Tag Archives: mythology

Names of the Wind — Nick Hunt

 

ELSEWHERE – A JOURNAL OF PLACE recently featured a piece by Nick Hunt who’s book “Where the Wild Winds Are” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) was published in September 2017.

 

PHOTO: THE BORA IN FULL SPATE ON THE SLOPES OF MOUNT MOSOR, NEAR SPLIT, CROATIA, BY NICK HUNT

 

Nick “set out to follow four, which seemed an appropriate number for winds, drawn by the romance of their names but also intrigued by their effects; Europe’s great aeolian forces are said to influence everything from architecture to mythology to psychology.”

It’s fascinating to discover just how much mythology and folklore is attached to the wind, and how Nick found some of these stories to contain truth, and was a witness to their effects.

The Helm – Britain’s only named wind – blows down the western slopes of Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, with enough force to destroy stone barns in the nearby Eden Valley. According to local legend the summit was formerly known as Fiends Fell, until the air-dwelling demons – whose howling caused such terror in the parishes below – were exorcised by a wandering holy man.

The Helm itself takes its name from a long white cloud called the Helm Bar (a helmet for the mountain’s head) which acts as a harbinger of this freezing north-easterly. I camped for four days and nights up there, scanning the desolate moorland and waiting for the cloud to form; when it did, the demons returned to haunt me with a vengeance.

My second wind was the Bora, which led me down the Adriatic coast from Trieste in north-east Italy through Slovenia and Croatia. Fierce enough to sink ships and hurl fish from the sea, the Bora is also credited with helping defeat the last major pagan army to oppose the Christianisation of Rome – turning the arrows of the troops back towards them in the air – despite the fact that it takes its name from the pagan god Boreas, ancient Greek avatar of the cold north wind.

It is celebrated for bringing good health, in stark opposition to the southerly Jugo, which muddies the sky with a yellow haze (taking its name from the Slavic word for ‘south’, this is the local variant of the many-named Sirocco, whose other appellations include the Khamsin, the Ghibli, the Sharav, the Marin, the Leveche and the Xaloc).

During my three-week walk I found myself in a tug-of-war between Jugo and Bora, north and south, clear skies and humid haze. At last I met my quarry on a snow-covered mountainside above the Croatian city of Split; appropriately enough for a god, Boreas froze the blood in my veins and knocked me off my feet.

The etymology of the Foehn, which I chased across the Swiss Alps, perhaps also stems from the divine – it may derive from Favonius, the Roman god of the west wind – but locally it has earthier names: Schneefresser, ‘Snow-eater’, Maisvergolder, ‘Corn-goldener’, and Traubenkocher, ‘Grape-cooker’, in tribute to its warming effects. Associated with clear skies, sunshine and the coming of spring, it is also blamed for causing headaches, nosebleeds, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of other ailments; antique maps depict the Foehn as a puff-cheeked face blowing out not air, but showers of human skulls.

I tracked this ill-omened force for a fortnight from one deep valley to another, acting on meteorological tip-offs and snatches of local lore, until eventually catching it in the heart of Haslital. After experiencing three days of relentless roaring heat – incongrously thundering from snow-capped summits and glaciers – I woke one morning so depressed that I could hardly move. It felt as if everything in my life had gone disastrously wrong, and it took me most of the day to understand the cause and effect. The legends and old wives’ tales were true: I had fallen victim to Föhnkrankheit, the notorious Foehn-sickness. As soon as I escaped that valley, the symptoms disappeared.

My final wind was perhaps the best-known, being something of a household name far beyond its native range: the bitter breath of the Mistral, which blows, according to superstition, for three, five, seven or nine days southwards down the Rhone Valley from Valence to the Gulf of Lion. Its name comes from the Latin magistralis, which means ‘masterly’, and it certainly dominates the land; the farmhouses in its path are built with windowless north-facing walls to protect against its blast, and lines of closely-packed cypress trees are planted as living windbreaks from east to west.

Like the Bora and the Foehn, the Mistral makes a clean sweep of the sky and helps create the vibrant light that has attracted generations of painters to the south of France. But there is a price to beauty; this ‘wind of madness’ is notorious for driving people crazy. Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in its path for two years in the town of Arles – during which time he cut off his ear and committed himself to the local asylum – referred to it in his letters as ‘a nagging malice’, ‘pestering’, ‘merciless’ and ‘the devil’, even as the conditions it brought inspired some of his greatest works.

