My Snowdrops are out! Imbolc Will Be Here Soon.

Snowdrops,_2016

Snowdrops. Ya gotta love ‘em.
Dainty, pure white flowers that thrive in the coldest, darkest part of the year.
In the Pacific Northwest they always arrive just before Imbolc, the festival of first light.

They reassure us that winter won’t last forever.

But for me, the arrival of these cheerful flowers triggers bittersweet memories.

The snowdrops in the picture are growing in my front yard. They used to grow next door in Patty’s front yard. We were friends and neighbors for over twenty years, and we did a lot of talking during that time. The things we talked about most were gardens and growing things.

Two years ago Patty lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed in her living-room, surrounded by grieving friends and family.

But snowdrops were blooming in her front yard.

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Filed under Gifts from the Multiverse, Wheel of the Year

The Gravinis Tumulus and the Holly King and the Oak King

Brittany

The tiny island of Gavrinis guards the turbulent entrance to Brittany’s Gulf of Morbihan.

From "Carnac, Locmariaquer, and Gavrinis" By Charles-Tanguy Le Roux. See Footnote.

From “Carnac, Locmariaquer, and Gavrinis” By Charles-Tanguy Le Roux. See Footnote.

To get there, we took a beautiful 10 minute boat ride from the tiny village of Lamor-Baden.

Gavrinis,_Lamor-Baden_waterfront_at_low_tide

Lamor-Baden’s waterfront at low tide

 

Gavrinis,_www.brittanytourism

Perched on the island’s highest point is a spectacular tumulus.

Gavrinis_tumulus

Actually it’s a tumulus covering a cairn, covering a dolmen.*

Gavrinis_diagram_from_Carnac,_Locmariaquer,_and_Gavrinis_by_Charles_Tanguy_Le_Rous_and_Yvon_Boelle

And it’s old. Built in 3500 BCE during the Neolithic Era, it is older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and even a few centuries older than Newgrange, its more famous Irish cousin.

And it’s really big. At 100 meters in diameter, it’s bigger than Newgrange.

And the 46 foot long passageway leading to the central chamber is made up of huge stones carved in fantastic patterns that seem to shimmer and pulse. Several sources state flatly that they are some of the most magnificent art humanity has produced, a masterpiece of universal art.

Gavrinis_dolmen_passage

And it’s prominently placed. When it was built, sea level was much lower and it was part of the mainland. It would have overlooked a large inlet that could have served as a major Neolithic seaport.

Park service map on Gavrinis. The dotted lines show the present day coast.

Park service map on Gavrinis. The dotted lines show the present day coast.

And it’s a riddle of a dolmen wrapped in an enigmatic cairn inside a mysterious tumulus.

• Why was it built? Like the even older alignments at Carnac, no one knows. The ranger on Gavrinis assured me that they had found human remains at the site, but none of my other sources mention this. So was it a tomb? A temple? A public meeting place? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? It had to have been something really important to get a primitive farming society (at least we think it was a primitive farming society) to move all those rocks and all that dirt, and carve all those stones using only round quartz pebbles—remember, this is the Neolithic Age, no metal.
• Are those images carved so laboriously on those stones just pretty designs or do they mean something?

Gavrinis_stonesGavrinis_stones,_Wikipedia_image

Gavrinis_stones_001

We know that the Egyptian temple and tomb decorations were dense with meaning because we can read the pretty pictures (hieroglyphs) carved all over them. But no Rosetta Stone exists for the Neolithic Age. We can only speculate, and we’ve done lots of that. **
• Why was the wooden outer façade burned to cinders and the passageway to the central chamber blocked and filled with rubble only a few centuries after it was built?
• Why isn’t the southeast facing entryway aligned with the rising of the Winter Solstice sun? Newgrange is aligned to the Winter Solstice sunrise which has illuminated its chambers for over 5 millennia, and it would be convenient to assume the same at Gravinis. Unfortunately, although other sources claim that the rising Winter Solstice sun shines on the back of the central chamber, the source I trust most says that this is definitely not true. The opening is just slightly too far south for this to happen.*** This means that the sun will never shine inside this structure because the sun is at its southern-most point at Winter Solstice.

Which brings me to the final small, but still fascinating, mystery of Gavrinis that no one ever mentions.

