Category Archives: masculine/feminine balance

Thomas Merton and Sophia

While in Louisville Kentucky to attend the “Festival of Faiths” in late April, I had the good fortune to visit the Hermitage in the woods near the Abbey of Gethsemane where  Thomas Merton ( Father Louis) would go for times of solitude and prayer, nature walks and contemplation which nourished his soul and inspired his writings on Spirituality and Justice.

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Thomas Merton’ s Hermitage in the woods near the Monastery of Gethsemane, Kentucky

Though I knew of Merton’s life and writings, of his fierce cries for Social Justice, his passionate opposition to the Vietnam War, while visiting Gethsemane I learned of a poignant footnote to his life. In December of 1968, Merton had been on a pilgrimage, his quest to integrate insights of both Western and Eastern religious thought. While attending a monastic conference in Bangkok Thailand, Merton died suddenly. His body was transported home to the US in a plane carrying soldiers who had died in the Vietnam war.

But I was to learn something that was of immense importance to my own quest for the Sacred Feminine Presence: Merton had written compellingly of Sophia. I brought home from the Festival of Faiths Christopher Pramuk’s book: Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2009)

Pramuk tells of a visit made by Merton to an artist friend, Victor Hammer, in nearby Lexington. Hammer was working on a triptych with a  central panel showing the boy Christ being crowned by a dark-haired woman. When Merton asked his friend who the woman was, the artist replied that he did not yet know. Merton said, “She is Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, who crowns Christ.”

At Hammer’s request, Merton expanded on this insight in a letter written May 14, 1959:

The first thing to be said, of course, is that Hagia Sophia is God Himself. God is not only a Father but a Mother….(T)o ignore this distinction is to lose touch with the fullness of God. This is a very ancient intuition of  reality which goes back to the oldest Oriental thought…. for the “masculine-feminine” relationship is basic to all reality — simply because all reality mirrors the reality of God.

Pramuk continues to quote from this letter where he senses Merton writing in a stream of consciousness as though his friend’s question had opened ” a kind of conceptual and imaginative floodgate”:

Over the next five or six paragraphs, he identifies Sophia as “the dark, nameless Ousia (Being)” of God, not one of the Three Divine Persons, but each “at the same time, are Sophia and manifest her.”  She is “the Tao,the nameless pivot of all being and nature …that which is the smallest and poorest and most humble in all.” She is “the ‘feminine child’ playing before Him at all times, playing in the world.’ (Proverbs 8) ”  Above all, Sophia is unfathomable mercy, made manifest in the world by means of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   

Merton identifies Sophia as God’s love and mercy coming to birth in us.”In the sense that God is Love, is Mercy, is Humility, is Hiddenness, He shows Himself to us within ourselves as our own poverty, our own nothingness (which Christ took upon Himself, ordained for this by the Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin) ( the crowning in your picture), and if we receive the humility of God in our hearts, we become able to accept and embrace and love this very poverty which is Himself and His Sophia.” 

(Christopher Pramuk : Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton pp.193-4. Quotes from Merton are from“Witness to Freedom”: The Letters of Thomas Merton in Times of Crisis, ed. William H. Shannon ( New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995)  

In 1962, six years before his death, Merton composed a poem to “Hagia Sophia/ Holy Wisdom” in the form of the Monastic Office, a  Prayer recited in Community to mark the times of day: Dawn: The Hour of Lauds; Early Morning : The Hour of Prime; High Morning; The Hour of Tierce; Sunset: The Hour of Compline.

Here is how Merton’s  Prayer at Dawn begins:

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness  and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.  

I am awakened, I am born again at the voice of this my Sister, sent to me from the depths of the divine fecundity.

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Icon of Sophia, Holy Wisdom, in Merton’s Hermitage Chapel

Waiting in Darkness

 

The ancient ritual of the Easter Vigil lures me after an absence of several years. The parish church doors open to invite us into the Phrygian darkness of night. We stand scrunched together at the back, among friends whose faces we cannot see, whose voices we do not hear. Then comes the flaring forth of vermilion flame as the Easter fire is birthed from flint. It could be the flaring forth of light at the dawn of this Universe, the primordial moment that the physicists cannot yet grasp.

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The priest uses the new fire to light the great Paschal Candle which stands taller than he does. He intones the ancient chant: three notes rising: “Christ our Light.” From the single flame, the candles held by all who have gathered this night bloom with yellow light, creating a halo that reveals each face. “Christ our Light”.

