Wednesday, 5 September 2018
Circle of light
In the comment thread developing from the previous post — about winter woolies — Lynda and I were each speaking from the seasons on opposite sides of the planet. Pause to think what amazing friendship opportunities the internet has given us — such blessing!
Over there in Australia she is in early spring, still chilly. Here in England we are leaving summer behind and coming into autumn — beginning to get chilly. The earth turning, orbiting, circling in the seasons of the light.
The old religion of these isles was rooted in agricultural rhythms. As the Tao expresses it,
Man follows Earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows what is natural.
So the rhythms of Earth and the seasons teach us wisdom and allow us to glimpse eternal truth.
Here in the islands where this sequence of festivals was shaped, we're in harvest time.
Harvest begins at Lammas, with the barley harvest, when the sickle is first put in, at the beginning of August — the cross-quarter day, half-way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.
The harvest concludes at Michaelmas, at the end of September, with the feast of St Michael and all angels, when all is safely gathered in.
There's an exterior agricultural rhythm to this, but also an inner wisdom rhythm.
Look — here are the archetypes of the light cycle:
The colours show you the seasons of the light. On the left there is the pregnant woman, who sits at the season of Easter (from Oestre — think 'oeuf', the French for egg, and the word oestrogen), when Christ's new life was incubated in the tomb and emerged into the dawn as salvation. Easter sits (more or less) at the spring equinox; that's why the figurine of the pregnant woman is grey, half light half dark.
At the front sits the figure of John the Baptist, whose feast is set at the xenith of the light, in high summer, near the solstice. The Celtic Christian monks who set these feasts placed them adjacent to the old religion's existing feasts, to show the connections, rather than antagonising anybody by challenging and ousting them. They were wise missionaries, respectful.
The figurine of John the Baptist is white, to show his feast is when the light is brightest and strongest. But you'll see his gaze is towards the little dark babe. John the Baptist is the herald who points towards the coming Christ. He stands at the xenith of the year directing our gaze towards the infant light, the birth of truth.
Then comes the figure of St Michael. St John had a staff and the archangel Michael carried a sword in this set of figurines, but sadly both they and the replacements got broken, so you'll just have to imagine them.
St Michael stands at the equinox, as the light and darkness balance (expressed in the colouration of the figurine), and he is there to call us urgently to get ready, for dark days are coming.
Then comes the little dark baby, the infant light born into the days when darkness is deepest, the world is cold and the nights are long, and hope, life, seem to be gone. This is Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, the arrival of hope into our darkest hour, at the winter solstice. So the coming of the Christchild brings the dawn of life-giving light, and inaugurates the dawn of new hope.
We were thinking about this in our household this morning, because we were getting ready for the coming winter.
We've filled up our wood store, out beyond the potato patch there:
And we have a stash in the house here, under the Celtic cross that echoes the old glyph of the sacred Earth, and reminds us of the cross that stands while the world turns.
As we were bringing the wood in, one of us reflected that only this last fortnight we've been thinking about preparing for old age, the late autumn and winter of our lives and the going down into the earth.
Some of us who live here are middle-aged and some are growing old, and we've been discussing what we can put in place for the years that are coming, getting our house as well in order as it is within our power to do. The Badger and me moving down to an easier location, to make use of these "good old days" before age comes to claim our strength. In his new room he will build a wardrobe and bookshelves, both very strong and physical tasks, because this is the time to do it — while he is still fit and strong.
We've also talked about how we will make financial provision for our old age — for both the older ones and the middle-aged ones, because there are no children in this household.
So we are in the period of our lives that we might see as the season between Lammas (cross-quarter midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox) and Michaelmas (the equinox by which time all must be safely gathered in). It's no good starting to harvest at Michaelmas. St Michael looks down the days of winter cold. By his feast, the barns must be stocked. And my children are at Lammas, and my husband and I are at Michaelmas, and these spiritual festivals are our gracious reminder to get ready, both in body and in soul.
Later comes Martinmas and Advent, and now I'm on a roll and want to write all about that but I'd better stop or I'll be sending you off to sleep! Because they too (as all the feasts do) hold wise instruction for how to conduct our lives. They knew a thing or two, those Celtic monks of olden days!
Blessed be you, in this season of preparation that reminds you body and soul, to get ready.