A large and venerable oak tree grows from the southern base of the tumulus, and if you look south from that, there is a large holly tree. Oaks are plentiful throughout Brittany, but hollies, although native to the area, aren’t nearly as common. This was the first one I’d seen.

Gavrinis_oak_and_holly

They form a north-south line**** which begins with the holly tree in the south and ends with the oak tree in the north.

Winter Solstice? Oak and Holly? My pagan brain immediately spits out the ancient Celtic myth of the Oak King and the Holly King who fight for dominance every year. The Oak King always wins at Winter Solstice and begins to gain power and the Holly King always wins at Summer Solstice and begins to gain power. Their never ending battle portrays the cycle of the seasons and reminds us of the universal paradox—everything changes, yet everything remains the same. It also reveals the Mystery of Winter Solstice: Out of the heart of darkness, at the time of the Holly King’s greatest power,  the light of the Oak King is reborn.

• But who planted the oak tree and the holly tree at Gavrinis?
• And are these the first ones?
• Or are they replants of a long line of oaks and hollies stretching back to when?
• Perhaps to the first Celts to inhabit the area?
• Or did the Celts get the story of the Oak King and the Holly King from the descendants of the people who built the tumulus? In that case the first trees may have been planted way back in the fourth millennium BC?
• And then there is the chivalric romance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which a beautiful Green

The Green Knight, image by Diana Sudyka

The Green Knight, image by Diana Sudyka

Knight on a green stallion rides into King Arthur’s banquet hall just after Christmas carrying a sprig of holly and challenges him to a duel, which is taken up by Gawain who beheads the visitor, who then picks up his head and leaves with Gawain’s promise to come and allow him to cut off Gawain’s head next year.Could this be a “modernized” version of the ancient Celtic myth which was a “modernized” version of an ancient Neolithic myth?

We will never be able to definitively solve all the mysteries of Gavrinis. The answers are lost in the mists of time. But perhaps, at this late date, the truth isn’t as important as what we believe to be true.

Gavrinis_hollyGavrinis,_oak

      A blessed and contemplative Winter Solstice to all.

*Tumulus: An ancient, earthen burial mound, barrow. Cairn: A mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark. Dolmen: A megalithic structure composed of a large flat stone laid on two upright ones. They appear singly or lined up to form a passageway.
** The Megalithic Science website ran an article that explains how the designs on a section of Gavrinis Stone R8 depict the integration of two astronomic cycles: The Saros cycle, made up of 19 eclipse years of 364.62 days and the Metonic Cycle, made up of 19 solar years of 365.2422 days.

Gavrinis,_Saros_and_Metonic_cycles

This means that the people who carved these stones were able to keep a very accurate calendar and predict solar and lunar eclipses. The Chaldeans (612-539BC) were the first culture we know of that had this capability, but Gavrinis stone R8 was carved 3,000 years before the Chaldeans existed.

Another website opines that “The concentric arches engraved in the stone(s) are careful depictions of the (non-linear) standing waves generated by baritone chanting at the entrance of the passage chamber, constructed with the appropriate length and width to allow reflected sound waves to retrace the same wavepath as it moves in both directions.”

In a Notes to Ponder post, the author describes how a computer with a pattern recognition program, analyzed the patterns on a few of the passageway stones and decided that some were symbols for the number of days in a year, the exact latitude and longitude of Gavrinis, and the mathematical constant Pi. (unfortunately, no references were given) If this information is really coded into the patterns, it sounds to me like the information in the scientific part of the golden records we put in Voyager I and II. Could the Neolithic cultures have understood that eventually they would be forgotten and left these amazing monuments of stone to remind the cultures that would follow them that they existed and they too had knowledge and power?
***Carnac, Locmariaquer, and Gavrinis, Text by Charles-Tanguy Le Roux, Photographs by Yvon Boelle, Editions Ouest-France, Edilarge S.A., 2011. The Carnac Museum of Prehistory sells this booklet in their gift shop and recommends it. The author is an authority on the Neolithic Age in Brittany.
****The line definitely runs north-south, but we didn’t have a compass to determine if it runs exactly north-south; and, if so, whether it’s aligned to true or magnetic north.
***** Many believe that the Arthurian legends were set in Brittany, not England. And there are many places along the coast of Brittany named for Camelot’s inhabitants.