A cantor sings the “Exultet” the Hymn of Praise to the Risen Christ, echoing the words of Paul: “What good would life have been to us if Christ had not risen?”

Seven Readings follow from the Hebrew Scriptures, telling the old, old tales….

And this is where I begin to feel discomfort. I who love stories, the older the better, find myself rejecting the Genesis account of creation. Once I could overlook its scientific inaccuracies, defend them to others as poetry, not truth. But tonight I am comparing this account with the enchantment of the 13.8 billion year story of the unfolding, evolving, unfinished Universe.

I feel something like revulsion for this strange god who creates man in his own image, adding a woman only for the man’s sake, an after-thought, giving these latecomers dominion over all of life on our planet while forbidding them to eat the fruit of the tree that would give them wisdom.

Finally, pleased with himself, this god decides to take a day off.

When we meet him in the next reading, this god is asking Abraham to make a blood sacrifice of his only son. After the agony he puts the father through (no mention of Sarah, the mother), he says, “I was only testing you…”

As Moses and his people are fleeing from Egypt, this god “covers himself in glory” by drowning a people who were among the wisest who ever lived….

Who is this god?
I do not know him.

Joseph Campbell writes of him as a “local desert god”, a “thunder-hurler”. 1

Indo-European deities encountering warrior gods tended to have their goddesses marry the male gods. Campbell notes that this did not happen among the Semites who ruthlessly obliterated the local goddesses. He points out that a religious tradition with a father god but no mother god is one where we are separate from God, where God is separate from us, from nature. This is a God who is “out there” rather than within us. To find this God we need religious structures, laws, authorities. We are separated from nature, distrusting, even despising our own bodies. Beauty is itself suspect, a distraction, a seduction.

Still in the candle-lit darkness, I am working myself into a state of high dudgeon, wondering why I came, when the tone of the readings alters.

I begin to hear words of undeniable tenderness. I remember why for so many years my favourite biblical passages were the Hebrew prophets who knew, must have experienced, a Presence of Divine Love, what Julian of Norwich calls a Mothering God.

Isaiah invites all who thirst to come to the waters, to come without need of money for what the heart desires…

Hosea’s voice calls back from the desert an abandoned, heartbroken lover.

The seventh reading from the Hebrew Scriptures begins, one I do not recognize, do not remember having heard before.

I listen to words that tell of a presence who guides, who brings light and joy, when we follow… HER.
What is this?
It is the writing of the prophet Baruch.

Later, at home, I find the passage in my Jerusalem Bible:

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
Hear and learn what knowledge means.
…….
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.
But who has found out where she lives,
Who has entered her treasure house?
…..
Who has ever climbed the sky and caught her
To bring her down from the clouds?
Who has ever crossed the ocean and found her
To gain her back in exchange for the finest gold?
No one knows the way to her,
No one can discover the path she treads.
But the One who knows all knows her… 2

 

And now we are hearing Paul’s words of promise, of hope, of assurance of our own Resurrection: Paul who never met the earthbound Jesus, who was hurled from his horse when the Risen Christ called his name, who fell in love with the Unseen One and spent the rest of his life carrying his message to others, who did not disdain to tell them he was in labour until Christ was born in them.

Suddenly the dark is rent by an eruption of light everywhere, flowers making a garden of the sanctuary, bells ringing. Two clear soprano voices lift in a duet sung in the pure tones of angels, “He is Risen. He is Risen.”

After the Celebration of the Easter Eucharist, I greet my friends, set off in the rain for home, awash in questions…. slowly I let them settle in me.

I remember Teilhard’s understanding that we live in an unfinished universe. We each have a part to play in bringing it nearer to completion. I recommit to my calling to invite others to join me in providing a space, a place, for the Sacred Feminine to dwell, embodied within us.

References:

1. Joseph Campbell Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (New World Library, Novato, California, 2013) p.xxii and pp. 86-87

2. Baruch 3: 9, 14, 15, 29-32

 

Sophia in Egypt: Fourteen

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We are standing in the court before the Egyptian Temple dedicated to Hathor.

Jean Houston has just acknowledged the men who have had the courage to be part of this journey of mostly women.

“We know that Sekhmet, that great fierce extraordinary goddess, the one who existed before time was, danced wildly here in happiness,” Jean says. “We have among us some very fierce women.”

