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”

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?

______________________

“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

Predators. Liars. Same thing.

dore_shepherd_wolfpDear ladies*,

When a counselor (or therapist, healer, teacher, reader, clergy person of any kind – shamanic, pagan, Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist, whatever) tells you that entering a sexual relationship with them will
validate your divine womanhood,
or heal your wounded inner child
(or whatever the f*#% but it sounds great),
and especially if this relationship will be a secret known only between you two…

You are not being validated or healed.
You are being used.

Someone in a position of trust is taking advantage of your vulnerability.
* They are a predator. *

And you probably aren’t the first person to be entrapped, because they know all the key words
to make you feel wonderful and special and compliant.
This isn’t special. It’s predatory, and it’s also oath-breaking conduct that goes against every professional and ethical standard.
And P.S. This is NOT standard or acceptable behavior within the pagan community.

And when you break it off, or when they’re done using you, if they tell you that no one will believe you, that it’s just your word against theirs, they’re lying about that, too, and trying to keep you powerless. How healing is that?
Speaking to trusted friends and Elders helps reclaim your power. Break the isolation and find someone who can hear your truth.
Speaking up makes it harder for this predator to continue stalking your sisters in the community.
And the opposite: Our silence enables them, and helps them keep on using, abusing, preying on the vulnerable.  It means we’re keeping the predator’s dirty secret.
Be a good ally to yourself and your sisters. Speak up.


* This note is written from my personal perspective, speaking to what I’ve seen, but this topic does not apply only to women: All variety of people are preyed upon sexually, energetically, psychologically, et. al.  Rather than presuming that my voice can adequately to speak to your experience, I encourage you to speak your own truth.

Illustration: “The Fable of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” by Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

Lammas aka Lughnasadh.

lammas-manThe time to reap what we’ve sown arrives at Lammas, or Lughnasadh, on August 1st. The word lammas may come from the Anglo-Saxon hlafmaesse, meaning Loaf Mass: the rites of the Old Gods denied them at this traditional time, on August 1 (or the first Sunday in August) people took bread to the church to be blessed. The other name, Lughnasadh, combines Lugh, Goidelic Sun-deity of the Tuatha De Danann, with nassad, which can mean a fair or assembly or even “binding together.”1

Some legends say Lugh invented Lughnasadh to honor His foster-mother, the agricultural goddess Tailtiu, who once spent a year clearing a huge tract of land near County Meath; Lugh later built Her burial cairn there. Annual competitive games were held on the field in Her honor and it was the preferred time and place for handfastings, perhaps to encourage the growing crops to also be vigorous and productive, or perhaps to formalize any human Beltane plantings that had proved fertile. Robert Graves, however, cites Lammas as deriving from Lugh-mass, a ritual of mourning for Lugh Himself, who died this day; the funerary games honor Him. Irish Lughnasadh rites once opened with mournful processions, led by a young man carrying a hoop-wreath — symbol of the departing sun?  Since Lugh may connect linguistically to lux, the Latin word for light,2 a funeral is apropos: The days are already nearly an hour shorter that they were at Litha, the Summer Solstice, back in June.

Whatever Lammas’ etymology, all the fire energy and pounding that began with Brigid at Her smithy exactly six months ago are now focused on the grains as they’re ground to flour and baked into breads. Loaves in human shape become John Barleycorn, honored for his sacrifice. Also present is the Corn Dollie. To create her, choose an excellent ear of corn, perhaps with four perfect kernels at the tip, the Hopi’s preference for their Corn Mother.3 Peel back the husks (which become her skirts), braid her golden corn-silk hair and ornament her as befits a Corn Queen. Next spring she can become seed corn (which is the practical reason to pick the best ear you can find to “mother” the next year’s crop), or she can dwell in your home until you make your new Lammas Corn Dollie next August and then be interred like Tailtiu and Lugh at that ritual (perhaps with the crumbly remnants of the evening’s John Barleycorn) to bless your land.

Besides our sacramental consumption of John Barleycorn and perhaps His liquid variants, this is an excellent time to glory in the sheer beauty of Mother Earth’s generosity. Try encircling your altar with dry grains and their fragrant spice and floral counterparts. In her book Jambalaya, Luisah Teish suggests combinations such as cornmeal and bee pollen, millet and lavender, or rice and cloves.4  I’ve used rich red lentils and rose buds on some occasions, blue corn and star anise on others. The possibilities are endless and the effect is both aesthetic and visceral, evoking abundance on a satisfying gut level while truly delighting the senses. At ritual’s end, coveners take portions of these materials home to their own altars or kitchens.

