Thursday, December 31, 2015

Into their own country another way

image: Stellarium.

Now that the day of Christmas has passed, and now that the full moon that was in the sky during that time has begun to rise later and later each night as it wanes towards new moon (enabling better star-gazing), those wishing to contemplate the celestial motions on which the familiar story is almost certainly patterned have a wonderful opportunity to go outside and watch the heavenly figures in action for themselves.

Seeing it take place in person can -- I believe -- open up an entirely new and personal level of apprehension (a word that has as its root a verb meaning "to seize" or "to grasp") of the powerful knowledge that the ancient story was intended to convey.

I have previously published a short video which details some of the abundant evidence suggesting that the stories found in the scriptures that became what we commonly call the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are based upon the motions of the stars. I'm going to repeat a bit of the argument covered in that video here, with some new diagrams, in order to explain how you can go out and observe the  celestial actors for yourself, and also in order to offer a few brief suggestions as to what these ancient texts might be trying to tell us.

There are specific details in the texts from which we derive the Christmas story which argue very strongly that the texts themselves were never intended to be understood as describing events which happened in literal, terrestrial history. One such indication from the texts themselves is the familiar story of the visit of the "wise men" or Magi. 

The event is described in the gospel according to Matthew, where we read in the first verses of chapter 2 that "when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise me from the east to Jerusalem" (Matthew 2: 1). The text tells us that they "saw his star in the east" and had therefore come to worship him (verse 2), and later that "the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was" (verse 9).

These verses cause something of a geographic problem, for those who wish to interpret the text as describing an event which took place in terrestrial history (but no problem at all if those texts are describing an event which takes place in the celestial realms above, as we will see momentarily). As typically understood, the Magi came from the east, and followed a star which they saw in the east, and which "stood over where the young child was," thus leading them to the place where they would find the divine child.

No matter where on the planet you choose to try to make these verses work, they require some significant contortions if they are interpreted as describing a journey on the planet's surface, as the diagram below attempts to illustrate:

image: Wikimedia commons (link); modified.

The geographic problem, as may perhaps be best perceived by looking at the map above on which north is "up" as we look at the page, east is to our right and west is to our left as we look at it, should be immediately clear if we try to imagine the Magi traveling from the east while simultaneously following a star which they have seen in the east

The arrow shows a possible terrestrial route or general direction of travel for the wise men in the story (but note that it does not really matter where on the planet we draw this arrow -- the "from the east" problem will still remain). If they come from the east while following a star seen in the east, they will not get to Jerusalem or Bethlehem or anywhere else that is to the west, unless they go east and keep on going east for a very long time and circle the globe.

However, this "geographic problem" is only a problem if we try to understand the text as if it were speaking in the language of literal, terrestrial history. If the text is instead understood to be speaking in the language of the stars and constellations and heavenly cycles, then the problem resolves itself most satisfactorily.

As Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844) proposes in a series of talks entitled "The Star of Bethlehem (parts I, II and III)" and delivered over three weeks in November of 1830, all of which were later published in a collection of his lectures entitled The Devil's Pulpit (available online here and in physical print in various places), the Magi in the story, who have traditionally been referred to as the "three kings" since ancient times, may be identified with the three glorious belt-stars of the constellation Orion, a constellation who dominates the night sky during the winter months (see especially pages 43 - 44). 

These three stars that make up Orion's belt are among the brightest and most-recognizable groupings of stars in the entire celestial panoply -- and in their dignified motion across the sky they do indeed begin in the east, as do all the other celestial objects including our sun, due to the motion of earth's daily rotation on its axis.

As they pass the zenith point in their progression across the sky, and begin to arc back downwards towards the west (where they will eventually set), the constellation Virgo the Virgin will begin to rise in the east -- and the star which marks her outstretched arm was interpreted in many Star Myths from around the world as a young child either nursing at her breast or sitting upon her lap. 

Because the Virgin (and the star that marks her child) is rising in the east even as Orion is beginning to go down in the west, it is entirely appropriate to say that the "three kings" of Orion's belt (who came across the sky from the east) now look and see the child's star in the east.   

This neatly resolves any dilemma with the text -- and shows that the scriptures were not at all mixed up in their description of the directions, and that they did not intend for those directions to be applied to terrestrial events, but rather to celestial ones.

The diagram below shows the scene as it appears in the sky at this very time of year. The three belt-stars of the constellation Orion are framed with a bright yellow line above and below, and the direction that they have traveled from the east is indicated by red arrows. The extended arm of Virgo is indicated by a purple arrow, pointing to the bright star Vindemiatrix which was sometimes envisioned as a child in her arms or on her lap:

Note that in the above diagram, we are facing towards the south, because an observer in the northern hemisphere, which this image replicates using the outstanding open-source planetarium app Stellarium, must look towards the south in order to see the zodiac constellations such as Virgo, and in order to see the belt-stars of Orion, which are located almost exactly upon the celestial equator, which is an imaginary line found "ninety degrees down" from the north celestial pole (located "behind our back" in this illustration) or "ninety degrees up" from the south celestial pole (if you are in the southern hemisphere).

Of course, because we are facing south in the illustration above, the eastern horizon is to our left and the western horizon is to our right (and that is indicated in the diagram).

You may be familiar enough with the stars and constellations to envision the outlines of Orion and Virgo in the diagram above, but in order to help out, I have added their outlines in the diagram below, which is identical to the one shown above but with a few additional lines and labels:

Virgo is shown on the left, and you can see that both the moon and the bright planet Jupiter are currently near the crown of her head (the moon will continue rising later and later each evening, and will move out of the area of Virgo in a couple more days). 

The diagram above also adds the outline of Cancer the Crab, which is straight up over the due-south direction (at its highest point on its arcing path across the sky, a point known as "transit" and also as its "culmination" and its "zenith"). As Robert Taylor also explains in the lectures referenced above, the constellation Cancer contains the beautiful and very significant cluster of stars known as the Beehive Cluster, which was anciently also referred to as Praesepe -- "the manger" (probably because it is in between two stars known as the Northern Ass or Donkey-colt, and the Southern Ass or Donkey-colt).

