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Samhain (Halloween), Harvest of Souls

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.

The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.

Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.

As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.


Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.

The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.

Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.

There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.

Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.

Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.

Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.


Mabon, Harvest of Heroes

The Festival of Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals attributed to the neo-pagan and Western spiritual revivalist’s eight-fold Wheel of the Year. It is celebrated on or near September 21 and coincides with the autumn equinox. The festival has also been adopted by Revival Druidry as Alban Elfed; one of the four High Holy days.

Mabon is an interesting festival to write about. Although the date on which Mabon falls is astronomically significant, a festival by this name did not exist historically. Notable academic and occultist Aidan Kelly named the equinox festival “Mabon” after the Welsh legendary figure and member of King Arthur’s court, Mabon ap Modron. It’s positioned right next to Michaelmas, the Catholic Church’s Feast of St. Michael the Archangel who is said to be the most like God, and whose characteristics are perhaps the most reminiscent of the solar hero, complete even in archetype as a warrior and dragon-slayer.

Mabon is significant in that as the second of three harvest festivals it lies between two other significant historical Celtic holidays, Lugnasadh and Samhain (Halloween) and contains elements of both. The autumn equinox signals the end of the mythic cycle. With the sun’s height being at Midsummer, it has now begun to wane. Together with the spring holiday Ostara, Mabon is one of two days of the year when the daylight hours are of equal length as the nighttime hours.


To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat. The hero meets his doom as either the hunter is slain by his intended prey, or as Arthur mortally wounded on the battlefield defending his kingdom against the forces of darkness and chaos. It could be a myriad of turns on this theme. The Solar Hero is dying, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in stealthily to rule the land.

Much like the other harvest festivals, this is a time to reflect on the past, especially the past year. What have your efforts yielded? What positive or negative results have you experienced as a result of your choices and behaviors? What did you do that has had positive results in your life that you could do more or again? What changes would you make for the coming year in order to have even better results? Give thanks for life and all the good fortune you have no matter how difficult the past year may have been.

Equinox time is also a traditional time to begin brewing. Consider that the season’s harvest of wheat and fruits is just now being gathered and distributed. The beers, wines, and ciders which are such a part of the Halloween and Yuletide traditions are begun at this time. Even as the summer’s project of cultivating the fields comes to a close, it’s time for the beginning of new projects.

A Critique of the Garden of Eden Story in Genesis

The “Garden of Eden” story in the Book of Genesis has always bothered me. It’s not a matter of criticizing this bit of religious legend because I disbelieve in it or the religions which claim it as their own. I’m pretty alright with most forms of the Abrahamic strains and the values they champion in society. I just find this to be poor story telling.

The Earth Always Required Tilling
In Genesis 2:5, God had created a barren Earth, with no vegetation because no rain had yet been sent and no man had yet tilled the soil. God then creates man (2:7), and then God, Himself plants a garden and causes every sort of good and edible plant to grow and then places man in that garden to “till it and tend it” (Gen 2:15).

God Knows He’s Dealing with Humans
In the middle of the garden, God placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9). We can only assume that there was a purpose for God to place the two trees so near each other, but the document never explains if there is any reasoning for this.

God then says; “Of every tree in the garden you are free to eat; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat; for as soon as (in the day that) you eat of it, you shall die (Gen 2:16-17).”

Context and audience should be of utmost concern in a narrative in order to understand the intent of God’s instruction. God was talking to a man, and the following verses where God creates a woman to be his companion assure us that it was a male human He was addressing.

And humans die. It’s just what we do.

Despite the standard theological stance that Adam and Eve were created immortal, the document of Genesis never actually makes this statement.

To a human; “If you eat that, you’ll die!” would logically be understood by a human to mean that it is toxic in some way and will kill them within a day or so.

It does not however coincide harmoniously with a statement such as; “I know I put that tree right smack in the middle of your smorgasbord, but if you eat from it I’m going to kick you out of the garden, make you work like a slave, and THEN after 900 years you’ll die.” So God is not quite being fully honest about his intentions or plans involving the man who is being expected to trust Him.


The Serpent is Punished for Telling the Truth
In Chapter 3 verse 1, the shrewd (arummim) serpent shows up, and asks the woman; “Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit from the trees in this garden?” And the woman explains that it is from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that the humans are not allowed to eat or even touch because they will die.

The serpent says; “You are not going to die, but god knows that as soon as you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will become like divine beings who know good from bad.” Once again it is a human being addressed here. It is a fact that death is a natural part of the human condition and Genesis does not suggest otherwise.