At both Litha and Lughnasadh, we also ask for protection for the crops still in the fields: some folks believe weather workings are appropriate now. These are also traditional times for blessing one’s animals.5,6  If the time-honored technique of herding your critters between two raging bonfires doesn’t seem like a realistic option, try bringing their collars or food dishes into circle.

And to show the Deities at both festivals how their bountiful generosity is appreciated, we eat. All grain-based and fresh vegetable dishes are especially symbolic – and delicious – now. Celebrate diversity in your harvesting: seek out grains and produce grown from “heirloom” seeds rather than factory-farmed, mass-produced, genetically-engineered hybrids. Besides supporting ecologically crucial crop diversity, it’s a way of truly tasting what our ancestors planted, prayed for and ate in the distant past.7  Dress in harvest golds and greens, pour libations with a free hand and when you’re done, ground the energy graphically by recycling and composting anything that wasn’t consumed.

Lugh and John and all Your Grain Brothers, we mourn Your passing but honor this sacrifice on our behalf. Sunna, look kindly on our endeavors and let our harvests – both literal and metaphoric – be joyfully bountiful!

RITUAL IDEAS & QUESTIONS
–  Make Corn-dollies
–  Bake a grain-man of bread
–  What are you currently harvesting in your life?
–  What seeds are you carrying forward?

_____________
1. Steve Blamires, Glamoury: Magic of the Celtic Green World, (St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1995), p.271-8.
2. Robert Graves, The White Goddess, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), p. 301.
3. Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), p.160.
4. Luisah Teish,  Jambalaya, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 231.
5. Diane Stein, Casting the Circle, (Freedom: Crossing Press, 1990), p. 126.
6. Campanelli, Ancient Ways, p. 91.
7. National Research Council, Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, (Washington: National Academy Press, 1993)
Previously published in The Hole in the Stone.

Christmas Eve – Mother’s Night

T-holly

Our calendars call it the first day of Winter, but the Yule Solstice actually signifies the return of the sun and the beginning of the end of Winter — small wonder it’s a time of celebration. Thanks to the Earth’s own axis tilt, the sun has been heading into the south since the Summer Solstice. From the Autumnal Equinox onward, the results have been ominously obvious: As the sun goes farther and farther south, it stays lower in the sky and the days are progressively shorter. Plants wither, animals migrate or hibernate, the Snow Demons reign. In ancient times, if the harvest was poor and the hunting was meager, Hel, the Norse Queen of the Underworld, began calling frailer folk to Her realm, optimistically called the Summerland.

newgrange-light-box

Newgrange & winter sun.

In an age when winter was so potentially lethal (as it still is for some among us), knowing just how far south the sun would go was of crucial importance. The psychological impact would have been considerable — it still is. Hundreds of geographically diverse sites from antiquity, from Stonehenge and Newgrange to Chaco Canyon, incorporate sun-watching markers — stand right here and you’ll see the sun rise or set over that special hill, between those particular rocks, or reach in to illuminate this otherwise-dark place.

When that happens, the sun has stopped moving south and will briefly hold its position, rising in the same spot for a few days. The Latin roots of “solstice” mean just that: the sun stands still. In December, the sun’s southern-most declination (23º 25’ S) is reached around the 19th and held through about the 23rd.

Then the sun begins its move back toward the north. The longest nights grip us from about December 18th through around the 26th, after which the days begin to lengthen. “Sol” to the Norse peoples, “Sulis” to the Celts and “Sunna” to the Old Germans, the Goddess of Many Names begins returning north, gradually bringing with Her the birds and beasts, the green growing plants and the blesséd warmth. Slowly the earth becomes fecund and lush again.

Fertility is the underlying theme behind many Yule-season traditions, with the plants carrying much of the symbolism. In its living state, mistletoe was considered the genitalia of the oak-god, Zeus-Jupiter, and its white berries were equated with semen (Graves describes the berries as having a “spermal viscosity”). Virgil wrote of it as Golden Bough, saying the mistletoe gave access to the Underworld; in fact its Norse name is Guidhel, or “guide to hell.”  Mistletoe’s wood is also extremely strong, apropos of its legendary use in spears (another phallic association).