As is well known, a different scripture text (found in the gospel according to Luke) says that the Virgin laid the child in a manger. As you can see from the time-marker in the lower-right part of the screen in the image above, the Beehive is crossing the zenith point just after two in the morning in the modern epoch -- but due to the "delaying action" of precession over the millennia, this is "behind schedule" compared to the time that it would have been crossing the zenith point thousands of years ago. 

There was a time in a previous epoch at which the "manger" in the Crab was crossing the zenith right at midnight on the nights surrounding winter solstice (instead of around two in the morning as it does today, due to the delay) -- and Robert Taylor believed that this explains the aspect of the story of the baby being born in a manger, because it is at the winter solstice that the year or the sun is reborn. 

The point of winter solstice, as explained in some detail in previous posts such as this one and this one, was anciently used as a metaphor for the awakening of the consciousness to the existence of the connection to the Infinite, which actually permeates our entire universe and is (according to many ancient teachings) the "real world behind this one" from which the manifest world originates.

This awakening is powerfully expressed to us in the story of the birth of the divine child in the manger -- and expressed in many other forms and guises in countless other Star Myths from around the world. As the discussion above should convincingly indicate, the story is not intended to be taken as literal, terrestrial history -- which would make it a story about events (however wonderful, moving and mysterious) that happened to someone else in another time and place -- but rather to be understood as teaching you and me about something we need to know for ourselves

It describes the birth of awareness of the reality of and possibility for connection and communication with our own Higher Self (see discussions of the identity of Doubting Thomas and of the concept of  Thomas and the Divine Twin in previous posts for more on this subject). It is a birth that was described in many myths from around the world using the metaphor of a twin, but a twin so close that they are part of us -- "closer than a brother." And the profound teachings contained in this ancient celestial metaphor no doubt go on for layers far deeper than anything I can express in a written discussion, but must be experienced and grasped and felt by each person for himself or herself.

Perhaps one of the most singular lines in the Biblical text, and one on which I have not hitherto remarked, is found in the Matthew account, in verse 12 of the same chapter: "And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."

Now that we understand the celestial foundations of this famous episode, we might be able to bring in an entirely new perspective to that phrase "another way"! Obviously, if they crossed the sky from east to west in an arcing path above the horizon at approximately zero degrees right ascension (that is to say, along the path of the celestial equator), the stars in question will return to "their own country" -- the east -- by an entirely different path! That is to say, they will do so (from our perspective) "under the earth," where neither Herod nor anyone else will be able to see them.

Celestially, this makes perfect sense, and adds another extremely satisfying piece of evidence to support the conclusion that the scriptural text itself is telling us that it is speaking in the language of the heavenly cycles, describing the motions of stars.

Spiritually, it opens up even more new paths of consideration for the apprehension of deep knowledge of profound benefit for our daily life in the here and now.

First, this "underworld path" was used in the ancient Star Myths of the world to symbolize our condition here in this incarnate form, where we find ourselves at this moment.

The motions of the stars (including the star we know as the sun) present us with a perfect metaphor for the interplay between the  realm of the infinite (the realm of the gods, the realm of pure potentiality in the language of quantum physics, in which finite boundedness has not yet manifested, which physicist David Bohm referred to as the "implicate order") and the realm of the incarnate, the material realm (in which "infinite possibility" has manifested into one of its potential forms, "temporarily unfolding" in the terminology with which David Bohm described it, into the "explicate order").

The stars arc across the sky -- traveling through a realm which is, in a very real sense, infinite. And yet, with the exception of those close enough to the two central hubs or celestial poles around which the sky appears to revolve (only one of which is visible to us at any given point on the globe, unless we happen to be located somewhere on the line of the equator), the stars cross that infinite realm only to dip down into contact with our horizon (note that if you are located on the line of the equator, none of the stars will fail to dip down below the horizon, although if you are far enough to the north, the stars making a circle fairly close to the point of the north celestial pole will not dip down below the horizon -- they are referred to as the "undying stars" in the texts of ancient Egypt).

When the stars sink below the horizon, they appear to leave the realm of infinity and plunge into the lower elements of matter -- disappearing into either earth or water, depending upon what you see when you look towards the western horizon from your location on our planet. Alvin Boyd Kuhn devotes several chapters in his masterful Lost Light (1940) to the spiritual symbolism that the ancient wisdom attaches to each of the so-called "four elements," and also argues that the ancients knew very well that there are not "only four elements" but that they used this system primarily for its outstanding capacity for conveying esoteric spiritual knowledge.

Thus, when the stars sink below the horizon and seem, from our perspective on the planet, to be "plowing through the underworld" on their way back to the eastern horizon, they symbolize rather perfectly a teaching about our own incarnate condition, plunged as we are into a body composed of earth and water (or clay, as Genesis describes the material from which Adam is fashioned). When the "three kings" go back to their own country by "another way," they are symbolizing our own sojourn through this apparently material world, this "explicate order."

And yet, in the very same verse, we see a very clear hint that the Magi have a very direct connection to the Infinite: they are "warned of God in a dream." In an altered state of consciousness, and one into which we enter basically every single day (every single rotation of this planet of ours, that is), the Magi receive messages from the divine.

Note that this teaching, contained in that very important verse Matthew 2: 12, resonates very powerfully with the message described as being given to another king, in another text of ancient scripture collected into what today we call the Bible -- the vision given to Solomon in a dream, in which he receives the gift of God-given wisdom, in the first fifteen verses of I Kings chapter 3. This powerful dream is recounted in the ancient scriptural text immediately prior to the famous episode of the living baby and the two mothers (hmmmm . . . many of the metaphors regarding the inception of the divinely-given awakening seem to have to do with a birth of a baby, the incarnation into this explicate order).

You can watch a previous video I made discussing the importance of the episode known as the "Judgment of Solomon" at about this time last year by following this link.

