Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas, 2010

Christmas is a Winter Solstice celebration. I linked to all my old Winter Solstice posts in my last post, Solstice Story.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Christmas is still the center of my Mid-Winter celebrations. I feel deep resonance with Goddess centered celebrations on the Winter Solstice and celebrating Advent has grown into a very meaningful spiritual practice, but the celebration of my childhood is a sweet, secular Christmas. It is Christmas trees covered in tchotchke, awful pop music we wouldn't listen to any other time of the year, too much candy, wrapping paper and Santa Claus.

Please check out my post from last year telling the story of the birth of Jesus in the words of Luke. For this Christmas, though, it's a reposting of the story at the heart of My Christmas.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap—

When out on the lawn there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blitzen—
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So, up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys—and St. Nicholas too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack;
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump—a right jolly old elf;
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Solstice Story

Winter Solstice

 **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

 I woke up for the sunrise on Solstice morning and hiked up to the top of Council Crest. The day was grey and I didn't see much of a sunrise, but I did hear a story told by the sky and the trees...

Long, long ago in a time before there was either time or ago, all there was was the Darkness of the Divine. Out of this Darkness the Goddess formed herself and for almost as long as there had been just Darkness there was just the Goddess. Eventually, she came to realize she was alone, and then realized that she was lonely. Out of the one that was The Goddess became the Two, the Goddess and her consort the God. And they were happy.

Out of their happiness and their love sprang the myriad things. Out of their love sprang the stars and the earth, the water and the stones. Out of their love sprang the plants and the grass, the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea and the beasts of their land. Out of their love sprang rain and snow and the light of dawn and the still of twilight. All these myriad things were beautiful and rejoiced in their love of the Goddess and the God. And they were happy.

As time passed the God and the Goddess watched the drama of life play out on Earth. They watched plants grew and deer eat them. They watched deer grow and wolves eat them. They saw the vultures and flies eat the wolves' flesh after they died and the plants grow out of them again. The Goddess and the God watched this cycle, and the countless other cycles of birth and death and rebirth and saw that something else was needed in this world they had created. Just as the mouse sacrificed its life for the life of the snake and the minnow sacrificed for the perch and the fruit for the monkey, something or someone needed to sacrifice their life so that all the life of the myriad things could continue. And they were not happy, but they were at peace.

The God, the Goddess's consort, lover and partner, knew that it was his role to sacrifice himself for his creation. As he grew into the full strength of his power he prepared for his own sacrifice. Finally, despite the Goddess's sorrow, he chose his moment and sacrificed himself in a blaze of color and light. And they were not happy, but they were at peace.

The Goddess mourned his death and plant life seemed to die back in the face of her sorrow. The world grew colder and darker but the God's sacrifice had worked. Like autumn leaves mouldering under the snow to produce the next years light spring soil, his life force permeated all of creation. His sacrifice gave all things a chance at rebirth and renewal. And, miracle of miracles, like the cow elk in the early winter The Goddess found herself pregnant; pregnant with the God himself. And she was happy.

She grew larger in her pregnancy as the world sunk deeper into a winter hibernation. When it felt like the Earth could not be colder or darker, or the Goddess any greater with her child she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, to the God, to light and warmth and growth. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and held him close to her as he grew. And they were happy.

The Goddess was so happy with her child, with the birth of light and of summer to come that she wanted to celebrate. In her joy she created humans to help her celebrate, to keep watch over the year as the God is born, grows, becomes strong and fills the world with growing green and warm thing. The Goddess and the humans she created watch and celebrate as The God reaches his full strength, realizes his destiny and sacrifices himself in light and color. The Goddess and the humans she created watch and celebrate even as the Earth sinks into restful dark and cold, renewing and waiting. And again, we celebrate at the birth of the new year's Light. And we are happy.

These images are created by AlicePopkorn. Please check out all of her amazingly beautiful and spirit filled work on her flickr stream.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Winter Solstice 2008: Good Morning Sun! and also Solstice Creche

Winter Solstice 2009: Christmas

The winter 2009 post Advent, Awaiting the Birth and the winter 2010 post The Dark of the Dark are also about Winter Solstice.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Dark of the Dark

Full Birth Moon

Full Birth Moon 2008: Outer Darkness and Inner Hope

Full Birth Moon 2009: New Year! and A Story for the Birth Moon

This post is also about Winter Solstice which I wrote about in the posts Good Morning Sun! and Solstice Creche in in 2008 and Christmas in 2009.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
December 21, 2010 was a dark night. Did you make it outside to view the full moon or the full lunar eclipse? Did you celebrate the longest night of the year, the winter solstice? We are lucky people to get to see all three of these heavenly events occur on the same night. The last time it happened was about 400 years ago.