“What we would like to do for you here in this great temple of connection, of love, in the great temple of Dendera, which is also the temple of the Zodiac… is to dance zodiacly and maniacly around you with the fierce energy that is the rising feminine and to honour these men for being willing to recognise us in our true partnership emergence.

 

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Zodiac in the Temple of Hathor

“ This is the time, I believe, of the new hieros gamos, the sacred union of the evolved male and the evolved female who can face each other with glory, and no longer with ambiguity.”

So we dance wildly, in a zodiacal form, honouring our male companions on the journey. Wild dogs watching from a nearby hill bark encouragement, approval.

“Thank you for being born at the same time we are. Thank you for coming on this wild journey,” Peg says to the men. “ Thank you all of us for having lived long enough to see this day in this place with that lady of grace, Hathor, and her sister, her other aspect, which is Sekhmet, because she did so love and honour the masculine.”

Jean invites, “Let us intone a great appreciative ahhhh in their honour, and in modern parlance, Wow! Wow! Wow!”

We move into the vast temple, gathering in a small chamber. Above us on the painted ceiling, the Sky Goddess, Mother Nut, awaits us, her outstretched body alive with stars.

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Ceiling in the temple of Hathor

Peg leads an invocation: “For Hathor, for the restoration of joy in our souls, for the restoration of dancing in our feet, no matter how slowly they may move on these stones, for the restoration of greening in the world, for again and again and again the promise of love between human beings and between all life forms, the engendering love, the love that creates, so between us we create something beautiful on behalf of the world. Underneath this night sky glory, this mother of us all, who swallows the sun, and sends it through her beautiful body and gives birth to it in the day.

“This is the house, this huge temple, the house of the lady, Hathor, whose own name, as we’ve been told, means the House of Horus, so there is an engendering power of male and female here that is filled with inebriation, drunken love, drunken happiness and delight at every level.”

Jean calls us into a reflection on the inner feminine and masculine. “The House of Hathor, the House of Horus. The bridal chamber of the two here under the great begetting goddess Nut.

“Your right hand, your right foot: Horus; your left hand, your left foot: Hathor.”

Honouring the masculine and feminine sides of our bodies, we stamp our feet, gesture with our hands, first right, then left, again and again as the chant continues: Horus… Hathor… Horus… Hathor… Horus… Hathor… Horus… Hathor…

“Bring them closer,” Jean invites. “Crossing your hands across your breast. Horus and Hathor. This is the place of the marriage of the self in time with the eternal beloved. It is also the place of the marriage or the great sacred hieros gamos, of yourself with your soul, and as well as many other dyads between you, within you, of you : male and female, spirit and nature, matter and time. And I ask you the questions: Do you take onto yourself this marriage of self and soul, of male and female, of matter and spirit, of nature and time? Do you?”

And we respond “I do”.

“Will you promise to love, to honour, to support, to sustain, to keep the holy ignition bright and flaming?

“Do you agree to a life committed from this moment forth to the joy of such union?

“Do you agree to bring the joy and the power, the enormous fertility and fecundity, as we see from Mother Nut, into this world and time?….and to bring this joy and creativity into the simple things in your life as well as the middling things, as well as the great ones?

“Do you agree to be a fertile vessel of the emergence of the world that is coming now?

“Do you agree to be a spiritual channel for all that is now fertile, fecundating,
a joyful thing, a winged gift? Do you agree to be the bearer of this winged gift now?

“Then celebrate, celebrate, celebrate this union now.”

There is an explosion of sound. A joyous energy courses though the chamber, soars up past Mother Nut, moves through the great temple, delighting the lady of the house. Hathor. Herself.

(from  Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind  by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin, Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada 2013  http://borealispress.com)

Sophia in Egypt: Thirteen

Ra is rising on another day in Egypt. Already we are on the bus, on our way to Abydos on the West Bank of the Nile. This, one of the holiest sites of ancient Egypt, the centre of Osiris worship, is the place where the myth tells us the head of Osiris is buried.

Abydos became for ancient Egypt a pilgrimage destination, a desirable place to be
buried and the home of a theatre festival where for more than two thousand years the passion play of the life and death of Osiris was enacted by priests.

