Category Archives: Rebirth

Re-enchanting the Winter Solstice: an invitation – The Art of Enchantment by Sharon Blackie

“Turn on the radio or the TV, and we’re deluged by ads urging us to buy, buy, buy. Burn the planet, so that for one lunatic day of the year we can wear red hats and snowflake-embroidered sweaters and drink and eat more than is moral, frankly, and imagine everything is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with us – we’re all quite sane, honestly, and we’re sure the planet will be just fine. But we don’t need to ask for whom the jingle bells toll: they’re tolling for us – have been for decades – and still we can’t seem to help ourselves. Buy, buy, buy. If ever we needed to reinvent our approach to this season, it’s now. Because that’s what we’re supposed to be acknowledging and celebrating here: the season.”

“Whatever other religious rites and symbols might have been bolted onto it, this winter holiday is about winter, and all of the things that are happening around us at this time of the year. Very specifically, it’s about a real astronomical event which happens every year: the Winter Solstice. Winter Solstice happens during the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s elevation in the sky is at its lowest. The word ‘solstice’ literally means ‘sun stands still’, for at this time the sun appears to halt in its incremental journey across the sky and to change little in position. ‘Winter Solstice’, then, actually refers to a single moment; for this reason, other words are often used for the day itself: ‘midwinter’, or simply ‘the shortest day’.”

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

from ‘Burnt Norton’, T.S. Eliot

“The significance of Winter Solstice is two-fold: it’s the darkest point of the year, and yet it’s also the moment at which we begin the journey back from that long darkness and into the slow, sometimes painful but ultimately joyous, return of the light. For most people today, Winter Solstice is at best a curiosity, and at worst a complete irrelevance. But it wasn’t always so.”

“There are many myths and stories about the birth and rebirth of gods which occur at this time, and about battles between the darkness and the light. Here on the westernmost fringes of Europe, we know that Winter Solstice was significant to our ancestors because of the great monuments which were built to acknowledge it: monuments which were aligned to the sunrise on the day of the Solstice (at Newgrange in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney, for example). Fires used to be lit at midwinter to welcome the return of the light: the death of the old sun and the rebirth of the new. And lighting those fires was an act of faith, because Winter Solstice occurs at the height of what was historically a time of great uncertainty: starvation, disease and death was common during the cold and barren winter months.Our ancestors may have lived in the long-ago faraway, but the great cycles of the planet and the great cycles of the natural world are just as relevant to us today as they ever were.”

“‘Modern’ as we imagine ourselves to be, there is something in each of us which still fears the long dark, and Death seems always to stalk us here, in these shadowy days between Samhain and Imbolg. Once we understood these patterns, and the teachings which follow the rise and fall of the year. But once we were married to the land, and understood many things which now are lost.I think it’s time we began to understand them again.Perhaps we’ve abandoned our focus on the season because we fear the long dark. And the long dark is fearful because we’re afraid that one day, the light won’t return after all. Our logos-obsessed intellect tells us that it couldn’t be so – but the mythos which lives on in our imagination and physical senses knows that it’s perfectly possible that it won’t. In this time of global darkness, that fear is more visceral than ever.

And on a more personal note, we know full well that one day we won’t wake up to the light; one day we’ll get permanently stuck in the dark, and die.The dark might be fearful, but it’s part of life. And like all parts of a well-lived life, there’s a richness and a beauty in it which offers both revelation and transformation. Our unease in the dark reflects our fear of endings, as well as our anxieties about new beginnings – and it’s a natural enough response. It’s not something to be avoided: it’s a sign that we’re still breathing, still alive to the world around us. It’s time to stop shuffling through the dark days, medicating ourselves with excess. It’s time to become fully alive to the world around us. It’s time to fully engage with the season.

And yes, for our ancestors, midwinter was very much a time for feasting. The animals had been gathered in, and after months of hard work in the spring, summer and autumn fields, now it was time to rest. But although they might have known the value of a good feast, our ancestors also knew when to stop. They knew when enough was enough, and how to hold the sacred balance between give and take which maintains life for all.”

“We do not know these things any longer; we’ve forgotten, and forgotten well. We buy our toys and gadgets, and use them like sawdust to fill up the gaping emptiness at our centre. And then we wonder why Christmas is always such a disappointment – why it never quite seems to live up to the promises the advertisers made to us. Where was the snow, and where were the reindeer, and the glittering stars in a truly dark night sky? Where was the real, fully lived magic?