I followed its trail for ten days down an ancient pilgrims’ path on the western bank of the Rhone, ending my travels on the Plain of Crau, a little-known and desolate region classified as western Europe’s only steppe. Two thousand years ago the geographer Strabo travelled there, describing ‘an impetuous and terrible wind which displaces rocks, hurls men from their chariots, breaks their limbs and strips them of their clothes.

Source: Names of the Wind — Elsewhere: A Journal of Place

Nick’s website can be found here

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Francis Bacon’s use of ancient myths in Novum Organum

Francis_Bacon,_Viscount_St_Alban
Francis Bacon

The Novum Organum, fully Novum Organum Scientiarum (‘new instrument of science’), is a philosophical work by Francis Bacon, written in Latin and published in 1620. The title is a reference to Aristotle’s work Organon, which was his treatise on logic and syllogism. In Novum Organum, Bacon details a new system of logic he believes to be superior to the old ways of syllogism. This is now known as the Baconian method.

For Bacon, finding the essence of a thing was a simple process of reduction, and the use of inductive reasoning. In finding the cause of a ‘phenomenal nature’ such as heat, one must list all of the situations where heat is found. Then another list should be drawn up, listing situations that are similar to those of the first list except for the lack of heat. A third table lists situations where heat can vary. The ‘form nature’, or cause, of heat must be that which is common to all instances in the first table, is lacking from all instances of the second table and varies by degree in instances of the third table.

The title page of Novum Organum depicts a galleon passing between the mythical Pillars of Hercules that stand either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, marking the exit from the well-charted waters of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean. The Pillars, as the boundary of the Mediterranean, have been smashed through by Iberian sailors, opening a new world for exploration. Bacon hopes that empirical investigation will, similarly, smash the old scientific ideas and lead to greater understanding of the world and heavens. This title page was liberally copied from Andrés García de Céspedes’s Regimiento de Navegación, published in 1606.

The Latin tag across the bottom – Multi pertransibunt & augebitur scientia – is taken from the Old Testament (Daniel 12:4). It means: “Many will travel and knowledge will be increased”.

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Bacon’s work was instrumental in the historical development of the scientific method. His technique bears a resemblance to the modern formulation of the scientific method in the sense that it is centered on experimental research. Bacon’s emphasis on the use of artificial experiments to provide additional observances of a phenomenon is one reason that he is often considered “the Father of the Experimental Philosophy” (for example famously by Voltaire). On the other hand, modern scientific method does not follow Bacon’s methods in its details, but more in the spirit of being methodical and experimental, and so his position in this regard can be disputed.

Importantly though, Bacon set the scene for science to develop various methodologies, because he made the case against older Aristotelian approaches to science, arguing that method was needed because of the natural biases and weaknesses of the human mind, including the natural bias it has to seek metaphysical explanations which are not based on real observations.

Novum organum, as suggested by its name, is focused just as much on a rejection of received doctrine as it is on a forward-looking progression. In Bacon’s Idols are found his most critical examination of man-made impediments which mislead the mind’s objective reasoning. They appear in previous works but were never fully fleshed out until their formulation in Novum organum:

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“Francis Bacon’s monumental work, Novum Organum, is an attempt to establish a new status for mankind. Using some of the most prominent myths—particularly those dealing with the gods Pan, Dionysius, Perseus, and Prometheus—Bacon hoped to inaugúrate a new era of success and happiness for his fellow man. In Book I of Novum Organum, Bacon involves these gods and their significances, juxtaposing them with man as he might and could be. In this essay, the author examines about twenty of the “Aphorisms” in Bacon’s work, showing the possible impact of the ancient god who is most appropriate for the “Aphorisms” under discussion. This article is clearly a work of utopian proportions, revealing fascinating journeys into the realm of romanticism.”

Wendell P. Maclntyre
University of Prince Edward Island

Click here to read the full pdf article http://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/6045/1/RAEI_07_10.pdf

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

These are selected extracts from a longer article that appeared on September 21st 2017 on Rubedo Press – link can be found at the bottom of this page

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi

GARY P. CATON.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS suggest it was a “creative explosion” of primal art, such as cave paintings and figurines, which formally marks the transition to what we consider to be modern humans during the upper Paleolithic period. So, it is first our image- and later our symbol-making capacities which stand out as distinctively modern human adaptations and characteristics.

[…]In the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a researcher is interviewed confessing that the lions painted on the walls of Chauvet cave had invaded their dreams with such a powerful and profound presence that they had to stop going inside the caves in order to process the profound emotions stirred by the experience. This encounter truly exemplifies the raw primal psychic potentials capable of evocation through images.