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The Secrets of the Carnac Alignments Revealed! (Actually, Just One of Them)

I have been to Stonehenge twice and was in awe of the engineering ability and sheer effort it took to build it, but the whole thing felt somber and empty, like there was nothing there for the living, and possibly never had been.

image by flicker user Viky.png

image by flicker user Viky.png

Stonehenge’s neighbor, Avebury, is a totally different story. The stones there feel good and the energy is celebratory and joyous. You could tell by the way they were laid out that they were avenues and enclosures for community festivals. The archeology also supports this.

image by www.megalithic.co.uk

image by www.megalithic.co.uk

So how, I had always wondered, would the standing stones of Brittany feel? They are much older, some dating back to 4500BCE—Stonehenge and Avebury date back to about 2500BCE (first stones erected) and 2600BCE respectively. So when my husband and I and Jim and Yvonne, our traveling buddies, decided we wanted to go to Paris, Craig and I put in a request to spend a week in Brittany. Jim and Yvonne were an easy sell after they’d seen pictures of a few alignments.

Le Menec Alignment

Le Menec Alignment at Carnac

So we rented a lovely, old farm house in Peillac.

Le Verger

Le Verger

Brittany

which is way down in southeastern Brittany near the town of Redon.

Our neighbors were very nice.

Brittany,_neighbor

And then we ventured out to see the stones.

Brittany,_Kerzerho_2

The first ones we saw were the Kerzerho Allignment several miles northeast of Carnac—dozens and dozens of granite slabs and boulders all lined up in several rows and radiating energy. Walking through them was a relaxing, mind-mazing experience. Yvonne pulled out her dowsing rods, and as she walked between the rows they began rotating, pointing first toward one stone and then the next. They were never still.

I began checking how the energy moved in different stones and found that some pulled energy up out of the earth and some channeled it down from above. The flow was quite noticeable. But to make sure I wasn’t just making it up, I asked Yvonne and my husband which way the energy was moving in the stones I had tested, and they always agreed with me. However, we could find no pattern. The up and the down stones weren’t lined up opposite each other and they didn’t alternate. They seemed to be randomly dispersed.

Kermario Alagnment at Carnac, image by booksfact.png

Kermario Alagnment, image by booksfact.png

A few days later at the Kermario Alignment at Carnac I took the time to sit still and meditate with the stones. It was a bright, beautiful early autumn day and the sun felt warm and soft on my shoulders. After awhile things got very still and the world…slowed…down. “Why did they bring you here?” I asked the stones. I waited a bit and an image of the stones with a strangely dressed person touching or leaning against each one drifted into my mind and ideas began forming in my head that morphed into flashes of sentences spoken by a voice that wasn’t a voice.
“We were used for healing. But this was only one of our many uses. Since you are a healer, we’ll tell you a little bit about that small part of our work. The priests who lifted us from our beds and placed us here on the ley lines were also healers. They knew the subtle ways that earth energy and stone work on a body. Each of us has a different effect depending on how deeply we are buried in the ley line, what shape we are, and how our crystals are aligned; and the priest understood each of our talents. At the holy days villages from miles around would gather here and the priests would take each person to the stone that would help him or her most. When everyone was in place, the priests would go to their own stones, activate the entire alignment, and heal their people.

“You have already noticed that some of us pull life force up from the ley line and some pull it down from the sky, but you have drawn the wrong conclusions about how to use this energy. Those of us who pull the life force down, you think of as grounding stones, but what we are actually doing is pulling what you call air prana through the energy bodies and the physical body. The ones who pull life force up from the ley line, you think of as energizing, and they are, but they are energizing with what you call ground prana, earth energy, the stuff you need to heal the physical body.

“Now here is another small teaching for you. When you touch a stone that is pulling up earth prana, which chakra would you open and clear to receive the most benefit?”

My jaw dropped in amazement. I couldn’t believe I was being quizzed by healing stones last used by my Neolithic ancestors.

“Base chakra,” I replied, hoping I’d gotten it right.

“Yes, and for the ones pulling down air prana?”

I was about to reply “Crown chakra,” but thought again. I am a pranic healer and we are taught that the Spleen chakras pull in air prana and distribute it to the other chakras. Hoping that Master Choa had it right, I said, “Spleen.”