We walk from the bus across a barren rock-strewn landscape, moving towards the temple of Osiris, the place of his resurrection. It is a ruin. We are looking down upon a stone structure, its rough- hewn blocks formed into pillars and arches precariously balanced, some scattered on the ground around what remains of the temple. Water has pooled near what would have been the entrance. A makeshift wooden bridge leads downwards, but we do not attempt to go nearer. It is hard to summon up a sense of wonder amid this tumble of grey stones. A deconstruction site.

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Abydos Temple Ruins

Yet when Peg Rubin leads us in a reading of the Hymn to Osiris, her voice summons the ancient magic….
When you look up, know I am there –
sun and moon pouring my love around you.

Though apart, I am part of you.
I am the sojourner destined to walk a thousand years
until I arrive at myself.

Now Peg invites us to reflect upon what within us calls out for resurrection. Standing here amidst the ruins I sense my need of a resurrection of joy, the joy of knowing I am free to love. I invite a resurrection of wonder and gratitude that I am here in this ancient land where miracles still occur.

I sense a call to be a bearer of joy.

I hear Peg say that Love make hearts lighter. I remember that for the ancient Egyptians the weighing of the heart at death was the test of goodness. My heart is moving towards a lightness that might even have got me through that test.

Near the ruin is a newer temple dedicated to Osiris, built by the Pharaoh Seti 1, completed by his son, Ramses 11. Inside there are sanctuaries dedicated to Osiris, to Isis, to Horus. Wall carvings, still bearing rich colours, blood reds, soft sky blues, ochre, tell the same story we’ve been listening to on the Moon Goddess.

In one scene, Isis receives the pillar that holds the body of Osiris. A tall man is tipping it towards her as her arms reach out to receive it. The whole scene is surrounded by carefully carved and painted hieroglyphs. I am a child in a magic cavern with fairy tales painted on all its walls. A child who can read only pictures.

From Abydos, we travel on to the Temple of Hathor in Dendara. We walk along a dusty road, enter a wide sunlit forecourt leading up to a majestic temple built on the ruins of a far older one by the Romans just before the time of Christ.
At once I sense a different energy in this open space. A lightness comes into my heart. My attention is drawn to a beautiful stone face, resting on the ground, amid a tumble of stones. I recall the face that had so entranced me in the Cairo Museum. This carving holds the same settled peace and wisdom, a direct gaze, almost on the edge of smiling. I realize I am gazing back at an image of Hathor who is known as the goddess of love and joy.

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Temple of Hathor at Dendera

 

As I walk closer, I see that the temple is enormous, looming above us perhaps eighty feet into the clear sky. Its great pillars each bear a likeness of Hathor, the
same face I’ve just seen in the tumbled stone.

Our group gathers on the wide stone pathway at the entrance to the temple.
Jean invites the men in our group to come into the centre. “This is a very very very feminine temple, and it is a temple in which Herself is very much present.”

“We are living into a time moving from a patriarchy all over the world, not to a matriarchy, but to true and deep partnership between men and women. And that’s very hard, after thousands of years of it having been otherwise.”

“These men have been willing and courageous enough to travel in a cauldron of women. And these are the men who are emerging.”

Sophia in Egypt: Eleven

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Before we leave the Temple at Edfu, my friend Ellyn draws me aside, excited to show me the birthing chamber. We stand together silently looking at the room where legend says Isis bore her son Horus. This is where royal women came to birth their children. Buried deep under the rubble of my joy, a memory stirs of Isis and my own birthing, the ritual in the prayer room in September, but I cannot summon it from the darkness.

When we are back on the ship, Ellyn is eager to see the full moon from the upper deck. I go with her, climbing the flight of steps that takes us up under the night sky. We choose reclining deck chairs, lying back with our gaze fixed on the moon. Always before I have thought of the moon as feminine, but tonight I think of Thoth, the Egyptian god of Truth, and as I sit below his gaze, Truth pierces me. I know now that this truth is a response to my prayer to Isis to show me how to make of my love a gift, not a burden. I remember something I read on a poster. “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable”. I stay for a while under the gaze of the moon, reflecting upon all this.

Some of our friends are gathered here, sitting at the edge of the shallow pool, bare feet resting in the warm water. Ellyn and I go to join them, letting the water soothe our feet. Suzanne is here, Denise, the woman from Ireland, and Valarie whom I had met at the Social Artistry session in Oregon. The women are speaking about the different energies they felt in the temples of Isis and Horus. I listen, surprised, realize it is true that on the island dedicated to Isis, I felt a gentle peace that drew me to prayer, whereas in the temple of Horus, itself massive, with its many carvings of fierce battle, the energy was masculine. I have until now not been aware of such things.