So with full consideration for the participants in the dialogue of the storyline we can address the statements being made in proper context.

First of all when asked if it was true that God had forbidden them to eat the fruit of the garden, Eve answered that if they even touch it they would die. This is obviously an inaccurate statement and the serpent informs Eve of such.

The truth turns out to be precisely as the serpent states it; the fruit does not kill them, it opens their eyes to the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, modesty from immodesty. These are all traits valued by civilization.

There is no evidence for a rational accusation of deception on which to indict the serpent. On the contrary, the only information we have on him is that every statement he makes in Genesis can be substantiated within the text.

The story does not tell us whether or not the serpent knew how God would react to their eating of the fruit. This seems like a vital plot detail to be left out if this was how the author intended it to be understood.

But God does react, doesn’t He? Upon finding Adam and Eve clothed in modesty because they ate from the tree of knowledge and now were wise like gods, the man’s integrity automatically collapses as he blames his wife.

God then confronts Eve and she alleges that the snake duped her. This accusation has no merit. All of the serpent’s statements have been solid, but God does not even take a statement from the serpent. Instead God just curses him.

Still there has been no explanation as to why God put that tree in the garden in the first place if he didn’t want humans to eat from it.

There is a mighty intelligent reptile in this story, though. Perhaps the tree was there for the animals to eat and learn good from evil, but not for humans?. How else could the serpent have been so wise?

Are the Curses Really Curses?
The next thing God does is curse the woman with painful childbirth and then the ground with difficult tending. Here we see elements from an ancient fertility cult. It’s fairly common in most indigenous religions and philosophies to see a connection between agricultural cycles and female reproduction, so it is a natural connection to make between more difficult childbirth and more difficult farming.

However, this unfortunate obstacle only requires human ingenuity to develop agriculture in order to overcome it. Tilling the soil is something that the ground required anyway (Gen 2:5) and something Adam was doing already (Gen 2:15).

The discovery or invention of agriculture is the main driving force for civilization and necessarily leads to food surpluses, vocational specialization, the market, economics and an overall higher standard of living. It’s difficult to view this as a bad thing. But then it’s also difficult to see acquiring knowledge of good and evil, morality and immorality as being a bad thing.

God says; “by the sweat of your brow you shall get your bread to eat until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return (3:19).”

This curse does not really imply that death is anything new. It sounds more like the type of thing that might come during a breakup or a domestic dispute; “You’re going to work lousy job’s your whole life! You’re nothing but dirt anyway! You came from dirt and you’re always going to be dirt!”

Certainly none of this should be taken literally. I think it was never intended to be anything more than a deeply thought-provoking story to teach community values through proto-historical metaphor and allegory. It’s just poor story telling.


What is the Name of God?

Naming God can be one of the most challenging ideas to the religious mind. The Spirit from which all things emanate, the creator of everything is truly an unfathomable force in the universe. It is beyond gender and similar terrestrial attributes, but everything that is male and female exists within It.

This Supreme Being is the most exalted of all things in creation. It is also the most misunderstood simply for its incomprehensibleness. Due to the limitlessness of this Being and the limitations upon human understanding, this Being cannot even truly be imagined or thought about. The limitations on human understanding and imagination make it impossible to even construct an accurate thought of this Being therefore any thought directed toward It is in fact about something else, something less. Consequently it can be said that this Being is equally impossible to worship since to worship requires the ability to conceive of the object of worship which as stated is inconceivable. And this is the problem that is faced when trying to name God.

This force within the universe is the source of all things and the container in which all things are held. According to the Hindu scholar and former President of India S. Radhakrishnan in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita “God includes the universe within Himself, projects it from and resumes it within Himself, that is, His own nature.” This is the force in the universe which has been given many names.

The Hopi Indians of North America know Him as Taiowa the Creator of the universe whom in the beginning existed in endless space. Muskogees call Him Ofvnkv, the One Above or Hesaketamese; the Breath-maker. The omnipresence of Wakan Tanka in the Oglala-Lakota tradition is a central idea to the recognition of Him as the four quarters of the world. As Joseph Epes Brown noted from his discussions with the Oglala holy man Black Elk; “The message ‘Be attentive!’ well expresses a spirit which is central to the Indian peoples; it implies that in every act, in every thing, and in every instant, the Great Spirit is present and that one should be continually and intensely “attentive” to this Divine presence.”