Holly gets its name from Hel or Mother Holle, the Underworld Goddess, its red berries signifying female moon-blood. Linguistically, “holly” also connects with “hole” and the German word Hohle means both hole and cave.

Put this is sexual terms, and the symbolism becomes as clear as a snuggle-inducing midwinter night. Holly and mistletoe displayed together betoken female/male union, a ritual sacred marriage to re-fructify the earth. With a nod (and a wink) to the sexual preferences among your householders and holly-day guests, you might consider hanging the two plants in combination in some doorways, Holly alone hung in other spots, and the familiar Mistletoe on its own elsewhere. Bound to liven up the festivities.

Christmas trees originated with the sacred groves of trees consecrated to the Great Mother. Like caves, circular groves symbolized the Goddess’ vulva; a single tree within the circle represented both Her child and Her lover.

Suddenly the phallic significance of that yule log also seems obvious, if not downright blatant: the folk songs of Provence (fabled retreat of Mary Magdalene) tout the fertilizing prowess gleaned from even the ashes of the French “Noel Log.”  Put a simple circle of small pine clippings ‘round the base of a hefty candle and and  bring on the generative heat!

Single standing stones were credited with similar powers. With the winter Sun traveling low in the sky even at noon, the stones’ shadows remain at their annual most-virile extreme from sun-up to sundown.

This holiday seems far more sensual than our Fundamentalist friends might prefer for their lone divine birthday party. Jesus wasn’t always a Capricorn, of course. His official birth date didn’t land on Christmas until the 4th century. December 25 — often the first day of northerly solar motion after the solstice’s standstill — was already widely celebrated as Mithra’s “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” The nouveau church fathers, as usual, simply co-opted that date for their own Son. The Winter Solstice also marked the birthdays of Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, Zeus, Cuchulain and other northern hemisphere deities.  The annual rebirth of the Norse god Frey was also marked then by the celebration known as Yule, the pagan name by which we know the holiday.

Lest all the emphasis seem to be on the son/sun, please note that Christmas Eve — known of old as Modranect  or Mother’s Night — used to be considered an even greater festival than Christmas Day itself.  Mother’s Night probably emphasized the act of giving birth, letting the Solstice itself emphasize that which was born: why not have two holidays?

In Yule ritual, darkening the room completely is very effective, as we journey into our own deep hearts on this long night — what inner work, “root-work,” is occurring now?  What will we bring forth into the light in the coming months?  And then we return, with lights, candles, perhaps a brilliant cauldron-fire (of clean-burning epsom salts and  rubbing alcohol) to welcome the inspirations we give birth to.

RITUAL IDEAS and  QUESTIONS

– Darken the room and  then invite light to return

– Consciously cast off something in your life that feels “dark,” perhaps by writing it out and burning the paper

– Consciously invite in the “light” — ask for inspiration

– Perform a “Birthing,” pulling each person in turn through an arch of legs

– “What inner work — root growth — are we doing now?”

– “What will we take forward into the light?”

It’s hard to begin manifesting something we can’t at least imagine. Let your long-winter-nights dreaming spark forward into waking reality.

______________________

Some sources:

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

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York, 1966).

Gerald S. Hawkins, Stonehenge Decoded, (Dell Publishing: New York, 1965).

Lucy Lippard, Overlay, (Pantheon Books: New York, 1983).

The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Published annually.

Renna Shesso, A Magical Tour of the Night Sky, (Weiser: San Francisco, 2011).

Peg Streep, Sanctuaries of the Goddess (Little, Brown and Co: Boston, 1994).

Barbara Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and  Secrets, (Harper and  Row: New York, 1983).

Fire Ceremonies: Igniting Change

Campfire_Pinecone

We stand around the fire bowl, drums pounding, flames leaping, and – one by one – step forward to discard and bid farewell.

Our objects look like sticks and colored paper and string, but looks can be deceiving: They’re more than that.  Having asked in shamanic journey what we personally needed to bid farewell to, we’ve each created an object as directed by Spirit and then infused the object with intention, with energy, with the very essence of that which we release.  That stuff, that baggage, is now literally out of me and into my object.  I consign it to the flames for complete transformation.