Photo by Jezlyn26

I can't hardly imagine what it must have been like on that cold night in 1638. There were no electric lights anywhere. It was dark that winter, and most likely very cold. In northern Europe most people lived in homes that were very like the barns their cattle and sheep spent the winter in - low mud and straw buildings, perhaps with some timber supports, a thatch roof and a large stone fireplace or chimney in the middle of the building. People spent the long winter nights huddled around this one source of light and warmth, telling stories, spinning flax or wool, maybe whittling or working leather in the flickering fire light. One night, when it had been dark and cold for months, right before the great feast of Christmas, someone walking back from the barn or privy noticed that the full moon had a smudge on it. It looked like something was taking a bite out of the moon! As more people gathered to watch this horrifying, unnatural sight they were even more shocked when the disk of the moon, now fully darkened, turned a rusty blood red. It must have been a terrifying sight.

These people, with no scientific understanding of what was going on, used their own world view based on the stories of their Christian religion and the memories and remnants of their indigenous beliefs, to make sense of their world. Throughout most of history and across most
cultures a lunar eclipse was a very bad omen. It foretold death, famine, drought, flood or some other tragedy. Anything that upset the natural cycle of events can be very scary and the blessed light of the full moon transforming into a blood red disk seems pretty terrifying even to me, and I have a scientific understanding of the phenomena!We are a diurnal species and our culture is a light focused one. We revere the building, doing forces of the sun and take comfort in the brightness and light the full moon, a reflection of that sun. We, children of our biology and our culture, are very yang - dry, hot, light, piercing - and tend to not know what to do with things that are yin - wet, cool, dark, receiving. Sometimes we ignore these yin forces while often we actively suppress them with fear or hatred.

Many of our traditions and holidays for this darkest time of the year center around lighting up the dark. In Jewish tradition candles are lit on a
menorah. In Pagan and Christian Europe lights are lit in the form of Christmas trees, candles in windows, yule logs and fairy lights. In modern times those lights have transformed into amazing spectacles of electric lights. We are performing an act of sympathetic magic - Oh, Powers of Light, if we light up the dark winter night will you bring the sun back and light up the world again? Please?! We modern people with a scientific mindset might laugh at this explanation of what we are doing, but for those people of the 17th century it was a clear requirement.

I am not against the probing, yang-ful pursuit of science or electric light s
pectaculars. Science allows us to know things about the physical world in a way that allows an emotional detachment and the lights cheer us in the dark nights. Yes, this scientific detachment can lead to a lack of wonder and awe but it also leads to a lack of fear about natural phenomenon. With our perspective from this side of fear we can build a better, more holistic view, of the world. Our atavistic, reptillian brain is terrified of the dark and we work hard to banish it. But that is not the only way.

In the book Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom Dr. Christina Northrup posits that our excessively yang, patriarchial society causes us to look at illness as a battle and every disease or symptom as an enemy. We "fight" cancer and "blast" tumors but in some ways the only victim of the war is our own selves. Dr. Northrup asks what if we looked at illness as a messenger? What might we need to learn that this disease or sympt
om is here to show us? The darknesses of night and winter have messages to bring us as well as the darknesses of illness and disease. In the story I posted last month, Night and Day, is a beautiful expression of this idea. In the story Day says to night "But I mistook your friendly shadow for that of death.... You, in whose silence and rest the very fountains of life are renewed"
What is the darkness of this time of year trying to tell you? How do you balance chasing the darkness away with cheer and lights with allowing yourself to sink fully into the darkness of the season? What do you need to lay down and let rest? What do you need renewed? How did you celebrate the darkest night of the year?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter is Dark, Yet Each Tiny Spark

New Birth Moon:

New Birth Moon 2008: Waiting

New Birth Moon 2009: Advent, Awaiting the Birth

This post is also about Advent, which I wrote about in posts Christmas (Winter Solstice 2009), Moving from the Season of the Dead (Full Death Moon 2009), and Solstice Creche (Winter Solstice 2008).

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
You know the song, it's stuck in your head too...