Thus, that amazing verse not only provides a powerful additional clue that the familiar story is built upon a celestial pattern, but it also provides a very strong indication that the story has to do with our own incarnation in this "explicate" order in which we find ourselves, but also with the necessity of our realization that while here we do have access -- not only through dreams but through a wide variety of other techniques and avenues, a variety that itself seems to be nearly infinite -- to the infinite realm, the realm of the divine, the realm of the unbounded, the "implicate order."

The way in which the story of the visit of the Magi is framed also makes it clear that access to that realm can be absolutely essential to the very practical questions of the path or way that we choose to follow "here below" as well.

As stated at the very beginning of this discussion, now is an ideal time to go outside and gaze into the infinity of the night sky to meditate upon these celestial cycles for yourself, if it is at all possible for you to do so. The glorious outline of the constellation Orion will be immediately visible to you as you go outside into the night at any time after sundown right now -- and may in fact take your breath away, as you first turn towards that part of the sky in which Orion is moving alongside the brilliant star Sirius (Sothis) and among the circle of other bright stars often referred to as the "winter circle."

In order to see Virgo rising with Vindemiatrix (her outstretched arm) and Spica (her brightest star, currently also accompanied by the planet Mars), along with the moon and Jupiter, you will have to wait until later in the evening (actually they are the early morning hours, after midnight). Virgo should begin to rise into view above the eastern horizon near one in the morning, depending on the skyline of your eastern horizon where you are. 

You will have to wait until shortly after two in the morning to see Cancer the Crab with the beautiful Beehive Cluster climb all the way to the transit point above the due-south line (if you are in the northern hemisphere), but you can actually observe the Beehive long before it reaches its transit or zenith point. The Beehive and the faint constellation of Cancer the Crab are located between the Twins of Gemini (who stretch out horizontally from the direction of Orion's trailing shoulder, and are part of the "winter circle" described above and discussed in the link to a post from back in 2011) and the mouth of the majestic constellation Leo the Lion. Here is a link to a previous post discussing some tips for finding the Beehive Cluster in the sky. 

Note that finding the Beehive does require a dark sky, so you will want to try to find it before the moon rises into view and if possible will want to get to a place where there is little or no ambient light from city streets or buildings.

But, no matter how many of the stars and heavenly figures you can actually identify, the very act of going out and gazing into the night sky can be conducive to a closer and deeper apprehension of the knowledge preserved for us in the ancient wisdom of the human race. When you stare out into space, you are in fact staring out into infinity. And, even if the only stars you can confidently identify are the three great belt-stars of Orion, you can gaze at them and think about the message of the turning-point of the year and the awakening to the reality of the infinite realm that this great pivot-point represents, and the connection we have to it, a connection which in fact is always present.

And, as we consider the evidence that the stories in the Bible follow the same system of celestial metaphor upon which virtually all the other sacred stories, scriptures, and myths of humanity are also founded, it should also become very clear that it is very likely that they were trying to tell us the same thing, and that there is no basis for disrespecting one expression of the ancient wisdom or trying to supplant it with another expression of the same ancient system.

I hope that you have an opportunity to go out and spend some time with the stars at this turning-point of the year, if it is at all possible for you to do so -- and I send my very sincere wishes for positive renewal and growth to each and every reader out there (wherever you are on this terrestrial ball) at the beginning of a new cycle.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Winter solstice 2015

Image: Goddess Isis (link); Background Milky Way Galaxy (link).

The earth has just hurtled past the point of December solstice, where the axis of the north pole is pointed most directly away from the sun, bringing us to the point (in the northern hemisphere) at which nights are longest, darkness triumphs most completely over daylight, and the sun rises furthest to the south and travels across the sky along the lowest arcs above the southern horizon that it will make all year long.

It is the point around which the entire wheel turns: the progress of ever-increasing darkness is replaced by ever-increasing light, as days grow steadily longer and longer, and the sun's rising point marches steadily further towards the north, and the sun's arc gets higher and higher above the southern horizon, causing the sun's rays to strike the earth more and more "from above" rather than "from the side" as the sun's path rises higher and higher on its way towards the June solstice and the top of the year.

In the great cyclical metaphor which informs all the world's ancient mythologies, and which was discussed using an important extended quotation from an essay by Alvin Boyd Kuhn from 1936 in this recent post, we saw that this lowest point in the year was equated in the spiritual metaphor with the "lowest point" of our incarnation: having been thrown down into a physical human body, and having temporarily forgotten all about the spiritual side of our nature and lost contact with the invisible realm which extends through and behind every single aspect of our apparently physical universe, we at some point begin to experience an awakening to the spirit, and to reconnect with our Higher Self or our True Self, even while we are here in this incarnate life.

The map of the year discussed in that post can be seen in the zodiac wheel diagrams shown in many previous discussions:

In this diagram, the point of winter solstice is located at the very bottom of the wheel, between the symbols of Sagittarius (partly covered by the yellow rectangle labeling the "Vertical Column" of the great "cross of the year") and Capricorn (just to the left of the lowest point on that vertical bar of the cross).  It is at this point that days cease growing shorter and begin to grow longer again. The hours of daylight are still shorter than the hours of night, but the hours of daylight at least are getting longer again (prior to that point of winter solstice, the hours of day were shorter than the hours of night, and what's more, they kept getting shorter and shorter as we approached the bottom of the wheel).

Continuing around the circle in a clockwise direction brings us to the point of spring equinox (when days again begin to be longer than nights). This "crossing point" is marked with a red letter "X" and a horizontal line. The horizontal line separates the "lower" half of the year (in which nights rule over days) from the "upper" half (when the hours of daylight finally become longer than darkness again, for half the year). This horizontal bar on the great cross falls between Pisces and Aries on the wheel (at the nine o'clock position, if the circle were a clock), which indicates that this particular diagram is showing the zodiac signs as set in the Age of Aries (the reason for this can be a discussion for another day).