“Exactly,” they replied, and my respect for Master Choa went up even higher.

“This is what we can tell you about why the priests placed us here. But remember, this is just one of our many uses.”

As I felt their presence diminishing I thanked them for their teaching and their wonderful energy. Then I grabbed my husband and did a quick healing on him using the techniques the stones had taught me. I had him touch a stone that was pulling up ground prana and checked his base chakra. It felt congested, like there was too much energy coming at it all at once, so I cleared it out and the chakra was now able to take in and assimilate all the energy the stone was giving it. I waited a bit, and then I had him touch a stone that was pulling down air prana. Same story here, only with the spleen chakras. When he released the stone, I stabilized the energy and asked him how he felt.

“It felt great. Very comfortable,” he said. I had been hoping for something more spectacular, because I knew that the stones had given him an amazing amount of energy.

Me in the Kermario Allignment

Me in the Kermario Allignment

 

As I continued to wander through the stones, feeling their strong, glowing presence, I came upon a large stone that radiated huge amounts of what I now knew to be ground prana. What would it feel like to channel all that marvelous energy through my base chakra? I opened myself and reached out to touch it.

“Don’t play with that one!” The stones were suddenly back in my head and most insistent. “You’re not ready for it.”

I sighed and contented myself with a simple touch and rejoiced in the fact that even after six thousand years the Alignments of Carnac are still alive and vibrant with healing energy.

And that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

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The Burning Times and The Civilization of the Goddess: New Pagan Myths?

I just read a post by John Halstead in his blog, The Allergic Pagan. It was entitled  “Believing in Our Myths, Without Believing in Them”. I don’t always agree with what this guy has to say, but he always makes me think, and this post was no exception. It is definitely worth reading.

One thing it made me think about is that perhaps we don’t understand the ancient myths in the same way that their creators–the Egyptians, Celts, Greeks, Norse, etc.–did. The ancients didn’t have history, they had stories.* Some of these stories were so effective on a spiritual/emotional level that they were  told and retold and eventually became myths. The myths of these cultures were as true to them as what they did yesterday, but I think they understood in a way that we don’t that there are different truths. Today we look at stories as either true or untrue, fact or fiction. If something actually happened it becomes history which we lump into the category of fact, if it didn’t we call it fiction or myth.

The Judeo-Christian god. The one, the only

The Judeo-Christian god.
The one, the only, image by Michelangelo

We also live in an essentially a monotheistic culture of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, etc. Your average, run-of-the-mill monotheist believes there is only one true God.** And most, but not all, monotheists believe that their myths are historically true. The fact that they are”true”, according to modern thought,  makes them somehow more “right” than the Greek, Norse, Celtic, and Egyptian myths. But we pagans now have more recent stories that inspire us–The Burning Times and The Civilization of the Goddess to mention just two. And these stories are actually based on historical fact, and so, like any conservative monotheist, we insist that the stories we tell each other about them are “real truth.”

In my opinion, this is both unnecessary and spiritually counter-productive. These stories should be viewed primarily (but,  not totally) as myths. When a story is told as “real, historical truth”–although I would debate whether such a thing actually exists–it, by definition, tends to become correct or incorrect, which then implies right or wrong, which then degenerates to good or bad, black and white, good guys and bad guys, and, ultimately, and here is the problem, us and them.

Myths always occurs outside of our own socio-political context and are therefore timeless. The Burning Times and The Civilization of the Goddess are events that we know actually took place in our own world and we tell them in our socio-political context:

  • “Between the 15th and 16th centuries the Catholic Church, the religious patriarchy of the Western World, in it’s effort to totally eradicate paganism in

    Yes, we should, but what exactly should we remember? The evils of Catholocism and the Patriarchy or religious tolerance? image by magickalgraphics.com

    Yes, we should. But what exactly should we remember? The evils of Catholocism and the Patriarchy or religious tolerance? image by magickalgraphics.com

    Europe, burned almost 60,000 people at the stake, most of whom were helpless women…”

  • “In Neolithic times “God was a Woman”. And what is today Eastern Europe was ruled by women and The Goddess. There were no wars and everyone lived in peace, harmony, and abundance until warlike, patriarchal invaders from the steppes of Asia swept in…”

