceptable but necessary. Why, then, is it so hard to carry some of this action into our personal lives, creating reasonable, healthy boundaries for ourselves?  If a circle can be cast magically for group use — even among relative strangers — why doesn’t this ability transpose more readily to setting personal boundaries?

Some people who would never violate the conventions of sacred ritual space (where group mores are powerful) may be disrespectful or oblivious about personal boundaries among individuals, one-on-one.  And some people — lots of us — can readily cast a formal group circle but aren’t as clear about casting a circle-of-self.  If my personal autonomy is ill-defined by me, it’s easily ignored by others.

Aren’t we, individually, distinct energetic containers as well?  This isn’t about whether we can have empathy with others, be open and friendly, or be emotional accessible.  It’s about knowing we have the right to choose to be open, or not, and to what degree.  Having healthy boundaries isn’t just a right, it’s a communal agreement toward personal sanctity and public civility.  It’s an opportunity to see myself — and each of us — as unique expressions of sacred space.

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The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886