Continuing further, the wheel reaches its highest point, the top of the vertical bar of the cross, at the summer solstice. At that point the days begin to shorten again. The hours of light will still be longer than those of night, but they will be growing shorter each day, until the next "crossing point" is reached: the autumnal or fall equinox, at the right side of the wheel (the three o'clock position, if it were a clock face).

This great circle, with its cross formed by the horizontal bar of the equinoxes and the vertical bar running from the low-point of winter solstice up to the high-point of summer solstice, can be seen in many crosses to this day:

Original image: Wikimedia commons (link); modified in this picture and the one below.

The horizontal bar of the cross represents the fact (and the act) of our being "cast down" into an incarnate body: into an animal form (like the animals that go around in a horizontal position). But the vertical bar represents the raising of everything that is not physical, the beginning of the connection with the Higher Self and the spiritual realm, and the increasing integration of this connection into our lives.

We have just passed that lowest point, the point of winter solstice -- and the message that this special day conveys to us each year is to remember that we are spiritual beings, to remember that those around us are also, and to work to see and treat them as such, rather than "objectifying" them, which means to see them and treat them as "objects," physical lumps only, tools to be manipulated or commodities to be exploited.

Raising up and calling forth the invisible and the spiritual is the very definition of blessing. Beating down and denying the spiritual, brutalizing others and making them feel as if they are only physical objects, is the definition of cursing. The greeting Namaste and the hands-together gesture that goes with the word "Amen" (a version of the name of Amun, the hidden god) expresses the idea of blessing: acknowledging and recognizing the divine spark in oneself and others, and reminding ourselves and others that this is a true fact of who we really are.

We have just passed the point of winter solstice: the point which symbolizes the end of the downward plunge into forgetfulness of who we are, and the turn back upwards. Thus, it is very appropriate at this point in the year to think about becoming someone who blesses instead of curses, in everything that we do (whether our blessing or cursing is done through words or through other methods).

This point on the great annual cross (see the "You are here" image added to the diagram above) is the point at which we should concentrate most on the idea of "raising the Djed column," in the symbology used in the ancient wisdom of Egypt (the Djed symbology is discussed in numerous previous posts such as here and here, and in several videos as well such as here and here).  

In the symbology described in the vision of the Lakota holy man Black Elk, the same concept was described as following the "good red road" (corresponding to the vertical bar on the great wheel, and to the Djed column raised up to connect with the spirit world and integrate the invisible and visible realms) rather than the "black road" on which everyone is biting and devouring one another and living for themselves.

At the point of winter solstice, we can contemplate which road we are following in our words and actions, and we can have hope that -- at this turning point in the great wheel of the year -- we too can change course to the good road.

It is something we would probably do well to contemplate not only on an individual level but also on a societal level -- asking ourselves to what extent the present economic and political structures are built upon a vision of cursing instead of blessing: of seeing the world, and other human beings and living creatures in it, as an object or objects to be conquered, devoured, consumed, turned into a commodity. 

In ancient Egypt, the recovery of the lost god Osiris -- the god who was slain: cast down, sealed in a casket, laid out horizontally -- is effected by the goddess Isis, who tirelessly pursues her beloved Osiris and finally finds him, recovers the casket containing his body, and brings him back to life. She raises the Djed column again.

Below, the goddess is shown receiving the Djed column representing Osiris in the casket, around which a tree has grown and which has been used as a pillar in the palace of the King of Byblos:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Interestingly enough, in the vision of Black Elk, a divine female figure also plays a prominent role: White Buffalo Woman, who is described in his vision at the very beginning, and who in many ways is the one who begins his vision and sends him on his path.

This is another point to contemplate deeply at the point of winter solstice, because in our current culture, which is badly disconnected from the ancient wisdom and as such seeks to turn everything and everyone into a commodity or an object (a form of spirit-denial and thus of cursing), women are very frequently and regularly "objectified," economically, socially, and in many other ways. 

And yet it should be intuitively obvious that the very concept of "birth" and "re-birth" are absolutely dependent upon women and belong most properly to women (physically of course but also spiritually), and that ultimately any real aspect of healthy "growth" and "blessing" must begin with the recognition of their spiritual value and worth, and seek to bless and not to curse and objectify and debase them (as literalist misinterpretations of the ancient wisdom have done for centuries and continue to do in many cases, and as many aspects of modern society can also be shown to do, worldwide).

The point of winter solstice, then, is one of the most significant points of the entire year. It gives us much to meditate on and to contemplate. Ultimately, its message should be tremendously encouraging and uplifting: it is the point of turning from the downward path to the "good road," the point where the "cast down Djed" begins to be raised back up, the point when we begin to see that we are more than a human animal in a dog-eat-dog world and that we actually have an inner connection to the infinite realm, that we and everyone around us and in fact every aspect of our physical universe has an inner divine nature as well as a material nature.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Last-minute" gift ideas?

With the December solstice only a few days away, all readers have undoubtedly finished all their Christmas (or other appropriate holiday) shopping, but for those who may still be trying to come up with that last gift idea, I would suggest that anyone could hardly ask for more this holiday season than to receive his or her own copy of one of the ancient sacred texts of humanity.

You may agree with me that a copy of the Mahabharata belongs on every bookshelf -- perhaps several copies of the Mahabharata, since there are many different translations, and there is also the original Sanskrit for those who enjoy learning new writing systems and languages and reading texts in their original format.

Above is a link to an abridged retelling of the Mahabharata by Krishna Dharma, which I believe has much to recommend it.

A complete English translation of the massive original epic (which is over seven times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey, combined) is also available online, by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, published towards the end of the nineteenth century. While it does contain some anachronistic language (most notably the use of the older forms of the second-person personal pronoun, such as thou, thee, and thine, and of the verb forms which go along with them, such as wilt and hast and so on), it also has a great many virtues, including a lively style and a true appreciation for the spirit of the text, and most importantly its completeness.