But I think it is more productive to tell these stories in a mythical context:

  • “Once upon a time in a kingdom far away, a king decided that everything would be better if everyone in his kingdom  believed the same thing. His courts, when charged with making his desires come true, found that the people who were most different in their beliefs and whose influence was most insidious were women. To make these women confess what they believed, the judges developed cruel tortures and when the women were found guilty, they burned them alive as an example to others…”
  • “Once upon a time there was a land that was ruled by women. There was no war and everyone lived in peace, harmony, and abundance until the civilization was destroyed by warlike nomads…”

The take-home lesson from The Civilization of the Goddess is that Women are powerful beings capable of running a stable civilization for thousands of years. It is not that masculine values are bad and men are ruining the world.

The take-home lesson from The Civilization of the Goddess is that Women are powerful beings capable of running a stable civilization for thousands of years. It is not that masculine values are bad and men are ruining the world.

Do you see the difference between the two tellings? When we tell these stories as actual happenings, segments of our society become villains and we are tempted to direct our anger and hate toward them instead of looking at the deeper meaning behind the events. But if we look at these stories as mythic events that happened long ago and far away  they become useful spiritual lessons that do, indeed, stir up intense emotions and energies, but these emotions and energies are aimed at our own souls, not at a specific country, religion, gender, or institution. Like any other myth, they challenge each of us to change our ways of thinking and being in the world, which affects how we treat others and how we choose to exert our power in the world.

Which, actually, are the only things we can change.

Enjoy Halstead’s post!

*Herodotus (400BCE) is often called “the Father of History.” He is also called “the Father of Lies,” because not everything he wrote was accurate. Which means he was actually telling stories?

**Actually, there are many flavors of Monotheism.

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Hijacked by Mamluks

One of the greatest dangers a writer faces while doing research is getting sidetracked by an irresistible piece of trivia and wandering for hours through cyberspace and reference books. By the time he or she resurfaces, bleary eyed and sated with useless information, hours have passed—hours that could have been spent on something productive.

This happened to me, for about the bajillionth time, as I was preparing a presentation about the history of tarot. I kept running across the statement that the first playing cards didn’t appear in Europe until the early 1300’s— and they were probably Mamluk.

Mamluk playing cards had 4 suites--coins, polo sticks, swords, and cups--and 3 court cards--Kings, Viceroys, and Deputy Viceroys.

Mamluk playing cards had 4 suites–coins, polo sticks, swords, and cups–and 3 court cards–Kings, Viceroys, and Deputy Viceroys.

“What’s a Mamluk?” I thought. And that’s when the Mamluks grabbed me and dragged me through nearly eight centuries of fascinating history that had absolutely nothing to do with the tarot.

It all began way back in 800 CE when the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad began supplementing their military with slaves purchased from a place called Circassia in the northern Caucasus Mountains.

Circassia,_Adyghe

Circassia doesn’t exist anymore, but Circassian people still live there. And it’s still sort of the Lake Woebegone of Eastern Europe, where all the men are strong,

Modern Circassians

Modern Circassians

all the women are good looking,

Modern Circassian

Modern Circassian

and all the children are above average.

Circassian
The medieval Circassian slaves were such excellent fighters and strategists that they were given more and more power and responsibility. Any historian would have told the caliphs this was a bad idea, but who listens to historians?
They eventually grew more powerful than the caliphs who owned them and formed a military regime that dominated the Middle East for over eight centuries. They called themselves Mamluks (Arabic for slaves).

Mamluk--artist unknown

Mamluk–artist unknown

Baybars (maybe), artist unknown--at least by me.

Baybars (maybe), artist unknown–at least by me.

In 1260, Baybars, a Mameluke general owned by the Sultan of Egypt, defeated the Mongols and halted their sweep through the Middle East and into Egypt. This is a hugely significant accomplishment, since the descendents of Genghis Khan had been pillaging their way west for the past 500 years without a single defeat. Baybars then killed the sultan and took over Egypt. During his reign of seventeen years Baybars crushed the dreaded Assassins in their last strongholds in Syria, drove the crusaders from Antioch, and extended the rule of Egypt across the Red Sea to control the valuable pilgrim cities of Mecca and Medina.
A totally amazing curriculum vitae.
The Mamluks remained a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East until the early 1800’s when The Ottoman Empire realized that they were way too powerful and massacred them all in Egypt (1811) and then Baghdad (1813).*

Mameluke,_Napoleon's_Imperial_Guard_001

But not all the Mamluks stayed in the Middle East. Many become mercenaries throughout the Levant and Europe. Every King and even some of the more wealthy nobles had their crack Mamluk troops. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard had a Mamluk division and Napoleon himself had a Mamluk body guard.