To the Maya, divine unity was recognized in their supreme deity Hunabku, which translates as One-State-of-Being-God. Peter Tompkins explains; The Maya believed that their supreme divinity functioned through a principle of dynamic dualism, or polarity, active and passive, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, by which, through the agency of four prime elements, air, fire, water and earth (symbolizing space, energy, time and matter) the whole material world was engendered.

This Allfather figure was credited with dispensing all form of measurement and movement and the mathematical structuring of the universe, i.e. the divine laws of creation. In the simplest terms this One Being is the source that set the universe in motion and gave humans our most basic but most vital verb “to be.”

Rabbi Arthur Green describes the name YHWY as a verb artificially rested in motion serving as a noun. “A noun that is really a verb is one you can never hold too tightly. As soon as you think that you’ve “got it,” that you understand god as some clearly defined “entity,” that noun slips away and becomes a verb again.” Rabbi Green goes on to explain that a more proper translation for this Name should be “Is-Was-Will-Be.” The implication of this translation suggests that God the Almighty, Most High Creator is in fact the very essence of existence and a truly eternal state of Being. Green continues to say; “God is Being. The four letters of the Name, taken in reverse order spell the word H-W-Y-H meaning existence.’ All that is exists within God The Name contains past, present and future.”

Rabbi Green also notes that another possible conjugation of the Name is Ehyeh or “I shall Be” and says this is the deepest name of God and to listen to the God who calls himself “I shall be” is to surrender the illusions that we are masters of our own fate. Green continues to say that “when Moses needed to give the slaves an answer that would offer them endless resources of hope and courage, God said; Tell them “Ehyeh sent you.” The Timeless God allowed the great name to be conjugated, as though to say: “Ehyeh. I am tomorrow.” Even when pressed for a description or definition of God the Father,’ the Catholic Church claims His two names are Being and Love and describe Him as; “He is who is, as he himself revealed to Moses.”

The fullness of God has been assigned many names throughout the centuries, none the less which is the title “Supreme Being.” And perhaps that is it in the end; the incomprehensible fullness of God is simply the most perfect and complete state of being which propels the universe forward through existence. God is Being, both noun and verb, the substance of the creative principle of existence.

Sources;

Radhakrishnan, S., The Bahgavadgita, Indus, New Delhi, 1994, pg 215

Brown, Joseph Epes, The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1989, pg 65

Tomkins, Peter, Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, Harper and Row, 1976, New York, pg 283

Green, Arthur, Ehyeh, A Kabbalah For Tomorrow, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2004, pg 2

Flannery Austied, O.P., Vatican Council II, Vol. 2 Costello, New York, 1982, pg 389


Lughnasadh: Harvest of Life

The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.



The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.

Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity.  It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.

This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar.  As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death.  In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.”  Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise.  With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off.  Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.

The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath.  Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows.  These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions.  Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.

                     

Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades.  Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.

This is a celebration of the Harvest.  On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.

The Medicine Wheel

A prayer from the Oglala Holy Man Black Elk;
“Hear me four quarters of the world, I am a relative.
Give me the power to walk the soft Earth, a relative to all that is.
Give me eyes to see and the strength to understand that I may be like You.
With your power only can I face the winds.”

The Medicine Wheel symbol is a central spiritual and philosophical device used by many Native American communities.  It consists of an equal-armed cross placed inside a circle.  This is also a universal symbol that can be found throughout the nations of the world from the ancient days to today.  It has been called by many names; the medicine wheel, sacred hoop, solar disk and sun circle, just to name a few.  This symbol is central to Muskogee philosophy and is the basis for the layout of traditional ceremonial dance grounds.

As a symbol, the Medicine Wheel is made up of two symbols; the circle and the compass cross.

The Circle

The circle is the most basic symbol for life and divinity.  It is also the most perfect metaphor for God in geometry.  The circle, like the Creator has no beginning and no end and therefore it represents eternity.  Geometrically it is the essential symbol of balance and equality.  And as the perfect symbol of the Creator, you could expect it to be apparent in creation.