The zodiac itself is a circular image, the word in Greek meaning “circle of animals.” While the zodiac as a formal coordinate system originated with the Babylonians around the seventh-century BCE, it has been hypothesized that the 17,000 year old paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves represent the constellations in what could be described as a kind of proto-zodiac. This proto-zodiac hypothesis is difficult to prove, however it is generally accepted that at the very least the cave paintings represent a form of “sympathetic magic,” wherein painting the animal becomes a kind of spiritual communion between the souls of the animal and the painter.

Evidence suggests that early modern humans existed in an undifferentiated state of consciousness and lived by a worldview which anthropologists call animism. For these people, there was no separation between the spiritual and material worlds, and so animals were naturally seen to have souls too. In fact, in an animistic consciousness, everything has a soul—including rivers, mountains, valleys and plants, minerals, etc. So, the ritual act of creating the image of an animal is practiced to enable the artist to invoke the sympathy of the animal’s soul—either to gain its sacrifice in the hunt or to take on some of its attributes and power.

Perhaps this sympathetic magic is also partly what was intended in the creation of the zodiac, and helps explain its continued popularity. After all, who has not occasionally wanted to roar like a lion in the face of life’s trials?It is one thing to wistfully wish for the presence of one’s inner lion, or even to accidentally stumble upon and arouse it, but it is quite another thing altogether for someone to consciously and deliberately summon such a presence.  Outside of a children’s story, many modern people might find the concept laughable. And yet, ironically, we can regularly see humans engaging in behaviors that make those of a wild lion seem almost tame.

Is it possible that suppression or repression of our more primordial urges has only fated us to become possessed by them, forcing them to reveal themselves to us in a more perverted form? […]

Philosopher Jean Gebser theorized that humanity has transitioned through several modes or structures of consciousness. The problem with what he calls the mental structure that humanity is transitioning away from is that it seeks to deny the other structures with its claim that humans should be exclusively rational. However the structure that we are transitioning toward is integral, and carries the need to “make present” all the various structures of awareness. When all structures are recognized and accepted this enables a person to see and live through the various structures simultaneously, rather than be subjected to, possessed or “lived by” one of them.

Perhaps this tells us that an openness to and understanding of an animistic perspective or worldview may help (or at least begin) to provide or reconnect us with conscious access to the ancient instinctive resources shared by all human beings, and might also help prevent these same instincts from taking over our lives through unconscious animalistic behaviors.

Although it is quite common for people today to think of god in terms of a trinity, it seems seldom that modern people dare to think of themselves, their lives or their world in these same terms. Yet, some familiar with more ancient forms of awareness know that animistic cultures have long considered there to be three worlds. In many ancient religious systems, there were three cosmic levels: not only heaven and earth, but an underworld as well. Rather than simply the nightmarish vision of hell imagined by Christianity, the underworld was seen by many cultures as a place of natural riches and ancestral wisdom. In this worldview, the axis mundi, the vertical feature of the cosmos, was seen to be at the center of the world and served to link together all three cosmic levels. This axis could be represented by various symbols such as a mountain, tree or ladder. From an animistic perspective, all three of these worlds are not only connected, but also accessible to, and indeed part of every human being.

From an animistic perspective, because there is no separation between the material and spiritual world, we can also conceive of three “selves” with which to navigate these three worlds. For the animist, what most people think of as their entire identity, the every- day awareness of the conscious ego, or what Kahuna shamans call the “talking self,” is actually far from the totality of being. Our “higher” spiritual self has access to transcendent spiritual wisdom, and our basic self accesses our “lower” animal/visceral intelligence, the instincts and inherited tribal wisdom that have kept us alive as a species for many millennia. From this perspective, the admonition to “know thyself” takes on new complexity. There is a need to comprehend, understand, and harmonize all three essential aspects of being human and to bring our three “selves” into alignment and integrated partnership.

In this way, the triple-alignments of Mercury, occurring in the same degrees and also linking the above and below, can become a kind of axis mundi—a sacred linkage, connecting the three worlds and three selves. Remember, from a visual standpoint, the image of Mercury’s retrograde journey is that of a disappearing act: from above to below, and back to above. Images often tell a story. The visual transformation process that Mercury performs every four months, of disappearing in the west and later re-appearing in the east, also happens to the other planets at various intervals and was mythologized by the Babylonians and Egyptians as the journeys of various gods through the underworld.