However, if you want to actually put the entire Ganguli translation on your bookshelf (twelve volumes), it is fairly expensive to do so. It is also probably a rather daunting read for those who are not already dedicated Mahabharata fans. Therefore, one of the abridged retellings is probably a better place to start, and I believe that the Krisha Dharma version linked above is a good start (there are several others as well, each with its own strengths and weaknesses). Those who fall in love with this epic can then explore other retellings and translations, perhaps acquiring the entire Ganguli translation, and perhaps even venturing into the Sanskrit as well.

The other great Sanskrit epic is the Ramayana, and here again Krishna Dharma has an outstanding retelling, which moves along briskly, conveys the majesty of the legendary setting and ancient culture, brings out the depth of the characters, confronts the deep questions of duty and consciousness present in the text, and provides much to meditate upon and consider for what it has to tell us about our own journey through this incarnate life.

If anyone you know does not have a physical copy of the Ramayana in his or her home library, this retelling would certainly be a welcome addition, in my personal opinion.

Continuing with the theme of ancient epics that belong on every bookshelf (if practicable), and can by themselves provide years and years worth of profitable reading and re-reading, contemplation and meditation, the great Homeric epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey have never been translated into the English language so magnificently, perhaps, as they have been by the late scholar of ancient Greece, Professor Robert Fagles.

I personally had the opportunity to meet Professor Fagles and hear his thoughts on the power and personal relevance for each and every one of our lives of these great epics attributed to Homer, as well as to teach his translation of the Odyssey at the college level to young cadets at the US Military Academy back in the early part of the last decade.

Some of my colleagues who had been there in the English Department at West Point before I arrived also had the opportunity to teach the Iliad, and although I did not actually teach the Iliad to students, I can attest that the translation of the Iliad by Robert Fagles is moving, powerful, and worthy of reading in front of the fireplace late into the night, with frequent pauses to ponder the impact of the ancient wisdom which can be found on every single page.

Reading the Iliad, one is presented with the undeniable evidence of Peter Kingsley's assertion that the "original instructions" have been tragically lost somewhere in the ancient history of "western civilization." Here, you will find a worldview in which the realm of the gods is understood to be both an extension of and intimately intertwined with the ordinary reality upon which our consciousness is usually focused. 

And you will have occasion to wonder at those Seers described as skilled in interpreting the flight of birds, and where along the timeline of human history that knowledge may have been lost (and if it somehow survived). Perhaps you (or the one to whom you give this ancient text as a gift) will never look at a passing dove or hawk or sparrow or vulture quite the same way again!

But as much as I do love the Iliad, and as much as I believe it has to teach us right now even in this most modern moment of the present day, I have always loved the Odyssey even more, even from my pre-teen days.

I have had several "favorite versions" of the Odyssey through the years. Before Professor Fagles published his translation, I think the W. H. D. Rouse translation was the first one that I read, followed by the Robert Fitzgerald translation, but the Fagles translation of the Odyssey has to be the superlative English translation (in my opinion), and it also has the great advantage of being a verse translation of what is, after all, epic poetry.

Having access to multiple translations can never be a bad thing, of course, and this recommendation should not be interpreted as a criticism of other translations: but if it is at all possible, I personally believe that every home should have a copy of the Fagles translation of the Odyssey (unless that home's occupants are fluent in another language, of course, in which case there may be better translations in other languages upon which I am not qualified to comment). It has to be the next best thing to being able to read the original ancient Greek (which of course would be the best option, but certainly not a trivial undertaking).

So, those are a few "ancient wisdom" ideas for last-minute gift-giving assistance, if anyone is still wondering. You should be able to obtain any of those from a variety of different bookseller options, including your local neighborhood bookstore.

Another option, not exactly an ancient text although it does offer some commentary upon the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as well as offering examples and instructions from the Vedas and especially the Upanishads, is the classic Light on Yoga (Yoga Dipika), by B. K. S. Iyengar.

This text is probably very familiar to anyone who is already a practitioner of Yoga, but even those who are not (or who are "not yet") may be very grateful to have access to its clear and compelling explanation of the practice and purpose of Yoga, which goes far beyond the practice of the asanas (as important and as beneficial as those can be). 

From its outset, the book explains that Yoga is a system given to humanity which teaches "the means by which the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa)" (19). In other words, its aim is to facilitate the connection between the "individual human spirit (jivatma)" and the "Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God)" (19).

Reading the lucid explanations of Yoga's role in this pursuit, one who does not already follow the path of Yoga may experience a strong inclination to start!

In one passage in Light on Yoga, while discussing the concept of Aparigraha ("not hoarding or collecting" -- one of the five principles of Yama), we read:
Just as one should not take things one does not really need, so one should not hoard or collect things one does not require immediately. 35.
This passage, perhaps, suggests another "last-minute gift idea" we might consider at this winter-time of giving and receiving gifts: the idea of giving away things we no longer need, or do not require immediately, or generally helping those in need even if we do not know them personally.  

This particular virtue (of "not collecting") is not one that I myself am especially good at, but the spirit and teaching of Light on Yoga has certainly spoken to me on this subject, and caused me to think about doing more to give away those things that I "do not require immediately." 

In any case, the above "gift-giving" ideas are offered as possibilities in the category of gifts that contain a breath of that ancient wisdom given to humanity in the distant past -- which remains as relevant today as ever (perhaps even more so).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Here it has reached the turning-point" -- the celestial map of the soul's spiritual trek

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

We are now drawing so near the point of solstice that some of the great monuments of deep antiquity are already beginning to hint at their stunning alignments to the sunrise of that significant day.

For instance, if you have the opportunity to visit Stonehenge this week, and if the weather conditions permit a view, you can station yourself near Aubrey Hole 40 and look back across the stone circle between Sarsens 22 (on the north or left as you look east) and 21 (to the south or right as you look east), on through the gap between West Trilithon Sarsens 58 and 57 (likewise left and right, respectively) and past Bluestone 69 just beyond them (framing the right edge of the gap, along with the edge of Sarsen 57), you will be able to see the sunrise sight line for the winter solstice as it would have appeared 4,000 years ago, according to the analysis of Professor Gordon Freeman in his landmark text Hidden Stonehenge (you can see all this in the sample chapter he provides online here, beginning at page 93 and illustrated with full-color photos in image 4-13, 4-14, and 4-15, captured in 1997).