The circle is also the perfect metaphor for Nature, which is the manifestation of the Creator.  We find the circle everywhere in nature.  Natural things tend to be round or function cyclically.  The most obvious examples are the sun, the moon and the earth, all which are round.  The earth and other planets revolve around the sun in a circular motion.  On the earth, the circle can be seen like the signature of the Creator in the rings of a tree or the fruit growing upon it.  The seasons of the year follow a cyclical pattern with winter turning into spring, summer, autumn and then returning to winter.  The Oglala holy man Black Elk explained the meaning of the circle in this manner;

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.  In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.  The flowering tree was the living center of our hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it.  The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance.  This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.  The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars.  The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.  The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.  The moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.  Our tepees were always round like nests of birds, and those were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.[1]

The Pawnee Indians regarded the circle with much the same philosophy.  According to one Pawnee priest;

The circle represents a nest, and it is drawn by the toe because the eagle builds its nest with its claws.  Although we are imitating the bird making its nest, there is another meaning to the action; we are thinking of Tirawa making the world for the people to live in.  If you go on a high hill and look around, you will see the sky touching the earth on every side, and within this circular enclosure the people live.  So the circles we have made are not only nests, but they also represent the circle Tirawa-atius has made for the dwelling place of all the people.  The circles also stand for the kinship group, the clan, and the tribe.[2]

The sun which we depend on so directly in our lives has served as another great metaphor for the Creator throughout history.  It is round and therefore the Medicine Wheel is also symbolic of this solar enlightenment.  For this reason the medicine wheel symbol is often displayed within a solar motif with the rays of the sun extending outward in eight directions.  With the sun circle and compass cross both being direct metaphors of the divine nature of the earth and the celestial respectively, the Medicine Wheel as a spiritual and philosophical tool is therefore an unparalleled tool for use in coming to knowledge of Nature and of Nature’s God.

The Cross

The cross is a four cornered compass.  Each one of the four arms of the cross is attributed to a particular compass point, which is in turn associated to a particular philosophical or spiritual principle.

In contemporary society the four directions tend to be taken for granted and with little regard.  But to the elder ancestors they represented the very survival of the people.  Our ancestors did not have the crutch of a GPS on which to rely.  Instead they watched the sky, the path of the sun, moon, stars and even the shadows in order to keep track of the directions to avoid becoming lost or disoriented in the forest or on the prairie, something that could quickly result in death.  In fact the very meaning of the word ‘disoriented’ is to be incapable of locating the east.

Living in tune with the directions, the seasons and nature in general kept the elder ancestors alive, so naturally a system of philosophy developed about life and the hereafter as demonstrated through that symbolism.  Each direction is thought of as a separate land, world or dimension, symbolically if not literally.  Therefore each direction has its own natures, associations and inhabitants.  In some ways each direction is thought of individually as separate Heavens and their inhabitants are spiritual beings like angels, ancestors and medicine powers.

While the specific associations of each direction can vary greatly from people to people and from age to age, the following cardinal directions and their associations are based heavily off those that are most commonly encountered in native circles, with special emphasis placed on associations identifiable within Muscogee, Yuchi and Cherokee traditions.

                  

East — place of the sun

The east is associated with light and knowledge, because the sun comes up from the east and travels across the sky.  The sun is the source of life on earth and its light removes the cover of darkness, revealing what was previously hidden from view, therefore the east is associated with revelation, illumination and enlightenment.

In Muskogee lore it is the Hawk which flies highest of all creatures.  He is the messenger of the Creator, like an angel delivering prayers to Him and knowledge and revelation from Him.  It is traditional in Muscogee as well as many other traditions to face east when praying.

North—place of wind

The north is the land of wisdom, the breath of life and inspiration.  This is a land of elders, the source of ancestral wisdom and so the north is sometimes referred to as the “place of the white hairs.”  It is associated with the buffalo and the deer who live closely to nature and know her ways intimately.  The bald eagle is said to be stationed here, guarding the health and cleansing wind.

In the Creek Migration Legend, the people took the red and yellow fire from the north and mixed it with fire from the sacred mountain and this is said to be the fire that Creeks use to this day, which sometimes sings.

West—place of earth

West is the place of darkness and introspection.  The sun sets in the west and therefore this direction is associated with sleep and the subconscious.  The spirits of departed are said to travel to the western world and so it is associated with death and the afterlife.  The nature of the west’s earth association also connects it to the underworld caverns from whence tradition tells us the Muskogee people emerged.  This is the womb of creation as well, and therefore represents life at its most primal state and incubation.

The black bear is associated with this direction as is the panther.  The bear’s penchant for residing in caves and sleeping through large portions of the winter make him a skilled adept of navigating the womb of creation and the world of dreams.  Black Elk taught that the west is the home of the Thunderbird, which in Muscogee tradition is the Thunder being who brings the rains and lightning.