Roustam Raza, Napoleon's Mamluk body guard, oil on canvas by Émil Jean Horace Vernet, 1789-1863

Roustam Raza, Napoleon’s Mamluk body guard, oil on canvas by Émil Jean Horace Vernet, 1789-1863

Another image of Roustam Raza

Another image of Roustam Raza

Remember all those medieval historical novels and romances where the hero must fight the villain’s dreaded Mamluk bodyguard?

And soldiers have lots of time to sit around and play gambling games. I have no doubt that the European knights of the 1300’s were eager to learn the favorite game of these amazing fighters. And so playing cards became all the rage in Europe–thanks, in part, to the Mamluks.

Circassian woman, veiled, by Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Circassian woman, veiled, by Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Circassian women were so beautiful that they were sold as concubines and became the rulers of  seraglios throughout the Middle East. From this position they would have had quite a bit of influence on Middle Eastern politics.

Voltaire
Voltaire had this to say about them:
“The Circassians are poor, and their daughters are beautiful, and indeed it is in them they chiefly trade. They furnish with those beauties the seraglio of the Turkish Sultan, of the Persian Sophy, and of all of those who are wealthy enough to purchase and maintain such precious merchandise. These maidens are very honorably and virtuously instructed how to fondle and caress men; are taught dances of a very polite and effeminate kind; and how to heighten by the most voluptuous artifices the pleasures of their disdainful masters for whom they are designed.”
–1734, Letters to the English, Letter XI, On Inoculation
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840–physician, naturalist, and racist) theorized that the Circassians were the closest to God’s original model of humanity, and thus “the purest and most beautiful whites were the Circassians”. Since the Circassians were from the Caucasus Mountains, the word Caucasian came to be the name of the white race.
Now, aren’t you glad you know what a Mamluk is?

 

 

*“History of the Mamelukes” A nice, short, readable article on a complex subject.
http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ac85

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A bountiful and joyous Lughnasadh to all!

Give us this day our daily bread.

Give us this day our daily bread.

 

As I was looking through the cornucopia full of Lughnasadh articles offered on the web I found these two gems.

  • “Celebrating Lammas,” by Waverly Fitzgerald is a fascinating excursion into British History and the death of King William the Red that seques gracefully into an explanation of what the festival means and ways to celebrate it.
  • “Why I’m Boycotting Lughnasadh,” by John Halstead is a lovely rant about how pagans need to get in touch with what is really happening in their part of the world and celebrate the holiday appropriately. Our friends in the southern hemisphere should be celebrating Imbolg, not Lugnasadh, for example, and those in tropical climates should rethink the whole wheel of the year.

After reading Halstead’s article I realized that I too had a rant. It’s about a small, simple problem; one that, after all is said and done, really makes no difference at all except to me and my obsessive/compulsive need to get things straight. As I was reading through the articles today I noticed that the dates given for Lugnasadh ranged from July 31st to August 2nd. One author, who should have known better, even tried to convince me that pagans in the northern hemisphere celebrate it on August 1 and those in the southern hemisphere celebrate it on August 2.

So why the confusion?

We are dealing with two different matters here, one relating to the sun and the other to the moon.

Sun_Flakes_by_Freaky-art-girl

Sun Flakes by Freaky-art-girl

Lughnasadh is a cross-quarter day on the Wheel of the Year (a modern construct laid on us by Gerald Gardner). What this means is that Lughnasadh and the other cross quarter days (Imbolc, Samhain, and Beltane) occur at the midpoints between Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Fall Equinox (the quarters of the solar year). By my reckoning, that would put Lughnasadh (the midpoint between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox) at August 7th this year, since Summer Solstice happened on June 21st and Fall Equinox will happen on September 23rd. So from the get go, we know that the cross-quarter days  aren’t exactly at the midpoints. My guess is that they got stuck at the first of the month that falls between each solstice and equinox for convenience. There is never any question about what day Samhain and Beltane fall on, probably because Halloween and May Day are holidays celebrated by many Americans, Europeans, and Australians—not just pagans—and so have been set in stone on our solar calendars But why do we celebrate Samhain on October 31st and Beltane on May 1st? And why the confusion over Lughnasadh? (and Imbolc too–it is February 1st or 2nd depending on who you celebrate with) This question brings us to…

Image by Cool-wallpapers.us

Image by Cool-wallpapers.us

The Lunar calendar.