Fire is cathartic. Whether it comes from the sky as a lightning strike or from this snazzy foot-long lighter, we know on a visceral, non-verbal level that Fire is powerful.  It can be our friend, or it can mess with us.

Today we engage with Fire as an ally.  This fire was laid, kindled and fed with clear intention, specifically to receive and transform this old psychic debris we’re releasing.  Be gone!  And it is gone.  We can feel the shift.

*   *   *

That was Saturday.  Last night I watched another, different fire ceremony.  More people were present, the circle was on a beach, and the items discarded were notes written on the spot, spontaneously. People read their notes aloud, then handed them into the flames.  Fire was a good ally to them, too: As the group finished, participants were dabbing their eyes.  On camera.

This fire was on Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, a show that I happily consider guilty-pleasure-TV.  In this episode, plainspoken Australian trouble-shooter Tabatha gathered the dysfunctional beauty salon’s owner and employees on a nearby beach, and they use Fire to help purge and heal their accumulated ill-feelings.

Which version did I prefer?  The one I took part in, of course: heat, drums and hollering, and my clothes still smell like smoke.  But why should fires and ceremonies be just for us pagans?  I generally see practices like these coming into the mainstream as a great thing, because these practices work.  Let’s all take our healing where we find it, and wherever we find room to create it.

More people with more healing = a more healed world.

_______________

Campfire-Pinecones image from Emeldil at en.wikipedia

Ostara Egg-time, coming up…

ostara-egg1

There’s a kid version of Easter eggs: bright jelly beans and foil-wrapped chocolates (with “maple-flavored” creme filling, gack), hidden in the house or maybe outside, weather permitting.

And there is the designer version of Easter eggs, a la Martha Stewart: natural dye-stuffs used to subtly color the organic eggs laid by my own prize-winning hens… eggs not hidden but instead used to decorate a table laid for an intimate 20-person champagne brunch.  Right.

Somewhere in between these two there’s a happy pagan version.  It still involves organic eggs.  And probably chocolate.

Our group has been decorating eggs for nearly twenty years now.  Some are shown above.  Only the intensely red one was actually dyed.  The others shown are fertile, raw, natural, and decorated using colored pencils and metallic markers, focussed intentions and an occasional dash of glitter.  They’re blessed in ritual, taken home to personal altars.

Why the emphasis on eggs?  An egg is “born” twice: once when the hen lays it, and again when it hatches.  Excellent symbolism.

And excellent timing.  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.  (Factory farms with artificial light sources now put eggs in the grocery stores year around.)

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.  Like other hibernating creatures, snakes begin reawakening in Spring.  They also present an alternative to all the seasonal cutesiness, though, alas, I’ve yet to see a chocolate snake.

Tarot, tra-la! Tarot!

v-s-strength

A new series of Tarot classes starts this evening.  Whee!  I love the Tarot and I love sharing what I’ve learned by teaching others – it always brings new insights and realizations.  Tarot has numbers, recurring themes within the suits, so many ways to convey meaning, but for me (the Art Major me) Tarot always comes back to the pictures.

Language is great – this writer tends to think so – but pictures…   Pictures go to one portion of the brain, while language gets routed to another area.  The image-storing brain-zone lets us think in pictures – and symbols and colors and all those bright and shiny visual ways – while the verbal-managing brain-zone handles the words and language.  Both brain-areas are great, but clearly they’re different.  And since that visual-area is designed for images, why not give it some?

Okay, here’s seventy-eight of them.

Sometimes, as we come to have more and more stored information about the Tarot in our heads, including how we might be able to verbalize these Tarot concepts to clients, we can forget to just look at the pictures.

Clients – especially those seeing the cards for the first time – certainly don’t forget to look.  The images are fascinating, engaging, intriguing, perhaps scary or disquieting, maybe euphoric and encouraging.  The images can be fraught with meaning more intensely personal to that client than all the stuff I’ve committed to memory.  Even if I know three dozen variations of the subtext of each card, the new client sees only the “storyboard.”  For them, until I speak, the pictures are doing all the work.

May I see with such fresh eyes each time I approach the cards.

_________

Strength card from the Visconti-Sfroza deck, c. 1451-1453.