Even if you do not have the opportunity to visit Stonehenge in person, you can still contemplate the silent, massive stones, patiently marking out the great pivots of the year, as they have been doing year after year, as centuries draw on into millennia, and the earth wings its course around the fiery ball of the sun.

You can consider the vision and the skill of those incredible and now-unknowable minds who conceived of this incredible monument, who placed the stones and engineered those alignments which still remain in effect to this day, through all that has come and gone in between -- alignments (some of them) which remained hidden and all but forgotten, until new souls such as Gordon Freeman came and unlocked them to share with humanity once again.

And, considering this almost inconceivable concept, you can also cast your mind around the planet to other ancient places, where temples face the sunrise on winter solstice or mark our sun's rising point with similarly precise alignments: the great Temple of Karnak in Egypt, the mysterious observatory known as the Caracol in what is today called Belize, the incredible passage mound of Newgrange in Ireland, the more recently-discovered Goseck Circle in northern Europe which is thought to date to as early as 4,900 BC (an amazing 6,900 years ago), and many more.

All testify to the ancient and enduring importance of the great turning points of the annual cycle -- turning points which, according to the inspired analysis of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, were marked primarily for their spiritual significance as a metaphorical "map" of the circling path of the soul itself.

When we understand the ancient allegorical outline of the year as a representation of our own soul's journey down into the physical body (the first birth) and a state of spiritual amnesia (a form of spiritual sleep or even, metaphorically speaking, spiritual "death"), followed by the awakening of the realization of our true spiritual nature and the spiritual nature of the seemingly-material universe around in which we find ourselves, followed by our increased communication and communion with our inner divine nature and eventual return to the invisible realm -- then the importance of the great cycle of the year as a beautiful, visible, ever-present reminder to us becomes clear.

Alvin Boyd Kuhn sketches the outline of this ancient spiritual map most clearly and succinctly, perhaps, in his essay entitled Easter: The Birthday of the Gods, discussed in this previous post and available to read online in various places such as here and here.

The description is so important that it is worth citing at some length:
Using solar symbolism and analogues in depicting the divine soul's peregrinations round the cycles of existence, the little sun of radiant spirit in man being the perfect parallel of the sun in the heavens, and exactly copying its movements, the ancient Sages marked the four cardinal "turns" of its progress round the zodiacal year as epochal stages in soul evolution. As all life starts with conception in mind, later to be extruded into physical manifestation, so the soul that is to be the god of a human being is conceived in the divine mind at the station in the zodiac marking the date of June 21. This is at the "top" of the celestial arc, where mind is most completely detached from matter, meditating in all its "purity."
Then the swing of the movement begins to draw it "downward" to give it the satisfaction of its inherent yearning for the Maya of experience which alone can bring its latent capabilities for the evolution of consciousness to manifestation. Descending then from June it reaches on September 21 the point where its direction becomes straight downward and it there crosses the line of separation between spirit and matter, the great Egyptian symbolic line of the "horizon," and becomes incarnated in material body. Conceived in the aura of Infinite Mind in June, it enters the realm of mortal flesh in September. It is born then as the soul of a human; but at first and for a long period it lies like a seed in the ground before germination, inert, unawakened, dormant, in the relative sense of the word, "dead." This is the young god lying in the manger, asleep in his cradle of the body, or as in the Jonah-fish allegory and the story of Jesus in the boat in the storm on the lake, asleep in the "hold" of the "ship" of life, with the tempest of the body's elemental passions raging all about him. He must be awakened, arise, exert himself and use his divine powers to still the storm, for the elements in the end will obey his mighty will.
Once in the body, the soul power is weighed in the scales of the balance, for the line of the border of the sign of Libra, the Scales, runs across the September equinoctial station. For soul is now equilibrated with body and out of this balance come all the manifestations of the powers and faculties of consciousness. It is soul's immersion in body and its equilibration with it that brings consciousness to function.
Then on past September, like any seed sown in the soil, the soul entity sinks its roots deeper and deeper into matter, for at its later stages of growth it must be able to utilize the energy of matter's atomic force to effectuate its ends for its own spiritual aggrandizement. It is itself to be lifted up to heights of cosmic consciousness, but no more than an oak can exalt its majestic form to highest reaches without the dynamic energization received from the earth at its feet can soul rise up above body without drawing forth the strength of body's dynamo of power. Down, down it descends then through the October, November and December path of the sun, until it stands at the nadir of its descent on December 21.
Here it has reached the turning-point, at which the energies that were stored potentially in it in seed form will feel the first touch of quickening power and will begin to stir into activity. At the winter solstice of the cycle the process of involution of spirit into matter comes to a stand-still -- just what the solstice means in relation to the sun -- and while apparently stationary in its deep lodgment in matter, like moving water locked up in winter's ice, it is slowly making the turn as on a pivot from outward and downward direction to movement first tangential, then more directly upward to its high point in spirit home. 
So the winter solstice signalizes the end of "death" and the rebirth of life in a new generation. It therefore was inevitably named as the time of the "birth of the Divine Sun" in man; the Christ-mas, the birthday of the Messianic child of spirit. The incipient resurgence of the new growth, now based on and fructified by roots struck deep in matter, begins at this "turn of the year," as the Old Testament phrases it, and goes on with increasing vigor as, like the lengthening days of late winter, the sun-power of the spiritual light bestirs into activity the latent capabilities of life and consciousness, and the hidden beauty of the spirit breaks through the confining soil of body and stands out in the fulness of its divine expression on the morn of March 21. [. . .]. (pages 8 - 11 as paginated in this version).
A couple quick things to point out might include, first, the fact that Kuhn does not intend to exclude women when he uses the masculine pronoun (as was the custom in grammatical usage when he was writing) -- he specifically makes this clear at numerous different points in his voluminous writings.