Pagan, Hebrew, and Islamic holy days  are timed to a lunar calendar with the solar cycle tacked onto it. Christianity is based on a solar calendar with the lunar cycle tacked onto it. Religions based on a lunar calendar count their days from sunset to sunrise to sunset with the day beginning immediately after sunset. The Christian calendar (which is the calendar everyone uses) counts its days from midnight to noon to midnight with the day beginning immediately after midnight. So, technically, the cross-quarter days begin at sunset of one of our calendar days and end at sunset on the next calendar day. This is where the eves come in. Halloween (October 31) is short for All Hallow’s evening. We celebrate Samhain after sunset on October 31st for obvious, spooky reasons, but the Festival continues until sunset of November 1. Beltane Day is May 1st, which is when we dance the Maypole at sunrise (or a bit later for those who have been up all Beltane Eve (April 31st) dancing before the Bel-fire and making love in the hedgerows.) Lughnasadh, like all the other cross quarter days, would begin on sunset, July 31st or August 1st and end on sunset, August 1st or August 2nd. This explains the discrepancies, but still doesn’t tell us whether Lughnasadh Eve should fall on July 31st or August 1st, or for that matter, whether Imbolc Eve should fall on March 31st or February 1st.

But it’s important to know why we don’t know.

Actually, I don’t believe it really matters whether you celebrate the first harvest and the passionate bounty of summer on July 31st, August 1st, August 2nd—or even August third, fourth, or fifth—just as long as you celebrate.

found on cafepress.com

Shower curtain found on cafepress.com

 

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The God as Superhero: Part IV, Hades

Continued from previous posts…

Hades?
You’ve got to be kidding.
The dread Lord of the Underworld?

Hades and Cerberus, Wiki card, Some entymologists believe that Cerberus is a cognate of the Sanskrit word for spotted. So Hades has a dog named Spot.

Hades and Cerberus, Wiki card, Some entymologists believe that Cerberus is a cognate of the Sanskrit word for spotted. So Hades has a dog named Spot.

The god the Greeks feared so much that they wouldn’t even speak his name?*
The god who granted Medea her death and , at her request, destroyed her lover, Jason?**
The master of the remorseless Furies, who releases them to torment the living?**
The infernal Jove, the snatcher of things, who causes the earth to shake and open up and devour his unfortunate prey? **
The god who called a deadly plague down upon the city of Thebes?**
The god who snatched his sister’s only child and took her down to the underworld to be his queen?

Hades and Persephone

Hades and Persephone

That’s not a Superhero, that’s an Archvillian!

So, imagine my surprise and terror when Hades began talking to me as I stood outside his Ploutonion in Elefsina, Greece. (see previous post: Power Points of Eleusius: The Ploutonion ) I was there a few years ago with my husband and two good friends. One of the spots we made sure to visit was the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Elefsina. A Ploutonion is an opening to the underworld, and of course there was one at the site that celebrated the story about Hades abduction of Persephone and the mystery of the death and rebirth of the land and its people.

The Ploutonion at Elefsina

The Ploutonion at Elefsina

When I made Hades an offering of a 50 cent Euro by pushing it into a crevice near the cave entrance it was like putting a quarter in a jukebox. I stood dumbstruck and quaking in my Birkenstocks as his voice filled my head, telling me that everything was going to be OK, that I wouldn’t die homeless, sick, and alone in some dark alley, etc, etc, etc. All the same stuff I’d always told myself as I lay sleepless and frightened and staring into the uncaring night. But the voice of the god was like a shot of the best antidepressant imaginable. My whole being relaxed as years of pent-up fear and anxiety melted away and I wept tears of joy.
I still have the occasional fear—I’m a realist, after all—but not the debilitating terror and anxiety I used to have. Because the Lord of the Dead reached out from his dark realms and healed my soul, my life is more joyous, productive, and lots more fun.