Valarie suggests that we should have a ritual at some point during our journey to honour the men who have been brave enough to join this venture. This reminds me of a book I’ve recently read. I tell them about the Canadian man who wrote The Savage Breast. He travelled throughout Europe, seeking ancient sites of goddess worship and wrote a compelling book about his struggles to understand the feminine within himself. He found that many of these temples held birthing rooms.

It is by now long past midnight on this day that began for us before sunrise. Yet, none of us feels fatigue. When at last I do return to my room, I fall into a deep sleep.

I waken to a day of sailing, as we head towards Luxor. After breakfast, I make arrangements to use one of the ship’s laptops, hoping to send my first emails to friends and family. As I sit in the lobby, my efforts to engage the internet, to make connection, prove fruitless. Bent over the task, I become aware that Denise has come to sit beside me. There is at once a connection between us more vital, less complicated than the one I am trying to make with the internet.

“Last night on the upper deck, under the moon,” Denise says, “we were like a group of women in ancient Ireland sitting around the well.”

I agree that the talk was rich and deep, and at once I find I am sharing with Denise the pain and confusion that I had held silent within me the night before.

“Why don’t you speak with Jean about this?” Denise asks.

I recite my litany of reasons, my fear of weighing her down, placing my concerns on her, blowing her away”…

Denise gives me a look that must be the Irish equivalent of you’ve got to be kidding. “Jean looks pretty grounded to me. I think she can handle it.”

The sweet sanity of this dissolves the dark fear still lurking within me. After Denise leaves, I try again to connect with the internet, hear a question above me.

“Sending email?” I look up, see that Jean is here.

“Will you sit down for a moment?” I ask. When she does, I say, “When I asked you about projection yesterday, did you think it was a hypothetical question?”

Jean smiles. “Well, I thought perhaps you were referring to some poor priest.”

“Been there. Done that,” I say, relieved at the lightness in my heart. For an instant, the memory of a powerful love from my own springtime sweeps though me, a love that has endured to warm these autumn days, a love in which I trust.

We speak awhile about love, about how the God in us draws the God in another. “Surely this has happened to you in your work?” Jean says.

“Yes, it has,” I say, remembering, regretting now that I had not understood better at the time what was happening, been more compassionate. “But what you said yesterday, about not frightening people away. How can you love without being a burden to them? ”

Suddenly the response matters very much. I am again on the brink, the cliff’s edge, where I have stood so many times with other people in my life, awaiting the dark response: “I’m sorry. I cannot be your friend… we really don’t have enough in common….I am sorry, but no.”

I have gone back so far in memory to such long-forgotten miseries that I cannot hear what Jean is saying. I tune in to one word, “Impossible”. It is the word I have been expecting. I look at her, unsurprised.

“It’s impossible to blow me away. I’ve been around too long, experienced too much for that to happen with me.”

After Jean leaves, I give up the effort to connect on the internet. I have had two human encounters worth more than a thousand emails. I feel a burden lift from my heart. The sun rises and I can see clearly.

I tasted god like soup dripping from a ladle.
I felt his grace like three lyres humming…
I am made lively as onions and olives.
I walk at peace between lilies and stones.

Normandi Ellis in Awakening Osiris

“Sophia in Egypt” is excerpted from my novel, Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada 2013)     http://borealispress.comancient-egypt-history3-imagech004885_lr004248

Sophia in Egypt: Ten

As we have been listening to the story of Isis and Osiris, the Moon Goddess has been carrying us down the Nile to Edfu, a journey of sixty-five miles. We don warmer layers. Tonight we are to make a private visit to the temple dedicated to Horus. Edfu is one of Egypt’s newer temples, built during the time of the Ptolemies after the conquest by Alexander the Great. It has been restored to magnificence, one of the greatest achievements of the Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Hawass.

As we approach the temple we see it shimmering gold, majestic against the black night, lit from below with what might be a hundred torches. In another story, in another time, it would have been a fairytale castle. The ascending light illumines great carved figures stretching up along its outer walls. They call out their names, through the symbols they wear as crowns: Osiris, Seth, Horus… but I still cannot be certain who they are in the darkness of night, in my unknowing.