Second, the ancient sacred myths, scriptures, and traditions of humanity from all over the globe can now be conclusively demonstrated to use the above heavenly cycle (and many other heavenly cycles, including those of the moon and planets but most especially the motions of the stars and constellations) as part of their inspired method for conveying to us the most profound and necessary spiritual knowledge to aid us in this incarnate life.

Alvin Boyd Kuhn wrote the above incredible explication of the annual solstice and equinox points as spiritual analog for the "soul's peregrinations round the cycles of existence," but while he correctly tied the esoteric stories of the Bible to these stations on our spiritual pilgrimage, the level of celestial correspondence to the specific constellations that can be demonstrated in the stories of the Old and New Testament, and in the other myths of the different cultures all around the globe (probed more thoroughly later by Professors Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in Hamlet's Mill, published in 1969, but without perceiving their spiritual depth in the same way that Kuhn had decades earlier) had not yet been fully appreciated.

The more we begin to understand the specific celestial correspondences of the various gods and goddesses and spiritual beings who are found in the different myths of the world, the more we can begin to see where they might fit and what roles they might play in the great spiritual cycle elucidated by Alvin Boyd Kuhn in the passage above, and better understand their significance and meaning for our own spiritual  growth.

This is actually a matter of absolutely the utmost importance, I am convinced, and opens tremendous new avenues of communication with the incredible ancient wisdom given to humanity in the "high and far off times" (as Giorgio de Santillana called it) -- perhaps in the same millennia that the great stone henges and circles and towers and temples were being erected, or even millennia before that.

I hope that as we approach the powerful and significant turning point of December solstice this year, you will have the opportunity to contemplate these matters at some length and that meditating upon this ancient wisdom will be a blessing to you in your life and in the years to come.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A conversation with David Whitehead of Truth Warrior!

Above is a video of a recent conversation with David Whitehead of Truth Warrior.

In it, we discuss a wide range of topics, including Star Myths in general and my most recent book, Star Myths of the World, and how to interpret them: Volume One.

We also explore the subject of paradigms in general, the difficulty of changing one's paradigm, and the difficulty of convincing someone else to consider a new paradigm. 

Some of these issues are discussed as well in my recent post entitled "The nine-dot puzzle and connecting 'outlying dots'." We discussed the metaphor of the "nine-dot puzzle" a little bit during this interview as well, as it relates the filters we use to view the "big picture" of this material-spiritual universe in which we find ourselves, and our place and purpose in it -- and also to more specific questions and models, such as our understanding of the shape of our planet and the reason that we see the sun, moon, planets and stars do the things that we see them do.

Having been somewhat taken aback by some particularly aggressive and acrimonious advocates of the "flat earth theory" (whether genuine advocates or not is difficult to know), David was very positive about my recent article entitled "The invisible kraken: Evidence that the earth is not flat," and wanted to spend part of our conversation discussing the fairly recent proliferation of commentary online trying to steer nearly every discussion towards this particular subject of the shape of our planet.

While I don't want to spend much time debating this particular subject any further (that article linked in the previous paragraph presents what I believe are fifteen or so very solid reasons to conclude that we live on a spherical earth which is rotating on its axis once per day and which is orbiting the sun in a solar system which also includes other planets orbiting the same sun), I did agree that it might be worth spending just a few minutes discussing the recent sudden desire on the part of some aggressive web comment-posters to drag every conversation over to this subject (deliberately derailing productive discourse, in many cases).

We discuss the very important distinction between honest critical examination of alternative possibilities, and sheer sophistry which merely delights in advancing arguments that the sophist does not believe, as a form of showmanship or even deceit, not in the pursuit of truth.

Interestingly enough, the day after David Whitehead and I recorded that conversation, an article came to my attention (published on December 09, 2015) which contained a screenshot of the website of a certain US government agency,  a website which was discussing a manual written back in the 1940s, and which contained advice for deliberately derailing and disrupting productive activity and turning the situation into "a dysfunctional mess" -- all while appearing to be trying to be helpful and even "reasonable." 

Some of the advice from that 1940s manual describing how to undermine productive activity while still appearing to be helpful and reasonable and friendly to the very people one is trying to undermine includes suggestions such as:
  • "Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible."
  • "Talk as frequently as possible and at great length."
  • "Haggle over precise wordings."
  • "Be 'reasonable' and urge your fellow conferees to be 'reasonable' [. . .]."
The website in question noted that, although these tactics were described in a 1940s-era manual on disrupting while appearing to be helpful, they remain "surprisingly relevant" to this day -- and demonstrate just "how easily productivity and order can be undermined."

The entire debate over the shape of our planet has somehow turned into a contentious subject, and one I would rather avoid. I personally do not believe there is enough evidence to warrant any real debate on the subject: there is abundant evidence (some of it discussed in my above-linked article) which supports the paradigm of a spherical earth, rotating on its axis, and orbiting the sun. Some of this evidence also appears to be very difficult to satisfactorily explain using the hypothetical mental exercise of a non-spherical earth.

There is also some reason to suspect that at least some of those aggressively trying to steer virtually every conversation in this direction are doing so in order to turn things into a "dysfunctional mess" among those engaged in offering alternative sources of analysis to those presented in conventional media.

There is a difference between honest critical examination of the evidence and of alternative theories that can explain the evidence, and sheer sophistry which does not actually propose arguments in order to try to explain evidence but rather in order to either show off, play games, or even deliberately derail, deceive, or disrupt.

It is too bad that this subject even needs to be addressed. However, for those who have gotten caught up in this disruptive topic, I hope that the above conversation will be helpful. 

My advice for anyone still honestly struggling with this issue would be to read through the evidence I offer in the above-linked article, realize that there is a lot more evidence out there which also points to a spherical earth rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun, and realize that there are some reasons to believe that at least some of the most aggressive participants in this debate might be participating simply for the purpose of creating "a dysfunctional mess."

After that, I would recommend ignoring further debate on this subject of "flat earth theories" altogether, which is what I intend to do myself.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The nine-dot puzzle and connecting "outlying dots"

image: Wikimedia commons, with dots added (link to original).