Of all the Greek gods, only Hermes was able to fully traverse the axis mundi and visit the heights of Mount Olympus as well as the depths of Hades. Sky astrologers can use these visual and mythical perspectives to better understand Mercury retrograde.[7] After Mercury passes evening elongation, his highest appearance above the horizon in the west at dusk, he is in the process of slowing down and descending. Later he turns retrograde and becomes invisible, disappearing in the west. After making the invisible inferior (below) conjunction with the sun, Mercury re-appears in the east and then makes his highest appearance above the eastern horizon at morning elongation. Visually, Mercury is “switching skies,” appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.

Source: Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

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The Remains of Elmet: a collaboration by Ted Hughes & Fay Godwin

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet witnessed “Druidism; Britons, their fight against Rome and their adoption of Romanism; the start of Christianity and the clash with Rome’s catholic Christianity; a Bardic tradition in a Brythonic tongue and then in the highest quality Latin, the struggle against the English; the struggle against the Norse; the coming of the Normans; civil war in the 12th century; Scottish raids; the rise & fall of the Percy’s; the bloodiest battle in the Wars of the Roses; religious rebellion in the Tudor times; sieges and battles in the English Civil War; the growth of great estates through the 18th century; the centre of the Industrial Revolution. “

– John Davey

Elmet (Elmed/Elfed) called Elmete Saetan or “the dwelling place of the people of Elmete” came into prominence following the evacuation of the Roman Legions from Britain after 407-410 A.D. As such it is synonymous with the origins of Arthurian legends much corrupted by later generations.

MapElmet02

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet has inspired bards, poets, photographers and authors, among others, with its history, legends, landscape and folklore, not least of all the Arthurian legends, though that connection is for another day.

One such body of work inspired by the landscape and history, is the collaborative Remains of Elmet. Collaborations between poets and photographers became increasingly common in the late twentieth century. Among the most successful was Remains of Elmet (1979), by photographer Fay Godwin and poet Ted Hughes.

Remains of Elmet

Remains of Elmet marks a departure from Hughes myth laden sequences of poetry which he produced in the 1970s. After the likes of CrowCave Birds and Gaudete,Remains of Elmet appears downbeat by comparison with its sparse lines of verse and bleak black and white high contrast photographs of the West Yorkshire landscape as taken by Hughes’s collaborator on this project Fay Godwin. ” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet
Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet

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Fay Godwin, Ruined Farm, Stanbury Moor, 1979

“Hughes’s poetic vision of the Calder Valley, a region formerly referred to by the Celts as ‘Elmet’, is not a wistful and rose-tinted appreciation of the area he grew up in. His poems depict a weather beaten landscape and people and the vestiges of industrial enterprise, religious custom and ancient tradition. Here, the only survivor among these remains, the only ‘thing’ to flourish, is nature as it reclaims the land from those who inhabit it. This underlying conflict is foregrounded by allusions to the First World War where the valley is at once an extension of the Western Front and a site of remembrance with repeated allusions to the cenotaph and the war dead. Survivors of this conflict and the generation of inhabitants who have witnessed its economic demise become anachronisms, symbolic of an inertia crippling attempts of tame the valley.” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin is very much a writer’s photographer, in more senses than one. Poets and novelists are drawn to her work, and she worked closely with several.”

“From an urban life as a 60s north London wife, mother and hostess, she set out on a long journey into the wilder landscapes of Britain, sometimes in company, sometimes alone, often on foot, and built up over time a body of work that reflects a deep sense of place and the poetry of place. In 1970 she met Ted Hughes, with whom she formed a creative partnership which was to result in his lament for the Calder Valley, Remains of Elmet (1979). Perhaps the best known of her collaborations, this volume was very much poem-led. She responded strongly to his vision of the ruined mills, the “melting corpses of farms”, the Satanic majesty, the sluttish subsidy sheep, the black chimneys, the cemeteries, the millstone grit, the willow herb. It was through Hughes, she said, that she got to know England.” Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

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Fay Godwin, Top Withens

Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s
Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s

“Attuned to each other, like the strings of a harp
They are making mesmerising music,
Each one bowed at his dried bony profile, as at a harp.
Singers of a lost kingdom. “

(from Remains of Elmet)

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Ted Hughes

“Throughout his creative life, Ted Hughes has used his poetry to tap the universal energies and to channel their healing powers towards the sterility and the divisions which he sees in our world. All his major sequences of poetry work towards this end, and Remains of Elmet represents an important step in Hughes’ ability to achieve wholeness and harmony through the imaginative, healing processes of his art.