South—place of water

The south is associated with warm purifying waters and virtue.  These waters are specifically the deep bodies of water aside from the storm and rains.  For the most obvious reasons water is the element of cleansing.  Not only is it essential in daily hygiene but it is also vital in the human body’s natural process of purification and detoxification.  Water also represents change over time by the process of erosion which reshapes old landscapes and renews the earth.

Water is also intricately connected with the underworld.  Muskogee tradition tells us that the Great Snake guards the southern waters.

 

Together, the sacred circle and the compass cross portray the divine in both the ethereal and the physical sense.  It is important to understand that these are considered to be integrated and whole, not separate perceptions.  Each person must come to fully understand and integrate the teachings of each direction, one by one until they have traversed the entire compass in order to attain a life of wisdom and fulfillment.  All together it teaches us balance and provides us with the tools to build a healthy spiritual life.

The integration of these attributes and principles into a person’s spirit is achieved by diligent efforts in meditation, contemplation and daily application of these principles.  When we consider our relationship on the medicine wheel, we truly consider our circumstances; literally where we stand inside the circle.  These efforts can be heightened by living close to the earth and taking part in our native traditions.  This Medicine Wheel philosophy is a root philosophy which has influenced the lives of native people for centuries.  It is practical, logical and metaphorical.  It connects us to our time and place, instills our perception of the world with wonder and provides us with a basis by which we can contemplate our own nature and that of all creation.

[1] Neihardt, John J., Black Elk Speaks, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1932-1961 Pg 195-6

[2]Alice C. Fletcher, The Hako: A Pawnee Ceremony (22nd Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, part 2; Washington, 1904), pp. 243-244. Cited by Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces


Finnegan’s Wake, a Glance at Irish Mysticism through Lyrical Satire

 

Finnegan’s Wake is amongst my favorite traditional Irish songs and it has been a staple of the Irish balladeer’s repertoire since the middle of the 19th century. Over the past several decades it has been covered by great and legendary Irish bands like The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, the Pogues, and most recently the Massachusetts-based Dropkick Murphys.  However, like much of Irish lyrical tradition stretching back to the ancient bards “Finnegan’s Wake” is in reality a work of deep esoteric value cleverly disguised as a silly drinking song that only the initiated were likely to fully comprehend.

At Face Value

The story tells of Tim Finnegan, a poor construction worker with a love for the liquor who drank a bit too much before work one morning, fell from a ladder, broke his skull and died. Upon the eve of his wake his friends and relatives arrive at his home to mourn him.  Biddy O’Brien begins crying loudly and is essentially told to shut up by one Paddy McGee.

Once Maggie O’Connor gets involved in the exchange telling Biddy she’s wrong, Biddy punches her in the mouth, leaving her ‘sprawling on the floor.”  Then all Hell breaks loose as the entire house becomes engaged in a brawl “woman to woman and man to man,” brandishing their shillelaghs, the classical Irish club.

A bottle of whiskey is thrown across the room, just barely missing Mickey Maloney, and instead landing on Tim Finnegan’s bed with the whiskey scattering all over his body. At that point Tim revives and “rises from the bed,” and delivers the punch line of the ballad; “Whittle your whiskey around like blazes, Thanum an Dhul![1] Do you think I’m dead?”

 

The Mystery Unveiled

While this ballad is typically considered a comical drinking song, it actually gives us a glimpse into an old Irish and western mystical tradition.

Tim Finnegan is a construction-worker. Although this was a common vocation amongst Irishmen throughout the 19th century, there is much more being said here than meets the eye, or ear.  As the lyrics clearly tell us “to rise in the world he carried a hod.” A hod is a tool used for carrying bricks and mortar, telling us that Mr. Finnegan was, in fact a mason. Since no later than 1717 AD the repository for esoteric wisdom in Western countries has been the order of Free and Accepted Masons who trace their historic origins to the medieval stone masons guilds, and from there symbolically to the ancient builders of Greek, Egyptian and Israelite temples.

Let us also take note that Tim Finnegan carries his hod “to rise in the world.” In Freemasonry, it is said that a candidate is “raised” to the degree of a Master Mason. Freemasonry also makes use of the symbolism of death and resurrection through the allegory of the architect Hiram Abiff.

Architecture, construction work and craftsmanship have been metaphors for mystical knowledge going back thousands of years. In ancient Irish mythology the three brothers Luchta, Goibniu, and Credne are known as the Trí Dée Dána (the three gods of art).  Each represented the respective trades of carpentry, blacksmithing, and silver-smithing, and they crafted the weapons which the Tuatha Dé Danann (Irish ancestor gods) used to conquer the Fomorians (Irish beings of chaos and darkness).