The "nine-dots puzzle" is often presented as an exercise in "thinking outside the box," and it most certainly is that.

But it is also an excellent metaphor for the process we undergo as we deal with the data life presents to us and as we attempt to find paradigms which help us to understand that data. 

The puzzle is a thought-exercise in which nine dots are arranged in three rows of three (or three columns of three, whichever way you choose to look at it), similar to the arrangement of a "tic-tac-toe" pattern. The illustration above shows the arrangement for the puzzle.

The goal of the game is to try to connect all nine of the dots, using only four straight lines, without picking your pencil (or pen) up off of the paper (or writing surface):

If you have never had the opportunity to wrestle with this particular puzzle, and would like to try it for yourself without reading any discussion that might give away the solution and thus spoil the fun of the game, please stop reading now and come back later!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Readers who are familiar with the possible solutions will know that in order to connect all nine of the dots with only four straight and connected lines, you have to be able to "think outside the box" and draw the lines beyond the boundary of the implied square that the dots make by their arrangement. 

Obviously, there is nothing in the rules of the puzzle as stated which forces you to draw the lines within the borders of the square created by the outer dots. That invisible boundary is only "self-imposed" -- and yet it will prevent you from finding the solution until you can see that you don't need to stay within the "mental cage" that we unthinkingly impose on ourselves when presented with this puzzle for the first time.

So, the nine-dots puzzle is an excellent illustration of that tendency, and of the need for examining our own "self-imposed barriers" in other situations in our lives -- situations that may involve more data-points than just nine dots arranged on a page.

But I believe the nine-dots puzzle can also provide an additional, related illustration of the way we tend to impose "paradigms" or "frameworks" or "filters" through which we view the myriad data-points or "dots" which we find in the world around us during our journey through this incarnate life. In many ways, we do this out of necessity, in order to be able to make sense of things, beginning when we are very small and progressively altering our paradigm or framework as we grow up and encounter new data-points or see new ways of connecting ideas or explaining events.

The question that this puzzle illustrates very well, in my opinion, is the question of "What do you do, when you find that the paradigm you are using leaves out important dots?"

This is the question that is worked out in most of the mystery stories and "CSI television shows" that we enjoy, going back to the formula used by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes stories (or in the Scooby Doo television series from the late 1960s and early 1970s, or in the pioneering mystery stories written by Edgar Allan Poe in the first half of the nineteenth century).

In those stories, "the authorities" usually have a theory or thesis that they are using to explain the evidence or clues that they have found -- a paradigm or framework with which they are "connecting all the dots," so to speak. Then, the outsider in the story (such as Sherlock Holmes, or Scooby and the gang) comes into the picture and discovers a few more "dots" which the solution offered by the authorities leaves out. 

Above: Four lines which attempt to connect all the dots -- but Sherlock Holmes (or Shaggy and Scooby) might ask, "What about these two dots over here?"

Through the course of the investigation, a new outline or framework to connect all the dots emerges, leading to a new way of understanding the situation (and often revealing that the culprit was someone quite different from the person implicated in the original storyline accepted or promoted by the authorities). 

I think this is a very helpful metaphor which is applicable in many different situations -- from the way we choose to understand important events in history, to the way we interpret the "big questions" regarding the meaning of life and our purpose here in this material world.

By virtue of the fact that this material-spiritual universe in which we find ourselves contains far more than "nine dots" for us to try to understand, there are an almost-infinite variety of paradigms or frameworks or "shapes of the lines" which people adopt in order to try to make sense of the world around them.

When we find one that seems to work as an explanation, we can be very resistant to letting go of it, even if we start noticing some suspicious dots that our framework doesn't seem to include or connect very well. 

There is actually good reason for being somewhat resistant to casting aside a paradigm which we have adopted over the course of time and which seems to do a reasonably good job of explaining and connecting the dots we have encountered over the course of our life. Data-points which originally looked like "outliers" may turn out to have been illusory, or deceptive, or irrelevant for some other reason. New paradigms which someone offers and which seem to connect these new dots may in fact ignore other dots which our old framework did explain, but which the new framework asks us to forget about.

We don't want to be too careless about jettisoning one paradigm which seemed to explain the universe (or some historical event) and adopting one that radically re-draws the lines in a shape that was totally different from what we were using before. Because of this, people are usually very resistant to doing so, and with good reason.

But, as the stories of Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo or Edgar Allan Poe (and countless others, including many from real life) all illustrate, there are in fact times when the outlying dots are important enough to cause us to re-evaluate even our most cherished and tightly-held explanation or belief system. 

There are times when our paradigm-driven interpretation or understanding of the events that are going on in the world around us is actually deeply mistaken, and when continuing to use a mistaken paradigm or framework will actually lead to very serious negative consequences.

Although it takes a lot to let go of a framework or paradigm that we have held for a long time and which seemed to "connect all the dots" for us for many years, sometimes it is necessary. Most of us have probably had the experience of doing so at least once or twice already.

I have already explained in the past (in many interviews and in the introduction to my most-recent book) that the world-view or paradigm provided by a literal interpretation of the scriptures collected into what we today call the Bible seemed to "connect all the dots" very well for me for many years of my adult life.

However, the more evidence that I found which indicated that the stories in the Bible -- virtually from first to last -- can be shown to allegorize the features and motions of very specific constellations, the more I had to question whether the shape of the line I was using as a framework or paradigm was accurate. Eventually, I saw "enough outlying dots" that I was forced to alter my understanding of the way they all fit together.

The same sort of process can also be applied to the framework of history, or to specific historical events which have had a great impact on the direction of geopolitical events. I believe that the analogy of the "nine-dots puzzle" is very helpful in this regard, and that it can remind us to always be sensitive to the possibility that the way we are interpreting events or the relationship between data-points might be completely mistaken and in need of serious revision.

Of course, I also think that spending as much time as possible looking at the stars and identifying constellations will help anyone to become better and better at "connecting the dots"!