In his pursuit of these regenerative energies, Hughes appears to have adopted the role of poet/priest/shaman, and it is a role which carries responsibilities that Hughes takes very seriously. He is aware of the creative/destructive powers of the energies he courts, and he has a superstitious belief that by fixing these powerful energies in a poem he can affect both writer and reader “in a final way”. Consequently, Hughes has experimented with many methods of summoning and containing these energies and, whilst he is skilled at using the rhythms and the rituals of poetry for this purpose, in his longer sequences he most frequently turns to “the old method” of religious and mythological ritual in order to obtain the imaginative healing he intends.” © Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

For more on Elmet

sources:

Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

The Ted Hughes Society

Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

 

 

 

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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Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – Jo Woolf

All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

(from Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday)

Beith’ or birch is the first symbol of the Ogham alphabet, representing the letter ‘B’, and ancient birch woodlands are immortalised in many Gaelic place names: examples include Glen an Beithe, Allt Beithe, and Beith in Ayrshire; the old name of ‘birk’ also appears in many parts of Scotland and England. It’s interesting to note that a fungus known as witches’ broom (Taphrina betulina) grows on birch trees, causing dense clusters of short twigs that look like untidy birds’ nests. Having stimulated this sudden growth, the fungus then feeds on the new shoots without inflicting too much harm on the tree itself.Birch with witches’ broom fungus.

Traditionally, birch is said to be full of the light of the warrior-god Lugh, and the old belief in its power to drive out evil is strong and persistent: even in Victorian times, naughty schoolchildren would find themselves on the wrong end of a birch switch; and ceremonies of ‘beating the bounds’, many of which have survived into the present day, involved the ritual tapping of local boundaries with staffs of birch or willow. Cradles made from birch were believed to protect new-born babies from malicious spirits, and in the folklore of the Highlands, it was said that a pregnant cow herded with a birch stick would bear a healthy calf; and if the animal was barren, she would become fertile.

In Norse mythology, the birch was sacred to the goddesses Frigg and Freya, who are believed by some scholars to share the same origin; and in Welsh legend, the tree was linked with Blodeuwedd, the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes – interestingly, the Welsh equivalent of Lugh. The Irish warrior Diarmuid and his lover, Grainne, slept on beds of birch twigs when they fled from the wrath of Fionn mac Cumhaill, to whom Grainne had been promised in marriage. “The birch has always been associated with the spirits of the dead and with those that mourn, for, in sympathy with the sorrowing, ‘weeps the birch of silver bark with long dishevell’d hair’.” Trees and How They Grow by G Clarke Nuttall, 1913.

Birch can mark the threshold between this world and the next: in The Wife of Usher’s Well, an old ballad which appears in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a mother grieves for the loss of her three sons whom she had sent “o’er the sea” – perhaps to find their fortune in war. Superstition decreed that the dead should not be mourned for more than a year and a day, or else their restless spirits might return to haunt the living; but the woman took no heed of this advice, and in the depths of winter the ghosts of her sons appeared, wearing hats of birch to protect them from the physical world which they had left behind

Jo Woolf

  • All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

More at the Source: Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

Eos – The Light of All-Seeing Dawn

T19.12Helios

 

Eosphoros, god of the morning star, Venus, leads the procession of the day: the chariots of Eos, the dawn, and Helios the sun. Eosphoros is depicted as a handsome young winged god with a shining aureole upon his head. Helios and Eos likewise appear as aureole crowned youths, each driving a four horse chariot (quadriga). Beneath the chariot wheels are dancing fish and dolphins, to indicate their dawn rising from the sea.

“The light of all-seeing Dawn (Eos).” -Theogony 404f“

When the young Eos (Dawn) showed again with her rosy fingers.” –Iliad 1.477

“The goddess Eos drew close to tall Olympos with her message of light to Zeus and the other immortals.” –Iliad 2.48-49

“Dawn (Eos) the yellow-robed scattered over all the earth.” –Iliad 8.1 & 24.695

“Eos rose from her bed, where she lay by haughty Tithonos, to carry her light to men and to immortals.” –Iliad 11.1

“Eos the yellow-robed arose from the river of Okeanos to carry her light to men and to immortals.” –Iliad 19.1-2

“Eos (Dawn) comes early, with rosy fingers.” –Odyssey 2.1, etc. (repeated many times)

“The goddess Eos, who had slept beside Lord Tithonos, was rising now to bring light to immortals and to mortals.” –Odyssey 5.1

“When Eos of the braided tresses had ushered in the third day.” –Odyssey 5.390, 10.144