In ancient Egypt, the god Ptah was the patron of craftsmen and architects, and he was closely associated as an aspect of the dying and resurrecting god Osiris.  Both of these deities were incorporated by the Greeks into the god Dionysus, well known as a patron of wine and spirits.  It is more than coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, perhaps the most well-known dying and resurrecting god is often cited as having been a carpenter before he began his spiritual mission and he, much like his forebears also had an affinity toward life-giving and preserving drink.

A further look at the lyrics of this ballad reveals that at the wake of Finnegan they placed a gallon of whiskey at his feet and a barrel of porter at his head. This sentiment is echoed in the Irish ballad “Jug of Punch” in which the balladeer requests upon his death “just lay me down in my native peat with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”  This is a particularly Irish rendition of the tradition found amongst the world’s cultures of making sacramental offerings to the dead.  The making and pouring of libations is well documented in European traditions.

As mentioned previously, Jesus, Osiris and Dionysus are not only associated with death and resurrection, they are all three also closely associated with drinking rituals. Amongst other things, Dionysus is a god of wine. Osiris is said to have taught the world the art of brewing.  Jesus turned water into wine. Similarly, the Irish craftsman-god Goibniu also brewed the beer of immortality.

The English word whiskey is derived from the Irish Gaelic uisce beatha which translates as “the waters of life.” So when the whiskey scatters across the corpse of Tim Finnegan, it literally, magically and sacramentally imbues him with life; a spiritual conception which stretches back through centuries of esoteric tradition.

Conclusion

The dying and resurrecting god is not just a rhetorical device for dramatic affect. To ancient civilizations death and rebirth are symbolic of the annual cycle, the dying and rebirth of the summertime, the growing season and of the sun, so often symbolic of divinity. This symbolism has been revised, reincorporated and redistributed as a multitude of myths, legends and doctrines throughout the world in order to teach each civilization or cult’s particular perspective on the meaning of creation.

A creator god’s primary attribute is creativity, and this trait has been imitated through the creative works of humans whom are believed to be made in the divine image. Art, music, agriculture and most especially architecture has long been associated metaphorically if not literally with godliness, and enlightenment.
Finnegan’s Wake is far more than just another drinking song. It is a humorous retelling of an ancient initiation myth.  Tim Finnegan is not just a drunk construction worker who died and came back to life.  He is the personification of the mystery of the dying and resurrecting god represented in the form of Irish lyrical satire.

[1]d’anam ‘on Diabhal. a common curse: your soul to the Devil, from the Irish D’anam don Diabhal


The Movie “Silence” was Painfully Boring

Silence theatrical release poster

I went with a friend to see the movie Silence.  It looked good and seemed interesting in the previews, and has good reviews online, but to me , it was really slow and boring.

The plot revolves around two Catholic Priests from Portugal in the early half of the 17th century who embark on a trek to Japan to find their missing comrade, and to further missionize the island during a time a great suppression of the religion by the Tokugawa shogunate.

With such subject matter you might think this would be an epic masterpiece of, but instead it was just undynamic and uninspired.  The characters seemed flat and undeveloped, and there was virtually no action at all.  Good movies tend to have peaks and valleys. This was all valleys. The subject matter was pretty heavy, with the persecution of Christians in Japan during the early half of the 17th century, but I didn’t sense any real depth to the story or characters and comic relief was almost non-existent. That’s just the production side.

I also felt like it portrayed Buddhism as a sinister, despondent cult with no redeemable doctrine. While it emphasized the atrocities committed by the Japanese government against the Christians, portraying Christianity as if it would deliver the people from such abuse, it ignored that at the exact same time in Europe the witch-burnings and torture and killings of heretics was at its height. So, not only did I find the movie boring, I felt like it insulted my intelligence.

If you’re interested in watching Silence because you hope to see representations of feudal Japanese society and samurai customs you’ll be disappointed as there is virtually no culture portrayed in this film.

While watching it I felt like director Martin Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks were more interested in creating sympathy and a sense of righteousness for the Jesuit priests than they were in telling a good story.  I can understand why practicing Catholics and other Christians may find the film as providing some form of credibility for their faith, but  I just was not satisfied.

I really found the movie to be uninspired, uninteresting, and unenjoyable. It was painfully boring.

    


The Wise Words of Tecumseh

Tecumseh02“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

~ Chief Tecumseh