And, focused as we always are on assuaging our own all-too-human alienation from the living world around us; and fixating at all costs – at any cost – on our messed-up relationships or emotional ‘process’ or our tortuous pathways to personal ‘wellbeing’, we certainly don’t make time to grieve for the polar bears starving in the Arctic due to man-made climate change, or to think about what we might conceivably do to stop it. We just buy another plastic-wrapped bauble, and say to hell with the oceans: it’s Christmas.”

“So it’s okay to feast – but only if you understand when enough is enough. And only if you’ve thought about how you’ll survive once the feasting is over, and it’s the famine road which stretches ahead. More than anything, then: before the feast, always make sure that you understand what it is to fast. Because survival depends on preparation, and preparation depends on knowing what is essential. It depends on knowing how to find out what is essential, and that means letting the long, cold dark strip you down to the bare bones. Let winter strip you bare like an old oak tree. Let the final leaves that you’re clinging onto fall. Let it all fall, and see what still keeps you standing.”

“Winter Solstice is a time of renewal. It’s a time to immerse ourselves in the cycles of nature: of death and rebirth, of darkness and light. It’s a time to think about change and transformation, and to appreciate the still point in the rich, fecund dark before the next cycle gets fully underway. Above all, it’s a time to step out of your head sometimes and let your body – that soft, honest animal part of you – fully embrace the long, cold dark. Without that, you can have no real understanding of what the light even means. So promise yourself this, today: that through the rest of this winter season, you’ll stay awake to the land around you, and to the nonhuman others who inhabit it with you. And that, when the light returns and the famine days are over, and the great cycle of growth begins again, you’ll braid yourself a wedding ring from newly cut rushes, and marry yourself to the land.”

By Dr Sharon Blackie: writer, psychologist, mythologist

Source: Re-enchanting the Winter Solstice: an invitation – The Art of Enchantment

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Working through Depression with Alchemy

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“More than a school of thought, alchemy is a gnosis, a “way” of knowing. It is a deliberate attempt to grasp immortality in which the process is paramount. We all embody the archetypal journey of life, consciously or unconsciously. We are born in our essential nature but it quickly becomes covered with a hard-shelled core of the false ego. We long to return to our true nature. Alchemy amplifies and accelerates this process of self-actualization, connecting with a sacred sense of self.

Naturally, there is no absolute actualization, no final self-reflective insight. It is a recursive formula of returning, over and over on more subtle levels, to the sacred center where heaven and earth meet. You don’t have to heroically “succeed” at alchemy.

Not succeeding will deepen you as you improvise the narrative that is your life up to that point. How many times do we make, then lose the Stone? How many times do we lose our hard-won happiness or wholeness? The trick is to not paralyze yourself with New Age guilt over it. If a scientist has a failed experiment he or she doesn’t wallow in shame or analysis paralysis but starts over with new boundary conditions.

First, you must separate yourself from the herd mentality. When your comfort zone becomes constrictive, you have grown beyond it. Still, only a few adventurous souls will move beyond the cocoon of their self-imposed prison. If you suppress yourself too much, you become a stranger to yourself. Alienation is felt as chronic depression.

You have to change your level of game play, change your reality map. You die to one level to be reborn at a higher level. Dis-identify from the social hologram, dis-identify from rigid roles and soul-diminishing victimization to become open. To step up your game, you have to reconnect with your core, your deep presence and awareness. Reality speaks for itself if we listen closely enough to nature and our nature. But you have to retrain your eyes, ears, and heart to comprehend the intuitive language of alchemy.”

“The spiritual landscape is changing and alchemy offers a safe harbor for the drifting spirit beyond institutional or cult affiliation. Many paths are vying for participants but alchemy chooses you. It is a self-initiatory path that provides a structure or scaffolding for metaphorical death and rebirth, a generic process described in many traditions. But you must remain dedicated to the process.In exploring the unknown you are exploring yourself. The journey to wholeness often begins with a retreat – into oneself, your interior nature.”

From: Working through Depression with Alchemy http://ionamiller.weebly.com/nigredo-depression.html

Hermetic Rebirth and the Cave of Initiation

 

Hermetism is often and wrongly confused with Gnosticism, which similarly originated in Egypt in roughly the same era. For present purposes, a few salient points of contrast will suffice. Like the God of Stoicism, the Hermetic God was omnipresent and omniscient through the material cosmos. In Gnosticism, by contrast, God was transcendent, and the physical universe was an evil place created by an evil Demiurge (van den Broek 1998). Hermetic ethics celebrated the divine within the world; Gnostic ethics were abstemious, ascetic efforts to escape from the world (Mahé 1998).