“Forthwith came Eos in her flowery garment.” –Odyssey 6.48

“Eos appeared in her flowery cloth of gold.” –Odyssey 10.540, etc

“The ship [of Odysseus] in due course left the waters of the river Okeanos and reached the waves of the spacious sea and the island of Aiaia; it is there that Eos the early-comer (Erigeneia) has her dwelling place and her dancing grounds, and the sun himself has his risings [so therefore must be located in the far East]. We came came in; we beached our vessel upon the sands and disembarked upon the sea-shore; there we fell fast asleep, awaiting ethereal Dawn.” –Odyssey 12.1-6

“That brightest of stars appeared [Eosphoros] that most often heralds the light of early-rising Dawn (Eos Erigineia).” –Odyssey 13.93

“Eos in her broidered robe as she rises from the streams of Okeanos.” –Odyssey 22.195

“Rosy-fingered Dawn (Eos) when she appeared might have found them still in melting mood, but Athene of the gleaming-eyes turned her thought to another stratagem. She held back the night to linger long at the horizon, checking Eos of the broidered robe at the edge of Okeanos and bidding her not to yoke as yet the rapid horses that bring men light, Lampos and Phaithon, the young steeds of Eos … When it seemed to her [Athene] that Odysseus had has heart’s content of both love and sleep, forthwith she roused up Eos (Dawn) of the broidered robe from Okeanos to bring light to mankind again.” –Odyssey 23.244f

“There was an assembly on snowy Olympos, and the immortals who perish not were gathering after the hour of gold-throned (khrysothronon) Eos.” -Homeric Hymn IV to Hermes 326-328

“As when descends Eos (Dawn) from Olympus’ crest of adamant, Eos, heart-exultant in her radiant steeds amidst the bright-haired Horai (Hours).” -Quintus Smyrnaeus 1.48

“[Eos] Phaesphoros Erigeneia (she who brings Light to the world, the Child of Mists of Night) … began to climb Heaven’s broad highway.” -Quintus Smyrnaeus 2.185

“From Okeanos then uprose Eos (Dawn) golden-reined: like a soft wind upfloated Hypnos (Sleep) to heaven.” -Quintus Smyrnaeus 5.395

“Rose Eos (Dawn) from Okeanos and Tithonos’ bed, and climbed the steeps of heaven, scattering round flushed flakes of splendour.” -Quintus Smyrnaeus 6.1

“For Helios the Sun’s lot is toil … from the moment rose-fingered Eos (the Dawn) leaves Okeanos and goes up into the sky.” –Mimnermus Frag 12

“Lady (Pontia) Eos .. golden-armed (khrysopakhos).” -Greek Lyric I Sappho Frag 6

“Golden-sandaled (khrysopedillos) Auos [Eos].” -Greek Lyric I Sappho Frag 103

“Hesperos, bringing everything that shining Auos [Eos] scattered, you bring the sheep, you bring the goat, you bring back the child to its mother.” -Greek Lyric I Sappho Frag 104

“Lady Auos [Eos].” -Greek Lyric I Sappho Frag 157

“Rosy-fingered Eos.” -Greek Lyric II The Anacreontea Frag 35

“For the Pleiades, as we carry a plough to Orthria (Goddess of the Morning Twilight), rise through the ambrosial night like the star Sirius.” “I long to please Aotis (Dawn-goddess) most of all, for she proved the healer of our sufferings.” -Greek Lyric II Alcman Frag 1

“When white-cheeked Aos [Eos] climbs the heavens, early-born (Erigeneia).” -Greek Lyric III Ibycus Frag 284

“Aas [Eos], leaving the waters of Okeanos, drew from the sky the moon’s holy light.” -Greek Lyric IV Corinna Frag 690

“Gold-armed (khrysopakhos) Aos.” -Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides Frag 5

“On a dark-blossoming sea Boreas rends men’s hearts with the billows, coming face to face with them as night rises up, but ceases on the arrival of Aos (Dawn) who gives light to mortals and a gentle breeze levels the sea, and they belly out their sail before Notos’ breath.” -Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides Frag 13

“The lovely light of immortal Aous.” -Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides Frag 17

“White-horsed Aos as she brings light to men looks down.” -Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides Frag 20C

“Eos’ horses went racing up the sky today, bearing her all rosy from Okeanos’ bed.” -Theocritus Idyll 2.145f

