Monday, 24 October 2016

Dawn and Dusk

Neither night nor day, light nor dark. The times of sunrise and sunset or the 'times-between-times' have always had particular importance in mysticism and folklore. It's not just about celebrating sunrise on the solstice  at Stonehenge or Newgrange, as is becoming increasingly popular. Many religious rituals took place at sunrise or sunset, and in some cases still do. Cultures from the Egyptians to the Celts revered this time.  

Sunrise and sunset were  important in marking the progress of the year, vital when life depended so much on the seasons, but there is more to it than that.
In a world which is composed of opposites – day and night, sun and moon, good and evil, masculine and feminine, positive and negative, and so on – instances when these boundaries are blurred attract great attention.  Because when opposites combine, something extraordinary is formed.
Male and female combine to produce life. Positive and negative combine on a subatomic level to form atoms, and then molecules, and then the entirety of existence. And so dawn and dusk are considered times of transcendence, times when the soul can attain a higher level of consciousness, times when the portals open and it is possible to cross to other realms.

The reason is linked to energy flow. A natural energy current flows through both the Earth and all living things. When the sun is on the horizon, it exerts a gravitational pull which amplifies this energy, as is seen in the tides of the sea. We, like most living things, can sense this surge of energy and are uplifted in more ways than one. Everybody feels something special in watching a sunrise or sunset. And this is what triggers the religious, spiritual and metaphysical associations of the times-between-times.
Everyone feels the tranquillity and peace of watching the sun sink beyond the horizon, and everyone feels happier for having done so. This is the reason why.

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Hunter's Moon

The full moon in October is known as the Hunter's Moon. It shines down on the start of the autumn hunting season.

In many cultures which depended on hunting game for survival, it was taboo to hunt pregnant or nursing animals, essential as they were for the future of both hunted and hunter. But in autumn when the year's young were weaned and often searching for a territory of their own, and the old and weak were declining in fitness as food became scarce, the hunting season began.

Those animals which wouldn't survive the winter were culled, which then left what food there was for those able to breed next season. And those fit young animals which were now surplus to requirements often went the same way.

Thus the delicate balance between hunter and hunted, life and death, each equally dependent on the other, was carefully maintained to enable that balance to perpetuate into the future.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Fruit of Wisdom

The apple carries a vast amount of symbolism and esoteric wisdom. It has been associated with immortality, truth and purity  since time immemorial and so has the greatest role in folklore of all fruits. 
When an apple is cut in half horizontally, the five seeds form a pentagram, the ancient and sacred symbol of power and wisdom, and this may explain its mythical significance. 

The apple is most famed as the  fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, although interestingly this is not  actually specified in the Book of Genesis, it is a later addition to the story. As it was an apple that ultimately led to Adam and Eve's eviction from Eden and the fall of man, it is often now considered the fruit of the devil by some Christian groups.

The British paradise of Avalon and the Irish paradise of  Emain Ablach both derive from the term 'land of apples,' and both places are filled with this divine tree. And the apple features much in Celtic myth, particularly in hero-quests. For example the early Welsh poem Yr Afallennau, (the apple tree) tells of the prophet Merlin's madness until he takes refuge in a magical apple tree.

In Norse myth the apple was the symbol of youth and immortality. In Greek myth, the Golden Apples of the Hesperides were given to Hera, Queen of the Gods, on her wedding day by Gaia, the Earth, and are representative of the wisdom of Mother Earth. They were stolen by Hercules as one of his twelve labours.

It was an apple which started the Trojan War:  Eris, Goddess of Discord, threw an apple into a wedding celebration marked 'for the fairest'. Three goddesses claimed the prize and the Trojan Prince named Paris was appointed judge. He chose Aphrodite, and she gave him the fabled Helen in reward. The only problem: Helen was already married. Her husband Menelaus  took exception to her abduction and so began this most famous war. 

In more recent myths, we have the unicorn, the animal of purity, who lives beneath an apple tree;  William Tell, shooting an apple from his son's head; Snow White, eating a poisoned apple and falling into an enchanted sleep; and the tree at the centre of Narnia, C.S. Lewis' philosophical creation, which was, you guessed it, an apple.

The final word has to go to the great Isaac Newton, said to be the first of the scientists and the last of the mystics. He  knew full well the esoteric significance of the apple. And it  is no accident that he discovered the nature of gravity, opening countless doors to scientific revolution, because of... an apple.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Harvest Home

Harvest marks an ending. The end of the farming year, the end of the life cycle for plants cultivated and wild. The seeds then mark a beginning - the beginning of the next year as the eternal cycle of life continues.
And as harvest is the beginning of an end, so its end was celebrated with gusto in all rural communities. The time when all men, women and children worked sun up to sun down to bring the harvest home, cementing friendships and a sense of shared struggle which forged a community spirit, was over for another year.

The harvest festival, intended to give thanks to the gods (or later God) for their success and to provide an auspicious start for the new season, is still a ubiquitous aspect of rural life as it has been in cultures worldwide for millennia.

In Britain, the final load was brought home with great ceremony. The horse and wagon were bedecked with flowers and ribbons, and all men and boys would ride atop the wagon and sing hearty songs.

Up! Up! Up! A happy harvest home!
We have sowed, we have mowed
We have carried our last load!

I have ripped my shirt

And teared my skin
To get my master's harvest in!

This was followed by a grand supper where all the workers and their families sat down to tables laden with beef, vegetables and plum pudding. These harvest suppers still survive in some places, although far removed from their original form.

Like many British traditions, the Harvest Home was barely remembered after the First World War. A generation of rural workers lay under foreign soil, and an ancient custom, passed down for generations from old to young, was broken.