Since that day at Elefsina I have begun to rethink Hades.

Hades does sound pretty awful, but the other Greek gods were no paragons of virtue either. Zeus raped lots of women, both mortal and immortal, and he certainly didn’t make any of them his queen—he already had one, and he was cheating on her. Artemis was quick to kill anyone  who offended her (especially if he was a man)r, and Athena turned a woman into a spider just because she was foolish enough to believe that she was a better weaver than the goddess. The list goes on.

Roman copy of a 5th century BCE bust of Hades. This is how I picture him.

Roman copy of a 5th century BCE bust of Hades. This is how I picture him.

And because Hades is the ruler of the underworld, where every Greek—good, bad, wealthy, or poor—went after he or she died, our Christian dominated society has come to identify him with their archfiend, Satan–not! Walt Disney and the rest of the movie industry has been especially hard on him.***

Actually, Hades is the subterranean equivalent of Zeus. He is all knowing and all powerful and incredibly wealthy, because he possesses all the precious stones and metals of the earth. Donald Trump, eat your heart out. He controls and supports the earth’s fertility. I love this quote from Hesiod:

“Pray to Zeus Khthonios (Hades) and to pure Demeter to make Demeter’s holy grain sound and heavy, when first you begin ploughing, when you hold in your hand the end of the plough-tail and bring down your stick on the backs of the oxen as they draw on the pole-bar by the yoke-straps.”
Hesiod, “Works and Days”

Hades is also the master of Dreams.

This is a side of the Lord of the Dead that most folks aren’t familiar with. And who would even suspect that he is a gentle healer as well?

But why did he do it? Why would a being with all the riches and power in the world suddenly decide, for no good reason at all, to sooth the soul of some overweight, sweaty, American tourist?

I puzzled about this for a long time and just recently found my answer. I was vacuuming our bedroom and found my dream notebook under the bed. I picked it up—any diversion from vacuuming is a good diversion—and began reading the last several entries. I noticed they were written just before my 60th birthday. Then I remembered that, to help me prepare for that ominous occasion, my friends put together a ritual for me to do the week before. As I recall, it involved telling myself the thing I most wanted/needed just before going to sleep, writing down my dreams the next morning, meditating on my dreams and my desire, and asking the gods for it. The thing I had asked for was to be rid of my debilitating fear.

My birthday came and went and a week later we left for Greece.

Coincidence? I think not.

So why did he do it?
He did it because I ASKED for it. Remember, Hades is the master of dreams. And I did make an offering to him, and I had participated in a ritual to him and Persephone every November for the last several years.

The Multiverse doesn’t give you anything unless you ASK for it. And then you still may not get it. But you certainly won’t get it unless you ASK for it.

A friend of mine has a favorite saying: If you don’t ask, they can’t say yes. We should all have this message as the screen savers on our computers. It would save us much grief.

Which brings me to one of my favorite Ry Cooder performances:

Ry Cooder performing "Jesus on the Mainline"

Ry Cooder performing “Jesus on the Mainline”

Click this link to hear it.

Like the man says, you’ve got to tell him(or her) what you want. But it must be something you really need. If you listen to the lyrics they give a few examples: If you want His kingdom, if you’re sick and wanna get well, or if you’re feeling down and out.

You don’t really need a Mercedes Benz. Janis Joplin knew this—listen for the giggle at the end of the song.

Janis

Janis

Click this link to hear her sing “Mercedes Benz”.

But if there is something you really need, ask for it.
The gods are amazingly generous.

Proof_of_Heaven_001
*Instead, they gave him other, less scary ones like, Polynomos (He who has many names), Polydegmon (Host of Many), Plouton (Lord of Wealth), Zeus Khthonios (of the Earth)**, The Welcoming One, and, of course, He Who Must Not Be Named.

**Hades Respect Thread, by Shooting Nova September 10, 2014.
This is a nice synopsis of Hades’s powers and attributes with references to the where they were found in Greek and Roman literature and mythology.

***This is a totally fun video about Hades’s bad rap in the movies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c51pwfaBrM

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Filed under Gifts from the Multiverse, Greece