“When Ge learned of this, she sought a drug that would prevent their [the Gigantes] destruction even by mortal hands. But Zeus barred the appearance of Eos (the Dawn), Selene (the Moon), and Helios (the Sun), and chopped up the drug himself before Ge could find it. ” -Apollodorus 1.34-38

“Radiant Eos with her bright eyes beheld the towering crags of Pelion [ie the mountain was touched by the light of Dawn].” –Argonautica 1.519

“At the hour when bright-eyed Eos comes up to light the eastern sky, and all the paths stand out and the fields glisten with dew.” –Argonautica 1.1280

“Eos (Dawn) arrived, showing herself betimes above the snows of Kaukasos.” –Argonautica 3.1224

“Eos’ (Dawn’s) celestial beams chased black Nyx (night) from the sky.” –Argonautica 4.1170

“And while the daring boy [Phaithon] in wonder gazed, Aurora [Eos], watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the stars took flight, in marshalled order set by Lucifer [Eosphoros] who left his station last. Then, when Sol [Helios] perceived the morning star setting and aw the world in crimson sheen and the last lingering crescent of the moon fade in the dawn, he bade the nimble Hours go yoke his steeds.” –Metamorphoses 2.113f

“Aurora [Eos] rising with dewy hair.” -Metamorphoses 5.446

“When on his milk-white steed Luciferus [Eosphoros the Morning-Star] rides forth, or when, bright harbinger of day, Aurora [Eos] gilds the globe to greet the sun.” –Metamorphoses 15.88

“Tithonus’ wife [Eos] drops dew from her saffron cheeks and drives the time of the fifth morning.” –Ovid Fasti 3.403

“When Pallantis [Eos the dawn] next gleams in heaven and stars flee and Luna’s [Selene the Moon’s] snow-white horses are unhitched.” –Ovid Fasti 4.373

“Memnon’s saffron mother [Eos] arrives to view the widening earth on rosy horses.” –Ovid Fasti 4.713

“Hyperion’s daughter [Eos the dawn] expels the stars and lifts her rose lamp on the morning’s horses, cold Argestes (the North-West wind) will caress the topmost ears of corn.” –Ovid Fasti 5.159

“Aurora [Eos] had chased from heaven the dewy darkness, was carrying the sun’s torch far and wide over the earth.” –Aeneid 4.12

“And now was Aurora [Eos], leaving the saffron bed of Tithonus, beginning to shower upon earth the light of another day.” –Aeneid 4.585

“Tithonus’ bounteous wife [Eos], ruffling the sea with the new-born sunlight.” –Valerius Flaccus 1.310

“The fires of the maid Pallantidos [Eos daughter of the Titan Pallas] grow faint in the east, the land lightens.” –Valerius Flaccus 2.72

“Tithonus’ bride [Eos] dissolved the chill shadows and uncurtained the heavens.” –Valerius Flaccus 3.1

“And now Aurora [Eos the Dawn] rising from her Mygdonian [her husband Tithonos’] resting-place had scattered the cold shadows from the high heaven, and shaking the dew-drops from her hair blushed deep in the sun’s pursuing beams; toward her through the clouds rosy Lucifer [Eosphoros, the morning-star] turns his late fires, and with slow steed leaves an alien world, until the fiery father’s [Helios the Sun’s] orb be full replenished and he forbid his sister to usurp his rays.” –Thebaid 2.134

“The bright consort of Tithonus [Eos the Dawn] had shown in heaven her toil-bringing car, and Nox [Nyx, night] and Somnus [Hypnos, sleep] with empty [sleep-inducing] horn were fleeing from the pale goddess’ wakeful reins.” –Thebaid 6.25

“It was the time when Phoebus’ [Helios the Sun’s] fiery sister [Eos the Dawn], hearing the sound of his yoked steeds and the roar of Oceanus’ cavernous abode beneath the gathering dawn, collects her straying beams and with light flick of whip chases the stars away.” –Thebaid 8.271

“Not ye had the wakeful dawn put all the stars to flight from heaven, and Luna [Selene the Moon] was beholding the approach of day with fading horn, what time Tithonia [Eos the Dawn] scatters the clouds in hurrying rout, and prepares the wide firmament for the return of Phoebus [Helios the Sun].” –Thebaid 12.1

“Eos (Dawn) in her car was just speeding back from Okeanos in the East and marking great space of sky with slowly brightening light, dispelling night.” –Tryphiodorus 670

“So oft hath Tithonia [Eos goddess of the dawn] passed by my groans [from lack of sleep], and pitying sprinkled me with her cool whip [the dewy whip with which she chases away the stars].” –Silvae 5.4.1