There were also differences in their valuations of visions. Jonas (1969) drew attention to the fact that the motif of heavenly ascension was originally intended, for example in Jewish apocalyptic literature, as an objective reality, but was subsequently transformed into an allegory of the mystical path. The mystical appropriation of the ascension motif was complete by the second century era of the Alexandrine Christian fathers, St. Clement and Origen (Danielou 1973).

The allegorical tradition was also present in the Gnostic literature of Nag Hammadi, although in a slightly different manner. Referring to experiences of visions in general, The Exegesis on the Soul 34 stated: “Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself….This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of ascent to the father” (Robinson 1988:196). For the Gnostics, as for the Alexandrine fathers, ascension was one among several literary tropes that could signify mystical experiences of highly varied manifest contents.

So far as I know, the Hermetic system was the earliest in the West to propose a mystical initiation, consisting of multiple experiences, that is simultaneously a journey through places and a series of changes in the ontology of the self. Its ascension to the sky compares with Jewish and Christian apocalypticism; but its division of ontological states compares with Neoplatonic distinctions among sensibles, intermediates or divisible intelligibles, and indivisible intelligibles.

This sequence, which can already be discerned in Iamblichus, was eventually formalized by Proclus as three mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union. However, the Hermetists slotted imaginals into the middle position that Neoplatonism limited to empirically demonstrable arithmeticals and geometricals.

This substitution brought Hermetism to a position on visions that differed from the reductive skepticism of Neoplatonism, which treated visions as ideas that were misrepresented by the senses in the form of images.

The Hermetic position also differed from the pure projections that Gnostics held visions to be. For Hermetists, the imaginal was not a projection whose ever various and impredictable content becomes increasingly pure as one’s mind purifies in its progress toward God. The imaginal was instead topographical, an actual and predictable itinerary in a visionary topos that had ontological integrity and coherence.

Although The Discourse was not transmitted to the West in the Corpus Hermeticum, the Hermetic concept of ontologically distinctive locations along an itinerary has been integral to Western esotericism for centuries. Because the Hermetic tradition survived without apparent interruption from late antiquity to be taught at least as late as eleventh century Baghdad, it is not surprising that a series of initiatory experiences were portrayed as an itinerary across nine mountains in Suhrawardi’s Treatise of the Birds (1982).

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

To Suhrawardi, Sufism also owed the introduction of the ‘alam al-mithal, the “world of imagination” (Rahman 1964). The notion of an initiatory itinerary in the world of imagination was formalized, or at least made less esoteric, in the Sufism of Najm ad-Din al-Kubra (Merkur 1991:223, 234-35); and its passage from Islam to western Europe may be assumed.

Interestingly, Widengren (1950:77-85) demonstrated that the ancient motif of ascension to an audience before a heavenly god was replaced, in the Arabic Hermetic literature, by the motif of entering a subterranean chamber where Hermes sits enthroned, holding a book in his hand. Widengren suggested that the descent of Balinas (the Arabic Apollonius of Tyana) to acquire the Emerald Table of Hermes, along with variant narratives, blended the motif of an initiatory ascension with the motif, found in Egyptian and Hellenistic tales, of the discovery of a book in a subterranean chamber.

An illustration from an old collection of stories translated from Ancient Eyptian Literature. This scene depicts the character “Setna”, emerging from a tomb where he gambled to win a magical papyrus, known as the Book Of Thoth, the reading of which would empower him with all knowledge. Setna was based on a real person, Prince Khaemwaset, the fourth son of Ramesses II, who was a Holy Man of the highest order (Sem Priest) and credited as being a great magician. (It was this character from Ancient History that I give all credit to for embarking on my own Hermetic Journey – Jaq) Setna/Prince Khaemwaset

The motif of the cave of initiation, which found its widest audience through the tale of Aladdin in the 1001 Nights, may also have been influenced by Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs (Taylor 1969), in which a passage in Homer was allegorized as an image of the cosmos. Whatever its sources, the motif of an alchemical initiation by means of a subterranean itinerary is earliest attested in the writings of medieval Arabic Hermetists.

By this route, the motif of ascension in late antique Hermetism was likely historically antecedent not only to such celebrated European alchemical motifs as the Cave of the Philosophers, but also to the climactic encounters in Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1796) and Ferdinand Ossendowski’s Beasts, Men and Gods (1922).

Engraving from Baro Urbigerus Besondere chymische Schrifften, 1705.

Source: Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth

The Discourse on the 8th and 9th

The Corpus Hermeticum

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

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