Mad about sacred saffron

Saffron_Crop

“I’m just mad about saffron…”*

People are beginning to mention crocuses coming up.  I haven’t spotted any yet, but in Colorado these things change suddenly and on a yard-to-yard basis.  Always one of the first Spring flowers, insisting its way up through soil and snow, and with that dynamic deep yellow-gold stamen that it so eye-catching.  The real business portion of the plant, however, is the stigma, the thready reddish bits dangling between the petals of the true saffron crocus.   The picture above shows piles of the little things.  This portion of the crocus is laborious to harvest and has been used since antiquity, both good signs of its high value.

Prized as a flavoring and colorant in food, saffron is also a dye for fiber, yielding a yellow rich in both hue and price.  Its use as a pigment can be traced back as least 50,000 years; its medicinal uses have about 4000 years of recorded lore.  Early saffron-pickers are depicted in a wall painting rediscovered on Thera (aka Santorini), the island whose volcanic eruption decimated Minoan civilization around 1625-1600 BCE.  The Saffron-Gatherers, as they are now called, are graceful, elegantly dressed young women, moving across a hilly landscape dotted with crocus-groups, plucking the stigmas and eventually dumping their personal gathering baskets into a large keep.

Citing a Greek tradition of using saffron to treat menstrual pain, writer Elizabeth Wayland Barber views the Thera wall painting as a possible initiation scene, with the youngest girl helping others to pick something she would now have need of.  Barber’s book, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, focuses on the fiber arts and their creative development.  Barber notes that, to the ancient Greeks, “yellow apparel was considered appropriate for women only, including goddesses…”**

Among little Athenian girls, an ancient rite was the arteia, in which the girls dressed in yellow robes and yellow bear-cub costumes and danced to honor Artemis.  Ursa Major (the Big Bear) is Artemis’ former friend Kallisto, and Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) is Kallisto’s son Arcus. ***

What did that arteia-dance look like? Did each girl spin like the sky-Bears, like a little bear-cub-dervish?

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* Donovan, “Mellow Yellow,” 1966

** Women’s Work, page. 116

*** More about the arteia and Ursa Major in A Magical Tour of the Night Sky.

The saffron harvest photograph has been placed in the public domain by the artist.  See more.

Shape Magic: Lemniscate, Analemma, Möbius strip

analemma

These symbols are cousins to each other.  I have a new Tarot class starting, and I’ll be speaking about the lemniscate – the horizontal figure-8 symbol for infinity – found on some cards.  In the Major Arcana, the Magician and Strength often contain lemniscates, and the Two of Pentacles traditionally incorporates a large lemniscate entwined around the two discs.

RWS-01-iRWS-08-viii

The shape dates back to Greek Neoplatonist philosopher-mathematician Proclus.  He called the shape a hippopede, or “horse-fetter,” the twist of rope used to hobble a horse.  One loop around each front hoof and voila!  The horse’s power is commanded, which can play into potential Tarot meanings.The analemma is the same shape in grand, celestial terms.  It’s the figure-8 found on the side of a globe, its northern- and southern-most ends – at the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, respectively – marking the solstice extremes of the Sun’s motion, where the Sun “turns around.”  More spectacularly, the analemma is also the Sun’s motion as seen in the sky over the course of a year.  Viewed daily, same time and vantage point, the Sun’s position shifts higher and lower, farther east and west.  Over the year, we see a lop-sided figure-8 emerge, as in the photo above.

By comparison, the Möbius strip is simple, earthy, physical.  It’s just a strip of paper, its ends joined to create a ring but – vital! – with a twist in the paper so that the outer side becomes the inner, and vice versa: It has no end.  Find Möbius strip details here.  Flattened out, the Möbius strip is the origin of the recycling symbol.

So far, these symbols may read like math or science, but spiritually their meanings expand: The Sun’s motion and our ability to track it and celebrate its turning points; the perpetual continuity found in the lemniscate and the Möbius strip; our awareness of our earthly presence, expressed in the recycle symbol, and so much more.  Symbols are our visual tools, and in these, What goes around, comes around.

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Analemma photomontage credit to Jailbird, via Wikipedia Creative Commons shared use.

More on the spiritual applications in the Night Sky and Math for Mystics books.

More analemma action: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120920.html