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The Temple at Edfu

Inside, a statue of the falcon-headed god Horus, wearing a pharaoh’s crown, stands on a small pedestal, at our eye level, welcoming us to his temple.

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the falcon-headed god Horus

 

We wander through, find in one of the chambers the Sky Goddess Nut painted across the ceiling, her arms reaching along one side, her legs with a ballerina’s pointed toes, stretching to the other side. This is the first sight that would have greeted the dead king upon his awakening to eternal life. Nut would be there hovering above him, stars shining across her body. The Mother Goddess who births Ra at dawn and swallows him at dusk. The Mother Goddess who brings joy with sunrise, darkness with evening.

 

Samai shows us the Graeco-Roman bas-relief carvings, created by cutting around the figures, releasing them from stone. This requires great skill as it is far more difficult than cutting the figures into the stone. In one carving the king is wearing a transparent overskirt. Stone on stone with the delicacy of silk.

Some of the reliefs show parts of the story of Isis and Osiris, the great battles between Seth and Horus. Others show the annual festival of the first fruits at the time of the new moon which celebrated the sacred marriage of Horus and Hathor. The rejoicing lasted for fourteen days, until the waning of the full moon, when the statue of Hathor was returned to Dendera.

In the inner sanctuary we see the boat that was carried here by the king and the priests for the Celebration of the Royal Marriage. Made of wood, with poles on either side for ease in carrying, the boat is small, very like the conveyances used to carry statues of Mary in procession. On the front of the boat, a stone figurehead leans forward, wearing a carved pectoral, its once glorious colours faded to a small patch of blue.

“You are all here but your ancestors were here,” Jean Houston begins. “So we bring together the context of our ancestral lives. All of these things on the wall are the ancestral lives as they are coded not just to priests and priestesses, and kings and queens, but in the very gods, the great creative principles themselves…. Christ is certainly a descendent of Osiris. Buddha is a descendent of Thoth and so it goes, Athena of Neith, Mary of Hathor and of Isis. They’re all here and they’re here with us now.

“Look at your right hand and consider that to contain the world of the fathers, the males of the ancestry. Look at your left hand. Consider that to be the world of the mothers, and the grandmothers and the great grandmothers, going all the way back to those ancestors. Somehow between the worlds of the fathers on the right and the worlds of the mothers on the left, they got to meet each other, through the centuries, through the generations, yes, even through the millennia.
“Somehow they found each other to ultimately result in this unique pattern in space and time called you.

“We celebrate the coming together as we celebrate the coming together of Hathor and Horus, the coming together of your ancestral mothers and your ancestral fathers. But we do it with consciousness now.”

“We’ll meet them with their joyous meeting, their divine hieros gamos, their sacred marriage, their great conjunction.”

“Feel the merriment of the men and women finding each other, so that you may be. Feel the marriage celebrations, feel the birth of the babies, feel the dying and the reborning.

“ You are sending the message back to that world of the fathers on the right, and the world of the mothers on the left, and you are saying, Remember. Remember me. I come forth from you.”

For me, images of ancient Ireland replace those of Egypt, forefathers and foremothers going about the tasks of their daily lives, fisher folk, farmers, shepherds in that green land of soft mists, their faces bearing contours of my remembered aunts and uncles. I see Celtic versions of myself, a young woman in love, a storyteller, a wise older woman, a herbalist…

Jean invites us to look ahead to the future descendants of our bodies or our minds, receiving a blessing from them, accepting their gratitude for what we did for their lives. I think of my work, the deepening call to weave the new spirituality using the finest threads, the most brilliantly coloured, from the old in the pattern.

“So you are the term between, holding past and future, holding the ancestors. Then take the hand of the one in the future. Take the hand of the one in the past, and bring them here in the front of your heart and as with the knot of Isis, put those hands together. And world and time have been connected again, and in you.

“And from this moment forth, should you choose, you will have all of these great ones, small ones, low ones, mad ones, crazy ones, genius ones, children galore, all who have created you, together in you. And the wisdom and the essence of sheer livingness are contained in you now.