It really IS beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. The soft rock radio station has completed its annual metamorphasis into a Christmas music station. Lights are up on homes and buisnesses. When I first started seeing all the trees tied to the tops of SUVs around town I had visions of suburban dads out with shotguns hunting down their perfect tree and dragging it home. Now I see those perfectly chosen trees in front windows all decorated. And the parties! My social calendar is close to booked for every weekend until the end of the month with holiday parties of every stripe: christmas sweater parties, christmas light viewing parties, holiday cocktail and housewarming parties, holiday movie viewing parties, open houses and wassail and gingerbread making parties. Oh my! No wonder people get exhausted during the holidays.

As I've written about in the last two years I will be focusing most of my festive energy on the Advent season leading up to Christmas. My sister and I just moved into a new apartment and I am finally able to put my creche in the living area of the house. We also dug out a fun advent calendar she bought at Starbucks a number of years ago. It is made of cardboard and has reuseable drawers that she fills with little goodies for me each year. We are having a housewarming party this weekend and will decorate the house with lights and maybe a small tree as well. I can't wait.

The pastor at my Quaker church holds an open house every December and he and his wife decorate their little home to the rafters with Christmas decorations. She also makes dozens of different kinds of cookies. The first Sunday of Advent is my "liturgical year anniversary" of attending West Hills Friends and I finally feel like I am making friends there. It was so nice to have another opportunity to hang out with these people who are becoming a really important part of my life. I was talking with one man about how his family is celebrating Christmas this year and I realized that I don't have real plans for Christmas day... the fun is all in the season leading up to the "big event" for me.

Winter is dark,
Yet each tiny spark
Brightens the way
To Christmas Day.

Shine little light
And show us the way
To the bright, bright light
Of Christmas day.

From the Waldorf Clearing House Newsletter Archive, Fall 1981

Like last year I am decorating my creche according to the four realms of the natural world. The first week of Advent is dedicated to the mineral realm. Lynn Jericho, in her essay I am a Human Being, describes how the four "bodies" Rudolph Steiner identified are related to the four realms of the natural world. The mineral realm is associated with our physical bodies, the actual bone, muscle and skin that makes up our physical shell. She says the rocks have their own individual physical make up - there is a physical difference between granite and limestone, pyrite and quartz - but they have undifferentiated life, soul and spirit bodies. The mineral realm is related to our physical bodies and, in my mind, our physical environment. As we moved into our new house on Wednesday of the first week of Advent I saw that connection very clearly. We could see the "bones and stones" of our home, the blank walls and empty expanses of floor.

The second week of Advent is dedicated to the plant realm and our life bodies. Our life bodies are the rhythm that brings animation to the otherwise inert physical body. Plants have both an individual physical body - roses are different from redwoods which are different from dog woods and ferns - and an individual life force. The rose bush in my front yard grows differently than the rose in your yard and each tree has a different feeling to it, but the soul and spirit bodies are still communal. The soul of a rose belongs the same to all roses no matter where they grow. During the second week of Advent we started to settle into the rhythm of our new home. Where does the furniture go and how do we navigate around it? Which drawer holds the silverware and how early in the evening do we need to turn the heat on in the bedroom so it will be warm by bed time? I decorated the creche with sprigs of holly, Douglas fir and cedar from the neighborhood and burned sage and sweetgrass throughout the apartment in an ancient ritual of purification and dedication.

During the third week of Advent I will celebrate the soul forces of our home, which are correlated to the animal kingdom. Animals, with their differentiated soul bodies, have individual perceptions and can make decisions. They have relationships. Most likely we will put up art on the walls and the house will start to really have a lived in feeling, especially after our housewarming party. Humans are the only beings that can have a fully developed spirit body, the body that experiences the divine eternal. Lynn Jericho says the spirit body never truly incarnates, it only illuminates. Perhaps we can be lucky enough to fill our house with enough love and laughter to occasionally get flashes of the spirit life of our new home. Living fully in the Christmas season seems as good of a way to get there as any.

I light four candles on the wreath, all made of holly green,
For you and me, and all who shall be,
Four candles now are seen
We await on earth the holy birth, and upon the boughs of green.
Our hopes arise with every flame, four candles now are seen!

Attributed to Mrs. Marsha of Shining Star School and the Waldorf Home Educators Yahoogroup.

How are you striving to live fully in the Christmas season? Are you decorating or baking for the holidays? What do you know about Steiner's thoughts on the fourfold human being? Does any of what I've written or you've read elsewhere ring true to you? What's your favorite Christmas carol?