Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

Imbolc/Candlemas   2 comments

My wife and I returned late yesterday afternoon to a cold house — we heat only with wood — back from an overnight to Boston where we visited my wife’s cousin Sue in the hospital.  She’s due to go home soon after stem-cell replacement therapy and chemo for lymphoma.  So far the treatment’s working, and her toughness and optimism are heartening.

Our indoor thermometer read 49 degrees, and as we shivered in the last afternoon light and I rekindled a fire in our woodstove, I caught myself glancing a couple of times at a calendar, the way you do after a trip, to reorient yourself to times and days. Late January.  The last glimmer of sun over our front yard showed a typical Vermont winter scene — new snow, bare trees, and that deceptive bright calm that makes you believe you really don’t need to bundle yourself up and protect every extremity against single-digit New England winter days.  A single step outside offers a brisk corrective to that particular illusion.

Yes, frostbite lurks for the unwary, but there’s a subtle shift nonetheless.  Birds know it, plumped against the cold, heads cocked and alert for anyone else finding food, and so does the ivy drowsing beside my wife’s loom.  It’s perked up recently, as if waking from its own vegetative hibernation.

Sue’s bright spirits, beyond her own brand of courage, are in keeping with the changing season.  Imbolc approaches, the holiday also celebrated variously as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day on Feb. 1/2.  The northeastern U.S. lies in the grip of winter, and yet the holiday looks forward to spring.  The Irish word imbolc means “in the belly” — the fetal lambs growing and approaching the time of their birth into a larger world, full of darkness and light. Brigid draws devotees who keep shrines lit with light and fire.  The Wikipedia entry nicely sums up her importance:  “Saint Brigid is one of the few saints who stands on the boundary between pagan mythology, Druidism and Christian spirituality.”

Verses in her honor abound:

Fire in the forge that
shapes and tempers.

Fire of the hearth that
nourishes and heals.

Fire in the head that
incites and inspires.

You can feel the change with your eyes, on your skin, in your bones — a slightly different angle of light, longer days, a listening quality, if you go quiet enough to hear it.  A reason to celebrate with light and flame.

There’s an old Japanese saying I encountered while living and working in Tokyo two decades ago that often comes to my mind this time of year.  “What is the bravest of living things?  The plum tree, because it puts forth its blossoms in the snow.”  There’s a bravery in certitude, a trust that, as Genesis 8 declares, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

There’s deep comfort in homely things — things of home — the soapstone stove, the hearth stones that accumulate wood-ash and need sweeping a few times a day, the armfuls of oak logs I bring to feed our fire.

Late this morning as I finish the final draft of this post, the stove still ticking and pinging softly as it heats and cools with each charge of wood, the wall thermometer finally reads 67.  My wife reads in bed, the sky lowers gray, and a fine snow clouds the air as it descends.

Light and blessings of the season to you.

About Initiation, Part 1   2 comments

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

With energies flowing around us from so many end-of-year holidays and celebrations, it seemed fitting to think and write about initiation.  It’s one more piece of a Religious Operating System (ROS), it’s an important key to Druidry and — most importantly — it’s something we all experience.  For good reason, then, the subject cuts a large swath through spiritual, religious and magical thought and practice.  As author Isaac Bashevis Singer opens his book The Chosen, “Beginnings are difficult times.”  That’s one reason New Year’s resolutions often end up on the cutting room floor of the film version of our lives.  (Some ways to keep them alive and well and not merely part of the special extended version of our lives that may not see wide release into the “real” world will be the subject of a post upcoming in the next few days.)

Some opportunities for initiation recur each year, and are built into our cultures.  Right now the festival holidays of Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa and so on are opportunities for annual initiation — if we let their celebrations reach into us and change us.  As breaks from “profane” or ordinary time, holidays take us into altered if not sacred space, and then return us to our lives somehow — ideally, anyway — changed.  Of course, specific religions and spiritual paths each offer their own initiations.  For Christians, it’s baptism (and for Catholics and some other denominations, confirmation as well).  A Jew passes through a bar or bat mitzvah, and so on.

But we needn’t look so far or so formally.  First kiss, first love, first sexual experience, first drink (consider the particular sequence of these in your own life).  Driver’s license, prom, graduation, military draft.  Each transforms as a rite of passage.  We “pass through” and come out on the other side, different, in ways others may or may not notice.  We ourselves may not fully absorb the changes until much later.

As with the kinds of freedom I considered in a previous post, there seem to be both “transitive” and “intransitive” initiations — initiations which enable or empower the initiate to do something — typically in the future — and initiations which recognize a standard or awareness already attained, and put a “seal of approval” on it.  Of course these need not be separate.  Both kinds can occur simultaneously.  Initiation is a “beginning” (from Latin initio “start, beginning”) both a path or direction that another agency, power or person starts us on, and also something one does or experiences oneself.

Some big initiations are inclusive.  Like annual holidays, we all experience them.  Though we may not often think of it, death — our own, or that of a loved one, or of a public figure with symbolic power, like a John F. Kennedy or a Princess Diana — can be a powerful, transformative initiation.  Through the grief and the inevitable breaks in familiar routine that come with the first shock, the family gatherings, the arrangements and the funeral itself, we’re brought to face loss, change, mortality, and endings and beginnings in ways.  We may take on new, unfamiliar roles, like caretaker, mourner, survivor, with all the challenge and growth they can bring.  The first death we encounter (apart from pets), given the usual number of years between generations, comes almost like clockwork sometime in our teens, with the passing of a grandparent.  In the freshman dorm at the boarding school where I teach and serve as adviser, there are four or five deaths of grandparents each year, and all the myriad changes they carry with them for those involved.  It’s a close study in family dynamics (and our capacity as advisers to provide support) to witness how kids and their families deal with it all.

Marriage often seems to occupy a sort of middle ground as far as these categories operate.  On the one hand, no one is married in the eyes of either the law or a religious organization until they pass through the requisite ceremony.  Yet we all know couples who are already “so married” that the ceremony confers nothing that they don’t already manifest in abundance.  In this case, the initiation of marriage simply recognizes and formalizes a connection and a state of relationship that already exists and — if the ritual or ceremony still carries any power — blesses and charges the thing consecrated.  My wife and I have two anniversaries, ten days apart, and each conveyed to us different energies.  First was a spiritual ceremony by a cleric in our tradition, and second came the state ceremony, performed by a justice of the peace.  Interesting, too, who we see as performing or undergoing the initiation.  Ideally, to my mind, the one experiencing the initiation should play at least some part, if not an active role, in its enactment.  For initiation takes place both outwardly, where it is often witnessed by the state if not also by family, and  more importantly inwardly, on the subtle planes (which deserve their own post or series of posts).

“Where is wisdom to be found?” goes the old query.  Initiation is one major source.  Not all initiations “show” right away, or even ever.  What we begin may never end.  It can take a lifetime to sort out the effect of even “lesser” initiations, to say nothing of the big ones.  Those “long” words, never and always, very much belong with initiations.

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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Image credits:  Knighthood — “The Accolade” by Edmund Blair Leighton

Sex and love

Oriya Indian wedding

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