“Aurora [Eos the Dawn] with her crimson trapping brandished her rosy arm and began to driver her chariot across the sky.” –Apuleius 3.1

“[Zeus to Helios:] ‘I will hide you and the daughter of the mists [Eos] together in my clouds, and when you are covered Nyx (Night) will appear in the daytime..” –Dionysiaca 7.280

“Eos had just shaken off the wing of carefree sleep and opened the gates of sunrise, leaving the lightbringing couch of Kephalos.” –Dionysiaca 27.1

“Farshooting Eos (Dawn) with crimson face leapt up sending forth her light.” –Dionysiaca 34.124

“The Wind [Euros the East Wind] left the rosy chamber of Eos (Dawn) his mother.” –Dionysiaca 37.70

“But when morning, the harbinger of Eos’ (Dawn’s) dewy car, scored the night with his ruddy gleams, then all awoke.” –Dionysiaca 37.86

 

Labyrinths and Ritual in Scandinavia

Labyrinth-Danmark-747x1024“In Västergötland, Sweden, a similar type of labyrinth game was reported in 1933: Here, people used to draw labyrinths in the snow on the ice during winter. The paths would be wide enough to skate on. In the center was a girl placed, who was called the “Bride of Grimborg”. Grimborg is a medieval legendary hero well known from many parts of Sweden. According to the song of Grimborg, the hero forced his way through fences of iron and steel in order to reach the beautiful daughter of a king. He had to fight the king´s men three times before the king allowed him to marry his daughter. In the skating labyrinth, a guard, like in the legend, would stand to protect the “castle” – that is, the labyrinth. The guard would try to mislead and stop the young man playing Grimborg, who was trying to find his way to the bride.” http://freya.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/?page_id=356

with thanks to David Metcalfe https://twitter.com/davidbmetcalfe

 

 

 

The Sabians and their role in the development of astrological, alchemical and magical traditions

“In what is now southern Turkey stand the remnants of a city called Harran. Part of long ago Babylon, Harran was once the site of the Temple of the Moon god-Sin, one of seven temples in seven cities sacred to the seven classical planets.  Unlike the other great celestial temples, though, the Temple of the Moon in Harran continued to host astral rites long after the coming of Muhammed. From the 6th until the 11th centuries C.E., a wild Hermetic syncretism bloomed, tended carefully by a people who called Hermes their prophet, and themselves Sabians.”

“In alchemy, Jābir ibn Hayyān was known to have spent time among the Sabians, and his work displays the unique fusion of astrology, Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, Aristotelianism and Galenic medicine developed in Harran.  Jabir’s work hugely influential work spawned a plague of pseudonymous books, and more than 3000 texts have come to be attributed to him.”

Jabir_ibn_HayyanJabir ibn Hayyan was a prominent polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. Born and educated in Tus, he later traveled to Kufa. Jābir is held to have been the first practical alchemist.

As early as the 10th century, the identity and exact corpus of works of Jābir was in dispute in Islamic circles. His name was Latinized as “Geber” in the Christian West and in 13th-century Europe an anonymous writer, usually referred to as Pseudo-Geber, produced alchemical and metallurgical writings under the pen-name Geber.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C4%81bir_ibn_Hayy%C4%81n

 “The Sabians of Harran played a crucial but often under-recognized role in the transmission and development of astrological, alchemical and magical traditions. Harran acted as a crucial bridge for the Hermetic arts and sciences, ferrying them from the decay of Byzantine Rome all the way to the shores of Medieval Europe half a millennia later.  Many all of the greatest Arabic astrologers, alchemists and magicians can be shown to have spent time in Harran.  Without them, astrology would not have survived the West’s dark ages, nor would the complexities of alchemy or the high cunning of astral sorceries have been passed on.

800pxlunaralbiruni

Harran hosted what were perhaps the sole inheritors and practitioners of Babylonian astral magic at a time when both the Christian and Islamic worlds were being steadily purged of them.  Yet the Sabians were not pagan fundamentalists.  Hellenistic influences abound in what record we have of the Sabians’ practice.  They embraced the metaphysics of Neo-Platonism, the experimental philosophy of Hermeticism and the science of Hellenistic astrology, forging a sophisticated framework for the Babylonian astral magick they inherited.  The Gayat Al Hakim, also called the Picatrix, a legendary planetary grimoire, emerged from this elegant syncretism, and may testify to its intricacies best.”

For full article at Clavis Journal, see here: http://clavisjournal.com/the-shadow-of-harran/