“We go out from here with a festival… a Sufi Islamic dance, to be done very slowly and very carefully. Right hand to right hand, and we’re going to sing. Our hands joined, we do a greeting dance, spinning in pairs in this small space, then joining hands in one great circle as we sing: All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

After the ritual, there is more time to wander through the great temple, to take photos of the beautiful carvings. Gleaming golden in the soft lighting, carved in bas-relief, Hathor, goddess of love and joy, stands looking away from me as I take a photo.

(excerpt from  Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind   Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press Ottawa 2013 ( http://borealispress.com)

Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh

A woman’s voice with an unmistakable Irish lilt says, “In the Celtic Calendar, summer is already at an end. Do you know of Lughnasadh, the festival that welcomes Autumn? We celebrate it on August 1st.”

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Dolores Whelan

The woman who is speaking is Dolores Whelan. Most of what I have learned about Celtic Festivals comes from her wonderful book, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Dolores has taught us about Brigid’s Festival, Imbolc, which ushers in Spring, and about the Winter and Summer Solstices, the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, and the fiery Festival of Bealtaine….

“Shall I tell you of Lugh and his festival?”

For answer, we settle ourselves comfortably, awaiting the tale with eagerness.

“The Celtic god Lugh is known as the samildanach, the many-gifted one. Lugh represents the skilled masculine energy, with its ability to hone, shape, bring to harvest the fruits of the seeds planted at Samhain and nurtured during the dark giamos time by the feminine energy.

 

At Lughnasadh, as in many of the other festivals, the important dance of opposite energies and roles is beautifully expressed. Tailtiu, the foster mother of Lugh, is the goddess who cleared away the wilderness, making the plains and fields ready for crops to be grown. She died from her efforts and is also remembered at this time; Lugh is said to have inaugurated this festival in her honour.

 

“In the wheel of the Celtic Year, Lughnasadh stands directly opposite Imbolc, where Brigid, embodying the primal creative energy, occupied the central role. Bron Trogain, an older name for this festival, may mean the sorrow of Trogain or the sorrow of the fertile earth. This may mean that the fertility of the harvest is linked with the death that follows its completion, again bringing together the polarities of life and death. The successful harvest requires that Lugh appease his adversary, Crom Dubh, who represents the aspect of the land that does not wish to be harvested or subjected to the rule and energy of Lugh.

 

“The two-week Lughnasadh festival was a very important meeting time for the tribe, bringing people together to test their skills in many different disciplines. They challenged each other in a variety of contests and games held during the annual fairs in Lugh’s honour. The rituals at this festival included the acknowledgement of the triumph of Lugh, the harvesting and enjoyment of the first fruits, and the acknowledgement of the end of summer. It was a time of great merriment, especially for young people, who wore garlands of flowers and went into the hills to pick bilberries or blueberries. Marriages were traditionally held at this time of year.

 

“High places in the land, where earth and sky met, were considered the appropriate place to honour Lugh. At the ritual site, many of the characteristics and gifts of Lugh were enacted by mummers. The first sheaf of wheat, barley or corn was ceremonially cut, milled, and baked into cakes. These were eaten along with the wild blueberries or bilberries. The young folks’ garlands of flowers were buried to signify the end of summer.”

Dolores pauses as we take this in.

One of the younger women says, “It seems so sad. Burying the garlands, such a sad ending to the beauty of summer.”

Dolores turns to her, and says gently, “In the wheel of the Celtic year there is no ending that is not also a new beginning. Remember that when the bright days of the masculine summer fade, diminish, we are getting ready to welcome Samhain, the season of the feminine winter. The days of womb-like preparation, the dark days of incubation that will themselves end with Brigid’s Festival of Imbolc on February 1st welcoming Spring.”

 

Another asks, “Is Lughnasadh still celebrated in Ireland?”

 

“Many of these ritual practices have died out,” Dolores tells her, “but an essential aspect of the Lughnasadh ritual is enacted each year with the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo on the last Sunday of July. Puck Fair held in Kilorglin in County Kerry each August is another remnant of the Lughnasadh festival.”

Someone calls out, “Look. Up there on the high ground. It must be the setting sun, but it looks like someone has lit a bonfire!”

We are all gazing westward up towards the hill. Something flames there.

When Dolores speaks, her voice is so soft that we almost miss her words:
“That is no fire, nor is it a sunset. That is Lugh, come to bless you, to promise to bring to fruition and harvest the seeds you yourselves planted in the dark engendering days of the long winter. Take his blessing with you until we meet here again.”

 

Lugh

Lugh: Celtic God of Creativity